Birthday…

So last week was my birthday and I wasn’t particularly excited about it as I didn’t have anything exciting planned (and I wasn’t keen on hitting 35!).

However, I woke up to discover it was snowing and it looked beautiful as the snowflakes were falling and I couldn’t help thinking that it was my Grandads way of saying Happy Birthday as he knew how much I love snow. It’s been years since its snowed on my birthday, so it felt rather special. Before it was time to do the school run there was just about enough snow to have a snowball fight with my girls which was a giggle although despite it being Mummy’s birthday, they both still got me!!!

Then I had 2 clients to see but I knew that we can’t always have our birthday off, I guess I have been spoilt in recent years having not worked since I was pregnant with my eldest daughter. I couldn’t help recalling 2 years ago when I woke up in a lovely hotel in Prague where I was served prosecco with my breakfast and last year despite being in ‘tiers’ we still made the most of it by going to the beach and paddling!

However, as I drove back from seeing my clients, I couldn’t help but feel honoured to be training to be a counsellor. One of my clients had shared something with me that they had never felt able to share with anyone before and I was incredibly touched and honoured. Some of my peers from my course said that they would have been honest with their clients and told them it was their birthday but I’m not one for drawing attention to myself and I wouldn’t have wanted it to affect their session e.g., if they then felt unable to share anything less than pleasant.

My day was broken up by having a birthday lunch with my Mum which was lovely as I don’t often get chance to spent quality time with her without my girls.

I then had to go to college which I wasn’t thrilled by purely as this meant that I wouldn’t see my girls as they would be asleep by the time, I got home but being the big kid that I am I decided to have a birthday tea the following day…mainly so that my girls could blow out candles! A few of us managed to sneak away early from college and went into a tipi bar for a couple of drinks which was a lovely way to end the day.

My eldest daughter kept asking how old I was, and she rolled her eyes every time I tried to convince her I was 8 or 21 as she didn’t believe me!! So, once she knew I was 35 she was determined to put 35 candles in the cake!! Fortunately, my Mum convinced her not to put that many candles in the cake but there must have been more than 20!!

If it wasn’t enough that my daughter kept asking how old I was my wonderful best friend (are you sensing the sarcasm?!) kept rubbing it in that I was now a year older than her (for the next 6 months) and that I was now in my MID thirties meanwhile she is still in her early thirties!!! Fortunately, we have known each other that long that we can take the mickey out of each other and know that we love each other really.

So, all in all it was a lovely birthday and I felt very lucky to have some special people in my life!

To talk or not to talk?

I’ve often wondered if it is only British people who appear to have been brought up with the attitude that we should sweep things under the carpet and not talk about things? Although many people do talk about issues in their lives be it with friends, family, or professionals, there are also many who don’t.

There are still those who choose not to talk for whatever reason, be it that they don’t want to, feel it won’t help, that it will be too painful or that there’s no point as we just have to carry on! Admittedly some people do appear to ‘cope’ with not talking about things, however, imagine that you have filed whatever issue it is in your imaginary filing cabinet, locked it and thrown away the key in the hope that it will stay in there forever.

However, throughout life, more things will get filed away and there is a strong chance that at some point something will happen which will cause the filing cabinet to explode, leaving everything that has ever been filed all over the floor, therefore exposing certain things that had possibly been forgotten about.

I imagine that some people cope better than others when this happens, however, I personally believe that unless we talk about these issues, at some point they will come to the forefront of your mind and could have a negative impact on your mental and physical well-being.

I appreciate that everyone is different, however, there have been times in my life when I have had to re-live incredibly painful and upsetting events and imagined that the pain would never ease, and I couldn’t see the light. I remember when I gave my statement to the police (which took more than 3 hours), the days and nights leading up to it were horrible, I couldn’t sleep, I had panic attacks, I couldn’t eat, I was scared, the thought of talking about these things hurt my heart and I was a mess afterwards.

However, I realised not long ago when I was talking about some of these upsetting events with a new friend that it felt as if I was talking about someone else, someone I didn’t recognise or that I was talking about something fictional.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not 100% over those events, however, the pain is hardly there at all and as I sat there talking to her, I even found myself saying that on some level, I am almost in a weird kind of way, grateful for having the opportunity to re-discover myself after all those years and to have found myself.

I have changed so much in the last couple of years and for the first time in my life I quite like myself!

