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    Mental Health

    What does having a diagnosis or label mean to me?

    A diagnosis, or label – whatever you want to call it – I have them.

    I am officially diagnosed with, depression/PND, anorexia, BPD (borderline personality disorder) and anxiety.

    I have had these issues for many years but was only diagnosed 5 years ago.

    So, what does having a diagnosis or label mean to me?

    What does having a diagnosis or label mean to me?

    Well it’s a tough one. When I was diagnosed as having depression and anxiety I didn’t bat an eyelid. I knew I had suffered with them for years so it didn’t come as a shock or a surprise. Anorexia on the other hand was very different for me. When I was told that was what I had, and had lived with through my teens I was adamant that the Dr had it wrong!

    I am 26 for a start and I don’t only live off an apple a day. No way was I skinny enough to be anorexic!

    Now that very response is a huge part of the problem with labels and diagnosis’ for mental health issues in particular. There is such a stigma and a host of incorrect information attached to the names of these illnesses that it makes receiving them officially, very difficult at times.

    Anorexia is still believed to only be diagnosed to extremely thin teenage girls who live off the water and the occasional apple, which is simply not true. Yes of course there are people that this does apply to but it’s so important to remember that this is not everyone.

    I was at one point very underweight but being 5 foot 10 I didn’t reach a low enough weight for the professionals to refer me for any further help. Again this is so wrong and led to me getting much worse and attempting to take my life!

    I do still find anorexia as a diagnosis very difficult. It’s the one I struggle most to admit and talk about and that’s almost entirely because of the misunderstandings around it.

    Borderline Personality Disorder, I was in hospital 5 years ago when the DR first told me this diagnosis. I had never heard of it before but the name was a little unnerving. To me, it seemed to suggest that there was something wrong with my personality! However, I was printed off a big chunk of information from my psychiatrist and left to go away and read it.

    Wow! what I was reading was pretty incredible to me. The title of all this information could have been – AMY STEVENS – It was describing me so much! It was a huge turning point for me. I finally felt like Yes, finally I now know what is wrong with me. Why I act the way I do. Why I feel things so much more than other people. Why I have such extreme mood swings …. the list went on! I was honestly like someone had flicked a switch in brain!

    What does having a diagnosis or label mean to me?

    In this case, for me having a label or diagnosis really helped. I went away and researched all about BPD. I read a lot and bought self help books and worked (and continue to) work hard to understand my diagnosis and how I can recover. It honestly felt like a huge weight had been lifted and felt like I could see properly for the first time!

    It was honestly such an amazing feeling. I know I am far from recovered but being able to understand why I think or do certain things and then work on positive skills to cope with them, is so helpful. Although, as with anorexia there are still a lot of misconceptions surrounding BPD and that can be difficult but I am keeping myself informed and am happy to continue talking about it to banish the misconceptions and stigma surrounding it.

    Sometimes I know that people hate to have a diagnosis or label and I totally get that but I have found that sometimes it can be essential in getting access to further help. Don’t get me wrong I don’t feel like my illnesses define me – I am Amy who has illnesses not the illnesses themselves.

    I know of parents that have fought and fought to get their child a diagnosis just so that they can gain access to the care their child desperately needs. It’s not a nice situation for anyone and this is what can be very wrong about the system.

    Like I said I have both good and bad experiences of being labelled or diagnosed but what I think is important is that I don’t let them define who I am. They are just a small part of who I am. I don’t love them and I don’t hate them. Without them I wouldn’t be me.

    Be kind always.

    Love Amy x

    Mental Health

    Mental illness and not working

    I have always worked. From quite a young age, I worked on weekends and evenings in pub kitchens, I did a waitress job, I did a lot of cleaning and worked as a shop assistant. Quite often as I got older I worked two jobs. I love to work and keep busy. But this is about having a mental illness and not working.

    These past 6 years have been very different. I was on maternity leave with my first son when I had my first breakdown and was hospitalised for my mental health. Since then, returning to work has been almost an impossibility. Not only because of my mental health but the cost of childcare is astronomical as well!

    Mental illness and not working.

