Worth Living Ambassador Jaymi

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“Hi, my name is Jaymi.  I am 22 years old and live in North Las Vegas. I love karaoke but according to my Dad, I could kill birds with a voice like mine (it takes talent to sing this badly ). I love being outside and I am currently learning to get out of my comfort zone. Did I mention I am a dork?!”

 

Raising awareness for mental health is so extremely important and that is why I am writing this today.
I can’t speak on behalf of many mental illnesses, but I can openly tell you my story and the struggles I still face today with memory loss.
In February 2015, I had noticed a change in myself.  I had become a little more forgetful throughout the day than usual. I didn’t speak up about it at first because I figured everyone becomes a little forgetful sometimes (I was wrong).
A week or two later a friend comes by to take me to work.  During the car ride we are talking, laughing, but suddenly I  questioned  my surroundings and where I’m going. So I stop her mid-sentence and ask her “Where are we going?” she replies “I’m taking you to work and sometimes we take the freeway”.  She asked me “Why?”    I look at the day, date, and time on my phone which would make sense for me to be going to work on that specific day at that time. I look at my clothes and noticed that I’m wearing my work uniform and instantly tell her nothing. As I looked out the car window for those few moments,  I was confused and everything looked new to me (which is extremely unusual because I was born and  raised here).
I lived with my dad at the time so once I got home from work I told him about the incident that happened earlier that day. We agreed to bring it up at my upcoming neurologist appointment. A few weeks passed and my appointment day was finally here. I was beyond nervous and I had every right to be. When the doctor called my name,  my dad and I  stood up and we both walked back to the  examination room.  The doctor asked me how I was doing and I said I’d been better.  I told him that I’d become more forgetful than usual lately. He got a smirk on his face and did this half laugh half chuckle. He told me it was a side effect from my medication. He said in the old days it was called dopey lopey because people were always forgetting things while they were on this medication. My heart immediately sank to my butt (that is just a metaphor I use when I’m being dramatic) and my mind was going 100 miles an hour. I told him I wanted to be taken off this medication because it causes memory loss. He explained to me and my dad that I couldn’t just be taken off the medication, that with time I would slowly stop taking one pill at a time.
I was in tears the whole car ride home.  Once there, I had the pill bottle in my hand ready to flush the whole pill bottle down the toilet. My dad saw me and said that we should follow the doctor’s steps and in a while I would no longer be on that medication. My dad was right, in time I was taken off that specific medication completely and I was doing good….for a while.
One morning I woke up to get ready for work. I picked up an earlier shift than usual so I was like a walking zombie HA! Anyway I went into the bathroom, when I got up I just fell on my knees. No one heard it so I said to myself brush it off, I started to brush my teeth and out of nowhere my chin hits the counter top really hard. I lost control of my body and I couldn’t even tell you how. My dad knocks on the bathroom door to ask what that was and if I’m okay. I tell him it was nothing and I’m fine, I finish brushing my teeth but I fall again and at this point my chin and knees hurt. I sit down to put on my uniform, and do my hair but the challenge is I have to walk down stairs to get to the car. Dad asks me if I’m sure I’m okay, I say yes. I remember taking a few steps past the bottom of the stairs and  I fell face first into the concrete. My dad helped me up.  I can’t remember too much after that other than waking up in an ambulance and a man telling me I had two seizures. I go back to my doctor and I end up back on the prescription that causes memory loss. I cried for days and to this very day I am still on that very medication.
Although my memory gets worse with time , I get great pep talks from my Dad & cousin Daysia. I keep FAITH, HOPE, & MEMORY JOURNALS (two Memory Journals so far). There is so much more to my story but I’ve already written enough so I’ll end it on a happy note


Worth Living Ambassador Mike Mousseau

“My name is Mike and I’m 24.  I have a career in correction services. I have confronted depression and anxiety the majority of my life. I’ve never been truly shy about my struggles, but it’s also hard to find the words to explain the struggles within your head. So let’s take a trip into my world.”

 

I had always been anxious as a child. I remember being terrified to go to sleep if I couldn’t hear my parents in the house. If they let the dog out, I would sit on the edge of my bed and wait until I hear them close and lock the door. I wouldn’t say it ever severely affected me. I had a great home life with tons of friends, but at the end of every day, I was always a scared little boy.

