An overdue letter to my psychiatrist

This was on my to-do list for ages.  I sent it today.  For some reason, it seemed like a blog post too.



I hope you’re doing well.

You’ve been on my ‘to do’ list for some time…. I’ve been wanting to get in touch and tell you how I’m doing but there’s been ‘something’ holding me back.  I think that thing is still loitering somewhere in the recesses of my mind, but regardless, I’ve decided it’s time.

When I left you at the end of June last year, I was ecstatic; I felt like miracles could happen and life was turning for me.  I literally felt like a different person and I literally felt that I was seeing the world as new.  What had seemed to be surrounded by fog, seemed then to be suddenly able to be seen with a clarity that I hadn’t realised existed.  Or, had forgotten.

Initially I was very frustrated that my body was lagging behind my brain – every time I did something even mildly energetic or exciting, I needed to build in ‘recovery’ time – my body was still repeating the habit of hyper into hypo.  It’s taken a long time, and my energy levels (or lack of) are still something which I worry about, but they are so much better and improving all the time.

During that early period of ecstasy and excitement, I launched myself into my business.  I was certain that things were turning for me.  I’d beaten PTSD and so I was going to crush this self-employment thing and be a huge success.  I could do anything.  And then, I crashed with exhaustion.  Making the business successful wasn’t easy and it needed more attention and energy than I had to give it.  I started hiding from the things that needed doing, just keeping up the pretences of doing and doing enough to not get found out.  During that time I think I sunk into depression again, or something like it.  Being alone for most of the day (and nights) didn’t help.  Pulling myself out of that funk has been (is proving to be) very difficult.

I was going to write to you at Christmas.  I had some special ‘Chrismukkah’ cards made for my business and I was going to send one to you with a thank you note inside, for giving me my miracle.  But I didn’t.  Because I felt I’d been squandering my miracle.  I wasn’t a success.  I was still languishing in bed for much of the days and creating a fake bravado persona for when I was with others.

The beginning of this month marked the 7 year anniversary of the rape.  You know that in the past this date has caused me a lot of anguish, I’ve wound myself up into quite a state in fearful anticipation of it, really from the end of January every year.  This year it was March before I really consciously remembered the anniversary was approaching.  And I didn’t feel frightened.  I felt sad.  I felt grief for the lost years.  And for the first time I think I consciously allowed myself to move on and past.  I won’t ever be able to forget.  But it’s not got the hold over me that it had.  Thank you.

The business hasn’t worked – yet.  It will.  After the May Bank Holiday I’m taking a really interesting 6 month contract which will improve my skills & expertise as well as keeping the roof over my head.  I’m immensely relieved.  I also hope that the combined factors of routine/schedule and the company of other people will help me with staving off the depression which wants very little excuse to manifest itself in my head.

Anyhow, I wanted to write and tell you how I’m doing.  I’m doing good.  Thank you.



My Struggle with Positive Thinking

Positivity.  It’s on my mind a lot at the moment.  Very likely something to do with the fact that I recently became an NLP Practitioner, which I tend to refer to as the cult of positivity.  For those who don’t know what NLP is, it’s essentially a set of tools which can help you to re-frame your reality into something more positive, and help you to achieve your dreams.  I’m excited to be an NLP Practitioner, don’t get me wrong.  It is a powerful set of tools which will help me to be a better coach, and I’m excited to be continuing to add to that toolset over the course of this year with Master Practitioner and Train the Trainer training coming up.

I’m also still suffering from depression.  In fact, after the marriage I had, followed by the rape and PTSD, I don’t think I remember anything more than fleeting happiness.  The days when I feel I can achieve my dreams, I don’t trust.  Something happens to burst the bubble.  Always.

(NLP would now be saying to me: “Always?”).

NLP helps you to deal with inappropriate feelings.  PTSD is only diagnosed 6 months after the trauma – almost as though it’s defining still suffering after 6 months as an inappropriate time to still be suffering. So, is 9 months after being discharged from psychiatric help as ‘cured’ from PTSD an inappropriate amount of time to still be grieving for the lost me?  The me I never really got to know (under all that depression from the marriage), the me that died that night, even if my heart did still keep beating?  Who defines inappropriate?

Depression isn’t a state of mind.  I can reframe my thoughts as much as I like.  The depression is like the foundation of my soul, it’s taken up residence in every nook & cranny and it laughs at my attempts to re-programme my mind.  I can (do) jump through the hoops, I can (do) feel momentarily brighter.  Living in the now, momentary matters, it isn’t nothing.  But the constant battle is exhausting.

NLP teaches you how to pull out of being in a ‘victim mentality’.  That victim has survived for the past 2536 days, somehow, clinging on through times I didn’t think I could. I choose to honour the part of me that was the victim, that froze, that gave up the fight, that through not fighting, survived.

So, I choose another way.  I choose to soothe the hurt.  To let it know that it’s ok to hurt.  It’s ok to still be suffering.  It’s ok to still grieve.  It’s ok to sometimes lie in bed and not fight the battle that day.  Every breath of life is a win against the monster who tried to take it from me.  Yes, there are only 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day – yes, this is the same as anyone else has, and they might do more with that time, achieve more, be more.  I am being what I can be.  And that is ok.  It is enough.

“What I did to get where I am now”

This is a guest post by my wonderful friend, the Silver Fox.


About a week ago I had cause to go the Docs about something and we had a brief chat about my mental health issues over the last two years. It started off with me thanking her for being so supportive and telling her how important it had been for me to know that whenever I needed to speak to her that she was genuinely supportive and listening. I was telling her how good I felt and that things were definitely on the up. She then said something I wasn’t expecting.

“I’m so pleased. You really deserve it. You’ve worked really hard at this……. and I know you really have worked hard at it.”

I was quite stunned by that comment but sat back and thought “Yes I suppose I have.” So, this morning in bed I was mulling this over (not that I ever think a lot about things) and thought I’d write down what I did that worked (NLP Klaxon!).


These aren’t necessarily in sequence because some of them take longer than others and are a process rather than a moment in time.

Can I also make clear that I’m not in any way proclaiming that these will work in the same way for anybody else. It’s just what worked for myself in my situation.


1. I realised I wasn’t being weak.

For someone like me to suddenly feel incapacitated is devastating. You’ve spent your whole life achieving and doing things (Actually part of the problem) and suddenly you can’t. This eats away at your very identity until you have no idea who you are. Was that person you were before a complete bluff? Did you fool everybody and this is the real you? “Come on Neil! You are better than this… be strong!” Then I read a book which I’ve referenced on here often “Depressive Illness: The curse of the strong” and my eyes were opened. Okay, so there is a logical reason why this is happening! I’m not weak… Okay, that’s cool… So what do I do?


