Mental Health Awareness Month

“Everyone has their own struggle. This is mine”.

Introduction:

The Covid-19 pandemic swept across the world in 2020 and created a considerable amount of fear and worry amongst the whole population. Almost one in five adults were likely to be experiencing some form of depression in June 2020; this had almost doubled from around 1 in 10 before the pandemic (July 2019 to March 2020). https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/coronavirusanddepressioninadultsgreatbritain/june2020. Many of us have struggled with the huge changes to our way of life which have been difficult to get used to and have affected our mental health in some way or another.

My story:

My main triggers of stress and anxiety during lockdown was the huge shift in my life, from going out and having the freedom to being stuck at home on Zoom calls and not being able to connect with people face to face like I was used to. I volunteer for telephone counselling for stroke survivors weekly. During lockdown especially I would speak to many people who were stressed and worried about the changes. I would tell them to keep positive, try and highlight the good things in life but these conversations affected me and made me reflect on the times we are living in. I really enjoy speaking to others and helping them, but I have realised that I am not good at speaking about my own feelings. This is something I am trying to develop – to open up to my close friends and share more about how I am feeling.

There were also some positive aspects to lockdown: I spent quality time with my family and captured lots of fond memories to look back on with a smile. I spent time cooking and also did lots of self-care. Before lockdown I would try and go out as much as I could and meet everyone. I would make time for people even if I felt they hadn’t made time for me. To some extent I just wanted to make people happy even if that meant not doing what I wanted. Lockdown has made me realise that I need to look after myself, as no one else is going to do it for me. I have started making decisions based on me and how I am feeling rather than doing something because someone else tells me to. This has empowered me to make my own decisions and has made me realise how I want to be spending my time and with whom.

Since January I have felt more positive. I feel like I am in a better place than I was before. However, I still overthink and worry about the future; I need reassurance that what I’m doing is right and that things will turn out OK. I am quite harsh on myself and I always question if I’m making sense when I’m speaking. I have so many words in my mind at a time and I don’t know if I’m saying the right one. My friends and family are very supportive, but I never hear the positive things they say, I only hear the challenges I have had to face which drowns the positive aspects out. I seem like I am very strong and positive, but I keep my worries inside; I don’t tell people how I’m feeling, that I’m anxious for the future and I want every single thing to be perfect.  I know that I must believe in myself and learn to slow down and take one step at a time. 

This month is Mental Health Awareness month. I want to tell everyone who may be struggling to speak out and tell your story, don’t be ashamed to get the help you need – whether that’s talking to a friend or professionally. Speaking out will help raise awareness for this serious and widespread issue and will normalise talking about it, so that no one is afraid to ask for help.  

Conclusion:

My friends and family have reminded me of some important things to remember when you aren’t feeling your best:

  • Be kind to yourself and take time to process how you are feeling and what may have triggered it.
  • Be kind to others – kindness is a very small action that can mean the world to someone else.
  • Believe in yourself.
  • Slow down and make time for things you enjoy doing.
  • Remember to keep working on yourself by trying new things and taking advantage of opportunities. 
  • Clear your mind from overwhelming thoughts by spending time in nature, exercising, being creative or anything else that helps you. This video on mental health and nature may be helpful: https://youtu.be/TdDioDtjkis

A brighter start

The continuation of lockdown into 2021 has been challenging. We also had some very sad news and tragedies due to Covid. The memory of those we have lost will always live on and we’ll always be there to support our loved ones.

Over the last three months I have managed to stay positive and I have been involved in different activities. I support stroke survivors by listening to their stories and finding out what support they need. Although I am there to help them, I have learnt a lot about what people go through every day. I have also been looking after two children as a nanny/teacher. We do a variety of activities together: long walks, visit the park, I cook for them and I am always thinking of new activities to do with them. I have become very close to the children and I really enjoy being with them. I am also involved in motivational workshops which I find really rewarding and which benefit my mental health. 

Since January, I have found myself slowing down and focusing on the things that are important to me. In lockdown it’s easy to get bogged down in eating unhealthily and watching TV, but doing the above new activities has helped me change my perspective and have a more positive view on my life.

