Why my illness is in a way my strength

Why my illness is in a way my strength

If there is one comfort to be taken from knowing what ails you, it can be the knowledge that you may not have been an awful person, just an ill one.  I look back on a life of arrogance and indifference to others, being viewed as self centred and uncaring. While I in no way wish to blame my behaviour on my illness, for I did what I did, and for it I shall take responsibility. However, when I relive the time when I caused others, friends, family and those who drifted into my orbit suffering, I can console myself slightly with knowing that more was at work than just my being a complete arse.

I do not have many friends, I do not regret this as being my friend often takes the patience of a saint. I can become so absorbed in things that life speeds by without my noticing, soon an unreplied message becomes a source of anxiety and gets pushed further from my mind. For a person who can go several days without noticing they have not left the house, not replying to a message in a timely fashion is often difficult. So friends soon fade into the background and I have learned that often it is easier to let them stay there.

The bigger problem is that of emotional attachment. I find that to stay in any form of control, I must limit how attached I become to people. It is hard to write this, so many words in my head and yet putting them into something that makes sense is a tough task. Many think that I simply do not care, the truth however is that if I let myself care, I might not cope. To feel that you have been let down or worse that you have let someone down, is a pain like an aching tooth, neither easily soothed or remedied.

To me the whole sphere of interaction is different, I rarely miss being in company, and even then, I find myself often lost within a crowd. I am like an atom, only so many electrons can orbit me at any one time. I know this is a part of my condition, a symptom, and therefore I am working to correct it or at least try to.

So with the above in mind, knowing myself as I do, would I chose to train to become a therapist? Perhaps first and foremost I wish to learn to help myself. So far on my journey, I have had to learn a lot for myself. I also seemed to have developed a keen interest in what I have learned and wish to know more, but more over I wish to help others. Maybe my knowledge of the hardships of mental ill health might make me a better therapist. Ethical boundaries must be observed and so my ability to remain emotionally detached and yet still supportive seem to be a good match. Hopefully by doing good for others will allow me more freedom from myself.

Finally my main driving force is the desire to help others to see that sometimes change can be effected. Maybe I will prevent someone else spending years destroying themselves because they think they are just a bad person. Maybe after years of being a destructive influence, I can live the latter half of my life being a constructive one. A lot of maybes, maybe they will come true.

One day I will live this dream

One day I will live this dream

This morning I awoke early, a few minutes before my alarm. I turned it off and sat up in bed feeling refreshed after a good nights sleep. I went down stairs and got out my mat and weights, for the next half an hour I went through my work out, enjoying the feeling of the exercises. Then I spent twenty minutes in meditation, allowing my mind to clear, finding my focus for the day ahead.

After showering and getting dressed I ate a healthy breakfast, my morning coffee no longer sweetened tasted great. I brushed my teeth and checked myself in the mirror, I may have a few wrinkles but my smile hides then well. Donning my hat and coat I took the dog for a walk, the ground till damp and the morning sun starting to lighten the day. The air was fresh and invigorating, in my mind I run through the day ahead.

Returning home I put food and water down for the pets, a quick tidy up and my house was back in order. I took time to appreciate what I had, taking pride in my well kept home, a nice reminder of calm and order. I went into my study to collect my papers for the day, neatly arranged and completed. I checked my overnight emails for any thing that might affect my day, five minutes only, all was in order.

I left the house feeling calm and composed, happy with myself and my life. I looked forward to the day, helping other to find their happiness.

This is the dream I have every day, one day I will live this dream

Why are simple things so hard

Why are simple things so hard

Today I was asked a very interesting question via Twitter:

“I see all the ‘think positive’ messages + think, why is something that sounds so simple, so damn hard?!” #depression

I read it and started to think, the first thing I knew was that it was not a question I could answer in 140 characters. Now as many of you know I am not a therapist, I am a sufferer who has decided to ‘self help’ because the system just has no time for middle ground mental health. In fact I have done such a good job of helping myself that the MH services in my area have passed me back to my GP, so after six months I still do not have a diagnosis other than what I have found out about myself.

