The Writers Cafe Review Series – Introduction

20180522_161312One of the many reasons I have decided to pursue a career as a writer, is because it gives me the freedom to work from home. If you have read my previous posts, you will know that my mental and physical health, continues to prevent me from being able to work. At least in the conventional sense of the 9 to 5 workplace environment.

Writers, so the stereotype goes, are not the most sociable of people. It’s another one of the reasons I am attracted to it I guess! However, I am aware that whilst freelance writing it is a fantastic solution to my work problem, I must be careful not to isolate myself too much. I still need to make sure I challenge my anxiety and not succumb to the urge to hibernate in my pyjamas.

Therefore, I am on a mission to look for nice cafes, where I can sit and write. Even if it’s just getting out for an hour a day.  This will also help me to become reacquainted with Eastbourne. Despite being here for almost 8 months now, I haven’t really explored much.

To keep me motivated, I am going to turn this into another writing exercise and create a ‘Writers Café’ review series. Every time I find a place that I really enjoy writing in, I will post a review here. Of course, this will be very subjective. What makes a perfect writing spot for me won’t necessarily be the same for others. In thinking about what makes a good writing spot for me, I’ve defined the following things as important.

  • Quality of my favourite hot drinks – Flat white with soy or oat milk / Green Tea
  • Seating – comfortability, space, plug sockets, outside space
  • Friendliness of staff
  • Ambience
  • Ethos – independent or chain
  • Noise – music or no music
  • Toilet – ease of access, gender neutral – (very important to me for my trans siblings)
  • Food choice and price

This may well change as time goes on and I chalk up a few reviews. It’s a work in progress, like all good things in life! I will update soon with my first review!

 

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Removing the Shame In Talking About Mental Health

UntitledI have been very honest about the fact that I am in the middle of a mental health crisis, one that I am finding very difficult to manage. My usual ways of coping just haven’t been helping. A lot of the time I have been so fatigued I haven’t had the energy to do the simplest of self-care actions.

Recently, I saw the hashtag #365daysofselfcare on Twitter and followed the link to the website Blurt. I decided that this is just what I need right now. It will get my focus back onto my self-care. Posting about it each day will help me to rebuild the habit and keep myself accountable.

Its been two weeks now since I started participating in the daily hashtag and it has indeed been very helpful. I am paying much more attention to taking care of myself and making time for self-care every day. There has also been an additional unexpected outcome of posting daily, it has got me talking about my mental health.

This really shouldn’t be a revelation for me, I write and make videos about my mental health all the time. However, when I write or make a video, I do so after the fact. I do talk very openly, but it is done in retrospect. My sharing is delivered in a reflective and measured way.

In contrast, the daily sharing I am doing with the hashtag on my Instagram and Twitter is raw and uncensored. I am sharing what is happening on that day, at that moment. In posting this way, I have often caught myself thinking, “I sound like I am a right state”, worrying what people will think of me. Its been a surprise to notice that I still carry shame around my mental health, despite being so open about it.

Shame and stigma is a corrosive side effect of mental illness. It stops people asking for help and puts them more at risk of harm, isolation and worsening overall health. The shame is senseless, its an illness, what is there to feel shame about? Physical and mental health is part of everyone’s everyday life. We don’t shame someone for having a broken leg and tell them to pull themselves together, do we? We help them, supporting them whilst they heal. The same compassion needs to be extended to those who have mental health problems.

I am so pleased to see so many people and organizations talking openly this week as part of mental health awareness week. This must continue, not just this week but permanently. Living well with and recovering from mental illness, begins with removing the burden of shame.

Coping With Stress When Your Scale Is Already Off-Balance

balance.jpgThis week is Mental Health Awareness Week and this year’s theme is ‘Stress’. Sadly, stress is a common affliction in our fast-paced world and it is something that each of us need to be mindful of. However, when you have existing mental health challenges, being mindful of stress becomes even more critical.

I experience my own mental health as a set of scales which are always off balance. My various challenges and addiction history, mean I own a set of scales which are incorrectly calibrated. It’s almost impossible to get them to level out dead centre. I have learned to be okay with this, and to find ways to get them to balance and stay stable in their offset state. This works as long as my life remains fairly consistent and stress free. However, life is life, unexpected or upsetting events will of course occur. When they do, like many of us with mental health challenges, I’m affected far more by stress than people whose scales are more accurately calibrated.

In experiencing an additional stress, I find I am triggered in all areas. The shock of a stressful event can knock me for six, my physical health begins to suffer, I can start feeling ashamed that I am falling apart where others around me are coping. If I am not careful, this can send me into a spiral and put me at risk of a crisis or relapse.

Over the last few years in my recovery, I have learnt how to better manage a stressful event so that I can look after my mental well-being until the event passes or is resolved. These are some of the things that I find helpful, in order to reduce the impact of the additional stress.