2. I opened up to everybody including myself and didn’t hide a thing.

Now I had a few false starts with this one. Especially the honesty with self bit. In the end though, through a few occurrences which made me think hard about myself, I took myself back to the doctors and said I needed help. I was completely honest with them and the psychologists and I decided it was time to be honest with all my friends and family as well. This was partly because I didn’t want to be able to bluff anybody later on with the “Yes I’m Fine!” routine. No I wasn’t… I needed help.


3. I truly wanted to recover.

This is an interesting one. When I went to the Doctors which was in about July 2013 I’d really had enough of feeling like this. I wanted to get better. I wasn’t angry anymore. I didn’t blame anyone. I just wanted to be me again. Or rather a newer improved version… I’d done the angry and upset over the previous two or so years. I add that in because that was part of the process and the last 18 months wouldn’t have been so successful if I hadn’t gone through that stage already. I was ready to move on.


4. I resolved to be open to whatever the psychologists/doctors suggested.

I knew that I had to be prepared to change and to adapt. I’d be challenged about the way I’d lived and have to face up to some uncomfortable truths or even some treatments that might have seemed a bit “whacky’ to the old me. This also meant drugs. I was going to trust the experts and get on with it. I knew this wasn’t an exact science where we could take scans or inspect the wound for progress. I had to trust them and form a partnership with them if this was going to work. We would have ebbs and floes but there had to be trust. I also had to throw myself into all the programmes and suggested treatments. There was to be no holding back.


5. I accepted that I had a “major injury”.

I love a model that I can hang my hat on mentally and work out where I am in the process. The one that worked for me was equating what I had with a major sports injury. There was the immediate first aid, then the immediate after treatment to bring down swelling help the natural healing processes start. Then you have the initial physio to help the muscles reknit etc etc… you get the picture. There’s a process. If you rush the process you risk reinjuring yourself and ending up back at the beginning. Understanding that I was in a very similar situation (and one that I was unfortunately all too familiar with, oh those damn ankles of mine!) meant I knew I had to pace myself and again, trust the team.


6. I made my recovery the most important thing in my life.

I’ve left this till last because I think it was fundamentally the most important thing I did. When I went to the Docs and we did the initial diagnosis etc, I made my recovery and regaining my mental health the most singularly important thing in my life. I knew I wouldn’t, be ale to be the Dad I wanted to be again, be able to do all the projects I wanted to do or anything else until I had regained my health. In August 2013 I said clearly to quite a few people that the only important thing in 2013/14 was my getting healthy again. It didn’t matter if I was a pauper or anything else. I wanted to get well again and that’s where my focus had to be.


It’s been quite useful writing that down because in doing so it helps me define what I’ve got to do to continue forwards. But that’s for another time I think.


I’ve been meaning to write this for a while but for some reason I’ve been putting it off.  I think I’ve just been wanting to let it settle on me, be a bit clearer about what I think about it all.  Because the world doesn’t really make sense, this doesn’t really make sense, not even yet, but it is getting clearer.  I suppose I don’t really believe it yet, not truly, but maybe writing it down will help me to start.

I’m starting to notice the signs that I’m better, it’s almost like I’m waking up from a deep, but deeply unsettled, dream.  Trying to figure out who I am, what I am, what I love, what I hate, how to be, post PTSD is no easy task.  I’m a new version of me, I’ll never be the person I used to be ‘before’ again (and I can’t even recognise her as someone who I used to know, but that’s ok as my memory is conveniently erasing it all anyway) and the person I became ‘after’ was a chameleon shell clinging onto the raft as it battered against the rocks.  The person I am ‘now’ is still being determined, a work in progress.  I’m consciously trying to create new habits and new experiences, to discover what the things are that I enjoy.  I’m experimenting with new sensations – smells & scents through essential oils, touch & the language of the body through massage; exploring my creativity through writing and through learning to sew; and the revelatory discovery that exercise can be fun (through cycling and swimming).

It’s now 4 months since I was discharged by my lovely psychiatrist, a full bill of health, no longer suffering from either depression or PTSD.  It’s been a very odd 4 months, with starting my own business, not having the routine of paid employment; I’ve swung wildly from over-doing it to days of doing very little at all, struggling to find the balance.  I’ve noticed that whilst my head is definitely better (breaking a glass on the floor doesn’t leave me in floods of tears, but I can swear, shrug & clean it up without a problem), my body is lagging behind.  I know my still-unfitness (despite lots of attempting to rectify) is a contributing factor, but the fatigue I get is definitely correlated to the exertions of energy – it’s as though now my head has unlearned the hyper-panic response, my body still needs to unlearn the hypo-disassociate response.  Whilst I’m not really in hyper at all anymore, my body is still associating exertions of energy (for example when I pack too much into a day, or over-do it on the attempting-to-get-fit front) with hyper and so crashing into hypo at any given opportunity.  I know it’s a habit that my body needs to unlearn – but when you’re lacking in energy, it’s really not so easy.

I’m very glad I’ve had the chance to take it when I’ve needed to, being largely in charge of my hours with the new ‘emventure’ – I really don’t think I’d have been able to do 5 days a week without crashing every weekend.  And I vowed that the point of the new business was to have the opportunity to find a different balance to life, to be able to look around me and see the world without letting it just fly by.  Of course, I’m nervous that I’m not exactly earning at the moment, and the money will be gone before I know it if I’m not careful.  I’m worried that whilst I believe in emventure, maybe others won’t and I therefore won’t be self-sufficient.  I know that my CV and past experience doesn’t get erased by trying to go my own way – but of course I worry that the job market is a very competitive place.  Keeping the belief in myself is key; keeping the belief that I am better, that this ‘remission’ will prove to be lasting, is key.

I’m about to face a very big test of whether my betterness is real.  I’ve faced some difficult tests (family relationships are improving, as much as they ever might) but this one is a doozy…  After the divorce and the end of the white-picket-fence dream, I didn’t know where to be.  I chose a place and it was in that place that I was raped.  Following that, I moved 6 times in 3 years, not doing much more than 6 months in any ‘home’.  Three & a half years ago, I found the flat where I’ve been happy, felt safe, felt like I’d made a home.  Economic times being what they are, and house-prices & rents sky-rocketing has meant that my landlord is selling my flat for an obscene amount and I need to move.  So, I’m moving.  This will be a test of epic proportions.  I’m staying in mostly the same area (I won’t need to change my doctor, my dentist, my hairdresser or my gym) and I’m moving closer to a friend, who loves the immediate area so whilst I don’t know it so well (yet), I’m reassured that I’m making a good choice.  The flat is smaller, costs a little more, is further away from the hustle of my current corner of the world, but it’s full of character, been done up new by the landlord and has a garden.  Rationally, it’s a sensible choice.  Emotionally, I don’t know.  Emotionally, I’m worried that the stress of moving, not so much because moving is stressful (although it is), but because of the past associations I have with moving will knock me off-balance.

