Turning a negative Sunday into a positive (Blog 10)

Today wasn’t such a good day for my mind.  It was foggy and I was unable to think.  I didn’t want to go outside.  I couldn’t remember if I had taken my medication or not, perhaps that was the problem, so I took a pill just in-case.  I was supposed to be meeting my friend, but I cancelled as I couldn’t face being around other people. 

I was lying on the couch, wrapped up in a blanket, and reading a book with Maria cuddled in beside me, when a man began shouting and swearing in the close, for the neighbour downstairs to let him in.  When he was let in, there was angry shouting and swearing from both parties.  Immediately my heart rate soared, my muscles tensed, and I stood up, ready to fight.  This may sound an extreme reaction, considering I was safe in my flat, but years ago, before I was a fully-grown adult, I had been in situations where I had to fight my way out of.  I was noticing a pattern in my anxiety.  I listened as the man got thrown out of the flat and he continued swearing out onto the street and I was left with an uneasy feeling.

I wasn’t up to meeting my friend, but I decided to turn my afternoon into a positive experience and have a spa day.  I enjoyed a big bubble bath with essential oils, used a Himalayan salt scrub and then listened to music whilst I did my nails.

This positive action put me in the space to be able to take Maria out for a long walk along the canal.  I was quite proud of myself.  

Maria hates water and hates mud.  But she has a thing, about chasing birds … when they are flying in the air … there are no limits to what this girl thinks she can achieve lol.  She was so absorbed in chasing this bird high in the sky that she ran through all the muck of the canal side, which had been drained for repairs. She was covered in thick yukky mud, with a look that said she had no idea how it had happened.  Other dog walkers passing by, were laughing and making comments at how muddy Maria was.  Walking back, I envisioned lots of different scenarios of how to get her clean.  In the end I went for the bucket of water and cloth, out the back of the flats, but that failed as the mud was just too thick.  So, I ran a small bath and carried her in, speaking softly and getting mud all over me.  Maria was not amused, though she accepted her fate with no resistance.  It took her many hours after before she raised her legs in the air to have her belly rubbed! Lol

Before I went to bed, I reported my neighbour to Falkirk council via their website.  I didn’t like doing it because I genuinely like my neighbour and have so much respect for him.  But I can’t go on like this.

Ishbel xxx

I joined a local bike club! (Blog 9)

Today was a good day!  Yesterday I had my psychiatric assessment and was told that due to lack of resources, I would wait 3 months for group therapy and psychological services in Falkirk, has an eleven-month waiting list. 

On average, 2 people die each day from suicide in Scotland and around 70% of those are known to mental health services in the year prior to death, according to mentalhealth.org (ref 1). 

Going on the rate of deteriation to my mental health, I’m sure as hell not waiting for professional help to get better!  No way … I value my life too much! 

I have no control over waiting times or a faulty ‘system’, so instead I shall focus on the things I do have control over … like getting my body and mind ‘fit’ and becoming knowledgeable and gaining understanding of the subject.

I remain mindful, to only introduce a couple of new habits into my life at a time.  If I attempt to create many new habits all at the one time, the likelihood of long term sustained change diminishes.  This I know from personal experience, but also from the life coaching part of the 2-year Holistic Therapies and Stress Management college course I did many years ago.   

I know that cycling will improve my mental health.  It’s scientifically proven.  Cycling is a powerful anti-depressant, and you can pedal your way to an abundance of serotonin, dopamine, endorphins and cannabinoids.

So, the first step in my action plan is to find a local cycling club.  I’d thought about cycling with a club many times, since I moved into my home, but I just couldn’t be bothered to get up and go.  Now my mental health depended on it. 

So today I went along to Stirling Bike Club’s 30-mile development ride, one of many rides departing from the Peak Sports Centre on a Saturday morning.  I was a tad nervous, as I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep up.  I know that sounds strange, giving all the cycling I’ve done, but I’ve been cycling on my own (or with dogs!) since 2014, and I don’t measure how fast I cycle.  But the Development Ride’s rule that no-one is left behind, took my fears away.

I loved my morning cycling with Stirling Bike Club.  Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, and I was amazed at just how many women were out!  As soon, as I got home, before I even had my bath, I had officially joined the club!   

