#HighFiveForAnxiety

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to offend or upset anyone, neither am I a mental health expert or professional. I’m only speaking from my own experience. 
#HighFiveForAnxiety
 
Anxiety UK have recently launched a Twitter campaign to break the stigma surrounding mental health. The #HighFiveForAnxiety hashtag hopes to get people talking about anxiety and mental health; topics rarely discussed in day-to-day conversation. Thousands of people have tweeted sharing personal experiences and messages of support using the hashtag #HighFiveForAnxiety, including me.
I have struggled with Anxiety coupled with Depression for the last couple of years. I receive counselling and practice Mindfulness to manage it as best as I can. Very recently, my Anxiety peaked making me feel more vulnerable and helpless than I have in a long time. Yesterday I was feeling particularly low so took to Twitter to get my mind off things, where I found the #HighFiveForAnxiety trend.
Reading the tweets, I found myself identifying and relating to people I’d never met. I tweeted using the hashtag and felt relief that I’d gotten some feelings off my chest. Then my tweet was retweeted by @AnxietyUk and was favourited by a couple of people. Then my tweet was shared by others and favourited even more times. I was overwhelmed. At a time when Anxiety was making me feel especially lonely and isolated, the #HighFiveForAnxiety campaign made me feel supported in a way that I never expected.
 
What is Anxiety?
 
Anxiety makes me feel alone. I feel ashamed of my weakness and embarrassed of my vulnerability. I feel suffocated, claustrophobic and like I’m trapped in my own head. Irrational thoughts crowd my mind space, but despite knowing that their irrational I can’t rationalise them. I can’t understand how everyone else can go about their lives seemingly care free, when leaving my room or answering the phone are monumental challenges for me. I shake and find it difficult to talk or stay still. I don’t know how to tell anyone because I doubt they’d understand, mainly because I don’t know how to explain.
Before I understood that what I experience is Anxiety and Depression, the worst thing I did was not tell anyone. I find it incredibly difficult to admit my own weakness or make myself vulnerable. The fact that I had stopped bothering to take care of myself and sometimes wouldn’t leave my room for days at a time wasn’t as concerning to me as the thought of actually admitting these facts to someone. Because what if I did and they said that there was something wrong with me? What if they assessed me and put me in the box of ‘mentally ill’? What if confessing my feelings to someone lead them to confirm that I was broken, defective, crazy?
 
Physical health/mental health
 
Imagine that you wake up one morning feeling nauseous. You can’t keep down your breakfast and you feel weak, clammy and all round crappy. What do you do?
You’d probably try to get something from the chemist to relieve your symptoms. You might make an appointment with your GP. You could tell work/school/college that you’ve got a stomach bug and won’t be in today.
Now imagine that you wake up one morning feeling completely unmotivated to get out of bed. You’ve had a terrible night sleep because you were up half the night worrying about anything and everything. The thought of leaving your bed and facing the world makes you panicky because you can’t stop imagining all sorts of horrific scenarios in your head. What do you do?
It’s unlikely that you could get anything over the counter that would stop you feeling anxious or depressed. It’s unlikely that you’d think to ring your GP or call work/school/college to tell them how you’re feeling. It’s likely that you’d try to force yourself to carry on as normal, or you’d stay in bed and burry your head under the pillow trying to ignore that anything is wrong.
 
Why should we talk about mental health?
 
According to the Mind website, 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. It’s more common than you think. Chances are that at least one person you’ve interacted with today have experienced struggles with their mental health. But you don’t realise it, because we don’t talk about it.
When I have my guide dog or my cane with me it’s perfectly obvious to anyone that I am visually impaired. This often prompts comments or questions, it usually makes people more understanding and more willing to help. But there is nothing physical about me that would indicate to you that I experience Anxiety and Depression. You wouldn’t know, unless I told you. And if I told you, what would you think? If I turned to you and said, “This situation is making me really anxious”, what would you say? Would you be shocked? Would you know how to help me? Would you understand what I might need?
When I was at my lowest with Anxiety and Depression, one of my friends was going through very similar feelings. We would talk for hours about our feelings, but we never thought that how we felt might have a name or might not be, for want of a better word, normal. We confessed how we felt to each other, but thought it impossible to admit it to anyone else. Simultaneously, another of my friends was experiencing similar feelings, but neither of us ever discussed it. It was only much later, when we were both able to open up about our experiences and share what was really going on that we realised how much support we could’ve gleaned from each other if we’d only confided in each other.
I’ve learned that one of the most important steps I can take to ensuring that I never return to my lowest point again is by trusting others with my thoughts and feelings. That includes professionals, family and friends and my University. If I’d never spoken up about how I was feeling, I would never have been able to access the support that I needed to improve.
 
If I had come across #HighFiveForAnxiety when I was at my lowest, I know that being able to relate to hundreds of people online and being able to identify with their experiences would’ve made me feel much more secure about admitting my feelings. It would’ve reassured me that I wasn’t alone, that there wasn’t anything wrong with me and that there are things and people that can help. I might’ve told my friend going through the same thing and we could’ve supported each other. I might have felt able to confide in my other friend and could’ve supported them as well. It would’ve given me the courage to talk.
 
Please check out the #HighFiveForAnxiety hashtag and join in by tweeting your thoughts about Anxiety. If you feel that you might be struggling with your mental health, check out the websites below for tips and support.
 
Thank you for reading and remember to comment or tweet me @seemyway15 with any questions about my experience of Anxiety and Depression.
 
