The Difficulty Of Managing When Mental Health Carers Go Away On Holiday

So last week I did a whole blog about tips as to how to manage when carers go away on holiday and do you know what? I was totally unqualified in giving that advice because good lord…as of today it has been seven days since my parents, aka my regular carers, went away (with three still left to go), and boy have I not been managing to a degree I seriously didn’t expect.

I think the hardest thing about planning for your carers to be away on holiday is that until it happens, you don’t realise how much you needed them in the first place. It is easy to imagine how you will cope without your mental health carers around, but it isn’t until it actually happens that you see all the little things that they do for you that you never would have thought of.
In my last blog I mentioned the importance of writing a list of the things your carers do for you so that you can figure out solutions and alternative ways to manage those things without them, but something I have realised in this past seven days is that I don’t just need general carers, I need my parents as carers specifically, and as a 25 year old I am ashamed to admit how dependant I am on both of them. I am 25 years old so I should be living an independent life without needing family around, but as much as I hate to say it…this past seven days…I have really needed my mum, and you have no idea how pathetic I feel in admitting that.

As you know, in preparation for the holiday my parents hired a nurse to look after me, but it only took a few minutes with said nurse for me to realise that things were not going to work out. Don’t get me wrong, the nurse my parents hired was lovely. If you were to be casting parts in a play and needed someone to play the role of “extremely kind, supportive and understanding mental health nurse” you would have cast this guy in a second, no audition needed and I doubt he would even have to read the script before knowing all the lines required. In short, this guy (we shall call him Eggbert for now because I am fond of names that start with the three letters used to denote the object laid by chickens and often eaten by members of the public for breakfast), was amazing and I couldn’t have asked for anyone better. Indeed, I knew he was going to be lovely from the start so I expected it all to be fine but like I said, I don’t just need a general carer, at this stage in my life with my mental health as it is, I specifically and ashamedly need my mum so this guy was not going to work purely due to the fact that he was not familiar to me.

Eggbert arrived to take care of me on my very first day and was more than capable of carrying out all the tasks and helping me in all the ways that my parents help me, but there was one problem, he was a stranger, and that was where we ran into issues. Rather than finding his presence a comfort, I started to have a panic attack because all of a sudden there was this stranger in the house who I didn’t know, and even if a stranger is lovely and comes bearing bouquets of flowers and freshly baked cookies (which Eggbert didn’t do actually…if you are reading this Eggbert however please rest assured that your lack of foliage and baked goods was not the issue, rather it was my incredibly silly brain), they are still a stranger.
I tried to calm down and remind myself that this person was not a threat to me at all but a trained registered professional mental health nurse who was there to help me but the bit of my brain that controls my “panic” mode was not listening to any of that and consequently it wasn’t until I had asked my nurse to leave that I managed to calm down.

The obvious problem then however was what to do as an alternative because there was no way I could manage by myself, a point that was proven to me after I tried to survive a mere few hours alone. It is very hard to describe how those hours felt because I didn’t myself expect or comprehend the difficulties I would face and to be honest I am still left baffled by it all, but if I had to try and explain it in the simplest terms I would just say that I fell into an extremely dark pit of depression highlighted by a heart attack pang of anxiety and I became so suicidal that there seemed no way to avoid doing something rash.

Luckily, my sister is amazing and came to visit at that time and realised as well as I did that I could not be left alone. Consequently, she took me back to her house and helped me to bake blondies (like brownies but made with white chocolate and peanut butter as opposed to your regular cocoa) because apparently in my eyes when you are feeling that suicidal, it is imperative that you bake something. That was several days ago and since then I have not been alone for more than about an hour at a time because I have the most amazing friend who has agreed to come and stay with me. Like I said, it isn’t the same because right now the person I really need is my mum, but as an alternative carer my best friend is familiar and insanely amazing and doesn’t send me into panic mode like the trained mental health professional did. I hate to say that my friend has had to take some time off work to look after me because I hate to be a burden, but there has been no way around it and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t still be alive were it not for the support I am currently receiving from new alternative carers, my sister and my best friend.

