Thursday, 23 November 2017

"I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened" Mark Twain

I thought I'd post a bit more about CBT, partly because I found it a very positive experience but mainly because, according to the statistics on this site, my last 2 posts have had the most hits in the shortest space of time of any of my other posts since I started this blog. (And that is without me sharing the links on Twitter).

I've also had lots more messages this week from people who I haven't spoken to / heard from in a while, most using the word 'resonated' in their messages. I'll be honest, I had to look the word up but I understand that my talking about the last few months has been useful to some people which makes me feel it was worthwhile to share it.

In my sessions with the Therapist we talked a lot about 'Worry + Rumination', which seemed to be at the root of my problems. (Remember, I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder not Depression so this post may not be as useful if you are suffering from Depression). When I think about it now, it does seem rather frightening to go from 'worrying', which we all do, to the point where the worrying becomes to intense you need medical intervention, but that just goes to show how things can escalate if you don't address what is going on in your life / don't acknowledge any physical symptoms you know are unusual for you. If you feel things are getting out of control DON'T WAIT.

In my experience, the act of worrying became overwhelming. The act of worrying about certain things, became so intense it manifested itself in physical symptoms. (Insomnia, chest pains, feeling like a cold wire was running through me, shaking). The act of of worrying about specific things gradually became an act of worrying about EVERYTHING. Looking back, things intensified when my son started school last September and I had to give up Freelancing.  It's impossible to get Ad Hoc childcare when you have no family help and after exploring the few options on the table I had to admit defeat and stop working. I felt like perhaps it was a natural break and time to just be 'Mummy'. But this then meant, I had more time to worry.  Worrying about having no purpose (I have worked since I was 13 and funded everything in my life on my own, University, homes etc), worrying about relying on my other half, worrying about money, worrying about if I had made the right decisions in life etc etc. I have since realised I was trying to distract myself from my worry's by an almost manic need to be 'busy'. I was helping with the reading at my sons school, making things to sell in the Local Art Gallery, selling honey, I also got a local job at one point. But when in March we had to sell the house, my worries exploded in my head. It is exhausting never being able to escape your own head. I had not slept properly for months, I was probably drinking too much and generally felt like shit. Sleep deprivation is not only a pain in the arse, it can also be massively detrimental to your health.

The information below is taken from 

* Our central nervous system is the information highway of your body. Sleep is necessary to keep it functioning properly, but chronic insomnia can disrupt how your body usually sends information.* During sleep, pathways form between nerve cells (neurons) in your brain that help you remember new information you’ve learned. Sleep deprivation leaves your brain exhausted, so it can’t perform its duties as well. You may also find it more difficult to concentrate or learn new things. Sleep deprivation also negatively affects your mental abilities and emotional state. You may feel more impatient or prone to mood swings. It can also compromise decision-making processes and creativity.If sleep deprivation continues long enough, you could start having hallucinations
seeing or hearing things that aren’t there. A lack of sleep can also trigger mania in people who have manic depressionOther psychological risks include:
*Impulsive behaviour
*Suicidal thoughts

You may also end up experiencing microsleep in the day. During these episodes, you’ll fall asleep for a few seconds or minutes without realizing it. Microsleep is out of your control and can be extremely dangerous if you’re driving. 

Immune system - Sleep deprivation prevents your immune system from building up its forces. If you don’t get enough sleep, your body may not be able to fend off invaders. It may also take you longer to recover from illness. Long-term sleep deprivation also increases your risk for chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease.

