Sunday, 21 December 2014

Coping with The Festive Season with depression

 
I recently posted some tips for managing the festive season with a chronic illness, focusing more on physical illness. However as I am a big advocate for supporting mental health issues and making sure it's talked about I wanted to offer some advice for anyone who is suffering with their mental health. Because it really is a time that people can feel an increase in their symptoms.
 
All you see and hear is 'tis the season to be jolly' when you feel far from it. And unfortunately no matter how many times some people will tell you, you cannot just snap out of it.
 
Feeling depressed or anxious but not been formally diagnosed- you've finished work for Christmas and it's been stressful trying to get all your deadlines met on time as well as organizing everything that comes along with Christmas and all of a sudden it all catches up with you. Feeling overwhelmed, stressed and stretched out can lead to feelings of depression or anxiety. Listen to what your body is telling you and your head. Will these feelings pass? Have you actually been masking feelings of sadness for a long time? Or do you feel totally overwhelmed and want to cry all day long? Take a step back evaluate and if you feel you need to, make that decision to get help. That step is the first and most important one.
 
Know where to get help- if you are all ready recieving care or counselling etc then Christmas can mean a break in the continuity of progress. Ask your gp or counsellor what is available if you need that extra support during out of hours times. Just having that information as a back up can be reassuring. They will be able to advise you of any local services or helplines available to you. Or you should be able to pick up a leaflet at your doctors surgery. MIND have a infoline 0300 123 3393 or text 86463 or email info@mind.org.uk. And there is the Samaritans too, contact them on 08457 90 90 90 or email jo@samaritans.org
I have also left links at the end of this post to websites where you can get more information if you think you may be suffering from depression. You can find lots of advice and support on there.
 
Untangle your thoughts- if you are struggling to find a reason as to why you feel so down or even if you have a clear idea why, all these thoughts can become tangled and overwhelming. Leaving you feeling numb. I find a good way to unlock some of the issues that are troubling me is to write down whatever is going through my head at that time. It doesn't have to be ordered or linear. But writing can allow your thoughts to become clearer. Outpouring all your thoughts and feelings onto paper so that they become something you can physically see. It can often feel like a big release too.
 
 
Talk- It's really hard to want to talk when you feel so bad. Or even just finding the words to describe all that's going on in your head. But find someone you trust and love to talk to. Someone who will just LISTEN even if what you're saying doesn't make sense.
 
Do not belittle those feelings or thoughts- you may feel like what you are feeling is not worthy or you don't feel you have the right to feel sad. But depression is not necessarily logical in that way. A story that always resonates with me is that of Olympic gold medal winning cyclist Victoria Pemberton and how she self harmed after winning her gold medal. So even people at their peak can be in a whole world of pain inside their heads.
 
Try not to beat yourself up- okay this is particularly hard when you feel so awful but putting extra pressure on yourself is only going to cause more anxiety. Accept that you will do what you can and go at your own pace. Chances are you are the one putting the most pressure on yourself.
 
Cry- it's okay not to be okay. Cry when you need to. It's the best release. And again DON'T BEAT YOURSELF UP OVER IT!
 
Know you're not alone- Although you feel totally alone and in a world of your own. One in four people suffer with their mental health. And that is people of all ages. But just know that regardless of your situation, even if you are a social butterfly you can feel lonely. It's not about being alone it's that feeling of emptyness. I know that doesn't help much but knowing that there is a reason behind what you're feeling and it's not just you. Physically be in the company of people you know as much as you feel you can. People that will understand. The more you can be in some company the easier it will get.
 
Get help where possible- cooking, shopping etc. The more you can share the load the less pressure is on your shoulders.
 
Shop online- Christmas means busy shops. If you are struggling with social anxiety shopping can be particularly difficult. I remember how hard it was to set foot in supermarkets as I used to feel so trapped. So take away those stresses with internet shopping. You're in an environment where you feel safe and because you're not thinking as much about what your head is saying you have more concentration.
 
Keep your plans simple- feeling stressed and as though you need to be everywhere and everything all at once, will only overwhelm you even more. Keep your plans simple and manageable. You need to be a little selfish and prioritize your own needs and give yourself time to heel. Just because your condition is not visible does not mean it's any less real. If you don't feel up to cooking a complete Christmas dinner nor can you handle being around extended family, consider going out for your Christmas dinner. Treat yourself as well as getting rid of some of the pressure. Evaluate what Christmas means to you and identify simple ways to achieve this. If you are seeing a counsellor or your doctor talk through ways to cut out stressful situations surrounding Christmas.
 
