The day anxiety lost.

I don’t know when it happened but at some point over the last few years the ‘anxiety’ part of my ‘depression and anxiety’ diagnosis became the more prominent issue I was dealing with. Today, I feel like I’ve won a battle against it. The war isn’t over but always celebrate the small wins.

Today I got home from a two week archaeology field school in the Orkney isles. I lived by myself in Kirkwall for two weeks and worked Monday to Friday both weeks at The Cairns archaeological dig on South Ronaldsay. Two weeks where I lived by myself for the first time. Two weeks where I was doing something I’d never done before being on site. Two weeks where I worked with people I’d never met before and two weeks where I was forced to trust strangers day in, day out. And I loved it. I will be honest and say sometimes it was overwhelming. I had an anxiety attack on site. I made myself rather ill last weekend with the feeling of being trapped. But I went out on both Friday nights. Me, the girl who normally loves it when someone cancels plans last minute because I’d been dreading it. I went out to the pub with my new friends and had a great time. 

Then today happened and today could have ruined all my hard work. I’m a planner. I plan things to manage my anxiety. My plan was to phone the taxi and leave the place I’d been staying at, at 10am. That’d have got me into the airport about 10.15am and I’d have breakfast and read my book for a couple of hours til my flight left. At 9.30am I phoned a taxi, no answer. I googled another taxi company, no answer. I waited 15 minutes and called both again, no answer. I waited 10 more minutes and tried again, same issue. I needed to check out by 10am at the latest. So I decided I’d take the bus because I had no other option. I made the 15 minute walk to the bus station with my giant suitcase filled with 2 weeks of muddy clothes. I saw the bus arrive and my heart sank. I’d left my laptop in the bus terminal and I was at my bus stance. Never have I ran so fast in my life. I retrieved the laptop and made it back to the bus in time and we were on our way. A minor hiccup but the rest of my plan was still in place.

I checked in at the airport and checked my baggage and went to the cafe. I sat down with my food and relaxed a little. I’d had a blip and I’d dealt with it, I felt good. Then over the tannoy I heard “Could passenger Smith going to Glasgow please make their way to baggage reconciliation”. Odd, but I ignored it. 

By 11.15am 5 more people had been called to baggage reconciliation and there was only about 30 folk on my flight. By 12.30pm more than half the Kirkwall to Glasgow flight had been called to baggage reconciliation. The flight should have left at 12.45pm. The board then showed a 20 minute delay. No big deal, what’s 20 minutes? Nothing really.

Then over the tannoy “All passengers travelling to Glasgow please note that your flight has been delayed by approximately one hour. The flight that should have arrived from Glasgow has been redirected to Aberdeen for some reason. We have a replacement aircraft on its way.” Argh! The plan has been well and truly derailed now. But no matter, I’m here so that’s the main thing. Half an hour passes and again over the tannoy we hear “All passengers travelling to Glasgow we regret to inform you there has been a further delay. However the replacement aircraft has been dispatched and we hope to welcome it shortly.” That word “hope” is a dangerous one to someone with anxiety when dealing with real life situations. Hope isn’t a guaranteed thing.

Eventually we go through security as it’s a tiny airport so you don’t go through until your called and my bag is searched. It’s re-xrayed and scanned again. The lady then has me take everything out of my bag and scans it once more. Then she looks at me and asks me what I have hidden in the lining of my bag. I feel my heart racing and my stomach churning. I’ve hidden nothing yet there’s an issue. I suddenly remember there is the smallest vial of perfume in a zip pocket which I point out they hadn’t checked. I’m told to not be “smart” and they take it out and rescan it. Eventually I’m allowed to go. 

It’s now 2pm. I’ve been sat in a tiny airport for nearly 4 hours and my nerves are feeling very frayed. The plane arrives and someone comes to the gate and says the plane is going nowhere because it’s overweight and they need at least 2 people to switch to the 5pm Edinburgh flight. Nobody wants to. One man in crutches starts getting very angry. Another man hands the attendant his phone to explain to his wife what is happening because he speaks little English. A couple are getting rowdy because they’ve missed their connecting flight and through all this a tiny little old lady speaks up and says “Well I’ll do it. It makes no difference to me where I end up.  I’ll still make it home.” They arrange that a taxi will take her from the airport all the way to her house. A couple of other people then volunteer to also switch and then we are boarding. Surely this is the end of this ordeal.

We are on the flight and seats are all messed up because it’s a smaller aircraft. Crutches man starts screaming at the flight attendant because he wants to sit next to his wife but there’s a “foreigner” in the seat. Remember the man who didn’t speak English and was really quite concerned in the airport? Yup. He’s now the target of this man’s rage. Almost as if his delay is more important than the rest of us even though we’ve all been delayed the same amount of time.

