Mental Health Awareness- A battle that needs to be discussed

So I haven’t written a blog for….several years now. Well I have written plenty, the notes section on my iPhone is almost at the stage where it could be a book. But that is as far as they seem to get at the minute as I never build up the courage or find the time to set them free.  I felt that this month being mental health awareness month would be a good time to post this little blurb I wrote in September of last year. 

Living with a mental illness is hard! It is not a sign of weakness. It is not a plea for attention. It is a scream for help that no one else can hear.

Mental health is something that everyone is vulnerable to, no matter how strong you are, what sex, age, race or religion you are. It has a hold over you that I can not explain. On the outside you smile, look interested and string a conversation together. Hell – you can even look perfectly happy! But on the inside it’s often a different matter. You have a thousand voices screaming at you and you don’t know which one you are supposed to listen to. The smallest of decisions become HUGE and you want to curl up in a blanket and stay there until the fog lifts. 

I have experienced depression first hand. I know people find that word hard to use, DEPRESSION, but that is what I had in my second year of university when my parents divorced. The lack of motivation. The crying yourself to sleep, then getting angry for feeling sorry for yourself when so many other people are so much worse off! Then there’s the feeling that you have no control, the highs and of course, the deepest of lows.

BUT what about men?

We often hear about women who suffer from depression. Whether it’s a fragile state following an isolated event or an ongoing situation that is hard to overcome. Depression, anxiety, post natal depression, hormones – all common terms relating to the way women suffer or feel. BUT what about men?

Growing up in the farming community, depression was not something we talked about…and if someone was feeling a bit “down” it was discussed in a derogatory way. Examples include:

  • man up
  • pull yourself together
  • keep yourself busy and you will forget about it
  • just cheer up

The list goes on and it’s the same throughout so many different regions and cultures. So there really is no wonder that men either don’t realise that they have an issue or don’t feel that they can talk about it. Instead they feel like they are weak, less of a man and God forbid they should sit down with their partners or friends and ask for help. They close up like the forgotten souls that float through the days, weeks and months. Stuck in a reoccurring cycle.

This stigma has received a lot of press attention in the last couple of months. In particular a lot of footballers and other famous people have ‘come out’ for want of a better phrase. But there is so much more that needs to be done to #breakthestigma . 

I won’t lie, it aint easy!

Suffering from depression was something that I managed to overcome….for now anyway. I say this as it’s not just a case of being cured. Mental health is something I have to periodically monitor and battle with – like many others. However one of the most challenging obstacles that I have met so far is:

living alongside someone who is depressed

It’s maybe not be something you have considered, or maybe it is? Maybe reading this you are hoping for the answers? Cue disappointment, because no two people are the same. No two people have identical feelings and characteristics. The human mind is a complex tool, especially when it comes to the opposite sex. Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus is an old saying that springs to mind. So how can anyone even begin to fathom how to help someone else? For me, having been in the same position and state of mind as a loved one, yet still not knowing how to help is terrifying. Scarier than some of the horrid movies you always thought it was a good idea to watch with your friends at sleepovers – in the dark! 

It’s not all doom and gloom – I promise!

My experience has taught me that all you can do is be there and wait. I wouldn’t recommend that you literally be there and wait – following them around like a stalker and sitting by them every minute of the day probably wont help. Mental illness is something everyone tackles differently. Some people want space and some want a hug. You have to be the judge. In my case, I waited. Patience is a virtue they say. So I waited some more. I tried a few things and failed at a few things. So I waited a bit more. Then one evening, out of the blue, after hours of tossing and turning in bed the time came. The window into their mind opened and that’s where our journey began.

If there is one thing I have learnt about mental illness, it is not to hide it and not to face it alone! For me, refusing to talk about myself and supporting everyone else through my parents divorce was my main priority. However when everyone else was “over it” and moving on (my mother and her new partner included) I was still living in the past. I hadn’t had any time to register my own feelings and I fell…HARD. Counselling, a lot of missed lectures, trips home, food, alcohol and reckless behavior ensued. I now know that when I get to the point where I want to cry, it’s usually a good time to open up to someone and get it off your chest. But trying to force another person to talk to you about their feelings usually ends up with a change in topic, a shrug of the shoulders or quite simply – being ignored.