I cannot pinpoint when or what took the pain away, in a way I wish I could because I am sure there are thousands of people who at times in their lives have been through something painful and not known how or when it will end. All I can think is that it was a combination of things, including the amazing love and support of my Mum and best friend, having the most incredibly counsellor ever (who I will always be so thankful for), completing my counselling course, time, having the opportunity to live again as well as having the most amazing daughters any mother could ask for.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic cure for when things happen in our lives and those who reach out to their GP will no doubt be referred to the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service, which generally offers someone 6 sessions of CBT and hey presto that’s supposed to solve everything!! Don’t get me wrong, I am not against CBT, I do feel it has its uses and I will no doubt use it at times once I am qualified. However, CBT in most instances will only be a short-term fix, like a plaster, unless it is offered in combination with other therapies such as counselling.

The reason the NHS like to use CBT is because it is short and easily measurable meaning that they can say that x amount of people have successfully completed therapy offered by the NHS and it is relatively cheap because it is limited to a small number of sessions. However, recent research has shown that more and more people are returning to their GP’s and being re-referred to IAPT, proving that it isn’t as effective as they claimed and that it will now end up costing the NHS even more money.

When it comes to counselling, (unless through the NHS or certain organisations), there isn’t a limit on the number of sessions you can have, because everybody is different and so you can’t know how many sessions individuals will need. I knew when I started having counselling that the limited number of sessions offered by the NHS wouldn’t cut it, and here I am 2 years later, still having counselling and I will no doubt be having counselling for quite some time to come.

There are some people who still judge those who have counselling and believe that it is a sign of weakness or that there is something ‘wrong’ with someone who has counselling. I would certainly have a few select words to say to those people. When it comes to physical health, people don’t question those who go to the gym regularly as we know it’s good for us so why should having counselling be any different? As we know more than ever, taking care of our mental health is as important as taking care of our physical health.

It is an honour to know that clients come and open up to me about very personal things in their lives, particularly as I am aware that there are some people who do not feel that they can talk to anyone.

I genuinely hope that people feel able to reach out to someone to talk to without feeling judged.

Universal Credit

Since the pandemic people getting universal credit have been receiving an extra £20 per week yet this is now coming to an end. The government have repeated spoken of how this extra payment was only ever temporary yet as is always, the cost of living is always going up, yet benefit payments are not increased to compensate for this. Therefore, taking away this extra payment will have a massive impact on the 5.8 million people in England, Scotland and Wales who receive universal credit.

As one woman said in an article, “Twenty pounds doesn’t sound much – but it’s been a lifeline, when you haven’t got much, taking away a little is a lot.”

And I couldn’t agree more. That £80 per month pays for more than three weeks’ worth of grocery shopping for me and my two daughters. When you sit down and work out what else you can possibly cut back on, if there’s nothing, then you really are left between the choice of heating the house or feeding your family.

So, from October many of us will have to try and make food stretch further and go without if necessary.

I have already heard of so many families that are struggling, food banks are having to turn people away because they’ve either run out of food to give them or they are having to limit how many times people use them in order to try and support as many people as possible.

Although I am grateful to live in a country where there are benefits available to support those who are not in work, I personally find the system seriously flawed. For example, the housing benefit element of universal credit is capped and how much you can get varies depending on where you live. Here, it only covers 55% of my rent every month and I am expected to magic the rest out of nowhere. The fact is that there is nowhere in this area where the housing benefit element would cover the rent which makes me question the governments knowledge of the cost of living. Saying that, part of me knows that they don’t care.

This is further proven by the fact that various charities, trade unions, religious groups, and MPs have asked for the extra payment to stay. One charity has estimated that without it, 500,000 more people will be driven into poverty.

Most people on universal credit don’t have anywhere to turn to, they can’t get credit cards or loans and so once the money is gone, it’s gone. I can’t even imagine how helpless people must feel especially those with children. As a mother, all you want is to give your children the best start in life. I know how lucky I am to have a roof over my head and to be able to provide for my children but I still feel bad that I can’t afford to provide them with all the opportunities I would like to, such as swimming lessons and for them to join dance classes, but all I can do is hope that once I am fully qualified next year, I will be able to look for work and hopefully I will eventually be in a better position.

I was very angry when I read that Therese Coffey said that the benefit cut is just two hours extra work for claimants. How dare she?! For one, it’s not that simple and for two, who the hell does she think she is? Has she ever had to make the choice between eating or not?! Somehow, I think not!

Quite rightly the Resolution Foundation disputed her figures because those who are in employment lose 63p for every £1 they earn. Therefore, the average person would need to work an additional nine hours a week to make up for the removal of the £20 uplift which is very different to the two hours Therese spoke of.

