Category Archives: volunteer

Counselling by Catherine PANDAS

I’m on the train. It’s delayed. The rain falls relentlessly outside coating the windows in wet spidery patterns. I’m listening to a compilation of Klezmer music and feel very pessimistic about this, my first counselling session for eight years.

I’ve been sat on a waiting list with my local IAPT Service for longer than the ‘standard waiting time’ of 6-8 weeks. I took my daughter along with me to my initial session last week, needless to say it wasn’t very productive. I dropped her off with a very good friend this morning in order to attend this session on my own. I don’t really know what to expect from it as counsellors are all so different. From what I saw last week, he seemed like a nice bloke, but I have no idea if he’s capable of scooping the black treacley mess out of my brain and turning it into something I can deal with constructively. We’ll see.
Here I am in reception. There are two people with suits on, they look like salesmen. They made me feel really angry actually, I don’t know why. And there’s another lady in the corner. I’ve kept my headphones in because I don’t like the shite local radio. I’ve been to the loo, the Suits stared at me as I walked past them. I want to know why they’re here, what are they selling? One of them looks over-confident, the other looks nervous. I have half an hour to wait so I’m going to read my book for a little while.
I’m out.

It was good today. It’s mainly driven by myself I think, but he joins in and uses the same language as me, which is oddly comforting. We talked about past betrayals and past relationships. We talked about my current relationship and the problems I have living in Rugby. We talked about how I feel when I feel bad and how I take a lot on, probably to distract myself from my own feelings. We talked about the fact that I never talked about my own experience of postnatal depression with anyone, I never talked it through. We talked about isolation and reaching out, and talking about how I’m feeling. Like how I’m actually feeling, not just generic “sad”, “low”. It was good. I feel like I took something away from it at least.

I know it’s going to be hard, but I think I need to look back at my pregnancy and the first days of Motherhood and try to put them to rest in my head. It’s like they’re there in the background, and can be revived, but I need to soften them a little so that their revival isn’t so destructive to me emotionally.

Session booked in next week. Watch this space.


Beeping Black Dog – by Catherine PANDAS

I’m sat here working through our final wedding music choices.  WEDDING.  I am GETTING MARRIED to a MAN that I LOVE WITH ALL MY HEART, and I KNOW HE LOVES ME TOO.  I’m also currently weaning off my anti-depressants.  Now, here’s a fine example of my bittersweet companion, the old Black Dog.


So, here I am, still in pyjamas, listening to beautiful music and having a fun text exchange about the wedding with my lovely kind fiance.  On the laptop.  Where there are photographs of him and his ex-partner.  Suddenly, there I am, swooping through files, my heartbeat quickening, feeling sick, keep going, keep looking, flicking past faces I don’t know, will never know, seeing smiles that aren’t real, don’t exist anymore, keep looking, keep going, looking for proof that…… HOLD ON.  Proof of what?  Proof that he EXISTED BEFORE ME?!?!???  Really?  This is the Beeping Black Dog, and he’s here trying to spoil my positive feeling.

Now, once upon a time, I would have continued in this chaotic spiral for the rest of the day until it culminated into having a great big useless row with lovely fiance over my own anxious thoughts, but since learning about coping strategies and talking, like really learning to talk about how I’m feeling, I have been able to work out other ways of doing things.  So, instead of carrying on, I closed down the folders and made a meme:



I made a meme, and now I feel better.

Project Me by Hannah Tubb

My name is Hannah I suffered from post natal depression/anxiety and PTSD. My children are three and seven. I still suffer from anxiety. Sometimes I control it sometimes I can’t.
Sometimes I see a light at the end of the tunnel, sometimes I don’t.
I’ve had counselling- some has worked, some has not.
Sometimes I accept my life as it is and I’m grateful for what I have – sometimes I feel like I have a neon sign flashing over my head saying ‘crap mum’ ‘crap wife’ crap everything. This happens a lot. I wish it didn’t because I beat myself up for that as well!

Today I woke up with an overwhelming list of projects in my head that I have to complete or get started on.
My daughters birthday party and then a couple of days later her birthday,
A promotion at work and subsequent responsibilities.
A list of tasks that I need to get on top of in my various volunteering roles at PANDAS. And then there’s my ,ten-year-wedding-anniversary -spa-break-must-look-good-in-bikini’ stress!
The counselling course I’m planning for,
the yoga course I’d like to take,
the perfect organised housewife and baking, crafty, happy, stress-free mum I aspire to be.