There are many things in life that can make me feel down, my mood can switch at a moments notice. I might get frustrated with something which causes me to self hate, give up, sulk. I am the king of negative thinking, its automatic, I have to work hard every time to change my thinking. It is not easy, sometimes I can do it easily, other times it might take days for me to lift. Every day is a fresh start, every morning heralds the possibility that this will be a good day, every day I have hope.

Depression for me is a vicious cycle to break, I feel down and find I cannot face doing even simple things, dishes can pile up, the house starts to clutter, mail goes unopened. I say to myself, I will do it later, tomorrow, but it haunts me. The more these things gradually build, the more I retreat, the more into myself I go. Before long these simple little tasks have gathered together to create a mountain, I do not even know where to start, I want to just do, but I can’t.

It is very hard to explain to people the difference between being lazy and being unable. Lazy people don’t care, depressed people do. I hate myself, I hate lying on the sofa, knowing I have so much I need to do but just being unable to do it. Pills, potions, meditation, introspection, mindfulness, the list goes on, but so does the screaming row in my head. I have to remind myself to do things, I look upon everything I manage to do as a success. I get up and shower, good one. I do the dishes, gold star, I tidy up, massive achievement.

The best thing I have found is routine, I even have an app on my phone (It is called ‘Productive’ ) which I use to remind me to do even simple things. Stick to a routine and I might get things done, it’s a game I play. I make myself smile, often times I don’t want to, but I do it anyway. Smiling actually helps stop the negative thoughts, smiling helps me motivate. I also spend time trying to spread positivity, even if I am having a bad day, others might be having a worse day. If I can help someone else smile, change someone elses day, then I can feel good. Having a community of people who depend on each other is important, supporting each other and caring for each other.

In a world where negativity is thrust at us from all directions, the news, social media, work, etc, it is hard sometimes to stay positive. Sometimes being reminded to smile, which sounds so silly but in fact, for many, might change their day. I could be called a hypocrite for saying/ posting motivational messages when I do not always follow the advice. For me the difference is that I try, not just for me but those I care for. If I can get someone, to pause, to take a moment to find a point of reference from where they can look at how they feel, I have done something good. I may never know, but I still share.

Depression is hard, it can be caused by many things, some know what is making them feel bad, others do not. As I said before, I am no expert, I only know what works for me, what has been found to work for others. I know that if I change how I look at something, if I can find a positive, I am more likely to do it. “look at all those dishes, they will take hours to do”, a common negative thought of mine. “right, lets clean some of them dishes while the kettle boils, then I will have a nice cuppa and check Twitter, in fact lets listen to some tunes whilst I do them”. “OMG look at the mess, the place is a dump, FFS how!!!”, “Right 25 minutes per room, ready, set, goooooo”.

I know, sounds childish turning it into a game, giving silly rewards, but I find it works. I can’t always stop the depression, but I am getting better at heading it off. When I post positive messages, I have decided to share a positive day. I might be having one myself or I might need motivating myself. Life is not easy, but it can be made easier. If you enjoy doing something, you are more likely to do it. So, I guess what I am trying to do is to teach myself to enjoy just doing. Stop myself thinking “oh FFS, I can’t do that”, “no, not today, maybe tomorrow”. I am trying to change my thinking towards, “how can I make this fun?”, “what can I do after this?”, “If I give myself 25 minutes and do it in 10, I can colour for a while”.

I do not have a brilliant answer, I wish I did. All I can suggest is that every time you see something positive, smile when you read it. Find something within it to inspire you, get up, do a little dance, sing, draw, do the bloody dishes and hoover up. The most important thing, the thing that will make the difference is share what you have done. Even if the only thing you achieve today is to smile, let everyone know that you did. Share, tell the world you feel good after your shower, tell everyone how lush the kitchen looks, that you have just thrown some shapes whilst dusting listening to cheesy pop.

For me the meaning of life is to find enjoyment in every moment, and share it. You might think nobody cares, but there are a lot of people out there who do.

I am a work in progress

I am a work in progress

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Whilst I know my illness is a serious issue, I do find it amazing how one day I can be down and the next up. Last week I had a bad time, life was all doom and gloom. The negative definitely outweighed the good. This week has so far been positive, I have felt really good. Do not get me wrong, I still have “moments” but I have been a lot more positive, inspired almost.