Aside from the financial strain this will cause so many people across the country, I am concerned about the impact it will have on people’s mental health and wellbeing. Especially as winter is coming up which means higher heating and electricity bills as well as the cost of Christmas. Waiting lists for accessing therapies through the NHS are already at an all time high from the pandemic so the likelihood of people getting the help they need anytime soon is incredibly slim. I wish there was a way that I could help others and hope that people can access the help and support they need to get through this. I know that once I am qualified, I hope to eventually be able to offer clients who do not have the funds available for counselling, a more affordable way of accessing the help they need.

I am saddened that in 2021 the gap between the rich and poor is seemingly bigger than ever and right now with the government we have, I can’t see that changing anytime soon.

1 hour….

For nearly a year I knew this moment would come.

Before starting triad groups as part of my course where we practised our counselling skills, I used to get very nervous and dreaded it to the point of almost wanting to get out of it. However, it did eventually get a little easier with the support of my peers who shared that they felt the same, as well as words of encouragement from my counsellor.

Many of my peers have talked about imposter syndrome which is when someone doubts their own abilities and they feel like a fraud. We have studied hard for the past year, spent several months counselling one another and offering each other constructive criticism. We have been provided with the theory behind person-centred counselling and have been told we are ready to go out on placement, yet I can appreciate why some people may doubt their own ability.

I do not think you can ever be truly prepared for counselling in the big wide world as you never know what a client may bring to the table. Yes, we know how to show the core conditions of empathy, congruence and UPR (unconditional positive regard) no matter what a client brings but as students our experience will be limited.

We have been told that all trainee counsellors and qualified counsellors can only gain real experience through counselling and that our skills will strengthen the more we do. Whilst this makes sense, it can also feel scary as we are no longer counselling our peers but instead ‘real’ people who feel the need to have counselling for a variety of reasons.

Admittedly, whilst on placement we are supposed to be given clients with lighter issues, however nobody can guarantee what a client may end up revealing and the likelihood of students having clients whose biggest issue is what to wear or a dilemma over where to go on holiday is rather slim!!

When I was given my first referral I felt a mixture of relief, (as I had been waiting for this moment for months), excitement (to finally begin the last leg of my training) and pure nerves (am I good enough?!)

Fortunately, I have an amazing support network including my own counsellor, the other students on my course and the counsellors at my placement. I reached out to the other students at my placement about how they felt about their first client and how they handled the nerves, and they all came back with useful and inciteful advice. Reminding me that nerves are normal and show that we care; that the main thing to remember is to actively listen to the client whilst showing empathy and to remember that the client will without a doubt be a million times more nervous than you! This really stood out for me and changed my way of thinking about my own reservations and nerves as although I knew I would still be nervous, I wasn’t the one who had no idea what to expect, nor was I the one who would be opening up to a stranger and possibly sharing things for the first time.

The other students talked about how they felt honoured that clients felt able to open up to them and how they would always remember their first client.

To begin with I thought about ‘revising’ for my first client and then I realised that I would end up spending the entire session trying to remember things that may or not be relevant and being mindful that I could end up coming across as robotic rather than genuine. I decided instead to focus on truly listening, being as genuine as possible and aiming to be warm and welcoming as well as trusting the skills I have learned so far.

As with many first experiences and things we get nervous about, such as exams or interviews, the build up is often far worse than the reality and at the end of the day all we can do is our best. We are after all, only human.

I am aware that I still have plenty to learn but what I have taken away from my first hour (only 99 more to go to qualify as a counsellor!) is that I can do this, and I surprised myself with how I really felt at home in the session, which proves to me that this is the career for me.

I am aware of how many people do not feel that they have anyone in their life that they can truly talk to without fear of judgement so to be in a position to offer people that opportunity is a wonderful feeling.

Here’s to the next 99 hours!!!

Achievements

It has been a very challenging 10 months, what with living through a global pandemic, court cases, getting divorced and the first year of my counselling course amongst other things!! 

I questioned whether to even apply for the counselling course with everything going on, and doubted my ability to get offered a place, let alone anything else. However, after a very intense and demanding interview, I got offered a place. I knew in my heart that my passion lies working with children and young people, and I found out about a local charity that offers counselling and different forms of therapy to young people and their families. I decided to get in touch to see if they offered placements (not expecting anything to come of it) and I got offered an interview. 

I had no idea what to expect, so I couldn’t really prepare for it and I remember feeling a little daunted as I was interviewed by 3 people including the founder and director. However, I loved the fact that her dog was also part of the interview panel, and although I was grilled we also had a giggle, and they made me feel very comfortable. I had no idea what they were looking for or how it went, but then the director told me that they have a secret code to say if they like someone and that they had used it, meaning that they’d like to offer me a place. I remember feeling myself grinning from ear to ear, and I was so happy. Not only had I secured a placement early on but also my dream placement! 

