Wednesday, 1 October 2014

What is "Non-Violent Extremism", David Cameron?

On the 25th September 2014, David Cameron presented a speech to the UN about the threat of extremism and what can be done about it. In his speech, he talks at length about ISIL and the recruitment of their members from the rest of the world, noting that already 500 Britons have traveled to the region to help fight in Syria. You can read the transcript of the full speech on the UK Goverment Website here, or watch a video of David Cameron delivering the speech here.

As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. And that is what David Cameron is calling for in his speech. He says:
"The root cause of this terrorist threat is a poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism....To defeat ISIL – and organisations like it - we must defeat this ideology in all its forms."
This is the first worry I have - how do you defeat an ideology, which by definition is only a set of ideas and beliefs?  Will it become illegal under international law to believe something? 

So what ideas might you have that pose a threat to the international community? Mr Cameron is very specific here:

"As evidence emerges about the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were initially influenced by preachers who claim not to encourage violence, but whose world view can be used as a justification for it. We know this world view. 
The peddling of lies: that 9/11 was a Jewish plot or that the 7/7 London attacks were staged. The idea that Muslims are persecuted all over the world as a deliberate act of Western policy. The concept of an inevitable clash of civilisations."

So simply being a conspiracy theorist makes you an enemy of the state? A conspiracy theorist is somebody who questions inconsistent evidence given by the official or widely accepted version of events. These people are actually not causing any direct harm. Simple questioning of those in power is something that I believe is important in an honest, open and democratic society. It is exactly what I am doing here, questioning a speech made by the Prime Minister. How this blog post may be interpreted by my readers does not make me responsible for their actions. I am simply putting forward an alternate view, in a non violent way. 

Islamic Extremists use all sorts of ideas that make up this world view David Cameron is talking about, and take all sorts of information to justify their actions. Islamic Extremists are so called because they have interpreted the Qu'ran, or at least some parts of it, in a certain way that justifies their acts of terror. In the same way, the Nazi's used certain sections of Nietzsche's philosophy to justify their fascist regime and the persecution of the Jews. In my opinion, neither Nietzsche or the Qu'ran call for the actions that a minority of their followers have carried out. So are they really to blame?

The implications of what David Cameron is saying are huge. Simply for having your opinion interpreted in a certain way that condones violence by extremists (even if you don't agree with that yourself), you will be labelled a non-violent extremist, and be treated by the state as a terrorist. 

This follows recent threats by UK Police that by watching the beheading of James Foley on Youtube etc. you could face arrest over Terror Charges. However, this proved to be an empty threat after over 2 million Brits watched the video online.

From what David Cameron is saying, soon it could be left up to the government to decide whether or not you are a terrorist based on your beliefs, regardless of any harm you yourself may have caused. He has already given Teresa May the power to refuse any Briton access into or out of the UK, and now could more powers be given to sanction so-called 'Non-Violent Extremists'?

It seems that they are already being prepared

Friday, 15 August 2014

Banter is Fine if You Take Women's Rugby Seriously, Naimh

We're fast approaching the final of the Women's Rugby World Cup, and it has been a phenomenal competition. It has been a hard fought contest, with reigning champs New Zealand knocked out in the group stages. France have been playing some fantastic rugby themselves, and their matches have been aired on terrestrial TV to an audience of two million.

But the real stars have been the Irish. Although being knocked out in the Semi Finals by England, they have triumphed with historic wins against both Kazakhstan and the Kiwi's. And rightly so, the Girls in Green have made front page news in the Irish papers, attracting a serious amount of notable attention.

Yet there's always one draconian journalist who hasn't quite been able to keep up. This time it's the ditzy Niamh Horan who was assigned to write a piece about women's rugby at grassroots level. In order to write the article, she and a photographer went down to Railway Union RFC to join in with the girls at training. You can read the resulting piece, entitled 'Niamh Horan on Women in Rugby: 'I never play a game without my tan'' here.

This article had great potential to promote the women's game; persuading new girls to give it a try and helping to counter some narrow-minded attitudes. At least it could have done, if it was taken seriously.

Believe it or not, women who play rugby are just your normal women. Some like to wear make-up, fake tan and hair extensions, some don't. Some are curvy, some are slim. Some are gay and some are straight. As with anything in life, you don't have to fit into one of these categories in order to be able to do something.

However, the focus of this article was on the superficial gender stereotypes that female athletes constantly battle in their fight to be taken seriously.

The article is inappropriately sexualised throughout, with the talk of touching women's thighs and threesomes, it reads like an erotic novel. This tone would never be used in an article written about men playing sport, so why should it be used when referring to women playing rugby?

The content of the report was not focused on rugby, but the clichéd topics of beauty and impressing the boys. Surprise, surprise, one of the lines that came out of this fantastic piece of journalism was 'Does my bum look big in this?' when Horan pulls on her rugby shirt for the first time.

It's a massive shame because there's so much that can be said about the Railway Union's women's rugby teams. After a small amount of research (just checking out the club's website), I have found that this club is a real advocate of women's rugby. They field 3 senior women's teams, have two girls' age groups at youth level and a women's sevens academy. As a player myself for 13 years, I have never come across such a large club for women to join. There are whole counties in the UK can not offer that many teams. What Railway Union RFC is doing is seriously impressive.