If anyone is struggling, with lockdown or otherwise, and wants to talk please don’t hesitate to message me because you’re not alone. I have been on a journey, and everyone has their own journey. I have been lucky to have so much support and guidance and I want to be that person for others.

On 4 January 2021, for my 5-year stroke anniversary I started a scholarship programme, as part of my passion to help children, called Bright Start – an Educational Sponsorship Programme to help some of the brightest but most marginalised children in India. This is a six-year programme of education, mentoring and support and will help children from 15 years old to university, and then their first job. I am going to start connecting with the children we are helping on Zoom and I can’t wait to hopefully visit India towards the end of this year or next year and meet them. 

I’m so excited about this programme and I love speaking to people about it. It has only been two months and 20 students have already been sponsored. I wouldn’t have been able to do this on my own and I am so grateful to all those who have supported this initiative. Find out more about it here https://www.onekindact.org/events/alisha-malhotra-s-bright-start-scholarship-programme

My New Nest

It has been a long time since my last blog, and I wanted to update everyone and share my recent journey.

I cannot believe how the time has flown by. Recently I have just been feeling so good within myself and have been looking at ways at how I can deal with different situations. It is really important for me to try and stay in this better place.

I have just moved into a new flat and I never imagined everything would happen as quickly as it did. I love having the independence, I love learning new skills and developing and I am having the best time. This is what I really needed. I know I am going to face challenges but moving into my own place has given me the confidence that I need to know that I will manage to deal with any situation. My routine has now changed and I am doing things that I didn’t before like reading, watching TV and doing housework. Now that I have moved I have been trying new recipes (you may already know I am the biggest foodie!) which has been really fun. I also like to sit outside on the patio with my coffee and take in the atmosphere and reflect on life.

I cannot even thank my family and friends enough for the support that they have given me. They said it would happen, I did not believe it, and right now I am living in the best place. I love how I make my own decisions and I can invite people over.

I love how since I have moved in, a few people have messaged me and have been interested about my journey. We have managed to discuss each other’s stories and what was amazing was that we all have good energy. It is sometimes nice to be around new people and new surroundings. My new home has many restaurants nearby, it is close to the station and very close to my cousins.

Now that I have moved there have been some situations, which have been quite difficult, but luckily, I have always been able to get through it. For example, the washing machine was my first problem. I could not operate it. Then my aunt explained it to me. Then I was nervous about the smoke alarm going off. What would I do? Then a friend explained what to do. Every day there are new things that I am learning which people take for granted. 

Reflections

Sometimes the thoughts that come to me are that people are moving on e.g. getting married or having babies which is difficult but I still feel in that sense I’m in such a different place. I know people say don’t over think or worry, focus on yourself and it will happen when you least expect it. It also reminds me how I am always trying to work hard and achieve bigger goals that I hope I will one day accomplish…….

Recently I have been hearing that lots of people have seen the advert which I was filmed in for the Stroke Association and I’ve heard they are amazed what I have done and how if it was someone else they would find it very difficult.

A reminder for me is that I am proud of my journey and of course, there is a reason for me being here and helping others and reaching out to others. I am still working every day and I love being around the good positive energy and kind people. Life is a blessing.

Recently I wanted the closest people to know that communicating via WhatsApp can be misinterpreted. Some people prefer speaking on the phone, but I have said please type your thoughts and I can then speak to them in person. It helps me when things are written down. 

I just also wanted to say that it really helps me to talk about something that is troubling me straight away of course with someone I feel very comfortable with and can communicate with and who understands me. I hold back on how I really feel because people just listen, but I feel I need some sort of reassurance as I sometimes lose sight of the present and feel hopeless. I sometimes feel lost and alone. Recovery is hard but things are improving all the time. 

With life, everyone has something going on. Although it may seem like things are great, if you look closer you can see the truth. I am trying to focus on each moment. Today is a new day and tomorrow is a new day. Do not dwell on the past and be grateful for what you have. Every day I count my blessings. 

