Mental health matters all day everyday

So today is world mental health day and I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

I’ve been on a bit of a journey the past 2 years now dealing with fixing? making better? working on I don’t really know the best way to describe it but essentially getting my mental health back to a better state as I was suffering from anxiety and depression.

I thought that it would be a quick fix and didn’t quite realise the journey I was about to embark on to get things back on a bit more of an even keel. Oddly enough I was told by a colleague that these things don’t fix themselves overnight and to give myself time to recover. Which I was a bit yeah OK am sure everyone says that, but it can’t really be that way can it and well yes, they were right.

After about 6 months I was making progress and finding different ways to help me cope with my situation. Then boom lockdown happened. This basically inspired me to start blogging about my journey. I’d heard so many folks say oh I’ll go crazy at home etc and for me it was OK, but you maybe don’t understand how having bad mental health can be for you. Its not something you want to have to deal with. However, being at home was a struggle for a lot of us and I shared my own journey to let people know it’s OK to not be OK all the time. I guess part of me before that really didn’t want people outside of my family, close friends and only the people at work who had to know like about 2 or 3 folk), knowing that I was suffering and dealing with this. By telling my story it felt better and made me realise that I was worried about what people would think of me since there can be still a stigma to having problems with your mental health which I needn’t have worried about as I got so much support from those around me it made me realise that it is something that you shouldn’t be ashamed of, and you should talk to people. Lockdown and working from home was difficult for sure, not having that proper routine of being out amongst people and being in front of a class for so long was tough. In a way I at least went into lockdown with strategies in place already to help me whereas I’d say that for those who were affected by it maybe had a more difficult time as it was a lot harder to get help.  Through a mix of everything though I made sure I kept up with the strategies – my favourite being a mindfulness meditation that my super amazing colleague did via teams she was a literal godsend and also using the senses technique where if you are feeling panicked/anxious then you use your senses to find things around you to help ground you. This is useful if you are out and about anywhere and need to try bring yourself round from a panic attack.

Continue reading “Mental health matters all day everyday”

CPR for everyone

Since those awful events from Saturdays football match have been widely discussed over the weekend and so many have been sharing this image ( sorry don’t know where it originated from just seen it a lot on Facebook and can’t find a reference for it). However anyway its triggered a lot for me and I thought I share my views with you.  (Trigger Warning this post may cause upset with the content).

Continue reading “CPR for everyone”

A song for everything

Decided to save this post until after mental health week because our mental health is important 24/7.  I get it raises awareness and we are still trying to overcome that stigma COME ON people its 2021 we all have mental health just some folk have better mental health than others and I think that’s where the thinking needs to change.  Mental health is not just being depressed/anxious etc but I guess that’s what we associate it with all the negative things and in reality we need to be looking after it in order to help ourselves.

I’ve been blogging on and off for just around a year now on my own mental health and the issues I’ve faced over the past 18 months. Its been an epic journey and one I could not have done on my own for sure. One thing that spurred me to write this post though was a wee delivery I had last week.

Yup that’s vinyl (old school music for the young un’s) but I bought it because it’s a song that was on my playlist that I used when it was lunchtime at work and I went for my walk. Although still working  from home when I was physically at work I used to go out for walks every lunch time just to clear my head – it helped me when I was most anxious as well just to go for a walk and put my music on.  

I do love my music, though do have a very varied taste and there very much is a song for every occasion yes there is!

However this wee playlist was songs that just chilled me and made me feel better some worked really well with the whole breathing technique for calming down from an anxiety attack (TFC Fallin worked in sync almost with the app on my watch!)

I know how powerful music can be loved being part of the Playlist for Life project where I got to work with schools to help prototype an app for dementia patients.  The pupils did some research into user interfaces and how best to categorise music/songs for patients. It was great though to get the pupils thinking about just how much music can be a big part of life and how little things can evoke certain memories (we all have a song or two that does that for sure).

Have also been learning more about audio in games probably something I’ve taken for granted previously hoping to get our games students working with the music students at college (COVID so far has put a stop to that but we are still hopeful one day to connect our students) given after all we are both creative industries. So its been fab to connect with Wee Studios who yes (Keith Morrision look away now and don’t read – but I’m unashamedly bit of a fan since they produced one of my fave Scottish bands music yup the P & D – Peat and Diesel yes I’m a Peatlemaniac). OK Keith’s way more than P & D,  and hoping to connect him with our students next year as well to look at games audio.