    Even if we were in a position to pay for childcare, working in certain environments really triggers me. I am well aware that I sound, stupid, pathetic and like I making excuses but honestly in my experience my mental health hits rock bottom very quickly.

    I am not saying that I never want to return to work – my goodness I absolutely do! If I am totally honest there are some days when being a full time stay at home mum makes my mental health worse! Sometimes I feel like I just can’t win! That’s why I am trying my hardest to access therapy so that I can cope better and get back out there, but right now, especially with two children and another on the way it’s just not feesable. I don’t receive any benefits so I’m not ‘sponging’ off the government as is often what people expect, I am just very lucky that my husband works extremely hard and earns enough to keep us ticking over.

    A huge amount of stigma surrounds people not working because of their mental health. They are deemed lazy and sponging. But with me, and several people that I know, this could not be further from the truth. I know people that are super successful, love their jobs, main bread winners of families, artists and more, who desperately want to work but just can’t until they get their mental health under control.

    I am also aware that working is proven, in some cases, to help with mental health issues. Having a routine, less money worries, being sociable – and yes this is very true for many, but it’s not a one size fits all situation.

    I worked in an office for many years, I didn’t particularly want to but I needed to pay the bills. I can honestly say it made my mental health the worst it could be at times. I would suffer crippling anxiety and depression and would lie my way around so many situations, make myself look bad and would physically make myself ill.

    Mental illness and not working

    Now that I have 2 children and another on the way, I will not be able to return to traditional work for some time – again mainly down to childcare costs (an argument for another day) but I also want to make sure I am ready mentally and not put myself in triggering situations that could potentially lead to another breakdown.

    I am a complete and utter perfectionist as well as an ‘all or nothing’ kind of person (thanks BPD). So I have to be super organised and do everything myself my way, because of this I get burnt out very quickly. But at the moment it’s not something I know how to change.

    As all stay at home mums and dads out there will know, it’s tough. It’s a full time job in itself. Since becoming a mother I have taken the – quite stupid – idea that I need to be super woman. I must do absolutely everything. My way and on my own. Home cooked meals from scratch, clean and tidy home, extra curricular activities with my boys. If i don’t then I am a failure. I then endure crippling guilt. I literally don’t know when to stop.

    I have made myself ill with this kind of attitude but it’s how my mental health tells me I need to be – I am working on it.

    But the truth is that everyone is ready to return to work in their own time. We are not all the same with the same issues. There should not be pressure to get straight back to work because that’s what others expect. People I know have said that its often the first questions they are asked after leaving hospital are;

    “You back working now then?”

    “When are you going back to work?”

    And it is so so difficult to say,

    “No I’m not going back to work yet, I’m not ready.”

    The fear of judgement from others is just awful. It’s just something else that we don’t need to worry about and it’s not fair.

    Again it goes down to talking about things more, a little less stigma and judgement about things that you don’t about. We all have our own struggles, physical, mental or otherwise. We just need to remember that kindness and understanding go a really long way.

    Be kind always, you never know what battles people might be facing.

    Love Amy x

    Mental Health

    How depression feels to me

    You say depression to someone and their mind will immediately think of someone who is sad, low, unhappy or upset. Depression to me isn’t uncontrollable crying and feelings of sadness but of course some of the time this is exactly right for many people. However, for me there is another ‘feeling’ that I experience that is very difficult to understand, it’s hard to understand because it’s so hard to explain.

    How depression feels to me is an all consuming numbness. You can’t think, you can’t feel, it’s a struggle to do almost everything.

    How depression feels to me

    Feeling numb is a scary place to be. It’s a place I have been to so many times and it is truly frightening – not at the time – but when I have managed to get through it all and look it’s a pretty awful place to be.

    Numbness really is difficult to explain. When loved ones have asked me in those time, how I am feeling I simply have to answer that “I don’t know!” Because I really don’t. I am not happy, not sad, not even mad it’s nothing! I know this comes across as strange answer, maybe even a bit annoying to some that’s why majority of the time I revert to the fail safe – “I’m fine thanks” It’s just easier. Trying to explain this numbness is exhausting. I’m scanning my brain desperately trying to grasp at something to explain this numbness but there’s nothing there to grasp. Just numbness. Coldness. Darkness. How do I even begin to explain that!

