Tuesday, 14 March 2017

the supermarket (charli writes poetry)

possible trigger warning for anxiety/panic, hospital

the supermarket

it was the morrisons.
it's tucked away, a little way from
the big roundabout in the middle of town -
the morrisons we went to
whilst i was inpatient,
but never before nor after.

and it's just a supermarket
and if i told someone that it made
my breathing unsteady,
they would laugh and call me crazy -
roll their eyes and wonder
why i have to be this way

but we used to go and buy
snacks and the latest kerrang
(i needed to keep up with the music world
whilst i was cut off from the rest of it)
and when my dad visited,
eyes laden with concern,
we took him to the cafe there.
i had a toastie - it tasted like cardboard and dust
(what a true cliché)

my favourite thing
when i was there
was buying the christmas chocolate
feeling less alone
more connected to reality
not just the two corridors that made up the ward.

and it's just a freaking supermarket
i never thought it'd become my kryptonite
- not considering what else i've faced -
until we drove back into that car park
(two storeys, slightly disconcerting)
and i felt my stomach drop

and okay fine it's just a supermarket
but my mind associates it
with darkness and shouts and alarms
and being trapped -

or rather, the minutes i got to spend
not trapped, not with the darkness.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

the same, but different. (charli writes poetry)

Today I faced my biggest anxiety, which is seeing a family member after four years due to a really bad fallout. And now I'm home and want to process so... I'm going to write.

the same, but different.

i'm the same as i was back then
(four years ago)
pen all over my hands,
the frizzy hair,
my backpack full of books.

but i'm not.
i wear skinny jeans,
i have splints adorning my arms,
i learn concepts larger than life.

my values are still spelt out,
loud and strong
(too loud for most)
and i still tend to be cuddled
away in a hoodie.

but i've learnt how to be diplomatic,
how to do no harm but take no shit,
and i just know where i want to be.

and yes, i still wear trainers,
and no, i still don't like fish.
but i am not who i was
and neither are they.

their house felt so much smaller
but the situation was so so big.
and she -- she looked so withdrawn
and there was this lack of regret
but i am okay.

the hand-soap was the same brand
and they haven't even had a new tv.
the picture of me age 5 still lay on the mantelpiece...

there was such an air of vulnerability
tentative, tangible vulnerability.
but i am okay, and it is over now.

Monday, 13 February 2017

the frustrations of undiagnosed chronic illness

My name is Charli, I am 16 years old, and I suffer from chronic pain and fatigue. I have hypermobility, tight joints and muscles, but otherwise... no-one has said yet that there is anything specific wrong with me.

I'm in mainstream education, and on the face of it, I cope okay. I use a writing slope and wear splints, and I just get through it. I rarely complain, even in hour-long tests where I write 7 pages, or the lessons where I can barely move for the pain in my shoulders and back.

Nobody really knew anything was wrong until I started wearing splints, when suddenly all I ever got asked was "what have you done to your wrists?" with that sense of intrigue, the tone of the impending "get well soon". Their faces drop when I respond; sometimes sarcastically if I'm tired, seriously if I'm not. Their faces drop because they realise they can't say "get well soon".

Because there is nothing for me to get well soon from. This isn't going to go away, and will probably get worse, if the last few months have spoken for the future. I'm beginning to accept this, generally, but every time I see the drop in the sympathy, it's yet another kick. A kick that this is my life, my future, my reality.

Some days all I can think of is the pulsing pain, the cloudiness from the fatigue. All I want is to focus on my work, put down poetic words on paper, or simply work through a set of maths questions. I thought I knew frustration as a child, but nothing is worse than being in school, appearing fine, but battling a fog in my head.

I hate not being able to focus on the whiteboard, read the passage. Some days, my pens feel so heavy, metaphorically or literally; but my ability on the face on it provides no message.