My husband suggested I strip everything back to the absolute basics – but I want it all – so what are the basics?!
Besides, if I strip everything back won’t I just be failing at all the things I’ve dropped? I feel as though I’d be letting myself down and be seen as flaky – what is this obsession with wanting to be seen as someone who is busy all the time? because I might be busy but I’m spreading my self so thin that I don’t feel like I’m actually succeeding at any one thing!
So, today I’m starting a new project.  Project ME!
I’m going to strip everything back to the basics – my family, me and work (because I have to).
I need to work on my foundations again before I can start building on top of them.
I need to work out what makes ME happy, (and that means ME not what I do because I want to be seen in a certain way by others.)I have lived my life like that for so long I think it will be hard to prize the two apart.
So, that is my first task for project ME – make a list of things I love doing, and make time for those things!
What things would you add to your list?
To be continued . . .

Interview with My PANDAS Volunteer BFFF* Donna Swift

(*Brilliant Fabulous Funny Friend)

Hey you.  Thanks for joining us over here on the PANDAS Guest Blog today!  I know that #volunteersweek is sooo over, but I wanted to ask you a few questions, post-conference, about why you volunteer with PANDAS.  So…

What made you first want to get involved with the PANDAS Foundation?

I volunteer for PANDAS because I suffered acute pre and post natal anxiety and depression. I want to help ladies (and gents) through what was the most challenging and desperate time of my life. I want to tell them there isn’t a feeling they are having that I haven’t felt myself and try my very best to support them until they get the help they deserve and start to see that light at the end of the tunnel. (Blub) Also I want to make sure they know they are not alone and it’s ok not to be ok.

What do you do?  What is your official PANDAS Job Title?

Job title hahaha …. I have many but my official title is online coordinator….. Oh and stuarts PA !

You won an award on Saturday, the PANDAS Champion Online Community Winner, how did that feel?

My award ! I’m thrilled . It’s fantastic to be recognised for the work I do. I am just so so proud.

Can you tell us a little more about the PANDAS Online Community?

We have a new online community which is going to be launched very soon. Its going to be a place where our service users can support each other and chat, Ask questions and seek help. We have a number of volunteers monitoring the community and making sure we also offer help and support.  We will make sure everyone is aware of the launch date as its very exciting. I cant wait to get started.

At the Conference, we talked a bit about the stigma of PND, did/do you ever feel stigmatised for suffering from postnatal mental illness?

At first I was so ill I didn’t think about what people thought. I just needed to feel normal. Once I started to feel a little better I would say. Yes I felt stigmatised. By some of my own family. I was so frightened to speak out. I have since learnt that getting well is priority and speaking out is a massive step in recovery. Talk talk and talk some more!

Tell me one thing you learnt at the PANDAS Conference…

I thought the PANDAS conference was amazing. I learnt so much but I would say what stood out for me was a talk on self harm. I also learned that I volunteer for and with some AMAZING people who work together everyday to help PANDAS to be as amazing as it is and we all help any way we can.

Finally, are the rumours true?  Did you get a Yorkshire Tea tattoo after the Conference??

The Yorkshire Tea tattoo unfortunately just a rumour but never say never…

Thank you Donna!  Now, get back to work…..

Back to work. I’m on it. Two days away and I have so much to do. BUT….l love it and wouldn’t have it any other way

Donna ‘queen of the North’ xxxx

Eat The Caramels and Ditching the Coffee Creams – by Rachael Jones

For those who don’t know I’m Rachael, I’m 26 mum of two gorgeous children, Cofounder and CEO of PANDAS. I’m emotional, I cry a lot… so I will apologise in advance in case I cry… and for anyone who knows me, knows that I do not ever do things by halves.