Riding with a bike club gives my cycling structure, which seems to bypass my lack of motivation to get out and ride my bike.  I’ve got a habit of isolating myself (and then feeling lonely lol!) when I’m not doing so great.  Cycling with a club gets me healthier, happier and reconnected to the community.  The way I see it, if I’m only making a couple of positive changes at a time, I might as well try to tick as many good affects as possible with each change I make. 

The second positive change I am introducing into my life, is to read books on mental health, written by those who are seen as experts and recommended to me from journalists and readers of my blog.  If you have any recommendations, please post a reply to this post publicly or use the website’s contact form in private.  Already this is helping me tremendously – to feel secure about taking control back from the helplessness that waiting times present.

You can find out more about Stirling Bike Club’s rides here. I’m going out with the development ride again this Saturday 30th March, if anyone in Stirling, Falkirk or Clackmannanshire has fancied trying out a bike club but hasn’t yet – perhaps you’d like to come along too 🙂

Ishbel xxx

(ref 1) https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/news/success-scottish-government-establishes-new-body-tackle-suicide

Today I had psychiatric evaluation. (Blog 8)

I woke up with Maria licking my nostrils – she was really into it.  I opened my eyes in disgust and saw Maria with her eyes wide-open staring into mine.  Satisfied I was awake, Maria lay down, with her head on the other pillow and lifted her legs into the air so I could stroke her belly.  She sure was cute, but what a wide-o! lol

Today is psychiatrist day. 

I took Maria for her morning walk … I didn’t have the energy for walking, so I took her to a big park, where she likes to run around and sniff out squirrels, as I wandered at my own slow pace.

I was nervous.  I’ve seen a few psychiatrists in my lifetime, all with different diagnosis and the one I saw in Falkirk 5 years ago, prescribed medication along with a diagnosis of bipolar, which I refuted, knowing I didn’t have bipolar. 

I cycled to my psychiatric assessment in an old hospital and it felt like I was on another adventure, but an adventure with my mental health rather than to explore foreign countries.

Present in the evaluation was a psychiatrist and a mental health professional.  Both were amazing but it was the mental health worker who blew me away with his practical experience and knowledge.  He said he saw people every day with my same symptoms and that it wasn’t my fault.

I described traumas in my childhood and as an adult, and I cried throughout.  I was asked many questions about many moments.  I also told them what I’ve been telling my GP, that I’ve been having my period twice a month for several months now and asking for hormonal imbalance tests.    

At the end of my evaluation, I was told it sounded like I had complex trauma but it would be a 3-month waiting list for group therapy.  That’s the best they could do for me because of lack of resources. 

I had just spoken about many traumas and was told I would have to wait 3 months to get help.  Really NHS?  Surely, it’s better for the client, to have an evaluation speaking about such things just before going into therapy?  To speak about things like that and having to wait on your own for 3 months for therapy?   Is it me or are you putting the client further into demise for your evaluation without immediate support?

I cycled home, deflated, then called the psychology department, as I had insisted my GP send a referral there too.  The NHS waiting times for mental health support are well known and even though the GP thought it best I wait for the psychiatric evaluation, I absolutely insisted as I knew I would be referred there anyway and I was right.

I was told there is an 11-month waiting list for psychology services In Falkirk and I was given an assessment period at the end of May, but I knew I would have many more months to wait for actual help.

I began to research online but couldn’t find information on who made the decision that an 11-month waiting time was okay and not putting patients at risk.

I made a few phone calls and then made 2 official complaints.  People are told that the waiting times are due to demands on service, but what I want to know is why the NHS service is inadequate for demand.  Is it because of lack of funding, in which case I’ll take my quest up with the government, or is it down to allocation of funding, in which case I’ll deal directly with NHS.

I had held on so long for this appointment, thinking when I had it, everything would be okay, because help would be in place.  But I was wrong.  I’m on my own for some months yet.

The way I see it is, when you are being evaluated, the demand is so high, that you are being evaluated for risk of committing suicide, rather than risk of deteriation to your mental health and life.  I hate even using those words now, ‘mental health’ … it’s health we are talking about … but when you put mental in front of health it takes you out of the 18-week NHS promise for treatment.  So already you are at a disadvantage. 

When I made my phone calls, trying to find out why it had been decided it was okay to have an 11th month waiting time, the sentences that were being spoken to me could make sense, unless you are going through it yourself, then you realize it’s lies.

Group therapy now seemed appealing to me though … two birds with one stone … therapy for me and I could perhaps stir up a bit of a core movement to improve things in Falkirk.  

