P – Pride

The other day I realised that I was over eight months self harm free. I felt something stir within me, something that I had not felt in a long time. It was a really powerful feeling and it seemed to fill up my whole body… No, don’t worry, it wasn’t a violent cannibalistic urge, or a desire to join ISIS. This strong sensation inside of me was actually pride.

This may not seem very significant. Surely it would be more exciting if I had realised my dreams of fulfillment lay in public nudity or learning the body language of spiders.

But it was, in fact, extremely noteworthy. Because like many who suffer from a mental illness, experiencing feelings of pride are few and far between.

I’m not talking about being proud of having a mental illness. Certainly, it is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s not really trophy worthy. It would be like congratulating someone for having cancer. Recovery, on the other hand, is definitely worthy of praise.

People with mental illness accomplish tremendous feats on a daily basis. Those recovering from eating disorders try to wade through a sea of terror and eat their meals. Those with social anxiety force themselves to go to the party, despite desperately yearning to stay at home. Those who are clinically depressed push themselves to get dressed and leave the house, even though they feel like they are capable of nothing more than breathing. Every unhealthy behaviour delayed, every healthy meal consumed, every dangerous urge avoided, every breath consciously slowed.

What is easy for many is incredibly difficult for those with a mental illness, and that should be acknowledged. Every day survived to the best of your ability is a victory.

And the bigger signs of progress – the weeks or months free of a particular behaviour, the weight restored or lost to a healthy level, the honesty with which you evaluate yourself and accept help, learning to be compassionate towards yourself despite what your head tells you – they each deserve an Oscar/Nobel Peace Prize/$10,000 gift card.

Unfortunately it is all too easy to disregard any progress, even if it is objectively significant. Common symptoms of someone with mental health problems can include low self-esteem, a distorted view of oneself and a highly critical internal dialogue. As a result we belittle ourselves for the situation that we are in and the illness convinces us that everything is our fault. Any progress isn’t good enough, it didn’t come about quick enough, there is still too long to go, and it should have been better executed. Or it doesn’t even feel good.

Take recovering from an eating disorder. Consuming a food item that you haven’t touched for years, not restricting any food group, or resting instead of over-exercising – surely accomplishing these insanely difficult feats would be met with some sort of exhausted pride, perhaps similar to that of finishing a marathon? Nope. After valiantly fighting the clutches of an eating disorder in an effort to be healthy and safe, the person is met with intense guilt, anxiety and worry.

It’s a vicious cycle because the motivation and sense of accomplishment that comes from realising how far you have come in your personal recovery is quelled by the mental illness itself: it simply wants to keep us trapped in our anxious negativity and hopelessness. Bastard.

So let’s try the following.

Currently, your illness might not let you say or believe it, so I will say it for you: congratulations on making it this far. Well done on not dying. Good on you for holding on and trying your best. You have every right to be proud of yourself, no matter what.

And guess what, believe me, eventually you will make enough progress that the illness will further relinquish its hold on you and you will finally revel in the unique and wholesome feeling that is pride… as a result of your mental health achievements. Yes, they are achievements and they are noteworthy.

 

Take care everyone. I truly appreciate any likes, comments and shares :o)

M – Medication

Having a mental illness is about as much fun as having a clown at a party that decides to reveal an axe that was hidden in their coloured wig and then frantically kill everybody with it before they have even had a chance to eat any cake.

In a vicious and unhappy cycle, not really similar to an axe wielding clown, not only is mental illness stigmatised but so is the treatment of it. Especially when it comes to taking medication.

Of course, medication (and by this, I mean the drugs one takes for depression, anxiety, bipolar, OCD, etc.) can’t really help if the doctor prescribing them is inexperienced and not knowledgable of your condition. They should follow your progress and be willing to try a different drug if one isn’t working for you or the side-effects are too disruptive. No one reacts the exact same way to the same medication and as a result it can sometimes be a bit hit and miss: you may have to try out a bunch of them before finding one that works. This is a fiddly, time-consuming and annoying process that can leave your cupboard looking like a pharmacy’s storeroom. And yes, medication for a mental illness often has annoying side-effects, from making sexy-times less fun to excess sweating to really really weird dreams. Plus, medication for a mental illness is never really 100% effective and it’s not a failsafe cure.