We get in the air and I think well that’s that. Until the time we should be landing and I notice the plane is descending then ascending in a circle. For the next 40 or so minutes it does this. We’ve got to wait for a landing slot. But “Don’t worry,” jokes the captain, “We shouldn’t run out of fuel. I hope!” There’s that word again that fills me with dread even when I know it’s a joke.
Eventually I land at 3.45pm, nearly 2 hours later than scheduled. And I was just contemplating the day. Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. And I didn’t have an anxiety attack. I didn’t even feel like one was coming on. I was stressed but that’s hopefully an understandable reaction to a day like today. I had mild anxiety when things were going wrong but I dealt with it.

Today anxiety lost. Today I feel myself starting to creep back up the scoreboard.

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The Politics of Mental Health Care

It’s been a while, folks. I hope you’re all well. Since we last spoke a lot has happened. I’m currently a parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats in the upcoming Scottish elections. As part of this I attended a hustings last night. This involved myself and representatives from other parties being on a panel and having members of the audience ask us questions about our manifestos and what we would do if elected to the Scottish parliament. In discussion with folk afterwards I had one individual come to me and tell me they were particularly sick of “politicians like you[me]” politicising mental health and using it as a way to point score and make empty promises to gain support from the electorate.

I’ll be honest with you, it floored me. What this individual couldn’t know was that from that event I was heading straight to a friend’s house to spend the night because she was having a really bad day with her depression and asked if I’d come to her because she needed someone who just “got it”. I had two emails waiting for responses from people asking how I’d maneuvered the current mental health system because they were struggling and I had an ongoing facebook conversation with someone requiring support causing my phone to silently go off in my bag the entire evening.

They couldn’t know I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety after leaving school at the age of 18, after having gone to the doctor repeatedly since I was about 15. Having missed more days of school than I should have for feigning other illnesses because the reality of ‘I don’t actually want to exist right now’ wasn’t enough to warrant a permitted absence from the school.

I developed a self harm addiction after my diagnosis because the current system left me to my own devices and I couldn’t find a safe coping mechanism.

I was diagnosed in September of 2011. I was put on a waiting list for psychiatry shortly after that. I was seen for the first time by a psychiatrist in February of 2013.

I was told by the psychiatrist I needed to see the psychologist as well as regular meetings with him. He also told me the psychologist had no space so I was seeing the community psychiatric nurse. The CPN who told me I ‘failed’ every day I didn’t get changed out of pyjamas. Who gave me weird homework as part of cognitive behaviour therapy and screamed “THIS WILL WORK FOR YOU. YOU AREN’T TRYING HARD ENOUGH” when I told her I didn’t find it helpful. The CPN  who then asked if she could discuss my ‘lack of co-operation’ with my mother because she knew my her. I eventually saw the psychologist when I told my psychiatrist that I would not see the CPN again after how I’d been treated.

I have lost count of the times I seriously contemplated suicide. I was taken to hospital because of self harm. I phoned 999 because I knew I’d attempt to kill myself if I didn’t get help in that moment. I got taken to A&E where I was told I was a drain on the NHS.

I’m passionate about this and it’ll be a very long time before I’m quiet on the issue. I don’t want my future children to grow up in a world where any mental health issue is considered anything less than on par with physical conditions. If I had tonsillitis I could go to the doctor tomorrow and if the situation warranted it get medication to help. I wouldn’t need to wait until my tonsils were necrotic and posing a threat to my life. Yet I waited a year and a half to be seen by a professional for a condition that gave me compelling urges to kill myself. If I can help even one person have a less horrible time then I’ll have done something important. Is this a political issue? Yes. Is that the only reason I talk about it at length and will continue to do so? Absolutely not.

The thing is we can’t wait. Mental health funding in Scotland falling every year since 2009 and the Scottish Government’s mental health strategy expiring at the end of last year it’ll be months before a new plan is in place.

The other day my dad said to me “The thing is most people aren’t as vocal as you are on mental health” and I was reminded of Willie Rennie’s speech to Conference in February. He said “We cannot wait any longer for change. For thousands of people who are crying out for help and for the many who cannot be heard anymore because we were simply too late.”

 

(Also because I’d be a bad candidate if I didn’t mention it, if you’re interested in exactly what the Scottish Liberal Democrats are proposing please check out http://www.scotlibdems.org.uk/manifesto. If you’d like to email me to discuss anything you can do so at r.l.plenderleith@gmail.com)

Women in Politics

(Before we get started I’d like to point out that I’ve not censored myself in terms of my language in this post like I normally would.)

I don’t think I’ve ever been more angry than I am just now on such a topic.

We talk constantly about “How do we get more women interested in politics?” And we get thrown answers like “All women shortlists!”