Digestive system - Along with eating too much and not exercising, sleep deprivation is another risk factor for becoming overweight and obesity. Sleep affects the levels of two hormones, leptin and ghrelin, which control feelings of hunger and fullness. Leptin tells your brain that you’ve had enough to eat. Without enough sleep, your brain reduces leptin and raises ghrelin, which is an appetite stimulant. The flux of these hormones could explain nighttime snacking or why someone may overeat later in night. A lack of sleep can also contribute to weight gain by making you feel too tired to exercise.
Sleep deprivation also prompts your body to release higher levels of insulin after you eat. Insulin controls your blood sugar level. Higher insulin levels promote fat storage and increase your risk for type 2 diabetes.Cardiovascular system - Sleep affects processes that keep your heart and blood vessels healthy, including your blood sugar, blood pressure, and inflammation levels. It also plays a vital role in your body’s ability to heal and repair the blood vessels and heart.People who don’t sleep enough are more likely to get cardiovascular disease. One analysis published in the European Journal of Preventive Oncology linked insomnia to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Pretty scary how things can escalate isn't it? You can see how you one could quite easily get caught in a vicious cycle of ill health. Worry begins, then continues to increase gradually and is not dealt with, sleep then becomes affected, so you drink more Caffeine to deal with the sleep deprivation which in turn increases your anxiety, which in turn makes the worrying intensify, then you use alcohol to knock yourself out at the end of the day, then you simply stop functioning and you are ill, physically and mentally. The crutches you use to get you though the days only exacerbate the problem. Excessive use of Caffeine and Tobacco can make existing Anxiety worse. BUT, when I started CBT and looked at things from a different viewpoint, I saw very clearly how I had got into the state I was, and understanding it and accepting it was the first step towards getting better. CBT gave me hope things would improve and I understood that basically I needed to break the negative habits I had developed.  But you have to work at it. There's lots of repetition in CBT and homework and it will only work if you commit to it. It's by no means a quick fix but more like an alternative way of life. If I had recognised my worrying and ruminating was getting out of hand sooner I wouldn't have felt as bad as I ended up feeling. (There was a long waiting list to get to the one to one Therapy though. I think it took around 6 months before I had my first one to one session so don't want to leave it too long). 
You get lots of paperwork and exercises in CBT, some of it I just didn't get at all so didn't even bother with. I particularly struggled with the idea of  'Worry Time'. You are supposed to allocate a specific time of each day dedicated to worrying. When a worry pops into your head, you must write it down and then not think about it again until your allocated worry time. My Anxiety was so bad even the thought of this made me anxious. I said if I was going to allocate a certain time to worry I would worry that I would miss the time slot or just be worrying until worry time! The Therapist didn't push this particular exercise on me...
What I did find useful though was the idea of the 'Worry Tree' :

When a worry comes into your head, work your way down from the top of tree. The more you do this, the easier it becomes to let things go. You are not only challenging your automatic thought responses to situations (real or imagined) but you are gradually, over time, breaking the negative habits that are so detrimental to your well being. It's such a simple excerise but one I have found invaluable.

There are loads of free resources on line for all of this, but I also found this useful as a way of acknowledging my situation:

* Worry is future focused. It can lead to anxiety, stress, fear and imagining the worst will happen.
* Rumination is past focused. It can lead to depression, sadness, shame and regret, "If only...".

* These 2 things can develop into regurgitation. Constantly chewing things over, repeatedly thinking the same things, circular thinking patterns, bad thinking HABITS.

* By worrying or ruminating we are trying to reduce the distress but we make the problem bigger and often prolong it. It interferes with clear thinking, daily activity and our ability to cope. It also often leads to unhelpful behaviours to help us escape our thoughts (self harm, drinking, drugs, comfort eating etc). The more we worry or ruminate the stronger the habit becomes (so conversely the less we worry or ruminate the weaker the habit becomes).

* You CAN change this pattern. If you notice the mind is going down a worry / rumination route. Tell yourself:

1. I don't have to think about that right now, it can wait until I feel stronger.
2. There is nothing I can do about my thoughts - I can't stop them BUT I can choose not to focus on them.
3. What can I do right now that will hep me feel better? (refer to the 'Worry Tre'e, call a friend, go for a walk etc etc)
4. Right now what can I do that will take me one step in the right direction? Right now, not the future.

 Anyway, thanks for reading (if you got this far!), I hope this might be useful. Stay well and for anyone who see's themselves in this post, it will get better if you ask for help. xx

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

It's not me, it's you.

Something else I thought was quite interesting about my recent experience of Mental Health care, was the idea that not all experiences with Mental Health challenges / issue' are clinical. The umbrella term of 'Mental Health' seems to cover a vast amount of psychological states. The one I was most aware of was 'Depression', and I was also aware of the trauma of 'Psychotic Episodes' but I didn't realise that what I was diagnosed with was also considered part of the Mental Health Family. Anxiety.