The course itself has been challenging as we spent the first 8 months online, therefore we’d not met anyone on our course, and we didn’t get that interaction that you’d normally get in the classroom or when meeting for a drink as we were in lockdown. We also had to work in triad groups practising our counselling skills online with strangers, bringing real material, and it was scary. I was very lucky that everyone I worked with was very supportive, and I have no doubt that they’ll all go on to be amazing counsellors. Despite the challenges I became comfortable having sessions online and could keep quiet in the background but this all changed when we had to go back into college and I admit I wasn’t looking forward to it. 

However, in the 2 months that we spent in class together, I think has seen the biggest change in me. I’ve certainly come out of my shell more and when I had my end of year tutorial with my tutor she commented on how much she had watched me grow personally and within the group and what a pleasure it had been to watch. It was lovely to hear such comments, on top of which, I also got told that I had passed all my assignments, case study and skills sessions meaning that I can go onto my final year in September and that I can officially start my placement! 

I am very proud of myself and everyone else on the course. We’ve had so much to learn and do in such a short space of time, and without the support of each other, I think we would have found it even harder. It’s hard to believe that in a years time I will have (hopefully) completed the course and be a fully qualified counsellor! 

It’s a shame that when we all went out after our last day in college that we couldn’t really celebrate as we didn’t have our results, but that just means that we’ll have to arrange another night out during the summer!!!

I don’t think we acknowledge our achievements enough, particularly as adults, yet I believe it’s important. We should feel proud and enjoy celebrating our achievements, however big or small. I feel that quite often achievements are taken for granted or just expected, but every achievement requires hard work, effort, strength, courage, resilience…to name a few. 

Sometimes just getting through the day can feel like an achievement and so that should be celebrated too, even if you just acknowledge your achievements and say well done to yourself, it’s worth doing as those positive affirmations are a vital part of our mental health. 

It can be useful to remind ourselves of what we’ve achieved by writing it down, as it’s all too easy to get swept away with life. Before I sat and wrote down everything I’d achieved since September, I didn’t realise, yet seeing it in front of me gave me a sense of pride and belief that I am stronger that I think.

I’ve not had chance to celebrate passing my first year yet, but I intend to! 

I’m very nervous at the idea of starting my placement, yet I’m also incredibly excited to be closer to achieving my dream of being a counsellor.

Lockdown part 3….Week 16

This week has felt almost as if lockdown is over…doing school runs, seeing friends, going in shops, seeing beer gardens full and the return to college. I’ve been doing my counselling course remotely since October and when we did go in during September, we were split into groups, so I had only met some of my fellow students. I am surprised that I wasn’t nervous due to Covid and meeting people for the first time but having seen everyone virtually for the past 6 months it felt like I knew everybody already. We had to keep our masks on for the full 4 hours which was rather unpleasant particularly as it was so hot inside, I should have turned up in my bikini!! (Not that I ever would, let alone be seen in one!) I feel a little safer being out and about having had one of my vaccines, but I am aware that people can still carry the virus even if they don’t get it themselves. I have been taking lateral flow tests now that my girls are back in pre-school which I am now used to but still find myself sneezing like a trooper afterwards as it tickles! It is interesting how it doesn’t phase my girls when they see people in masks or taking lateral flow tests, it’s something that I think they associate as a normal part of life and are more likely to find it odd if they see people without masks on, but I imagine it will be along time before this happens when generally out and about.

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I managed to submit my case study and final assignment and with time to spare! I don’t know if I have passed yet, but fingers crossed! Now all that is left is the presentation, where we have to talk about ourselves for 10 minutes with reference to our own philosophy and beliefs and our journey so far. No where does it say that we can’t play a song for 10 minutes as long as it fulfils these objectives!!!! (Wishful thinking!) I have never felt comfortable talking about myself or talking in front of a group of people, so this is going to be a challenge for me. It’s almost as if I have barriers that go up at the thought which prevent me from even thinking about what I could say about myself. I was asked to write a bio about myself to go on the website of the provider that I will be completing my counselling placement at and I drew a blank. Despite reading what other people had written about themselves I didn’t know where to start. So, I called on my Mum for ideas and she did an amazing job, so I got out of that one!!

We’ve got at least a month before we’ll be released into the big wide world on placement so aside from the presentation, we have finished our first year of the course! It has flown by and I can’t believe that in a years’ time I will (hopefully) be finished and therefore be a fully qualified counsellor. I realised that next weekend I can actually have a weekend off from studying and don’t know what to do with myself!