If you want to talk, there is always someone waiting! You just have to make the first move and ask for help. It’s not a weakness to ask for help – quite the opposite – it’s a sign of strength!

Remember, you are on the same team so when they are ready to let you in and ready to open up – they will. When that time comes, you can face it together, head on, and show the bastard that is mental health that we are stronger than we let ourselves think!

Smile, because it will get better 🙂

NOTE: I ran the great north run in 2016 for my chosen charity Mind and raised £530. This will have helped fund 3 local support groups for those who are at their lowest. If you need any support please visit their page or many of the others out there for advice and information. Whether you need urgent support or just want to find people in your area that understand how you are feeling – you don’t have to face it alone.

New Year, New Me….Probably what most people are thinking this January!

So, it’s been a while, but my fingers are flexed, poised and ready for the next blog.

New year new me! It’s what I, along with millions of others, say every year! But this year is different. How, I hear u cry. Well I’m not entirely sure, it’s only the start oif January after all. BUT the main difference is that I’m feeling more determined than ever. I repeat, it is only the start of January and things may or may not  change.

I have been quite busy recently and most of my time has been consumed by learning how to deal with my IBS! The doctors have finally, after many tests and somewhat intrusive procedures, ruled out ulcerative colitis and inflammatory bowel and told me to get on with things. Which is what I have been doing, or trying to do.

For once my IBS is (for the most part) under control, but I know I still have a long way to go! I am certain that ruling out all prescription drugs, including the contraceptive pill, has aided that. Alongside the no drugs, I have also started following the Hodge Twins and their ideals on intermittent fasting. Not only are they beautiful, but they have a wealth of vlogs on YouTube about fasting and exercise. The mixture of these two changes has really helped me and I hope to proceed with both until I’m at a happy medium.

One of my New Years resolutions is to complete the pic a day challenge. Yep, you guessed it, one picture, everyday, until 2015! So you can follow my life in pictures on Instagram @sofiagarcia4. I can’t promise any amazing photography, interesting or attractive photos, but I can promise you my efforts may make you smile!

Wishing you all a prosperous 2014. This is the year you can make a change, embrace it with both hands and make it one to remember!

Contraceptive pill…preventing babies but could it be irritating my bowel?

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Inspired by my partner, who is quite strongly against doctors and prescribed drugs, I recently visited a health shop. My boyfriend Paul has two prolapsed discs in his back, and is almost always in pain either with his discs or sciatica. Sick of popping morphine based drugs and living in his own little dream world with constant headaches, he gave it all up and went on a hunt for natural and legal pain relief.

The shop he found is local and run by a wise old man who has a labyrinth of herbs, spices, natural foods, teas, creams and lotions. So as I was passing by I called in for a chat about my illness. The guy seemed to know a lot about my symptoms as his wife is a fellow sufferer. He was sympathetic, understood the frustration I was going through and also could not believe that at 23 I was struggling as much as I was. He questioned what medication I was taking, if any. I explained that I had been prescribed anti-spasmodic drugs but was not taking them as I was keen to try to control my IBS with diet and natural remedies.

The shop owner went off at what initially felt like a complete tangent, and I nearly turned around and gave up with ‘natural remedies’ and ‘herbalists’. However, what he was saying started to actually make sense and relate to me and my bowels. According to him, a lot of prescription/over the counter drugs today contain yeast. He explained that once in your system, the yeast pulls up a comfy chair, in your cosy bowel and causes havoc by multiplying and producing gas. It does, I suppose, seem logical…right?

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Now this wise man also happened to be a wonderful sales man, as he continued to discuss the benefits of honey, which contains natural antibiotics. It just so happened that LUCKILY he had a large section of different honeys in his shop and we managed to find a nice looking jar of honey, produced by happy bees from New Zealand. And looking at the price, no wonder the bees were happy. They must produce honey in a gold palace! But I’m a sucker for a good sales pitch and was desperate for a solution.

