Thursday, 11 May 2017

Q&A with Gail Mitchell Author of Loving the Life Less Lived for #MHAW17

When I was asked if I would like the chance to read 'Loving The Life Less Lived' by Gail Marie Mitchell as part of a blog tour for this years Mental Health Awareness Week I was thrilled if not a bit wary to get involved.
'Loving the Life Less Lived' is a narrative self-help book for people struggling with mental illness and anyone else that wants to read it.

The wariness I felt came from my past experience with self-help books. 
Although I am a full supporter of self-help books, in the past many I have read I've never completed, finding the majority patronising and un-helpful.

From the first page of 'Loving the Life Less Lived' I knew this was unlike any previous book I have read and was hooked.

Gail shares here personal journey with anxiety and depression in an extremely raw and true portrayal of how it has effected her life and how acceptance is allowing her to live again. I found this raw approach strangely uplifting, reading the genuine struggles of another human in a way that is not often shared in such an open fashion. 
Throughout the book Gail never downplayed how she felt throughout her experiences and truly made me feel that it is OK to feel the way we feel, and be honest about it. 

As well as sharing her story Gail builds an extensive 'toolkit' of methods that have helped her deal with anxiety and encourages her readers to develop their own with a good foundation of how to do this in place.

Society has a habit of shying away from uncomfortable topics, even when broaching them not truly giving honest accounts of what a huge effect things such as mental health has on many lives.
In truth it's a shame that we shy away from the topic of mental health to such an extent that I believe many people that have, and do, suffer from mental illness almost ignore it to the point that they genuinely believe they have never had a mental health issue. In my experience most people, if you speak them through difficult parts of their lives, will realise that they too have experienced depression, anxiety or some kind of mental health issue. 
It's true that not everyone has a life long battle with mental ill health, but through enabling people to acknowledge their own feelings from past experiences, I believe acceptance of others struggles is just around the corner.

In my opinion 'Loving the Life Less Lived' could be a huge eye opener to many people and an invaluable tool to anyone dealing with a mental illness. I encourage anyone and everyone to pick up a copy if you can. It's well worth a read.


Now to a Q&A with the Author of 'Loving the Life Less Lived', Gail Marie Mitchell.

I love the title - did you always have this as the title or did you have any others that nearly made the cut? Why did the final title make it and if there were others why didn't they?

It was literally a flash of inspiration when I was feeling particularly fed up and hiding under the duvet. I don’t know where it came from but there were never any other titles up for contention. I knew it was perfect and summed up exactly what I wanted to say. 

What question do you wish you had been asked in your time of deepest struggle? 

Probably ‘what can I do to help?’ I wouldn’t have known how to answer but I would have appreciated the question. I think more than any question I just needed people to accept me as just the person I was at the time, even if that person was troubled and imperfect. 

In your book you encourage people to cut ties with people they consider to be 'toxic'. What advice do you have for people who have close family that are toxic (and they can't just walk away from them)? 

That’s a difficult one, and one I struggled with it when writing my book. I always say you don’t need toxic people in your life but sometimes you love toxic people, and/or are related to them and cutting ties with them isn’t realistic and isn’t always the right thing to do. The ‘toxic’ person may be on their own journey and it may not be that they are toxic at all, just not helpful to you at the time. You can give yourself space, while still maintaining the relationship. Either physically taking time away from the person, or mentally by not giving too much weight to the things they say and the way they act. It’s hard work but you can create barriers and boundaries to protect yourself. Sometimes a course (or a book) on assertiveness might help, to ensure your needs are being met whilst still being close to the person. 

Do you regret cutting ties with any of the people you considered to be 'toxic'? 

No, I must say I don’t regret anything. I do sometimes regret the way I did it (which so many times was just to run away and hide!) Life is short and there are any number of people who need your time and attention. That’s not to say I surround myself with ‘perfect’ or ‘together’ people, far from it! I love people who are mixed up and messy and struggling to make it through life, but I look after myself first and I don’t have time for people who are spiteful, judgmental or ‘toxic’. 

Have you found any old 'toxic' friends have tried to re-contact you since you broke ties and if so did you stay away? 

No one has ever contacted me! They probably thought I was toxic too, and it’s true in my worst days I must have been hard work to be around. If someone did contact me in good faith I’d probably reconnect but I’d be wary. I genuinely believe people change, nobody is completely toxic and I’ve changed so the way they react to me would be different. Having said that I’d keep a definite distance between us… just in case. 