A lesson I have also learnt during the past few days, aside from the fact that I do not need simply carers but people who are familiar to me looking after me, is the importance of staying busy when your mental health carers are away. Usually I manage to do the same daily routine every day with my mum and that works just fine but with my parents away that usual routine is too placid and is not distracting enough from the onslaught of suicidal thoughts I have been pelted with ever since my parents left through the front door (and if you are wondering why those thoughts suddenly intensified the second I was left to my own devices then welcome to the club because I have no idea either.)
Still like I said, the way me and my friend and sister have been managing is to keep me busy at all times so that I have less time to think. For example one day we went to the local aquarium, on another we baked loaves of bread and on one particular day when I was feeling especially self destructive and in need of doing something rash, my amazing Auntie took me to a tattoo parlour to get my eyebrow pierced…apparently when it comes to me the way I manage in times of mental health crisis it is to look at fish, bring out my inner baker or have metal bars shoved through parts of my face (I would however ask any dear readers out there to keep that last bit on the down low though as I have not yet alerted my parents of the fact that I now have a silver bar going through my eyebrow…hopefully they are too busy on their holiday to be reading this because otherwise this is awkward…yeah…surprise mum and dad if you are reading! I have used your time away to have needles shoved through parts of my glorious visage…BUT SO FAR I HAVEN’T KILLED MYSELF SO REMAIN CALM IT IS ALL GOOD…just focus on the coping mechanisms of witnessing sea life and making yeast filled products instead…I love you…*runs away*)

Like I said it has been seven days of my parents being away with several days still to go and what I have learnt over this period of time is that surviving without your regular mental health carers around is a lot harder than I ever anticipated. Often it is not simply a case of being mentally ill and needing a general carer, but of needing a specific carer, in my case my mum, or at least someone familiar like my sister, friend or Auntie. To be honest, the thought of getting through another few days without my parents turns my stomach and I genuinely don’t know how I am going to manage it but at least I have the best people around me to support me in this situation and for that I feel incredibly lucky and eternally grateful.
How the next few days will pan out I do not know (although I do feel another piercing coming on…), but for now, that is what I have to say for the week and the latest lesson I have learned in this mad old life I am living with mental health problems. So yeah…If anyone else out there is struggling or is parted from their regular carer at the moment may I suggest a trip to look at marine life, a spot of baking or perhaps pay someone to shove a needle in your face (I AM SERIOUSLY JOKING THERE DON’T DO THAT KIDS PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD IT WAS JUST A JOKE).
On a more serious note however, if there are any other people out there without their regular carers at the moment then please know that I feel for you, that I understand and that as hard as it is to accept, if I am honest with myself maybe it is time to admit that it isn’t pathetic to still need your mum or other familiar family member or carer around even when you are technically an adult, and it is actually just part of this whole mental illness thing to feel this way. I feel like a burden on my parents more than ever now but I am trying to assure myself that it is not my fault, I am just ill and am going to have to do the best I can for now, as we all do in these situations. In the mean time I hope you are all well, if you are struggling I hope you are lucky enough to have amazing people around you as I am.

Take care everyone x

Loaf and fish

5 Tips For When Mental Health Carers Go Away On Holiday

If you struggle with mental health problems, there is a high chance that you have some sort of carer in your life, someone who helps you get through the day, someone who supports you through the particularly bad times and stays with you when you need. Indeed, carers for people with mental health problems can feel like people you couldn’t live without because they are so integral to your daily survival and that is how I feel about my mental health carers, my parents, although mainly my mum, who had to give up work partly to look after me because having a real job and the job of looking after a total lunatic was far too much for one poor woman to manage.
So if carers are so vital for life, what happens when carers do the terrifying thing and go away for a while, perhaps on a much deserved and needed holiday? What do you do then? What do you do when your person isn’t there for a period of time? Well, to be perfectly honest if it were me, I would go into a total panic and start crying hysterically which is funnily enough how I have been reacting in this situation for as of today both of my parents are heading off to Cyprus on holiday for a week, a week in which I am going to have to find different ways to manage my survival.

So today, seeing as it is so scary to have carers go away and seeing as I am dealing with this myself, I thought I would talk about how to manage, for I think it is an occasion that requires some kind of plan and is not very much like eyeliner in the sense that it is something one can merely “wing”…

Tip 1 – Make a list: Over the course of any one day, a carer can perform a multitude of tasks and when we try to think about all these tasks all at once and how we will manage them alone, it can become overwhelming. For this reason I think the first part to the plan of action is to make a list of all the things your carer does for you or helps you with every day or every week so that you can tackle each hurdle individually and set up a solution for every single one rather than throwing yourself in at the deep end with the overwhelming task of simply “managing everything” by oneself. If you are faced with a week without your carer the prospect can seem daunting, too many hours and too many tasks to truly comprehend but if you break it down into more manageable chunks it becomes less intimidating and also allows you to anticipate what exactly is going to be difficult when left to your own devices. For example, before my parents were going away I made a schedule of my 24 hour day plan and have gone through my daily routine picking out any issues to solve to avoid them springing up unexpectedly like some demented and rather terrifying Jack in the box…Jack in the box surprises are never appreciated, especially when you are living with mental health problems without a carer, so make a list and anticipate those problems before they can become an issue.