    Being in this awful numb state really does effect me so much. I often isolate myself, I will make excuses, cancel all plans and avoid answering calls, texts and my front door! I feel awful for doing this and it definitely makes the depression worse but at the time I’m so consumed by it I can’t even think about it.

    I am someone that always remembers things, birthdays, friends appointments, school dates for my son, yes I have the odd moment I forget but generally I am very good at keeping organised and on top of things. However, when I have reached that feeling of numbness I will forget everything. Not only birthdays and appointments but I will forget what someone might have just told me the second they finish their sentence.

    How depression feels to me

    I also forget things that I am saying halfway through a sentence and will answer a question forgetting instantly what the question was and even what I have answered! It feels like my mind is filled with a dense black fog preventing me from accessing anything I need too.

    Another way the numbness effects me, in a really scary way is that I stop caring. I am someone that is always early – ALWAYS! But this completely changes for me and I am late a lot of the time but what’s worse is I couldn’t care less about it.

    The intense numbness prevents me from caring about most things including what happens to me. I simply don’t care! I do risky things, self harm, starve myself. I just couldn’t care less. It’s such a big part of depression to me that ‘zoning out’ feeling.

    I have described it to my best friend and husband as being in an invisible bubble. I am still physically there with everyone, doing the same things, in the same places but mentally and emotionally this bubble muffles it all. I am void of feeling. I hear the noise and know things are happening and going on all around me but I can’t pinpoint exactly what they are saying. My mind is somewhere else entirely. Where? I have no idea.

    It’s funny as well, how people fail to notice this. I guess for me I do notice when someone is not quite present and I will ask questions, gently of course, but with me no one ever notices. Do they not care? Do they not look hard enough? Or is it simply that I am so good at hiding it all after 20 odd years that it’s almost impossible to see? I don’t know. I have worn a mask for so long know even I forget when it is on at times.

    How depression feels to me is a dark, empty, lonely hole. A nothing.

    I wish it was understood a bit more as I know many other people who experience this numbness, but I guess that’s why I (and many others) continue to write and talk about it. To lessen to judgement and stigma and to let other know the signs and learn how to help.

    Remember to always be kind, you never know what battles people might be facing.

    Love Amy xx

    Mental Health

    BPD and professional stigma

    For anyone that knows me or reads my blog you will know that I have a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I have had some great responses and feedback but also have experienced some negativity and stigma. Worst of all, and what I am writing about in this post is BPD and professional stigma. The judgement and stigma I have faced from professionals in particular.

    BPD and professional stigma

    From the moment I was diagnosed with BPD I can honestly say I felt a sense of relief. Finally I knew what was causing the mood swings, the intense emotions and self hatred. I felt I could now work with professionals and get better. Little did I know that I would be treated unfairly by some – not all – of the professionals whose care I was under.

    Immediately I was told social services would need to be contacted and I would be referred for parenting classes! There was and has never been any reason other than my BPD diagnosis for these referrals. This has always been something I felt incredibly ashamed of. I have BPD so that ‘typically’ means that I will not be a good mother. I will not create a good attachment with my son and there will ultimately be abuse or neglect!!

    I was terrified. I was scared, shocked and confused when I got copies of Dr’s letters stating this. I loved my son more than anything in the world. I never had any issues, he was clingy so that was difficult but I don’t agree with smacking so that never happened and I genuinely loved playing and spending time with him. So were they saying that this was only going to last a few weeks or months more, then I was going turn into someone else? I was so scared.

    My experience of social services was horrendous. I was hounded by an awful man. My family were also. He turned up at my sons nursery, contacted friends and family with no authority and turned up at my home without warning stating he needed to check the house and what me and son were doing?! Yes really. Even though there was NEVER any evidence of any problem, let alone neglect or abuse! My son was never under child protect either so what the hell did he think he was doing? This man was relentless and his reasoning for doing these awful things was always that I had BPD! I ended up having to make formal complaints and followed them through to highest level with the help of my family. Thankfully I was assigned someone else quite quickly and after one visit he turned around and said we would be signed off. He couldn’t understand why we were still in contact with them? I think I cried at this. That awful man before had made my life living hell when there was absolutely no reason for him to even be in contact with us! It still shocks me now that this was allowed to happen to me and my family. It’s no wonder that social services get a bad name sometimes.

