Monday, 3 July 2017

Mental Health + Relationships - with Curious Pandora!


I have been incredibly lucky with the people who have taken part in this series: every single one has had something unique to say, and I feel like each one has taught me something valuable that I hadn't thought of before. This is particularly true of Pandora, who I feel like I am constantly learning things from! Pandora's blog is one of my favourites because it is so individual and full of her personality. It's so refreshing to find a blog that's a bit different, and that actually makes you think. Pandora's definitely does that.

Over on Curious Pandora, you're likely to find posts about cruelty-free beauty, tips on leading a more eco-friendly lifestyle, some excellent wellness advice (I really enjoyed this post on essential oils as I've always been so intrigued by them!) and life updates. Pandora's writing style is so comforting in my opinion - it's like reading a letter from your closest friend. It's this inclusive, welcoming vibe that also makes her one of the most approachable and compassionate people I've ever spoken to on Twitter - in fact, she reached out to me when I was going through a rubbish time and I've always been so appreciative of that. Also, if you're all about the visuals, Pandora absolutely knocks them out of the park every time. Just go have a little peek at her Instagram, it's beautiful!


1. Introduce yourself! Tell us about your blog, tell us which post you're most proud of, and tell us about your mental health story!


Hey, cats, my name is Pandora, I'm 26, a part-time student and I run a lifestyle blog - Curious Pandora - in my spare time. I'm a northern girl who tends to make up for her tiny 5ft height with huge amounts of nervous chatter, I love anything 'hippie-dippy' and I'm in the process of overcoming hoarding in favour of a more minimalist lifestyle. I started my blog as a hobby and as a way back into being creative and writing about becoming cruelty-free & getting back in touch with my 'eco-warrior' side. I hope to use my blog to encourage personal growth as well as learn new skills; I've always loved to document things to look back on in the future and I'm hoping to create my own little space on the internet full of my journeys & memories to enable me to do that; my personal online scrapbook!

I have suffered from chronic illness since the age of 12, struggled with depression and anxiety since I was 18 and was diagnosed with 'moderate to severe' depression when I was 22. I've always been a worrier and over-thinker, but when I started experiencing overwhelming feelings of fear and sadness without a trigger, connecting the dots between how I always felt much worse in the darker, Winter months, I started to understand this wasn't the healthiest way to feel. An awful university experience was the trigger to push me over the edge into a deeper depression, my health continuously let me down and on top of that, the teaching style did not suit me at all. I felt stupid, I felt like a failure, I felt guilty for all of these things even though they were out of my control. I woke up each day feeling like I had no purpose in the world, wondering what good it would do to even leave my bed.

At breaking point, I sought professional help with my GP, refused pills and pushed the need for talking therapy. The 12 sessions I had with a wonderful counsellor changed my life and I've never looked back; yes I'm not 'cure' and I doubt I ever will be, but this gave me another chance at a life I was about to throw away. I gained a new perspective and outlook, I found the strength to fight; counselling broke the cycle of negative thoughts that rolled around in my brain every second of every day and made me the person I am today.

2. Have you discussed your MH with your loved ones? If yes, how did you start that conversation, and if not, why not?

Since my MH has a huge impact on my day-to-day life I feel it's important to share that with those around me, I'm usually quite open with these sorts of things unless I'm feeling particularly vulnerable and/or anxious. Most of my closest family (and partner) have known from the beginning, so there's never had to be a sit down conversation summing it all up for them, they've known from the get-go and I always check in with them if I'm struggling, if something has changed or if I've made any notable strides.

3. How have those closest to you reacted? Any particularly positive or negative feedback?


My family and partner aren't big on words but it was all positive and supportive feedback, offers for them to help in any way they can and hugs aplenty. Many people will check in that I'm okay more so than before but it's nice to know people do care. Many people around me have said that most importantly of all I'm my harshest critic and I need to be much less hard on myself, treating myself with the leniency I tend to treat others with.

4. How has your mental health affected your relationships (whether with a partner, friends, family)?


Typically it can make me very destructive with relationships, quite distant and dissociated. Often I feel like although they may be trying to understand how I feel they will never fully grasp it, and I'm left feeling very frustrated whilst pushing everyone away. In fight or flight, my solution is always flight, in some form I will always try to run away or hide things from people because I don't want to be a burden or that girl who always has something wrong with her. I find it the hardest when I feel like I'm rejecting their concerns due to the fact I just want to be alone at that moment but unfortunately that's one of the pitfalls of depression.

