Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Invisible Illness Awareness Campaign.

Hello all :)
Today I want to catch you all up on the various fundraising and awareness events I've been planning with some friends lately

To begin with, on Saturday, months of planning and organising came to a head when University of Gloucestershire's Dance Society held a flash mob to help raise awareness for invisible illness, and in particular, M.E. I teamed up with the Dance Society and a great organisation called 'Fixers' to help make the event happen. In particular I want to thank Chloe Dix, Rosie Mills and Jodie from Fixers for coming up with the idea and to help make it happen. The flash mob was a great success, with people of all ages asking what it was for and why we were doing it. This helped to spread the message of invisible illness and that people of any age can suffer with it. So overall, I want to thank Dance Society in general for wanting to be a part of my awareness and fundraising plans, and for making it happen. When we first talked about it, I didn't dream that so many people would want to get involved, and it means the world to me that you all did. The thing which I am most pleased about, I have to admit, is the fact that ITV have decided to get involved, and ended up filming the whole thing!

This leads me on nicely to my next awareness campaign. Through the flash mob, another idea was sparked off which I'm very lucky to be going ahead with tomorrow - Creating a broadcast piece with Fixers to go out on ITV news. For those people who have been with me since the beginning of this journey, you know that I never expected to be able to send my message across in such a big and broad way. This is such a massive deal for me, because it means I get to be the voice for so many sufferers who don't have the chance to speak out - and to give a realistic view into what living with an invisible illness is like. I realise that I've said thank you a lot in this post already, but I have to give Carrie a special mention... Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to speak out on TV (eeep!) about a topic which is so important to me, and really does deserve awareness. As part of the piece, I'll be talking with three other sufferers of invisible illness in the hope of opening people's minds up to the idea that there are so many forms of invisible illness, and how it can effect such a wide variety of people - all genders, ages etc. The illnesses we'll be looking at in particular are M.E, Fibromyalgia, Body Dysmorphia, Crohns, and Heart Disease. This broadcast piece is going to be going out sometime in March or April - I shall keep you all posted!

And finally, with my University sports club - Boardriders, we are holding an 80's night at Propaganda, MooMoo's on Thursday 27th, to help raise money for two amazing charities - Cancer Research UK and Association of Young People with M.E (AYME). All of the Boardriders have been such a huge support for me and have become such a big part of my life, so the fact they want to fundraise for my charity is a big deal for me. Cancer Research UK is also a charity which is close to our hearts as a club, so we can't wait to raise money for them too! So I have to say a final thank you to my Boardriders for helping to make this fundraiser happen and for always keeping my spirits up. You're all awesome.

Info on Fybromyalgia - http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Fibromyalgia/Pages/Introduction.aspx
Info on Body Dysmorphia - http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/body-dysmorphia/pages/introduction.aspx
Info on Crohns - http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/crohns-disease/pages/introduction.aspx
Info on Cardiomyopathy (type of heart disease/condition) - https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/conditions/cardiomyopathy/dilated-cardiomyopathy.aspx

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Time to Talk - Mental Health

Hi all,

I can't believe it's been 8 months since my last post. A part of me really wanted to update this sooner, but the topic I want to talk about today is one that I've been struggling on and off with for most of my life. I felt like I needed to do it justice, when I'm ready. And now feels like the time.

Today is #TimeToTalk day in the UK. The NHS and mental health charities are urging people on this day to sit down with someone, and bring the subject of mental health up. This idea initially doesn't seem too appealing - however I know that there must be so many people out there, like myself, who have struggled to open up about this topic. So, if you can, sit down with people today and have a discussion, because you might just give someone the excuse they need to open up and seek help. And if you're reading this, I hope that by sharing a small insight into my experience, hopefully that will help you to see (this sounds so cliche) that you are definitely not alone. And that confiding in someone and talking about it really does help.

As I mentioned, I have had issues with mental health, particularly anxiety and depression since a young age. However, to tie in with this blog, I want to talk about the link between physical illness and mental illness. And in particular, how the two are often inappropriately linked and misjudged. At any age, receiving a diagnosis for a long term illness is going to have an impact on your emotional well-being. It's a massive life change, which can leave you and others around you with feelings of loss and helplessness. For some people, once the initial shock is over, they can get on with life relatively normally and don't have any issues with depression and mental health. For others, it becomes a huge struggle to cope with physical illness and does inevitably lead to problems.
For months after my diagnosis of M.E. 6 years ago, I found it difficult to come to terms with the condition. Mainly the physical constraint it has on your life. All of my life, any time I was stressed, angry or upset, I would deal with it by throwing myself into sport. I used running as a way to clear my head, and every time my foot struck the track I would feel my problems slowly leave me one by one (The endorphin's helped too, I have to admit). But after being diagnosed with M.E., I had to figure out a way to not only let that part of my life, so heavily focused on sport, go but also figure out a new way to deal with my issues. And these past six years, my coping mechanism was to not cope. To not face up to and deal with my problems. To push them to the back of my head for so long, I would always end up imploding.

Over last summer, six years later, I finally found someone I could open up to - a counselor who actually understood the emotions in a way that wasn't patronising or judgmental. I was then diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder because of my two previous diagnoses. Since then, opening up and getting a diagnosis, I'm finally starting to deal with emotions I've been suppressing for a long time. It's been a long process, because for so long I, like many other M.E. sufferers have been trying to break down the misconception that M.E. IS depression. Because of this, I've been unwilling to admit that I have any problems and instead I just tell the world that 'I'm fine.'

I think the message that I want to put out to the internet is this - It doesn't matter if you suffer from a long term condition or not, mental health problems are something that can happen to anyone, and should never be ignored. Admitting to yourself or admitting that a loved one may have problems is a huge deal, but ultimately it needs to be addressed so that you can seek the right treatment. Mental health problems are not something to be joked about, they are not a sign of weakness and they are not something that you can just 'get over.' I do believe however, that if you want to get help, the motivation has got to come from within you. As it's nearly impossible to help someone who doesn't want to help themselves (I know, I've been there.)

So today, if you have the chance, ask a loved one (or even a stranger) how they are, and really listen.You have no idea how much they might have needed someone to just genuinely want listen to them. Most people through their lives will encounter a mental health problem of some sort - so even though you might not understand why your best friend is depressed or why that person in your class has anxiety issues, just know that you being there for them might be just what they need, and if the tables are ever turned, having someone to listen to you could do you the world of good, even if the problem can't be fixed immediately.

Hope is a powerful thing. It's difficult to believe that everything will be okay. But having hope that someday I will not feel so broken, is what keeps me fighting.

I just want to add a cheesy thank you to all of those people who have helped me come to terms with everything. My family, my best friends and my counselor. I wouldn't have got to a place where I feel like I can open up so publicly about it, without you all.