Tip 2 – Look into respite care: Making a list of challenges and things you are going to struggle with whilst a carer is away is all well and good but there is a chance that even when that list is made, things are still going to look incredibly daunting and perhaps unmanageable even if you break it down. When this is the case my tip would be to perhaps look into various institutions or options of places that you can go for respite care. It sounds a bit scary and dramatic but all across the country there are houses and facilities available for times exactly like these when a carer about to go off galavanting and they provide an option or place to stay whilst the carer is away so that you can manage living without them whilst getting the care you need. Crisis houses and specific respite houses will be around if you do a bit of research, although with this one it is important to look up these type of options as early as possible. Crisis houses may have spaces available more last minute (although usually there will be some kind of waiting list so getting exact dates is never certain), but respite care often needs to be planned in advance. Getting funding for a respite placement is another difficulty so this tip is not one without its issues (although if I could remove the issues for you please rest assured that I would), but it is certainly an option to consider or something to look into if tip one has left you still feeling that the idea of living without your carer is unmanageable. Indeed, personally I would say that looking for and going into respite care when carers are away is a great, safe and secure option that I would be head over heels for and going for myself during this week but alas because of late applications, lack of funding and various OCD reasons (like sharing bathrooms) this option is not available to me at this time and we have had to look for alternate ways to get through the situation….for example….

Tip 3 – Look into replacement carers: If like me, you find yourself incredibly intimidated at the thought of a period of time without your carer (even if that carer is away on a well deserved holiday that you fully support them in travelling on), but have not been able to access respite care either for lack of date availability or lack of funding (please insert comment about how desperate this country is for funding in the mental health department here), or OCD like complications like me where staying in your own house is preferable, there may be the chance of looking into an option of hiring or getting care from a replacement carer who can come and help you out in your own home and indeed this is the option that I am taking this week. The problem with this option is that it can be expensive hiring a nurse from an agency to come and support you, but luckily or unluckily depending on how you look at it, my parents have been so desperate and so worried that they have found the funds somewhere. Perhaps there are places and people who are eligible to receive this kind of care from the National Health Service (I know that the government provides hired assistance for people with learning difficulties for example, just not for people explicitly with mental health problems), so certainly check first to see if you are eligible for that kind of care but if not and if you do have the funds, my tip here is to know that hiring a replacement carer for a period of time is at least a possibility you may not have thought of (I know I certainly didn’t know this kind of thing existed until my parents ran into issues with my care for this particular holiday) and certainly an option to look into if you don’t think you will be able to manage being home alone.

Tip 4 – Make plans: When faced with a week home without my parents I shudder at the thought and my teeth chatter together like Scooby Doo’s after he has been through a particularly intense ghost chase. Thinking of all of those hours by myself/even with a nurse is terrifying, so as well as making a list of things you are going to need to challenge whilst your carer is away, I think it is important to make a list of things you can do to break down the time and give you structure. Being told to “survive the holiday” full stop is far too intimidating, so the key is to break it down into things that you are going to do in order to survive. Maybe this means planning to go on a walk one afternoon or planning a morning of crafty activities (by which I mean the arty kind as opposed to the sneaky sneaky burglar kind…no burgling whilst carers are in or out of the country please folks) but whatever it is make a rough plan for every day to stick to. Then, instead of “survive 7 days”, you will be faced with smaller and more manageable tasks like “watch a film for two hours” or “knit a penguin tea cosy” (other animal shaped cosies are optional but not advised). If choosing activities for each day is too stressful maybe simply write a list of ways to keep yourself busy, tear them up and put them in a jar and then when your carer is away and you find yourself at a loose end pick an activity from the jar and get distracting yourself with it. Either way time used productively is infinitely easier to manage than time spent simply worrying about where your carer is or what you should do to pass the time, so get a timetable going and make some structure for your time!

Tip 5 – Have a list of emergency numbers: In an ideal world, candy would rain from the sky, Donald Trump would not be president and your time at home without your carer would go swimmingly without a hitch but unfortunately we do not live in an ideal world (clearly evidenced by the current inhabitant of the White house and the lack of strawberry gum drops falling from the sky) and so we must face up to the fact that when carers are away, there is the potential for things to go wrong. Therefore it is important to prepare for such circumstances in advance by making a list of phone numbers of friends/family, support services, carers and crisis teams who you can call should things go awry. Hopefully you will make this list, hang it up beside the telephone and never need glance at it for the duration of your carer’s holiday but just incase things do go wrong, it is vital to have people in place who you can call on for help ready and prepared.

So there you have it! 5 tips as to how to manage when your mental health carers go away on holiday or at least 5 tips that I will be using over the coming weeks to survive my parents’ jolly jaunt off to Cyprus (they are going for a wedding…I am sure it is going to be lovely despite the fact that a holiday for my carers abroad is both delightful and terrifying). Whether these tips will be helpful to anyone else out there in a similar situation I do not know but whatever the case I thought I would try to help my pals out there and hopefully I have.
When carers go away it is always going to be scary but I will keep my fingers crossed that with these tips and that by hanging in there together, we will be able to get through. I guess there is only one way to find out…let’s give it a go shall we?