I do need reassurance, but I know I have to remind myself that I can do anything I want and we must all believe in ourselves. Live your life to the fullest and do not miss the opportunities that come your way. I am who I am and I need to accept what comes my way and things that I have no control over.

Anything is possible

It’s my 6th year stroke anniversary and it is time to reflect. This year I am much stronger and feel more confident with lots of positive energy. New experiences this past year have included attending a yoga retreat, travelling to Spain on a family holiday, weekends away with friends and my voluntary work with various associations.

I have also had a lot of opportunities come my way which have made me realise that I am able to do so much if I put my mind to it. I feel so elevated and independent, giving me a sense of worth. Goal setting is important and this year I have set myself many challenges. I also learnt to ensure that I practiced self love which in turn gives me the strength to reach out and help others.

On the charity front my work with one kind act and the One Kind Act Bright Start Scholarship has gone from strength to strength. We now have over 75 children on the programme and this has given them an opportunity to follow their dreams and change their destiny.

Recent post September 2020

Life after lockdown

“If everything around you seems dark. Look again, you may be the light”

What have the last six months been like for you? In this blog I explain how I felt during lockdown and how I needed to change my mindset in order for things to improve. These are the next steps that have happened in my journey following lockdown. I hope this blog helps you and please comment and share your thoughts.

Lockdown to now

The last six months has been difficult and challenging for a lot of people with the restrictions of not being able to meet up with their loved ones or continue with their normal walks of life. For others, it has given them time to reflect and spend quality time to plan and make decisions for the future.

Initially I found lockdown hard due to the restrictions, not being able to meet people and also not being able to continue my voluntary work. I missed working with children in the nursery and assisting unwell children at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

To keep myself occupied I spent a lot of time on Zoom and I also continued supporting the Stroke Association by giving telephone support to vulnerable people during lockdown. Although this was fulfilling, after a while I found the negativity affected me and at times made me more anxious. I also started cooking a lot and putting my recipes, pictures and videos on my new Instagram page – Great Food_Great Mood. Although enjoyable, due to me always striving for perfection I ended up spending too much time focusing on how my page looked – if the pictures were perfect and the recipes were exact. This would get me frustrated and made my mindset even more negative.

I think I was trying to do much and had no proper direction about what I wanted to do. I started thinking about what was important to me and I decided to prioritise my goals. 

Firstly, I decided to explore work options available to me and applied for different positions. I was surprised that despite the economic climate there were a lot of opportunities available. Taking into account what I would enjoy, I started looking after two children as a nanny/teacher from Monday to Thursday. Using my previous skills and experience working with children, I really enjoy this and find it very rewarding.

On my day off on a Friday, I continue to help others through the Stroke Association. Having a routine has kept me busy and has given me much more confidence.

I also recently did a ‘home swap’ with my brother where he came home to stay with my parents and I temporarily moved in his flat for week. I really enjoyed this experience as it made me more independent and I realised that, if you set your mind to it, you can do what you want. It also made me appreciate the comforts and support I have at home.

With the above opportunities, and with all the cooking and eating that I did during lockdown, I also decided I need to get fitter and so I have started personal training sessions at home. This has pushed me both mentally and physically which has, as a result, made me stronger and more resilient.

How has lockdown affected you? Have you started any new hobbies or tried something you haven’t done before?

If you have an open mind, plan, and take things step by step, you can achieve anything you want to do. So, never get disheartened, don’t give up and follow your dreams. 

My interview with Dinesh from Singapore


I am so excited to share my interview with Dinesh Nair. Dinesh lives in Singapore. He volunteers for an organisation called 1Youth which shares stories of people who have touched and made a difference in people’s lives. I was so humbled when he reached out to me to share my story.
This is the first time I have opened up so much about my life, not just about my stroke but also about my childhood and my passion for teaching, how my journey changed unexpectedly from my stroke and how I am doing now, how simple things like volunteering and cooking have helped in my healing, and so much more!
Thank you so much Dinesh for asking about my journey – it is amazing how easy it was to open up with you despite never meeting you in person.