I have started to exercise, which is never easy after a long time of idleness. I am eating healthier, and am starting to enjoy it (still can’t get rid of the sugar in coffee and tea though). I am also facing my worries, being productive, trying to remain motivated. They say having a positive mental attitude helps, I can’t say I am there yet but I am definitely trying.

I put the main change in my mindset down to sorting bad negative thoughts and feelings from the good negative feelings. It has amazed me how often my thoughts over little things are so very dark. I am the type of person who has a constant verbal monolog going on in my head. It gets on my nerves at times, always so negative. So I have started to rephrase things. “it will never work out, why bother”, has become “try it and see”. I no longer use “angry”, I use “frustrated”, “life is not shit”, “life is a challenge”. It is amazing how changing the words you use in your mind, can change the way you feel.

Introspection has also taken on this new thinking, I now look at things and try to draw out a different perspective. Last week I received an email that made me feel angry, this turned into a less than pleasant phone call, which left me feeling angry and negative. When I sat and looked at the whole thing I realised that my first mistake was feeling and responding with anger. I should have remained calm, and certainly not replied until I was so. I looked at what had made me feel “angry” and realised it was the tone of the email, but when I thought about it objectively I realised it was my fault. I had not done something I said I would, hence the email. Had I dealt with the issue before, the whole incident would never have happened.

When you are depressed, not being able to face things, not being able to think straight enough is common. Some people call it being lazy, or procrastination, the truth is that often even simple things can take on monumental proportions. Finding the motivation is hard, finding that motivation after you have put it off for a while becomes exponentially more difficult. Also the more we put off “until tomorrow” just makes it all worse, they are no longer single things, they gang up on you. Deadlines become doom days, the closer it gets, the less time we have. Soon it is on us or passed, the dread to answer the phone or open emails becomes scary. Quick run and hide under the duvet.

My family has always said that when things go bad, my response is to bury my head in the sand. I do not know why I do, I can have all the best intentions in the world, but turning them into actions is so difficult. Even when I do start to do things, the chance of them being maintained is doubtful. I am trying this time around but I am finding it a challenge. I think the main thing I need to bare in mind, is that it is a work in progress. I am not only learning to live on my own again, but also learning to live with my illness.

Maybe one more post

Maybe one more post

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I remember once being asked by a paramedic what it is like to suffer from anxiety and depression, I thought it a bit odd. However it is very easy to forget that just because medical personnel are trained to deal with mental health issues, they mostly concentrate on physical illness. I have often been asked the same question since and always tried to find a fitting example for how it feels. You can describe the symptoms, but we all tend to suffer in different ways. So just by giving my story, I do not feel that I am giving people a good idea of what it is like.

The answer came when I tried to explain it to my daughter, being only nine this was a challenge. Obviously telling her that Daddy had thoughts about killing himself was out, as was mentioning self-harming. So I had to come up with some kind of explanation that did not involve the details but captured the essence of mental illness.

I will explain to you as I explained it to her;

Take a deep breath and hold it (no cheating),

Keep holding your breath, easy isn’t it?

How about after a minute, still feeling okay?

Not so good now are you, chest starting to hurt, nose, throat? Body starting to rebel?

Okay now you are fighting, your body is really hurting now,

Still going, but I bet you are no longer in control, feel like you could burst?

The longer you hold your breath the more you will hurt, and you will breath, even if you pass out your body will breath. It is impossible to fight it.

Now imagine that those few short minutes are days, weeks or even hours. Welcome to mental illness. Sometimes you only have to hold your breath for a short time and get to breath, other times you get a quick gasp in between long periods of not breathing. That feeling you felt when you finally could breath, felt good didn’t it?

Okay now imagine that you had very little control over when it happened, imagine that someone else had the control; nervous? Imagine letting someone stop you from breathing whenever they chose. Not so pleasant a thought is it? The problem with mental illness is that whilst we do not physically have someone stopping us breathing, we do have ourselves. We allow ourselves to ignore things, bottle up emotions that we just can not deal with.