People with mental health difficulties need to be speaking out … their live life experiences against the support they are getting when asking for help.  Unless of course, I’ve missed an organization who is supposed to be our voice … to which, I say you are failing.

After my psychiatric evaluation, I couldn’t even take Maria out for her walk.  So, I messaged a friend who came to take her.  Not being able to take my beautiful Maria out for a walk is tough.  She doesn’t need a lot to keep her happy and I can’t even do that.  Also, I’m aware of Lucy.  She died on 26th March.  It will be that date in a few days time. 

Disappointed with NHS Forth Valley but hopeful we can be the change that needs to happen across the country.

So guys the next few months is me, Maria and you … totally deflated, but there’s a fire in my belly about the state of ‘mental health’ care in this country and I’m a tenacious bugger so all is good.  Plus there is Maria. 

Ishbel xxx  

My New Home & Fears About Speaking Out About Mental Health (Blog 5)

Normally I wake up early and I’m ready to kick start my day, but this morning I didn’t have the energy to get up, so I lay in bed longer.  Finally, duties call, and I got up to take Maria out for a walk.  Then I went to the doctors and asked the GP for hormonal imbalance tests but was told there wasn’t such tests and was advised to make an appointment for a smear test.  Afterwards we could take it from there.  I found it hard to believe that hormonal imbalances couldn’t simply be tested.

Afterwards I went to the library to pick up a book about PTSD, it’s called ‘The Body Keeps the Score’, by Bessel Van Der Kolk and was recommended last week by a wonderful BBC journalist, after she interviewed me.

I cooked myself a healthy dinner with lots of salad.  And I published my first blog post from this journal.  

So that was four positive things I did for myself.

But then I didn’t brush my hair and I made a commitment to myself some weeks back, that I would brush my hair every day … which I’ve only managed a handful of times.  I think that commitment is too hard … I shall drop it and think of another one that’s more realistic … like cycling forty miles each day.  Mind you, I cycled most of twenty countries with no hair brush! lol

I have wanted to blog about mental health for some time now.  To break down stigma but also, I had a strong feeling that I was meant to embark on this journey.  I set up the new Ishbel Holmes website and then chickened out.  Fear of what people would think of me and worries that blogging about mental health would present limits on my professional life, set by others, because of stigma. 

But the flame inside me grew much bigger than my fears.  Plus, the longer I had returned to Scotland, the more I came across highly capable and successful people struggling with their mental health in silence – a secret hidden from the world because of stigma.   

The first blog post I published involved two embarrassing admissions for me … one that my mental health had went to shit and also that I had called the Samaritans.  I dunno why I worried – over a thousand people read my blog in the first hours of publishing it and messages of support, encouragement and acceptance came flooding in, along with stories from people experiencing similar things … my readers had taken away any fear I had.

I went to bed satisfied that I’d had a good day, focusing on the positive steps forward I was taking. 

I read the preface of ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ but was so tired I fell asleep.  Maria was in her deluxe bed, which she loves so much, next to a radiator in the living room, but I knew the next time I woke, she would be lying beside me … possibly snoring.  I remember when I camped in tiny campsites at the beginning of walking the West Highland Way … tents crammed in next to each other and there’s Maria snoring like a trooper and everyone assuming it’s the human not the dog.  Then god forbid anyone who made a night time trip to the toilet … Maria would be sitting to attention and barking from inside our one-person tent.  I decided it best that we wild camped the rest of the way! 

Awoken from my sleep, I bolted upright in bed at 12.50 am … Maria was sitting upright too and growling.  I immediately panicked.  The front door.  Someone’s trying to get in my front door.  Think Ishbel, is it locked?  Yes, its locked.  Okay no threat from the front door.  My heart was thumping, and senses heightened to the peaks of the Andes … I listened …. a man was out back, trying to wake the neighbour downstairs by throwing stones at his window and calling his name.  I could hear him drag over a wheelie bin, standing on it for leverage.  I hoped whoever it was fell inside the bin.  Maria’s growling grew louder, and I brought her in closer and cuddled her, telling her it was okay.  A few moments later, I heard the bangs of the security door out front – someone was trying to kick in the door of the close.  I leapt out of bed and straight out into the close in my pajamas and bare feet – a big tall man, who looked like the walking dead from his drug addiction was wobbling about. 

“Do you know what time it is?” I asked.  The man looked at me … “what?”  

