Once upon a time, she was the life and soul of the party.
Years later, she seemed soulless and unresponsive.
My Auntie Ann suffered from issues of mental health.
Sadly, my Auntie Ann passed away on Friday.
I wanted to tell Auntie Ann's story.
Although her full story I do not know. In the recent years, her words were minimal; she was subdued and silent.
Mental health issues had well and truly got her.
From having a sparkle in her eye, she quickly changed to hiding her eyes. Depression, anxiety and probably schizophrenia grabbed her vivacity. From being happy and bubbly, outgoing and smiley, to...well let's say ....several psychiatric hospital admissions.
She didn't want to be alive.
She was paranoid.
She was sad.
Having two sisters who look very similar to me, my Auntie Ann would say “Mell, Nats….oh its you, Tracy!” I would sit beside her and ruffle her hair just as I would with my gran. I would try to bring the life and glow back to her. I would tell her about my travels and she would ask about my studies in attempt to figure out ‘what I was going to be when I grow up.'
My Auntie Ann loved a wee gin. As a teenager, I did not. My first taste of gin was a sneaky swig of the remnants of my Auntie Ann's miniature stash. She stay with us from time to time and would enjoy a tipple or two. She also liked a game of bingo. She was a very kind and charismatic woman who truly cared about her family and would have done anything for them.
For Mental Health Awareness week I really stepped out my comfort zone by writing about issues of mental health. As I wrote each day, I would think about my wee auntie hoping that she was feeling well. I would think, “I better give my Auntie Ann a phone”.
This may be very outlandish but last weekend, I was overcome by a strange feeling. A strange feeling that something bad was going to happen. I tried to avoid this feeling and not think about it. Soon after, there was an ambulance on my street and I thought “it must have been that!” Then there was the horrible incident in Manchester and I thought “maybe it is that!” Nevertheless, I still couldn’t shake the feeling and I still did not call my aunt.
On Thursday evening when I was away on a writing retreat, I ‘taught’ a yoga class to my fellow PhD students and I got a strange pain in my chest. I made note that this was indeed peculiar and then carried on the practice. On Friday, I was informed that my Auntie Ann had started to get chest pains on the Thursday evening and then, sadly, died of pneumonia.
I do not profess to be a ‘psychic’ but I do believe that my gran is my little angel who plants messages with me. Psychics have told me to try tune to messages as I have a 'gift'. I am not sure that is true.
I wanted to write this blog in memory of my Auntie Ann and devote time to acknowledge the struggles she endured with mental health issues.
My Auntie Ann was a brave and beautiful woman. Sadly, her mind often got in the way of her smile and stunted her happiness. Her mood and coping fluctuated and although she tried various methods of treatments, her mind was too stubborn. The mental health problems were just too powerful.
My cousin Kimberly is making ribbons for Mental Health Awareness to give to people at my Aunt’s funeral. That is a gift she is giving. My yoga teacher recently raised money for Mental Health Awareness. That is a gift she is giving. My aunt would have gifted her last penny to any family member. The gift she gave, however, was just being herself. She was a beautiful and loving human being who, despite often feeling in darkness, would make the room light up.
This is my gift to you and a gift to my aunt. I ask you to cherish time with loved ones, to take time to understand those with mental health issues, and to seek support when things get tough. Only by raising awareness of mental health will we break the stigma attached to it. Only by learning and understanding issues of mental health will we be able to support our loved ones. Cherish, learn, and support.
Everyone suffers from stress from time to time. There are times of the year which are significantly more stressful than others. For university students, exam time can be extremely stressful. The days or hours leading to a big exam can bring about symptoms of anxiety and worry. For other people, day-to-day life can feel extremely stressful when trying to juggle housework, relationship and work demands. We often hear people say “argh, there aren’t enough hours in the day.”
Too much stress can take a tremendous toll on the body and unnecessarily drain energy resources. When we are in a constant state of stress, our sympathetic nervous system is heightened and our body and mind are tense. An estimated 80 to 90 percent of visits to the doctor are stress-related. With the limited time that doctors have with patients, it is not surprising that less than 3% of doctors are able to discuss stress-reduction techniques.
Some people find that they smoke, drink, or eat unhealthy foods in response to stress. But these types of activities can actually increase stress levels, making them very counterproductive. We all know that exercise is an effective way to reduce stress, as your body releases ‘happy hormones’ that boost your mood when working out. Unfortunately, exercise is often the first thing to be cut out of our day when feel particularly stressed.
In a recent national survey, over 85% of people who practised yoga reported that it helped relieve stress. Specific yoga poses can induce the relaxation response in the body. Calming and restorative poses along with controlled breathing activate the parasympathetic nervous system, bringing the mind and body to a calm and relaxed state.
Yoga also interrupts worry cycles. Many of us know what it is like to be stuck in a worry rut and be consumed by our thoughts. When we step on the yoga mat, we have an opportunity to step out of the cycle. Yoga gives us the opportunity to practice letting go of these worries and focus on our body and our breathing.
I think Yogabomb’s headline speaks for itself and how it is a place that people can go to alleviate stress:
Yogabomb is for normal, busy people who want to get fit, toned, balanced and stretched while taking time out to create headspace and mental calm.
Another great coping mechanism for stress is to make a human connection. At Yogabomb, you instantly feel welcome. The people who attend are amazing and beautiful. Lou has created a community feeling within the studio. Whether you want to sit quietly in a corner or join in with the natter and patter, Yogabomb is a wonderful place to alleviate stress through both the physical benefits and the benefits of being part of a community.
To conclude my final blog for Mental Health Awareness Week, whether you have a long-standing mental health condition or you are just having a stressful day, I believe yoga will help you. Yogabomb is a wonderful and friendly place to find your flow. Thank you to Lou for being open about mental health, donating money towards a wonderful cause and being an inspiring mentor.
Counting calories, cutting out carbs, fasting for days - so many people spend their lives obsessing over what they can and cannot eat. People set themselves goals "No bread/wine/chocolate/insert other delicious treat here." They become consumed by these self imposed rules.
Sometimes people believe they will be happy if they can just achieve the "perfect" body size. They convince themselves that if they lose a stone or drop a dress size then their lives will be complete. They believe they will be happier and more successful. Their entire existence becomes bound up in their weight loss goal.
I used to teach a program called "Health 4U" in schools to 3rd year girls. In one lesson we focused on fad diets. As part of this lesson we watched part of Louise Redknapp's documentary "The truth about Size Zero" and the horrific time she had while significantly restricting her calories for a month. It was extremely alarming that many of the 15 year old girls in the class had been on similar diets and were fixated on being a certain (often unachievable) size.
Unfortunately, diets can go awry and turn into obsession. More often than we realise, they develop into eating disorders. The line between diet and disorder can be a fine one. I have encountered both sides of the line through my experience in psychology in elite sport. Some sports require that participants are a certain weight to compete. This can result in strict diets and compulsive exercise. Although such target weights are legitimate aims, the fixation and obsession required to achieve them can cause emotional and psychological turmoil. The cause and circumstances for each individual suffering from disordered eating are different. I have shared below a particularly powerful and personal account of a very brave anorexia nervosa survivor to round off this blog.
Tracy Donachie, MSc in Performance Psychology.