From my mind: NHS Staff in Isolation #COVID19

It's been a long time since I last posted. Life can be very busy and working the NHS can leave you feeling drained. The NHS, like many public services, has been criminally underfunded and gutted by the last few Governments. The current COVID19 crisis will hopefully highlight how vital some of the lowest paid roles are - not just in the NHS - compared to the value of some MPs and their Duck Ponds.

For the past 6 days, I've been in isolation. For the first couple of days it was a novelty but now I can't help but feel frustrated and useless. I work with a brilliant team of Consultants, Nurses and Admin staff - in my department specifically and around it. Before I left, I had been giving our service 120% and really stressing myself out with the workload of altering appointments to telephone rather than patient facing and the added triage involved. The poor NHS funding doesn't just mean there isn't enough staff - and therefore no flexibility in times of need - but our computer systems and the processes involved are not as streamlined as they could be. The technology exists for me to work from home but, now in a time of crisis, there isn't the resources to roll it out to everyone. Which means I'm sat here, reading work emails, feeling nothing but guilt and anger.

Almost our 1 Year Anniversary! 
I want to roll up my sleeves and get stuck in but it's quicker for those on site to do it themselves than pass on the jigsaw pieces to me via NHS email. When the flood is rushing towards you - its often easier to just crack on and that's exactly how I was feeling a week or so ago when we started to try and get ahead of this curve.

Another source of irritation is the fact that some people seem to be able to get COVID19 (Coronavirus) testing without symptoms. There are Doctors being taken from clinics and the front line due to a cough. My wife's asthma cough, forced us away from our supportive roles. With testing, we could all be back at work if clear. However, I'm at home for another week becoming further isolated, abashed and in the end, worthless.

The situation is ever changing but this is a time of crisis. We originally thought this may go on for 3 months but I think it will  cripple the NHS for much longer. The recovery back to any sort of normality (such as 18 week target times) will take years if funded properly - which you know they won't be.

Another niggle in the back of my mind is - I don't think Mrs Streuli and I have had COVID19. I honestly think it was her complicated and severe asthma with allergies. Does this mean we'll have to go through all this again?

And that's without thinking about the worries everyone has right now: where do I get fresh vegetables? Milk? When will I see my family?

Last night, I think Mrs Streuli and I both realised that our mental health had taken a battering. Again, another source of guilt and anger is that while I did alot of the prep work for this crisis - I've been sat on my arse useless because we don't have remote access.

It is the poorest who will be the strongest in this crisis. It is those people who need your love and support and those with the biggest bank balances will face the shame and retribution.

Join the fun -
Sometimes, just acknowledging your feelings is enough to refresh and move on to something more constructive.

Keep an eye on the website of your local hospital and check the Government's official twitter for the latest news. Things we have all taken for granted, even getting loo roll, is changing every day.

I will not end this post on a low note. I will remain optimistic. If nothing else, I have a pretty good life. Mrs Streuli and I were in San Francisco when the COVID19 virus started to appear. We have taken up streaming games and chat on YouTube. It's actually been something really nice to look forward to - a reward for getting through the day. With the Drama Club closed, for the first time in living memory, we are looking to host a 'pub quiz' through a YouTube Stream. It's free and fun and a great way to socialise from your own sofa. Friends and family of IHDC are invited and everyone is welcome - whether you are near to Iver Heath or hundreds of miles away. Thanks to the internet, we're not so isolated after all.

Be safe and stay at home.

Push through Anxiety or You'll Seize Up

RuPaul quite rightly says “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else”. That same love can be applied to care and support; if you don’t help yourself, how the hell can you help anyone else?

Arthritis can be an incredibly painful condition and those who suffer from it should be admired. They push through the pain using coping strategies and medication because if you don’t mobilise those joints, they could seize up and the pain would be worse. In short, use it or you’ll lose it. Anxiety is a similar beast.  Anxiety wants to isolate you. It wants to clamp you down. It wants to shut you up.
There are days where it is exhausting just to open the curtains. There are days you can get to the local shops and back.  But whether it is agony in your knee or a burden on your mind, you have to try. 
The CDC (a department of the US government) encourages those with arthritis to take up their SMART challenge. I think the same can be applied to Anxiety and mental health in general.
Start low, go slow.
Modify activity when symptoms increase, try to stay active.
Activities should be “joint friendly.”
Recognize safe places and ways to be active.
Talk to a health professional or certified exercise specialist.

"To help yourself, you must be yourself. Be the best that you can be. When you make a mistake, learn from it, pick yourself up and move on."- Dave Pelzer

Start low, go slow.
Find an activity you can dip in and out of. Maybe something you can do for 10 minutes and take a break. Something where you can slowly build up and join in gradually.. Don’t expect to run a 5k on the first day. Consider activities like a walking club, singing for fun club, maybe part of the backstage team at your local drama club or even just volunteering at a care home or school.
Modify activity when symptoms increase, try to stay active.
If you all becomes too much (whether joints or pressure on your mental health) you can slip away for a while. If you can run 5k, you might not be able to do it every week. If you can’t run the 5k, do a little run instead. If you feel like going to singing or yoga this week is hard or you are already drained, maybe ask the leader if you can come for the first half and see how it goes. Sometimes the hardest part is getting over the first hurdle and once you are there you have the support and fun you really need.