Stay away from social media- seeing what everyone else is up to (bragging about) while you feel so bad will only make you feel worse. So edit how much you go onto social media. If you want to talk to friends/ family do so via phone/text.
 
Write lists- when your mind is all jumbled and yet you still have so much to organize write it all down. Also ticking it off as you do them will also make you feel like you have achieved something.

If at anytime you feel overwhelmed or things get too stressful, whether that be anxiety or others having a Christmas squabble, take yourself off somewhere quiet and regain your composure. Do some breathing excercises. Listen to guided meditation or soothing music. Or put in your headphones and switch off the world for a little while; until you feel okay enough to rejoin. 
 
Watch comedies/ lighthearted programmes- and avoid the sop if you are feeling broken hearted- avoid soaps and the news with their tear jerker headlines. These things can also be hard to follow if your head is feeling over the place. Put on your favourite comedian or funny film and even if you can't laugh just know that you have made a good effort to make yourself feel better.
 
Craft/ Make handmade gifts- Or decorations. Doing craft activities in general can be a good distraction technique and focuses your thoughts rather than have then wander and run amock. For people you want to thank for helping you to cope a handmade gift can mean a lot to both of you. One, because you have made something unique and personal to that personal and two because it will make you feel as though you have done something worthwhile. Sometimes spreading a bit of happiness will bring you some happiness too.
 
Get yourself a gift- go on! You really do deserve it!
 
Pamper yourself- Sometimes just making an effort with our appearance can have a positive effect on our emotions. And again it's about making an effort. So run yourself a bath. Put on a face mask. Experiment with some make up.
 
Wear a nice outfif- for the same reason as above.
 
For everything you do achieve give yourself a pat on the back- don't focus on what you haven't done but what you have.
 
 

To friends and family

 
 
Patience is a virtue- they are not going to snap themselves out of it and at times they may snap or get angry. All you can do is be there. I know it will be frustrating. At any stage they will need you but they will only come to you or say they need your help in their own time.
 
Know that it's not personal
 
Just be there- you will feel at a loss for what to do or what to say but the best thing you can do is be there when they need you. LISTEN. Don't judge or dismiss their feelings. Know that it will have taken a lot for them to open up.
 
Do some research- If you think (or know) that a friend or family member is struggling and you want to help them there is plenty of information available online. I have included some links at the end of this post. Or again you should be able to pick up information from your doctors surgery.
Throughout January I am going to be posting about mental health issues regularly. If there is any issues or areas of mental health you would like to see a post about then please leave a comment.
 
Please visit the following links for additional information and help.
 
 
infoline 0300 123 3393

or text 86463

For their Christmas opening times visit www.mind.org.uk/information-support/helplines/
 

contact them on 08457 90 90 90
 
 
Sian x

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Christmas and New Years for a spoonie

 
Christmas and New Years can be difficult times for spoonies. The whole holiday is packed full of messages to have fun and celebrate. To enjoy and be happy. And it's not that we are not happy. I've even said many a time that I'm wierdly the happiest I might have ever been. It's more that the increase in activity that will inevitabley happen around these times brings with it a whole heap of moments where you're reminded of the things you can't do or have difficulty doing. All in the space of a short time. And being constantly reminded like that can feel like we're being taunted.
 
Lying in bed because you're too ill to be downstairs and hearing everyone else as they eat Christmas dinner is strange and can make you feel left out and lonely. Or even if you cannot sit around the table as you need to have your legs up, is isolating. Not being able to open your presents by yourself or hand presents out, cut up your dinner or pull a cracker reminds you how weak you are. So you get the hint. Lots of little things all at once that can add up to a bigger overall feeling of well pantsness.
 
Then there's New Years where it's kind of expected you go out and party, make new years resolutions and hear all about how rubbish peoples years have been and how 'next year is going to my year.'
So how can you help yourself during these times? To keep your head above water and not feel utterly miserable.
 
Evaluate- Think what Christmas means to you. The nice things that is. What is it you want Christmas to be? Does it have to be a big dinner with all the trimmings? Do you need to leave the house? Do you need to play hostess?
 
Prioritize- All of us have to prioritize or 'juggle' over Christmas. You try and please everyone but don't want to show favouritism. But what's important is once you have evaluated what Christmas means to you that you make choices made on that decision. That may mean only spending a short time with family or only being able to go to one celebration/ dinner/ gathering/ do/ knees up. If you answered that Christmas for you is all about seeing your child(ren) excited on Christmas morning, then make that your priority. Sure you may need to negotiate in some areas but when you do bear this next pointer in mind.
 