Take care everyone x

CarersAway

Things You Will Need When You Are Admitted Into A Psychiatric Hospital

Before you move house, you need to pack your life into a van. Before you go on holiday, you need to pack suncream and the inflatable dolphin into a suitcase, and before you go out rambling in the wilderness, you need to pack a picnic in a picnic basket (preferably one of those wicker ones with a gingham tablecloth and lots of little boxes inside…one must never go out rambling unless one is accompanied by a picnic).
There are however some things that are a little less fun to pack for, those being admissions to a hospital or inpatient psychiatric unit, which is nowhere near as much fun as a picnic (and involves 100% fewer wicker baskets…By God I love a wicker basket).

When I decided to write a blog about this topic I was therefore going to call it “Things you will need to pack for an inpatient admission” but as I have started writing I realised that sometimes when it comes to mental health hospital admissions, they are not planned like a two week cruise around the Mediterranean, and there is seldom time to “pack”. Even when an admission to a unit has been planned, you are going to be so nervous about it the night before that you forget to pack anyway, so instead here I thought I would offer a little help to all those who find themselves in that situation by providing a list of things that you will need during an admission to a mental health hospital.
It doesn’t matter if you are making a list of things to pack the night before or simply things you now need to start begging family/friends/online delivery people to bring to you because you were not prepared and only came onto the ward with a one way train ticket to Exeter (trust me, it happens…). Whatever the situation, this blog post is here for you, so lets get on and start this fabulous list of things you will need during an inpatient admission to a mental health hospital (things you will need if you have fabulous taste like me that is…)

BASIC LIFE THINGS: You may think that this is a rather obvious logical point to make but remember, mental health admissions are stressful times where “obvious logical things” turn into “I like ducks”, and you would be surprised by the number of people who turn up to hospital without a toothbrush (warning, this may make teeth angry and cause them to phone the tooth fairy emergency helpline for immediate assistance. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.) So yeah…I am not going to list all the miscellaneous nonsense you may use every day, but as a general note to start off with, when you are in hospital, you are probably going to need a lot of the general nonsense you use everyday (toothbrush/toothpaste/underwear etc.)

MOTIVATION: Of course I mean this point in the emotional sense of the word, but when you are isolated in hospital it can be easy to forget why you are there and what you are doing in this inpatient bubble, so practical pieces of motivation to get you through are also essential. Things in this category can include photos of friends or family, motivational books about people who have been through recovery for your disorder, quotes or even little prompts to give you a little boost when your brain refuses to do the boosting for you (e.g taking something like a list of things you want out of life to have at your place at the table on an eating disorder ward to help at meal times). I have known a lot of people to go all out with motivation and to bring enough cards/quotes/photos to decorate their entire room into a cave of inspiration (if that is allowed on your unit and you are not in a stripped room that is), so if that would help you, do that. Personally though, I prefer not to put up too many decorations because I am always so hopeful about leaving that I refuse to accept the idea that I should settle because I may be there a while…

THINGS TO DO: When you are in a psychiatric hospital it is likely that there will be things going on. On the week days there may be things like therapy groups, 1:1 sessions and opportunities for visitors, but aside from all of those things and the “spare hours” that will be taken up by things like crying hysterically, you are still going to end up with a fair bit of free time, especially on weekends when it is quieter and a lot of patients may have leave. Keeping yourself occupied therefore is going to make time pass quicker and distract you (a bit) from what is going on. For example on my ward there is a current craze with origami and people are making paper cranes faster than I can count (I tried to get into Origami too and managed to unfold one of these aforementioned cranes into a normal square piece of paper again but apparently that “isn’t the point”). There are also patients who knit and live in giant balls of wool, people who colour with crayons, draw, and there are patients like me who get through the day either by writing or by tossing reality out of the window and reading to get lost into alternative fictional worlds (This week I read “The Secret Garden” a book I highly recommend for times in hospital when you cant go outside and see a real garden yourself.)

