Mental health mentoring – How can we tame the beast within?

Mental health mentoring – How can we tame the beast within?

I remember back when I first started blogging about my struggle with mental illness I used a lot of metaphors to describe how I was feeling. The most frequent, and one that sticks in my mind even today was the mountain and the abyss. I thought of my struggle as like climbing a steep, sharp, craggy mountain, dark and imposing. It became symbolic of how I felt, desperately clawing my way up the sheer side, bloodied and battered, exhausted, desperate.

Below the mountain was a flat plain, cold and dark, lit only by a purple-red glow of the abyss. I was never alone, there were always others, faceless shadows, somber and silent. The abyss called to me, and like the others I was drawn to its edge. Silently standing there surrounded by shadows, all staring into its depths. For the abyss was the end, those who have been close to ‘the end’ know that it is very calm, almost peaceful, the decision has been made, all arguments rectified, only the final act left, to plunge oneself into the abyss for ever.

With great effort, I could turn my back on the abyss, from the desperate calm I could turn to face the mountain once again. All the fear and sadness within me was embodied in that mountain, the more I hurt inside the more the mountain grew, But I always felt that salvation lay at its summit. So I would gather what strength I had, and sometimes with the help of other shadows around me, I would start the climb, we would start the climb. And yet the abyss still called silently behind me, the offer of calm and serenity its drawing offer. I climb harder, slipping, scraping, desperation, mental blood, sweat and tears, although tears have never come to my eyes, I can no longer cry.

This was my metaphorical struggle with mental illness for a long time. Until one day, I realised that I was actually moving in the wrong direction. The mountain was my illness, the abyss the sanctuary. The more I poured out my anguish, the more I let myself be mentally ill, the more I let it rule my life, that was the brutal climb. The calm of the abyss, was not the final act, it was in fact the first act, to go into the abyss was to face an uncertain future. The calm feeling was not real, in fact in those moments, those days of resolution, the abyss was choice, to step into an uncertain future or turn and continue to fight against something that could not be beaten. I realised that I would never beat my illness, it is in me, it is there for as long as I breath. There is no route up that mountain, I was always destined to end up a crumpled heap at its feet.

I could however turn my back on it, knowing it was behind me, laughing, calling me pathetic, daring me to try fighting it again. Or I could walk silently across the plain to the edge of the abyss, and stare into the infinite darkness of the unknown, to take one step into the abyss would be and was, the taking of one step into living with the beast behind me, every step into the unknown was a stronger step, I did not know what would be in front of me, nobody does, but I knew with each step I could tame the beast behind me by being strong enough to accept it, and try my best to live with it. I have looked back at times, I have felt a draw to face the mountain again, but I look forward, no matter how bad I feel at times, I know that behind me lies more pain.

I still take steps, I stumble at times, but I move forward into the unknown. I do not know how many steps I have left to go, but I am learning to enjoy this journey. The mountain is still there, but I prefer acceptance to denial.

I hope you understand

Love and peace

David

If I was your mental health mentor, what would I discuss with you first?

If I was your mental health mentor, what would I discuss with you first?

Session one

How much do you believe in yourself?

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being totally self-assured, and 1 being a feeling of complete worthlessness, where would you place yourself?

I would guess your somewhere in the 1-5 bracket, otherwise you would not need help. As this is kind of a one-sided conversation, I would ask you to make yourself comfortable. As you are sat reading this, maybe just thinking about yourself might have raised some anxiety, or even some sadness. Take a second now to relax, is your jaw tense? how about your neck and shoulders? Take a moment now to just take 5 deep regular breathes and allow your body to relax (NB don’t relax so much you fall off the chair).

  1. As you breath out relax the jaw
  2. As you breath out relax your neck and shoulders
  3. As you breath out smile a little
  4. As you breath out relax even more
  5. As you breath out enjoy the feeling of being relaxed.

I hope that now you are a little more relaxed than you were before. I find that simple exercise to be so beneficial when I am anxious or upset. It is surprising just how much tension we hold in the jaw, I have been told it is hard to think negatively when you relax your jaw. is it true for you?

You may be wondering what this little exercise has to do with believing in yourself. Well, hopefully you managed to relax a little, maybe I should put some emphasis on the YOU managed to relax a little. I did not make you relax, you chose to try the exercise, you managed to change your state of mind, even if it was only a little. When I use this exercise it is normally because I need to take back some control, I need to stop whatever is going on in my head at that moment, I need to confirm my belief that I am able to control me, even if it is only a little. With this in mind try the exercise again, this time;

  1. As you breath out think I am relaxing my jaw
  2. As you breath out think I am relaxing my neck and shoulders
  3. As you breath out think I want to smile
  4. As you breath out think I want to relax even more
  5. As you breath out think I am in control

How did that work for you?

I sincerely hope that this simple exercise work in some way for you, just as it does for me. For me the biggest fear of my illness is losing control of myself. I know that nobody else can change me, only I can change myself. When I am manic, my mind is going at a thousand thoughts per minute (estimated), From the outside I may even look motivated, yet inside I am in turmoil, just waiting for my mind to overload and send me spinning off into intense anxiety. When I am depressed, I can go to some very dark places, mentally I beat myself until I am curled in a ball, desperately wishing I could cry and wail.

