Saturday, 24 May 2014

My first public speech

As previously mentioned, I gave my first little public speech recently - it was Miranda de Barra's main event. My first attempt at drawing together various issues related to mental illness and stamping stigma -

Tonight, I am here in fervid support of Miranda de Barra and to eat lots of delicious cake. I’ve also come to say that I am one of the one in four who also suffers from mental illness. I have, in fact, been plagued by mental health problems since my early teenage years. I am now 23. I write a blog where I have written about my troubled past. However, this is the first time I have ever spoken publicly in front of a group of strangers about the subject of mental health and what I have been through.

I am very aware that you haven’t come here tonight to hear ME speak so I will try to keep this very brief. I’ve recently finished a Nutrition degree, which I hope will lead to a fulfilling and interesting career in the food industry. However, my main aim is to make a significant contribution to eliminating mental health stigma, which sadly still prevails. There are still many misunderstandings about mental illness. Nobody is protected or immune – rich, poor, young, old. I’ve had depression and anxiety for a while now – and this spiralled into an eating disorder 5 years ago, which lead to me spending several months in hospital.

I didn’t get depression because I hated maths, have big feet, went to boarding school, didn’t eat my vegetables as a child or don’t like the Beetles. There are still too many myths that surround this disorder. It can happen to anyone: it does not discriminate. Some of my closest friends are the ones that I met in hospital during treatment. Depression and other mental illnesses also came into their lives – affecting them and those around them. We understand each other, listen and reach out when things are tough. We don’t tell each other to “Perk up” or “Pull yourself together” when one of us is having a bad day. Telling someone with depression to “Perk up and get a grip” is as useful as a chocolate teapot.

I encourage you to look around the office. Look at your immediate and wider family. Look at your close circle of friends. The person with a mental illness might be sitting right next to you. They might be the joker, the hard worker, your most intelligent colleague, the one you would never suspect to be suffering – because that’s the thing: those of us who have depression, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts (and more) are so scared of the three in four who are “normal” finding out that we are BRILLIANT at covering up. We smile, we say we are fine, we get on with our day as best we can and often suffer in complete silence. What is normal, anyway? Do you want to hear my definition of FINE?? 

Fucked up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional..

(Cue: Lots of laughter - Phew.)

For the record: I am not pleased or proud to have a mental illness but I am not going to sit in silence for fear of never getting a job just because I have depression. This is now my job – to help others by speaking up about it and encourage them to do the same.

Last week, The Duke of Cambridge hosted a gala dinner at Windsor Castle in order to raise money for the Royal Marsden Hospital. The great and the good were there, to support and raise money for a hospital, which is frankly one of the jewels in the crown of the NHS. People are only too eager to support it. For the celebrities, it involves a bit of self promotion as well as being aligned to a good cause. As I looked at the photos of the stars, I couldn’t help but think of the NHS establishments rather more in need of help than an A list hospital. How about a gala dinner for a mental health unit I know that is struggling financially? Will the stars come out for unsexy causes too..?

More funding is needed for essential research into neuroscience. According to the World Health Organisation, by 2020 depression will be the second leading cause of world disability and by 2030 it is anticipated to be the principal provider to disease burden. These numbers indicate the sheer significance of depression in terms of public health, but behind these facts and figures there are individuals who endure this debilitating illness on a daily basis and this is unquestionably more critical. It’s true that nobody understands what it is like to have a mental illness unless you go through it yourself.

The overall agony that an individual with mental illness goes through can only be comprehended if one reflects on the horrifying fact that many sufferers prefer death (committing suicide) to their torment. In light of these terrifying statistics, I also hope more funding goes towards the treatment that many people so desperately need. Waiting lists need shortening so that people get help in time, before its too late. Many people underestimate the impact that mental health has on an individual level, and on society.  However, mental illness accounts for a third of all illness in the UK and costs the NHS an estimated £105 billion a year. These figures will undoubtedly increase.

We need to take much more notice of each other. We also need to learn how to be mindful and listen to our bodies (much easier said than done when you are plagued by anxiety and critical voices…). It is much more than a case of “eating your five a day and exercising regularly” – this can hit the most regular juicers and gym goers. You can be rich, poor, young or old, be happily married, have a highflying job or be a celebrity and still suffer.

Two years ago, I won a competition – the prize was life changing. Tea at the Ritz in London, with none other than Ruby Wax. Ruby set up a social networking website called Black Dog Tribe and the competition was encouraging people to write in sharing their experience of mental illness. The most I had ever won prior to this was a goldfish at a country fair. So I was genuinely surprised to receive this exciting email with news that I was the winner. It was the start of a truly wonderful relationship with Ruby. Nobody has worked more tirelessly than her at educating and inspiring people all over the world on the subject of mental health. She’s the poster girl for mental illness – and possibly one of the most generous, humble, hard working and intelligent people I know. Recently, I nominated her for an award as part of the Depression Alliance charity and we were invited to Kensington Palace to hear if she had won. And guess what? SHE DID!

I would give away a kidney, my dog and friendship with Ruby Wax and pretty much anything else not to have gone through it – but I’ve got depression and if this is what life has thrown at me so far, I can face whatever the next challenge is with more tenacity and grit than ever before.