“The unexpected”

January is usually a hard month for me – in previous years January has been when the ‘bad’ things happen; my stroke as well as the death of some very special people in my life. This January I felt low and remembered those we had lost, but I remained positive and I managed to get through it.

In February things started getting better. I was motivated to try new things. I attended some wellbeing workshops in London, a job opportunity came up and I started feeling more confident that I will achieve my dreams. We began hearing about something called the Coronavirus that was spreading throughout China. I never thought it would impact our lives in the way that it has.

Coronavirus

It wasn’t until the beginning of March that Coronavirus began to feel really serious. It became an imminent threat and it was all that was on the news and all people talked about. Life as we know it started to change – restaurants and shops closed, people were asked to work from home and schools closed. The virus has disrupted our daily lives and we all have to adjust and find a way of coping for the time being.

The most difficult thing about the Coronavirus is that we don’t know how long our lives will be like this for. Should we be planning for a few months, or could this be for a year, maybe longer? I am trying to be present in the moment, waiting for this all to pass. It will get worse before it gets better, so it’s just about riding the wave – as we all are.

Our once full lives have become quiet and slow. Plans we made are no longer going ahead.

I especially feel bad for those who had to cancel their dream weddings, or holidays or job opportunities or those who are stranded and are not being able to reach out to their family and friends who may be in different continents.

Our everyday routine no longer exists – we must find a new one. I am a very organised person. I keep a diary and my weeks are always planned out. I like to know what I am doing and when. Crossing upcoming events off my diary, knowing they won’t happen and not even knowing when they might happen, really put things into perspective for me.

Lockdown: things to do

Being on lockdown is a unique experience to us all. We are all anxious about what the future holds but also have so much time on our hands to do perhaps those things we weren’t able to before. It’s a time to reflect and relax. Things I am trying to do to pass the time while on lockdown include:

  • Yoga and meditation classes: you can find lots online and they really help deal with the anxiety a lot of us are experiencing. It’s also a good way of getting into yoga and meditation if you haven’t tried it before.
  • Read a new book: I don’t read very often and it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, so I’m looking forward to this.
  • Connect with friends and family over FaceTime – especially with those who you don’t get a chance to speak to usually!
  • Go for a walk: make use of your one daily exercise outdoors and go for a walk if you can (but keep the 2m distance from everyone!), it’s my chance to reflect, clear my mind and get some fresh air.
  • Try a new recipe: I love cooking for my family and friends, so I am going to use this time to brush up on my cooking skills and try the recipes which have been saved on my phone for ages. I have also started an Instagram page – @greatfoodgreatmood – so any fellow foodies please follow me!
  • Keep a journal: journaling is a really good way of releasing your thoughts, so they aren’t all stuck in your head. It’s good practice to journal at the end of each day and write down three things you are grateful for. There’ll be good things that happened which you completely forgot about!
  • Limit the amount you watch the news: we all know it will get worse before it gets better, sadly people’s lives will be lost, and more and more people are expected to contract the disease. It’s easy to get sucked into the media hype and it’s not always helpful. Try to watch the news for a few minutes a couple of times a day just to keep informed about what’s going on.

How you can help

It’s a difficult time for everyone. Most of my friends and family are working from home and trying to get used to a different setting in the midst of the pandemic that’s happening. Some have also had to cancel weddings, stag dos, and hen dos – this must be so upsetting, especially because of the huge amount of time spent planning!

While making sure we’re okay we must also do what we can to help the vulnerable people in our society. It must be particularly hard for them as some aren’t able to leave their house for 12 weeks. We can do our bit to help and support them.

I also wanted to acknowledge and thank all the keyworkers who are helping the wider community during this difficult time. Many are sacrificing time with their families and even risking their lives to help others. It is so inspirational.