Anxiety UK: http://www.anxietyuk.org.uk
 
Mind: http://www.mind.org.uk                                                             
 

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Common Purpose and Santander Frontrunner Alumni Workshop

A few months ago I attended the Frontrunner Programme for Disabled Students run by Common Purpose in association with Santander, and I wrote about it in my first ever blog post here!
https://elinangharadwilliams.wordpress.com/2015/07/13/common-purpose-frontrunner-for-disabled-students-in-association-with-santander/
Now a couple of months on, I attended the Santander Frontrunner for Disabled Students Alumni Workshop and had just as insightful experience as I did on the course in Newcastle back in July.
 
Passion and resonance
 
The course was held in Nottingham and was open to any alumni of the Frontrunner for Disabled Students programmes. Common Purpose hold a number of these programmes throughout the year in different locations across the country, so it was nice to see some familiar faces from the programme in Newcastle but also to meet other alumni of different programmes from the last couple of years.
In true Common Purpose style, I arrived to be welcomed by a very friendly bunch of people and was immediately made to feel at ease by the fact that all the access requirements I had requested had been met.
 
Side note: I can’t really emphasise how refreshing it is when this happens. It’s a depressing reality that I’ve gotten far too used to my requests being ignored or misinterpreted when I ask for things like work in accessible formats or accommodations for my guide dog, so that when it actually happens it leaves me flustered with disbelief and stammering an inner monologue along the lines of:
“You mean you actually paid attention when I asked for handouts to be emailed to me in Word? But… I only had to ask once…”
One of the things that makes me sing the praises of Common Purpose is that I only ever have to ask once for anything. More than that, they don’t make me feel like a massive pain in the back side for asking for something to be converted from picture PDF to Word or for someone to do a little orientation with me at the beginning. It’s a nice change not to be treated like a chore.
But Anyway! Enough of my wining, back to the workshop.
 
After the initial introductions, the first exercise we did was to get into groups and think about the different qualities possessed by six famous leaders – Oprah Winfrey, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, Richard Branson and Mahatma Gandhi. We were asked to think about words to describe them as leaders and afterwards to write down three words that we wanted to describe us as leaders. Mine were approachable, empathetic and fair.
Following a quick tea break, we then gathered to listen to our first speaker of the day; Peter Osborne has previously worked for the RNIB and now works as a Mobility Team Manager at the Hull branch of Guide Dogs. He shared his own personal experiences of leadership and discussed how passion and resonance play a part in effective leadership. I personally found this session very enlightening as a lot of Peter’s commented resonated with me and my hopes and concerns for my future career. It helped that Peter is an extremely approachable man who had the room laughing on several occasions.
 
Communicating your passions
 
Lunch was followed by our second speaker of the day Paul Bisping’s session on communicating our passion. After showing us some examples of both negative and positive ways other people communicated their passions, Paul asked us to get into groups of three to complete the task he’d set. In our groups, one was to be the talker and was tasked with talking for a few minutes about their passion, the questioner who would spend a couple of minutes questioning the talker about their passion after their initial speech and the observer who was to stay silent throughout and give feedback on both the talker and the questioner’s methods of communicating during the task. We were to rotate so that each person should have an opportunity to take each roll, so that’s what we did.
What was interesting to notice was that animation brings out different reactions in people; some people start talking very quickly, some people (like me) have so much to say they struggle to structure their points coherently, others find it difficult to express their thoughts about their passion especially if it’s something close to their hearts. One thing for certain though, there is no doubt that the difference between someone who’s really enthused about their topic and someone who isn’t is definitely noticeable. An important thing to remember in the context of leadership I think; you have a much better chance of persuading someone to believe or agree with you about something if you’re passionate about the topic yourself.
 
Passion in interviews
 
Our last speaker of the day was Jo Miller, a Branch Director within Santander. She spoke to us about the importance of conveying passion during the interview process. We practiced answering some interview questions using the STAR structure (situation, task, action, result) while conveying passion in our answers. The practice and feedback was very constructive and Jo’s insights into the recruitment process were invaluable.
 
Closing thoughts
 
Proceeding Jo’s session, the final session of the day was about reflecting on how to channel our passion into our goals. After taking a few quiet moments to imagine where we’d like to be in one, three, five years’ time, we regrouped and went back to the three words we’d noted down earlier in the day that we wanted to describe us as leaders. I volunteered to explain my words to the group. Standing up and talking in front of everyone was marginally easier than last time but I’m a way off from being able to own the room, though it’s a minor progress that I volunteered without too much hesitation to do it this time. Baby steps!
 
I will end this post by reemphasising how fantastic I feel Common Purpose are and how much I would highly recommend the Frontrunner Programme to any disabled student. Every single person I’ve ever met who works for Common Purpose have been refreshingly accommodating and friendly. Both events I’ve attended have been intense but immensely rewarding and I most definitely look forward to working with Common Purpose again in the future.
 
Find the Common Purpose website here:
http://www.commonpurpose.org.uk/
 

Independent isn’t alone: guest blog for VI Able Solutions

VI Able Solutions is a blog intended to share the problems we all encounter in our daily lives and how we have resolved them. Posts include solutions for anything from paring socks to making friends. The aim is to share experiences in the hope that someone else might benefit from what you learned.
Check out my guest post here:
https://viablesolutions.wordpress.com/2015/09/16/independent-isnt-alone/