I had a wobble this week when someone said something that knocked me down, inside I was fighting crumbling and telling myself that I am a failure and should give up my course. I know it wouldn’t have been long ago that I would have fallen apart, felt very down and lost sight of everything I have worked so hard for. However, thanks to this course and my own counselling and inner strength I am trying to fight against these thoughts and feelings and reflect upon why the words of one person can affect me so much. Why do the words and opinions of so many other people suddenly no longer matter but instead I am only thinking about and valuing the words of this one person? Admittedly I have them on a pedestal which may be why I value their words so much but equally I have learnt on my course that we do not need to value what other people say, instead it’s our choice to accept what other people say and it’s down to us what we do and how we react.

Do I allow one person to have such an impact on me? I know that I have worked incredibly hard to get where I am, battling through despite everything else that has been going on with my life. I have secured a placement at a fantastic independent organisation working with children, young people and their families and I have a lot of people that believe in me and have encouraged me to do this. I need to reflect on where it stems from this feeling of failure based on what one person says. Does it come from when my ‘father’ walked out when I was 8 or is it when I was at school and teachers humiliated me when I was having panic attacks? It could be something that has become internalised as I remember from an early age wanting to give up when something happened that either upset me or make me feel uncomfortable and because my Mum didn’t want me to be upset I often ended up giving up rather than carrying on and I have realised that what I wanted and needed was to be encouraged to carry on but as a young child I either wasn’t aware of this or couldn’t verbalise this and so it has carried on throughout my life.

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I saw someone who hasn’t seen me in a long time, and they commented on how well I looked, and I said it’s because I am finally free! It does feel like a huge weight has been lifted and that finally I can rediscover myself – at times it feels as though I am having a 30 something life crisis or rebelling!!! Talking of which…. look out for next week’s blog!

Lockdown part 3….Week 15

This week has felt like what I imagine the new normal may be the foreseeable future. My youngest daughter returned to her childminder for the first time since the last lockdown started and my eldest daughter had her first day at pre-school. I cannot remember the last time I had to put my alarm on which was a shock to the system as we have enjoyed relaxing mornings, eating breakfast in pyjamas, instead I was running around like a headless chicken getting the girls up, dressed and fed before putting them in the car at 8am. Thank goodness it was light and sunny! I didn’t know how my eldest would be on her first day as she has spent the last 6 months with me and her sister and before starting preschool she went to the same childminder as her sister, but she took hold of her teachers’ hand and went straight in. I spent the day wondering how she was and if she was ok but when I went to collect her in the afternoon, she had a smile on her face and her teacher said it’s like she has always been there. I was very proud and a little choked at how well she had coped and adapted, it made me realise that children can be more resilient than adults!

This week parents of pre-schoolers in England were waiting to hear what Primary School their children had gained a place at and although I was resigned to accepting whichever school this maybe I was starting to get fidgety in anticipation of the news. I had my hopes on a small village school rather than my local school which is very big but as it wasn’t in my catchment area, I didn’t get my hopes up. When I woke up on Friday morning, I checked my emails and saw the notification and was so happy and relieved to see she had been offered her first choice! I still can’t believe that my youngest daughter will be starting school in September!

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Whilst both girls were in childcare, I used the opportunity to go to a clothes shop with my Mum for the first time since lockdown and felt reassured that they were limiting numbers in store, so it felt safe and pleasant to look around. I certainly wouldn’t have been queuing to get in and can’t even imagine how crowded it must have been in the likes of Primark! I haven’t really missed going into shops as it kind of feels like the new normal to not be able to do so many things. The highlight of the trip was when a woman asked us if we would mind watching her new-born baby whilst she took her daughter on the escalator as her daughter hadn’t been on one for so long and found it exciting. Her baby boy was fast asleep and looked so peaceful and content, I stood and looked at him with a sparkle in my eye, I could feel myself getting broody, but I soon snapped myself out of it! It was lovely that the woman felt able to ask us and trust us even though it was only for a couple of minutes.

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I finally managed to hand in my case study (2 weeks early) for my counselling course and have been working my way through my last assignment of the year which is due in 10 days’ time. At times I’ve felt like spitting the dummy out but know it must be done. The final hurdle before finishing the first year of the course is doing a 10-minute presentation to the rest of the group and anyone who knows me knows I don’t like talking to groups of people or attention being on me so this will be a challenge for me especially as we must talk about ourselves.

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I have been sticking to my Noom plan and I am 2 weeks in…let’s see how I get on this week.

I caught a bit of Jamie Oliver’s, Keep Cooking Family Favourites and found myself rolling my eyes when he kept telling viewers to add a ‘kiss’ of oil…please! If I were cooking with my children and told them to add a ‘kiss’ of oil they’d look at me as if I’d lost the plot!! Now I’m all for exposing children to new foods but when he was making the aubergine salad, I kept thinking that my girls would look at me as if to say what’s that and why are there flowers in it, his son didn’t look too impressed when he was trying it either!