Rationally, I know it probably won’t.  Over the course of all the therapy & psychiatric treatment, I’ve learned a great deal about how to ground myself, how to notice the signs I’m feeling overwhelmed and take appropriate action.  I’ve also got a lot more insight into how different scents can disrupt my senses and calm me almost instantly (which although first used by my psychiatrist, I’ve been using a lot more since then after having been introduced more widely to essential oils by a friend).  I have oils to diffuse, to inhale, to apply to my skin and feel safe.

Different to the past, as well, is the discovery that I like exercise, that it can feel beneficial to me.  Whilst I still maintain that exercise can’t overcome depression until your depression is ready to be overcome, I have found that some exercise can be fun (cycling, swimming) and when I do make the effort, I enjoy it and it lifts my mood.  In the days when I was fitter, it used to be a great way to manage my stress; I know that it’s a tool in my armoury when I need it and I can go for a swim, and a steam after.

So, I know it’ll be a test; but awareness is half the battle.  And I know that I have ways that have worked in the past, and will therefore likely continue to work, that mean I can rely on myself for support.  But I also know that I’ll still have the support of all my lovely friends who helped me get this far and aren’t about to disappear just yet.  In a ‘practice’ coaching session recently, I hit upon a very visual description for how my journey towards this reawakening feels – it was a very dark, stormy night, then for a long time I was in a fog, now that fog is lifting, it’s just a light mist and the sun is clearing the way for bright blue skies.

Sipping the Kool Aid

tl;dr: I’m open-minded to the potential helpfulness of essential oils & don’t believe network marketing is a scam


I am a strange mess of opposites.  I’m one of the most cynical people I know, but I’m also one of the most naïve and hopeful.  I don’t believe natural remedies should work; my rational, scientific schooled brain wants more evidence and if natural remedies were as successful as people claim, wouldn’t the big pharmas be out of business?  But then, the big pharmas are run by capitalist patriarchal systems which exist to con us into being hooked on more and more drugs to make them richer.  So, I don’t much trust conventional medicine either.

I’m also what I characterise as ‘desperately hopeful.’  Despite my best attempts in the darkest days of my depression to remain steadfastly apathetic about life, even then I sunk pounds and pounds into various attempts to feel better – the high point (low?) being upwards of four figures into Chinese acupuncture, cupping & pills to reduce the intense sweating my big pharma antidepressants were causing me.  It did work, but not as well as it needed to for the continued price.  I’m not that rich.

And this willingness to try everything started several years ago, before even the crazy in me started (by that I mean my PTSD which did definitely make my judgement rather suspect at times).  Way back, a colleague/friend of mine introduced me to Forever Living products which are based on the power of pure aloe vera juice.  She has since done really well, running her own business in distributing the products – and I continue to drink aloe vera juice daily.  I notice when I don’t.  My hair loses lustre, my gut gets unsettled, I have (even) less energy.  I absolutely believe in the benefits of aloe vera as a health supplement and in its powers to heal anything from burns or rashes to any problems of the gut.

So, I imagine I was already in a good place to be ready to believe also in the powers of essential oils.  Those words are ones we see with almost everything these days – even our shower gels come with essential oils.  Of course, these are not pure, nor are they free from artificial contamination with all the other ingredients, but manufacturers are ready to claim their products are better because they have some essential oils in them.

And it was another friend who introduced me recently to essential oils, this time through the Young Living brand.  At the time, I was nearing the end of my psychiatry treatment, my sleep was still very unsettled and I was concerned about ‘going it alone’ without a crutch.  So, I guess I was a ripe prospect.

Despite this, I was determined not to fall for it.  I know from the aloe vera experience, which I don’t think I can do without, it’s an expensive habit getting hooked on these wellbeing supplements.  People will tell you ‘what price a better life?’ – they do it with coaching too for example, an area I want to get into, but I am very very very uncomfortable with that selling approach – it plays to people’s desperation – ‘if you want it badly enough, if you really want to change your life for the better, you’ll pay’.  I don’t like that, not at all; it passively but aggressively preys on desperation as the motivating factor to pay up to improve your life.  But, my friend gave me some samples of an oil called Peace & Calming to help my sleep.  And I slept like a baby (that sleeps through the night), and woke feeling refreshed for maybe the first time in ages.  So, I wanted that to continue (but being me, I continued to tease her, and being her, she knew I was just teasing).

I bought a bottle of the Peace & Calming by becoming a distributor, it was the way I got my aloe vera too; wholesale prices but I don’t actually sell it to anyone else (yet?).  And so, because I now had the beginner’s introduction pack I started to experiment with other things.  A couple of drops of lemon oil in my water in the morning (my friend had also given me a small sample of that and she swore by it) was the start.  Then I got some really bad eczema on my neck.  I’ve always been prone to eczema, especially in summer, but had never had it on my neck before.  My usual go-to of hydrocortisone Hc45 just wasn’t having any impact.  I consulted some notes my friend had sent me about how the oils might be used for common ailments.  Lemon was suggested for eczema, and so was lavender.  I went with the lemon first – it stung!!!  I layered lavender over the top and that was immediately soothing.  The eczema disappeared, almost immediately (within about 20 minutes the rash had gone).  Since then, when I’ve felt it coming back, I’ve gone straight to the lavender (the lemon sting not being pleasant, even if it might’ve worked) and I haven’t had any more eczema all summer.

Mosquito bites – horrible things.  My friend got bitten and nothing was working, none of the various over-the-counter bite lotions, hay fever tablets, nothing.  I put some lemon oil on – and whilst it apparently stung like hell, it killed the sting.  Lavender oil, again layered over, and the bites were much less sharp.

Another friend did the Moonwalk, a marathon walked over night (I know, crazy, right?!).  Pan Away, the muscle/pain oil on her sore legs and what she thought would be pain for a week only lasted a day or so.  Pan Away and Deep Relief have also provided a lot of relief for a friend with a very swollen (sprained) ankle.