The Railway Union RFC are taking the girls seriously, and have high hopes for their players. Their 1st team compete in the All Ireland League, the highest league possible, equivalent to England's Premiership. These women are the best of the best, and often scouted at this level for international rugby. Not only this, but the club have two more senior teams below that promote enjoyment and development in the game.

The Railway Union are an impressive club who are real advocates of women's rugby and that should be something that is celebrated. Instead we have to make do with a sexist, badly researched piece that somehow got published.

Some people have supported the article saying that the artificial focus on make-up and men was light-hearted banter. And I'm not saying that we shouldn't have a bit of light-hearted banter when talking about women's sports. But the problem is that is all we get - as if women playing rugby is one big joke.

The Railway Union RFC take women's rugby seriously and so should the journos. Having a bit of banter in an article is fine, as long as it is backed up with some meaty substance that promotes women's sports.

Women's rugby has come a long way, especially since I started playing over 10 years ago. This World Cup has done a lot to prove that. In the UK, the girls have had top billing on Sky Sports 1, and in France the girls have made it onto terrestrial TV. I've noticed we have started to get more column inches, but pieces like these are still holding us back.

The Women's Rugby World Cup final is on Sunday 17th August between England and Canada, and can be watched in the UK on Sky Sports 4, KO at 17:45.

Come on England!!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Depression Can Kill The Funniest of People: RIP Robin Williams

As a kid growing up in the 90's, we literally had no choice but to watch films with Robin Williams in. He was in every kid's film produced in that era and just before. Thankfully for us, they were funny.

So a few years ago it really surprised me when I read this article in the Guardian. What struck me was the complete sadness of the man and how strongly it came across. It is not often I read an interview that so strongly depicts such melancholy. Of course, celebrities talk about their struggles all the time, but they always seem so distant. This was the first time I really caught a glimpse of a celebrity's real life personality.

As the interviewer says, only a few weeks before he was being his more well known, zany self on the Jonathan Ross Show

At the time, I'd never realised how, if you were depressed, you could put on that much of a face. It is only now I'm struggling with depression myself that I understand how it can be done, and actually how frequently it is done by so many depressed people. Many people I know would be surprised to find that I am struggling with depression myself.

In this interview with Jonathan Ross, Robin jokes about his drug and alcohol addiction like it's another hilarious celebrity anecdote. That's what I do. When people ask me how I am, knowing about what's going on, I laugh it off. 'Oh I'm fine...' I'll say, brushing it off like its nothing.

The problem is, Depression isn't nothing. While we don't know yet whether Robin did try to commit suicide, it certainly consumed him for a large part of his life. It takes over you, often crippling you in such a way that you find it hard to do the simplest of things, even maintain a relationship with you friends and family. And most of the time, it goes completely unnoticed. But he lived with it, pushing it to the corner of his life to make way for his jokes and laughter. If only the jokes and laughter could have won.
You're Free, Genie

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

CBT Review - Aha, Progress!

Today I had my CBT review session, in which we looked over how far I've come since my first session way back in March, how I've been finding it and what the plan of action is from now on.

I've been really pleased with my progress throughout the last 5 months. Group CBT was really good for learning some coping mechanisms, and my levels of anxiety reduced massively after the 5 sessions I had. I would say now that anxiety is not really something that gets in my way. While I still have pangs of worry from time to time, I am able to deal with them using the breathing techniques, challenging my thoughts or by changing my focus of attention. And the results have shown up in the mood assessment questionnaire I fill out before each session (similar questionnaire can be found here). My anxiety score for my first assessment was 17 out of 18. This was a huge score, 9 points above what would be considered to be a normal level. In today's session, my assessment score was 7. That's a massive 10 point difference, and now I am considered to have a healthy level of anxiety!

After Group CBT, I've had 6 one to one sessions to tackle my depression and low mood. I feel that these have done so much to really target the cause of my low mood and break it down from its very core. We've established my core beliefs and how they affect my thought processes, and challenged my thought processes so I've started to think more rationally again. I'm not quite there yet, as my core beliefs are so strong they will take a bit of extra work, but already I am much less down. Again my assessment scores reflect this; I started on 17 out of 21, and has now been reduced to 10. Below 9 points and I would not be considered to be depressed, so as you can see my low mood is much more mild now.

It's so good to see all this working. I've made some huge changes to my lifestyle this year; I've started eating more healthily and exercising regularly again, I'm seeking help on polishing up my CV and I've continued to blog no matter how hard it's sometimes been. As a result, I've lost weight, got much fitter, improved my online presence, picked up some new skills, learned so much about myself and become much happier.

I have three more CBT sessions left, in which we will concentrate on tackling the 'I am not good enough' core belief, and then hopefully some relapse prevention. For the first time in a long while, I'm feeling hopeful.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Challenging Negative Thoughts

Throughout the last month, my CBT sessions have focused on challenging the negative thoughts that I have, and coming up with alternative, fairer thoughts to ease my negativity.

I've always tried to challenge my negative thoughts. I know that they're there, how overwhelmingly negative they are, and that they are adding to my low mood. So when my therapist said we need to start challenging my negative thoughts, I thought it was going to be a futile exercise because I was already doing that and it wasn't working.