 

Fast forward to 12 years old. I had what I thought was your ordinary sleepover with a few friends. When I woke up, one of those friends was taking advantage of me. To spare details, this wasn’t a one- time thing, it happened over a span of a year or so. And what had really haunted me, after so many years, was the fact that I let it happen for that long.

 

It’s complicated. You know it’s wrong, but at the same time, you’re muted by all of these different questions, “What if nobody believes me? Will he deny it? What if my family disowns me?” And the two biggest for me, were “Why me?”  and  “Why did part of me enjoy it?”

 

Entering high school was pretty rough. As these thoughts still flooded my head,  I would rebound back and forth between happy and sad. Depressed and content. It wasn’t until my final year, when I would have trouble breathing, that I thought something may be wrong. That started my first experience with anti- anxiety medication. Although I didn’t stick to them. I was a firm believer in not relying on something to make me feel normal.

 

Life still happened though. I had girlfriends, grew up, attended college, all normal people things.  But  time and time again, my mind always wandered back to what happened to me. No matter how many times I spoke with friends, even if they could relate, it didn’t really make the feelings dissipate.

 

I was always heavily complimentary on the fact that I never turned to alcohol, drugs, or self- harm to cope with these feelings;  and the truth is, I never saw myself doing so. It just didn’t make sense. As unbelievably frustrating as it was, I knew I just had to cope with things.

 

I didn’t tell my parents until I was 20. And even then, I didn’t technically say anything. I was in a dark place, and sat down with my mom one night until she probed the answer out of me. I have never seen anybody in my life look at me the way she did. She was heartbroken. But she loved me, and wanted nothing more than to make me feel safe and secure, which to this day she still does. I never really told my dad. He ended up reading about it online when I posted it for Bell’s Let’s Talk Day. We’ve never been the type to be emotional with one another, but he’s just happy that I’m in a much better place.

 

I was 23 when I actually confronted the individual. Every time the thought crossed my mind prior to this, I was still angry and hurt. Though, one night I was speaking to a friend, and said “I think it’s time”.  She walked me through it, and left it at that. I wasn’t expecting a whole lot. I woke up the next morning with a massive apology. We spoke most of the day, and he – I truly believe – was sorry. He told me that he had still regretted it all these years later, and sought help for himself as he got older. I told him at the time I wasn’t ready to forgive him.  I may never be able to, but that’s OK, I still had my closure.

 

In 2013, I also lost my best friend a month before he turned 22. It was a work related accident, and one that was easily preventable. The utter devastation of receiving that phone call was life changing, even more so when I had to tell my girlfriend at the time who also shared his friendship. Alan was the most genuine and influential human beings to grace this planet. He lit up a room with his exuberant personality, and knew exactly how to cheer you up if you felt like a sack of trash. That being said, the night I found out he died, was the night I found it he was dealing with demons and had previously considered suicide.
Over the course of the next year, I had two of my closest friends move out of province and country, and the relationship I was in ended the following spring. That left me feeling more alone than I have ever felt.  Almost instantly, I cut out most of the people in my life. I forgot how to talk and open up, and while in-between jobs, became a prisoner of my own thoughts.

 

Because of this, poison festered in my head. Feeling depressed, and having such intrusive thoughts spill into your mind like a conveyor belt  is bar none the most awful thing to endure. You convince yourself you’re  going crazy. One of the scariest thoughts my mind produced, was “if Alan felt like this before he died, does this mean I’m going to die too?” And I remember crying to my mother one day, and blurted that out. She hugged me, and said “it all makes sense now.”   I believe that was my defining moment. Slowly but surely, things started falling into place.

 

I started seeing a counselor, who truthfully, was one of the biggest crutches to my stability. She convinced me that I wasn’t crazy, and gave me multiple grounding techniques to do when I have troubling days. She also didn’t feel the need to see me on medication, although my doctor wouldn’t stop pushing them. I met new friends, who were more supportive than anybody I had ever met. There were a few friends I slowly pulled closer, and learned to open up and talk to again. I’m now in an amazing relationship with a woman who’s more patient and understanding than I could have ever imagined.