In these times all the psychobabble I know, all the brilliant therapies, it all goes, the only thing I know that might save me, is the simple exercise above. Over and over again, until I get that foot in the door of self control, then, right then, I believe in myself. For me believing in yourself, myself, when you have a mental health problem, finding that point where you say to yourself “I’m in a bad place here”, and you manage to get that sliver of control, that is where you can believe in yourself.

It takes a tremendous amount of strength to ride out these bad times, we have been through them before, we know the pain, mentally and physically, but we know they will end at some point. Me personally, those five deep breaths, they do not make the mania or depression instantly disappear, not by a long shot. What they do for me is to remind me that I must believe in myself. We live everyday with this, and we move forward, each new day, not knowing how we are going to feel, So if you put your belief in yourself in the 1-5 range, think again, I hope that I have in some way allowed you to believe in yourself a bit more, there is only you, and I think you are amazing.

I wish you peace and love, if you look you can find it everywhere

David

The Daily Post
A life running in circles with mental illness.

A life running in circles with mental illness.

The one thing that defines my illness is the constant feeling that I am running in circles. I find myself repeating the same patterns of self-destructive behaviour, I find that no matter how hard I try I end up back at the same point. As Sisyphus was condemned to roll a boulder up a mountain, only for it to roll back down, I often feel the same.

No matter how hard I try to bring order from chaos within my life, it creeps back in, so frustrating. I really can not complain about my standard of living, I cope, I have family and friends who support me, but I want to stand on my own two feet. Maybe I want the impossible, the one thing that is for sure is that I do not want what lies beneath.

There is a me that must not be allowed to live, a me that I am scared of. Not that I am violent, but then violence can come in verbal and mental forms not just the physical, so maybe I am. It is the me that sit drunk in the corner of a pub for eternity. I have seen it with my own eyes, the son must not follow in the footsteps of the father.

Over the past couple of years I have learned a lot about mental illness in general, and a lot about my own mental health. I have learned to spot triggers and warning signs, though not always, and sometimes a little bit late. The more I learn, the smaller my circle gets, however there are circles within circles. A change in one circle, let us say for example, leading a healthier life, can have effects on others, such as money, change of daily routine, I could go on.

Cycling from mania to depression is another circle in my life, with medication these episodes can be mild and easily recognised, if not actually dealt with. Other times the can be intense, both can be quick (a matter of minutes) or slow (spread over a few weeks). No matter what, once you start looking deep into yourself, you soon see the cyclic nature of prolonged mental illness.

I know that I will never break these cycles, the best that I can hope for is to increase the up cycle and decrease the down side. I believe self-knowledge is the key to better ‘recovery’ from the worst of mental illness. I strongly believe that my quality of living is getting better, the gap between father and son grows. Maybe the more I keep trying, the more subtle changes will stick. What ever happens, it will happen in circles.

This post is inspired by The Daily Prompt 

 

 

Is there a witty side to mental illness

Is there a witty side to mental illness

I have found a rather interesting site which provides a daily prompt for blog posts. If you are a blogger like myself, a ‘fits and starts’ type, it might be useful. The site is called The Daily Post , check it out and see what you think.

Anyway, I have decided to take up their challenge of both writing a post every day, and also writting a post ‘inspired’ by the daily prompt. The word today is witty. Now as I write mainly about my personal experience with mental illness, and occasionally my views on mental illness, trying to formulate a blog post around the word witty is interesting.

Here.  I have to be careful, putting witty and mental health could get me in trouble. Some people could take it that I am saying mental illness is funny, I am not, though I do laugh at myself. This I think is my first point, the ability to laugh at yourself. I do stupid things, I spend money when I know full well that I don’t really have it to spend. Until recently I drank (see my post ‘The trouble with alcohol and mental health’), and other things that made my life just that bit more difficult.

Now I used to get angry at myself for doing these things, fuelled the self loathing, gave myself more to mentally beat myself up, now I try to laugh them off. Logically I know what I have done and what the results of my actions will be, I now accept that it cannot be undone, so it is ‘counter productive?’ For me beat myself up. I try to say to myself “oh well, thats another fuck up” and move on. I do talk to myself a lot, often out loud when alone, I try to keep a positive mindset by joking with myself.

This leads nicely into my second point, what some call ‘military humour’, though I believe it is shared by many front line services. When you see a lot of bad things often the way to accept it, is to joke about it. Now I feel I am coming close to the line, but fuck it I will say it anyway, “why the hell can we not joke about mental health”. I know someone who had a heart attack last week, I seen him today laughing and joking about it. My own mum passed away as a result of cancer just a few months ago (another time) and right up until the end she kept her sense of humour.