The teachers who say I'm doing fine or talk about how much I've progressed since inpatient... well, they're right. In my strength, resilience, and reduction of anxiety, I'm doing extremely well. But they don't see the headaches, my annoyed tears when their 20 minute homework takes 2 hours. They don't see the hours and hours it takes to push information for a short mid-unit test into my long term memory, because my short has become practically non-existent. Cramming is no longer an option. Several of my classmates tell me that I'll be fine, because I'm smart. Because I'm clever. They will never see my screwed-up face half way through my exam, because even with my rest breaks my wrists scream at me.

And the thing is? This is such a concentrated version of my frustrations, because I don't feel this way every day. But there's this background level, because it's hard to accept. I'm sure I will, eventually. I'll get there. For now, I just keep going.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

a response to the government's decision to open more grammar schools

I was going to open this blog post saying something about simply, peacefully scrolling through my twitter feed when I saw this, until I realised that scrolling through social media is no longer relaxing. The atrocities that are Trump, Brexit and the general shambles of the world make for a lack of simple scrolling, and tonight was no different. I came across this article that told me that by 2020, there is going to be "£150m for short-term bids to create selective places within academies or expand existing grammars".

I have a lot of personal bias against grammar schools, but I'll go into that later, for there are far more important reasons why I truly believe that this is an awful idea. The overall idea of grammar schools is to take those who are intellectual in a subtly different way to others, shown by a test that is in no way similar to the KS2 curriculum; but this becomes completely redundant due to the likes of tuition.

By opening more grammar schools, you are not offering free places to an above-standard education to kids who may otherwise not achieve, because these children don't have the upbringing to want to go to one nor the money to be tutored for the test. They will not be like me, who took the test without tuition for the sake of it - because I had the motivation and valued education. Now, this is completely down to an individual, but by opening grammar schools, all you are doing is essentially opening a free private school. The people that go there have a motive, and often, it isn't by the parent.

The article says that "And under discussion is the idea that new grammars should be focused on "opportunity areas" which have been identified as having particular problems with underachievement and poor employment opportunities.". But this isn't how it would work - you cannot simultaneously focus on underachieving children while making them take a nationally selective test (the article also tells of a new national test, rather than local, as I took). They will not take the test. They will not stand up to those who can afford the tuition, or who have had that better upbringing.

That's not what the country needs, more schools that need to be tested for. What the country needs is to be putting more money into comprehensive schools that are of high quality. They need more money for SEND, particularly for access equipment and such - when I first met with my SENDCO, we were told that I couldn't really be funded; I go to a Walsall school, but I live in Birmingham, so neither sector wants to fund me. To both of them, I am not their problem. These schools need funding for the arts, for gifted and talented kids, for every single child's individual needs.

Having been to both types of school, I have found no gap in the education, only in the education styles. Personally, I don't think more schools with separate tests need to be opened purely for this purpose. My comprehensive school is supportive, targets individual needs and has high standards - but they are not the same for everyone. In my own experience, my grammar school did not look at the grades I could personally gain, and there were no sets, so we were always either lagging behind or bored because we were ahead.

There are several studies out there that say single-sex environments are bad for children, and from the amount of mental illness I have seen from grammar school students, I would agree. This is not only from personal experience but from seeing people on social media, seeing those from my old school... it's so, so common - it's damaging. This is only one article, admittedly from many years ago, but valid nonetheless.

I may be a sixteen year old girl, but I feel like I can say this with confidence: the government need to be focusing on improving the care of the majority, not the minority. Let's focus on the schools we have, make them better; make school places fair and consistent. Fund comprehensive schools that are of a lower calibre to their counterparts and build them up to what many others are, similar to my own.

Let's give every child the same access to a solid education - intelligent or not. Because every young person deserves it, whether they are going to someday be a massive part of the British economy or not, because it shouldn't matter.