It’s not all magic though.  The Peace & Calming oil does help me sleep, and I truly believe the times I use it are the times I have the deepest sleeps – but it can still take me forever to get to sleep.  I often use Cedarwood and Lavender too and the combinations improve it, but it’s not a miracle sleep-aid.  I had an ear infection, and for me that’s usually caused by eczema in my outer ear canal – lavender oil had helped once before, but this time there was no impact at all and I had to resort to antibiotics.  (I was then told by those who know much more than me, never to put the oils directly in the ear canal… oops!).  I’ve got a gammy knee from when I came off my bike in early January (the same knee I’d had an op on, of course) – however much I use Pan Away, or Wintergreen, or Deep Relief it’s still a gammy knee.  Sometimes it’s relieved a little, but sometimes maybe I think that’s a panacea effect.

What definitely is magic is the En-R-Gee which I diffuse during the day – not every day, but the days I remember.  And what is magic about that is that I’ll be quite amazingly productive when that’s the background scent in the room.  In fact, there are some days when I have consciously decided not to diffuse it, because the part of me that wants to curl up in a ball and not be part of the world wins the internal battle.  The days I use it, that part of me (I call her Alice) doesn’t get a look-in.

Recently I went along to a seminar held by Young Living to learn more about the products.  There was definitely ‘something’ to them and I wanted to find out more…

It was held by Haley Jenson who is one of the main rep’s of the company from America.  Young Living was founded in 20 years ago in 1994 by Gary Young.  When younger, Gary sustained injuries in a logging accident and was told he would never be able to walk again.  With traditional ‘big pharma’ letting him down, he looked for natural ways to help himself to walk again – and he did.  It’s an emotional story – and it draws you in.  His belief in the power of essential oils seems to stem from his own personal circumstances and a desire to help other people overcome their own issues, rather than purely about money and profit.  Although we can’t be certain that’s not part of it, the fact he’s also developed the D. Gary Young Foundation which helps disadvantaged communities all around the world demonstrates it’s not all about the money.  (A note; following my visit to the ‘mother ship’ the European HQ this week, it’s definitely a business set up to make money and has all the normal corporate pitfalls (imo) of a mostly white male executive structure.  But it’s founded on ethical principles.  And if you rejected every business which is mostly a white male executive structure, you wouldn’t buy much or do much these days).

Haley went into some detail about the science behind essential oils.  They might not be sold to us by Glaxo SmithKline and they may come from natural sources, but the science seems really quite sound (to my very non-scientific brain, I only got a B in Biology).  Basically, they are already the armour & defence weapons that these plants use to protect themselves against predators.  The structure of the oils is very similar to our own, so we can absorb them direct into the skin without having to digest them, and they are totally safe for us to use (and ingest if we want to).  They are 100 to 10,000 times more concentrated than herbs (and when I used just 3 drops of lemon oil to flavour my smoked salmon, cream cheese and avocado the other day, the flavour permeated through it all – I’d have had to have squeezed a whole lemon over to have anything close to the same effect).

Some people have commented to me that they would prefer to trust a double-blind scientific study.  Well, the side effects from those double-blind scientific studies which claim to cure depression, or headaches or anything in between, can be really quite debilitating.  The worst side effect from using essential oils is that they don’t work.  Essential oils also don’t claim to cure.  They claim to possibly help.  And you don’t know until you try.  During the seminar many people from the audience shared their own testimonials of how they had used various oils and with what impact; I am attracted to the power of personal testimonial, personal experience, personal stories.  Here are some of those experiences:

Peppermint – a very versatile oil, used to pain, headaches, gastric problems, car sickness, can provide energy in a drink, can provide mental clarity, can clear sinuses, calms nerves.  Peppermint is also a penetration-enhancer and can be used with any of the other oils to enhance the effect.

Lavender – a couple of drops in the mouth for hay fever, deodorant, relaxing, skin issues, bug bites, scratches, freshen linen (a couple of drops in the washer/dryer), bruises.

Joy – uplifts the mood

Pan Away – this one really amazed me – an axe injury to the arm…. It stopped the bleeding straight away.

Clove – toothache, especially good for babies teething.

Ningxia Red is Young Living’s equivalent of the Aloe Vera juice I drink every day.  It’s made with wolfberry, which contains protein, and has lots of very powerful testimonials to improving eyesight, providing energy and stamina, totally turning around a persistent hypoglycaemic problem and much more.  It has so many different anti-oxidants packed into it, that it hits every part of the body. It has citrus oils in it, which are anti-ageing and anti-inflammatory and it’s anti-carcinogenic.  I’ve now purchased some and will be testing it for myself over the next month or so to see what the impact is for me.

Thieves represents the home-care range, but can also be ingested and inhaled to ward against colds and flu and other bugs.  It’s called Thieves because the recipe for it was taken from the grave robbers who didn’t get the plague, because they had covered themselves with a potion.  It has a 99.6% kill rate against airborne bacteria.  It tastes horrible (apparently) but spraying on a sore throat, or gargling in water will ward off colds.  Or, just add it to Ningxia Red to knock out whatever is ailing you.  You can use in in your laundry, in the refrigerator; you can wash your fruit & veg with it, as well as clean your toilet.

Coming away from the seminar, I was hooked.  When I told my friend, he said with a sly grin that I’d definitely been drinking the Kool Aid.  Maybe I had, maybe I am.  But I’m definitely sold on the premise that there’s ‘something’ to using essential oils to improve the quality of life, and I’d much prefer to be trying to do that with something that is entirely natural and good for me, than a man-made artificial concoction of various chemicals.

The European Convention was this weekend.  Friday was the visit to the European HQ, Saturday the main conference and expo, and today a series of seminars.  Being wiped out by the week, I decided to give the seminars a miss today, but whilst following two days in the clutches of the cult hasn’t left me gulping at the Kool Aid, I’m still happily sipping (and OMG, NingXia is de-licious).  I bought a lot of material to understand more about the properties of essential oil and how they can be used to alleviate various hurts of the mind and body.  I also bought a book about the ancient uses of essential oils – I mean, the Magi did bring Frankincense and Myrrh to the birth of Jesus, didn’t they?  These natural helpers have been around and used by humans for literally centuries.  Like the Eastern medicinal approaches, they have a rich lineage of success stories to their name.  I’m not suggesting I’m going to ditch my anti-depressants right now, Western medicine and big pharma still has a role, but I am going to try natural remedies before I put artificial chemicals into my body (unless those chemicals are the fun kind) 😉

Some have criticised the Young Living network marketing business model as being unethical, that it preys on the vulnerable.  I disagree for several reasons.  Firstly, I think it is often when you have tried other remedies which have failed and provided no relief, that you are in the mindset to be open-minded to try something new – certainly that’s my experience.  So, was I vulnerable?  I think I was just in the market for a solution.  It worked, so I bought.  Yes, the products are pricey, and I have many friends who I think they could help, but I am wary of suggesting because the price is most likely too high.  Unfortunately essential oils do not yet come on the NHS – I can understand in America where healthcare is more costly, that actually the price differential is not that great, or even less.