First of all, we recognised some common thinking errors that might be causing my low mood (all of which can be found here). I've found that over the years I've developed many of these unhelpful thinking habits, most commonly thoughts that come under the critical self, compare and despair, shoulds and musts, and mind reading categories.

Once I had recognised the negative habits in my thinking, it was time to challenge them. My therapist gave me a 7 column thought record sheet, in which I had to record the unhelpful thoughts, the trigger and the emotion I felt. Then I had to provide facts that support and oppose my thoughts (facts being evidence that would stand up in a court of law!), then alternative, balanced perspectives to replace my negative thoughts with, and finally I would have to re-rate the intensity of the emotion my negative thoughts originally made me feel.

At first I found this really hard. Having recorded the unhelpful thoughts, and the facts that support the unhelpful thoughts, I looked at the blank 'against' column and didn't know what to put. 'Of course people think I'm fat, my BMI was over the healthy weight category' is what I thought. I filled in a couple of points in the against category; 'too self critical', 'people might not be as mean as I am about myself' etc. And then into the alternative perspective category I put 'I should not worry about what people think of me'.

I didn't feel any better about myself. This wasn't going to work.

I returned to CBT with my thought record sheets and went through them with my therapist. She noticed that I wasn't really challenging my negative thought processes, instead actually adding to them and making myself feel worse! She noted that while yes, my BMI might have been over the healthy range, a BMI score was no evidence that people thought I was fat, which was my original unhelpful thought. She also pointed out that my alternative perception was itself a thinking error; the 'I should not' bit shows that I am setting an unrealistic target for myself. She said that being aware of what other people think is not always a bad thing, and it is common for people to worry about it. Telling myself 'I should not worry what others think' is an unrealistic target and one of the unhelpful thinking habits that we recognised earlier on.

My therapist and I revisted my notes on the thought record sheet, focusing on each negative thought and pulling it apart. As it turned out, I had no evidence that would be accepted in a court of law to support the thought 'People think I'm fat'. Soon enough, the evidence against column was overflowing onto another page; 'Doctors are not concerned about my weight', 'I would not think of friends my size at fat', 'People's perceptions of fat vary' etc. My new, alternative perspective was amended to 'Most people probably don't think I'm fat'.

I felt so much better. My feelings of shame, that I had originally rated at an intensity of 80% (hide-under-the-duvet-&-cry level of intensity) had been reduced to about 10% (slightly-ashamed-but-not-letting-it-get-in-my-way intensity).

I've been challenging my thoughts in this way for a few weeks now and it has made a huge difference. Being able to break down each negative thought methodically instead of challenging it in my head has been so effective. Before, I was thinking I was an 'idiot' for being so negative, and for now clear reasons that did not help in overcoming my negative thoughts. Who'd have thought a little worksheet with some columns on would be so helpful?!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

I Am Not Good Enough

The last couple of months have been difficult. I became completely crippled by self-doubt, and was unable to blog and even tweet for a while. It became super hard to find anything enjoyable. Group CBT fell through due to work commitments and I had to return to my summer job. Even though good things were happening and I was still able to carry on with life, I just felt miserable. I was so miserable that I didn't have the energy to feel anxious at all.

As I could no longer attend the group CBT sessions on Monday afternoons, I arranged to have 1-1 appointments that fit better around my work schedule. I knew that I still needed the help, now even more than before, but in our sessions I felt like my therapist didn't understand why. From an outsider's perspective I was doing really well. I had made changes to my life, such as eating better and working out most days. I was applying for jobs and going to work. Usually, being so proactive about getting better helps people feel better, but I was feeling worse. My therapist wasn't getting it and I felt like CBT wasn't going anywhere.

A couple of weeks ago my therapist gave me some 'homework', which consisted of writing down what I did every hour for a week, and a mood rating. I also had to write down every negative thought I had. It was a huge peice of homework, which was a nightmare to keep up with. I used an app called Talking Progress to remind me every hour to record my mood and thoughts and keep my notes safe from people seeing.

This week I returned to my therapist and we talked through the homework. We discussed all of my negative thoughts, some of which included: 'I rely on other people to much', 'I don't like my voice', 'I am wrong'. In amongst these was 'I am not good enough'. My therapist asked me what I felt I wasn't good enough at, and I said everything; I'm not good enough at my job, at blogging, at things I'm interested in, even at buying cool clothes. She then asked me how long I had felt like this, to which I replied 'always'.

My therapist told me she thinks that 'I am not good enough' is one of my core beliefs. A core belief is usually developed as a child or teenager and becomes fundamental to the way we perceive our lives, usually going unquestioned. For me, when lots of things start to prove that 'I am not good enough', I get depressed. So because at the moment I haven't yet found a way into my chosen career, I strongly believe I am not good enough and therefore feel down.

My mood and activity diary now made sense to my therapist. I felt the most depressed when something affirmed my core belief of not being good enough, like after applying for jobs or after a hard work out where I've struggled to keep up. I feel like I should be doing everything perfectly, and so when I don't feel I have, I become miserable. Just getting things done doesn't make me feel happy, they have to be done perfectly if I am to feel content.