To show or not to show – the dilemma of cameras.

Having just seen Sarahs tweet about thoughts on Glow now enabling cameras for students heres my insight as I’ve now had 6 weeks of teaching this way this academic year to schools pupils as part of our college program. I started with a tweet reply then realised that won’t work so might as well do what I do and write about it.

I have divided opinion on the whole should students be made to use their cameras for remote teaching more so if they have the ability which students in Glow have now been given. Mainly as I have been teaching fully remotely so far this year. On one had it’s great to put faces to the names (I teach an NPA class which comprises S5/6 pupils & so I have found it difficult to build that initial rapport with them like you would normally do at the start of the year (totally different if you know the students from last year but with brand new starts its hard). Plus no one wants to talk on mic either (or maybe they don’t have the facility to do so I cannot assume that they won’t). A compromise is having a picture – if not of themselves then something that represents what they like. Sadly the schools class I had were from an authority that didn’t allow pupils to change their profile pictures so until they got student accounts I was left teaching to a class of initials for 3 or 4 weeks. Granted they were happy to at least contribute in the chat window. I know from experience last term that a lot of my students were really happy to chat online but not show themselves and fair enough that’s their decision I am not sure its one we can make for them. Theres also the issue of things like do they actually have a camera  – granted phones will but you cannot assume then theres enough internet as using video takes up a lot more bandwith than just even voice chatting. Your students comfort should I believe be first and foremost and if they don’t want to video chat I don’t think we should push the issue as this in turn may put them off even attending virtually. I know for a fact my 15 year old would not want to be on camera to her teachers and she gets on really well with them – I have great respect for them too so it’s nothing against them at all. Its just a thing where I think many folk feel different about being in front of a camera than they do in person. I know I do and I have to teach. Don’t get me wrong it would be great to see them for sure but I think that needs to be a decision the students make and not us. Even then I think there has to be some guidance as to acceptable practise (eg maybe using blurred background or something).  I am happy if my students are communicating with me and yes things would be different if we were face to face in a class but we aren’t and do have to make the best of situations.

Some reflection on #WorldMentalHealthDay

Today is world mental health day so I thought I’d add a post. For the past year now I’ve been dealing with my own issues and getting the help I need to ensure I can still do what I need to do.  I have learned to really appreciate over that time that I need to look after myself a lot better than what I had been doing. I also learned that I have so much support from everyone in sharing this a bit further than the family and friends that knew. Some people may not be comfortable sharing how they are feeling and when I first went back to work after last summer I didn’t want anyone to know bar the few folk I did tell. It was just an automatic reaction – I wanted to just get things back to normal as it were and thought that a few weeks and I’d be fine. Here we are a year later and things are finally falling into place. I learned that I need to be patient things take time and there is nothing more important than healing your mental health. It was to start a nightmare – not wanting to go to work – not sleeping the night before, or having a very bad sleep, panicking on the way to work and then once in work it was fine. It was more the actual thought of the process of going to work that raised my anxiety through the roof. I’d also lost interest in activities that I’d normally do such as reading, watching movies even my new lego kit lay untouched for a good while. Certain activities do that to me as well such as travelling to new places or doing something for the first time.  But I can’t let my anxiety stop me from doing things either – I had the opportunity of a lifetime last year when I was able to go to Abbey Road and participate in the hackathon event last November.