Isolating ourselves is something very common in people with anxiety. What's your no.1 tip for getting yourself to step out of the house? 

Small steps. That’s how I did it. At first I’d just walk to the post-box and back, or I’d go out with a friend or my Dad so I wasn’t alone. Then when I felt up to it I’d go a little bit further, say to the swimming baths which were just around the corner, or I’d go to my friend’s house because I felt safe there. Also congratulate yourself for your progress, it’s all too easy to focus on what you can’t do, or give yourself a hard time if you have a setback. It helped me to have a list of ‘steps’ which I ticked off as I achieved them, this way I could see how far I had come. Even now I have phases where I’m tempted to hide, it doesn’t last long but I am quite gentle with myself and just stick to ‘safe’ places like our local country park. I don’t avoid going out now when I feel like this, because I know where that leads, but I am more aware of my anxiety and I know when to go easy on myself. 

It appears that you've always excelled in academia and professionally despite your anxiety. Did it not affect your self confidence in that area of your life? 
What advice would you have for someone with impending exams or assessments? 

Just do your best. That’s all you can do. I was very lucky that my Dad always encouraged me just to do my best. Remember you are not being judged as a person, failing an exam doesn’t make you a failure. It might mean you have to change your plans or adapt but sometimes that can be wonderful and liberating. Do your best today, by taking time to work, but also to rest and play. I always found that the people who did well in exams were those who knew when to revise but also knew when to stop. Exams never gave me anxiety, I actually enjoyed the peace and quiet of sitting writing! However if they do give you nerves I would recommending practicing mindfulness in the run up to the exam period. If you read the question and panic take 2 or 3 minutes to concentrate on breathing slowly and listen to the sounds around you then look at the paper again and do your best. Panic is great when you are being chased by a tiger, not great when you are sitting your A levels, it takes all the blood from your brain so you can’t think straight, so just slow down, breath and just do your best. 

Do you have any tips on standing your ground when you see a GP about getting help if they are dismissive and just offer a website and no further support? 

Oh that is such a nightmare. I always encourage people to visit their GP knowing full well that some GPs will try to fob you off with a website or a library book. You really need to be persistent and go back if you’re not happy or go to see a different GP. If you’re experiencing anxiety or depression though just visiting the GP once can be a herculean task, let alone going back if it didn’t go well the first time. I would advise writing down what you want to say to the GP, if all else fails you can just hand him the piece of paper, even better take someone who you trust who can advocate for you, and be more assertive than you feel able. Just be persistent. You could also ring 111 for more advice, sometimes it’s easier to speak to someone on the phone and you can speak to them immediately. They will probably tell you to visit your GP but they might also be able to give you advice on what to ask for. Remember we have a wonderful NHS in this country which is there for everyone to receive support and treatment, just because your illness is mental rather than physical doesn’t mean you have any less right to support. 

Did the process of writing the book re-open thoughts about parts of your life and make you re-think the way you processed events at the time? 

In parts, some of the more recent events especially the ending. I do tend to reflect and think about my anxiety a lot (too much?) so I had processed a lot of the events already but certainly looking at them from the distance of time, and trying to describe them to someone else, tended to put a lot into perspective. Sometime now if I’m tempted to panic or over-react I do think ‘how will I write about this in a book five years from now?’ It helps me realise that things always pass. 

If yes - do you think people should reflect on certain parts of their life that were difficult and how should they approach it?

 Carefully, and for most people with the help of a counsellor or therapist. I don’t think we learn and progress without looking at our failures and disappointments but it isn’t an easy process and there is a risk of opening old wounds. It’s really important to be gentle and kind with yourself and recognise that everyone makes mistakes, has weaknesses and goes through bad times. It’s human. 

Will you be writing another book? 

I’m finishing the first draft of a young adult fiction novel which has the themes of self-harm and suicide (cheery!) I think child and teenage mental health is a huge problem in our society, I have toyed with writing a version of Loving the Life Less Lived for young people, I may still do that, but for the time being I am turning my hand to fiction.

I for one will be keeping my eye out for the next book!


Thank you to Gail and RedDoor Publishing for the opportunity to read the book and get involoved with their #MHAW17 campaign with this Q&A.

If you'd like to see a full response piece about the book, head over to @theasthinkings, she's also running a giveaway as part of the blog tour!

This Mental Health Awareness Week remember, it's OK to not be OK.
Don't stand alone.


Until next time - always remember, that sometimes, freedom is only a run away.


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