You can sign up to volunteer to help a vulnerable person by collecting their groceries, or help deliver vital NHS supplies on the NHS website: https://www.england.nhs.uk/participation/get-involved/volunteering/nhs-volunteer-responders/

Being surrounded with the threat of illness has given me flashbacks about what happened to me when I had my stroke, if other people will suffer in a similar way that I did, and if other people will be OK. Initially I felt very positive and strong and I was inspired to help others, but the last few days have been difficult. I’ve felt low, anxious and lost. I think everything has caught up with me and I have bottled up my feelings – which is never a good idea. Being on lockdown makes me feel stuck, like I don’t know where I am going. Everything has been put on pause and sometimes it’s difficult to see the end.

I know lots of us are feeling this way so it’s really important we support and help each other through this difficult time. We don’t know how long this will last but all we can control is our thoughts and behaviours. Take the necessary precautions – washing your hands, avoiding unnecessary travel, keeping a distance of 2m from others, and only go out when you need to. By following these guidelines, we are helping ourselves, each other and we will beat the virus sooner.

I’m also really missing the physical contact when meeting people – we can still talk to people on FaceTime but not being able to hug and touch those who are close to me is something I really miss.

I’d like to know, how are you feeling? What is the first thing you will do when the lockdown ends? No doubt I will be seeing my friends and family and visiting my favourite restaurant! I also can’t wait to see the children at work and my nephews and nieces as that always makes me feel extra happy. Please share how you are feeling so others know they are not alone, and maybe we can all help each other in some way.

Use this time to reflect and understand what you want to do when this is all over. It could be something for yourself or for helping others. The more you give in life the more you get back and even if it is one thing we learn from this experience that is an achievement in itself.

As they say there is light at the end of the tunnel……

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Keep Going, and don’t worry about your speed. You are making progress even if you don’t seem like it. Forward is forward no matter how slow.

So, where do I begin. Its not just this week but it has been a rollercoaster ride for me the last few years.

My biggest challenges are firstly I have so much on my mind, and I find it hard to process my thoughts or switch off. Once I get something in my mind, I need to have answers or get the problem resolved and I can’t rest until its done. I know I overthink, and I also know that sometimes there is no answer or solution to my thoughts, but I still can’t let it go.

This does not help with the problem that I don’t sleep well at all and I wake up in the middle of the night.

I have tried listening to relaxing music, calm meditation, candles & night tea but my concentration is not good. There are so many other things that people have recommended and it just depends what works for you.

I still don’t give up and I am always looking at ways to help my concentration and things like yoga, writing my blog and diary, helping others, does help me.

I feel at times some people don’t really understand what happened to me and instead of asking they decide to keep a distance which is not beneficial.

The stroke I had was caused by a faulty aneurysm which could have happened to anyone, but now that it is fixed, I am as healthy as any other person and the chance of me having another stroke is as likely as any other person.

Sometimes I push myself to much and want to please everyone which is not always possible.

I have been lucky to have so many amazing people in my life who have been by my side and continue to inspire and guide me, but I know at the end only I have to accept my journey and the new direction I have to take.

I have achieved so much this year and I am very proud of myself, I have been lucky to be working aside amazing people and have been able to help so many causes and children which truly inspires me.

With so much tragedy you hear about on a daily basis, you have to live every day as it’s your last and follow your dreams

 

Change Your Thoughts And You Can Help Change The World!

1Update…….

It has been a really busy summer, so I thought I would update you all of what’s been happening in my life!

April being a Stroke Awareness month, I was invited by the BBC/ITV, Radio Asian Network and Sky News to tell my story live on the radio & TV. This was my first experience of being interviewed LIVE! I didn’t know what to expect and just had to be brave and respond to the questions. Now that I know what it entails, I was glad for the experience and being given the opportunity to reach a large audience, to bring awareness to so many people.

Rebuilding lives after stroke – The Stroke Association ran a national campaign called “Rebuilding lives after a stroke” and 6 stroke survivors including me were chosen to share our journeys.

This campaign was a fulfilling experience and has been very successful as it educates people that strokes can happen to anyone at any age and that all young people should be aware of this.

The campaign reached a large audience and has been advertised in leaflets, magazines, tv channels, radio and in cinemas.