Be realistic- know what you can manage. If you can't cook a full on Christmas dinner but aren't going elsewhere then ask yourself 'does it really matter?' If you have spent your spoons getting up to watch your kids open their presents who says you can't have a picnic in bed with them come dinner time. And be realistic with your family so that they know how much you can honestly handle. Your friends Christmas Eve, your family Christmas day, his family boxing day, just isn't going to work. Especially if you have New Years plans too.
 
Pace- I'm sure I don't need to explain this one. How many times do we hear it?Little by little. A bit at a time. Don't spend all your spoons in one go (unless you want to.)
Share your plans- tell people what you think you'll be able to manage. That way they can help you to achieve that. And they also know that you achieved what you set out to achieve and don't feel too bad for you.
 
Don't be down on yourself- like I said the increase in activity over Christmas and New Years can really mean being reminded more often of things we can't do or are missing out on. But remember THAT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. You will achieve what you achieve on those days. To others it might sound very little but do not judge yourself by others standards. And what you do achieve will mean more. Again remember your evaluations.
 
Ask for help- If you need help you can only ask. Family to help take you shopping. Going elsewhere for dinner. 
 
 
If you can, and want to dress up or put on make up- if you have enough energy to spare then looking good on the outside can help you feel better emotionally. Plus, we don't really get many ocassions to wear our best clothes  or just clothes that are not pyjamas. So if you have the spoons go for it. If not then save those spoons for festive cheer  and sod it if that means wearing pj's it means wearing pj's.
 
Check in with your spoonie friends- chances are you won't be the only one stuck in bed. And whereas most of your healthy friends will not be on their phones much your spoonie pals just might be. So wish them a Merry Christmas and have a little chat. It's a definite way of not feeling so lonely if you're feeling like you're missing out.
 
Random Acts of Kindness/ Give to charity- At this time of year when it's easy to get carried away in the commercialism of Christmas it's good to remember that Christmas is a time for giving. Sadly there are many people that are worse off than us. So if you can think what you can give to someone. It might be a donation to charity in the form of a donation or a gift. Or buying an extra advent calendar and some extra food to give to a food bank. Helping out where you can at community Christmas dinner schemes set up so people don't have to spend Christmas alone. Donating any unwanted clothes, toiletries or toys to a homeless shelter. Going to have a cup of tea and a chat with someone in your community you know is struggling. Or it could be as simple as sending a letter to someone. Spread some cheer.
 
Enjoy it- whatever you end up doing over the holidays enjoy it. Yes that might be hard if you're really bad. But when you can join in relish it. When you give out your gifts take time to look at their reaction. Enjoy tucking into some yummy food. Laugh. Love. Eat. 
 
Make resolutions you can keep- most resolutions are cursed from the get go because they simply aren't realistic. "This year is going to be my year," is always one that makes me cringe. And we can have all the will in the world but we can't always have total control over our lives. Otherwise I'd be healthy and lying next to Pasha Kovalev right now. All we can do is try and I think trying is a good resolution in itself. To adopt an I know I can't control everything but I can control my reactions and try to be happier/ more appreciative/ more body confident (insert your aim here). Having a chronic illness I know that some things are beyond my control. And I can't tell myself "next year will be better" but I can say I'm going to do my best and will take things as they come. That I will try to be happy despite the illness, because that I can have some control over. (Please note for anyone with depression/ anxiety that I know happiness isn't as simple as making a choice. That it can actually be hard work. Really hard work. And time.) 
 
Memories jar- one way of trying to be happier overall and one that has really worked for me this year is to make a memories jar. You can read my post on it here and I will soon have a review post up. Ah that sounds scary! Seriously where has this year gone? Basically the memories jar is a jar that you put notes in and on the notes you write down anything good that happened or something funny somebody says etc. Big or small. Then at the end of the year you can open up the jar and read all the lovely things that happened throughout the year. I think it's particularly good if you don't have any plans for New Year. I don't know about anyone else but I always feel a bit funny on New Years, like you need to be making a big deal that it's the end of the year and the start of a new one. So I think this is a good and positive way to reflect and look forward to more happiness in the year to come.
 
I hope these tips help you through the festive period and that you are able to have some joyful times. Do take a look at last years post with more tips too What are your plans? Do you have any more tips for coping over the holidays? 

Sian x

Monday, 15 December 2014

M.E's Top Model

Copyright: Hayley Eszti Szucs

Remember not long ago I wrote a post about disability in fashion and another about the work I was doing with Models of Diversity to get disability represented on the highstreet and catwalk? If not, please do go take a read of them here and here. You might even remember I featured the above image of my friend Hayley, another M.E sufferer, blogger, pressure group member and as of last week headline maker. 