So why bother?

Well, medication reduces the symptoms of a mental illness and makes it easier to deal with the monsters in our mind. To give a few examples, it can stabilise the mood and lessen extreme mood swings, reduce the frequency of panic attacks, minimise severe fears or worries, increase or decrease energy levels, help with incessant thoughts, and reduce or eliminate hallucinations, paranoia and delusions. In other words, it can make a mental illness manageable, bearable, liveable. There should be no shame or judgement in taking meds to achieve this. While one cannot see these types of diseases with the naked eye or a blood test, they are as every bit as real and legitimate as cancer or the flu. Plus, and perhaps most importantly, you can sound intelligent, learned, and practise your pronunciation skills as you rattle off the chemical composition of your pills: reboxetine, fluoxetine, quetiapine, olanzapine, lamotrigine, desvenlafaxine, sertraline…

Yet medication is seen by some as unnecessary, counterproductive, wrong. Some claim that it alters you permanently, is addictive, and makes the illness chronic. Others go in the other direction and think that with medication you are perfectly fine, need no further help, and are unjustified in suffering further. There is simply too much stubborn ignorance surrounding medication for mental illness, and as a result it can make recovery even more difficult. It can increase the feelings of doubt and failure. But remember:  anti-medication stories often consist of biased opinions and unfounded beliefs.

If you think, for instance, that “it is wrong to put foreign drugs into your body,” then in order to not be a bigoted hypocrite, you must have never ever received a vaccination, eaten a biscuit or bread that isn’t homemade, taken antibiotics or cough medicine, received an anaesthetic, or ingested anything from a different country. (Get it? Foreign? Ha ha ha…) Anyway, good luck if you or someone you love gets meningococcal, hepatitis, malaria, or all three at once.

If you believe that “it is not healthy to be dependant on medication to live a normal life,” then you better not be friends with any healthy female who takes the pill in order to avoid having a billion babies while studying and trying to find a job. Or friends with a healthy diabetic who takes insulin. Or a healthy person who is treating their asthma or arthritis or insomnia. Or maybe you don’t have many friends?

If you claim that “eating kale, sleeping well, loving yourself and doing yoga is a better alternative than medication,” then congratulations, you have cured depression, cancer, HIV/AIDS and Alzheimer’s! Time to spread the word and save the world! Maybe meditation and natural remedies work for you, that’s great, you’re very lucky. But if it worked so well for everybody, then there wouldn’t be a need for psychiatric hospitals or psychologists anymore. And saying that someone’s suffering can be eased by eating overpriced vegetables is just plain rude.

If you wonder how “so many people are on antidepressants yet so many people still commit suicide,” remember that while medication can be extremely beneficial to many, it is only one part of a challenging and time-consuming recovery. External factors such as trauma, living conditions, the amount of support or bullying, the type of therapy, the quality of the doctors, and (unfortunately) the financial situation all play an important role in treating (or worsening) mental illnesses.

In summary, do not think any less of yourself if you are taking medication for a mental illness… or any less of others who do. And if you are considering taking medication but have some trepidation about it, remember it won’t be as bad as being killed by an axe-wielding clown.

Take care of yourself and feel free to share. :o)

O – Obsessions

It is nice to have a clean and tidy house. It is easier to find things, there are less cockroaches, your mother approves, and it reduces the workload when preparing for snooty guests and epic parties.

It is also important to wash your hands and be hygienic. It isn’t nice to shake hands with people and give them your poo germs. It isn’t ideal to spread your boogers and cough remnants to the public, even if some particularly rude people deserve it. It isn’t good if the food you eat and serve to others has elements of raw mystery meat after making sausages.

What’s not good is spending so much time cleaning and tidying up that you miss social events or are late to work. What’s not good is washing your hands so frequently that not only do you use up all the expensive soap you got for Christmas from your aunty, but you also rub your hands so raw that they bleed and are painfully dry and cracked.

And yet you can’t stop these behaviours, because you are so terrified that if you don’t engage in them, something unspeakably awful will happen, something so dreadful you don’t even want to consider it.