A Posh Diagram FYI :)

Challenging my core belief is going to be no easy feat, but I feel that half the challenge is over now my therapist has identified what's been going wrong. And this would never have been identified if I hadn't have done the homework. So if you do CBT guys, make sure you get the homework done like I did!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Group CBT Week 4: Dealing With It

So for the first time since I started I finally liked a CBT session! This week we focused on what to do with worries once first have them. Worries generally arise out of a current situation, and then begin to escalate when we begin to imagine the extreme consequences of our current worries.

For example, yesterday I lost my worry diary that I had to take to our session. I began by worrying about where it could be, but then I began to worry about what would happen if I couldn't find it, I worried that I would be late if I couldn't find it in time, that I'd be told off if I didn't have it etc. The first worry; worrying about where my diary could be, is a current worry. The rest are hypothetical; worries that I am inventing.

The best way to deal with a worries are first to divide them into whether you can do something about them. Generally, you can do something about a current worry. You can act on it, tell someone about it or schedule a time to do it. In this instance, I decided to look for my worry diary instead of worrying about where it could be.

Once you have acted upon your worry, it is off your agenda, so there's nothing more to worry about. In the case of the missing worry diary, I couldn't find it, despite looking everywhere I could think of. Therefore, I had to put the worry to one side. This was hard at first because I was worried about it being seen by someone, or what the consequences would be when I turned up to the CBT session without it. However, I couldn't do anything more about it. Whatever will be will be...

Stage 3 is to distract yourself. In this instance, distracting myself was easy, I left the house and went to therapy. I read a book on the way there so I didn't think about the missing worry diary. In the end, we didn't even need the worry diary to hand, as long as we could remember how it went.

If you can't act on a worry, then put the feeling to one side and distract yourself from it, as described above. Obviously this is easier said then done, but the key is to keep practising. If you have distracted yourself by reading a book, and now you have finished reading the worry has come back, do something else. Maybe do the muscle relaxation or deep breathing (as described in this post) or some other hobby; gardening, baking, or even chatting to a friend on the phone.

At last, this week's CBT session seemed quite useful, as opposed to dwelling on our current feelings. There is no CBT for the next 2 weeks so don't expect any more useful tips for a while (haha)!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

There's No Shame in Walking

This week I started running again. I used be super fit a few years ago, even called 'The Machine' by my coach because I could run and run and run. I used to find exercising easy, playing rugby meant that I could get fit almost effortlessly because I enjoyed it so much. Then, two years ago I injured my foot, lost my confidence and my fitness and haven't really done much since.

I tried doing a few rugby sessions last year but I was so unfit I found it hard to keep up. I tried running on treadmills and using the gym but it is so boring that I found it hard to commit to.

This week I've started to have more time on my hands, so I decided to get up early and go for a run each day. At first I found it difficult to run even 100 metres. I was gutted. I seemed so far away from being as fit as I was. I sat on a bench feeling proper down. Then I remembered some advice I'd heard while I was still playing rugby: 'Just Keep Moving'. I decided to run as much as possible, and then when I felt out of breath I'd walk until I'd regained my energy and start running again.

This was the best thing I could have done. I got up off the bench and did a 3.5 mile walk/jog. I was proper sweating but it felt good. I was exercising to my current ability and not feeling depressed because I couldn't do what I used to be able to. I tracked my jog on Map My Ride (great app) and found that by the time I'd got home I'd burnt 400 calories! That was such good motivation that I found it easy to get up every morning and go out.

Now I've got a route, with checkpoints that I try to run to before slowing down and walking. By doing this every day with 2 rest days in the middle, I've found that I can run for longer already. I've got 10 minutes quicker over the course of the week, and have burnt up to 670 calories per run. I can't believe how quickly my fitness has developed by just taking an hour to do it each day!

Over the course of the week I've lost 4lbs just by making this tiny change. I've began to realise how important walking is: I walked to my friend's house 2 miles away (a walk I've often done) which burnt 256 calories in 30 minutes.

I am so proud of myself and I feel so much better. Getting my fitness back to where it was actually seems doable now. I know I probably won't be able to go 5 times a week every week but as long as I work out 3 times a week it's definitely feasible. Hopefully I'll be able to start playing rugby again in July. Excited!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Blogging for Twining Enterprise

I have started guest blogging for a London based mental health charity, Twining Enterprise, that helps people suffering with mental illness find work. It also provides businesses with education programmes about mental health in order to reduce stigma in the workplace. They're really friendly and well worth getting in touch with if you are struggling to get back into work.

I have a series of new posts lined up with them so keep an ear out! My first one is already up, so go and check it out (and have a browse round their website while you're there!).

Looking for Work Triggered My Anxiety

My graduation marked the end of 16 years of continuous education. I suddenly found myself in the complete unknown. I've had jobs in the past but nothing that required real responsibility. And that’s when I started to worry – what on earth do I do now?Read More...
Also, sorry I haven't posted in a couple of weeks, lost all motivation! Will be back this weekend with a big catch up on all that I've been up to!

Monday, 24 March 2014

Group CBT Week 3: Worrying About Nothing

Today at our meeting we spoke about the difference between hypothetical worries and current worries. Current worries are when you worry about something that is currently happening, for example, when you're driving around a car park and can't find a space, so you might start to think 'What if I can't find a space?'. A hypothetical worry is when you worry about something that hasn't happened and might never happen. For me, pretty much all of my worries are hypothetical. You might think that hypothetical worries are dismissed more easily, because they have no substance - there really is nothing to worry about.