COMFY CLOTHES: The first time I ever packed for an inpatient stay, I put all of my nice going out clothes into my suitcase and took them to the hospital ready to co-ordinate my outfits every day so that I would “look nice” for the other patients. I also wore mascara to a place I was highly likely to start crying in upon arrival. I was an idiot.
Listen, I get it, people like to look nice both for themselves and for other people but let’s be real, a psychiatric hospital is not a fashion shoot (cameras are not allowed), and after five minutes neither you nor anybody else is going to care what anyone looks like because you are all too busy being caught up in fighting your head demons and managing general anxiety. Even if you are not worried about what you look like or what people are thinking of your sense of style, “nice clothes” are simply not practical. When you are in hospital you are going to want to be comfy. Imagine you need to curl up on your bed for a good sob or find that you are so anxious that you start having panic attacks and problems breathing. Maybe things have got a little bit out of hand and staff need to carry you somewhere, carry out a quick blood test or give you an injection to calm you down. All of those things are going to be a hell of a lot more pleasant (as fun/pleasant as being injected in the rear can be at least), and a lot easier/more comfortable if you are wearing comfortable clothes rather than a corset and, skinny jeans.
Don’t get me wrong, if you want to dress up because it makes you feel better/more human then feel free to do so. I know a lot of patients who still like to wake up, wear a fancy skirt and put make up on in the mornings because that is what works for them, makes them feel less “mental hospitally”, more normal and lifts their mood (I am not one of those people…) However, even the people with the nicest most fashionable clothes will need a onesie and a lot of baggy trousers for “those days”. I would also add slippers to this both because they are comfy footwear and make a nice slip slop sound as you walk down the corridors. Trust me, stiletto heels are not a good idea (they tear the evacuation slide…or am I getting psychiatric hospital attire confused with ideal footwear for planes…)

TACTILE/FIDGETTY DISTRACTION THINGS: When people get anxious, their bodies get filled with adrenaline, and to calm down, that adrenaline needs to be released. Often this can happen via what the professionals call “unhealthy coping mechanisms” and that is not ideal because…well…it is unhealthy, and therefore you need other practical tools you can use to keep your hands busy releasing adrenaline whilst the rest of you remains safe. These things are different from the “things to do” category because they are not things that require any particular concentration, brain power or coherent thinking, these are for the times when your head is so loud that you cannot remember the alphabet and just need something to cling onto. I personally have what is called a “Tangle” (this weird thing that can be bent into all different kinds of shapes), and a fidget cube. Other things people may use include stress balls, squeezable spikey rubber balls, fidget spinners and putty. Sometimes things like a pebble to hold or little pebbles to pass from one hand to the other can also be helpful, but I will leave that up to you to decide because some people may not find those items to be safe to be around in a stressful situation.

And now to the final category, the most important thing you will need for an inpatient admission to a psychiatric hospital…

SOMETHING TO CUDDLE: Enough said. I don’t care how old or cool you are, everyone needs a cuddle once in a while/all the time so pack a damn teddy bear for the love of God.

So there you go! All the things you could possibly need to survive an inpatient admission in a psychiatric hospital. Obviously feel free to take other things as well, but as a basic guide I would say this list is a good one to start with.
I should point out before I finish here that as well as a list of things you will need to take to an inpatient unit there is usually a list of things that you should not take (like sledge hammers…mallets are ok though), so on the whole as a final tip, when you are packing, stick to things that are softer and squishier than a pick axe. If you are currently in an inpatient admission or are approaching one I hope this list helps, and if you are not then thank you for coming along for the ride anyway! I am thinking of and supporting you all, wherever you are, you are not alone in your fight.

Take care everyone x

InpatientPacking

The Effect Of Mental Health Problems On Carers

A few days ago I was out for a wander with my mother and I asked to borrow her phone because my OCD fear of contamination often means that I leave my own phone at home, meaning my “mobile” is ironically rather stationary. I did not ask to borrow her phone to play a few rounds of snake as I often did as a child (God I miss the 90’s), I borrowed it because I wanted to check my emails. You see, I am a very important person and for this reason I am often swamped with a lot of very important emails and thus it is vital for me to check my emails at all times to see what exciting opportunities I am receiving/check if my online shopping order of a new penguin onesie has been dispatched yet, because one cannot wait around all day for these things. What do they expect me to do, wear normal clothes? What a hideous idea!

Anyway, as I tapped on the little email icon on my mother’s telephonic device, I was immediately confronted with a word document in which I could clearly see my name. Had I not read my name I would have perhaps realised that this document was not for me and was actually an email sent to my mother, seeing as I was using her phone which was naturally signed into her account. Having realised this I would have, of course, closed the document and signed out in order to respect my mother’s privacy, but alas I did not realise this right away as, like I said, I had read my name. Thinking my emails had somehow popped up automatically I read on, but soon enough I realised that this message was perhaps one that had not been written for the eyes I had tucked neatly behind the rims of my spectacles (top tip: when wearing glasses always make sure your eyes are tidily kept behind the lens part of the glasses rather than allowing the eyes to wander aimlessly across one’s face).
When I realised that this document was not for me I probably should have closed it right away and swiped off to check on that penguin onesie, but alas I was all too curious and without saying a word, I read all of what was on the screen…