So in one instance I can feel totally fine, I can be fully aware of my problems and “accept” them. Then along will come a trigger, and this could be anything, some small random thing that alters my perception of all the other worries and doubts. It has two possible outcomes; the more common one is an anxiety attack. These can happen quite quick and despite myself, I miss the warning signs more often than not. They are generally short, about half and hour but they are intense. On the outside all can appear normal but inside I am crippled, I can still function but it takes a tremendous amount of effort just to do simple things.

The other outcome is a depression relapse, these are more significant, possibly lasting several days. Often these will be the result of a “self-hate” trigger, and are much harder than the anxiety to control. My mind will basically give me a mental “kickin'”. Every aspect of my life will be turned into a negative and as most things in life are linked, it grows. If you have ever been hit in the face with a snowball, you will know it hurts, and yet we all know snowballs are just lots of tiny little pretty snow flakes.

Logical thought becomes difficult; you can function, you can even operate perfectly “normal”, but inside you are consumed. If you are lucky you are just numb; unlucky, you are desperate for some form of release. Different people have different ways of handling the release, but very few do so in a non-destructive way. Drink, drugs, self-harm, starvation, over-eating and many other ways in which people try to escape their own minds. Sometimes they do not even know they are doing it to themselves, until it is too late.

I hear a lot of talk about “self-help”, CBT, mindfulness, meditation and various other ways to beat these problems. The trouble with “self-help” is that when you have an anxiety attack, it is on you before you have a chance. Yes, you can use these techniques to help you recover, but the damage is done. Go back to the holding your breath exercise, that point you reach, when you’re burning inside, that is the attack, the deep breath you take after is the recovery. It is kind of worse with the depression because you know that you can do these things, but you don’t. Depression saps your will to live, it drains you of emotion and feeling. You are not just sad, you are numb. In my case depression stems mainly from self-hate, when you do not even like yourself, why ever would you do anything to make things better. The vicious circle goes around and around, you can relive every “mistake” in your life in vivid detail. It does not even matter if you were truly at fault, with depression, everything is your fault. It’s raining, your fault, can’t find something, your fault and on and on it goes until you are bursting…….

So I guess when I see people advocating the “it’s all in your mind, you can do it” motivational bullshit, I really want to explain the holding your breath thing to them. People who are driven and expect others to hit their high standards and frown upon those that don’t need to remember, no one is the same as them. Pouring scorn onto a friend because they have found help in a bottle, telling them that they need to take a leaf out of your high achievers book. That will not work, in fact, the last thing anxiety and depression sufferers need is to have their noses rubbed in it.

How do I get out of it? Well for starters I use medication, without my meds I would be a complete mess, I know that for sure. Secondly I am open and honest with my family regarding how I feel, I do not hide (much) from them. Thirdly I have built around myself a good support network of people who know and understand me and what I am going through. Finally I accept that I will have bad periods, not every day will be brilliant, or even good. Some days will absolutely suck, some days there will be thoughts in my head that I would not wish on my worst enemy (if I had one).

I also find writing helps, the day before yesterday I was ready to tear this blog down. The very though consumed me and hurt me deeply, this blog is me. From just after I left hospital this blog has been my diary, my release. I have been accused of having an ego complex for wanting to share all the gory details, but in reality all I want is for people to see. I want people to understand that while yes, I am not well, I am not a psychotic maniac. Just because I have some dark stuff going on in my head, it does not make me incapable of living. In fact, if it came to an emergency situation for someone else, I would have no problem coping. I have to care more now about others, because them needing me is what keeps me going. I can offset my self-hate by doing good, I am not the best, but I will get better. One day I will have nothing left within me to hate.

Some things I have learned along the way

Some things I have learned along the way

Today I feel very thankful, I am surrounded by some truly wonderful people both on and off line. They all accept me for who I am. Despite the pain that being so open about what I have been through has brought, it has also brought me a great sense of achievement. I cannot stress the importance of having support, no matter where you find it. Dealing with mental health issues is often very traumatic and doing so alone can often be near impossible. It is very easy to feel alone, depression alone often tends to cause us to become socially withdrawn.