Maybe I haven't quite gotten across what I'd really like to say in this post. But for now:

“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”  - Malala Yousafzai

Let every single one of us be that child. Give our teachers what they need to be that teacher. Give us those books, and those pens. There is a better way forward than what is proposed.


Monday, 23 January 2017

falling in love with life again [nearly a year since inpatient]

In only 3 weeks, it'll be a year since I was discharged from the inpatient CAMHS unit I spent two and a half months in. It's been an interesting year since, with plenty of milestones and I feel stronger than I have in years. Only five days after being discharged I was on a stage for a week; a month later I was back in school part-time. A few months later I sat my year 10 mocks and did pretty well considering the 5 months I had away.

A year on, I'm doing as well as I can in school. I've become a Cub Scout leader alongside earning my Young Leader and DofE qualifications. And even more than that, I'm falling back in love with living and everything is vibrant, rather than just flat and overall, just necessary.

I don't think anyone realises how bad a place they've been in until they're through it. During the entire period; from A&E to the date I was admitted, to discharge and even really until this summer... I never really considered the fact that there was a happier, stronger person waiting at another end. I've struggled with mental illness and difficulty since I was ten and while that hasn't been eliminated, I'm stronger and happier and I think the main thing is that I'm allowing myself to be proud of this.

One of my central emotions for a long time has been guilt tying to my friend's death and general low self esteem; and this has always obstructed my allowance to be proud of myself. With my therapist (who could not be better), this has completely changed.

I missed laughs that weren't empty and smiles that weren't hollow. I missed being passionate about projects and art and writing and Scouts.

I'm starting to get on public transport again, going to restaurants and concerts. I can make plans with my friends without my heart beating automatically faster, and even when my heart does beat too fast, it isn't the one in control.

Slowly, but surely, I am becoming what I want to be. Yes, I'm still disabled and I suffer from chronic pain, fatigue, anxiety... But I'm becoming okay with that. I am going to work as hard as my difficulties will allow, get the best GCSEs I can in my circumstances, get into the sixth form. And on top of that? I am doing those things alongside some of the best people in the world, who I love with all my heart; smiling, recovering and learning to flourish.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

trials, tribulations and triumphs (or a sort of: dear juno and nicola)

Today I attended a Birmingham Lit Fest event in which Juno Dawson and Nicola Morgan spoke about teen mental health and the stigma around it, and I just want to talk a little bit about it. I was previously unfamiliar with Nicola Morgan's work but the fiction extract she read was amazing and her non-fiction sounds brilliant also so I'll definitely be looking at reading some of her work.

So. This isn't going to particularly inform you about the event's content, it is more for myself, and I believe that could get quite rambly.

Every fibre of my being was invested in every second of this event. I walked in, equipped pretty much only with a cold that was dragging me down -  honestly, this morning I felt so rubbishy that I almost cancelled, but I knew I wanted to go. This held a weird contrast for me because I hadn't actually attended a book event since my inpatient stay, or since I stopped book blogging particularly, when I used to go with my DSLR and a notebook, and sometimes a lanyard swinging with my web address on it. And this was kind of scary, but I did it anyway.

And the reason I became so invested, regardless of my omnipotent headache, was because everything was so true and so relatable. Nearly every view I have about mental health, and education, and the relativity of struggle; they were pretty much all expressed and I think even if they hadn't I would have been just as invested, if maybe ready to make this blogpost a bit of a fight.

This event was special. I only wish it had been bigger like other events I've been to, but alas, less people want to hear about mental health than they would want to see Veronica Roth, so. It wasn't preachy and it was cut-throat in the best possible way - Juno's comment about people telling us to get over it because "we're not in the war" was so, so true. 

And the last time I met Juno, I was very different. I was (outwardly, anyway) healthy and believed I was straight, in a grammar school and no, no I wasn't happy but I was dealing. This time, I'm suffering with several illnesses. I know I'm asexual. I go to a comprehensive school where I get far more support. And interestingly, I hope she won't mind me saying, this was also before Juno came out, too - so I feel like we essentially met each other for the first time.. just again.