The document it turned out, was a draft of a letter from my parents, a letter about me. I won’t go into the full details of the letter’s contents, but as a brief summary it said “Dear High up person in Mental Health services, We are the parents of Katie who is really mentally ill and we are terrified for her life right now because things are so bad, so please can you help locate some kind of treatment that is more intense than the outpatient services she is currently receiving because she is truly insane and we do not know what to do with ourselves”. Suffice it to say, upon reading that, I was a little shocked. Obviously I know that I am mentally ill and I know that this has a large impact on the family and friends around me, but I guess that when you are the one suffering with the mental health problem, it is quite easy to forget the effect it has on other people because you are so wrapped up in your own world. Seeing this was a massive reminder and realisation as to how much people with mental health problems affect the people who love them. On this blog I am always talking about how my illness affects me and when we think about a household in which someone is a little bit on the bonkers side, it is often the person who is unwell, as opposed to the carer, who is in the forefront of our minds. This really made me think how if I, as someone who has a lot of experience in mental health problems, can forget or not realise the impact of insanity on others, a lot of people out there with no experience probably have no idea at all and therefore it needs to be talked about.

Indeed it reminds me of an incident a few weeks ago when the window cleaner rang on the doorbell to collect money for his bubbly services. Months prior, had he rang the bell, nobody would have answered because my mum would have been at work and I would have been hiding under a blanket somewhere worrying about who was ringing on the doorbell. However, recently my mum has given up work for “many reasons” she says, but if we are honest it is to care for me because, to borrow a phrase of every 5 year old trying to get out of a P.E lesson across the country, I am “not very well” (Thanks for letting me borrow that phrase kids. You may have it back now. Really appreciate it.)
Naturally though, the window cleaner is not aware of my mental health problems, so he was surprised at my mum opening the door in the day time. When she explained that she had actually given up work, he jovially commented “ahh, a lady of leisure”, and to be fair to him, how was he to think otherwise. Still it was a comment that made me a bit uncomfortable because I realised that there are probably some people out there who would hear that my mum has given up a “proper job” to look after me and would think that she is indeed a lady of leisure, swanning around the house in a floaty gown without a care in the world. She doesn’t have a mental health problem and since mine are all invisible creatures in my head, it would be easy to assume that they don’t affect her life very dramatically. This could not be further from the truth, and in my eyes my mum’s unofficial job of “looking after a maniac everyday” is not at all leisurely and, if anything, it is the most physically and emotionally exhausting job on the planet.

For me, it can take hours to eat a meal, hours to perform a washing routine “correctly”, hours to put my hair into a pony tail that is “just right” according to OCD and not likely to kick off world war three any time soon. Rituals take so long that I am frequently getting to bed around 6am, just as my dad is getting up for work, and though my mum isn’t there for all of that time, for the majority of it, she is there. She is the one calming me down after I have had a panic attack, she is the one helping me to prepare food and weigh courgettes if I am too scared to go in the kitchen myself, she is the one having to answer my constant reassurance seeking questions of “did I do that right/is something bad going to happen”. Aside from those more physically demanding things however, I would say that the biggest impact is the emotional stuff that goes alongside it.

I remember a time when I was having a particularly bad day and had found it hard to follow my meal plan so I ended up accidentally fainting (I am pretty sure it is hard to faint on purpose but I want to make it clear that the fainting had not been my intention). When I came round on the sofa I did not feel well at all and I remember mum being very anxious about it, a fact which, at the time, I felt really angry about. Looking back it sounds awfully selfish but I just couldn’t see why she was making a fuss. She wasn’t the one whose heart was skipping beats like a child with a jump rope of death, she wasn’t the one who was so weak she could barely move and whose vision was fading in and out of total darkness. If she was at all dizzy or weak, she could solve the problem easily by going into the kitchen and having a few chocolate digestives to perk her sugar levels up. I on the other hand, no matter how I felt, was still too scared to eat something. Little did I think about what it must be like to watch someone you love struggling to stay alive, without being able to do anything about it. Okay my mum “has it easy” in that she can grab a biscuit whenever she wants one, but she also has to worry about the fact that I cannot do that, that I cannot take care of myself at all right now, and that is incredibly difficult.

It isn’t even as if she can get a break very often from her role as “carer” because naturally if she isn’t caring for me she is worrying about who is doing it for her or worse, me caring for myself. She can go to bed at 2am and sleep through the rituals I carry out until 6am but I highly doubt she has a restful sleep knowing that I am awake charging around like a lunatic, worrying about whether i have eaten enough or whether I am going to have one of my panic sessions which usually leads to me doing something rash and dangerous before I have time to realise what is going on.
Living with someone with a mental health problem also restricts someone’s movement and freedom drastically, much like it might if you had a Yorkshire terrier or a golden Labrador. I have never had a dog but from what I gather, you need to constantly be aware of what they are doing and where they are going. You cannot just jet off to Paris for the weekend without worrying about where the dog is going to go, and in my mother’s situation, I am very much like that dog (only a really freaking crazy dog that you can’t just send to the local kennel.) In the letter from my parents to the fancy mental health person that I had read accidentally/kind of on purpose having discovered accidentally, they spoke about how they have a holiday booked in August and are panicking because if things remain as they are, I will not be able to be left. People know that as someone who is unwell, I often feel trapped behind the bars of the mental health cage, but it is important to realise that often, those around them are caught up in that cage behind those bars too.