 

Am I cured? I wouldn’t consider myself so. I’m still anxious almost daily. I still have days where I think I’m going insane. Intrusive thoughts still muster their way into my head when I’m over tired  by which time I barely have the energy to cut them off.

 

You know what?

 

Let the thoughts come because as absurd as it sounds, it’s normal. Anxiety is normal. Mental illness is normal. You’re not crazy. One of the most important things I’ve heard in the last three years came from Corey Taylor (for those of you unfamiliar, he is the frontman for Slipknot and Stone Sour) who said “Nothing on this planet is worth going away for. Nothing on this planet is worth ending your life for.” I held onto these words and repeated them to myself every time I had I thought that the world was too much for me, and I just wanted to escape it all.

 

Ultimately, all I want in life is to change lives. If I can convince somebody that life is worth living, that’s wonderful. If I can convince somebody that prison isn’t worth the time, energy, and loss of truly living, then I’ve done my job. No matter how dark and dreary your road is, there is ALWAYS something to make it all worthwhile.


Worth Living Ambassador Ann Ottaway continues to share her journey.
Ann is a 30 year old former legal assistant, animal lover, and a believer in new beginnings. Ann shares her recovery journey with the hope that her story allows others to realize they are not alone.

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My sobriety journey has been one of the most difficult challenges I have ever faced.  This is mainly due to the fact that it is a challenge that I have to face every day.

 
My substance abuse started as a means of managing my social anxiety.  I felt relaxed, more outgoing and far less shy than my standard self- conscious state of being.  One hit or one drink would be good, so I figured another would be better.  If two were good, three must be better and so on.  With the highs came the lows, groups became isolation and what started as something seemingly harmless became dangerous.  I began to use substances as a means of coping with any and all unpleasant emotions.

 
I figured if I felt better using when I felt socially anxious, then it would help me feel better in other situations. For example, if I was sad, angry or stressed.  Sure, I felt better in the moment but later I was filled with regret, guilt, shame and depression.

 
The extent of my issues with substance abuse were a surprise to many.  It was not something that I was proud of, it was something that I kept hidden and it was something  about which I was in denial.  It took my being open to my own feelings and listening to the stories of others for me to realise that I had a problem.  I had to first admit this problem to myself and then to my family and friends.  I had to be honest with doctors and counsellors and with the support and encouragement of those around me. I participated in group and individual addictions counselling.

 
Since making the decision to abstain completely from substances, especially alcohol, I have safely participated in a number of triggering events such as sports games, concerts, and birthday celebrations.  I have developed a number of coping skills such as having a plan with respect to dealing with cravings and urges but I continue to face challenges.

 
One of the most difficult challenges I continue to face is adapting to social situations now that my go to social anxiety defence mechanism is no longer a part of my life.  Those same unpleasant feelings still occur and continue to be amplified as I often find myself in social situations where alcohol is involved.  I often feel like I am missing out on the fun as if like I am no longer included. I find myself feeling awkward and uncomfortable when I am the only person not drinking, I feel guilty when I have to ask others to help me not drink and when others ask if it is okay for them to drink in my presence.

 
It is when I am overwhelmed with these feelings that I have to remind myself of an important lesson I learned in my addictions counselling. I don’t ask myself what am I losing out on by not engaging in substance use, but what am I gaining?

 
Yes, I feel like I am losing out many things but I have to weigh the losses with the gains. What do I feel like I am losing by maintaining my sobriety? I feel like I am losing out on events to which  I don’t get invited.  I feel like I am missing out on the party when I am too shy to get up and dance when everyone else is.  I feel like I am losing opportunities to get to know others when I am too shy to mingle.  I feel like I no longer have fun now that I have chosen to let go it of my former habits.

 
What am I gaining by maintaining my sobriety?  I am gaining control over my body by not inhibiting my decision making.  I am gaining pride in myself through self- control and discipline.  I am gaining a better state of physical and mental well- being by not ingesting substances that compromise my health.  I am gaining a greater sense of security by not compromising my safety.  I am gaining pure and honest friendships based on openness, honesty and heartfelt and pure conversations.  I am gaining a stronger sense of true friendship through my support system.