Secondly, whilst the term ‘pyramid scheme’ is often used to describe network marketing business models, this is inflammatory.  Pyramid schemes got their bad name from promises of richness through money lending that didn’t exist.  So those at the bottom absolutely did get screwed; they were fraudulent schemes.  Network marketing is not that.  Network marketing is, I believe, going to grow and grow as a business model in the future; it’s been around a while (think Tupperware and Avon) and it’s a really flexible model for those people who are part of it.  Rather than need to work a 9-5 for minimum wage (and often on zero hours and less than the living wage), people can work flexibly around their lives and they earn a decent living – how decent obviously depends on how much you sell, but it’s a decent living.  My friend who distributes for Forever Living was able to give up her corporate soulless job and focus on her family and children whilst having the satisfaction of running her own business with a product she absolutely believes is helping people.  Yes, at the top of the ‘pyramid’ people earn even more, and significantly more.  But isn’t that also the case for CEO’s, board members, non-exec directors, etc at corporates?  And corporates use network marketing too.  Member get member schemes are a form of network marketing and in the mobile phone industry in Europe, network marketing was a legitimate channel of distribution (I am not certain if it continues to be used by the MNO’s there).

Finally, I think I’ve already challenged the view that essential oils are just placebo nothings and a scam.  I don’t think they are because of the history of them being used, because of the existing testimonial that I’ve heard from others and because of the experience I have found on my body.  Everyone is of course entitled to remain sceptical, and as I say, I’m not gulping at the Kool-Aid just yet, but my mind is open to the possibility that I may well decide essential oils really are *essential* to living.

Barren nest

This blog is in response to the piece I read by Liz Smith ‘All Grown-Up & No Kids Yet’ in the f-word yesterday, which was itself a response to a piece by Abigail Watson ‘The Mother of Ambitions’, also in the f-word.  Liz mentions that she is 32 and Abigail that she is 16.  I have no issue with either of their pieces; they are absolutely right in their assertion that the expectation that they should want motherhood is sexist and misplaced.  If and when they change their mind, then that is their decision, and their decision only.  (I am also totally at a loss as to why at 16 society is exerting this expectation on Abigail, I have no recollection of this when I was that age).

I am 41 and childless.  Over the last two decades I have swerved between the ‘definitely not yet’ camp, the ‘children are not for me’ camp – and the ‘I absolutely should be a mother’ camp.

When I first got married at 24 I was diagnosed with PCOS (poly-cystic ovary syndrome) which I’d long suspected I had, absence of periods for long periods (ha!) and general hairiness being quite obvious signs.  The consultant my GP had referred me to lectured me for some time on the need to start a family straight away, or rather, start trying straight away, as it could take me some years.  My (now ex) husband and I were not ready for a family; both at the beginning of our careers; both young professionals, parenthood wasn’t high up on our list of to-do’s at the time.  And so we didn’t try.

As my 30s approached, and my 30th passed, we decided it was time.  I came off the pill, we tried.  Now, I know that trying to get pregnant means having lots of sex and I know we didn’t have lots of sex (so many stories behind that) but I didn’t get pregnant and I wanted to be pregnant.  PCOS also meant that anyway I was having maybe three periods a year.  Over time, I became very jealous of people at work who were pregnant.  Walking down the street, I’d be noticing all the prams, all the push-chairs, all the swollen bellies.  My green envy became irrational and I absolutely began to understand what pushes baby-snatchers to snatch babies… I’m not saying I would have done, but I definitely understood why.

And then, divorce at 34.  The marriage had lasted 10 years (although with hindsight, we really should not have stubbornly clung to the institution for so long) and so I decided to stridently believe that children would not be for me; I would never trust another relationship to last, and even if I met another man next week, in 10 years I would be 44 and it would be too late.  So, I made a conscious decision to put motherhood dreams behind me.

I kept wavering though.  Life itself took some more twists into darkness with rape, PTSD, depression.  And I knew even through those despairing years that I was also wasting away my fertility, and that really, if I was actually honest with myself, I didn’t want to be. 

A couple of years back, I was still in a pretty desperate place, but I wanted to turn it around with positive action for what I really wanted in the world.  And I wasn’t going to let the small, minor detail of not being in a relationship with a man who had sperm to give me get in my way.  So, I went for IUI treatment with sperm donation, did a 3 for 2 deal, and started praying for my NoSling to arrive.  [NoSling was my term for my baby, Nate or Scarlett]. 

NoSling didn’t arrive.  Sometimes I find myself talking to my NoSling, and then I remember.  Reading those articles yesterday triggered a deep sadness in me, a grief, if you can grieve for someone that never was, and it’s a grief that I feel very regularly.  Because when you’re 41, like at 32 or even at 16, you will still get asked about motherhood.  And it’s not just annoying.  It hurts.  It hurts like hell.

There’s a choice to make when it happens.  Sometimes I pretend that I don’t want children.  Sometimes I tell the truth, and say that I desperately do, but it’s too late now.  That will of course always result in the reply, but you’re only 41, so&so had one at 45/46/47 (etc.).  Usually the example given is not for the first child anyhow, but who says I want to be a really old mum?  (I mean, I would, but I know it’s getting harder with each year).  I don’t have a man right now willing to give me sperm anyway.  And I’ve just started my own business so financially it’s not sensible either (not that it ever is, financially).  People say, well, you can always adopt.  I’m single, bisexual, poly and kinky, don’t own my own house and just starting my own business (i.e. no income) and I know these aren’t definite no-no’s for adoption (and definitely not for parenthood), but the process is so intrusive, and the chances slim.  And also, why would any child want to feel second-best?  I would adopt but only if I was sure I would love the child as if it were my own.  People say, you only tried IUI, why don’t you try IVF?  Well, if I could afford to lose £10k a go, then maybe…  And then people say, maybe I don’t want it bad enough.