    My parenting classes lasted 4 weeks. It was an 8 month course but the two psychologists in charge did several tests and observations and said I didn’t need to be there. I had a great attachment with my son and was showing no worrying signs at all. I am still in contact with one of the child psychologists and she admits that there is a huge flaw in the way mothers with BPD are treated and I am proof that we are all different and my diagnosis doesn’t mean I going to act the way that some people do.

    BPD and professional stigma

    It really is sickening that I was automatically condemned because I have a certain disorder! It made my mental health worse and still plays on my mind sometimes now. I honestly believe that if it had not been for my amazing husbands support and some of my family also, then I dread to think how things could have ended. It makes me worry about all the other women out there with a BPD diagnosis that are being treated the way I was that don’t have the support I did. It really is frightening.

    I completely understand that some people with BPD will need the intervention of social services and would benefit from parenting classes but not all of us. A diagnosis can be identical for 2 people but they can still be completely different and show very different behaviours.

    I am much more confident about speaking up now but still I have that flutter of anxiety anytime I have to see a professional about my diagnosis. I shouldn’t have to feel this way, it’s not fair and needs to change.

    Be kind always, you never know what battles people might be facing.

    Stay strong, stay safe.

    Love Amy x

    Mental Health

    Living with mental health issues

    Living with mental health issues is strange. It’s painful, lonely, sad spontaneous and even exciting!

    I never knew I had mental health issues until I was diagnosed around 5 and half years ago. I knew I was different. I felt different things to other people, I would process information differently and think and act very differently to others around me at times. But I had no idea exactly what I had or what was ‘wrong’. In my teens, looking back now, it’s very evident that I had anorexia and anxiety but why it was never picked up I’m not sure. I know I have been a master at hiding symptoms for many many years so I guess that’s why.

    Living with mental health issues is very different for everyone. Someone could have an identical diagnosis to me but still suffer in slightly, or even very different ways. We are all different after all. I do find that immediately when people find out about my illnesses they have preconceived ideas of what I should be acting like. They think they know what I think about or even assume I should look a certain way. It is so annoying but I am not cross with people because this is exactly the problem. We haven’t spoken about mental illnesses open and honestly – ever – until the past few years so people just don’t know the reality of living with mental health issues. This is why I am very open and very honest. I think It’s vital for people to know that anorexia doesn’t always mean a stick thin teenage girl who lives off of lettuce. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) doesn’t mean you are manipulative and a danger to others. And depression doesn’t always mean you lay in bed with the curtains drawn crying all day. Of course some of this might be present in peoples suffering but not always. There is so much more to mental illnesses.

    I find some days I absolutely hate what I have to live with. The obsessive food and weight behaviours and self hatred that anorexia brings and the ‘all or nothing’, black or white thinking that BPD brings about. However, saying that I am thankful. I feel that it was obviously meant to be. I was strong enough and am strong enough to deal with it all and spread the message far and wide about mental health.

    I want to live in a world where people don’t have to wear a mask. I wore one (and sadly sometimes still do) but I want that to stop. If you’re struggling, feeling down or overwhelmed I want you to be able to tell someone – anyone, with no fear of judgement. I want to live in a world where you can discuss your mental health struggles without be called “brave”!

    I continue to say to people if you are struggling tell someone. Whether it’s face to face, someone you know well or an online support group. Charities are great places to start – Mind, Time to change and Beat are some I have found useful.

    Living with mental health issues is different for everyone, so never assume you understand exactly what someone is going through. Just tread gently and be there if they need you. Be kind and don’t judge – it’s as simple as that.

    Stay strong and stay safe. Remember to be kind always, you never know what battles people might be facing.

    Love Amy x

    Mental Health

    Mental health and body image

    Body image is the perception that a person has of their physical self and the thoughts and feelings that result from that perception. These feelings can be positive, negative or both, and are influenced by individual and environmental factors.

    Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and hated and despised what you see. Have you ever been physically sick at the sight of your body reflecting back at you.