Activities should be “joint friendly”.
For mental health, perhaps this is open to your interpretation. It might be that joining the local Drama Club provides you with the same ‘escapism’ it gave me or the idea of being on stage isn’t your thing, there are many groups like ‘Men In Sheds’ and ‘Library Games Club’ where you can be part of team taking part in casual activities. There is something to be said though for joining a sports activity and while it wasn’t for me personally, something like Netball or Lawn Bowls could be brilliant for physical and mental health. Being part of a team, a supportive team, can be very rewarding whether you win or lose.
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With thanks to the Membership team at Mind, the mental health charity
Recognize safe places and ways to be active
For me this links in with the above activities but this also includes safe places where you can get support. Does you library offer a local drop in service? Is there a local Mind? Some cafes also offer a mental health afternoon. If there isn’t, could a chat with your local Costa manager help set on up? Another aspect of this is where would you go in an emergency? Or a time of crisis?
I really recommend an app called “Hub of Hope” which does a great job of signposting you to local services whether it is in a crisis such as Samaritans or more routine support. They have a website also at:

Talk to a health professional or certified exercise specialist
Have you recently spoken with your GP? Have you been referred to a NHS Mental Health services or to a community service?
Many areas now accept self-referral so if you find talking to your GP hard, taking the first step to NHS support can be as simple as filling out a form. There is a long wait in most areas. Sometimes month just to have an assessment appointment before your referral makes it way to the right team. I understand that the long wait puts people off. I completely get the “why bother” feeling especially when you think you are stable. In reality, you might be slowly declining – for anxiety you might be slowly isolating yourself more and more – and it’s so gradual you don’t realise until there is a crisis. Refer yourself at the start and even if it’s only a light level of support … preventative is better than reactive.
I know the above might seem daunting but with mental health, you do have to practise and gently push yourself. If you don’t, it makes it harder to even accept or use the help you can get. 

"Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them."- Dalai Lama
Thank you for reading my blog – especially if you have followed me on Twitter or liked my Facebook page. A big welcome to all my new readers – your input, opinions and sharing my links is very welcome.

As you can see below, I became a page three model this month as our story went nationwide in the summer edition of Mind’s Membership magazine. It has been lovely to hear your feedback and Mind even sent us a wedding present which is really sweet of them. If you live in Bucks, you might have even seen us in the county newspaper.
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With Thanks to the Bucks Free Press

Are you desensitised to Suicide?

This post has been bouncing around the back of my mind for a while now. It started with a post on a local Facebook group wondering why there had been no news following a suicide at a local train station. Some of the comments were angry – why would there need to be news? What is there to be said? The person making the post was sincere in the reply they didn’t need the gory details but felt that a death like that is shocking moment and there should be some memorial or acknowledgment to the person who has passed.

Not just some sterile note that services were briefly delayed that day.

This has been bugging me. At times, I am actually quite furious about this. If the person had been subject to bad Doctor, it would be a shocking newspaper story. If the person had been attacked in the park, the press would have sounded the rallying cry for better policing and in turn better funding.
So, where is the article and the shock that our mental health system is failing? Where is the rallying call where we bang on the doors of those MPs who feel their duck pond is more worthy than our brothers and sisters?

Do we really now live in a world where a Suicide on our railways is no longer a tragedy, but just a delay to the chaos commute? Is that the kind of world you want to live in?
In 2016/17, 237 people took their lives on the railway – the lowest number since 2010/11.

Small Talk Saves Lives - Click here for the Network Rail campaign

I’ve touched upon this before on my blog. I remember the revelation when I found out that suicide is and has been the biggest killer of men and teenage men for decades. Mental Health isn’t some new problem. This has been going on for decades. As a society, we took the fight on with TB, Cancer, and AIDS. Where is the anger and revolution to take that social fight to mental health?

In my own story, I’ve broached how if it was 2019 and not 1999, then safeguarding would have triggered a response by the School, NHS, Police, and Council. Perhaps this will save some of the youngsters from entering the desolate paths that lead to the adult mental health crisis – or at least give them a more stable route with better chances.

Is suicide so common that we don’t actually care anymore? The World Health Organization says that ”Suicide is a global phenomenon”. Globally, it is the second leading cause of death for 15 to 29-year-olds. Why have we just accepted this?

Things are changing. Change isn’t always quick. Statistics for 2017 showed that certain suicide rates were down – some even at the lowest recorded.

Suicide is preventable. A short conversation with someone who may be struggling to cope can go a long way, and might even help save a life.

My Mum's boyfriend took his own life in the few months after my Mum's death at a train station. As an adult, I searched his name. Maybe records from 2004 aren't interesting enough for the internet, but the only trace of his existence was as a mark on a chart. A chart showing suicides by train station by year in the UK. He wasn't even a person anymore. Just a statistic. I understand families may want privacy but perhaps local press could publish a celebration or memorial to that person so the wider public feels that the delay to the 08:29 was actually the end of life, not just a nuisance.

Talking is one of the biggest ways you can make a difference. Whether it is asking someone, twice, if they are OK or maybe reiterating this article, talking is a key way that you can help save these lives.
In 2015, I was at my all-time low. I had nothing left to lose so I gave life a chance. We need to help people before it reaches that stage because I’m very lucky I’ve managed to recover to where I am now.

Find out more about my story in the article I’ve written for Brides Magazine. I’ve also written an article on the Mind website.