Remind yourself that it is OK to feel whatever you are feeling

Enforce your personal boundaries – clearly state your needs and your limitations

Drop anything from your life that is not important – make things simple

Use your coping strategies to administer self-care to yourself

Contact a friend or support agency for extra help

Evaluate your well-being on a daily basis – it may take a while to re-balance

Stress is often unavoidable but with careful management, it need not compromise our entire well being and we can return to own definition of balance in good time.

The shortage of NHS General Practitioners – How this compromises the health of those who have complex medical histories.

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Having a complex medical history makes a visit to the doctor incredibly difficult. The constant explaining is exhausting, and it gets in the way of addressing the actual problem itself. This is a dangerous state of affairs which puts people at risk. The answer to this is to have a regular General Practitioner who you see every time and who knows your medical history well.

However, becoming registered and managing to book an appointment with a regular GP, appears to be so much harder than it once was. I remember growing up with a family GP, who both of my parents saw and then who I saw in turn. I wonder, does this even happen anymore? Recently, on moving to Eastbourne, I have registered with a new medical surgery. Since doing so, I have been having so many issues in booking an appointment and in managing to see the same GP. After posting about my frustrations on my twitter account, it seems I am not alone. Understaffing at surgeries, lack of available GP’s and the inability to see the same GP consistently, seem to be common issues.

I dread seeing a GP. Being transgender, I’m often faced with the problem of the “Trans broken arm syndrome”. This is where whatever symptom you present with, the doctor somehow magically links it to your being trans. I have lost count of how many times I have sat in a GP’s office, with a complaint which has nothing to do with my gender transition, and they then spend the entirety of my allotted ten-minute appointment time asking questions about why I am taking testosterone. They sit there, glued to their screen, brow furrowed, clearly not hearing a word I am saying. I then must explain I was assigned female at birth, I am transgender, I have undergone gender transition, blah blah blah. You would think that being medical professionals, they would be exempt from problematic responses but no. I have had more than a handful of GP’s make comments such as, “You really can’t tell,” or, “Which way are you going?” and most recently, “Oh, so originally you were a female”. By the time this humiliating exchange is over, so is my appointment. I either don’t get an accurate diagnosis or I am so demoralised I simply can’t sit there any longer.

Additionally, my mental health issues mean that I require regular monitoring from a GP. I am currently in the middle of a serious flare up of depression and anxiety, this means I often need medication reviews and fit notes for claiming benefits. My mental health history is complex and every time I see a new doctor, I must explain all of this first. Inevitably, this gets tangled up with my gender transition medical history. I again then find myself using up my ten minutes explaining my history, rather than my current presenting issue. Whilst both of these factors can, of course, impact my mental and physical health, a GP who doesn’t know me is often too quick to just assign my presenting issue to one of them, without looking deeper into the issue. These reasons are why it is so important for me to be able to see the same doctor every time, I can then get all of this over with the first time I see a new GP. From then on, appointments can be kept to the point of why I am there, and I can feel like a patient rather than a medical fascination.

I was lucky in Devon that my local GP surgery wasn’t too busy. I could get an appointment fairly easily and could see the same GP each time. This means that I managed to avoid the above issues and had great support from my regular GP. This has not been the same for my medical surgery in Eastbourne. I rarely manage to see the GP I am assigned, seeing random doctors each time I visit. This means I am back to facing the same issues again and it has been very stressful and frustrating. For the last six months, I have been seriously mentally and physically unwell. I know my mental health challenges inside out, I knew that the way my moods have been presenting are unlike any mental health flare up I have had before. I have said this every time I have visited a GP. However, I do not feel any of the GP’s I saw actually heard me. Instead, they focused on my gender transition or attributed my symptoms to my mental health issues. My anti-depressants have been increased at most visits, despite my stressing that the increases haven’t helped and that I feel that something else is going on.

A couple of months ago, on discussing a strange symptom of numbness and pins and needles in my hand, I had a breakthrough with one of the GP’s I saw. He diagnosed carpal tunnel syndrome and explained that it could be a symptom of an underlying cause. He referred me to another GP at the surgery for treatment and for blood tests. This felt like amazing progress. However, the specialist GP I was booked to see went off sick. The receptionist rang me to cancel the appointment and to tell me that there was nobody else who could do it. My name would be put on a list and I would be contacted. Unfortunately, this is when issues at my medical surgery became even worse. The problems then escalated from not being able to see the same GP, to not being able to see a GP at all.

Due to severe staff sickness issues, all bookings ahead of time were cancelled. Instead, to see a doctor, you are asked to telephone in the morning at 8am or in the afternoon at 2pm, to be seen that day. This is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, it is remarkably like the yearly race to the post to get Glastonbury Festival tickets. You constantly hit refresh and by the time you get through all the tickets have gone. I’ve even tried using two phones. I’ve spent many a morning sat with my mobile in one hand and my landline in the other. Both speakers echoing the words, “Sorry, all our receptionists are busy, please hold and we will answer as soon as we can.” This is frustrating for anyone of course, but when you are a person who relies on regular GP interaction to stay well, it is an absolute nightmare.