Today, I want to make things simple and match life to chocolate… where you can choose to eat the good one, the caramels and ditch the rest, the coffee creams.
The greatest gift any one can ever give you, is to believe in you. Just believe you are here for a reason. Don’t give up on everything you dreamt you could be as a child because of who or what you have surrounded yourself with.
Your brain is circuit switch, once you believe you are something, you actually embody it, and you embrace that feeling. If God forbid you were in a coma, and you woke up and you didn’t really have a memory and you were told you used to be a marine and they want you back as soon as you are fit. Do you think you would act differently, hold yourself differently, conduct yourself differently and have a different self-concept of who you are than if you told you were a piano instructor? Would you stand taller, straighter and talk with more confidence?
Being successful in life is all about having the proper belief system in who you are, truly believing that you are something unique, that you are something special. If you truly believe that you are one of the best TV Presenters in the world, you will be entirely different than if you went around thinking I hope I am good. Your expressions will be totally different, your tone of voice, you’ll talk in a more convincing fashion, you’ll use your natural voice instead of a scripted one.
Our brains are like a circuit, if we program it with the correct wiring, we’re going to go straight to our target. Bring unsure about who you are, means your dreams, your goals, they will never become a reality.
Everyone has mental doubts in life, internal conflicts. Even the most successful people you look up too do, but they don’t live there, they don’t stay in that moment. Moving forward is about how you handle those negatives thoughts in that exact moment and overwhelm them with positive action and that comes from having the up most confidence in yourself that you can handle the situation and you need to trust in yourself that you can handle the moment because you can!
There will always be haters, there will always be people who want to break you and tear you down, and how do you stay strong? Someone’s opinion of you does not need to become your reality. Don’t allow anyone to steal your success.

I asked for people to comment on Facebook for the last negative thought that they have had about themselves, the response within one hour was over 50 comments and personal messages…50! Yet as individuals we do not go and speak so viciously towards others, yet we allow us to do it to ourselves on a daily basis. My destructive thought is ‘I AM USELESS AND WORTHLESS”. Whenever things get tough that’s the thought I have. This thought doesn’t help in any way, just tears at any self-confidence I have. I know that it is just destructive!
I have to admit it is only recently I have found inner strength, it took a lot of soul searching over this last year, a lot of change and a trek across the Sahara to realise the only person who can make life happen for me… is me. I made changes, I decided to take that control back which I had lost to live life how I want too.
Some people sit here, knowing full well how close they came to ending their life. I understand that, I’ve been there. To feel so low that everyone you have surrounded yourself with is better off without you and just wanting that constant deep suffocating pain to leave your body and mind. They hardest battle you have faced, you have succeeded, you are alive! You are here!
I am not saying any of this is easy, there will be days when you hate yourself and you look around and wonder how everyone else has life so easy. Just remember not to live in the moment, change you mind-set, the negativity, and start applying positive actions.
If you want to lose weight, buy trainers and run, if you want to trek the Sahara do it, if you want to change your career path, work towards it, if you want more education, then enrol to college of university.
Life is about eating the caramels and ditching the coffee creams. We are the masters of our own destiny.
To end let me remind you…There will always be haters, there will always be people who want to break you and tear you down, and how do you stay strong? Someone’s opinion of you does not need to become your reality. Don’t allow anyone to steal your success.
Remember yesterday is the past, we cannot change that. Tomorrow is a gift, but today is an opportunity.
If you want what you have never had before, if you want to do what you have never done before, if you want to be what you’ve never been before. Change your mentality. Be excited of the fact you have an opportunity of a life time.
The greatest gift any one can ever give you, is to believe in you. So here is my gift to you. I BELIEVE IN YOU

I am a PANDAS Volunteer – by Catherine Pollard

Well, hello there!  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may know me already as the young lady who badgers folk to share their stories, their experiences and their knowledge with you all here at the PANDAS Guest Blog.  I thought it would be natural to write about the PANDAS Conference on the following Monday, but here I am on Sunday evening without a post ready for tomorrow – eek…..

Most of you have probably already seen the photographs littering Facebook of speakers, people laughing (very loudly) and award winners, it was a great day and really well put together.  I watched Sally Llewellyn (PANDAS Safeguarding Team) give two talks, one on Self Harm and Intrusive Thoughts and the other on Challenging Misconceptions, both were exceptional and we all took away a lot of invaluable information.  I also watched a talk on Talking Therapies, which was so interesting that it over-ran into lunch and nobody complained!

Rachael, our beloved PANDAS Founder, gave a very moving talk which really challenged the way we speak to ourselves, it was horrifying to hear some of the quotes, particularly to hear mine (“I’m too selfish to be a good Mother”) among them.  It was a real eye-opener.