May started with me actively supporting a couple of charities, one being One Kind Act coffee morning which was raising funds for their work and the second was for Bal Kitchen, in support of local causes that help survivors who have had a brain injury.  Bal Kapila lost her son after a tragic brain injury. I feel terribly sad for her and admire her bravery to continue raising awareness and raising funds for worthy causes. Money raised from her cookery book sales were kindly donated to One Kind Act to buy essential equipment to support head injury victims.

Then in June I was also fortunate to be one of four people chosen to have three weeks of intensive therapy for Aphasia. I participated in various individual and group therapies such as speech and language, self-development, tree of life therapy and many more.

During that period, I learnt a lot, but more importantly, my perception of people with aphasia changed, whereby I realised that everyone one with aphasia is different and their capabilities also vary. I enjoyed sharing our journey and in this process, this gave me the courage and confidence which helped me to believe in myself.  From this experience I felt I made lifetime friendships and felt that I really could improve my future skill sets.

This treatment was funded by The National Brain Appeal which is a charity dedicated to raising vital funds for the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery at UCL

The intensive therapy was amazing for all the participants and I only wish it was bit longer.

It has also been one year since I started volunteering for Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH). It was my ambition to work here, as my cousin Tiana spent a long time in this hospital and I saw the amazing care she got. She suffered from Cystic Fibrosis and was treated at the hospital and unfortunately passed away at a very young age. She is my inspiration and was a selfless soul who was brave, lively and had an amazing enthusiasm for life, always wanting to help others. Achieving a volunteering position at GOSH was difficult but I was glad to be given this opportunity.

At GOSH I work on the ward visiting children in their rooms, playing games with them, doing different activities and giving the parents support and a break if they required it. Every time I am there, I have a different experience and get to share and tell a different story. I absolutely love it and find it so rewarding.

Finally, in July I continued to support Sky Sharma Foundation. This is a mental health charity raising awareness amongst the Asian population. Neelam Sharma lost her only son Akash to suicide. Despite a deep personal loss, she raises funds to help projects in schools and colleges. At the same time, we supported Bal again. To see two mothers in so much pain from their loss yet raising money for their causes was truly a humbling sight.

On A More Personal Note …………

All through the summer I have been overwhelmed with numerous weddings and celebrations of close family and friends. From hen parties to weddings and baby showers I have been extremely busy and at times was exhausted.

I am really happy for my friends and family who are progressing in their lives, but I can’t help but look at my own journey and think how different it would or could have been if I did not have my unexpected stroke in 2016. Then I reflect and I know how blessed I am to have made an amazing recovery and here today to share my story.

As you can see, I have had so much going on in my life it has been like a roller coaster emotionally and physically.

My Feelings ……….

With so much going on I do get tired and this slows my thought process, but I am to blame for this as I keep pushing myself to do more.

There are times when I feel anxious and feel that I cannot express my true feeling or that people don’t understand. This sometime causes frustration and I get temperamental until I have an emotional outburst, luckily this is short lived, and I accept things and move forward positively.

I do feel sad that I have lost touch with some of my old friends who have moved on, but I am also grateful for the new friends I have met who have been so supportive and understanding to me.

I am also thankful to my mum and dad who have been my tower of strength through my journey.

I also look at the positive side to life, to have been lucky to have helped so many causes, to have shared my story and bring awareness and to have reached out to so many people and through this, having made some amazing new relationships.

My aim is to educate people, to discuss, to understand, to question but not to judge or make opinions on anyone. No one person is the same, but every person deserves to be loved and be understood.

LINKS……..

Rebuilding Lives:        www.stroke.org.uk/rebuilding-lives

BBC Asian Network:    www.facebook.com/BBCAsianNetwork/videos/302085454060965/

Sky News: www.facebook.com/AlishaMalhotraAphasia/videos/289546275325521/

Channel 5 News :  https://www.facebook.com/AlishaMalhotraAphasia/videos/346433479556249/?q=alisha%20aphasia&epa=SEARCH_BOX

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