My last post mentioned what physical symptoms I was having and how I was treated on the NHS but probably the most interesting thing I learnt about what I was experiencing, was that it wasn't considered Depression (which I had naturally assumed it was, based on previous diagnosis but which looking back was probably wrong...). Once I had begun the process of CBT and started completing the weekly telephone assessments with a Therapist, it became very clear that my problem was with Anxiety, my scores for Depression were actually quite low in comparison.  It transpired that I had been living through such a prolonged period of stress and unpredictability it had eventually led to excessive Anxiety, which in turn was causing me to struggle to function in a way I needed to indeed and wanted to. This was then expanded on further with my first one to one with the Therapist when she said to me, "You need to consider that your issues are not clinical, but inter personal". WOW. What en eye opener! I didn't even know this was a 'thing'! (Coincidentally, last week on Radio 2 there was an interview with a Dr who has just published a book about Toxic People and how they can affect your life and ultimately your health. Not all psychological states dealt with by Mental Health Teams are clinical. Anyway, I just thought it was really interesting and something I had never considered before but is obviously prevalent. "You know what, it's not me, its you".)

So now the conversation had started, the can of worms was open and it needed to be. When I really looked back at my previous brushes with Mental Health care, it made complete sense. Growing up, my home life had been so traumatic and unpredictable from the age of 8, that at 14, I snapped. Then later on in life, after 9 months of being dismissed and disregarded at work by someone who I had considered a friend, I broke down. And this year, after a prolonged period of instability and stress at home, again, I hit the bottom. So, you can see the pattern. These are not instances driven to despair by unknown forces, these are instances due to my relationships with other people and the way that I react to them. By my parents as a child (where, as a minor, there was no escape), by my Boss at work (where I was trying to establish a career and a better life for myself), in my house (where I was trying to keep my family together and provide the kind of life I didn't have for my son). Reading this, it might seem obvious that a person would be pushed to their limits after these experiences but each time anything has happened where I have been forced to knock on the door of the NHS, I have felt / believed /was told that I had something frightening wrong with me. Some chemicals lacking, a deep dark depression lurking inside my head or some permanent unsolvable 'problem' that was destined to rear its ugly head every few years. HOWEVER, the possibility that my difficulties were 'inter personal' changed everything for me. It made me think about myself totally differently which was the start of my way out of the hole. It was the challenge to these automatic thoughts that I had had my whole life, and the realisation that there are other ways of looking at the same situation (basically CBT) that helped me get to where I wanted to be.  I wasn't a failure that attracted shitty situations, I am actually quite resilient for getting through them. Its true that when you are at the bottom the only way is up and that is exactly how I feel now. I am on the up, looking at the past, present and future of my life thorough completely different eyes. Just being aware of this different, alternative view is all down to CBT. I would never have looked at myself / my life this way before.

You would lead a very charmed existence if you never found yourself in a difficult / upsetting / stressful situation throughout your life. That's just how it is and sometimes it can just be really shit. But what you need to consider is your own limitations when dealing with these experiences. There might be quite a few people reading this, currently feeling anxious about work, or stressed about a situation with a friend or family member but not confronting the problem. Slowly isolating yourself from friends as you feel you never have anything good to say (that was me). Maybe you don't want to rock the boat, or you are so used to treading on egg shells that is now your norm (also me), but believe me, if you don't deal with these things, you can make yourself ill and end up spending a large amount of time with the Mental Health Team. The 'issue' might not be you, it might be someone else or at least the way you react to them, and if you get ill because of the way someone else treats you / your perception of how they treat you, as well as the mountains you have to climb to get better again you might also feel somewhat angry and rather fucking resentful that no one had ever told you it was possible for other people (family, work colleagues etc) to have such a negative effect on you!!! Hence this post.