Reading that letter has had a big effect on me, not in the sense that I am now “trying harder” to get better as if I wasn’t trying before, but because it has made me especially aware of how mental health problems suck both the lives out of those they inhabit and any other lives that happen to be within range. A mental health problem is not a vacuum with a specifically designed nozzle that only pulls on the sufferer, it is a vacuum with a flipping massive gaping hole that hovers over a household and jumbles up all that there is inside, so that even those who aren’t “technically ill” can feel like their world is spinning.
In a way I guess this blog is kind of like a shoutout or a thank you to my parents as well as an apology at how much I am affecting their lives negatively right now. More than that though, I want it to highlight the fact that in general, life as a carer is incredibly taxing and debilitating in its own right, and that it is a serious job, the stress of which should never be underestimated or brushed aside. Raise awareness for people who struggle of course, but it is important to also raise awareness and support for the people who are standing alongside them.

If you yourself are a carer of someone with a mental health problem, please know that on behalf of all mentally ill people, I see you, and I thank you.

Take care everyone x

CarerPrison

10 Ways To Support Someone With An Eating Disorder

Living with an eating disorder is hell, but I think it is underestimated just how horrendous it can be for the people living with people who have eating disorders. I know many parents, families, partners and friends tend to feel pretty hopeless when watching someone they love slowly drowning, without knowing how to stop it. Almost every day my mum will ask me what she can do to help, like there is some problem solving action she can perform as easily as changing a lightbulb.
I know for a fact that if there were an action she could carry out, my mum would do it in an instant no matter how inconvenient or unpleasant (I think she would even play Pictionary and she HATES Pictionary…weirdo). Unfortunately, eating disorders don’t have quick solutions and no matter how much a loved one wants to help, they cannot fix the problem. They can however support the person, and often these little offerings of support are nowhere near as dramatic as people seem to think. Supporting someone with an eating disorder doesn’t require grand complicated acts of kindness, often you can support someone with little things that don’t take much time or effort at all. So today, I am going to share with you a list of things that I find help me at home aka 10 simple ways you can help someone with an eating disorder.

1. Don’t get angry with the person, get angry with their disorder – When you have an eating disorder in the house/in any relationship, you can guarantee it is going to cause some conflict. I have lost count of the number of arguments I have had with my mum with regard to eating disorder issues like what I am eating for dinner. I honestly don’t think we have ever had an argument about anything that wasn’t mental health related (bar one argument we had in 2002 because she wanted Will Young to win Pop Idol when I was firmly on the side of Gareth Gates. I would like it noted that I can now lift my hands up and admit I was wrong on that one). Just yesterday I am ashamed to say I had an argument with my mother and yelled at her for about half an hour because she tried to help, and unknowingly put my kidney beans in the “wrong pan”.
Afterwards I felt incredibly guilty/like the worst person in the world. This guilt would have eaten me up and is the kind of thing that makes me feel that I don’t deserve food, but after we had all calmed down and I had apologised, what I found helpful is the fact that my mum made it clear that she understood that I hadn’t meant to yell about a bean pan. She knew it had just been the eating disorder taking control, and though I need to work on managing that myself, the acknowledgement that I wasn’t this terrible person who worried more about what pan my beans were in than my mother’s kind attempt at assistance, made me feel more able to continue with the meal.

2. If you are eating with someone with an eating disorder, keep them distracted and don’t make the food the sole focus of the experience – Meal times with someone with an eating disorder are not the most relaxing of situations and can be pretty intense (like one of those awkward dinner parties you see on Come Dine with me only less bitchy and without a voiceover man commenting on every little thing that occurs). For this reason, when I have to eat a meal with someone, I find it really helpful for them to help keep me distracted and not make it all about the food. Silence allows thoughts to creep in at the table, so I would recommend conversation if the person is able or, if they are unable (sometimes I cannot talk very much/think of words because I am so anxious), have the radio on in the background or play a game. Sometimes in hospital we would even do things like crosswords or little quizzes which really helped keep your mind occupied by working on something else (my favourite thing about this was that when there were bank staff they would go through the pile of quiz questions without realising which ones we had already done so we were all able to provide correct answers instantly and looked like geniuses.)