Over the last two months since then, I have had to fight to see a GP, to have the blood request initiated and to then have the blood test itself. Having had the test, now there was the unnecessarily complicated procedure of obtaining the results. I became so frustrated with the constant failure to get an appointment that I gave up. I am so exhausted and low all the time, waking up at 7.30 and hitting redial until finally my call is answered forty minutes later to be told, “Sorry all appointments are gone,” was just making me feel worse. I decided that things must be okay with the results. If there was anything which needed to be addressed surely, I would get a call, or my notes would say something to alert a receptionist when I called?

On a more recent and desperate visit to the medical surgery, I asked the receptionist if it was instead possible to print out my blood test results. The receptionist looked on her computer notes and said, “You need to see a doctor”. I tell you it was all I could do not to fall on the floor in a fit of hysteria! Gathering myself together I felt relief, on the request from an actual GP to see me, I expected this would by-pass the staffing issues and I’d be prioritised for an appointment. Shockingly no, the receptionist apologised and said I needed to just keep trying at 8am and 2pm.

Finally, after a couple more weeks of trying, I managed to see a GP last Friday. It was another one I hadn’t seen before. Luckily, I did not find myself having to explain my entire medical history, likely because my medical issue was at last clear. The GP informed me that I have hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid. Alongside this, I also have low vitamin D and high cholesterol which are apparently side effects of Hypothyroidism. An underactive thyroid causes a myriad of symptoms, two of which are extreme fatigue and depression. This could very well explain why my low mood has been so bad for the last six months and why I’ve felt so utterly exhausted.

This is the reason why it is vital that those of us with complex medical issues assert ourselves. It is all too easy in a ten-minute snapshot, especially with an unfamiliar GP whose focus is on our past rather than the present, to miss an important health concern. I am aware that the NHS is under a ton of strain and there is a general lack of NHS GP’s.  However, there must be a solution to this in the meantime. GP’s do most certainly need more training around healthcare for transgender individuals . I also think this is the same for patients who have mental health diagnosis, as the same problem exists of seeing the condition rather than the patient. It may also help to develop new guidelines for people with conditions that require constant monitoring, to be prioritised and to have an allocated doctor so that there is consistency in diagnosis and treatment. In the meantime, those of us with unusual or complex medical histories, need to be persistent with our GP surgeries. We must make sure we strongly advocate for ourselves to be seen and heard so that we can get the treatment we need to stay well.

Day 8 Of #365daysofselfcare

This Blog is part of the #365daysofselfcare challenge

IMG_20180507_190642_672I am still exhausted and feel generally off colour. Perhaps its the new thyroid medication? I’m really not sure whether its that or just my usual mood cycle but either way…urg.

I had to cancel on my best mate today and I hate doing that. I had so much difficulty yesterday outside in the heat, I think it makes my fatigue worse so when l woke today still feeling awful l knew l had to reschedule.

Unfortunately I then went into a spiral of guilt about cancelling, and then I saw all the updates about our lovely weather and went into a spiral of guilt about that too. All the should’s’ came out….l shouldn’t have cancelled….l shouldn’t be wasting this lovely sunshine, l should be outside enjoying it. I should be finishing my writing…. Oh my goodness my inner critic is LOUD today!

I Decided to compromise with myself again. I walked into town, had a coffee and wrote a little, got some supplies and then headed back home. I’m reminding myself that setting unrealistic expectations of myself is harmful and counterproductive. I’ve done what l can do, all the ‘should do’s’ can go away!

Day 7 of #365daysofselfcare

This Blog is part of the #365daysofselfcare challenge

IMG_20180506_232842_244It’s been a funny old day today. Woke at 7.30 so l could take my first thyroid medication. Fell back to sleep and woke at 10.30. Had every intention of going to the seafront for the Magnificent Motors event which started at 11, but l was just so exhausted it took me until 12.30 to actually make it out of bed. I decided to at least give it a try and headed to the seafront.

However, my mood was so low and anxiety so high that the crowds were too much. Did a quick walk through and then decided the best act of self-care for me today, was to just allow myself to come home. Once back indoors, I put my feet up, watched snooker and did a bit of colouring. Sometimes it’s ok to give in, do something else and not beat yourself up about it.

Day 6 of #365daysofselfcare 

This Blog is part of  the #365daysofselfcare challenge
IMG_20180505_212423_769Today was my most daring act of self-care so far!
I’ve been here in Eastbourne for six months now. Due to what’s happened with mum and with my own mental and physical health, I have been isolating myself a fair bit. I know all too well that this is not good for me. It’s vital for.my feeling at home and settled here, and for developing a social network, to get out and meet new folk
Today l was brave and went to the Bourneout LGBT drop in cafe. I was nervous but everyone was so friendly and made me feel very welcome. Had a lovely hour chatting and now l might find it easier to attend an event! Some high quality self care that is!!!