Mental illness is such a massive subject, and as I said before, I've not studied it but I know how I have felt, and I know what helped me get better and I know what I need to hopefully stay on the straight and narrow. And if life gets shitty again, it might not be due to some darkness within me. It might just be that I am in the wrong place, with the wrong people. I now understand the effect other people have on me, not just the tricky people but also the good people. Isolating myself from my friends when I needed them most wasn't the right thing to do at all. If you feel scared and alone, physically being on your own ain't going to help you! Spend time with people that make you feel GOOD. If work is making you stressed, could you do something else? What is so special about your job that it's more important than your health? How can you simplify your life?  TALK, be honest and open, get angry if you need to, but don't keep it in or think it's your problem, because it might just not be. 

Friday, 10 November 2017

Mind Maintenance, Let's talk!

Because I had such an overwhelmingly positive response to my Facebook posting yesterday I thought I would expand on my experiences with Mental Health Services. I know some people do prefer to keep these things to themselves but personally, writing things down is almost like a form of therapy for me. Once it’s on the page its out of my head. What I found most surprising from the FB comments and messages I received was the amount of comments saying that people just don’t talk about their Mental Health challenges. I didn’t think that was the case so much these days but maybe that's just because I know a lot of people who have been through it. If it's not discussed, it continues to be a ‘dark secret’ not to be given the light of day which makes things far worse as so many mental health challenges are magnified by a sense of isolation and loneliness  If we can talk and share and give support OPENLY, that would be beneficial to many I’m sure. Different perspectives can get you off of your own hamster wheel of negative thoughts. It's a small thing, but this year I have really tried to actually speak to people on the phone rather than text. It's quite a retro idea I know, but makes me feel much closer to my friends than a quick text. We are cutting ourselves off from each other all the time without even thinking about it. We need to TALK to each other. We need to ENGAGE and we need to make this a normal form of communication again. 

I am not the first person to think this I am sure, but we certainly need to change the language that we use to discuss 'Mental Illness'. If you look at a Thesaurus for Definitions of the word 'Mental' you will see words including:

Abnormal, Different, Bizarre, Deviant, Weird, Odd, Crazed, Hysterical, Peculiar, Strange, Unusual.....I could go on.

All these words and connotations are negative and derogatory and these are just the tip of the iceberg. No wonder so many people want to keep their feelings / thoughts / fears behind closed doors. If you are already feeling vulnerable and isolated why would you want to bring attention to your "Abnormalities"!!!.  However, if we changed the language we use and lost the negative connotations we might be able to look at what I will call 'Mind Maintenance', as a good, healthy thing. Personally, I'm glad I gave my brain a chance to have an MOT via medication and Therapy. Doesn't everyone just want to be the best person they can be? I know I do, but unfortunately life and events and other people can knock you off that path. Why are we so ashamed and uncomfortable talking about the help we might need to get us back on the path we want to be on. The path we deserve? The Brain is a most complex organ but like any other organ in the body, sometimes it needs a bit of TLC. If you needed some work doing on any other organ on your body, I bet you would have no problem at all talking about it, giving friends updates, asking for time off from work to recover if necessary, so why do we feel so differently, and not just differently but negatively, about illness with our minds? This attitude is retrogressive and harmful. 

My first experience of the Mental Health Services was when I was 14 years old. My home life was, at times, unbearable and 1 day after school, I decided I had had enough.  My ‘cry for help’ landed me in Hospital for a week but, I presume, that as I was still a minor any NHS intervention had to be agreed by my Father. He did not allow it, refusing Therapy on my behalf, preferring me instead to take medication. I don’t remember the course of pills lasting for long, and there was no follow up from any Medical Professionals, or if there was, I didn't know about it. My Father would never discuss the 'incident' with me but did occasionally refer to it in a dismissive, belittling way to me. This was one of our family's  ‘dark secrets’. I do not blame him for this, he was of a completely different generation, perhaps a generation that brushed emotions under the carpet but I would argue this attitude only exacerbates issues. This attitude of hiding 'Mental Health' issues, not talking, not listening, not being allowed to be open, simply does not work. 

My second experience was in 2010 . I had been in my job for almost 7 years when one day, without warning, I was ‘replaced’ in my role by someone else in the office. My boss never discussed it, and would never discuss why. Had I fucked up at work? Was I just really bad at my job? Had I offended him in some way? I will never know. Any attempt by me to talk about it hit a brick wall. To this day, I don’t understand what happened, and now I couldn't care less but looking back, I was basically ‘Gaslighted’.