3. Allow them to take baby steps in their recovery rather than expecting miracles overnight – When people are in recovery from any mental health problem, there is often a lot of pressure for progress to be quick so that the problem can be solved and forgotten about as soon as possible. However, recovery is a very slow process and this pressure is often detrimental as it can make a sufferer more anxious and stressed. To help someone who is struggling, allow them to make progress at a steady pace they are comfortable with rather than forcing them to make dramatic changes which ultimately will not be sustainable.

4. Praise them…or don’t praise them at all – I have many friends who appreciate a little “well done” or similar nudge of encouragement after a meal to make them feel supported and like their hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed, so offering those words of praise can be a great way to support a loved one. That said, I know there are others, (me included) who actually find this more unhelpful, as they like to leave the table and forget everything rather than acknowledge the meal that has just been consumed. Denial may not be the best way to deal with mealtimes, but at the moment denial is how I cope, so I am helped by nobody commenting on how fantastic it is that I have cleared my plate. For this one then, maybe ask the person you are supporting to see whether praise would be helpful to them before whipping out the party poppers to celebrate an empty bowl of cereal.

5. Try to be as relaxed as possible at the dinner table – When I sit at the table, I am always anxious, and when I can see that other people are anxious, it makes me more anxious. This then makes them more anxious and before you know we are left with a table of people panicking about a meal that hasn’t even happened yet. For this reason when supporting someone at a meal time, if possible try to be calm and relaxed to show that the situation isn’t anything to be afraid of, rather than freaking  yourself out and condoning the “THE TABLE IS A SCARY PLACE” fear.

6. Seek support for yourself – People with eating disorders need support and so do the people around them. As important as it is for carers to have an outlet somewhere to discuss their concerns and worries though, it is helpful to make that outlet someone other than the person who is struggling. When you feel that you are a terrible person who is ruining everyone’s lives because you cant eat normally, emotional outpourings condoning that are only going to make things worse. Ultimately then for this one, support someone by finding support and seeking help for yourself too.

7. Keep diet talk to a minimum if you are on a diet – Obviously when you have an eating disorder, people being on diets can be rather triggering. That said you cannot dictate that nobody who lives with someone who is struggling is allowed to have any say in what they eat. Naturally we all have needs and some people may be prescribed special diets from a doctor which of course they should follow. If this is the case however, the best way to help the sufferer manage the situation is to not make a song and dance about it (aka no conga lines for the fact you have switched to low fat yoghurt and if possible none of those “I LOST THREE STONE” certificates which diet clubs award people plastered all over the fridge).

8. Know their meal plan – Again this one depends from sufferer to sufferer but personally I find it helpful when those around me know what is on and what is expected of me in my meal plan as it makes me accountable in some way. Obviously the goal is to get to a point where I don’t need people to know what I should be eating and am able to be responsible myself, but right now my mum having a copy of my meal plan supports me every day. That way, when I am struggling and want to miss things out, I know that it is not a case of “nobody will notice so just throw the bread out of the window” as my mum would immediately wonder where the soft wholemeal has gone (and why there is half a loaf of Hovis stuck in the garden hedge)…

9. Don’t treat them like a disorder – When people see or think of me, I always feel they think of me as “the one with the eating disorder” and that I have no other identifiers to me as a person. It is therefore helpful when living with someone with an ED, to treat them as a normal person with other interests and hobbies so as to remind them that they are more than their disorder and will ultimately still have an identity left, even when the disorder is gone.

10. Do not comment on their meal plan or their body weight – This last one is probably fairly obvious but nevertheless very important so I had to include it. Whatever you do and if you only follow one of these tips as to how to support a loved one, make it this one and for the love of all that is holy NEVER comment on how much weight someone has gained on their recovery meal plan and NEVER comment on how big someone’s meal is. Eating disorder recovery meal plans may look totally normal but there are some that may perhaps be bigger than normal. Whatever the meal plan though, the person will need all the food prescribed to treat their malnourished body and repair all of the damage that has been done internally. If someone is soldiering through their meal plan trying to reassure themselves of this, the last thing they need is a comment like “blimey that is a lot of food, I couldn’t eat that”. Hand on heart a bank HCA in hospital with no experience in eating disorders sat next to me one meal time and after I had finished my main/was picking a spoon up to dive into my rhubarb crumble with custard, they commented “I don’t know how you can eat that. My main course was half the size of yours and I am already too full to eat another bite”…THAT IS NOT HELPFUL INFORMATION.

So there you have it, ten ways in which family/friends can support people with eating disorders (at least in my experience), without actually having to do much at all. Being desperate to help a loved one and wanting to support them doesn’t have to be carried out in dramatic acts like white water rafting or playing Pictionary, Sometimes all you need do to be the most helpful and make the biggest difference, is the little things like asking them for help with a crossword over their cornflakes or giving an encouraging nod at lunchtime.

Take care everyone x

supportsomeonewithed