    Well I have.

    Mental health and body image

    Despite even getting down to frighteningly low weight and BMI I have always been convinced that I am over weight. I have far too much fat, stretch marks, bumpy bits, hair…. you name a body part and I can point out why I hate it.

    It started very early on – early teens is when I first remember really looking to change my image. I would be restricting food, over plucking eyebrows, dying hair, shaving, waxing, wearing too much make up, I just wanted to look different and not like me. I have always been very tall (I am 5 foot 11) and skinny or slim so I am not entirely sure where this self hatred came from. I was nicknamed the ‘Lamp post’ and ‘stick insect’ at school, I was bullied for being tall, for wearing braces, having hairy legs, pretty much everything, so I do believe this had something to do with it.

    Being told over and over again for years on end that you are not good enough, a disgrace, fat and disgusting takes its toll. Even if you begin by not believing it, it will eventually wear you down and you feel like you have no choice but to believe every single word. This is what anorexia does to me. She, Ana, as I have called her, is always there hiding in the background but sometimes she is so loud I cannot ignore her. It’s not a case of thinking positive and ignoring it or her and it’ll go away. I wish it was that easy.

    I do also feel that the media has an awful lot to answer for when it comes to negative body image. I can’t blame the media and say it’s the reason I hate myself but it 100% makes it worse a lot of the time. I am not stupid, I know most images online and in magazines are filtered and airbrushed within an inch of their life but I still look and desperately want to look that ‘good’. Smooth skin, hair free, thick bouncy hair, tiny waist and a thigh gap! I get obsessed to the point where I start researching surgery or procedures I can have or buy to make me have what these beautiful perfect people have. Luckily I don;t have an awful lot of money so am not able – most of the time – to arrange these things. I does worry me sometimes that if I do come into some money I know for a fact I will be looking into these things a lot more and going ahead with them.

    I am desperate to do therapy to improve my mental health and body image but unfortunately I keep coming up against so many barriers in the NHS which is so awful for me and my family. I do want to get better and I desperately want to look in the mirror and like or even one day love what I see! I can’t imagine at the moment that it will ever happen but I really want it too. I absolutely love Stacey Soloman. She is such a positive role model and I would love to have the confidence she has. I do try and put some of her tips from her latest book into practice which helps on my good days and I am thankful for that.

    I think my my mental health and body image will always be a work in progress as it will unfortunately be for many people. Especially in the filtered and airbrushed world we live in but listening to those inspiring people who are going against all that or even seeing a therapist – if you can – will definitely help bring back a love for you and who you are. Inside and out.

    I am a great believer in complimenting people. Whether you like their hair or the new shoes, tell them. It will honestly make them feel so good. I know it does with me.

    Remember to always be kind to others, you never know what battles people might be facing.

    Stay strong.

    Love Amy x

    Mental Health, Parenting and Lifestyle

    Pregnant for the 3rd time and the emotions I felt.

    This is a post that I didn’t expect to write, not for another few years at least but here I am.

    I am pregnant for the 3rd time. I wasn’t exactly overjoyed straight away. But is that ok?

    I have a 15 month old and a 6 year old and my husband and I had discussed the possibility of having another but not until my youngest was about 3 or 4, when our money situation was better and my mental health was in a better place too. But sometimes things don’t work out exactly and you want or plan.

    This pregnancy was an absolute shock. Not planned and I was taking contraception. Having another child was a million miles from my mind. But it’s the feelings and emotions around this pregnancy that have shocked me the most.

    Pregnant for the 3rd time and the emotions I felt.

    It was almost impossible to accept or even talk about my feelings in the first 12 weeks. Even now I feel a bit ashamed. I’m scared of what people are going to say about me but I feel like I need to be honest. I genuinely was not excited at all. I wasn’t sad or angry I felt agitated but mostly I didn’t really care. There was hardly any emotion or feeling at all.

    I had terrible morning sickness (more like all day sickness) for the first 12/13 weeks which left me feeling horrendous. It made me a rubbish mum to my boys, as I was either always attached to a toilet or feeling extremely ill and exhausted. Cue terrible mum guilt.