Anxiety inducing wasn’t the word – new folk, new place, travelling, London but I realised I can’t let the anxiety define me. Things like that don’t happen every week/year/lifetime! It was so worth it for sure met so many fabulous people and got to work in Studio 2 as well as be in studio 3 as well overnight for some shut eye. I then had to get up in front of everyone and present the idea that me and my hackathon partner Marjan(super talented artist who really has done some spectacular digital art )  had came up with – an app that glitched your face coined it the Gelfie lol it was a fun thing to do and we had a great time. We were first up so my anxiety didn’t have much time to actually think.  Coming away from that realised I can do things when I put my mind to them but I need to stop letting my anxiety get the better of me. I have been working a lot over the past year on various strategies to help myself then Covid hit and felt back to square one again. Which is when I got into blogging again – I felt it was a good way of telling folk how I was feeling and just discussing mental health. Which I feel really needs brought out more in discussions, there’s always been a stigma about it and there shouldn’t be at the end of the day we all have mental health it’s just sometimes its in good condition and sometimes bad. We need to work on keeping the good but being there to help with the bad. People shouldn’t feel like they have to hide away they have issues as I did at the start.  But with the impending lockdown and hearing so many folk complain of they were going to “go Crazy” I felt I had to speak out a bit to show that some folk were already going into lockdown with a disadvantage. Services that I had access to were stopped and I also lost the whole routine of being in work and talking to those in person who were supporting me.  Blogging was a way of communicating and trying to get my thoughts down at least on what was happening. It showed me that I had a bigger support network than I realised and that maybe I should have spoken up sooner about it. However I suppose things stopped me at the time such as worrying about what everyone would think when really that wasn’t an issue at all. Mental health issues can affect anyone no matter what you do – it doesn’t stop me doing my job at all as I am supported so well but I realise the implications it can have in general if that isn’t in place for folk which is why we really need to be open about talking about it. During lockdown there was a lot of talk from students of lost motivation and I had to be frank with them and let theme know it was happening to a lot of people including us lecturers so we genuinely did understand how they were feeling. I think that helped a lot knowing we were all in the same boat I guess. We are only human after all. It’s not something you can snap out of or just change as I have found you need to work hard every day – some days will be good and you get on with it while others will be absolutely crappy but on those days I have finally realised that tomorrow is a new day and a new start. I cannot and wont let the bad days overtake now. We have to look out for each other and remember that even the tiniest of actions can have a massive effect on someones day – be it a little text or email just to ask how they are doing or call to check up on them even send a letter!

I have made quite a few changes since March to try and help myself again and even took up running (well attempted running) at the end of June. 3 times a week out and about trying to do the couch to 5k routine.

I’ve missed a few weeks during that time but on the whole have stuck to it though still stuck at week 4 – however I also do have to be careful on that front as it seems my medication can have an effect as well along with exercise. So I’ll stick to getting out and doing the little runs for now rather than pushing to get the whole 30 minute run. At least I’m trying 😊 longest I’ve stuck to anything. I’ve also started some mindfulness sessions again with my amazing colleague Sandra whom I’ve written about before she’s a total star.

I’d also like to remind people that while today is about bringing awareness every day is a day with your mental health and it’s not something we can just stop talking about. Keep the conversation going and keep supporting those you know who are struggling, kind words cost nothing. You can get through it and it will get better – not overnight but it will get better that I can safely say now. I still have a while to go on my journey but it’s going in the right direction.

Welcome to the “new normal”

Been a while since I’ve posted but I’ve been taking time out away from things and getting myself ready for the new academic year. Which at the moment we are doing online.

Ahh #WFH (Working From Home) has been a popular hashtag over the past 6 months as is the phrase “new normal”. To many it many it may seem like the ideal situation. Stuck at home having to work oh no whatever shall I do. Roll out of bed in my pj’s and get to work. No M8 rush hour anymore, no queues no nothing!

For me its not ideal I sorely miss the whole routine of getting stuck on the M8 on my way home as frustrating as it was I’d give anything to be back crawling at 5mph. I miss the getting my spot in the car park (yup I’m a Sheldon) but in fairness I park in the furthest away point – easier to get out hehe – does get my step count up as well though. Most importantly I miss the interactions whether that’s getting my Caramel Latte from the coffee pod (my heroes especially on a Friday afternoon those guys totally rock) passing by and reading whatever Morag’s written on her wee noticeboard on her door (secretly we know what she wants to write) or just having chats with colleagues I pass on the way to my staffroom. Seems daft but you get to know all the ins and outs of the place and that is a thing to miss. Best thing about my work everyone has time for even just a quick chat no matter who.

Totally miss tea break in my staff room with bad jokes aplenty yes you know who you are and just random chats with all of my colleagues. In fairness I really just miss walking about my class. At home you are stuck in front of the screen when teaching. When I first spoke of my anxiety, I then only let a couple of folk know as I just wanted to get on with things. However, those folk were totally instrumental in keeping me grounded until we had to finish up for lockdown. Those interactions were priceless and I will admit it really isn’t the same being online. I’m sure I could very well have those same chats but there’s something about being online that just makes it feel much more intrusive and it really shouldn’t but it does.