However, hypothetical worries can land you in the same state as a current worry. Whatever your worry, as a sufferer of anxiety it is bound to escalate to uncontrollable peaks, and that is why it is important to get help to manage it.

Here is one of my constant worries that I went through a couple of weeks ago.

Meet Tony:

Tony is a really good dog. He will come to you when you shout for him, whether in the house or on a walk, and he always asks when he wants something, ie. if you drop food on the floor, he will only eat it if you say yes. If you say no he will leave it. Which is very good considering he's always pestering you (and dribbling!) when you eat your dinner. Plus he knows loads of tricks like barking on command. He's a very clever dog!

However, my worrying means that I can't go out for walks with him, and struggle to leave him while he's in the garden. I tend to panic about him getting stolen, running off, running in the road etc. When he's in the garden I worry that he will find a hole in a fence, run into another garden and run into the street. Then I worry that he will get lost and be taken or run over. This is a worry I tend to have ever day, whenever he is outside.

The other day my Dad went to the shop and took Tony with him. For some reason, they seemed to be taking ages. I was thinking about Tony being left outside the shop. Then a thought popped into my head: 'what if somebody unhooked his lead from the lamppost and stole him?'. I began to worry. It could easily happen, and we don't live in the best of areas. Don't be silly, I thought.

A few minutes later and they still weren't home. They'd been gone ages. I could imagine Dad walking the streets trying to find Tony. Dad doesn't have a phone so I can't text him to find out where they are. Don't worry, I thought, there's probably a queue.

Ten minutes passed and they still weren't home. They'd been out for 40 minutes, at the local shops!
'Where's Dad gone?' I ask Mum. 'They've been gone a while.' I try to ask as casually as possible, so she doesn't know how worried I am.
'Oh I don't know Tash,' she says, completely unphased.

By this point I was really panicking. I was hot and sweaty, and I was literally shaking with nerves. I was imagining Dad being attacked while he was out, with Tony either running about lost and scared, or having been stolen and scared. It was one of the two.

I sat on the edge of the sofa, unable to sit still. I had images running through my mind of Dad and Tony being hurt. Run-over, lost, attacked... I was so scared I was considering putting my shoes on and going to find them. I began to feel sick at the thought of what had happened to them.

Then a key turned in the lock. In came Dad, with Tony and and arm full of shopping. I went to take care of some of the bags.

'What took you so long?' I asked.

'Oh I decided to get us a takeaway...'

Monday, 17 March 2014

Group CBT Week 2 - Sleep and Relaxation

Again this week I really didn't enjoy being in a group. After last week, I was paralysed into keeping quiet. Our psychiatrist again asked me directly for input, even when the only thing I had to add was what the rest of the group had already said. It's really daunting speaking in front of a group and I really hate it.

However, this week I guess we actually did something constructive. Sleep and relaxation is a good place to begin, as it is one thing sufferers of anxiety struggle with. Usually worrisome thoughts tend to just pop into my head which means that right before bed, or even in the middle of the night, I find myself worrying. The problem with this is that it feels like you can't help but worry.

Our therapist introduced to us a few ways to relax. Firstly, she highly recommended exercise. Exercise is not only good for the body but good for the mind. Whether it's a walk, jog, sport or a class like yoga or pilates, keeping active can help us release energy in a way that makes us feel good, and when we feel good we actually do more. It gets rid of that sluggish feeling that keeps us up at night. And because you're using more energy, when bedtime comes, you may find it better to sleep.

Another good way to relax is through breathing exercises. The good thing about these are that you can practise them at any time, wherever you are. They are good to practise for relaxation everyday, but also in stressful situations. We tried this one together in the group. Here's what to do.

  1. Ensure you are sitting in a comfortable chair. 
  2. Through your nose, take a deep breath for 4 seconds (so your tummy goes up).
  3. Hold the breath for 2 seconds.
  4. Slowly release your breath for 6 seconds.
  5. Pause and repeat until you are relaxed.

It was recommended that you practise this twice per day, but if not once will be fine. Everybody said that this was simple yet effective, and that it really helped.

The final method we were taught was progressive muscle relaxation. When feeling particularly anxious, sometimes you might feel your muscles tense up. This method makes you practise tensing your muscles and then releasing them, so that when you are feeling stressed, you can learn to relax. I reckon this method is pretty useful to try at home, but while in the group, I was so tense anyway I couldn't feel the affects! This method requires a tape or audio of somebody telling you what to do. You can find the one we listened to here (spoken by a lovely scottish gentleman). There are loads more relaxation tapes here.

What was recommended is that whatever form of relaxation you choose to try out, make it manageable. Although it would be great if you were able to go for one jog per day, it's probably not going to fit into your lifestyle straight away. And when you miss a day's jog, you feel rubbish and go back to feeling down again. She advised to start with one jog per week, and then as you become more used to it, go twice a week, or three times. Then you start to feel the benefits of achievement, which is great for someone suffering with anxiety or depression.

These methods seem to be really good, simple ways to help relax. I hope they are of some use!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

"Mental People Can't Read or Write"

When you're surrounded by people that are similar to yourself, you tend to find that everybody has similar attitudes and beliefs. Since I've been diagnosed with Anxiety and Depression, I have found myself surrounded by a community of very understanding people, many of whom have first hand experience of mental illness. It's easy to forget that the rest of the world isn't so knowledgeable on the subject.