Last week she was featured in 4 national news papers, The Mirror, The Daily MailThe ExpressThe Daily Star and disability magazine Able 2 UK to share her story of how she became ill and diagnosed with severe M.E (myalgic encephalomylitis) that has left her disabled and needing to use a wheelchair ocassionally.

The onset of Hayley's illness was sudden and shocking. Going from a healthy and fit young woman teaching children in Spain, to not being able to move or talk. She describes it as feeling locked inside herself, an experience that many severe M.E sufferers experience during a sudden onset of the illness or during a crash. Please refer to the articles for more information on how this feels or read one of my recent posts which describes an M.E crash, here

And yet at the time doctors had no idea what was wrong with her. All the tests came back inconclusive. Luckily she regained her speech and some movement but was left with pain, exhaustion, cognitive difficulties and seizures. Needing to lie in a darkened room and rely on others for basic care. Which meant moving back home to live with her parents in the UK. 


Copyright Hayley Eszti Szucs
M.E is an illness that has peaks and troughs so whilst Hayley was no longer needing to be hospitalised her condition still left her unable to lead a normal life, or the life that she had planned. As mentioned she now uses a wheelchair when leaving the house, but she needs someone to help push her as she does not have the strength to do so herself and this would leave to post exertion malaise. Luckily she can now mostly manage to do basic things for herself, such as feed herself and wash her hair. However she still has times where the symptoms worsen. Where she needs to lie in the dark or is unable to lift herself up in bed. And will suffer from post exertion malaise after doing something, which varies in severity and length of time, depending on what she is recovering from.
In 2012 she started writing her blog to document her story. In her first ever post she wrote.
 
"I want to share how I deal with trying to be 'normal' and young and continue to do what defined me as a person before I was faced with obstacles.I want to try and incorporate fashion, style and creativity within my blog too"
 
It has since grown into a space where Hayley can advocate for M.E awareness and for disability in general. Challenging people's perceptions of what disability means and how disabled people are represented in society.
 
For M.E awareness day (May 12th) 2014 Hayley published a blog post called the visual campaign, which you can read here. A series of photographs showing her both in her chair and out of it, aimed at highlighting the often invisible side to disability. When she is in her chair, she can be instantly identified as disabled but if she  isn't then society might never guess something was wrong. Despite her still being chronically ill and at the mercy of her symptoms in both situations. 
Over the course of her illness she has realised just how invisible disability is in many influential areas of society. That there are millions of people in the world with a disability of some kind but they are very rarely presented in the media. Or if they are it is separate from main stream marketing. Take for example the Paralympics. The games were meant to leave a legacy of encouragement and inclusion for disabled people but these games were still held separately and nor did they get equal media coverage.
 
It would seem that according to marketing and advertising disabled people have no interest in what they are trying to sell. And Hayley, like many other young women had found that although disability had meant her life was dramatically different that her intetests remained the same and yet people tend to struggle with the fact that disabled people can be interested in fashion and beauty. Like she said in her first blog post she just wanted to be normal.
 
Copyright: Hayley Eszti Szucs
Determined to tackle this attitude and continue the work of her blog Hayley joined the pressure group ran through Models of Diversity, keen to make a difference to the highstreet and the brands she bought from. As her blog has grown in popularity she has grabbed the attention of several stylists and brands who want to style and photograph her. Which altogether has lead to her decision to start modelling and be featured in the national press. In a recent blog post about her experience of being in the press Hayley clarified why she had made the decision to start modelling, saying:

"There was a comment on the Daily Mail article which said models are not important, which I couldn't disagree more with, ESPECIALLY disabled models. We need people to look up to, people we can relate to, and since I've needed a wheelchair and mobility aids myself, I have noticed how under represented we are in the media and in society. I'm doing this to help raise awareness and to show that we are not invisible."
 
The response to the articles has been immense. Especially from people with a chronic illness or disability and in particular those with M.E. We are used to seeing lots of negative press about the illness with incorrect information. Cosequently M.E sufferers get a bad reputation because of it. However since Hayley's story has been published she says:
 
 "The amount of people who have come forward since the articles were published and said how glad they are to see M.E in the press is ridiculous, there were literally hundreds and hundreds. We need to know that people are doing things to help combat the ignorance or misunderstanding of the illness. The illness can strike anyone, at any time just like it did me. I think it gives people hope that we are being seen and being heard and having M.E featured in several national newspapers is a damn good place to start with that!"
 