How about we get more women interested in politics by not boiling them down to their sexuality and their body and their attractiveness? How about we see things like this and shut it the fuck down.

Frankie has done a wonderful job in defending herself and I don’t see the need to continue further. If there’s one thing Frankie Leach does not need is help in speaking her mind. She’s wonderfully eloquent in that respect. But I can’t not say something.

The idea that Frankie got anywhere by performing sexual acts on older gentlemen – like one commenter put a lot more graphically than that – is entirely the reason we do not have more women interested in politics.

Frankie got somewhere because she’s an attractive young lady, heaven forbid she has a brain. Whilst we’re at it… why HASN’T Nicola Sturgeon had children? I wonder how much Liz Kendall weighs. Psst… did you hear that Ruth Davidson is a lesbian?

You want more women in politics? You want a more representative parliament instead of it being heavily male dominated? Then don’t stand idly by when things like this happen. Don’t sit and think “Huh they have a point…” when you hear any of these things or the much worse levelled against women in politics in any capacity. Or if you do then start to ask the same damn questions about our male counterparts. Let’s question Jeremy Corbyn’s weight or why Alex Salmond has no children. I wonder who Tim Farron had to blow to get the job… or does that sound utterly ridiculous? Because it should do. It’s the exact same when you ask these questions of women.

You exist because of women, it’s damn well time you started respecting them.

Decide for yourself.

Last night the Buddy Project posted on Twitter the reasons why you shouldn’t go and see the new horror film “The Forest”. The Buddy Project is something that operates out of Philadelphia and pairs people as ‘buddies’ for support and awareness of mental health issues. Now, I have a lot of love in my heart for projects and organisations like this. If it wasn’t for a non-government support organisation I’d have probably been in a much worse place mentally than I am today – if I was here at all. However, I’m struggling to understand why they would try and take the decision away from sufferers on whether or not they go and see this film.

The Buddy Project says that you should not go see this film because it’s profiting on the long string of suicides at the Aokigahara Forest in Japan. This forest has been nicknamed the “suicide forest” because for years people have gone there to take their own life. It’s vast and if you stray from the marked paths you will soon find yourself lost. Now, this is a tragic area with a lot of lost lives there. Many of whom never had their bodies recovered because they simply couldn’t be found. It’s the perfect basis for a horror film. Myths and legends have floated about around this forest because of it’s fateful history and continuing use. The Buddy Project then says it’s disrespectful to make a horror film from that and you wouldn’t make a film based on the Jonestown Massacre. Only in 2013 that’s exactly what happened. It was called The Sacrament.

Horror films profiting from real life events are not a new phenomenon. Hell, even Dracula has its base in reality. “The Zodiac Killer”? A film and a real life event. “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”? Yeah, that was based on a real girl called Anneliese Michel who was subjected to an exorcism that lasted 10 months because she was believed to be demonically possessed. Even “The Hills Have Eyes” was based of a 16th Century story of a Sawney Bean, the patriarch of a cannibal family in Scotland! Cannibalism, murder, exorcisms. All real life events. All horrendous. All something which if we were to apply the same logic to shouldn’t be used for profit. Part of a horror film’s psychological thrill is that it’s based on real events. You can tell yourself over and over whilst watching it “It’s not real, it’s a film.” but at the same time in the back of your mind you know that it’s at least inspired by real life events.

I hate to say this because it sounds cruel and I’ll most likely get a lot of flack for it but unfortunately the world is not going to bend to you. I’m aware that for a lot of people The Forest would be a highly triggering piece of cinema but if that’s the case of course use your judgement on whether or not it’s a good idea for you to watch it. The storylines of Game of Thrones are something I’m aware would be particularly triggering for me which is why I avoid it. I don’t try and prevent those around me from watching it however. I also don’t prevent people who’ve had similar experiences to me from watching it either. The Forest is no different to any other horror film based – even loosely – on reality. Horror films are something that people enjoy – although maybe that’s the wrong word – and just because you disagree with the content doesn’t make it wrong.

My main concern with the likes of the Buddy Project putting this out there is that it’ll only reinforce the stigma surrounding mental health issues and suicide. Complaining about something that doesn’t fit your world ideals doesn’t open up the channel of communication about it. It shuts it down. You complaining about the themes of The Forest only adds to the whole “suicide is something we shouldn’t talk about” notion that we seem to have in our world. You putting out that feeling will make someone less likely to want to talk to you about how they feel.

I’ve titled this post “Decide for yourself” but I’m not talking solely about whether or not you go and see this film. I’m talking about not letting organisations make your mind up about something, your ability to think for yourself is one that is important. It’s important in general but it’s incredibly important in your mental health recovery. Take the control back, don’t just pass it to someone else.