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So, no prescribed drugs. No over the counter drugs. Just au natural! Well almost, the one thing I was not willing to stop was my small, round, cream in colour, daily dose of hormones…the contraceptive pill. Not only because of the obvious birth control factor, but also due to the fact that I don’t like the surprise of Mother Nature coming and going when she pleases. The one reason I started taking the pill was due to my highly erratic periods and being able to control as and when it was convenient for me was a god send! Therefore, I tried maintaining my pill, stopped all other medication, and started eating honey. Honey in my porridge, honey in my coffee, honey in my herbal teas and a spoonful of honey in the mornings. But, the irritable bowel was still…well…pretty irritable.

I pretty much gave up on honey and looked further into drugs. It was only when looking into what goes into my contraceptive pill Yasmin that I found my god send actually contained lactose. Having tried eliminating many different foods, I have found that lactose is one of my main triggers and I maintain a dairy free diet because of this…or so I thought. But, could one small pill really contain enough lactose to affect my IBS? Surely not enough to induce bloating, diarrhea, feeling sick, feeling lethargic and not to mention fed up!

Well there was only one way to find out!!! Goodbye pill, goodbye controlling my periods and welcome back mother nature, natural cycles, condoms and surprises! I will just point out that I didn’t consult my doctor about this, but having been on the pill for the best part of 8 years I thought it may do me some good to have a break.

Four weeks in and I’m like a new person. ONE bad day of bloating in the first two weeks, yes one! Since then, I have been spontaneous, even risked a camping trip and rarely have experienced any problems. I say rarely, as I have noticed one major change. The amount of toilet trips has DRAMATICALLY reduced. By dramatically I mean, reducing from 2 to 3 times a day to just one in my first week. Yes once in a week. This was, to say the least, an uncomfortable week, and since then it has leveled out to around once every 2 days. Still, for me, that is great!  I have reduced the amount of honey in my diet to a drizzle in my porridge in the mornings, or a drop in my coffee [when I remember].

YES, this may just be a coincidence as it has only been 4weeks. Or I may actually be getting somewhere with this constant battle!? Who knows, but at the minute I’m willing to resort to the good old fashioned condom if it means I feel relatively normal again! 

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Please feel free to comment if you have any similar experiences or if you would like to ask any questions. 

I guess that’s why they call it the [IBS] blues!

IBS suffers aren’t the only people that have the odd day where they feel down. The attack of the self esteem I like to call it. It just doesn’t want to be on your side, so you compete against it and more often than not, you don’t win.

Now maybe it just hits us females, I don’t know! I’m sure men get the same feeling. But whether they express it in the same way is a different matter. I always find that when my IBS is playing up and even my “safe foods” are causing trouble with my temperamental tummy, I have days/weeks where life just gets on top of me. Before I know it I’m drowning in a mess of emotions! Nothing is good enough. I wish I had more money, a better job, a thinner tummy, more excitement, maybe I should move, maybe I should stop being safe, maybe…just maybe.

drowning

Maybe…a good word really. For those safe thinkers like me, it can always be followed by the word NOT. For example, maybe one day I will pluck up the courage to drop everything, grab my bags and my boyfriend and shoot off on a plane to experience everything the world has to offer.

me n frog

Or maybe…not, you need savings, plans, no ties such as a house and bills….right? Well whilst the other half thinks not, I am too safe to pack up and leave everything with nothing that the clothes on my back and a pittance in my bank account.

My blue days consist of wishing I had more and worrying. And of course, we all know what worrying does to irritated bowels! They get more irritated and more gripey. So before you know it, you’re fed up, in pain, anxious and definitely not feeling ready to take on the world!