 
Being four months sober and only now discovering who I am as a person, I know that I can discover new hobbies, healthier habits,  and strong supports with those who want me in their lives because they like me for who am I am as a person. When I feel overwhelmed by the losses, I remind myself of the gains and I know deep down that the gains will always outweigh the losses.

 

 


 

Worth Living Ambassador Eleri McEachern

Eleri is a newer resident to Nova Scotia, moving to Halifax from Ontario in 2015 to begin her undergraduate degree in Neuroscience at Dalhousie University.
Her struggles with mood, eating, and personality disorders definitely impacted her ability to see the potential of a brighter future. Nonetheless, she made it to her dream school and continues to fight every day, and strives to enlighten others about the effects of mental illness and overcoming personal barriers.

When I was little, I wanted to be a lot of things. Sometimes it was a rock star, a ninja, a veterinarian, or a scientist. When I was a bit older, I wanted to be a marine biologist, a cinematographer, then a researcher. Now I’m here, waking up every morning and thinking “Wow, so this is my life”.  I’m none of those things. I’m still young; however, even the prospect of becoming someone with a stable life and career has gotten almost overwhelming to think about. Because I never expected, when I was younger, to grow up to be someone suffering from mental illness.

 
I’ve been terrified. When my New Years’ resolutions suddenly went from ‘read a novel each month’ to ‘hang on until the next month’, I knew things weren’t heading in a good direction. Now diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, two mood disorders, a personality disorder, and trying to rip myself from the grips of an eating disorder, I can’t say that things have gotten much better. That isn’t to say things can’t turn around.

 

Living with the challenges of mental illness feels humiliating. For a great chunk of my mere twenty years, I kept myself in the dark, not because I liked it, but also because I was afraid of opening up to anyone who could maybe help me lift it, if slightly. And finally, after years of different medications, behavioural and cognitive therapies, treatments, and many other supports, here I am. Fighting the shame that surrounds mental illness.

 
Throughout this entire experience, I’ve managed to keep hope and determination towards recovery, and find inspiration in others as well as my surroundings.

 

I’ve discovered that I absolutely love
hiking, camping, canoeing, and being outdoors. Photography has also re-emerged in my life, along with reading. Playing the violin, no matter how bad I feel I screech my bow across the strings, also brings me a certain amount of joy. My biggest pride is that I’ve made it to my second year studying neuroscience at university, which at one point seemed unfathomable.

 
Mental illness may have hidden some of my life in dark corners, and still does, but I’m determined not to give up. I may not live the same way as others do; that doesn’t mean that I can’t still make the best of what I have. I’m so grateful for the support I’ve received after opening up, and need to give myself credit for pulling strength from inside myself to keep going. I’ve come so far, and am not willing to let my mental illness stop me from living my life. So when I wake up and think “Wow, so this is my life”, it still feels like it shouldn’t be mine. Not this life, full of illness and doctors. But I’ve come to recognize it’s full of other things, too: love, passion, perseverance, joy… so I get to roll out of bed and remind myself that I am also so excited to see what my life brings me.

 
I hope to see negative stigma surrounding mental illness shift, so that others can also see meaning in putting that one foot forward towards recovery.


Worth Living Ambassador Ann Ottaway

 

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Ann is a 30 year old former legal assistant, animal lover, and a believer in new beginnings. She shares her recovery journey with the hope that her story allows others to realize they are not alone.

 

When I made the decision that I wanted to end my life I was adamant that my only option to stop hurting was to cease to exist.

 
I was hospitalised by law, not by choice, and I was furious.  I wanted nothing to do with anyone who interfered with my plan and spent the first few days of my hospitalisation in bed out of protest.  Eventually, I became worn down by this as I realised the longer I remained in bed, the longer I would be forced to stay.

 

In my mind, I was playing their game – if I pretended to co-operate they would let me leave and I would be able to follow through with my plan. Unfortunately, I was not in a hospital that specialised in mental health so the days were long and tedious as there was no programming.  Nurses would check in and if I was lucky I would see my doctor briefly.

 
Fortunately, all of this free time allowed for me to get to know the other patients.  Prior to being hospitalised, I wasn’t very open about my mental health issues. Close friends knew but otherwise I had made the decision to keep it quiet.  The hospital was different, everyone was there because they had mental health issues of one sort or another.  For the first time my mental health wasn’t invisible; I was in a gown so that I could be identified as someone who was being kept on the ward legally.  It was as if I was wearing a mental illness uniform and everyone could see what was invisible for so long.  I was surrounded by other people in the same situation as myself, what did I have to lose?