5. In the reverse, how have your relationships affected your mental health?


A lot of bad past relationships have made my mental health worse, filled me with complexes and made me very self-critical, distrustful and insecure. Luckily I've spent the last 4 years with someone who doesn't fuel this and is there for me as much as they can be when I'm feeling self-conscious or crying for no reason. In terms of friends, my mental health resulted in me being isolated; I had very few friends and I am still very wary meeting new people, I find being sociable very exhausting and as much as I'd like new friends, the long process of learning to trust is too much. I'm happy with my little circle of supportive gems who keep my head above water.

6. Is your mental health something you actively talk about with your loved ones, or do you prefer not to discuss it? Are there any pros or cons to your approach?


I tend to keep it basic and vague with my family although sometimes this may result in them not fully understanding how seriously my feelings and thoughts affect me. On the other hand, they're great at being overprotective, although the more they're worried then the more they would suffocate me with constant care, no matter how good the intention. With my boyfriend, I'm usually a lot more open and in-depth as I feel it's better for him to understand some of my behaviours, knowing the root cause and that it's not always him that may have put me in a mood! Sometimes the fog is just there and I want him to be familiar with all aspects of my mental health.

7. Is there anything you wish you could tell those closest to you or wish that they understood? What is stopping you from telling them?


In the past, I've held my tongue but now I don't tend to if something needs addressing then I will address it with them.  I've learnt that for my own health I can't afford to hold anything back as it can manifest into something more than it actually is.

8. What advice would you give to people who want to tell their loved ones about their mental health?


I'd tell them not to be scared or let it stress you out as much as it probably is doing, I know it can be a really daunting thing but if they care about you, letting them know what's going on and how you're feeling can give you that extra support network. I'd say to just take it slow, explain bit by bit so it's not too overwhelming for either of you and maybe even do it in chunks day by day. I'd also recommend telling them in a place you're comfortable, maybe over a coffee or somewhere out in the open; wherever you're likely to feel more casual and relaxed. 

9. What advice would you give non-sufferers who want to support their loved one with their MH?


I'd say not to be pushy, listen and observe, be patient but don't let your own needs get overshadowed. Don't be scared to talk to your loved one if something about their behaviour within the relationship is making you uncomfortable; mental health issues aside, you should still be able to talk constructively without fear of making their mental health worse.

10. Are there any support systems (other than loved ones) you use that you'd recommend for those who may need them?


I always find that first off, self-care is the best thing you can give to yourself, and I find comfort in the use of mindfulness and activities where I can vent by writing things down, mind mapping or being creative like painting or gardening because these actually give me some peace and allow my brain to shut off from overthinking. After that I'd always look for support groups and counselling services running in your local area, typically there can be lots of good, independent services with shorter waiting lists (compared to being referred from your GP), many are donation only/fairly priced and you can potentially meet like-minded people; Mind is a great charity that offers counselling in many of its branches and cafes. 

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Ooh, this was probably one of my favourite interviews of the series. I was so pleased with how in-depth Pandora got with her answers - I absolutely love it when people really open up about mental health, as it's the only way we're all going to learn about the realities of it.

I could really relate to the idea of poor mental health making someone destructive towards relationships. Obviously, as I have borderline personality disorder, that can make relationships very tricky, but anxiety and depression can be just as hard. I've definitely been 'guilty' of feeling shit about myself, pushing people away as a result, and then feeling even worse that I've got no-one to talk to. It can be really hard to remember that even when you don't feel that great about yourself, that other people do still care. Even when their attempts to understand are clumsy and feel like they miss the mark a bit, it's so important to remember that your friends and family are trying, and they are doing so because they love you.

However, I did also think Pandora's advice to loved ones trying to help was really significant. All relationships are two-way streets, and sometimes mental health issues can make us a little selfish. In the same way that I'd advise those who are suffering not to allow toxic people to make their mental health worse, we have to be sensitive to the fact that those who are 'mentally well' (I don't know how to phrase that without sounding like a dick) still have feelings! I've definitely been on both sides of this - I've taken the piss with what I expect loved ones to put up with, and I've also had my efforts to help other people thrown in my face, or been used as a 24/7 counsellor. Even if someone you love is hurting, it's okay to put your own needs first! You don't have to burn yourself out for anyone - that just results in two people struggling.

Thank you again to Pandora for taking part in this, I really, really enjoyed reading her answers!

PANDORA'S LINKS:

To check out the other interviews in this collab series, click here!

If you'd like to be involved in this project, feel free to email me, chat to me on Twitter, or leave a comment below.
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