As you may have guessed, today is a bad day! The IBS has been pretty under control the last few days thanks to my lovely mummy and the wonders of aloe! Oh and maybe a little summer pimms.

mummy

However lack of sleep, dealing with the public every day and feeling uncomfortable has gotten the better of me this last week. So I have been left wanting more out of life, having the odd cry and waking up the next day feeling pathetic. FED UP.

Yes I may well be one of the few women on this planet that does not cry. So when it happens, I feel weak and pathetic, which for me is not something I’m used to. The last time I remember crying and feeling overwhelmed with emotion, trapped in a bubble with no escape was when my parents divorced 5 years ago. Of course, sometimes I have a good clear out of tears by watching the notebook or love actually, just to keep my tear ducts functioning, but the rest of the time, tears are alien to me. I wouldn’t say I’m a hard faced, cold hearted person, but having been bought up in a large, competitive, farming family, tears were not an option. You get on with things. IBS on the other hand, is something I’m finding hard to just get on with.

There are plenty of people out there suffering and worse off! I have a house, a good job, a car, an amazing family, a supportive boyfriend…I should be grateful…shouldn’t I? BUT instead we feel greed. For me once the IBS gets bad, the anxiety creeps up, the exhaustion kicks in and the depression pops up with a big fat slap in the face.

Welcome back depression and I hope you don’t say long. I have things to do and plans to make! This round the world trip for a start….maybe.

thinking

IBS….What IBS!?

So one week down and the detox/back to basics diet is over. Well I say over, it was actually not so bad so I have decided to extend it by another week and gradually introduce more foods into my diet one at a time, to try to identify patterns with my IBS symptoms. But for now, here’s how I got on over the course of the week!

 Wow…I’m actually having breakfast!

 For all of you who eat breakfast, good on you. It supposedly helps kick start your metabolism, keeps you full until lunch, prevents snacking, etc etc etc. Well breakfast each day was a new one on me. Yes, I am normally one of the many lazy people in today’s society who chooses an extra ten minutes in bed over breakfast. Come on, we have all done it one or two times!

Don’t get me wrong, at the weekends breakfast is the highlight of my day! Eggs, now that is a proper breakfast component. Like my delicious poached eggs and bacon on chunky bloomer. 

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Mmmm! Porridge on the other hand wasn’t so exciting, but I made a conscious effort to get up half an hour early to eat breakfast and make sure I had taken in some fluids. Surprisingly, having breakfast worked well for me. Until about half past 12 anyway, when my stomach turned into a monster, growling and grunting. 

Teaspoons, water and fast food.

By my 1pm dinner break I was ready for my baby food each day. Now about that, all the signs were good. Low in calories, low in salts and sugars, it smelt good, looked great [if you shut your eyes] and took all of 1 minute 30 seconds in the microwave. PING, if that’s not fast food I don’t know what is.

As I said in my previous blog, I was quite amazed with the range of flavours that are available to buy in jars. However, when it came to actually eating them….it was a different matter. All of the tomato based jars have a very similar taste and the others aren’t much different. I guess I can’t complain though, babies aren’t well known for being food critics with a refined palette. They eat whatever is forced towards their face as a choo choo train or an airplane! YUM.

 As the week went by I found creative…no scrap that….common sense tips that helped me keep the diet up. So here we go:

  1. If you eat with a teaspoon it takes a lot longer to get through a measly child’s portion and seems like it is going a lot further.
  2. Mixing a small amount of water in with the baby food turns it into a delicious thick soup consistency.
  3. Mix it up, add a bit of seasoning, or a small amount of grated cheese. [Make sure it is a SMALL amount though]
  4. DRINK! No not alcohol, just plenty of herbal teas and water.
  5. Don’t let yourself get too hungry. Have plenty of fruit/veggie snacks on hand.

And that’s it I’m afraid. The rest is down to will power!

Eeek, this is harder than I thought!

Now I won’t lie, I struggled on day one and two. The afternoons at work dragged on and I found myself almost running home and shaking like a drug addict wanting their next hit. The only difference was I was raiding the cupboards looking for crackers, not crack! Crackers and hummus after work were a gift from heaven. Not only were my teeth happy as they got to chew, my tummy was also happy as it had flavour and texture unlike baby food.  