I don’t know if I didn’t get pregnant with my ex-husband due to the PCOS, because we didn’t try hard enough, or because of other reasons.  I don’t know if I didn’t get pregnant with the IUI because I was too old, because maybe I just can’t, or just bad luck.  I do know that I wish I’d fooled around a lot more when I was younger, and not worried so much about pregnancy.  Life might’ve been different, but I think it would’ve been a good different.

I know that not wanting to be a mother is quite a taboo in society; it’s something that as women we can do, that most men can’t.  We’re expected to fulfil our biological destiny.  Some of us, however, can’t and want to.  And no-one ever seems to know what to say about that. 

Starting Again

This is me, starting again.  Again.  The thing about getting older, that they never tell you when you’re younger, is that you start to realise that you never get ‘there’.  I used to think ‘there’ was studying history at university, it was the only thing I ever ‘wanted’ to do.  Then, when I’d done that, I thought that ‘there’ was buying a flat, getting married, having children, going to garden centres at the weekend.  I never had the children (yet?) but when I divorced I didn’t just let go of the dream house we’d renovated from condemned everything (gas, water, electricity, leaking roof, you name it, it needed fixing), and the Boden outfits, I let go of any stability of knowing what ‘there’ was.  At that time, ‘there’ was just figuring a way to be me, just figuring out who me was.  I was, literally, starting again.

And then, darkness.  The world isn’t the fairytale I believed in as a sheltered middle-class white girl.  What only happens to other people, with other kinds of lives, happened to me.  The world let me down, it hurt me.  Justice didn’t exist.  And I began to live in fear, the panic zone being my constant, bravado getting me through and papering over cracks, sometimes failing, falling, sinking. 

Since then, I have started again, several times.  I moved a lot, looking for somewhere safe.  I re-evaluated some friendships, I re-evaluated my career, my life; I re-evaluated my values.  For a while, I was quite ill, but the miracles of psychiatry mean that I am no longer papering over cracks, coping, I am ‘cured’.  I can do this world.

My approaching 40th birthday last year triggered a lot of deep thinking in me about what I wanted to be doing in my working life for the next 20-30 years.  And it wasn’t what I was doing.  I had one of the most awesome jobs on the planet, having a part in defining the marketing strategy for one of the best brands in the UK, but it wasn’t fulfilling me.  A coaching session helped me to visualise what I wanted to be doing longer term and create a plan for getting there.  I got a secondment, I created opportunities to fill the gaps in my experience.  I was creating the future I wanted.

The opportunity to start my own company probably occurred about 6 months earlier than I’d planned; I wasn’t quite ready, I’d wanted some time to let it settle on me, to build some client & project leads, to get my name ‘out there’.  But you can’t pass-up the opportunity to make your dreams come true when opportunity comes knocking.  And so here I am, starting again.

This time, though, I’m not starting again because I’ve been torn down.  I’m not trying to pick up the pieces of my life post-divorce, or post-trauma, or due to a breakdown.  I’m starting again from a place where this is my conscious, positive decision to create the future I want, to help create a world I want to live in and to always be learning, always be curious, always be starting something new.  Again.




Mental Health Week 5: Resilience

Today’s focus is on Resilience. I’m on holiday so I’ll be posting this up – and I suppose I’ll see what you all think when I log back in on Monday…

I have some very personal sensitivities around the word ‘resilience.’ Before I joined this company, I was told by a manager that I lacked resilience; my future emotional state could not be trusted and so could I please resign. I did, but not without rather a sizeable pay off. It is contrary to the equalities act to discriminate on the grounds of disability – and resilience is a term which smacks of discriminatory judgement. (As an aside, I saw at least one directorate job role advertised in the recent restructure which listed resilience as a required EQ trait. I checked this out with an HR friend of mine (external) and she confirmed, at best it was ‘problematic’, at worst it was discriminatory. We can do better than that).

So, why, those personal subjective reasons aside, do I hate the term?

  • It is a judgemental word – the opposite of resilience is weakness; calling people who are suffering from anxiety (or any mental illness) anything which can be construed as weak just adds to the stigma attached
  • People who are suffering anxiety (or other mental illness) are fighting more battles just to keep going, so are actually (in my opinion) more resilient than those who are not suffering in any way – the person who has an anxiety attack before arriving at work, but arrives at work anyway; the person who is still living but doesn’t want to; the person who is facing into their fears and demons despite panic attacks – these people are more resilient than those who are not fighting those battles
  • The concept of the ‘stiff upper lip’, ‘facing down anxiety’ is actually very counter-productive – if you do not acknowledge you are ill and try to get by, you are likely to become more ill. Anxiety, like depression, does not just ‘go away’ if you ignore it – it will only get worse.

The concept of resilience seems to suggest that if you take practical steps to develop resilience (through mental and physical self-care) you can somehow avoid mental illness – that someone who is resilient will then be immune to depression or anxiety, or worse. Health-freaks still get colds. In fact, health-freaks still get cancer. Depression can hit for no reason – there doesn’t have to be a big life-event like divorce, or unemployment, or money worries to mean you get depression, it can just happen. That’s a very scary thought for most people, of course it is, but it’s the truth.

I asked my psychiatrist last Friday what she thought about resilience. She is one of the leading trauma specialists in the country, not some quack. She says it has become a very fashionable term, but it failed to take into account that other factors will always impact how severely an individual is affected by anxiety, stress, or any mental illness – especially factors in early-life which will have impact on the adult. She also pointed out that neuroplasticity which causes changes in brain function, takes months and not weeks to take effect. CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) which is very popular as a tool in building resilience generally fails to provide any lasting solutions because it is usually only carried out over a period of on average 10 weeks (and it’s only allowed via NICE on the NHS for 6-10 weeks). It does help some people, but not many. But it’s cheap and so it’s usually the first line of attack. Businesses love it – NLP is mostly just CBT under a business and not a psychologist guise. Work hard, work longer and if you start flailing, have some NLP coaching, keep going, if you don’t you’re not resilient, you’re weak. Like I said in Monday’s blog – your mental health is just not worth losing over a powerpoint presentation.

I am still here, on this earth – I’ve developed the self-confidence and risk-taking necessary to decide to leave in 2 weeks to start my own business; I haven’t put into practice my plan B yet, and don’t intend to. My survivor-mechanism has kept me clambering up the walls of the abyss every time I’ve slipped down. I’m resilient because I’ve had something to be resilient against. Next time you question someone’s resilience, ask yourself, what do you really mean by the term? What are you really saying?

Mental Health Week 4: Self-Care

Today’s theme for Mental Health awareness week is winding down. Over the years of being in and out of various forms of therapy & counselling I have had lots of advice for how to take care of myself. Self-care is critical – even when something doesn’t seem to actually improve the situation just the very fact that you are taking care of yourself, doing something nice for yourself can have a really positive impact on your state of mind.