At work I am currently working on a project where we are giving away a load of notepads and pens to local community groups. I was speaking to someone about it the other day, and told them how my company would be donating pads and pens to a mental health charity.

They said, 'That's a funny choice of groups you've chosen to give notepads and pens to.'
 To which I was confused and replied 'Why's that?'
'Well, mental people, they don't really read and write, do they?'

I was so completely flabbergasted (sorry no other word that better describes my complete shock), that I didn't even know where to begin in dispelling that myth. I wish I had replied, because there is so much I wanted to say, but it caught me completely off guard. I didn't say anything, I was speechless. Our conversation ended right there, and I just carried on doing whatever it was I was doing. Needless to say they didn't know I have mental health issues.

I mean, are people really that ignorant? Do they imagine people in padded white cells in straight jackets? I can imagine others not understanding what goes on in people's minds to make them 'insane', but surely they don't truly believe that we can't READ AND WRITE?

The way this person said this remark was like this was common sense, or a well known fact about sufferers of mental health. Like, does the pope have a balcony? It wasn't their opinion, they didn't hate 'mental people' or believe that they shouldn't have pens and paper. They honestly believed we wouldn't need them.

I get on really well with this person. They're not a bad person and they're not trying to be ignorant. If they knew a loved one was suffering with mental health issues they'd probably do their utmost to help them. Yet, at this point in time, their only concept of mental illness is some strange Hollywood film character.

I'm not even offended by this belief. I don't despise them. I don't want to laugh at them. I'm completely shocked. What has society done that means people think this way?

This remark has made me realise how important the #TimeToTalk campaign really is. As a society we really need to have a greater universal understanding of what mental health is, because some people's ideas are wildly off the mark.

Has anybody else been subjected to such complete and utter ignorance?

Monday, 10 March 2014

Group CBT Week 1

Today was my first therapy session and I had been really looking forward to it. Recently I've been really positive, mainly because I've felt like I've been progressing but also because I've had a really good month. Aside from this morning's nerves, I was excited to get started.

I started to get worried while waiting in the waiting room. I was really embarrassed to be there, even though I knew that everyone else there was for the same thing, and had the same feelings as me. The therapists collected us at 2pm and took us to the light, airy room we'd be having our meeting in. The chairs were arranged in a semi circle and immediately I was put off. I don't know how I expected them to be arranged or how else they could be arranged but it really freaked me out. It was so open. I wanted to hide and observe.

We sat down and started by filling out the usual questionnaires about how we'd been feeling the last couple of weeks. If you ever do therapy you'll get used to these!

Then we had to introduce each other. It was awful. Like my worst nightmare. We had to get into pairs and speak to our partner, finding out their name and a fact about them. Then we had to introduce them. I really didn't expect this. They said we could talk as little or as much as we liked, which was a lie, we had to speak from the start. Even though we didn't have to say much, I was already annoyed. I think that's what threw me off.

The good thing about the group was how many varied backgrounds people were from. There was 6 of us in total, and ages ranged from late teens to the very elderly. It was interesting to see how people from every age in life was affected by anxiety.

Today's session was an introduction to CBT, helping us to understand what it was and how anxiety works. It became clear we were expected to share examples of our feelings. I felt so pressured to contribute that that immediately made me not want to. The one time I did summon the courage to speak, the psychologist gave me a funny look and asked if I was relating to what everyone else had said. Clearly nobody really related to my comment. It felt just like being at school again when I'd said something stupid. It was so embarrassing I didn't want to be there at all.

At the end of the session we had to fill in a sheet about how the session went and what we'd learnt. I didn't know what to say really. I hadn't learnt anything, it was only an introductory session. I already know that other people suffer with it, I know what my feelings are, so what was I meant to say? We then had to take it in turns to read out what we'd written. So I just said that it was good to hear my thoughts coming from other people's mouths.

I was so glad when it was over. I couldn't wait to get out and I am already dreading going back next week. Being part of a group is what has been making me feel so anxious, so I don't know how its going to make me feel better. But it's early days yet, hopefully next week will be better. I'll keep you updated.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Review - More Than This by Patrick Ness

A book. It's a world all on its own, too. A world made of words, where you live for a while.” - Patrick Ness, More Than This.

I've been thinking about writing book reviews on my blog for a little while now. I love reading and discussing what I've read also helps me to understand things and see things I usually wouldn't have thought about. In addition, I know that loads of my readers are always keen to find new books so hopefully a review every now and again will aid some literary discoveries! It will also put that English Degree I have to good use...

Bit of a Patrick Ness Fangirl

I'm going to start with a book I finished yesterday, More Than This by Patrick Ness. Now many of you probably haven't heard of Patrick Ness... which is a crying shame. Among young adult authors he is highly regarded, but somehow hasn't got through into mainstream. I only heard about him while doing a Writing for Children unit at uni. We read his début book for children, The Knife of Never Letting Go. From the start I was hooked. His stories are so imaginative but anchored by real problems that no teen (or adult) would be alien to. He's not afraid to drop in an expletive here and there and is the master at evoking raw emotion in even the hardest of readers. Patrick Ness is one of the few authors to have won every major prize for children's fiction, including having won the Carnegie Medal twice. This guy is incredible and everyone should read all of his books.