I don’t want to preach, but there isn’t enough awareness about the truth of this disorder. All too often OCD is linked to words such as “quirky, individual, weird, cleanliness,” instead of words such as “emotional distress, incapacitating, fear, terror.” The near-constant preoccupation and worry felt by a sufferer are diminished and invalidated by offhand comments about things being in order and double checking.

People seem to forget or don’t realise that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (i.e OCD) is, well, a disorder. Which is, boringly yet accurately put, “an illness that disrupts normal physical or mental functions.” OCD is not being simply upset or annoyed at, say, uneven eyebrows, the TV volume on a particular number, when the pencils aren’t in order of colour, someone taking too long to reply to a message, the non-uniformity of decorations or ornaments. In reality, it is having intrusive, unwanted, repetitive and often highly distressing thoughts that take over your entire head-space. It can cause panic attacks, depression, extreme anxiety and even suicidal thoughts. The preoccupation with the thoughts and the distracting urges to act (or not act) on them also result in lower concentration and difficulties at school or work.

OCD can manifest in a variety of compulsive behaviours, for instance constant checking, constant counting; and also exercising, calorie counting, body checking (the latter group are sort of bonus features of the horror movie box case set ‘Eating Disorder.’) They are either a form of solution seeking “if I do ABC, then XYZ will/won’t happen” or a result of seeking relief from the thoughts and urges.

OCD can also be just in the mind, and may not result in visible behaviours. Instead, over 3/4 of waking hours can be spent ruminating and worrying, thanks to aggressively repetitive thoughts. These obsessional thoughts not only feel real and tangible, but also, rather inconveniently, are often strong fears of acting violently or creepily. They may include doing sexual stuff that would put 50 Shades of Grey fanfiction to shame, killing or badly hurting loved ones, or harming animals and children. (The difference between these OCD thoughts and Hollywood level insanity is that the thoughts are near constant and accompanied by anxiety and distress.)

The above type of thoughts are called ‘Pure-O.’ (but please don’t get them mixed up with the type of ‘O’ that Cosmopolitan will talk about!) While they are just thoughts, their constant presence means the sufferer will worry that they will actually act on them, and so will attempt to avoid situations in which they could happen, or try to figure out ways to stop themselves from doing whatever it is that the thoughts are saying will happen. Unfortunately, it is hard to out-logic any type of OCD. Plus, the thoughts seem so absurd, abhorrent and taboo it takes a lot of bravery and trust to open up about them.

Just like many disorders, OCD can be treated with medication, professional counselling, and support. Yay! Unfortunately, recovery does take a lot of effort, time, dedication, and many moments of feeling helpless and afraid… Then again, OCD tends to take up lots of time and make you feel helpless and fearful anyway, so you may as well seek treatment. After all, these thoughts, as frightening as they are, cannot hurt you unless you choose to act on them.

I don’t normally do this but I honestly don’t think there is enough out there on OCD so below are a couple of links with information if you want to find out what it’s like to have it, understand a loved one who is going through it, or understand your own disorder more clearly.

Living with intrusive thoughts

Obsessive morbid thoughts

Sciency stuff about OCD

Psychological stuff about OCD

Take care everyone.  :o)

Please share if you think it will help, and like if you liked this article (duh.)

 

P.S I know I normally post Thursdays but I forgot. So here it is, on a Friday. How spontaneous and exciting.

S – Suicide

Let’s talk about something more deadly than sharks, snakes, cars and lightning. Let’s talk about something that is seen by some as cowardly, selfish, a sin, simply incomprehensible.

Suicide is the permanent exit that people take when their life feels too painful to bear. When after months and years and even decades of struggling, they can’t take it anymore. When there is too much pain, grief, trauma, hate, fear, guilt. When it seems as if all these overwhelming feelings and powerful thoughts have bubbled up, spilt out of the brain like a volcano of hydrochloric acid, flown and frothed and are dissolving the entire little human body of innocent flesh.