“Do you know what time it is?” I repeated.  Damn, I forgot to have an angry voice … he thinks I’m genuinely asking the time.  “I dunno,” came the reply.  

“Well its one a.m. in the morning and I’m no having this ….”

“I’m really sorry it’ll no happen again”  

“How did you get in the close door?”

He made a motion with his shoulder, “I just gave it a wee shove.” 

“Well dinnae do that again – I’m no having this – all the noise – all the shouting and swearing,” The man, struggling to stand upright, could tell the best way out was to keep apologizing and promising it would never happen again.  

I got back into bed wide awake, heart pounding.  Right Ishbel, calm down.  Heart still pounding.  There is no threat Ishbel, it’s over, calm down.  Deep breaths.  But it would be a few hours before my heart stopped racing and I could go to sleep again.

I wondered if I hadn’t had the experiences when I was younger, would I go straight into flight or fight mode the way I had?  Or would the chemicals reset and bring me back to equilibrium quicker?  Many years ago, when my life was bad, that sort of thing would have been a genuine threat.  I can’t remember this, it only sounds familiar to me, but when I was 18 years old people kicked in the front door and I was held down while my boyfriend’s place was robbed.  But that was the unsafe world I was in back then.  I knew I was safe now, but I didn’t feel safe.

I suppose my high alert began not long after I moved into my new home.  A nine year -old boy was trying to get into a flat downstairs to ‘batter’ the boy who lived there.  I told him to leave or I would call the police.  The boy threatened to take a saw to my throat and then threatened me with his mum and dad and that all my windows would ‘get put in’.  I didn’t call the police because I knew this boy has been terrorizing adults and kids in the scheme for years and the reality never changed, even with police involvement.  But after that, I didn’t know if his parents would be a threat, so when walking through the estate, I was always ready to protect myself.

One day my buzzer went and when I answered, it was the unmistaken ‘gone too far with the drugs’ voice of a female asking to get in.  I put down the handset without answering.  The buzzer went again and again.  Maria was agitated.  She gets stressed easily from her time on the streets.  Perhaps we are very similar, Maria and me.  I threw on my trainers then flew down the close stairs – I could see two women outside and I pressed the exit button so I could tell them to stop buzzing my buzzer as I had a dog.  But the two women tried to push past me into the close.  I told them they were not getting in and to stop pressing my buzzer.  They just continued to push through me.  So, I pushed the both of them right out the close door, and told them to go away, all the work men outside had stopped working and were looking on with open mouths at the commotion.

There are days when I don’t hear a peep from downstairs.  But regularly, when there are lots of people in the downstairs flat, they are all shouting and swearing and arguing with doors banging, which can go on for hours, sometimes all day.  It makes me feel uneasy.  Well, more than uneasy.  I go straight into fight or flight mode and my body tenses up and my heart races.  A couple of weeks ago I was giving an interview over the phone for the Daily Express and all I could hear in the background was them lot fighting lol   

To be honest I don’t know how to sort this problem.  I genuinely love my home, I painted it all white and went for a minimalistic look, to be the perfect setting for writing my next book.  I made a beautiful office, where I sit at a big desk and write, looking out to rabbits playing in the park, beautiful big trees and now that springs here all the daffodils too! It’s only one aspect that isn’t good … as described above, but I suppose because of my past maybe it affects me more?  Perhaps if anyone reading this, has had a safe life, could let me know if they would be affected this way or not?

Thanks so much!

Ishbel xxx

I’m not mad it’s just my … (Blog 4)

Woke up this morning and was almost jumping for joy … I got my period!  I leaned over and cuddled Maria telling her, I’m not mad … it’s just my period! 

I felt absolutely no anxiety all day.  Nothing … it was gone.  No dread.  It was just me … Ishbel … able to contend with the world just as she is and able to cope with the world just as she knows she is capable of.  A far cry from the state I was in the evening before.

I was leaving at 9 am, to cycle to a school to give talks, so I took Maria out for an early morning walk.  You can always tell if I’ve been experiencing high anxiety because Maria acts defensive towards me from other dogs. 

She loves playing with dogs and she’ll run up and jump and dance around them to play, and their owners let their dogs off their lead, because Maria is so damn cute, and they leap and jump about, tails wagging.  But should the dog come towards me, when I’ve been experiencing anxiety, Maria turns into a growling menace, to keep the dog away from me, leaving me utterly embarrassed.  Maria picks up when I’ve been highly anxious.  She doesn’t know why I’m anxious, so she minimizes threats, which in her world are dogs.  She would never hurt another dog, but by god her warning is ferocious from her time on the streets. 