Lockdown part 3….Week 12

This week has seen a lot of anticipation for tomorrow which marks when we can meet people outside including in people’s gardens and the stay-at-home rule is ending (although the government are still urging people to stay local which is confusing) and outdoor sport facilities are reopening. I’ve noticed that a lot of tourist attractions with gardens and outdoor spaces are also reopening from tomorrow. I must admit that it will be lovely to be able to drive further than 5 miles and to go to the beach or to outdoor attractions.

This week marked the one-year anniversary of the first national lockdown, and it was funny how the weather really reminded me of how the first lockdown felt. It has been the first time this year when I have been able to leave the door open to the garden and we have spent a lot of time in the garden where upon my girls have been playing with the sand, singing, dancing, chalking, gardening etc. It makes such a change…seeing the blue sky, the sun shining, spring flowers starting to bloom and hearing the birds tweeting is definitely good for the soul!

It was the last session of my counselling course before we broke up for Easter and I found the session very interesting and have reflected a lot on the topics covered. We have been learning about and discussing mental health. So much was brought up by everybody and it really highlighted how many people are struggling with their mental wellbeing. Someone talked about their experience of CAMHS and how the children using their services are just being filtered through in a very robotic way which is making the statistics look good in terms of how many children are ‘accessing mental health support’ but in fact the majority of these children are not finding the support offered of any use. They come away saying that they have been given a worksheet to do but they don’t really understand it and the adults working with them within their school see how disheartened they are.

It made me wonder if some children are struggling or have certain barriers when it comes to talking about their mental health because they are seeing the ‘support’ available and unfortunately are not seeing any benefits for those who are being referred to CAMHS. Therefore, come children may already have the attitude of ‘what’s the point?’ or feel that they are not really being heard. I find this frustrating and makes me want to do something drastic to shake up the system within the UK. However, as usual one of the main hurdles is money and budgets – if me or anyone else was to offer a service to schools they are likely to say that they don’t have the budget available or that they can refer children to CAMHS therefore they wouldn’t be interested.

I feel strongly that mental wellbeing needs to become compulsory within all schools and having a ‘mental health week’ simply is not good enough. I appreciate how much pressure schools are being put under, however, ½ of all mental health problems manifest by the age of 14, 48.5% of 5–19-year-olds with a mental health disorder have more contact with teachers than any other professional service and 1 in 8 children have a diagnosable mental health disorder (these figures don’t take into account the impact of Covid-19). Children’s mental health problems can affect their attainment and behaviour which I picture as a car needing fuel to function – we harp on about needing food in order to function but actually there is so much more we need than just food. We all know that we need to sleep, exercise, keep hydrated etc but how much emphasis is put on the need for self-care or mental wellbeing, particularly with children and young people?

I believe that if children are given tools to support their mental wellbeing from a young age that this will have a massive positive impact on their life, now and in the future and that these tools could be used throughout their life. I believe by teaching children about mental wellbeing properly, (meaning not just a one-off session) that they will be in a better position to tackle whatever life throws at them. I feel that this could prevent mental health problems or at least the severity of how children are impacted by possible mental health problems rather than trying to treat or ‘cure’ them once they are diagnosed. The other problem with treating mental health problems is that most often particularly through the NHS and CAMHS, the waiting lists are long, and support can be very limited, therefore in some cases people may be worse before they access support or may not get the support they need.

Another reason I feel passionate about children being taught about mental wellbeing is that most people (no matter what age) that have committed suicide have not shown any signs that they were suicidal and quite often these people aren’t diagnosed with mental health problems. Therefore, if GP’s or schools are only trying to tackle the mental health of those who are ‘flagged up’ then children will devastating continue to slip through the net. Those who appear to be fine or do not have a diagnosis will continue to be offered very little or no support for their mental health which is feel is so wrong. As adults, each, and every one of us has been impacted by Covid-19 and a lot of people’s mental health has suffered, therefore who’s to say that children also haven’t been impacted?

I loved reading an article in The Guardian about a primary school that put catch-up on hold and instead spent a week focusing on children’s wellbeing. The headteacher was fully aware of the importance of this and felt that unless children are in the right place to learn mentally, that things just do not go in and I couldn’t agree more.

Mental Health

This is something that is very close to my heart as over the years I have suffered with anxiety and panic attacks. My first experience of anxiety and panic attacks was when I was 9 years old, and I struggled on and off for most of my childhood. My experience of help and support was a very bad one and looking back this lack of support has definitely had a major impact on my life.