Surviving and fighting on is selfless and brave, but I would never call suicide selfish or cowardly. Rather, the intrusive thoughts of suicide can create a cloudy barrier that causes the victim to forget a lot of external things. When feeling suicidal, it is so easy to forget that you pass on your pain to others. It is easy to convince yourself that you are a burden when you are not. It is easy to think that the world will be better off without you when it will miss you dearly. It is easy to think that this will be the only feeling you will ever feel for the rest of your existence, when that is not true.

I am currently dealing with suicidal thoughts. They are vicious bastards. At the moment my depression is too bad to see the light, so I have to force myself to think of how my family and friends would react. They would feel guilty and blame themselves even though they were so perfect to me. It might send my vulnerable friends over the edge. It would be messy and inconvenient and a waste. It pains my soul to have these counter-thoughts. But it’s ok, because they keep me going, they keep me here and I know that is the right thing to do.

I also have to remind myself that the last time I had extremely intrusive suicidal thoughts, a few years ago, and held on, I have had so many wonderful experiences, made some amazing friends and made some treasured memories. And on a more simple level, I have also enjoyed yummy food, funny TV shows, cool movies, nice moments and good hugs. Of course, I since then I have had some pretty rubbish and extremely lonely and heartbreaking times too, (I swear, I am not being melodramatic!) but it was worth holding on for the good times.

Some of my favourite quotes about suicide are below.

(Out of context, that was a morbid sentence, but bear with me. These are the ones that resonate with me. These are the ones that help to remind me that I just can’t give up. They are from the internet, the author Matt Haig, and also the last is from a good and wise friend of mine.)

“People often turn to suicide because they are seeking relief from pain. Remember that relief is a feeling. And you have to be alive to feel it. You will not feel the relief you so desperately seek if you are dead.”

“You can’t predict when new options might appear. It’s impossible to know what might happen if you just wait 2 more days. If you act on your thoughts now you’ll never find out what could have been.

“You will die if you believe the lie: The lie is that suicide will solve all your problems. It implies there is no other way out of your predicament than to end your life… You may be feeling extremely overwhelmed right now. It probably feels like the pain is never going to go away. But remember, pain is temporary, suicide is forever.”

“You’re cared for. It may feel out of reach now but you will be ok. The world can’t stand to lose you. You matter and you’re here for a reason. You can make it through whatever it is you’re in.”

“You are loved, more than you have allowed yourself to believe. You are disappointed in yourself far more than you have disappointed anyone else. You have lost sight of what makes you magical and interesting in other people’s eyes. Work really hard to believe this, faking it until you make it. You are never alone, never, never, never. There will be good people who will help you do this.”

“Depression is smaller than you. Always, it is smaller than you, even when it feels vast. It operates within you, you do not operate within it. It may be a dark cloud passing across the sky but – if that is the metaphor – you are the sky. You were there before it. And the cloud can’t exist without the sky, but the sky can exist without the cloud.”

You will one day experience joy that matches this pain. You will cry euphoric tears at the Beach Boys, you will stare down at a baby’s face as she lies asleep in your lap, you will make great friends, you will eat delicious foods you haven’t tried yet, you will be able to look at a view from a high place and not assess the likelihood of dying from falling. There are books you haven’t read yet that will enrich you, films you will watch while eating extra-large buckets of popcorn, and you will dance and laugh and have sex and go for runs by the river and have late-night conversations and laugh until it hurts. Life is waiting for you. You might be stuck here for a while, but the world isn’t going anywhere. Hang on in there if you can. Life is always worth it.”

“I think life always provides reasons to not die, if we listen hard enough. Those reasons can stem from the past — the people who raised us, maybe, or friends or lovers — or from the future — the possibilities we would be switching off.”

“Feeling suicidal is the worst you are ever going to feel. This is it. This is rock bottom. Things cannot possibly get any worse than feeling alone, depressed and suicidal. The only way things will go from here is up.”