I really enjoyed giving my two talks in the school and helped children develop their cycling skills, by playing games on bikes in the school yard.  I had so much fun and enjoyed playing the bike games just as much as the children.  

I didn’t feel nervous or anxious at all, and trust me, children are a much harder to please audience than adults, and they don’t hide their distaste or boredom out of politeness lol.  I felt awesome leaving the school and cycled home mostly downhill – and everyone knows how much I love downhills!  

I’ve been getting 2 periods each month for the last several months.  Which is not good for me as when it’s my time of the month, I have to step back from the outside world, I don’t give press interviews, and I don’t do public speaking events during this time, because I don’t have the same coping levels, I cry easily and my anxiety soars.  But this way of managing things wasn’t possible with two periods a month.

I went to my doctor a few weeks back to ask for tests.  I had asked the GP for hormone tests, but when I checked with the nurse taking my blood, she said my hormones were not being tested as such, but that my thyroid was amongst the standard blood tests being done.  My GP wanted to rule out that I had no tropical diseases.  I had mentioned I’d had a virus over winter, which caused a horrendous cough and meant I had to cancel radio interviews and podcasts in the USA.  She asked me if I was ever sick when cycling the world. 

To which I replied no … but then I said no wait … because I remembered the time, I was swimming in murky waters with giant waterfalls above and I got so sick the locals took me to a hospital and put me through the system using one of their cards.  I laughed when I saw the medical card belonged to a man.  Obviously, something like that would never happen here, but the locals had lived through a war and year long siege together, so if you were trusted by a local there was no questions asked.

Then I remembered, when my foot went incredibly swollen and I had a red rash, which was raised, spread up my legs and thighs.  I had to go into hospital for that.

The GP sitting in front of me now asked what had been wrong and I said I didn’t know.  She was confused because I had said I had been in hospital – how was it possible I didn’t know.  Well … I didn’t speak their language, so I didn’t understand what was being said to me.  They just gave me meds and I went to a hostel to recover.

A week later, the test results came back all within normal ranges.  I asked the medical receptionist, since I didn’t have a tropical disease, could my hormones be tested now but was told the case was closed and I would need to make another appointment with my GP, if I wanted any more done.  Well … pink elephant in the room … I’m still having 2 periods each month.

Mind you the great thing about that GP’s appointment was the prescription of a medication to ease my anxiety.  Now I’ve never taken medication for mental health before … no wait …  I did once get a prescription for anti-depressants from a vet (not in UK!) as I was experiencing extremely low mood after being rejected by family again.  I took the anti-depressants for a few weeks, then stopped as my mind went really ‘cloudy’ and I was unable to think.  Suppose here’s where I should put in a disclaimer … never get a human prescription from a vet and never just stop taking medication without consulting your doctor.   

I think there’s as equal a chance as not, that the problems I’m experiencing could stem from a hormonal imbalance.  I decided to go back to my doctor tomorrow and I’m only going to utter words I want my hormones tested, so there is no confusion.  

Today I wanted to die.(Blog 3)

This morning I went for our usual 8-mile walk with Maria, along the Forth and Clyde canal and using the magnificent Helix network of paths, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to travel throughout Falkirk on specially designated paths.  The sun was shining, the skies were blue, and it felt great to be out walking my dog!

Until of course we neared home, and Maria ran across the full length of a park and into a cemetery.  I was too exhausted to run or even walk fast and when I reached the graveyard, I was unsure which way to go, but two wide-eyed deer ran past me at speed, and so I knew to go in the direction, they were running from. 

I spent some time wandering around, whistling and calling Maria’s name, but knowing she would find me again.  I began reading the grave stones I passed and each one reminded me that I was alive.  And that life is short. And to make the most of each day.  Then Maria arrived covered in muck.  I knew I should have used a stern tone with her but she was super ecstatic to see me, and I couldn’t help but pull her into a cuddle, telling her how much I loved her.

As Maria lay sleeping on her tartan covered, executive chair, next to my desk, I spent the afternoon preparing for a couple of talks I was giving in a school the next day.  I found it difficult, not only to concentrate but for my thoughts to form.  There was a fuzziness in my brain, like I knew the answers and sentences were there somewhere, I just couldn’t retrieve them into conscious thought. 