More Than This Hardback Cover

But I digress, this post is about his most recent book, More Than This, released in September 2013. It is about an American Boy, Seth, who drowns and wakes up in his childhood hometown in England. He finds his house exactly as it was before they left it and moved to America. Through a series of dreams he begins to remember who he was and starts to work out what he is doing back in England...

The novel incorporates a bit of philosophy (think Plato's Cave Analogy or The Matrix) with edge-of-your-seat action and some painful real life problems.

I think what I love most about this book is that while it is about a boy who is gay, the character is so deep and well put together that being gay isn't his defining feature. It is the same with his two friends, Regine, who isn't defined as being fat and Tomasz, who isn't defined as Polish. Ness deals with these factors well, in a sophisticated manner, addressing the topics and responding to them. So much young adult fiction *cough* Jacqueline Wilson *cough* dwells on one feature of a character that the whole book becomes about it. This isn't a book about coming out. This is a book that features a character that happens to be gay. It's excellent.

As ever, Ness has written a book that keeps you hooked the whole way through. It refuses to let you put it down for a second. I read the book in two days, with 16 hours of work in between. One night I was sat on my bed, freezing, half-dressed, for 45 minutes, as the book did not allow me a moment to put my pyjama top on. I read this book on the bus, on my lunch break, as soon as I got home from work until silly o'clock in the morning, and the same the next day because I needed to read on. I haven't been so gripped to a book in a long, long time.

The overarching theme is the book is that there is always 'more than this', more than what you know and more to life that the problems of the moment. It also questions whether it is even good to know more than what you already do. It's a great philosophy and really good for any person experiencing difficult times, or looking for inspiration.

“I wanted so badly for there to be more. I ached for there to be more than my crappy little life.' He shakes his head. 'And there was more. I just couldn't see it.” - Patrick Ness, More Than This.

So yeah, read this book. It's a great choice for teens that are capable of moving on to adult books but are yet confident to make that leap. And don't be put off because it's a young adult novel, it's basically a very good book that is suitable for teens. And while you're at it, pick up The Chaos Walking Trilogy and A Monster Calls. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Rediscovering Myself

As I keep saying, I've always had anxiety. But over the last couple of years, it has become too overpowering to deal with on my own. Recently I've been trying to pinpoint what has caused my current episode, in preparation for my CBT which begins next week.

Obviously lots of things have caused me stress over the last couple of years; university, job hunting, working, moving home etc. but I've managed to track it all back to one day. My 20th birthday. It was actually a really good day. I was woken up by all my flat mates and my boyfriend, who had bought me presents and cards and cake. One of the cards from my flatmates had a very long message in it, that described all of our fantastic memories together. At the end was the line 'don't ever change'

At the time I'd only just got together with my boyfriend, who I'm still with, and who was my first serious relationship. My friends, although they may have tried to be, weren't very supportive. I felt a constant pressure to not change, and I was so conscious of it I began to forget what I was trying to maintain. I was trying so hard to be myself that I lost sight of who I really was. I wanted to continue to be the person described in that birthday card. I started to think that I could not be who I was, simply because I had a boyfriend. I began to think that I was defined by my relationship status, and because that had changed, I was no longer me.

That really got me down. I loved my boyfriend, and I still do. But it was that that meant I had changed, it was having a boyfriend that lost me all my friends, the person I had been and the life I had had. That wasn't how it was supposed to be. But I loved him. And so I sank into a deep dark depression that I could see no way out of.

Last month, I read Yes Man by Danny Wallace. It's a really good book, and everybody experiencing anxiety or depression should read it. Many people say it is a life changing book. Not for me. It reminded me of who I was, and who I could continue to be. I began to remember that the reason I'd been so carefree was not because I was single and had no ties to other people, but because I embraced life. I wanted to do everything. That was my motto. Whenever somebody suggested doing something, trying something, I always said yes. Because I wanted to do it. My anxiety was on a back burner because I didn't think about how a situation may unfold, I just did it. 

That's the person I was. That's what allowed me to have all of those crazy adventures my friend described in that birthday card. Everybody thought I was great because I was single. But that's crap. I was great because I embraced life and adventure. 

So, I'm trying to embrace life again. I'm going to do everything. No, I don't have a single life goal to do with my career of having a family. That's never who I was. I want to do everything. Try everything once (within reason - I'm not about to murder someone!). 

And it may be a complete coincidence, but since finishing Yes Man, I have signed up for Race for Life, been given a free weekend ticket to the Isle of Wight Festival, had my first advert published in a national newspaper, and been given a free ticket to Twickenham for England v Ireland in the 6 Nations, (which turned out to be one of the best days of my life) among lots of other lovely things.

I don't care if that's a coincidence. I reckon it's a sign. I'm going to be me again.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Has London 2012 Really Improved Stratford? The Tale of Two Cities

My boyfriend is currently completing his dissertation on the economic impacts of London 2012. Last weekend, I went down to Stratford with him to survey the local business owners about how their company has been affected by the Olympics. We spoke to business owners and store managers in both Westfield's and the surrounding area.