I sometimes read about people who talk about a friend or relative who have committed suicide. Would these friends and relatives, convinced that they were a burden and could not offer the world anything, know that they would be thought about months or years later by a random stranger on the other side of the world, thought about with an all too understanding sadness? Please don’t just be a thought, a memory, a lost ghost whose appearance and personality I only imagine. Be a comment on Reddit that makes me laugh. Be a video that goes viral that I can thumbs up. Be an annoying smelly person on the train who pushes past me. Be a stock photo with blinding white teeth for advertisements. Be a new person to meet at a party. Be someone’s best friend when online gaming. Be the baker of an average birthday cake. Be a tired customer at a supermarket. Please, just don’t be a suicide victim.

You can be grumpy and tired and sad and stinky and in pain, as long as you are alive.

Call that helpline. Post on that forum. Tell that loved one. Get professional help. Stay strong, even when you feel weak. Stay safe, even when you want to hurt yourself. Hold on to what could be. You are unique and you are literally irreplaceable.

S – Struggle

Hello there!

Tonight (or today, depending on where in the world you are), I’d like to discuss the concept of struggle. During our lives, many of us will be confronted by an assortment of bullies, losses of loved ones, break-ups, financial and educational stresses, trauma, physical ailments and mental illness. Struggle is an unavoidable part of our lives, and I don’t think there is a single human being who hasn’t experienced it in one way or another.

This could be construed as unfortunate, since in times of struggle things can just get downright unpleasant; or it could be seen by some as a good thing, since difficult times often help us to learn, cope with the world, and mature.

There are many ways of managing life’s difficulties: practising self care and self compassion, talking to someone kind and trustworthy, taking sufficient time to grieve or move on, and not judging your emotions – you’re allowed to be sad during Christmas, upset on your birthday and feel hopeless during New Years. (Of course, it would be nice to not feel rubbish when everyone else seems happy and celebratory, but we can’t change the way we feel, so we may as well not make ourselves feel worse by criticising our feelings.)

Less helpful ways of coping include attempting to solve the problem through overthinking, disordered behaviour and substance abuse. If you notice yourself leaning towards these in an attempt to cope with distressing thoughts, see if you can find someone to help guide you in a healthier direction.

But while some people can be sympathetic in our moments of struggle and give us the patient support and steady love we need, others maintain a harmful outlook that makes it much harder to be vulnerable and open about personal problems.

For instance, they might say “it could be worse.” Well of course it could be bloody worse. It could always be worse. Example: You have depression and anxiety, and every day is a struggle. You are tired of fighting, struggling to keep a brave face, tired of all the appointments and suffering from the exhausting constant sense that something is deeply wrong. But hey, could be worse, you could have cancer too. Well, depressed cancer victim, at least you can afford treatment. Hmm, financially struggling depressed cancer victim, at least you have a loving family and friends who stick by you. Why are you complaining, lonely person? At least your human rights aren’t being violated and you have access to internet to complain about it! Oh, you’re so stressed about exams that you can’t eat? Well at least you have access to education and aren’t a child slave, be grateful! …OK, so this paragraph is getting a little out of hand, so I’ll try to sum it up.

The truth is this: while we can categorize some struggles as ‘worse’ than others, people can only rely on their own personal experience to build a view on what is a difficulty and what isn’t. And so while someone’s struggle with an eating disorder could be seen as trivial compared to poverty in developing countries, for this person it is their whole life and the most difficult thing they have ever fought so far. And it just doesn’t help them to be told that their struggles aren’t significant because others have it worse. It just perpetuates negativity and guilt. This person with an eating disorder, in turn, might scoff at their friend who is distraught after breaking up with her boyfriend of 6 months. It’s a break up, they’ll get over it, at least they aren’t anxious about food and loathe their appearance… but again, for this newly single friend, they are in their own frightening world of loss and heartbreak. I’m not saying we should be selfish and feel justified in being upset about really trivial things, such as spilling a drink or damaging the car, nor am I saying that all struggles deserve equal attention and support, but I do think we should be more patient and compassionate to each other, because what may seem like a trivial situation to one person might cause another person to have a massive break down.