There were also some difficult challenges on day one and two. Challenges that included doing something I am not very good at doing. Turning down food! Some delightful member of staff made coffee cake, carrot cake AND sausage rolls on Tuesday and as she paraded them around the office I wanted to cry. Normally I would have enjoyed all three and promised myself I would run it off later. Ha, that never happened as I was always too uncomfortable, bloated and lethargic due to my IBS and the amount of rubbish I had eaten.

 It wasn’t until day three when I arrived home from work, no shaking, no searching for snacks, just….well…normal. I wasn’t hungry! It’s a miracle….the foodie didn’t think about food. Even after an ab blaster session [which my partner kindly arranged for me] I wasn’t hungry. In pain and a crumpled mess on the gym floor, but not hungry.

 When mother nature graced me with her presence and the good old Mr P came to visit for a week I thought, SHIT. Craving for chocolate, grease and crisps normally kicks in during this time. And as a hormonal woman who can’t decide what to wear for work [even though I have a uniform] I thought I was going to have to give in. But Mr P came, he visited, and he left, with no cravings or side effects! Phew, thank god for that!

 Although mother nature didn’t crack me, my mother did! Yes when I went to visit her on my fifth day and pulled out my jar of Sunday roast with chicken she laughed and told me to put that “back in my bloody bag”. She had barbecued and was not going to have me sit in front of the other guests with a bowl of baby food. My two year old nephew wasn’t doing it and neither was I. For those who know my mother, I reluctantly returned the jar and allowed myself a small slice of crusty bread, barbecued chicken breast and salad and promised to keep up the good work tomorrow!

 Physical Exertion = Headaches!

 This was the only problem I faced throughout the week. Any form of physical exertion caused me to feel sick and have chronic headaches. I put this down to lack of fluid and dehydration on day one or two but even when I increased the amount of water I was drinking the situation didn’t improve.

 I was only consuming between 500 and 800 calories a day, so exercise probably wasn’t my best idea but I like to be active. Tuesday was my ab workout and Thursday was an almighty two matches of mixed hockey. [This wasn’t down to choice, more, lack of team organization!] Even my daily 0.82km walk to work resulted in a throbbing headache.

 Whether it was due to lack of carbs, sugar, water, protein, I don’t know! But during my second week I will have to monitor this.

Bowel Movements….sorry guys, please skip if you are prude!

Suffering with IBS has taught me not to be prude about things like going to the toilet and discussing poo. Yes, I said it, poo, and I will be saying it a whole lot more throughout this section so skip to the next if you don’t like it! I first realized something was maybe wrong with my tummy at 18 when I started going for a poo three or sometimes four times…PER DAY. I gradually improved my diet and managed to reduce this to about two or three times but more recently my body has been extremely unpredictable, even when eating my usual ‘safe foods’!

 The main issue I face is severe bloating and diarrhea. Believe it or not, in this picture I’m not pregnant, just suffering the usual bout of bloat!

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Sometimes I will finish my meal and have to make a mad dash to the toilet. This is worse if I eat something my body isn’t used to or if I go out for dinner. Now…at 23 years old it’s extremely frustrating and often embarrassing to have to do this!

 I must admit that it is definitely made worse by me worrying about going out for dinner or eating at other people’s houses. But I do worry as I don’t know if at any moment my tummy might decide it’s not partial to someone else’s cooking and having a meltdown. Going for a romantic dinner and leaving your partner sat alone in a restaurant for 15 minutes whilst u sit hot, sweating and uncomfortable in the little girls room isn’t nice for either party!

 I did think that eating baby food wouldn’t help matters at all and I told myself from the start that if it affected me in a bad way, I would stop straight away. But that’s where I have been proven wrong! I was a normal pooing person for 5 days! One poo on Monday and then nothing until Friday! And no, I wasn’t uncomfortable or constipated. Nor was I bloated and lethargic. It was like my IBS had gone on a small vacation. It only returned when I was forced by my mother to “eat some proper food” that I found myself alone and in discomfort on the toilet once more. Not through gorging or eating anything that upsets me. Just a small amount of salad and a bit of barbecued chicken!