We need more Miranda’s in the world who are prepared to stand here, shoot the black dog and stamp the stigma – I am so confident we will do it.

What do you think? Personally, I loved doing it. Can't wait for the next!

Friday, 23 May 2014

Watch the Silence: Louisa Harris

A great friend of mine has started to write a very honest, moving and eloquent blog. She is 29 and is losing her hearing. It will eventually lead to total deafness.

Can you imagine that? Suddenly waking up in the morning and realising that you can't hear the birds sing or always needing to ask people to repeat themselves? 

At 29 years old. Not 92. Not 82. Not 72. 29 years old.

I can't. And I am in awe of Louisa for taking this all in her stride. Nobody deserves this but she definitely doesn't. 

When she emailed to tell me this news, I was truly horrified. And angry. Why should someone so young and special be faced with something like this?

Here is a picture of us last November by the Christmas tree in Covent Garden:

We are going to my favourite bakery CocoMaya for Cocodoughs (Cronuts) next week. And we are going to have tea and scones in Fortnum and Mason. Yes - we are doing BOTH just because...We don't need an excuse. We won't need our hearing to taste the deliciousness of all that. In fact, I wonder if it will make us concentrate more on the other senses including taste?

Her blog is called Watch the Silence. And she was in her local newspaper today. Do have a read. 

I can't imagine what sort of challenges she will have to face in the next few weeks, months and years - but whatever they are, Louisa, let me tell you this: I am right behind you every step of the way - cheering you on. And we will meet to eat cronuts, drink tea and do all the things that don't require our ears...

Miranda's United

Well this week has certainly been a busy one!

I was very excited to be driving to Gloucestershire to meet my new friend Miranda de Barra for the first time. As mentioned in a previous blog post, she was giving a talk and I was also asked to say a few words. 

Its 200 miles from my house to Miranda's house. I stopped on the way at my favourite farm shop ever - Daylesford Organic - for lunch. I went to school round there so lots of the roads / villages are familiar to me. There's something so liberating about being able to jump in the car, tap a postcode into the sat nav and get from one place to another without a glitch. 

Lunch (picture doesn't do it justice):

Yummy potato wedges and three even yummier salads:

marinated courgete, pasta, Parmesan, lemon, olive oil, mint
asparagus, pea, feta, cannellini beans, lemon, mint
quinoa, chorizo, butternut squash, chickpeas, lemon, coriander

My talk went very well - it wasn't recorded, which was a relief as my voice slightly cracked at the end as I got a bit emotional. I wore my special MIRANDA T Shirt. I got a big laugh when I told them what my definition of FINE was. This is what I said. So you can see my attempt at stigma stamping / raising a few issues around mental illness. 

Miranda de B spoke BRILLIANTLY - taking us through the highs and lows of her bipolar disorder. So confident and well-prepared. I am in awe of her.

I was very sad to leave the glorious Cotswolds - but stopped at Oxford on my way home to visit my old PA college. Their new premises is incredible and their courses are highly recommended now that university is so expensive and no more likely to help a young person find a job. 

Couldn't resist a trip to the Covered Market for a Moo Moos milkshake - you name the chocolate bar or sweet and they can turn it into a delicious milkshake. I had Milk Choc KitKat - so yummy!

Lunch al-frescco or should I say al-carro:

My route was: Suffolk, Oxford, Woodstock, Kingham, Tewksbury, Dymock... and looked something like this (literally one side of the UK to the other!):

All in all - a very happy couple of days. 400 miles, 2 days, 1 amazing sat nav, 0 traffic jams (not even on the M25 - I KNOW!)

Already looking forward to my next trip. And giving the next talk..

Best T Shirt Ever?

My wonderful friend Miranda de Barra and I are now the proud owners of these t shirts - it couldn't be more appropriate, could it?

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Miranda de Barra - Inspirational Talk

Following on from my previous post about speaking in the media about mental illness to raise awareness... 

My great friend Miranda de Barra is giving a talk next week and not only has she very kindly asked me to go along, but I have also been asked to make a small contribution / add a few words of my own, which is so exciting. 

Please come - there will be free tea and cake!

Visit Miranda's website for more info!

My Radio Debut...

As part of Mental Health Awareness week, I was asked to contribute to a radio feature on eating disorders called "Eating Disorders: Not Simply Skin Deep". 

You can listen to the feature here.

They are featuring a series of special broadcasts for Mental Health Awareness Week. 

I did a lot of "Ummms" and "You knows" - and apparently many of these were edited out but lots are still there.

It was broadcast yesterday on "Reprezent Radio 107.3 FM". 
I am a Media volunteer for Beat who often ask me to contribute to magazine articles and I even once nearly went on the BBC Breakfast sofa. This was my first radio piece. 

Now that my university degree is over, I am keen to get stuck into more mental health stuff - raising awareness, stamping stigma etc. Get in touch if you need my help..!

Monday, 12 May 2014

Mental Health Awareness Week 2014

Today marks the start of Mental Health Awareness Week - and the emphasis this year is on Anxiety. I sent Ruby this brain and she has just tweeted it - 

I am going to this event in July, which is celebrating positive mental health amongst young people - come along!