What we found was very two different sides to Stratford. The new shopping centre is a huge, glossy lit up building, with marble floors and even an alfresco area. As you can imagine for a Saturday afternoon, it was heaving with shoppers. The food court spread itself across the three floors of the centre: one level with your larger, and more well known fast food outlets, such a Mcdonald's and KFC, the second level a world food village with outlets specialising in cuisine from all over the world, from Mexico to Japan. The top level had restaurants such as TGI Friday's and Pizza Express. Not only were all customers catered for in the food department, but the extravagant range of shops fitted all kinds of budgets, from Primark to Mulberry. There's no denying that the new centre has bought thousands of new customers to Stratford. 

On the other side of the Train tracks is Old-Stratford. The Stratford Centre has existed there as long as I've lived. After winning the bid for the 2012 Olympics, local business owners told me about how much they looked forward to having their area regenerated in preparation for the millions of tourists that would flock there. However, the much anticipated regeneration of the area did not stretch further than the tube station. The Stratford Centre had a fair amount of customers that Saturday afternoon, but as the business owners told us, those were just the regulars. As one guy told me, 'you wouldn't have known the Olympics had been down the road at all, we've had no new customers during or since the games.'

This is probably because the original area of Stratford had barely been touched as a result of the games. The local businesses were run down and were a stark contrast from Westfield's, a mere 10 minute walk away. Some of the local owners even complained how there were potholes in the road and a high rate of crime. A lot of the shops are boarded up and closed down. Many business owners told us that the cost of owning a business in the area had rocketed, even though the influx of customers hadn't.

Stratford High Street during the Olympics
Of course, there have been some benefits. Leyton High Street has famously had a fresh coat of paint, but of course, that is because it is along the walking route from Leyton Tube Station to the Olympic Park. 

And Westfield's Presents is a nice idea. The event is organised by Emerging Icons, a group who promote raw, emerging musical talent. Every Saturday and Sunday, unsigned musicians have the opportunity to play in front of a half decent crowd. Playing that day was 16 year old Ryan Green, an unsigned musician playing to the thousands of shoppers. He had all the equipment he needed, and was hooked up to sound systems that meant he could be heard over the bustle. However, it was essentially glorified busking.

Ryan Green playing at Westfield's Presents

What was most revealing about the 'two Stratfords' was how the old Stratford was treated during the games. All of the business owners I spoke to noted how tourists were 'shepherded' from the Olympic Park to the Westfield's centre, deliberately away from the shops that had always been in the area. The owners told us how they had experienced a drop in trade during the two weeks of the Olympics, as no tourists were coming in and locals were deliberately avoiding the area. A man who owned a family fruit and veg stall that had been running since 1929 said that he even complained to the mayor and the stewards. Unfortunately, he said they were 'only doing what they were told to do'.

My boyfriend's dissertation question is 'What are the economic impacts of the London 2012 Olympics on the local area?'. After speaking to local businesses, the question can be answered quite easily. While there has been an influx in jobs (most of which have not been given to locals) and customers in one small segment of Stratford, the rest has been left untouched and unloved. The government has only split this small town into two parts, rather than regenerating the whole area to benefit the locals. 

This study may come prematurely, but I can't see the two halves of Stratford coming together any time soon.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

My Name Is Tash and I'm Starting Group CBT

After agonising for days over whether I felt comfortable enough to do group CBT, I have finally agreed. I'm reading Yes Man at the moment, so I thought I'd just go for it and see what happens.

In fairness, it is an Anxiety group. Everyone else there will be in the exact same position as me. And it's only a small group of about 5 people (although I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse). 

I am absolutely terrified. It is completely outside of my comfort zone. I guess that's the point really. The more I think about it, the more worries I have about it. Some of the things I am worrying about are:
  1. Icebreakers. I hate 'icebreakers'. They are always so cringey, and I never know any more about a person after the task than before. And I never think of anything good or original to say about myself.
  2. Group Activities. I'm hoping we will just sit there and talk. I hate that awkward situation where I'm the only one without a partner. I also hate asking to be someone's partner.I saw this photo of a group CBT session and it's probably my worst nightmare. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
  3. Standing Up. Standing up in front of people makes me feel so isolated with everyone looking at me. Again, I really hope we just sit down and talk.
  4. I don't actually want to tell anybody anything. Before all this I only wanted to talk to a therapist and for them to tell me what I needed to do. I know it sounds stupid (because I'm writing about it on a blog) but I don't want anyone to know. 
  5. That I'm not going to get better. To be honest, I can't imagine not feeling this anxious ever again. 12 weeks doesn't seem like enough time to completely change my lifelong way of thinking. 
Why on earth am I doing it? Well, firstly the therapist reckons its the best treatment for me. Plus, she's said that if I don't like it I can swap to one-on-one CBT if need be. There's no harm in giving it a go. It will be good for my blog, as I haven't yet come across anybody that has done it. So it might be nice for all of you to hear about!

The problem with group therapy is that it's not flexible. My group will meet at 2pm for an hour and a half every Monday for 10 weeks, which is slap bang in the middle of my working day. It's meant that I had to tell my boss and all relevant people at work about what's going on. They've been ok with it. I even found out we had a company psychologist that we can see whenever we want. And it also means I get a half day every Monday!

I'll be starting CBT on the 10th March, and no doubt I'll write a post about it, so stay tuned!