This is why I am such a firm advocate of the wholly scientific term, ‘winging it’ … because I have to be.  Many a time, my mind just doesn’t allow me to prepare for stepping up on stage and without a fool proof plan such as winging it … I would worry too much and it would ruin my enjoyment. It helps that I’ve adopted a firm belief; that all I can do, is do the best I can.  This is an amazing belief to have but it does take commitment … to do the best you can.

It’s bed time and I don’t feel good.  I’m anxious.  I don’t want to do talks tomorrow.  I don’t want to go out and face the world.  How can I stand up in front of an audience and talk … I can’t even think … then the voice that gets me through everything steps in … because Ishbel you are phenomenal at winging it.  People are going to love you, so just be yourself … that’s all you have done so far … through all the anxiety and all the public speaking is just be yourself … people love authentic people, regardless of differences. 

Then I lie my head on my pillow and I cry … my thoughts turn, and I pull Maria in close … the only reason I am alive is for my dog Maria.  She is the only reason I don’t kill myself.  Maybe I didn’t have the guts when I was younger, but I do now.  I notice tiny little thoughts creeping into my head that Maria is better off without me, that she will be happier with another human. 

But how much Maria adores me and how sick she gets when she’s apart from me and how she yelps when she greets me, with her tail wagging for an Olympic gold medal.  The way all she wants is her tummy rubbed and for her eyes to be looking into mine.

Maria’s love is stronger than any of my thoughts trying to justify why it would be okay if I killed myself.  But my friend who killed himself, was surrounded by loved ones, so perhaps it’s not Maria’s love that is strong enough.  Perhaps it’s the chemicals in my head that allow me still to use reason. 

Maybe it was me who rescued Maria, but it’s her who’s helping keep me alive now. 

Because I just want it to end.  This pain that is life.

Ishbel xxx

(Please note this is a live journal of my mental health journey … my thoughts may not always make sense!  Each blog post is published 5 days after it’s been written so as to minimize people’s worry during my low mental health moments.)

Today I … burst out crying in a crowded cafe in front of my agent. (Blog 2)

I woke up with no anxiety and no feeling of dread.  I felt okay.

Jumping out of bed, my walk to the bathroom may have resembled the opening scene from the Sound of Music, located inside a council flat in Falkirk, rather than a meadow in Austria, and with the words being sung, “I feel okay … I feel okay!”

Today I was meeting my literary agent, Jennifer Barclay in Edinburgh.  I had planned on cycling to Edinburgh to meet Jen, but it was heavy snow, so I would catch a train instead.

Jen spends most of her time on a tiny Greek island with her dog Lisa.  But last night, she was in Aberdeen giving a talk and was travelling down to Edinburgh today to meet me, before catching a flight to London.  I thought this was super nice of her.  We could easily have talked business over a Skype call, but she travelled all that way to see me in person.  Jen studied at Oxford University, before becoming editorial and rights director for a UK publishing house, then a literary agent in Canada before branching out on her own as an agent.  I like Jen.  She reminds me of myself in some ways. There’s a wildness about her.  An untameable aspect.  Like she belongs to nature rather than the modern world.  Both of us love travel and are completely owned by our dogs but neither will admit it.

Perhaps it’s our similarities that made it plausible for 45 minutes to pass, with Jen waiting for me in Costa Coffee, whilst I waited for her in the bus station … or perhaps it was the fact I didn’t have a mobile phone.  Eventually Jen came to fetch me at the bus station and we both returned to the Costa Coffee.  It was heaving.  I stood in line with Jen, hopping around in anticipation for the hot chocolate with whipped cream, that Jen was treating me to.  There have been many changes to my life since achieving a home, but one thing that has remained constant is that I’m skint, albeit from paying bills, rather than travelling the world.

We sat down and as we chatted, I sipped on my hot chocolate, like the cat that got the cream, then bang, out of nowhere I burst out crying.  Now.  I’ve cried a lot in public … all over the world in-fact.  I can’t make myself cry, but when I’m in a situation with no way out, my stress response is to cry.  I never give a damn that I’m crying.  As a woman, travelling foreign countries on my own, crying always has great consequences in dire situations.