Today is my birthday, so I’m not in the office, and I’ll be doing a lot of nice things for myself today and over the next few days. Here is a collection, in no particular order, of some of the things that I have tried, with various success, over the years. Some may work for you, some won’t. The trick is to try until something does.

If you’re in a very low place, it can sometimes help to try to shift your reality by getting involved in a different reality:

  • Try a movie that brings a smile to your face – for me, that’s something that requires almost no concentration and has a happy ending. Maybe it’s a Reese Witherspoon thing but both Sweet Home Alabama and Legally Blonde work perfectly for me, everytime. Afterwards I might still be low, but for the 2 hours or so that the movie was on, I had forgotten my reality
  • Music can work too – it’s cheesy, but 80s pop tracks, or ABBA, or something equally wrong, can do wonders to make you want to sing a long, dance and forget the world
  • Friends – sometimes you really don’t want to see anyone, sometimes even the thought of seeing someone is really overwhelming. But actually, once they are there, with you, they are awesome. It’s an absolute fallacy to think depressed people can’t laugh. You can, and it helps, only for the moment, but when you’re low, each moment conquered matters

If you’re feeling really stressed and anxious, it’s important to try to find a few moments where you can have some respite and take time for you:

  • A long bath with bubbles, and candles and some calming music can work wonders. Put some lavender oil in the water. My go-to music for this is the Twin Peaks soundtrack. Don’t judge me, it’s beautiful and just transports me to another reality.
  • Creating a little oasis of calm where you can in your home is really useful – light a tea candle, put some flowers in a vase, and sit quietly watching the candle burn. Whilst you’re doing this, you can also try –
  • Meditation – I’ve had mixed success with this one, it’s very very hard to quiet the mind and not let it run off on one! If you can just observe that your mind wants to think about other things, without judgement, and just try to concentrate on your breathing, breathing in good, breathing out bad stuff, then it helps. And you can also try –
  • Affirmations – saying something positive to yourself again and again. It’s important that it’s phrased just as a positive (i.e. not I am not stupid, but instead, I am bright). My own affirmation was given to me by a friend who is also a life coach (oh, I’ve tried everything!) and it is “Whatever I do, I totally & completely accept myself exactly as I am right now.”
  • You can also get Angel cards or other affirmation cards which will give you a new one every day
  • And there are loads of meditation apps (& you tube videos) which are worth trying until you find one that works for you
  • With my current psychiatrist, I have worked through a very detailed visualisation for my safe space, which is what I focus in on whenever I need to now. I imagine myself walking down the lane, opening the gate, and sitting in the bright yellow lawn of daffodils, the birds overhead, the breeze on my skin, the dampness of the grass, the dogs & ducks in the distance… Pick a happy time where you felt really safe and calm and peaceful. Add detail. Close your eyes, transport yourself there. It’s a wonderful resource, an oasis of calm in a noisy world.
  • Yoga is a great way to relax & unwind; you need to focus on your breathing which helps with stress, and you can do it at home so you don’t need the added stress of being around people, or leaving the house.
  • And, if you’re up to it, then exercise does have some benefits – it helps to clear the lungs so they have to breathe more deeply. As I’ve said, I don’t believe that exercise can make stress or depression go away – and if you’re in a deeply depressed state, exercise is just going to tip you over the edge. I’ve tried running when depressed and it’s made me feel even more low because my body and my mind just wasn’t ready for the jolt. So, don’t do too much, listen to your body, and do what’s good for you.
  • And tea. We’re British after all… (or not, but, tea).

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and in a state of high anxiety, or feeling panicked, then you can try:

  • Grounding yourself – feel your feet on the ground, your back supported by the chair, straighten your back, relax your shoulders. Be aware of your body, in the present.
  • Using your left hand, grip your right wrist, just lightly… be aware of how it feels. Pat up your arm, to your shoulder. Do the same right hand, to left wrist. Do the same with your left hand to your right ankle and up your leg. And vice versa. This gives you a sense of being in the present, your body is here, attached to you. Very useful if you’re starting to feel that floating out of body experience which is common with panic attacks.
  • Orient yourself to your surroundings. Notice the colour of the carpet, the walls. Say to yourself, that is a chair over there. Notice if the sun is shining. What are the noises you hear? Just focus on the things, the noises, the tastes, the smells. This will give you time to not be thinking about what’s panicking you.
  • If you find yourself being panicked at your desk (or in your home) have something that you can focus on that brings you calm. On my desk I have some postcards, one is of Vancouver where I love, and some sunsets. Also Pooh with some honey.
  • Similarly, you can keep something in your pocket to hold onto – a stone perhaps, which just grabbing in your fist can help to ground you. Or a piece of jewellery. I have a bracelet which I focus on, and also a necklace which I wear most days which actually symbolises the grounding chakra.
  • Smell is the quickest sense to adjust – I carry rosemary oil with me everywhere I go, it’s quite an energising smell and it’s one I now associate with being safe. Choose one that you like and inhale whenever you need. By my bed, I keep lavender oil, as it has a soporific effect too.
  • If what someone is saying is making you feel either stressed or triggered, then try visualising them with a goldfish bowl in front of their face. Focus on the goldfish swimming around. Their face will be distorted through the glass. It’s surprisingly effective 😉

If you’re having trouble sleeping, which tends to go hand in hand with stress, it can be a double whammy because when you’re feeling tired, everything is worse. I can’t say I’ve cracked the insomnia code yet, but some things I’ve tried (and trying):

  • Keep a pad by the bed (and a pen or pencil) – if your mind is racing it will try to stay awake to remember things. Write them down so you know you don’t have to keep them in your head.
  • Diffuse some peace & calming oils / lavender so that the air in the room will help you sleep
  • I suffer from night terrors sometimes – I’ve got a self-made calendar thing (not sure what to call it really) that tells me what day it is, what year, where I am, how old I am. That way, when I wake up in a panic thinking I’m in a bad place, I can orient myself quickly to the present and know it was only a nightmare
  • Don’t keep your phone by the bed, Twitter & Facebook can be too distracting
  • Have a bath before bed
  • Don’t do exercise in the late evening – your body will be too energised
  • Meditate or do some of the calming activities before bed
  • Chamomile tea is very calming and can have a soporific effect
  • If you’re in a cycle of insomnia it can sometimes be helpful to use sleeping tablets to kick-start the body back into its natural cycle. Sleeping tablets can be really unhelpful too though, and even the non-addictive ones can prove to be quite addictive, making you believe you need them. And, take it from me, it’s not very good if you take a sleeping tablet, wake up in the night and in your half-drowsy state think it’s a good idea to take another, oversleep until mid-morning when you were supposed to be at VCCP to give a stratcom presentation, get there late and then explain to the group about it not being a good idea to take too many sleeping tablets…. They’ll think you’re crazy. They might be right, but it’s not a great outcome.
  • I’ve also tried Valerian as a natural alternative to sleeping tablets – tastes awful but a few drops in grapefruit juice can do wonders. Tend to still wake up feeling very zombiefied though. Nytol can work too but I prefer the herbal versions. And nothing (over the counter) beats Night Nurse.  