Wikiepedia explains:

"Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the target and delegitimize the target's belief.

Effective gaslighting can be accomplished in several different ways. Sometimes, a person can assert something with such an apparent intensity of conviction that the other person begins to doubt their own perspective. Other times, vigorous and unwavering denial coupled with a display of righteous indignation can accomplish the same task”.

I was not the first employee at that Company who’s life was made so uncomfortable they walked out and I’m sure I wont be the last. After 9 months of the silent treatment I quit. With no job to go to, no rights (in Production I have never had a contract or worked anywhere with an HR Department), no Au Revoir + Good Luck card from my colleagues, just totally broken and confused.  So I went to the Dr and was offered CBT. I had never heard of it before but agreed to give it a try (I have always been very anti medication, no idea why).

CBT (Cognitive Behavorial Therapy) is explained by the NHS as:

CBT is based on the concept that your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap you in a vicious cycle.

CBT aims to help you deal with overwhelming problems in a more positive way by breaking them down into smaller parts. You're shown how to change these negative patterns to improve the way you feel.

Unlike some other talking treatments, CBT deals with your current problems, rather than focusing on issues from your past. It looks for practical ways to improve your state of mind on a daily basis.

What happens during CBT sessions

If CBT is recommended, you'll usually have a session with a therapist once a week or once every two weeks. The course of treatment usually lasts for between five and 20 sessions, with each session lasting 30-60 minutes.During the sessions, you'll work with your therapist to break down your problems into their separate parts – such as your thoughts, physical feelings and actions.

You and your therapist will analyse these areas to work out if they're unrealistic or unhelpful and to determine the effect they have on each other and on you. Your therapist will then be able to help you work out how to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours.

After working out what you can change, your therapist will ask you to practise these changes in your daily life and you'll discuss how you got on during the next session.

The eventual aim of therapy is to teach you to apply the skills you've learnt during treatment to your daily life. This should help you manage your problems and stop them having a negative impact on your life – even after your course of treatment finishes.

Pros and cons of CBTCognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be as effective as medication in treating some mental health problems, but it may not be successful or suitable for everyone.Some of the advantages of CBT include:·       it may be helpful in cases where medication alone hasn't worked ·       it can be completed in a relatively short period of time compared to other talking therapies ·       the highly structured nature of CBT means it can be provided in different formats, including in groups, self-help books and computer programs ·       it teaches you useful and practical strategies that can be used in everyday life – even after the treatment has finished Some of the disadvantages of CBT to consider include:·       you need to commit yourself to the process to get the most from it – a therapist can help and advise you, but they need your co-operation ·       attending regular CBT sessions and carrying out any extra work between sessions can take up a lot of your time ·       it may not be suitable for people with more complex mental health needs or learning difficulties – as it requires structured sessions ·       it involves confronting your emotions and anxieties – you may experience initial periods where you're anxious or emotionally uncomfortable ·       it focuses on the individual’s capacity to change themselves (their thoughts, feelings and behaviours) – which doesn't address any wider problems in systems or families that often have a significant impact on an individual’s health and wellbeing Some critics also argue that because CBT only addresses current problems and focuses on specific issues, it doesn't address the possible underlying causes of mental health conditions, such as an unhappy childhood.

My course was at a Hospital in Hackney. It lasted for 6 weeks and I gained so much from it. I turned up to the hospital every Friday morning, filled out a form regarding how I had been feeling that week regarding various everyday tasks (answers based on 0 to 9, 0 being not affected, 9 being most affected) and then logged onto a laptop. I never saw a Dr once, it was all online. Each session, I was presented with different case studies and had to respond to how they made me feel. Based on my answers, someone in the ‘ether’ assessed my answers and decided if I needed a further course. At that point the 6 weeks was enough. I had ultimately removed myself from the environment that had made me ill and started working Freelance.  CBT, definitely helped me to move on and gave me another way to look at the world. I liked the fact that it didn’t dwell on past events, which are often painful to relive, I wasn’t interested in opening up my head and stirring my brain up, talking about long ago events that would never be changed to someone who was being paid by the hour.  At that point and still now, I don't feel that I would gain from that type of Therapy. I wanted to take control back of my life and move forwards. I found it so useful I think it should be taught in schools, if anyone gets offered a course of it, I would urge you to give it a try.  You’d have nothing to lose my giving it a go! It is not a probing, emotional form of Therapy at all. 