Like when my visa ran out and border patrol wouldn’t let me leave Bolivia without first paying a fine and I had no money to pay the fine.  I cried so much I left Bolivia.  Or when I wasn’t allowed on the Milan underground with my bike and I knew I would miss my flight.  I cried so much, with rush-hour-city-suits, waltzing by, that I got a security escort straight to the terminal, on the very underground that they said I couldn’t use.  Or when my bike broke in Brazil and after I kicked it, it still wouldn’t go, so I burst out crying at the side of the road.  People who had witnessed this from their cars may have laughed but they also called a bike shop in another town and a van appeared with a mechanic to fix it. 

But crying in the middle of this packed Costa Coffee, on a Saturday afternoon, in central Edinburgh, in front of my agent was different.  Because I didn’t want to cry.  And I was absolutely mortified. 

I wiped the tears from my face, over and over with my hand, glancing around, hoping no one around me could see, but the tears kept coming … so in the end I just sat, in front of my agent, tears rolling down my face.  Poor Jen!  There to chat about new writing ventures and there’s me stuttering the words … “I even called the Samaritans”. I probably repeated it a few times because it was as much of a shock to me as anyone else.  Nothing wrong with the Samaritans … they absolutely rock, but calling them was a sign to me of how shaky my mental health was and how desperate I was clinging onto the life I so wanted.

I told Jen everything, fully expecting her to offer some positive encouragement but expecting me to sense her mind sprinting away from my madness, with thoughts of God I’m not being her agent for another book. But I didn’t get that at all.  Jen’s authentic, concerned and genuine response offered support and … unity. 

I told Jen my fears of ending up getting signed off, unfit for work, that I wouldn’t be able to promote my book or do my public speaking.  My dreams could slip away from me, so easily.  

I didn’t let on my greatest fear though.  My greatest fear is being put in a psychiatric ward and being apart from Maria.  I was in a psychiatric ward many years before, because the police didn’t trust me not to kill myself. But with mental health you need to take one day at a time.  Stay in the moment.  Sure, my dreams could slip away from me, but they may not.  Sure, I could end up in a psychiatric ward … but then again, I may not.  I have enough to contend with, without becoming a fortune teller of the future! 

All I have control of, is right now, this very minute, this very second.  Well that last bit may be bollocks because I’m crying right now in a cafe and I don’t want to, but you get the idea.

We went through everything, with Jen offering to look after some media aspects that were causing me anxiety.  What I loved though was Jen never judged my ability by my mental health.  She gave me hope because she never changed the way she looked at me.  We even brainstormed some ideas for new books. 

Although I had cried for most of the meeting, I left feeling great. Jen probably needed a stiff drink! lol

It sure felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders by opening up and telling the world around me what I’m going through. Presenting myself, in all my fragility, yet with all my strength …. and still being accepted …. and still having the same dreams and the same goals as when I kept everything hidden from those around me, professionally and personally.

I got home and I sprayed my new Jo Loves perfume and breathed in.  Everything is going to be okay Ishbel.  Jo Malone was a fellow guest on Radio BBC 4’s Saturday Live programme with me.  She built her famous perfume business from nothing, sold it to Estee Lauder and is now on a new business adventure with her Jo Loves brand.  Her story really inspired me, especially listening to her speak about her recovery from breast cancer and yesterday I received a parcel in the post with a Jo Loves perfume and luxury candle with my name on it.  The gift card read …

‘A little Jo Loves for you to enjoy.  You are an inspiration and I have been telling everyone about your amazing story and your book.  Love Jo x’  

Every time I feel down, I’m going to spray my perfume and think of Jo’s kind words.

If you want to listen to the interview on BBC Radio 4 Saturday Live it’s at 46 mins 30 secs via this link https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0002ylc

Ishbel xxx

Note: This blog is written 5 days before publishing to minimize people’s worry when reading posts when my mental health is low.

Today I called the Samaritans … (Blog 1)

Today I called the Samaritans.  And then I called Breathing Space.  My anxiety about nothing in particular, has consumed me, along with a feeling of dread that something bad is going to happen. Which makes no sense whatsoever, because I know nothing bad is going to happen! Lol

I am fragile just now, so much so, that I fear a minor incident or stressful moment could shatter me into a million pieces. 

It was always going to be tough moving back to Falkirk.  The last time I lived here I had a full breakdown; the result of therapy gone wrong, when a therapist used CBT to groom me, rather than solely dealing with the anxiety, caused when a car knocked me off my bike.  In-fact, that was the only other time in my life that I had called the Samaritans … though … I had called them a lot back then because I had really wanted to die. 