Dealing with my problems, facing things that I have suppressed for so long has been very disturbing. I soon came to realise that just getting medication was not going to change my life, it would only give me the time to sort it out. I see so many people on forums and social media going through their first few weeks on SSRI medications and the like, and suffering not only with their original problem but also the side effects from the medication. I have been there, I know what it is like to be constantly fatigued, dizzy, and numb both in mind and body. Many people simply give up on the medication after only a couple of weeks, not realising that most of these medications take 6-10 weeks just to become fully effective. I know some people do not like the idea of taking strong medication but I personally do not think I could have made the progress I have without them.

The other problem is those people who do take the medication but do nothing about the actual problems that caused them to need them in the first place. Like most medication, all they do is ease the pain. Taking paracetamol for a tooth ache does not repair the damage to the tooth, it just allows you the time to get it fixed without suffering so much. The same can be said for SSRI meds etc, they help you cope. If you do not resolve any deep issues you will be no different, and all too soon your life will move beyond the capability of the medication. You’re at square one again, only this time with more baggage and no means of support. I know that for some life itself can be the problem, tight finances, relationships, work etc. These problems may resolve themselves over time and this will help you, but for those who are sitting on deeper issues these will need to be addressed.

The bedfellow of depression is often anxiety, if you have not experienced anxiety before it can be a very painful process. Anxiety seems to be individual, how I suffer is not the same as others I know. We all seem to tweak anxiety slightly depending on our circumstances, that being said it does follow a pattern. Anxiety can leave you completely paralysed inside your own head while still appearing totally normal on the outside. Once it starts it is very hard to stop it and learning what triggers your anxiety is often very difficult. Often there can be multiple overlapping triggers, a simple thing can lead your mind to deeper darker triggers. Before you know it just waiting in the bank or going shopping can become as hard as climbing Everest. I have learned from my anxiety, I can spot the warning signs early. I can now pause to reflect on what is causing me to feel anxious, most times I can trace it back but not always. I have started to use anxiety to my own benefit, allowing it to warn me when my mind is wandering into the restricted section. When my anxiety gets too bad I know I must pull back, as long as I have chosen to go there it often isn’t as hard to get it under control again.

Sometimes though the anxiety will be triggered by something new, or more common, I will have overlapped triggers. I may attribute my anxiety to something I am aware of but actually it is something else that has triggered it. Sitting on emotions is very dangerous, I cannot bottle emotions anymore, not without them leading to anxiety. I have to deal with things as they happen or at least as soon as I can. Now only on rare occasions do I have to rely on medication to ease the anxiety, and I push myself every day. Meditation and mindfulness are very good at helping to control your mind and thoughts. Learning to let your mind clear is a very good thing, not only to give you some peace, but also to let you concentrate on one thing. Mindfulness allows you to reconnect with the world around you, it is very easy to become numb both physically and emotionally. Reconnecting through your senses to the moment helps ground you.

Regular exercise and a healthy diet are also very important, a thing I often tend to overlook. I am very stupid and do not eat regularly or that healthily. I know I need to correct these things and I will advance further. The “healthy mind, body and soul” thing is more than just an advertising slogan, it is amazing to learn how much of a difference just eating right and getting some exercise can change your state of mind. Drinking alcohol should be restricted to a minimum, either on or off the meds. I’ve looked for the answers in the bottom of a bottle before and trust me I never found more than an empty wallet and a bad head. Alcohol does not make you forget, alcohol reduces what little control you have, a couple of glasses may be fine but be very careful. Coffee seems to be another favourite for the masses, nothing better to wake you up than coffee. Trouble is whilst the meds make you tired the coffee can have you bouncing off the walls. Each to our own but its a good idea to watch your caffeine intake, you might be surprised.

Every day I poke and prod my illness, most days I write about it here on my blog. I am no expert, I am not a doctor or therapist. I am just like you, I write because it helps me and I have been told that it helps others. I said at the beginning that I could not have done what I have done without the help of others. This in some small way is my way of trying to return the favour. I hope that by sharing what I feel and do I can help others, I also try my best to support others on social media (Twitter). I have yet to find someone who I could not learn from, I consider myself lucky. If you are alone, come join us on Twitter #mhfriends #mhcommunity or even #mentalhealth, #MentalHealthAwareness or #MentalHealthCommunity will get you to us. As I continue to test the path ahead I will let you know what I find, I hope that something, no matter how small helps you.