Also I’m aware a lot of people find my blog in search of mental health coping strategies and for help with suicidal thoughts. Here are helpines for the top 3 countries that visit my blog on a regular basis

UK – 116 123 (Samaritans)
0800 838587 (Breathing Space)

USA – 1-800-273-8255 (Suicide Prevention Lifeline)

Australia – 13 11 14 (Lifeline)

Dear Ken Livingstone

Let me tell you a story.  It’s a story of someone deeply disturbed. He’s the former mayor of London and he believes it’s perfectly okay to lash out at health concerns of people who disagree with him…. oh wait… that’s you.

I was 18 when I was diagnosed with depression. The following couple of years are ones I hope to never have the equal of. I got addicted to self harm. I spent hours staring vacantly at the television from the moment my parents left for work til they came home, at least I did the days I could even get out of bed. The only thing I would watch would be America’s Next Top Model. I’ve no idea why but I think I must have watched almost every episode there is of it. Not that I’d remember since depression has robbed me of parts of my memory.

I’d go walking at 3am once everyone was asleep, in the rain, just so I could feel something. And I got ill then so be it. I didn’t care. I didn’t care about looking before I crossed the road. I didn’t care when I got horrendous oil burns up my arm from cooking. I didn’t care when I was sat in the back of an ambulance with a paramedic attending to my wrist because I’d snapped one day when I was in the house by myself.

I still have depression. It sits on my shoulder and it sucks away at the accomplishment I feel for still being alive. It’s been 3 years since I last hurt myself intentionally. Though as much as I hate to say it, there are flickers of time when I hear such moronic comments like yours, Ken, that I wonder why the hell did I bother to get clean in the first place.

The days of me sitting on my stairs in the dark, crying, bleeding and telling my mother I wanted to be dead may be over. But the impact of depression on my life is what I deal with every single day and will continue to deal with for the rest of my life. But I have a job, I’m in university and I have healthy relationships and friendships. So how dare you suggest that simply because someone has disagreed with you that their illness is behind that?

The old saying of “sticks and stones may hurt my bones but words will never hurt me” is a load of bull. Your words carry weight, regardless of who you are.

Sincerely,

Obviously disturbed and should probably see her GP (even though we have regular progress update meetings)

Mental Health – Scotland’s Massive Failure

‘CAMHS referral targets state that no child should wait more than 18 weeks to be seen. Only 78.9% of children are seen within that time frame. When you look at the statistics for 26 weeks only 7% more are seen by then. That means that 14% of children are not seen by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services after half a year. Here’s the response I received on behalf of our First Minister:

“Some successes to date can be seen in the improvement to Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS), where Scottish Government introduced a waiting times target that stated that from March 2013, no one will wait longer than 26 weeks from referral to treatment for specialist CAMHS – and no longer than 18 weeks from December 2014….We appreciate that there is still much room for improvement and we are working with NHS Boards to support their working in this area.”‘

This is an extract from my blog post after I got a response from someone on behalf of our first minister. Continue reading it here.

It’s World Mental Health day so once again I highlight the huge issues Scotland is facing. Not just in its services for children but across the board. Out of a cross section of 100,000, 14% of adults admit to having a mental health problem. That’s those who have been diagnosed. 10% admit to being alcohol dependent and 18% admit to having attempted suicide.

That’s almost 1 in 5 adults in Scotland having attempted suicide if these statistics are accurate. Once again I call for the Scottish Government to seriously look at mental health care in this country and for Nicola Sturgeon to think before she says things like “If you don’t think we’re doing enough in regards to mental health I have to convince you we are.”

Convince me then. As it certainly doesn’t look like we’re doing enough to me.

#RefugeesWelcome

You’re sitting at home, your family is asleep upstairs and you smell smoke. What’s your first instinct? Is it to save your family and yourself from the burning house? Or is it to stay put and die in a house fire? After all you bought that house. You BELONG there. You don’t have a right to be somewhere else even though it’s safe and where you are isn’t… right? No, of course not. That’s ridiculous.

Yet that’s how we seem to be treating our fellow humans fleeing extreme danger and almost certain death. People that risk their lives in pursuit of safety rather than stay where they are and wait to die. People don’t pile into trucks risking suffocation because of the promise of Job Seeker’s Allowance in the UK. They pile into trucks because whatever they are fleeing from is worse than the danger of suffocating to death.

We have a duty of care to these people as we’re all from the same place. Your nationality means nothing in times of crisis. You are who you are because of an accident of birth. These refugees did not ask to be born into this situation. What they are asking for is help because they’ve got no other option.

You have to be pretty xenophobic to not recognise human suffering in its clearest form.

To return to the analogy of a house fire, would you allow your neighbour to remain in that dangerous situation? After all you need to make sure you have a pair of shoes for work on Monday, you can’t risk spending that money on someone else… or do you possibly see beyond the end of your nose for once and help someone in dire need?