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Teenagers Translated by Janey Downshire and Naella Grew

Its been a busy week in the publishing world. I have received some wonderful new books in the post, which you NEED to know about!

Firstly - Teenagers Translated by Janey Downshire and Naella Grew. This is, frankly, a must have BIBLE for all parents and teachers. And anyone who works with children and young people. 

I am not a parent but I attended one of Janey and Naella's courses a couple of years ago and it is clear that they are highly experienced and knowledgable in this area. They are both parents of teenagers themselves - and therefore they know the ups and downs of being a teenager and what its like to be a parent of one..! I am so pleased they have written a book - their wealth of knowledge needed to be available to everyone.

Every chapter is useful, easy to understand and their advice and ideas are realistic and easy to put into practice. I particularly enjoyed Chapter 2 "The Teenage Emotional Roller Coaster". Chapter 7 is also highly relevant "What is going on in the digital and technical world?" since most young people are addicted to either a computer screen or mobile phone..

No parent is given a manual when their child is born to help them with what to do and how to cope... but now there is this one! This is the kind of book my parents wish they had read 20 years ago.

I honestly haven't been so excited about a new book since the publication of Sane New World last year - and that is still on the best seller list. 

Can't recommend this one more highly - you will be left empowered and inspired to face the inevitable challenges that many face when it comes to being a parent.

You can buy it on Amazon here. I got mine in Daunt Books in Holland Park:

Another post coming soon about the other great reads you need to get stuck into...

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Mental Health Cuts

So it turns out that mental health patients in NHS hospitals are sleeping on hospital floors or being sent to B&Bs because the NHS haven't got the beds or the money for these patients. 

WHY are patients being sent to near by BED AND BREAKFASTS? WHY??? Are the owners qualified to look after these vulnerable and very unwell people? I think not.

A mental health patient in York is too ill and needs to be in hospital. The nearest bed is 200 miles away at a hospital in London, which is not used to dealing with mental health issues. An ambulance and three nurses / support workers take the patient from York to London. How, exactly, does this help the patient? It doesn't. The patient is left feeling more frightened and vulnerable and are miles away from their family. They are too ill to say anything, incapable of making a decision, which frankly is out of their hands.

How can the government justify the cost and need for the HS2 railway BUT be letting this happen?

Norman Lamb MP was on the Radio 4 Today programme this morning discussing this. Instead of doing what MPs usually do, which is skirting round the subject, not answering the question and making excuses, he actually showed genuine concern and is working extremely hard to rectify this horrendous situation, which in his words "has to change". I wholeheartedly agree and will be doing my bit to try and help.

What can we all do about this? Something has to change. Start by writing to your MP. It will take much more than that, but small steps make a huge difference. 

Read more about this on the BBC website here

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Look Up

This video is, frankly, one of the BEST YouTube videos I have ever seen. Watch it and you will see why - 

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Trip to Kensington Palace with Ruby Wax - Depression Alliance

There were several squeals of delight a couple of weeks ago when Ruby (Wax) and I received an email to say that she had been short listed for an award, which I nominated her for, as part of the Depression Alliance / Depression Awareness Week.

We were both invited to Kensington Palace yesterday to hear if she had won.

And guess what? She did!

There were some amazing nominations and I couldn't have been more thrilled that mine was chosen - I emphasised that Ruby has not only had an integral part in my recovery from mental illness, but also to many thousands of others in the UK and across the globe, who are also affected by the vial Black Dog.

Here is a little extract of what I wrote:

One of the most noticeable aspects of Ruby’s work is that she is determined to get people help, not take the glory. She has remained professional at all times throughout her career, and has undoubtedly changed things for those who’s lives are affected by mental illness. She has also had an impact on those who are lucky enough not to be touched by mental illness, by educating them and raising awareness of this serious matter, on a huge scale. More recently, she helped me challenge my university lecturers on the subject of mental illness – we were being taught some very poor, misleading information on the subject of mental health. She even offered to give the lecture herself! She has used her “name” to raise awareness of mental illness on a phenomenal scale, and shown more compassion, concern and understanding for others than anyone I know.

There is no question that Ruby goes above and beyond what is expected of her, to make a difference to my life but also the many others in the UK and across the world who are also affected by mental health issues and who are touched and influenced by her work. Nobody works more tirelessly at all this than Ruby and I do hope she can be awarded for her efforts. She is yet to receive any formal recognition for all that she does.

The award ceremony took place in "Queen Victoria's Bedroom", where she went to bed as a princess and woke up as Queen. We walked down the stair case where she tripped before being led into a room of "officials" who told her she had become Queen over night. Cool bit of history to come away with.

Here is Ruby and I with the fabulous Rachel Kelly, who's book Black Rainbow came out this week. Can't recommend it more highly. 

Massive thank you to the Depression Alliance for such an incredible and generous afternoon. They have written a great article about the awards here. Their work is amazing and so worth supporting. Very kind of Ruby to tweet this too - I am @mirandasmurmurs (the angel who pushed it!).