Others might say “everyone is going through their own struggles,” and this is also unhelpful. I know, I am getting a bit hypocritical, as I basically just suggested this concept here, but hear me out! Because while this statement is kind of true, it’s not helpful at all to actually say it to someone who is struggling and has just opened up about their problems. Why? Because it invalidates their feelings and situation.When someone talks about their problems, they want support, and not to feel like they should be focussing on others with their struggles too – when they themselves can barely keep it together. They want to focus on themselves, to have someone to listen to them talk, and not just be informed that everyone is struggling too. Obviously this should be balanced, as there are some people who just won’t shut up about themselves, and additionally it sometimes helps to know that you are not alone in a particular type of difficult situation… but everyone now and then needs a little time to have their world revolve around them and feel worthy of support.

 

Feel free to like and share. :o)

Take care, dear reader.

C – Comparison

Hello anyone who happens to be reading this!

I would like to talk (write) about comparison. Which, according to Google Images, is the THIEF OF JOY. While not everything on the internet is true, Mister Google here does have some validity. Because when comparing yourself to others, the brain gets a bit silly, and tends to focus on what it or its body doesn‘t have, on what is less than or insuperior to the other person, instead of any equalities or advantages. This is especially the case for people who are suffering from a mental illness and/or have low self esteem. And not to be a typical killjoy, but social media does feed into this: It’s so hard to be proud of getting good marks and being able to draw well when you see how someone else has graduated, gotten into a brilliant job that pays 7 figures, and is engaged to their extremely good looking, wealthy and charming partner who also happens to do brain surgery on puppies in their spare time. And that 462 people like a photo of their artisan breakfast.

It’s so difficult to accept yourself when advertising and social media point out potential, personal flaws that can ‘easily’ be fixed. Your teeth aren’t as white as his, therefore his smile is better than yours. You have hair stubble on your legs and a tan line and some bruises that for some reason never seem to go away, but she has the perfect legs and is therefore popular and happy. He has a perfect relationship and a billion friends and always goes out and seems to have fun, while you prefer to stay at home with your cat/s, therefore he is more interesting than you.

For some lucky people, this doesn’t bother them. They have the ability to realise their own values and merits, and not let those of others diminish theirs. They are OK in their own skin. They aren’t anxious if people around them seem to be reaching common life goals (such as marriage or owning a house) sooner. They can be proud of their achievements, even if there are others around them achieving ‘more.’

But to many of us, there will always be someone else who is prettier, smarter, funnier, kinder, more popular, stronger, more successful. Focussing on these other people will just make us feel miserable, unsatisfied and much harder to be proud of or satisfied with our own personal merits and achievements. The more we compare ourselves against others, the more we establish a sense that we are not good enough. So how can we stop?

1.) Be vulnerable with others. If you are worrying about something you don’t have that you feel everybody else does, tell someone about it. You’d be surprised at how many people are in the same boat. No one has it all together, no one’s life is perfect. You may envy somebody about something they have, but they too are envying you about something that you have  – but weren’t aware of, because you were too busy focussing on what you didn’t have.

2.) Remind yourself that it’s OK: It’s OK to take longer to recover than others, it’s OK to not be top of the class, it’s OK to not get it right all the time, it’s OK to not know what you want to do with your life, it’s OK if you haven’t seen the world and ‘found yourself,’ it’s OK if your body is scarred or blemished, it’s OK if you aren’t super popular, it’s OK to not be OK. You can’t be a failure at life if you are still living it. In the end, the people who love you care about and adore you as you are, not a you who you may want to be. (That’s five ‘you’s in one sentence!)

3.) Remember that everybody is different and you are you. You’re human. You’re both flawed and uniquely gifted. You are made up of around seven billion billion billion atoms and you offer the world something that nobody else does. You are enough, and it’s much easier to accept this if you don’t stack your atoms up against someone else’s. They’re precious. They’re yours.

(Maybe) see you next Thursday! Take care. :o) Please share if you think this would benefit somebody.

PS Apologies for taking soooooooooooooo long to write, life got extreeeeeeeeemely busy and to top it off, depression decided to visit, which tends to make doing anything at all productive or useful… near impossible. Hopefully I will be able to start writing here more regularly again, at least twice a month if not back to the usual once a week.

A Quick Apology

I haven’t abandoned this blog – life has gotten VERY busy so I just haven’t been able to post regularly. So sorry!

But things should clear up by November so I will start posting again then :o)

Take care of yourselves.