I was put on a high dosage of beta blockers and paroxetine from the age of 12 and stayed on them until I was 28 years old. When I wanted to come off them, I sort advice from my GP, and I was shocked by what they suggested. One GP told me to just stop taking them cold and another one told me to take my medication on alternative days increasing to only every 3 days and so on until I wasn’t taking it anymore. Although I am not medically trained, I would never ever advise anyone to suddenly stop taking prescribed medication. Even the later suggestion in my opinion was not appropriate for someone who had been on this medication for 16 years and on such a high dose.

In the end it was down to me to work out a safe way of coming off the medication with the least impact possible. With a lot of research, I found that the body was unlikely to notice a decrease of 5% per week but that it can take around 6 weeks for your body to register any change in dosage. So, I sat and calculated how I could do this – to begin with I was on 280mg per week so to reduce this by 5% would take me to 266mg per week. The closest I could get to this was by taking 40mg 3 times per week and 35mg 4 times per week, therefore totalling 260mg per week. Then keeping to this for 6 weeks before reducing the weeks total by another 5%. It took a lot of calculating and it took a long time to safely come off the medication, but it did work for me.

As I said earlier, I did ask my GP for advice as everyone should do but despite speaking to 2 different GP’s neither were able to help in a way that wouldn’t cause serious withdrawal. I did attempt what the 2nd GP said of taking my medication every other day and then every 3 days etc and ended up having a complete breakdown which could have ended very badly.

Aside from the lack of professional support, the main hurdle was once I got down to 5mg per week as this was the lowest dose available in tablet form. It may not sound like a lot to be in your system, but I was anxious about going from 5mg per week to 0mg per week after coming so far and with it taking nearly 2 years to get to this point, I didn’t want it to all be in vain.

So, I went to my GP and asked for their advice (despite my previous experiences) and this time I was told that they could put me on a different medication that was available in lower doses but they’d need to hospitalise me for this or tough as although my medication was available in liquid format (therefore making it possible to take a very small dosage) that it was too expensive for the NHS so they weren’t prepared to prescribe it for me!!

If I had the voice I do now I would have stayed put, stating my argument that one prescription would have probably lasted me until I came off it altogether and that the other alternative is that I could end up in hospital which would cost the NHS a lot more than one prescription but instead I left feeling deflated. So, I fumbled through by cutting tablets in ½ to begin with before coming off them altogether hoping that I would be ok – fortunately, I was.

I really hope that things have improved since but from what I have heard through other peoples experiences it still appears to be very hit and miss as to the support available. I have heard of so many cases where people have turned to their GP for support almost at the point of crisis but not quite in which case, they walk away being told to self-refer for NHS counselling or CBT which consists of an average of 6 sessions and a waiting list of who knows how many weeks.

Therefore, when I knew I needed counselling after leaving the domestic abuse, I knew that I would need more than 6 sessions as well as needing someone who would be able to offer the right support. Knowing this, despite the cost involved, I made the decision to find a private counsellor and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. She has had such a positive impact on my life – life changing, and I will be eternally grateful for everything she has done. I wish I had known her years ago!

I now have a fantastic GP who is very understanding of my situation and of mental health and she has been very supportive throughout. However, I have also seen another GP on one occasion who got fixated on my heart rate, which was high, despite me trying to explain that I suffer with white coat syndrome and that whenever I am at the doctors or hospital my heart rate goes through the roof. They weren’t interested in the reason I was there to see them but instead wanted me to go to A&E because of how fast my heart rate was – which as you can imagine just sent me into further panic mode!

I was shocked when I discovered that my counselling tutor has such a strong opinion of medication for mental health problems. Don’t get me wrong, I still think she’s an incredible tutor, but I was disappointed by this. She believes that people on medication are not willing to work on their issues as medication treats symptoms but does not address its causes. Whilst I acknowledge that medication does not address the roots of mental health, I believe that medication is a personal choice and one that is discussed with your GP.

In my experience, if it wasn’t for medication then I would not have been in the right place to work on myself. Some of my peers felt the same as myself but I found it concerning that others agreed with my tutor.

My counsellor suggested that sometimes we need scaffolding to help us which can be of varying degrees and differ in what we class as scaffolding, so for me my scaffolding consists of medication, counselling, self help techniques such as exercise, meditation, visualisation, breathing techniques and surrounding myself with people who care about me.

I would hate for anyone to feel judged for whatever scaffolding they need to get by and would never judge a client who came to me who was on medication for anxiety, depression, or any other mental health problem.

I feel that it is a shame that in 2021 there is still a stigma around mental health, particularly with men and that there is still a huge lack of support and resources available.

I am passionate about working with young people with mental health problems to try and provide them with the tools necessary to live their lives to the full without struggling with the debilitating effects of anxiety, depression etc.