The thing I miss most though? Being in front of my class. I love teaching and seeing my students progress. When lockdown was first implemented it was hard but we got through it as we had by then built that lecturer/student relationship and we knew each other so conversations were a lot easier.  However now that the new term has started its been a bit different with new classes. Yes we have the returning students who are aware of how things work but we also have the new students who also must find this strange too. Not to detract from returning students who were also thrust into this new way of teaching/learning and coped admirably with it. I mean I teach HNC Games for graded unit which if you aren’t aware is a team project. I had 8 teams between my 2 classes and block 3 is when they make the game. I was so proud to have 8 games at the start of June – my teams worked admirably together despite the restrictions. Teamwork can be difficult (I’ve been there won’t lie as a student it’s a thing I think we all fear). But to do teamwork virtually? Make a game virtually? Yeah I’m super proud and these guys will go far with that experience.

Normally the first few weeks are getting to know you time – online that is a lot harder if students don’t have their cameras on or talk on mic. Even the profile pic if that’s not changed leaves you teaching to a bunch of initials on camera – at least the students know who I am if anything. I understand why things have to be the way they are for now and I am adapting but I really can’t wait to get back into my class and seeing everyone for real! Being a lecturer is everything to me and seeing my students progress means the world.

This academic year will be different, but it doesn’t mean I will be different. I will still be there to do my best for my students no matter what obstacles are put in our way. My job is to ensure students succeed and I’ll uphold that to the best of my abilities.

We need to be more understanding

Wee extra post, was about to share what I’ve been trying but will leave that for the next post. However, saw a tweet that made me quite sad and angry as well about the way the person had been left feeling all because of others judging them. So I had to write. As you are aware I’ve been getting treatment & help for my anxiety for a year now while continuing to work through it and be supported by my managers. Then covid hit and I felt back to square 1.  I lost a lot of support in the sense of not being around people at work and also my routine being disrupted. That’s not to say I didn’t get any support it was still there but its not the same when its not in person. Now what we are about 4 months in and things are slowly returning back to some sort of “normality” and so a lot of talk about folk going back to work if they haven’t already. Things are opening up slowly but surely and we are able to do more than visit the local supermarket now. Coffee shops and hairdressers have opened and now facebook/Instagram is full of drinks and hairdo’s. So whats the problem well when you see another educator being trolled for being anxious about going back to work but is able to go to the hairdressers you take notice and stop and think. What on earth has gone wrong? Only at the beginning of the year social media was awash with the #bekind campaign after the sudden death of a celebrity. Now we have someone be told they are not fit to teach all because of they are scared of whats happening when they go back to work but yet they are OK enough to go and get their hair done. Do people even understand how mental health issues work?   

Anxiety  and depression causes good and bad days. Any activity can go from chill to heart burstingly terrifying the more you think about it and the more you focus on it. I went through a frustrating few days the week before last with everyone talking about heading back to work and how theres only so many weeks of summer left etc. It got me thinking (well overthinking!) so I had to rein it in and get back to my day at a time mindset. Its not something you can turn on and off its something you live with and have to learn to manage. It doesn’t mean you should not work or hide yourself away. In fact that’s probably one of the worst things you could do. I found that being at work helped me and I was supported. But that initial going back after summer yeah it was hard and it will be the same when I go back this year in fact I have ensured I have sought enough help to make my return as smooth as possible as I know my anxiety will be right up there. So for this educator to be criticised for being scared for going back to work and told by folk to go on the sick no that’s not right. Why are you being so mean to them, they need your support and understanding not being told of you can’t teach what happened to #bekind eh? Quickly forgotten. Yes this person went to get their hair done and so? Small things are the first step at most it’s a few hours in a small place with a few folk nothing at all like a classroom so I can’t begin to see how they can even equate that they are the same thing. Its also good for your mental health – self care is so important and you do forget to take time out just to look after yourself especially with anxiety & depression.  I went to get my hair done a few days ago and barely slept the night before as I worked myself up a bit as its somewhere I’ve not been for ages and with the new rules of wearing a mask etc. However like all things with anxiety it’s the build up to the event that causes it, normally things calm once you actually get there. Same when I got to work as well it was always the build up rather than actual work and I assume that’s the issue for the poor person who got stick for feeling anxious about their return to work.  