It's so important that we have these conversations, even if it's in a room of already quite aware people, because at least then we can go on and talk about it to others. And so, thank you, Juno, Nicola (and indeed the teens who organised the event!). Thank you for having that hour and a half of safe space, and letting me ramble my thoughts to you after; thank you for making me want to read again after a while of feeling down about it. Thank you.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

A High-Five to Mental Health Meds, Therapy and Inpatient Care

In the past few weeks I've seen several documentaries go past about anti-depressants and "how damaging they are" and "natural remedies" and such. I want to talk a little bit about this; because each time a new hashtag for one of these documentaries go past I have to see desperate tweets from so many people saying "please don't go cold turkey without your doctor" and "don't rule out anti-depressants!!".

So here's the deal - I was in a mental health unit for 3 months last winter. The majority of patients on the ward were placed on some form of medication, whether that be simply melatonin for sleep, a small dose SSRI, or even something more heavy duty if needed. Each patient was put on something completely tailored to them and monitored. We were all warned about side effects, we all KNEW what we were putting in our bodies.

In inpatient care, and I think some people have it outpatient too (though I don't), we also had something that's called PRN. This stands for "pro re nata" in Latin, and is essentially a very small dose of something to calm the system if needed. For most, this was promethezine, an anti-histamine with calming properties. I'm not being over-dramatic when I say that this essentially saved lives, because even on an extremely safe ward, bad incidents happened.

Personally, I was put on a medication that isn't actually an official anti-anxiety med, because I reacted badly to one; instead I was placed on a mood stabiliser which does the same job. Because of my previous reaction to a med, I was very closely monitored and the dose was put up even slower than normal. I got to the right dose to keep my anxiety down, and then we fiddled with the doses at morning/night because I was getting drowsy. I am still on this medication now, because it keeps me at a functioning point. However, we are beginning to look at a decrease now that I am functioning better - a slow one, because the reason you shouldn't go cold turkey on these meds is because the brain needs to get used to it. Withdrawal will not kill you.

I take these medications alongside two types of therapy. I do not take these medications as a simple way out of trying to deal with my conditions. Yes, I completely understand the stance that therapies and other methods should be tried before jumping straight to medications and I personally agree with that. If you are offered therapy for free or can afford it? PLEASE take it. I was SO cynical before my first CAMHS appointment due to some horror stories. My CAMHS psychologist is the best therapist I've had (and I've had quite a few!).

It is also worth referring back to the inpatient care at this point. They didn't just put us on meds and leave us to it, we had a very intense therapy schedule to try and get us back up to a functioning point. Individually, we were offered family and occupational therapy, psychology and 1-2-1s with staff. As a group, we had art therapy, drama therapy, Dialectal Behavioural Therapy, relaxation and psychology group.

But for a lot of us, our meds were what allowed us to take part in those and take them on board. It is all well and good having therapies, but if your brain isn't in a place where it can use them effectively, it is all pointless.

I colour when I am anxious. I use mediation apps for sleeping and SOS points. I have weekly therapy. I have systems in place at school. But my meds make my mind clearer. I was never forced to take them. I was with my doctors every step of the way. They were never the first resort, they were put in place several years after I started having therapy. 

I urge you: if you are suffering, please please please don't be put off mental-health medications simply because of these documentaries or the stigmas around them. They may not be right for you, but they could be, even if just for a short period of time (disclaimer, short being 6 months, not 2 weeks) so you can have a therapy and use it efficiently.  These meds aren't dangerous, okay? One may work better for you than another, like me with my reaction, but there is more than one type. 

Like everything, it is all a balance. For me personally, I don't think meds or therapy would have worked on their own. We found a balance, and so can you.

Just please, don't discount any of the options, whether that be being cynical about therapy or scared by meds. Go and talk to your doctor - they know best, not some documentary.