Then came the most shocking part of all.  I won a blooming prize.  I went and won PANDAS Volunteer of the Year!  Silly Cry Face

Stuart Dobson, Silly Cry Face and Rachael Jones

I was totally overwhelmed, I’m one of those people who never win anything.  Or the type of person who kind of thinks they’re doing a good job until they see someone else doing it better so they give up.  I was honoured, and a bit embarrassed that the photographer was taking a photo of my Silly Cry Face, but mostly just flat out amazed that I’d actually won something.  (Read back to Rachael’s speech on how we talk to ourselves, ahem…)  So, I thought that this week, I’d give you a little glimpse into my PANDAS Volunteering World so you can see what goes on behind the scenes 😀

My day usually begins with a hilarious message from our Online Co-Ordinator, Donna Swift.  She’ll have probably been up since about 4.30am with her beautiful little girl so it kicks me straight into PANDAS gear.  Still in bed, with maybe only one eye open, I’ll scan through my Google Alerts to see if there are any news stories relating to perinatal mental health, or PND, in my inbox.  If there are, they’ll be posted up on the main facebook pages.  I like that we stay up to date with everything going on out there and get very irritated if we miss something, so if you ever see something that we haven’t, get in touch!

Me and Donna

Donna “Queen of the North” Swift and myself

I’ll slope downstairs with my daughter, Violet, for an argument about cereal, or the telly, or toilet roll and when all is pacified, I’ll fire up the laptop ready to get my PANDAS hat on.  I run the Facebook show on a Monday so along with relevant news articles I’ll have a look for other blog posts (my favourite blogger is brummymummy, hilarious…), things going on nationally such as Volunteers Week and Mental Health Awareness Week etc etc, and anything else that I think you’d like to see up on the page.  I’m also on the admin team for PANDAS Closed Group so will make sure to keep up to date with approving posts and making sure you all know that we’re here for you.

The PANDAS Guest Blog will usually go up at about 9-10am.  I always get really excited to hear the response the articles get as I’m always on the lookout for new writers and try to make sure we’re always bringing you the very best.  I like to post the interview a little while later so that the article itself has settled down.

While this is going on, I’ll be flitting about across the PANDAS Facebook Groups doing little jobs for others like uploading pictures, scheduling interviews, designing certificates, all sorts really.  I LOVE getting creative so really like designing things and love doing the videos for the PANDAS TV YouTube channel but also enjoy getting my geek on and working out how to solve problems with computer-y type jobs.  I’m also working on a PANDAS Task Force to hopefully get some changes made within Primary Care settings to ensure we’re all getting the care we deserve.

If I get a minute, I’ll do some reading.  I hunt down journals, articles, books, anything I can get my hands on.  I’ve recently bought “Sad Dad – An Exploration of Postnatal Depression in Fathers” by Olivia Spencer.  I’m really passionate at raising awareness of male PND, Dads deserve support as much as us Mums and I suspect that PND in men is reaching a similar frequency level as with women.  I get quite excited if I find a television or radio programme that flags up mental health issues, so will spend half an hour or so watching/listening to see if it’s relevant to us here at PANDAS.

My daughter by this point will probably be going a little crazy and will have started climbing up my back shouting “PIGGY HEAD! PIGGY HEAD!” so I’ll take a break to do some play fighting or dancing and start thinking about lunch.  If we head out into town, I’ll have my phone close to hand in case there’s somebody who needs to talk, or needs me to do anything.  If it’s quiet in the afternoon, I’ll do some emailing/harassing 🙂  I’m setting up a PANDAS Support Group in Rugby at the moment so am emailing local parent groups and mental health campaigners, a whole range of different people, to try and get some publicity and also to seek out people with common interests and goals.

I’m also studying a Mental Health course, so if things are really, really quiet, and Violet is asleep, I’ll crack on and get ahead on that.  But to be honest, that really doesn’t happen very often.

In the evenings, with Homeland on in the background, I’ll sit and write up blog posts or interviews, or may even have some telephone interviews with prospective PANDAS volunteers.  There’ll probably be another hilarious message from Donna, and then it’s time to hit the hay.  I try to get to bed before midnight but since we’ve started watching Homeland, this has proved difficult.

Volunteering for PANDAS has given me a whole new lease of life.  I wake up excited to start my day.  If I’m struggling with relapse or just having an off-day, I take a day or two offline, just nipping in to help with admin bits and bobs.  I find the other volunteers are a huge support and don’t really know what I’d do without them now.  And I won’t stop.  I won’t stop until everyone has adequate, appropriate and excellent pre and postnatal mental health care and if this involves the bags under my eyes being a little larger than the other Mums in the playground, so be it!  I’m a PANDAS volunteer and I love it 🙂


Violet and I after the PANDAS Conference ❤