If anyone wondered why there is such a stigma with mental health issues this is it when people do talk they are immediately brought down and not taken seriously. This leads to people not wanting to talk about their issues in the first place. We need to be more understanding especially now more than ever many folk have been at home for a long time and even if they didn’t have anxiety before lockdown their will be a certain apprehension about returning to normal. We all need to be more thoughtful about how people are feeling and realise everyone has dealt with lockdown differently We should not be judging them, rather listening and supporting them. Mental Health Awareness isn’t just for a week or a twitter hashtag neither is Be Kind. These things mean something and mean you should be looking out for people not stigmatizing their mental health issues. It can happen to anyone.

What does Anxiety mean?

What do you think of when you hear the word anxiety? For me, it is all about the apprehension and worry of something that is about to happen.

I’m sure you’ll have experienced it at least at one point in your life it’s a totally natural reaction to situations (think night before going back to school after the summer holidays or even going back to work after a break). There is that slight dread and feeling in the pit of your stomach or you just cannot stop thinking but it subsides, and you can rationalise what is going on. 

Now what would you think when you hear about someone who suffers with anxiety disorder? Where every day can be filled with dread, fear, and tiredness to name but a few symptoms. Instant rationalisation is not a thing the tiniest decision takes forever and is played out until the anxiety finally subsides and yes you realise, well OK, I can do this.

I think I have always been a bit highly anxious throughout my life, but proper anxiety disorder kicked in last summer for various reasons. It was affecting me before I knew what it was eg I was feeling unwell and not sleeping properly. I went to see my awesome GP who listened, and we got to the bottom of it and so started my treatment. To start with I tried natural methods changing my sleep habits by not drinking caffeine after 6pm, walking more at lunchtimes and a bit of meditation using some apps on the phone.  Will not lie to you all I am not the most self-disciplined – I will try things but, in the past, have given up easy on things. However I did keep up at least the no caffeine after 6pm and walking every day at lunch (that is such a much even during the rubbish weather I would find ways to go for a good walk about the buildings at work as they are mostly interlinked so you can do a good walk around the floors without leaving a building) Fresh air walks much better though for sure its good to just clear your head and get away from your desk. Nothing personal against folk at lunch I just needed my own space to clear my head ready for the afternoon ahead. I did keep this up for the whole year (until lockdown!) and would totally recommend it to everyone. Even just a short walk (I aimed for around 20 minutes at least).

I went through spells of trying the whole mindfulness/meditating but found it hard to properly get into especially with no guide bar an app. I am better if I am shown something in person then can go away and work on it and meditating takes a lot of effort for sure (well for me anyway) Why? Well I have a very anxious mind, and this means that it is constantly on. You have probably seen the meme “my mind is like a web browser loads of tabs open, a few frozen and no clue as to where the music is coming from” yup that sums it up well. A lot of it is totally irrational as well in fact 99% if not all is irrational, but it can take a while for an anxious brain to finally work that out after going through every scenario. By that I mean for example say I have a meeting – I’d worry about it for the day before and the lead up to it thinking of things that might not be right or if I’ve done anything wrong, then the meeting happens its all good and no worries at all during it (in the moment) but then after analysing every part of it and if I’ve said something wrong or daft. That is how anxiety works, and it cannot be helped. It is not just something you can snap out of and takes time for your mind to get to grips with the situation and rationalise what is going on. I was able to talk through a lot at work thankfully and did have a super supportive person who understood(well if they didn’t they at least showed they were bothered) the anxiety and was very good at listening and then helping me see the actual rational point without getting frustrated at me, as to why I couldn’t just understand it right away like most folk could.  Anxiety really does cloud your thoughts and you can get lost in spending too much time thinking/overthinking about something that to most would be super trivial. It led me to a lot of second-guessing things that should just come naturally especially at work. Thankfully, I had that critical person who was able to calmly say yeah fair enough but look on the other hand really what is the worst? It eased things for me (maybe not for them having me to deal with) but overall kept me that little bit more grounded.  

