A few years ago I had an acute mental crisis, which I personally didn't find very cute at all, stop fetishising mentlal illness, guys. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder (typical Gemini), which is where you have periods of depression where you're like "my soul is rotting" and it's "not good work chat", and periods of mania or hypomania where you think "I am the life and soul of this party", but everyone else thinks "Did she just karate chop my light stand?". When manic, I also got kicked off the Bipolar Support Forum, which isn't very supportive.
People have said really nice things about how I talk about mental health and mental illness and my experience on stage which is nice, and I have been lucky enough to have been invited to perform for Jericho Comedy's Oxfordshire Mind Comedy Gala 2018 with James Acaster, Ivo Graham and Ken Cheng (("Talked skillfully...my jaw soon aching with laughter... Chelsea talked frankly about mental illness" **** Oxford Times) and again in 2019 with Nish Kumar, Ed Gamble and Olga Koch ("A surprise hit was Chelsea Birkby, whose innocent appearance and nervous demeanour belied an hilarious set peppered with cheeky adult humour" Oxford Mail; ***** Oxford Times) raising a total of nearly £40,000 for charity Oxfordshire Mind, adding to the amazing fundraising throughout the year from my favourite Jericho Comedy; it was an honour to take part.
Jericho Comedy’s Oxfordshire Mind Comedy Gala is taking place again this January- book tickets here.
I'd like to continue to raise awareness of mental illness (not just my own), and help people access services that can help. And aside from my severe mental illness I am actually really mentally stable. (Book me)
Here is some advice- 10.10.2019
Today is World Mental Health Day and the theme this year is suicide prevention. If you are having a bad time, I really, really encourage you to talk to the people close to you about it and to see your GP. I also want to offer some practical info I’ve gathered over the years though, because sometimes, although we are ready to talk, the people around us aren’t. Sometimes, no matter how much they love us, the people close to us aren’t in a position to help us. And sometimes medical help is not available or is very hard to access. I am so grateful for the help I got but from our beloved NHS but definitely the most ill I have ever been was while I was on the waiting list for treatment and the worst discrimination I’ve ever faced for mental health issues has been from medical professionals, like a Doctor refusing me support saying “what, do you want us to run you a bath of roses?”, or in A&E a triage nurse saying “well you’ve not harmed that badly” when I wished I didn’t exist anymore, and I had to beg that they didn’t send me home alone, or when two doctors discussing my treatment with me in the room, saying I’d need three failed treatments before I could access the specialist help they thought I needed.
If you are unwell or in crisis and your GP is not helping, these are my personal, practical recommendations for how to cope.
1. Asking your GP for help: Often the assessment will be functioning based, and I’ve met many people in crisis who are somehow still very high-functioning- maybe you look well (some of my notes refer to me as “well-kempt” which is clearly relevant to them. Or maybe you’re still working). Tell your GP that it’s a huge step for you to say something, and that you have already waited for a while, and that you are not coping. If you feel suicidal, please tell them if you can. If you are self harming or thinking about it, please tell them if you can.
If you have preferences, try and tell them. For example, be firm that you want to explore options outside of just medication. Often, because of pressures, they will suggest the cheaper options as the first step e.g. over the phone or online CBT, or group therapy. If you firmly feel this won’t help you, say that to your GP and explain why. Also, mention if you would feel much more comfortable with a therapist of the same gender.
2. Support outside of NHS- See what non-NHS services are available:
Call your Local Mind -they will have a signposting service of people you can contact, especially free-to-access services https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/local-minds/
3. Do some inventive googling- there’s loads more than you think if you do digging, specially if you are a young person. Once I got 8 free sessions of therapy from a local sexual health charity that also offered counselling- I told them mine was general and they said they’d still love to help. There are loads of national charities that do things locally, like mens charities CALM, and for survivors, those with bipolar etc. Search for specific groups you are a part of. Some have initial assessments over IM, and they’re better than they sound- I’d recommend doing it at a computer rather than phone if you can.
4. Check if your employer is part of an employee health scheme- if so, they very likely have a private counselling service you can access for free anonymously, this is usually really rapid. Nothing like the threat of absenteeism to kick things into gear.
Search for discounted private therapy- you might be able to find volunteer organised help for discounted/cost rate that you can self-refer to e.g in Oxford see Women’s Counselling Service (or MensCS) where they offer discounted sessions for students, charity workers etc (lowest amount maybe £15-20 for an hour) The plus side is, often this therapy is ongoing/open-ended so you can tackle the cause not just the symptoms and make it a long-term thing
5. Go private- If you can afford to see a private therapist, it may be something to look into. Do some research in to what therapy you think you would like. I used Psychology Today to find a therapist near me, who deals with themes I am working through, using techniques I am drawn to. E.g. maybe CBT or Mindfulness aren’t right for you, what might be? The average cost in Oxford at least is about £40-50 an hour, and it may be monthly or even weekly. It’s not really affordable to me without cut backs elsewhere, but it’s one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Also, remember you can SWITCH therapists. If the relationship isn’t working anymore- boy, bye! Check your contract to see how much notice you have to give, and even ask them, I have had therapists suggest who might be a good match. I have also had therapists be very unprofessional- I’d be gutted to lose £200 a month as well as all my secrets lol
6. Out of left field- what medical studies are taking place near you? I got the specialist help I needed off the back of a study into people with undiagnosed/suspected bipolar disorder. I have friends who had access to the surgery they needed for endometriosis this way too. This is more likely in a uni town, but could be something?
Before a crisis: Try and write a crisis plan, who you will contact if you get really bad, what you will do, where you will go. Save and share these with people close to you. I have mine in Notes on my phone, but I hear there’s an app for it now https://www.prevent-suicide.org.uk/stay_alive_suicide_preve…
In a crisis: If you are in Oxford you can access Safe Haven an out of hours alternative for non-medical emergency help ina a crisis which I think would have spared me some harm https://www.oxfordshiremind.org.uk/the-oxford-safe-haven/
Maybe your town has something similar, often Samaritans have centres you can visit if you call ahead.https://www.samaritans.org
If you need to call 999 or go to A&E, do. It’s legitimate and you deserve help.
If you want to help a friend but they don’t want top see a doctor, maybe see if any of these seem like options they might explore with you, but you can’t make them do something they don’t want to, maybe all you can do is just tell them you’re there and check in.
If I don’t know you well, I wish I could help you more if you are struggling but this is the best way I can think of. And just to say, I know it feels like it will be that way forever, but even though it feels impossible, things do get better.
Thanks to everyone in my life who has helped and continues to help me. I’m very glad to be here and well.
*My views are my own and NOT OF OXFORDSHIRE MIND. They'd probably like me to add that.