Oh the places you’ll go…

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”
Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

For those who regularly read my bog and twitter feed (@AC_MentalHealth) you will have noticed that there has been a distinct lack of posts recently.

Lying in bed last night, I stumbled across the above quote and felt that it was more than apt to my current situation. Things may not go to plan, but it is me in the driving seat and I have control of which way I steer.

It’s pretty obvious that I absolutely love my job. I started working in a regional office of a London firm in March of this year as an Admin Assistant. The hope was to work my way up with the firm and, in a perfect world, secure the elusive training contract that every law graduate in the country would also be applying for.

Six months on, I have worked my way up to the position of Mental Health Caseworker with Admin responsibilities. When I tell people my role, a lot of people have absolutely no idea what it means. A few of my family, through no fault of their own, simply lack of knowledge, thought that mental health law meant that someone with mental health issues had committed a crime and mental health lawyers try to ‘get them off’.

The role of a mental health lawyer is to ensure that the rights of those with mental health problems are upheld. For me, it’s about protecting the most vulnerable in society. Now, some people with mental health problems are detained under the Mental Health Act if they are really unwell, but that doesn’t at all mean that the person has done something wrong. There is something called a ‘forensic section’ which deals with those who have committed crimes, but, generally, those detained under the MHA are just like you or I and Doctors simply feel that they ought to be in hospital for assessment (section 2) or treatment (section 3). There are other sections but these are the most common.

Now, on Facebook recently, a fellow Warwick University Graduate who works as a mental health paralegal in London, posted a status saying that he was representing someone detained under the MHA at a Hospital Managers’ Hearing the next day. It’s safe to say that I was incredibly jealous! Then, someone who I don’t know, commented on the status saying that he was a junior doctor in psychiatry and asked why the person was detained. My friend said that the gentleman had schizophrenia with paranoid ideations. To this, the JUNIOR DOCTOR IN PSYCHIATRY replied “then why are you contesting it. Dude needs help”. Well, that got me angry, because help isn’t always a hospital.

The role of the mental health solicitor/paralegal is to advance the rights of the client, so if they say that they would like to be discharged from hospital then this is what we tell the Tribunal or Hospital Managers’ when the person appeals their section, with arguments added that discharge would be appropriate. We’re not ‘getting people out’.

For some people, being in hospital can make them worse. Especially if the ward is particularly disruptive, and where drugs are rife that can make things a lot harder. Assessing/treating those with mental disorder should not be about keeping someone in hospital until a doctor decides that they’re better. It’s about the individual, who may find it helps more to be at home with community psychiatric support, than in the often chaotic surroundings of a ward.

Anyway, I digress. What I’m trying to say, and what I could have said in eight words is, I really love working within mental health law.

And that’s when the rug of contentment was pulled right from underneath my feet…

All employees at my Firm were recently given notice of redundancies. Such an unexpected life-changing shock isn’t the best for someone with anxiety disorder. For the past week, I have had the worst headaches, and I never get headaches. Although, interestingly, there was no headache on Wednesday when I had my University day. It’s difficult because I got to the point where the stress of not knowing what was going on was really starting to become an issue, but I felt that I couldn’t say anything because of that fear of mentioning anything related to my own mental health having a detrimental impact on my future, as if it would show that I “can’t hack it”. Of course, that’s me being ridiculous but it is how the vast majority of those with mental health issues feel.

When I told my Grandma that I was potentially losing my job, she said “well you’ll just have to get another one won’t you”. God, if only it was that simple! Basically, there are no mental health paralegal jobs being advertised for in the whole of the North East, so that isn’t looking great.

All I can hope is that I will be able to continue doing the work that I love, wherever that may be. For now, I need to focus on my own mindfulness and wellbeing. One thing is for sure though, I won’t give up because I’ve worked too hard for that.

Dr Seuss is right, and every time I see my #semicolonproject tattoo, I’m reminded that I can conquer anything.

semicolon project

Mental Health and Exercise

Whichever mental health charity or self-help website you visit, there is always a common factor – exercise is good for your mental health. Ever since I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety and panic disorders in 2012, I have been scouring the internet looking for ways to not only understand mental health, but to aid my medication through natural remedies.

Unfortunately, exercise has never been a strong point of mine. I really, really am not a fan. So, even though I was seeing constant advice on the benefits of exercise in mental health, I didn’t bother. Surely exercise couldn’t help THAT much. I think my downfall here was that I saw the word ‘exercise’ and immediately presumed that that referred to a 10 mile run, which I am most definitely not capable of. I did find that a short walk to the shops helped to clear my mind and, when my anxiety was at its worst, going for a ten minute walk at a certain time each day gave me structure and was a little bit of an escape route from the stress of the future.

It has only now dawned on me that these small ten minute walks count just as much as a 10 mile run – exercise is great for mental health, but that doesn’t mean that you need to push yourself to become a bodybuilder. Whatever you feel capable of, perhaps like me it is only a ten minute walk, it really can help.

I read an article today entitled ‘Going on nature walks is good for mental health’. Coincidentally, I have just returned from a lovely long weekend away with my incredible partner. We went to the Lake District and some of the scenery was simply breath-taking, really putting all of life’s worries and anxieties into perspective.

lakes

The article focused on a study which has found that taking a walk in a natural environment can bring about positive changes in the brain and may help fight depression. Previous studies had already found a link between walking in a natural environment and an improved mood and decrease in anxiety.

It seems that I had been doing the whole ‘exercise’ thing right this whole time, I just didn’t know it. So, if like me you do not plan to become an Olympic athlete any time soon, take a 10 minute walk. And, if you decide to walk for longer, then all the better. Sometimes we just need to get away from the hustle and bustle of life, a nature walk can do you the world of good and really does take very little effort. My advice would be to set a time slot, one that you do not deviate from, in which you can go for a walk – whether to the shops, to a beauty spot or just to the park – and make this time slot ‘your time’.

Because my anxiety and panic disorders truly came to fruition during University, I had very little structure at that time. Exams were over, there were no lectures to go to and I really was left to my own devices. That is dangerous, because if you have nothing (or think you have nothing) to get out of bed for, then that’s where you’ll stay. During cognitive behavioural therapy, my therapist stressed the importance of structure and suggested that I have a set routine each day. This way, it would make me less panicked about the unknown, as I had a plan of what I was going to do each day and when I was going to do it – my therapist liked the idea of having meals at certain times of the day, waking up and going to sleep at the same time each day. That was difficult to do at University and I didn’t really listen to my therapist as much as I should have, thinking that going to sleep at 10pm one night and 3am the next surely couldn’t impact upon my mental health. Now that I have entered the big bad world of employment, there is a natural structure to my day – I have to get up at the same time each day, I take my lunch at the same time each day and I get home from work at the same time each day. So I have naturally created a routine for myself and it really helps a lot!

I certainly believe that structure is important when living with mental health problems. At the time of my diagnosis, I simply did not have the willpower or the energy to create a routine for myself. I have found that I have gradually slipped into a routine and that it has been the best thing possible for my mental health. Exercise can easily be factored into this routine and that can be as little or as much exercise as works for you.

Personally, I find walking to be very calming and, if the study that I have read today is correct, I had better find some more beautiful places to walk – I’m not going to complain about that!