I undertook some CBT outside of work which helped me get to think about situations and break them down myself to understand myself more unfortunately that stopped due to the lockdown. It gave me enough though to make a start at looking at things a bit differently.  Naturally, lockdown heightened the anxiety for a bit especially for going shopping. I was lucky enough to then get some help from Sandra Docherty who is a colleague from one of our other campuses and is trained in mindfulness. She was able to offer a couple of sessions on a one to one basis to try and help me find other ways to manage my anxiety. As I said before I had tried mindfulness before on my own but just did not get into it. However, I was open to trying and willing to give it another go. I want to try things and find something that works for me to help deal with my anxiety better in a way that is easy for me.  So yes, I was a bit sceptical going into the first mindfulness session and was honest with Sandra however did say I am 100% in and willing to give it a good try. Really wasn’t sure but do you know within 10 minutes of talking I felt so at ease with her and talked a lot but have to say by the end of that hour I had really felt the benefit of it. We discussed a few things with some different exercises but the one that really got me was the mediation which was me just listening to her going through this lovely exercise of visualisation of different colours & different parts of the body and I felt quite emotional after that first one. It was a real game changer for me, and I realised that I should be doing this more. I had 2 further sessions a lot more talking and more meditations, but it gave me the boost I needed to do something for myself now that I properly felt the benefit of it. So much so that I created a little space in my bedroom to be my spot for meditating.

Another thing that was mentioned was scents and use of them to help calm in anxious situations – we had discussed my shopping anxiety and how difficult I had been finding that. So, it was useful to find a scent that I could put on a tissue or cotton pad and wear while shopping to help me focus on that rather than the worry. I had found some lavender oil I had already had so used that on a tissue the first time I went and just sat in the car for a few minutes extra before heading to the shop it helped me think a bit more calmly and I felt like I was a bit more able to cope with the task in hand. After that I purchased a bracelet that you can put the essential oils on to and I wear that each time I go out now to the shops just to remind me  everything will be OK. I really am grateful for being introduced to this as it has been a great kickstart to me helping myself a lot.

Having the right support

So I finished up work “for the summer” last Friday, seems so empty to say this year. This academic year has been turbulent to say the least for me (and that’s not even including going into lockdown) but I made it through only with support though there is no way on earth I’d have gotten here by myself that’s for sure.  Support comes in many forms my daughters are my world and have been amazing this year (2 are adults and one is a teen) but all live with me so have been my immediate rocks though they should not have to but its fair they understand how I am. My mum is my ultimate rock and like all mums knows what’s wrong before you even say it. My family have been so important during this time to me in keeping me going and they know I love them all (since I have about 3 million cousins lol one of those families!).  And naturally my friends as well especially my besties. Keeping me going all the time.

It was work I guess that got me into writing this blog at the start of lockdown and to use it as a way of me to tell everyone about my journey with anxiety. It gave me the push to get back into blogging again more regularly.  At work I had a super small circle of folk who knew as firstly I didn’t want to be a bother and I just wanted to get on with my work and yeah not ashamed to say totally thought I’d be judged for having anxiety. Was difficult for sure opening up to those few but totally had to be done for my own wellbeing. I absolutely without a doubt love my job 100% teaching is just in me, despite the anxiety I have found my place in the world I know I was meant to be here for this reason. I have always ALWAYS wanted to teach it just took time for me to find my calling as to where and what stage and now I have that dream job. Laugh if you want but its totally true, I had a job before going back to uni and while I met some nice folk through it, it wasn’t the best and just wasn’t me.

Support networks are important and for me have been a total lifesaver, having the support in and out of work makes such a difference and kept me going through both good and bad days. Probably the one question I got asked a lot as well by health professionals was about my support network to ensure I did have folk that knew and were able to be there if I needed them (turns out I can talk an awful lot of nonsense if my anxiety is high – or I’ll go quiet and need to go for a walk). Again its all about getting to know yourself and understanding how you are feeling and looking for what triggers the anxiety and eventually I was able to find strategies to help with some triggers at least. It takes time though and patience is key, I used to get so frustrated with myself when I had a bad day but soon realised theres no point just let it happen and move on.

To my support network I thank you all for being there through this year your being patient & listening & not judging & generally just putting up with me really has made such a difference to me. Might not have been a big deal to you but changed a lot for me.