Then cut to March this year when I had another metaphorical bomb dropped on me, I recognised the signs that I needed to get help. I had been drawing on my CBT knowledge since 2011 to get me through some huge life events. (Having my baby taken into Special Care, moving out of London after 20 years, family deaths, family near deaths, family nervous breakdowns, the last 5 years have felt like a barage of shit). But by March this year, I was all out of reserves. We have fantastic Medical Care here. If you need to see the Dr, you get seen that day at the surgery. It was not a hard decision for me to make the call (even though I hate going to the Dr) when I thought about my son. He is my Prize in life and I never want to neglect my own health enough that I can not be the Mum he deserves. I know I was lucky to still be in the right frame of mind to think like that as I know some people go beyond that point. He was and will always be my motivation. I am so lucky to have him in my life there was no question I would not force myself to address how I was feeling. It had got to the point that I could just about get him to school most days. My whole body ached, I had chest pains almost constantly, I physically shook, couldn’t sleep and could not stop crying. Throughout all of it, thankfully there was a small part of my logical brain that realised these physical symptoms were my body's way of screaming out that I needed help.  So, I made an appointment.  Since my initial CBT CourseI have this little voice in my head that says “What’s the alternative?”. I really find it useful in hard times to listen to this voice and really consider what ARE the alternatives? People suffering from Depression and Anxiety often Catastrophise (I used to do this all the time) but now I stop my automatic thoughts and question them. 

An example, if you are meeting a friend for a drink after work and they don’t turn up, do you think:

* Oh no! They must have been in an accident that’s why they aren’t here!
* They’ve blown me out on purpose, I knew they didn’t really like me.
* They probably just forgot, never mind, I wanted an early night anyway.

Probably not the best example but I’m trying to show that there are several different responses to the same scenario. What makes your response the right / most probable one? Do you ever question your automatic thought responses? What are these thoughts based on? Previous experience or imagined worse case scenarios? If you don’t question yourself, you should! Your brain is a most magnificent organ but can also be your worst enemy at times. Its not always giving you the right information. You always need to question your thoughts.

So basically, when I asked myself what the alternative was of NOT going to the Dr, I worked through the options and came to the conclusion there wasn’t an alternative. What I believed to be my brains’ ‘plan’ to ignore how I was feeling and just muddle through  (which I had been doing for a few weeks) clearly wasn’t getting me anywhere except deeper and deeper down a road I did not want to go down.

As I said on FB, I was prescribed Citalaopram which I really didn’t want to take. The possible side effects on Google read like a horror story:  drowsiness, insomnia, nausea, weight gain, vivid dreaming, frequent urination, dry mouth, increased sweating, trembling, diarrhea, excessive yawning, severe tinnitus, fatigue, vomiting, cardiac arrhythmia, blood pressure changes, dilated pupils, anxiety, mood swings, headache, and dizziness. Rare side effects include convulsions, hallucinations, severe allergic reactions and photosensitivity.

And then they can take 4 weeks to kick in. But sadly there is no quick fix to a mind that needs some maintenance.

It wasn’t pleasant but I’m so glad I persevered. After 4/5 weeks of trying different doses, a few sleeping pills thrown in for good measure and a lot of fatigue the new battle ready me, emerged. Citalopram was incredible. I knew I didn’t want to be on it long term, but if t got me though our house move that was enough for me. I would never usually recommend anyone to take medication but speaking from my own experience, it was a god send. The medication in conjunction with weekly one to one Therapy has got me out of the fog. I obviously can't say that I will never need to go back to the Dr again as no one knows what cow pats life will throw in your direction but for now, I am feeling happy and hopeful. I have also decided our life needed simplifying. When you are at rock bottom, feeling hopeless and that life is out of control, it focuses the mind on what things in life make you happy and actually, you don't need much to make you happy. The things I know make me happy are:

Being with my son.
Being outside in nature.
Making things.
Working when I can but not all the time and not putting work before my own life.
Being able to provide a happy safe environment for my son.
Being with friends who make me feel good.