    This led to resentment I am ashamed to say. I felt like this baby that I didn’t even want was ruining my time with my boys! It wasn’t fair!

    How awful, selfish and ungrateful does that sound right!?

    But I have to be honest these were my feelings. We even paid to have an early scan at 8 weeks and I still didn’t feel excited.

    I’m not happy or proud that this is how I was feeling but I know from speaking to other mums that I am not the only one that has felt like this.

    I was speaking to a close friend who has 4 children and told her how I was feeling and she said “You know what that’s normal. I felt this too. So many women do feel like this too, It’s just that no one talks about it!”

    That stuck with me.

    No one talks about it!

    It’s the same as so many other things, mental health issues included, just because no one talks about it doesn’t mean it’s not present all around you. People need to talk about all of these things so much more. Talking about it normalises it. We need to start saying to each other that yes pregnancy is an amazing gift that we are so grateful for, but it can also be shocking, flippin’ hard and guilt inducing if it’s not planned.

    Pregnant for the 3rd time and the emotions I felt.

    It doesn’t make you an awful mother or a heartless human being to admit this. You’re not being ungrateful, you are being honest with yourself and trying to make sense of everything. It’s ok.

    I found it very nerve raking writing this post – Pregnant for the 3rd time and the emotions I felt. – But I felt it was so important that I did.

    I am now 16 weeks pregnant and after having my 12 week scan I can now honestly say that I am excited and over the moon to be pregnant again. The morning sickness has disappeared and I am feeling pretty ok mentally.

    Of course I am still nervous about having 2 under 2 and the impact it’ll have on my family and my mental health but I am so lucky to have a very supportive husband and some incredible friends that are always there for me. I am so incredibly grateful for them.

    I think it is so important that no matter how you’re feeling, you must talk about it. Whether it’s a partner, a friend or medical professional. I promise you will not be the only one that feels the way that you do. Also, remember what you’re feeling isn’t ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ it’s your feeling, your emotion so it’s real.

    Despite the fact it has taken some time, we, as a family are now completely overjoyed with pregnancy number 3.

    Take care and stay strong.

    Love Amy x

    Mental Health

    Back from a mental health break

    This is my first blog post in 3 months. I am back from an all important mental health break and for that I feel like a failure. Which I know is ridiculous. Without going into too much detail I was going through quite possibly one of the most difficult times I have ever experienced. Not just because of my mental health issues – there was much more going on – but as anyone that struggles with their mental health knows, it always seems to make things so much worse and harder to cope with.

    Having this important break from social media and my blog wasn’t a conscious decision either, I simply didn’t get a second to think about it and if I did I couldn’t stomach it. Everything else took over and I thought of nothing else.

    Back from a mental health break

    Having mental health issues and dealing with crisis situations is so hard. I’m not saying it’s easy to deal with difficult situations easily when you don’t have issues but for me, my anxiety and BPD seem to push me and drain me to the point of complete exhaustion.

    So ask for help!

    HA!

    I wish it was that easy. Anyone that knows me will know that asking for help is almost an impossibility for me. Not because I don’t want or need help. Not because I’m too proud. I just don’t think I deserve help. I would feel like a burden and be eaten up by guilt, so for me it’s easier to struggle on.

    But, anyway, hopefully that difficult period is over and I am back to normality. I have some exciting things coming up in the future, my new pregnancy (blog coming next week) my charity Clear Mind Happy Mind that I am working on with a friend has some exciting things planned and lots of new content for my blog.

    I have even started doing self care every day!! Shock!

    Watch this space.

    Take care and stay strong.

    Love Amy x

    Mental Health

    How it feels to be let down by the mental health system

    I have just recently had an appointment with my new CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurse), my 7th in 5 years. I had an 8 month wait despite being in a vulnerable situation, having just given birth and suffering post natal depression for the second time. Anyway, I decided to give this CPN the benefit of the doubt.

    But, unfortunately the short meeting was full of promises that things will change, they don’t know why I haven’t been contacted and forced apologies for why they no longer offer the services I need.

    I literally want to scream sometimes – this is how it feels to be let down by the mental health system time and time again.

    How it feels to be let down by the mental health system
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