In the ninth edition of our ‘Just Checking In’ series, we spoke to mental health blogger Laura Hughes, founder of mental health blog, ‘Picture the Positive’. We discussed her mental health journey, her family and why she became inspired to create her blog. See our conversation below.
How are you feeling about your mental health currently?
I’m feeling positive at the moment and I’m not taking that for granted. It’s not always easy to reach a happy place in recovery and I know that things can change quite quickly so I’m trying to make the most of feeling good because it isn’t always the case for me.
When was the first time you became aware of your own mental health and realised that it wasn’t just physical pain you experienced?
The first time I knew something wasn’t right was when I was 11 years old. I started feeling like I had no self-worth but I would say that it wasn’t until I was well in to my twenties that I really started to become aware of my mental illness and how much it was impacting me.
What mental health conditions do you have (if any) and how long have you lived with them for?
I have Bipolar Type 2, which is a mood disorder consisting of highs and lows that can vary between different people. My illness was picked up through pregnancy but I was diagnosed pretty quickly due to my lengthy medical history and the patterns that emerged in how I accessed services over the years. I feel like I’ve always lived with Bipolar but it was only when I reached puberty that it really started to become problematic.
If you had to describe how your mental health conditions affect you in your day-to-day life, what would you say?
The most frustrating part for me is the lack of concentration I have. That has a domino effect on a lot of things. I find myself missing appointments, running late and finding it hard to remember who I’ve replied to if I’m interacting online. I think it’s important to remember that a lot of people who are in recovery are dealing with side effects from medications, which do tend to subside. However, just because someone has recovered mentally, it doesn’t mean that their day-to-day lives aren’t still impacted by their condition, even if indirectly.
You’re the founder and owner of Picture The Positive. When did you start the platform and what did you want to achieve with it?
I started Picture The Positive last year back in August. It was a few days after my 27th Birthday and I had received a Nikon D3400 as a gift from my then-boyfriend. My initial idea was to combine my love of writing and my love of photography into a blog. That’s how Picture The Positive started.
I tried to use the things I loved to spear-head my recovery and ultimately help me by giving myself an outlet. I had no idea when I started that so many people would connect with what I was saying and what started off as something very personal soon began to have an impact on others. I then had to make a decision and dedicate the majority of my site to talking about Mental Health.
What topics do you cover on the site regarding mental health or life more generally?
I try to cover a range of different topics and incorporate mental health in each one but my passion is writing about mental health in relation to parenting. For me, it was a huge barrier in opening up and seeking help. I know there is still huge stigma surrounding parents and their ability to share openly without fear of judgement, so that’s one topic that I tend to have a lot to say on.
In your experience, how has the blogging community broached the topic of mental health? Have you received support from other bloggers and advocates or is it something you do more on your own?
I think the blogging community has done amazingly well to get the message out there and there are some extremely supportive bloggers on Twitter who contribute tirelessly in getting the message across. I personally don’t think I could have done what I’ve done if it wasn’t for the people who were doing it before me who showed me that it’s achievable and the people believing in me along the way.
How have you found the reaction to your writing where you live? How have Welsh communities traditionally approached the topic of mental health?
I can only speak on behalf of my city but there is an incredible mental health community here in Cardiff. There are so many amazing ideas and passionate people but the difficulty we have is partnership. If more of us could work together collectively, I know that great things could happen and the movement could be just as big as it is in England. I’ve met some fantastic people doing fantastic things and those who I have worked with have been very supportive.
There’s a lot going on here, we just need to be better connected. I’ve written for a few local magazines and I volunteer with a fantastic social housing provider in our community who allow me to write for them when possible.
I was also lucky enough to deliver a talk to the Welsh Government on World Mental Health Day. It was great to see the amount of effort that people in Wales are putting in to keep the conversation going.
You have three children. How old are they and how do you teach and educate them about mental health as a mother?
I have Leo who is 9, Charlie who is 7 and Max who is 1. It’s a tricky one when it comes to my children because I know that I have to explain why mum isn’t well as I don’t want them thinking I am ever sad because of them. Equally, in the same measure I need to protect them, so I try and explain it to them in a way which they can understand.
I was only just turned 18 when I became a mother, so I still had some growing up to do myself. My eldest is now very aware and has turned into such an emotionally mature young man. He has developed an empathy far beyond his years. He knows that mum is ill sometimes and he is a lot more understanding of not just me but everyone around him. I’m very proud of all of my children.
What impact have your children had on your mental health?
As cheesy as it sounds, having them in my life could only ever be a positive. It isn’t easy having a mental illness but having a mental illness whilst bringing up children is possibly one of the toughest challenges you could face. I struggle to get into my own routine and here I am trying to navigate three little lives as well as my own. Children need consistency and that’s not always something I can provide which makes it tricky but they have always been my saving grace.
Have you told anyone close to you about your mental health issues like your friends or family and have you asked for support for them?
I have opened up to a few people and there are a few who are really supportive but sadly it’s not always the case. One of my best friends suffers with anxiety and it’s great to have someone close to you that understands what you’re going through.
On the flip side it’s hard for us to actually spend valuable time together because our illnesses sometimes prevent that from happening. As for support, I need to start practising what I preach because I’m always encouraging others to reach out but when it comes to me, I still feel that my pride gets in the way and it’s something I’m working on.
What tools and methods do you find useful in helping you manage your mental health or mental health issues?
I’m not the best at managing my symptoms if I’m being honest. I do try various things but for me the most important and essential thing is feeling rested. If I don’t get enough sleep then my mental health seriously suffers. I’m sure it’s the same for many of us. I find a good eight hours is key for me when managing my symptoms. That combined with taking my medication regularly and keeping a diary for to track patterns in my mood.
If you could say, what do you think have been your lowest and highest points in your mental health journey so far?
The lowest point has to be when I ended up in hospital after trying to take my own life. I really couldn’t see any hope for the future at that point and I genuinely believed that everyone would be better off without me. Fast forward a few months and I’m walking up on stage to collect my award for WCVA Volunteer of the Year award for my awareness raising in the community and for helping others with my writing.
That was my highest point because it was only then that it really dawned on me that my words were helping others.
Do you think the conversation around mental health is changing and if so, in what way?
I have seen a huge shift in the conversation around mental health because, much to my detriment, when I was growing up it was never ever talked about. Even in the last few years we’ve seen a huge rise in awareness and slowly but surely people are challenging the stigma towards mental illness and accepting that mental health is something we all need to be aware of, because we all have it. I do fear sometimes that we could be in danger of becoming a ‘bandwagon’, because like Dean Burnett says in the Guardian, awareness is great but action is essential and I think we need to keep this in mind.
What more do you think needs to be done to ensure everyone who has mental health issues can get the support they need?
We’ve done a great job in raising general awareness but the next step is ensuring that we’re reaching everybody, especially marginalised groups. It hasn’t been easy for me to reach out in order to get the support I need but I know that I have also had many privileges that others don’t benefit from.
There are still people who, for many reasons, don’t feel comfortable at all in coming forward and seeking help. We need to make sure that no one is slipping through the net when it comes to services. We also need to ensure that we create inclusive environments online so that everyone feels a part of it because there is no space for hierarchy in mental health communities and we are in danger of creating an unhealthy space if it becomes an ‘us’ and ‘them’ situation.
You can read more ‘Just Checking In’ conversations here.
You can follow Laura on Twitter here.