And that is pretty much it. A short, unimaginative list. But at this point, its the extent of my ambitions. Anything else is a bonus. Life can be so competitive and fast and I have been sucked down a route in life of things that, on reflection, don't make my life easier or calmer or simpler. But I am only able to think like this now as I asked for help and allowed the treatment to run its course. I have been extremely lucky, the Therapies I have received have been in short bursts, to be at this point now after only 6/7 months is great. Sadly, I know people who's lives have been destroyed by ill health and still we feel we can't be open and honest. I won't ever shy away from talking about this to anyone who wants to listen. Its an important conversation to have and ultimately I want to set a good example for my son. 

So, I've not studied the mind, I've not read much about different Therapies, but this is my experience and it's all been positive. I know when you are in the fog and feel lonely, and scared and can't see a way out, it can be the most terrifying feeling imaginable, and the physical symptoms can be debilitating BUT our wonderful, magnificent NHS does have options. There is always someone you could talk to IF you are able to pick up the phone, or someone to meet you IF you can let people know how you are. Don't be ashamed! You WILL feel better :) 

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Colchester Vegan Fair, The Waiting Room, Queen St, Colchester CO1 2PJ

Yesterday was the 3rd Vegan Fair to be held in Colchester and the chaps that organised it would have to be happy with how it turned out. It was packed! I am not Vegan BUT, you don't have to be to enjoy Vegan food. One thing I have learned since moving to Colchester, apparently Vegan Capital of the Universe, is that Vegan food is actually pretty tasty and is clearly growing in popularity. It's not all mung beans and dandelion squash you know! In the last couple of years 2 places have opened up in Town which are really very good and worth trying out if you can:



The Fair was at 'The Waiting Room' in what is sometimes referred to as the 'Cultural Quarter' in Town. In the shadow of the Firstsite Art Gallery (currently showing Martin Parr), and the soon to be opening Creative Business Centre, is a community run 'space' set up in the old Bus Station Waiting Room. We came here a lot when we first moved but haven't been for a while. They have lots of things going on, and are one of the few places in Town that do advertise their events fairly well. You can find some previous posts below:

I miss Gunpowder Gertie...sigh.

Anyhow, we have guests here this weekend (family from Stockholm to be precise) and they were very impressed with the stalls on offer at the Fair, particularly the cakes. And we all know how much the Swedes love cakes. The event ran all day and in the evening there was a party, which obviously I didn't go to as I gave up any rights to a night out when my son was born, but I'm sure it was a success.

Anyway, here are some pictures, well done everyone involved and we look forward to next year's Fair.

AMAZING cakes.

Fish and Chips looked very popular despite my terrible photograph.

We bought some Caramelised Mulberries from these guys. Fancy.

Eggless Scotch Eggs.

Lush were also there doing 'Bubble Bar' demo's that the kids could get involved in.
My son made this to bring home (free of charge) and it smells amazing!

And just check out the Cheesecake 
.If the queue hadn't been so bog I would have nabbed this. 
It looked awesome! Next time.

Bravo one and all.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Local Counsellor Allowances - Suggestions for the Dutch Quarter, Colchester, Essex

I recently found out that our Ward Counsellors have an allowance of £2K (per year I believe), to spend on whatever they choose in their designated wards. One would hope it would be spent on improvements to their particular ward that would in some way benefit the residents. There are 3 Counsellors in the Ward I live in which makes a potential of £6K sloshing around in their bum bags. (I don't know if this is the same with all Counsellors in all Councils but its definitely worth looking into if you care about the area that you live in).

I have the odd communication with 1 of our Counsellors so emailed him to ask him what he intended to spend his cash on. He has committed some of his allowance on a Defibrillator for the Park (great idea) but for the rest, he was undecided. So, I thought I would take a wander around and see if I could come up with any suggestions.