Therefore, alongside the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, I will continue to campaign for every school in the UK to have access to a counsellor.

I’m a big fan of self-care and think that this is something everyone should make time for, no matter how little. There are some useful pointers in this self-care starter kit – Download A Self-Care Starter Kit From The Blurt Foundation (blurtitout.org)

 

Lockdown part 3….Week 9

The past 2 years have been challenging to say the least, but this week has to have been one of the toughest. I have known for months that this week was hopefully the final court hearing and had prepared for it both practically and psychologically. However, the days leading up to it brought about a lot of anxiety and sleepless nights. I had run through various scenarios in my head ranging from the worst-case scenario to the best-case scenario to try and be as prepared as possible. I supported myself as much as possible by having my calming aromatherapy spray and my aromatherapy playdough, I had friends at the end of the phone and a good legal team behind me.

I kept telling myself that once I got through this day that it would all finally be over which is all I have wanted for so long…to finally be free to live my life. And yes, I am finally now free to live my life and all the legal battles are over, however…the next day I crumbled, I felt as though I hit rock bottom and I just wanted to curl up in a ball and disappear, the pain I felt was unreal, it was as if every feeling I had ever had and everything I had lived through all flooded me in one go and I couldn’t cope.

I have pushed this day aside ever since I knew it was coming, not wanting to talk about it because I had had enough, telling everyone it didn’t matter what the outcome would be as long as it was finished. I’d not even told my counselling course tutor that this was all going on whilst I carry on writing essay after essay and practising my counselling skills as I didn’t want her to think it would affect my capability to do the course, so I intended to do my course as usual the day after the hearing.

As it happens, shortly before I was supposed to start, I collapsed on the floor and sobbed for hours, too weak to move. I then worried about what my tutor and peer group would think as I am not the kind of person to not turn up without letting people know. I felt incredibly guilty and that I had let people down.

The course means so much to me but in hindsight I should have kept my tutor informed of what was going on and taken my friends advise to not do the course this week as I had had a very tough time. Fortunately, my tutor is incredible, and her response was especially touching, she told me that the light comes, allow myself to experience the emotions that arise and how much I matter to my peer group. I was also given an interesting perspective on things by someone who said that part of my feelings are probably because it’s all over now and that the sense of relief can have an opposing effect to what you expect because all the adrenaline that kept me going has gone.

I suppose I was being harsh on myself as initially I was elated and wanted to pop open the champagne, then shortly after it hit me, and I certainly didn’t feel like this. I do have a bottle of champagne, but I am waiting until I receive my decree absolute before I open it. (I never thought I would be getting divorced, let alone celebrating it but here I am, wanting to sing from the roof tops that I am a free woman!!).

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Regarding lockdown, I was wondering if people are classing this week as the end of lockdown with restrictions beginning to be eased from Monday? Although all that is changing is that schools are opening to all pupils and we can now meet one other person outside.

This week the governments budget was announced with some interesting points. I found it interesting that furlough has been extended until the end of September, yet lockdown is planned to end on 21st June. I was pleased that the £20 weekly uplift in Universal Credit has been extended for another 6 months as this makes a huge difference to families, including mine. It’s also good that the minimum wage is going up but it’s still not in line with living costs increasing.

I’m very pleased to see that £19m has been given for domestic violence programmes as 1.6 million women are affected by domestic abuse every year (not forgetting that men can be victims too) and I have no doubt that lockdown has had a negative affect on anyone experiencing abuse and that there will have been a spike in abuse that to some extent will have happened without anyone knowing as people haven’t been able to see others so it’ll be a lot easier to hide. It’s incredibly scary knowing that according to Refuge (a domestic violence charity for women and children), 2 women a week die at the hands of a partner or ex in England and Wales.

I think it’s positive that 95% mortgages are going to become available from April as I know so many people, particularly single people really struggle to save £10-£20k for a deposit on a house. However, my concern is that mortgages are still limited to around 4 times your salary. So, for example a teacher may earn around £30k which would potentially give them a mortgage capacity of £120k yet the average house price according to the house price index is £230k so there is a huge gap in affordability unless banks are able to lend more.

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I received my invitation to complete the census 2021 this week…the highlights of this were being able to say that on 21st March 2021 I will be divorced and choosing to select my sexual orientation. I didn’t realise that this year’s census is the first time that people can state their sexual orientation and trans status. I also didn’t know that there are no robust figures on the number of LGBT people in England and Wales. The data collected through the Census will play an important role in addressing inequality gaps. It will be of particular use to the LGBT sector as we demonstrate the need for national and local Government to increase investment into LGBT-specific support.