 
It didn’t take long for me to get to know the other patients and before I knew it, I started to think my life wasn’t so terrible after all.  If the other people there had experienced the same hardships as I  had, and could find the strength to go on, then so could I.

 

After a few days, my mornings were made brighter by the warm smiles and friendly hellos from other patients who took the time to get to know me and share their stories.  It felt like a small family, we were all in it together.  I saw how everyone supported and encouraged one another and before I knew it, I was joining in.  I no longer stayed in bed all day.  I wanted to get up, I wanted friends and family to visit and eventually I wanted to get better.  I connected with a close friend whom I met in the hospital and we would spend our days sharing stories and even laughter. Through brief intervals of time,  I was able to let go of how unhappy I was.  If I could make a friend in the worst of times, surely I would be okay.

 

After a weeklong stay, I took a week off from work and then tried to get back to “normal” life with plans to attend regular counselling and new medication in the works. On the Monday, I felt rested and started the work week strongly.  By Friday, I was suicidal all over again and went to the emergency centre of a psychiatric hospital.  I packed a bag and showed up prepared; I wanted to be admitted and I wanted to get better.

 
In this hospital, I made more friends, heard more people’s stories and was encouraged all over again.  I had groups to go to every day and I had a safe place where I was taken care of while I sought further treatment.  I knew this was what I needed to do.  I ended up leaving my job and my plans to move to the city.  I went back to my parents’ home and enrolled in a Partial Hospitalisation Program.  It was there that I really discovered myself.  I went into the program not knowing who I was or what I wanted from life.  I just knew that I didn’t want to feel worthless anymore.  I was ready and dedicated to getting better.  I worked hard, I practised the tools that were given to me and one day, I felt happy.  Genuinely happy.

 

After 15 weeks of treatment I am now enrolled in school to embark on a new career.  It is terrifying at times to know that have started my life over again but I have a life to start over.  I almost didn’t have that chance.  Had I not been suicidal and had I not been hospitalised I would still be stuck in the depths of my illness;  I would still be miserable, I would still have low self- esteem, I would still be abusing substances and I would still be pretending to be happy while feeling lost inside.

 
I strongly believe that every struggle and awful feeling that I experienced brought me to where I am today.  Had I not hit rock bottom I would not have been able to lift myself up.  I have a new outlook on life now that would not be part of who I am had fate not stepped in and put me in the hospital, introduced me to the amazing friends that I have met, strengthened my relationships with family and long-time friends and put me in a treatment program that gave me the tools to manage my symptoms.

 

In an odd little way, being suicidal saved my life.

 

NOTE

If you , a family member, friend, or colleague is experiencing  thoughts of suicide or distress, call 911 now.
Other resources :
Canada- Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention  www.suicideprevention.ca
USA – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
United Kingdom   www.nhs.uk

 


Worth Living Ambassador Ashley Shaw

“My name is Ashley Shaw.  I am originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia. I am currently in my second year of nursing at St. Francis Xavier University.  I chose nursing  because of my own personal struggle with mental illness that I want to share with you.”

 

At age 16, I was raped.

 
I was in such a state of shock that this could ever happen to me. So I refused to admit it. I didn’t tell my friends or my family. I spent the next six months pretending it didn’t happen. I would drink excessive amounts and take too many drugs until I was in a state that I couldn’t remember for a while. But as soon as it wore off, it would all come rushing back. I would take more, and more and more until all I was doing was self-medicating. After a few months of doing this my parents started to notice.  I wasn’t going to any classes, I was failing pretty much every class, and I never came out of my bedroom. I think the turning point was when I started refusing to go to dance. Dance was the one thing that had always been my happy place – no matter how sad or mad I was I could go there and I would just forget. So when I stopped wanting to go, they knew something was up.

 

 
They sat me down and talked to me about how I was acting and told me they were worried. But being a stubborn 16 year old, I refused to let them into my personal feelings- feelings I hadn’t even come to terms with myself yet. So they had no choice- they started watching everything I did. Made sure I was going to my classes, made sure I wasn’t doing drugs (as much as they could) and continuously tried to get me to open up. But I wouldn’t.