 I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle sometimes.

 Lighter and happier!

 Well, the baby food diet sure does help shift a few extra pounds. My friend Helen was right about that. Whether it’s water weight [as they say] or actual wobbly bits, I’m not sure but reducing the amount of calories I eat each day has really helped me drop a few pounds. This has helped no end with the incentive to continue. Although I am ‘normal’ weight for my height I often think that losing a little weight would help with my IBS.

 Weight on day one = 11 stone 3 pounds [what I am 5 foot 7]

Weight on day two = 11 stone

Weight on day three = 10 stone 12pounds

Weight on day 4/5/6 = 11 stone. 

IBS, What IBS!?

 So overall my week was a success, apart from one small cheat! The issues I face on a daily basis with IBS were no longer present and I managed to lose a little weight along the way.

 By extending this back to basics diet into a second week I am allowing myself time to gradually introduce foods back into my diet which should help me identify problem areas.

 If you have any advice for me it is always appreciated! Or if you would like to ask any questions then don’t be scared to comment below. 

Back to Basics!

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Baby Food Diet….how bad can it be?

I’m sure this diet was created by some super skinny celeb and is old news by now, but my inspiration came from my good friend Helen. Helen = Queen of the quick fix/fad/crash/yo yo diet! She usually shifts a few pounds by eating baby food for a week, often before a special occasion when a little cocktail dress is required…or before a summer holiday when yes, unfortunately, a bikini is required. 

I must admit I was VERY skeptical to start with. When you are a self confessed foodie [aka greedy bugger] the thought of living off tiny portions of mush for a week is most definitely not the most appealing of things. HOWEVER, as a sufferer of IBS struggling to manage diet, pain, fatigue and bloating I thought it would be worth a try to detox my body for a short period of time! If a baby can do it I’m sure an adult woman can and if it helps me shift a few pounds then that would be nice too.

Many of the diets you come across can be extremely expensive and or include ingredients that your local supermarket does not seem to possess. The baby food diet on the other hand is amazingly cheap, if you do it my way anyway.  I got a fab deal at my local Tesco – 10 jars for £5. Easy! That’s lunch and dinner sorted for 5 days! £1 a day, can’t complain.

Granted, whilst most yummy mummy’s I know simply feed their babies a whizzed up blended version of their own meal, the diet i am following/creating/experimenting with [not sure which yet] is based on buying the jar variety. Yes that’s right, the low calorie, low fat, low salt, largely vegetable based jars of slop only jazzed up by the words Heinz, Organic, Cow and Gate or Mums own Recipe. Well, ok, the other good thing about them is that the majority [not all] contain no gluten, wheat or milk, all of which I have identified over the years as the main triggers to my tummy issues.

So…I have my jars of baby food in a variety of sizes, brands and flavours lined up in the kitchen cupboard, which initially petrified my partner! I have chosen 190g or 200g jars for lunch times and 220g to 250g jars for my evening meals. In actual fact, I must admit that the variety of flavours is actually quite impressive. Having selected 10 different jars from the daringly strange [mild curry] to the safe [chicken sunday dinner] I am equipped for the next 5 days. I am going to try and stick to the following plan, which should keep me nice and full:

Breakfast: Porridge…either the baby variety or Oats so Simple as it is already measured out in individual packets.

Snack: Fruit

Lunch: 190g or 200g jar of baby food followed by a yoghurt [alpro soya ones for me as milk is a no go with my tummy]

Snack: Hummus and 2 crackers

Tea: 220g or 250g jar of baby food followed by a small portion of jelly.

I say that this should keep me full, but then again I do sit here writing this blog having just eaten a huge portion of lasagne, salad and garlic bread, all washed down with a glass of wine!

I’m wishing myself good luck and I will keep you posted over the next week!