Safe to say, with so many bad memories and triggers, Falkirk was not an entirely sensible choice of town for me to move to.  It felt like I’d be taking giant leaps backwards, towards the darkness that belonged to my past, rather than stepping forward even further into the light of the new life I had created.  

Finding a local authority with an obligation to house me would be the deciding factor.  In October of last year, I called Stirling Council, but was told I’d have to get rid of Maria to access homeless accommodation.  I got off the call and burst out crying.  Then I called Falkirk Council and I have to say I found their homeless department nothing short of outstanding.  To hear the words, we will do everything we can to house you and your dog.  If I could have reached through the phone and hugged the person on the other end I would have.

Of course, I had warning bells in the pit of my stomach about moving back to Falkirk, but it meant I could keep Maria.  I waited only one week for a flat and didn’t even need to go into a homeless unit, which after my experiences of homeless units when I was younger, was a huge relief.  I’m so incredibly grateful to everyone who donated furniture!  You gave me the best moving in present ever because when I look around all I see is human kindness!

I have achieved my goal … I have a home!  And I do love my home! 

But I wonder.  Is it worth it?  Is having a home worth the decline in my mental health?  I’m pretty sure everything would be better again if I packed up my life and got back on the road to cycle the world, with Maria in her dog trailer.  But I want to choose to cycle the world, rather than having to.

It was mid-January, when I visited my local GP’s surgery.  It’s always a big deal.  The first time you go to your GP to fess up to your mental health.  It’s a big deal because you’re taking responsibility and standing up to the world in that GP’s office and saying I am worth it. 

The GP agreed to send a referral for a psychiatric evaluation.  Referrals these days are done electronically, which takes minutes and is received instantly at the other end.

I knew it would take around two months to get an appointment, maybe longer, but my desperation meant I waited only one week, before calling to make sure everything was fine with my referral and that it had been received. 

For me it’s one of the scariest things in the world … witnessing your own mental health deteriorate and wondering what state you’ll be in when you finally get an appointment.

The psychiatry unit told me they had no record of me yet.  I called back the GP’s surgery and was assured the referral had been sent.  I waited a couple of weeks, then called the psychiatric unit again.  They definitely didn’t have a referral for me.  I panicked.  I called my GP’s surgery.  After investigation it was explained, with an apology, that the GP’s workload meant he hadn’t put my referral through.  It was now three weeks after I visited my GP, fessing up to my mental health and asking for help. 

A few weeks later and I got the letter with an appointment! My psychiatric assessment is the end of March.  Is it normal to be so excited for a psychiatric assessment??? Because I am very excited! To be taking action. To be moving forward. To be a hero with my mental health!

I have so many incredible opportunities opening up in front of me and I’m damn well going to make sure my mental health doesn’t keep me from experiencing them.  Just like I’ve rescued street dogs … I’ve turned the rescue cap on for myself.   

And even if the self rescue mission is unsuccessful, then at least I have an amazing life waiting for me …. exploring the world on my bicycle with my dog.  Not a bad back up plan! 

Ishbel x

Please note each blog post is written 5 days prior to publication to minimize people’s worry when my mental health is at low points.

Public Speaking and my Mental Health – How I Do It.

Tomorrow I’m one of the speakers at the Global Care Gathering in Ayrshire, Scotland. This international event, created by Who Cares Scotland, is for those who have experienced the care system and I’m amongst an incredible line up of inspirational speakers, sharing our stories in front of a global audience and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Maria is coming with me … not many street dogs from Brazil get to meet the head of a country!  Continue reading “Public Speaking and my Mental Health – How I Do It.”

My book is published in USA & I begin new mission re mental health!

My book was published in the USA and Canada today.  Notice the lack of exclamation mark that accompanies great achievements or events in life.  That’s because I don’t feel happy about it.  I don’t feel anything about it.  I know I should feel happy about it.  Or excited, but I just don’t.

To mark the occasion I was scheduled to record an interview this evening for The Outspoken Cyclist Podcast (USA) but I explained I was having a low mood day and suggested we reschedule because I simply couldn’t make myself sound happy.  Or of course we could record the podcast and touch on the subject of mental health and how low mood doesn’t give a damn about the awesomeness of having a book published in USA and Canada! Continue reading “My book is published in USA & I begin new mission re mental health!”