I know this is work, so probably not very appropriate to focus too much on some of the less healthy winding down techniques but I don’t think that it would be honest to discuss mental health and fail to mention that those of us who suffer from mental health issues are more likely to fall foul of things like alcohol or drug abuse. My biggest failing is comfort eating and carbs are my enemy. When stressed, anxious or depressed, it’s important to be kind to yourself – but that doesn’t always mean another macaroni cheese or glass of red wine. Everything in moderation. Except breathing, always remember to breathe.

Mental Health Week 3: Supporting Others

Today’s theme for Mental Health Awareness week is Supporting Others. As someone who’s been at work on the spectrum of depressed to severely depressed, and anxious to having full-blown panic attacks in the middle of the office, I can’t really put into words how valuable and necessary the support I’ve received from the few that have known has been.

Mental health issues of one type or another can affect 1 in 4 of us at any moment. In fact, it will be very rare for someone not to experience a mental health issue, either themselves or a loved one or close family member. Depression and stress tend to be talked about most and these have become the acceptable public face of mental illness, caused by the pressures of western living – divorce & relationship problems, financial pressures, job woes – all of these are ailments of modern life which everyone can relate to, and so are often cited when trying to break down the stigma of mental health.

And there is a stigma to mental health. Many mental illnesses are not so ‘acceptable’ to be talked about publicly. The myth of the unhinged schizophrenic off their meds and going wild killing people is still common. But people with mental illnesses are four times more likely to be the victims of violent crime than commit it. Did you know that schizophrenia affects 1 in 100 people in their lifetime, and it’s not ‘incurable’ – some people will recover? Again, Bipolar Disorder will affect 1 in 100 people, sometimes called manic depression it means sufferers have very high highs, and very low lows. But actually, the enlightenment and energy during the highs can result in amazing productivity and the lows can generate a great deal of thinking time – just imagine if we could encourage our people with bipolar to be open about where they are in their peaks or troughs and help them to get the most of those periods. Some people’s bipolar results in frequent highs and lows; for others they will be in one state for longer periods.

Some mental illnesses are developed during childhood, perhaps from birth. Others are developed due to external events. Some are curable. Some are not.

Mental health issues can affect LGBTQ people more than the norm due to external factors, such as bullying or feeling that they cannot be open about who they are, feeling isolated. Whilst I identify as queer, my own mental health issues stem from a separate traumatic event. But, as chair of the LGBTQ network, I want to shine a light on the stat’s that could be affecting those who I represent:

  • One in seven (13 per cent) gay and bisexual men are currently experiencing moderate to severe levels of mixed depression and anxiety compared to seven per cent of men in general
  • A further nine per cent of gay and bisexual men are experiencing moderate to severe levels of depression with mild or no anxiety compared to two per cent of men in general
  • Thus overall, 22 per cent of gay and bisexual men are experiencing moderate to severe levels of depression
  • Bisexual men are more likely to experience moderate to severe levels of depression (26 per cent)
  • In the last year, four in five (79 per cent) lesbian and bisexual women say they have had a spell of sadness, felt miserable or felt depressed. This increases to 84 per cent of bisexual women and 86 per cent of black and minority ethnic women
  • In the last year, three quarters (74 per cent) of lesbian and bisexual women say they felt anxious or nervous. This increases to 78 per cent of bisexual women and 81 per cent of black and minority ethnic lesbian and bisexual women
  • More than half (55 per cent) of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people experience homophobic bullying in Britain’s schools; two in five (41 per cent) lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils who experience homophobic bullying attempt or think about taking their own life directly because of the bullying
  • More than half (56 per cent) of gay young people deliberately harm themselves, which can include cutting or burning themselves. Lesbians and bisexual girls are twice as likely as gay and bisexual boys to self-harm (72 per cent compared to 36 per cent), with girls who are black or minority ethnic at greatest risk at 83 per cent

(More details can be found in Stonewall’s Mental Health briefing, available for download on their website).

So, when it comes to Mental Health, what can you do to help?

The first thing is, if someone opens up to you, acknowledge that it was probably hard to do. Be empathetic, even sympathetic. It might be hard to know what to say, but saying nothing will likely feel like a rejection and a negative judgement.

Be aware of how people might be feeling – I’ve always been surprised at how people comment about my always smiley face; how little they knew! When you know that they’re feeling down, don’t be trite and tell people to think positively (actually, there’s an awful lot of research which says that thinking positively is more harmful) and be aware that lateness and tiredness is possibly not down to too active a social life but could be the result of insomnia. Checking-in with colleagues (you know, that thing friends do) is really helpful and can make work feel like a more friendly & safer place to be. Allow flexible working as much as the person needs – regardless of my PTSD I’m an introvert (I know, you’d never guess) and being around people all day really takes it out of me (the detrimental side of open plan offices); working from home 2-3 days a week has been a lifesaver for me and helped me to carry on with my role at even some very tough times. Oh, and never, ever, creep up on someone and make them jump out of their skin! When I was going through a particularly panic-prone time this gave me an attack and I hardly managed to hide it from the poor person who’d thought he was being funny.

If you suspect that someone is suffering from any mental illness, be aware they might not want to open up about it. Work needs to be a safe space – a shelter from some of the other problems being faced by the person. Pushing for openness has the potential to do harm. Be aware there is still a stigma about mental health – a stigma that the person suffering may also believe. Sometimes we put on a shell of armour to get through the day – don’t break that shell without permission from the person, or they might not trust you again.

Be aware of your language – off the cuff comments that appear to be disparaging or making mental health the butt of a joke are not going to encourage someone to open up about how they are feeling.

But the best way of showing support? Be a friend. Work may be a ‘professional’ environment. But we’re all human beings. Treat each other as you would a friend, and everyone (the world) will be better for it.