As you can imagine I am incredibley proud of what Hayley is doing and wish her every success. She has a few shoots and appearances lined up, so I'm wishing her plenty of health and wellness for them. I can't wait to see how this progresses. It would be fantastic to see brands using more disabled people in their advertising campaigns. And not because they feel they need to be politically correct or as a one off 'oh look how brave and inspirational they are' but because they recognise disabled people as valued customers.
 
Please do take a read of the articles and Hayley's blog too. 
 
What do you think? Does the media need to place disability in more influential areas? I know the world needs more Hayleys and I hope you'll all join me in wishing her every success.
 
Sian x
 
All photos in this post belong to Hayley Eszti Szucs and have been used with her permission.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A/W 2014 Lookbook

 

For today's post I thought I'd share a few of my go to outfits for this Autumn/ Winter season. As a full time poorly person I am most often in my pyjamas but when I do get to put on 'actual' clothes there are a few things I need to think about. 

1. Comfort, comfort, comfort- being in pain most of the time means that you need to be as comfortable as possible. I've had to throw away lots of boots and shoes that were tight around ankles or knees because the fibromyalgia monster does not like things against my joints.

2. Layers- My temperature control fluctuates so I need to be able to have options with my clothes

3. No jeans! As someone that used to live in jeans this is weird but as I'm sat down a lot or out in my wheelchair you don't want anything that will dig into your belly. Again it's about comfort.

4. Clothing that's easy to put on and take off. I usually need assistance in getting dressed but either way the easier things are the better. If you've ever got stuck in a dress or top and been stuck with your arms in the air wriggling about you'll understand.

You'll also see from this post that I love a bargain. So moving on to outfits. Firstly let me explain, that some items on this post are new and others are a few years old, so may not be still available. I have provided links where possible.

Dress: Induldge
Tights: New Look
Cardigan:Ebay

Outfit one: I love wearing dresses and actually enjoy wearing them in these colder months but with tights and boots and a big chunky cardigan. It's both comfy and cute. I love that these boots have a faux fur lining to keep my feet and legs extra cosy. Can you believe they were only £5?

Jumper: Primark
Jeggings: Asda

For a super easy, not much effort required outfit, that is perfect for someone like me, I like to pull on a comfy jumper and a pair of jeggings or leggings. I find jeggings much easier to manage than jeans (like I said above) and the elasticated waist means I'm not cut off at the stomach. This jumper is really warm and comfy (how many times can I say comfy?) I'm liking the trend of pastels for the Autumn/ Winter. I think it lifts your mood by injecting some pretty colour to an outfit. I also have this jumper in mint and cream. Yes I'm one of those if I like it I will buy several colours people.

Cardigan: Forever 21
Top: Induldge
Jeggings: Primark
Hat: H&M

This next look is much more of a bolder look for me. Yet it still ticks the boxes of being comfortable. I actually sent this cardigan back as I wasn't too sure about it but I am still on the look out for something similar but a bit more flattering. I like that this top has a necklace attached a 2 in 1 for effort. I love this hat, I purchased it a few years back. My only annoyance is now that I'm in a wheelchair to get out and about my shoulders tend to push the hat up so it looks a bit crazy. Also these boots are proving to be comfy. I got these as the over the knee style means they are not digging into the back of my knee and aggravating my fibro pain. Again can you believe they were only £5?!

Dress: Induldge
Cardigan: Asda
Boots: New Look

I call this my Rock and Rose look. I like combining a floral print with an edgier look; complete with a pair of biker boots. I keep going to say Rock boots as they just make me think of the Pink song 'So What?' I do love a floral print dress and teaming them up with tights, boots and a chunky knit cardigan makes a great combo for the colder months.

Dress: Induldge
Cardigan: Ebay

Another quick go to outfit for Autumn/ winter is a fine knit/ fleece dress. Honestly they are so warm it's fantastic. Like a thermal vest. So this can be a great option for if I want to look a bit smarter but warm and toasty at the same time. I usually team them with tights or leggings and boots and a cardigan. Below are a couple of other designs I have. 

 

If I'm going to be outside then of course all these outfits get teamed with a coat. And if it's extra cold then I like to wear a snood. 

What are your go to outfits for Autumn/ Winter? And which of these outfits did you like?

Sian x

* Induldge, is  a brand that can be found at Dorothy Perkins and ocassionally on Everything pounds. Everything 5 pounds is a website that buys excess stock and is therefore able to sell it so cheap. When purchasing from there it does not state on the website what brand it is from. Also because of the low pricing many items are only on there for a short period of time, so some of the items in this post will no longer be available.