The Dutch Quarter, where I live, is a really old part of Colchester. I have been told, that two of the main roads in the area that lead onto the High Street (West Stockwell Street and East Stockwell Street) are 2 of the earliest roads in Colchester. The Dutch Quarter certainly has some very old buildings and much of it is built on top of a Roman Amphitheatre. 

You can see some pictures of it on this post when I was moaning about lampposts...:

If you dug down deep enough under the Dutch Quarter I'm sure you'd find some very juicy treasure. We have found several bits of old glass in the garden which I believe to be Roman and the previous owner found a glass vase which he kindly left for us (along with a basement full of shit, old wardrobes, a hole behind the wardrobe, an immovable piano and the entire coat of fur from his dog. Its a good job he moved to Australia thats all I can say). 

Glass from the garden.

However, you wouldn't be allowed to just dig down willy nilly, as the Dutch Quarter is a Conservation Area. Or is it? I was under the impression that it was but from my experience of living here it does not seem remotely protected by the Council. Since I have been here:

* Solar Panels have been approved on roofs.
* Traditional black lampposts have ben removed and replaced with modern ones
* New houses have been built, in no way sympathetic in size or style to the surrounding area/buildings.
* Painting has been allowed on an old Church in a garish colour and the job has only been half done.
* Building work has taken place with no planning persmission and again inappropriate to the surroundings.

So you see, its a bit hard to know, what the 'Conservation Area' status means round here. I think perhaps I believe it means more than it actually does. I would expect the Local Conservation officer to do a regular walk about to check nothing untoward is occurring and at the very least have an approved colour palette for exterior paintwork. But I don't think either of things happen/exist.

Anyway, I digress. Yesterday I had a quick mooch around and came up with a small list of improvements that may or may not be acknowledged. I didn't want to suggest anything too grand as there would be no chance of them happening, but a few small, hopefully reasonably priced, ideas might get taken on board and would go a long way in improving things not just for residents but also Visitors to Colchester.

* This overgrown patch is on St Helens Lane. I don't know who it belongs to but its totally neglected. However, its quite a big area and could be cleared as a Community Garden Space for Wildflowers and we could get some 'Seedbombs' There quite a lot of flats in the area and those residents / children may enjoy the chance to get involved with some gardening.

* Or the space could be used for growing vegetables 'for all' and we could tap into the 'Incredible Edible Network. Check them out here:

* Repaint all the lamp posts and bollards, most are peeling as you can see here.
*Also, remove all the out of date Planning Application Notices. 
CBC love sticking them up and almost NEVER take them down. Sloppy.

*Remove the Modern Lamp posts and reinstate the Traditional Style ones. 
This thing looks like something from 'Mars Attacks' and sticks out like a sore thumb.

* Repair this damaged chain on Shortcut Road.

* Maybe repair these damaged slabs on Stockwell.

* Fill a few potholes. West Stockwell Street got resurfaced but none of the surrounding streets did and are in very bad states.

* Have a good old fashioned Noticeboard somewhere central i.e. by the Church on St Helens Lane for all Local things going on. I am still amazed about the lack of PR for most things in the Town and the amount of things we seem to miss. I would be happy to keep an eye on this, update flyers/leaflets, hold the key etc. It might add to the sense of Community but would certainly help disseminate information about local events.

* There is very little information around about the history of the Dutch Quarter if you walk around. So we could get some Information signs like the new ones outside the Castle to put at Historic places in the area i.e. St Helens Church / St Martins Church / Signs to let people know the history of the Dutch Quarter / The house where 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' was written.

* And finally, probably my biggest bugbear of all. I don't know if this is in the Ward or not but basically, someone needs to paint this bridge. The Council have spent a lot of money trying to highlight the walk from the Station to the Town yet completely missed painting this bridge, which by the looks of it, is pretty important! Important enough for a sign in the pavement but not important enough to preserve, protect and enhance with some paint. Bonkers.

So there you have it. Nothing ground breaking, nothing that a quick walk around the area wouldn't seem obvious to most people I'm sure. Hopefully, none of these ideas are too expensive and as I have said, I am happy to help where I can, so Counsellors, it's over to you.