David

Making friends with anxiety

Making friends with anxiety

I sit in a coffee shop having a coffee to let the stress ease away. I managed to turn up late for a bank appointment by a whole 24 hours. Stood waiting in the line, waiting, feeling the knot in my stomach forming, the fluorescent light annoying me with the slight flicker and the hot stale air. I felt almost claustrophobic, a part of me was almost happy that I had missed the appointment, I just wanted to get out of there. I sit here now, the headache has gone, the stomach has eased, just the tension in my shoulders remains.

I am learning to cope with anxiety, my medication has helped me a lot. No longer do I suffer the total paralysis like before, now I look beyond at what is causing me to feel the way I do. What is my mind trying to warn me about? I have started to analyse every change, trying to sort out fact from fiction. I know that it was probably warm and stuffy in the bank, it was only small so that would have made it feel claustrophobic. My appointment was for 12 and I was watching the seconds tick by; 12:01, 12:02, 12:05, and the knot tightened.

Maybe the lighting was bothering other people too, was I just creating it all in my mind? The effect of the lighting bothered me the most, it is one of my triggers. I was once diagnosed as having photo sensitive epilepsy, one event, nothing at all since. That diagnosis ruined my life for a long time. I have repressed it, run and hid from it. Just thinking about it now is causing anxiety, as I said it is a trigger, anxiety is letting me know that my mind is going into the restricted section. Yet another section of my past that I have to come to terms with. I will have to mention this to my GP and CPN, it may be nothing but it will help close that chapter.

I sit here, wanting to get this out but it is not easy. Admitting to how scared and angry that diagnosis made me is hard. I feel awful right now but slowly I progress. I have an uncle who suffered from epilepsy his whole life, I guess I thought that would be me. I spent years drinking and taking drugs, standing in nightclubs watching the strobe lighting daring it to happen again. One episode and on went the label after an EEG to confirm it. Lived with but never accepted, pushed down and never talked about. I took medication for a while but that soon stopped. I know I was already damaged by that point, so just having this diagnosis added to the melting pot of repressed emotions.

So much self hate inside me that I need to address, so much anger that has now turned itself into depression. I no longer am angry, anger is pointless, anger is just a self-defence mechanism learned to keep people away. I understand that all those things I have repressed over the years are the source of my depression, every one I face and accept is one off a long list. Each one off the list takes me one step closer to being free.

It is not often that I take a break when writing a post, nearly all my posts are written start to finish. The piece above however was written a few days ago, I never got around to finishing it. I made excuses but the reality is it hurt a little bit too much to go back to. This is the case for many life events I have lived through, most of them are nothing more than normal everyday set backs in life. However I have hoarded so many of these setbacks, turned and twisted them into failures, buried them deep and allowed them to mix with others and a good helping of self loathing.

I now see anxiety as the gatekeeper to these repressed and twisted viewpoints I now hold as memories. Anxiety is there to warn me that I am entering a part of my mind that will cause me pain if I go further. The anxiety is no longer an enemy but a friend, looking after me, protecting me from myself. Every day as I get stronger I can spend more time with these memories, anxiety lets me delve deeper but is there to pull me back should I start to fall. I do not say this as a fact for all, only my personal relationship with anxiety. What I do know is that it seems to work.

When my anxiety starts I now give it my attention, I let it guide me to what it is that I am thinking that might hurt me. Just like having a gut instinct about something I now see anxiety for what it is, a self-protection mechanism. Yesterday I experienced mindfulness for the first time. I took time to look, hear, smell and taste the world around me. I realised that the pace we move through life should not be governed by life itself but by how fast we need to move. I know I need to slow down, find my pace and listen to what my body is telling me. I need to put trust that a system so complex has its ways of dealing with things, that I need to learn to trust it.

So for now I will leave the period of epilepsy as a work in progress, I have looked at it and I know it requires further investigation. Now, however is not the time for this, that time will come. Today I will just listen, and hear what my body is telling me. I do not know if this will work for others, I really hope it does. Maybe try a day out with your anxiety, see if you can make friends with it. I have even personified it, from now on my anxiety is Virgil, my guide, leading me as a friend not as an enemy.