 

A few months later, I got to my breaking point. Pretty much everything in my life was falling apart. I had pushed all of my friends out of my life (except the ones who were giving me drugs). I was fighting with my parents pretty much every time we spoke to each other.  I was failing all my classes. Then a boyfriend ( I can’t even remember his name now) broke up with me and I guess that was just my tipping point. So I did my usual- self-medication so I could get the courage to take out my rope.

 

 
Everything after that was kind of a blur- maybe because of the drugs, maybe because I had just cut off all the oxygen to my brain, or maybe because I just didn’t want to remember. Either way I remember my parents finding me.. being in the car.. my mom crying.. my dad trying to comfort her.. and then the hospital. I remember being hooked up to machines and doctors and psychiatrists and crisis nurses all attacking me with questions. Then  someone at some point decided I wasn’t going to be going home.

 

Instead I was admitted to 4-South. Where all of my things were taken away from me. I couldn’t have my phone or most of my clothes or makeup because they had a string or a mirror or something I could use to harm myself. I remember how much I hated it in there. People always trying to but their way into my head. Being forced to talk to a psychiatrist.  After about two weeks of this,  I decided the only way to get out was to lie. So I told them I was feeling much better and that I wasn’t going to hurt myself.  I even put on a fake smile until they finally let me out.

 

My mom took a month off work to be with me and make sure that I didn’t hurt myself. It made me so angry. I thought she didn’t trust me. I felt like a child. But the truth is she couldn’t trust me to be alone. Every second all I could think of was how to do it, and be successful this time.

 

Going back to school was awful. People would stare and whisper. It was pretty hard to hide the fact I had been out of school for so long. People were coming up with their own stories- ones that were worse than the truth. So I sucked up my pride and told them that yes I had tried to kill myself but that I was okay now and coping. I didn’t tell them why I had tried to kill myself- in fact I still wasn’t really admitting that to myself yet. I still believed it was just because of some silly boy.

 

I don’t even know at what point I started realizing what had really brought on all of this. Maybe after months of therapy and group therapy for drug abuse. But at some point the two pieces really clicked. I mean how could I have thought about the night I was raped every single day without realizing that it was what caused me to start using drugs, and cutting, and to become so depressed. I decided life wasn’t worth living? How could I miss that? When I finally came to terms with it, I told my parents.

 

I can’t get over the look of hurt in their eyes. Someone had taken advantage of their little girl and I could tell how much that hurt them. My dad went from hurt straight into anger. He wanted me to press charges, he wanted to kill the guy. But I wasn’t ready for that. I didn’t want to have to sit in a court room facing the person who ruined my life and describe what he did to me.  I thought no one would believe me. I had no proof, I didn’t get a rape kit that night. Instead,  I showered  for hours until I couldn’t stand how hard I had scrubbed my skin any longer.

 

And besides, what good would bring up the past really do? I was finally starting to heal myself. I started opening up to my parents and they became my rock through the next three years. I got clean- no more drugs and no more cutting. I made a new group of friends and I focused myself on my last two years of high school. I took advanced classes and got good marks and I decided that life WAS worth living again.

 
I decided I was going to go into nursing and specialize in mental health. I wanted to help people- I wanted to have some meaning in my life that made me feel like I wasn’t just living that I was really doing something to better the world.
And so here I am- six years later in my second year of nursing and I couldn’t love it anymore. Yes I still have bad days- in fact I still have a lot of them. And sometimes I lose sight of it all and wonder why I’m here.

 

I can’t say I haven’t thought about killing myself or that I haven’t slipped up and cut or done drugs.  Though I can say that every time that happens I jump back on the horse. I don’t let that one slip up hold me back.

 

I may suffer from PTSD, depression and anxiety but that’s not for what I want to be remembered . I want to be remembered for someone who overcame all of that and decided to do something good. I want to be remembered as a nurse.

 

 

NOTE:

If you , a family member, friend, or colleague is experiencing  thoughts of suicide or distress, call 911 now.
Other resources :
Canada – Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention   www.suicideprevention.ca
USA – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
United Kingdom –  www.nhs.uk