Try to make light of mental health and run the risk of scorn and damnation. Is mental illness funny, no it is not, but neither are heart disease and cancer. Is the use of wit when explaining your condition wrong? This depends in my view, I am very open about my illness, I do take it very serious. However trying to explain my illness involves going into some rather heavy stuff, to those of casual acquaintance who enquire I simply say “oh I had a crap electrician wire my brain”, or “I am fit and healthy from the neck down”.

I think you get the picture, sometimes people enquire out of courtesy, they neither want, or, probably fully understand the clinical “I have <insert label here>”. My daughter read my last blog post and nearly cried, she hugged me tightly and said “daddy, it’s so sad”. Now compared to some of my past posts it was very matter of fact, at least that is what I thought. It got me thinking, do I write depressing posts?, and more so, is that the reason people read them, I really hope not.

I know that there is still a massive amount of stigma attached to mental illness, I actively support the education of the masses to the serious plight people face with mental health issues, but are we making a problem with a solution. As most mental illness involves some form of anxiety and/or depression, by stamping our feet so hard to get the masses to take us seriously do we not run a risk of further reinforcing  negative beliefs? Just a thought. Now I may have crossed the line with this post, and I do actively encourage debate (though just calling me a dumb asshole is neither constructive but possibly true….anyway) but I have said what I feel.

No person should take a characteristic of another and use it to cause them discomfort. That being said, within the confines of a social circle, you will often find banter, sarcastic wit and repartee the binding ingredient. I wonder if it is possible to use the power of social media to create such a place. I have just set up a Twitter group called The MHB Club which is open to anyone. There is a Facebook group called The MHB Club which you can ask to join.

So, before I get stoned (with metaphorical rocks not weed) please think, join the groups, spread the work, and let us use our wit to help each other, who knows it might actually work.

Love and peace to you all,

David

NB The picture for those that do not recognise it is the stoning scene from Monty Python, The life of Brian. If you have never seen it shame on you. Yes this is my.  Type of humour.

Finally someone listened

Finally someone listened

Today I had my three monthly review with my consultant psychiatrist, it was the first time I had seen this one, in fact I always seem to have a different one. This Doctor however took the time to review my notes, which were a mess according to him. My medication also baffled him, but when I explained that some was to control the epilepsy others my mental health he kind of got his head around it. Most importantly though he asked the magic question:

“Have you had a diagnosis?”

I explained, yet again, my history, symptoms and feelings, but no, I have no formal diagnosis. He seemed somewhat shocked that after over two years I was still undiagnosed. I told him that I had my own feeling, that I was either bipolar or borderline personality. Finally someone in the medical profession agreed that, in his words “it fits, and there is a lot of overlap between the two (he drew two overlapping circles and shaded the overlap), you may well be here” pointing the shaded area.

For those that follow my blog, you will know that I do not hold ‘labels’ in high regard, however, as a diagnosis of a condition they provide the first and best comfort,

I AM NOT MAKING ALL THIS UP

It may sound stupid to you but I sit here and I feel like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders, even though I know that aside from seeing my psychiatrist, there is no chance of therapy. It is a good job that I am training to be a therapist, although it is much easier to help others than it is ones self. I can now concentrate on building a care plan for myself, using the reference material to help keep me on track. This is where the DSM5 and/or ICD10 are useful.

I have often written, learn to help yourself first, then you can help others. So I shall start, here, now, I am still not a ‘label’ or a statistic. I mentioned in a previous post about using my birthday as the start of a 365 day plan. A plan is forming in my head, as the A Team would say “I love it when a plan comes together”.

For now, peace and love to you all,

David

Isolation the curse of current humanity

Isolation the curse of current humanity

In my mind at the moment is the desire to say bollocks to all social media, and yet, hypocritically I am using social media to express my distaste. I am not saying social media is bad, this is a personal feeling and not one I intend to impose on others. At one time I was very active via social media promoting the injustice of the mental health problem faced not only in the UK but also across the world.

Did I give up? It is hard to say. Did I lose faith, what is faith? I think I just lost control, I became so self-absorbed in my own battle with mental illness that I lost touch with my focus on helping others. I am sure I have written before about how I desire to help others cope with the dark shadow that is mental illness. I am not doctor, I am just an ordinary man who has spent a lifetime destroying my life.

I am at that stage in my cycle where I need to be alone, and yet I can’t shake the feeling that what I am doing is wrong. These words I fire into the dark are futile I know. Who the hell would want to listen to advice from someone probably more fucked up than they are. I just wish I could find something to champion, some way of creating a unified group of people who would become the core of a progressive system to help others.

I find personal contact difficult, when ever I meet people, even those close to me, I feel like an outcast, yet social media gives me the opportunity to have a voice. Here you can spot my dilemma, I am lost in the social media world, maybe its my age. I therefore ask anyone who reads this to help me re-engage with the cyber community . I look for not only those who need help, but also those that have positive input.

If you do read this, I thank you, please share my ramblings in the hope that somewhere out there are like-minded individuals who desire to share their voice, their story, their ways of using social media in a productive manner… This whisper in the dark is, I hope the start of something greater.

The trouble with to many Doctors

The trouble with to many Doctors

Today I finally made an appointment to go and see my GP. I received a letter a few weeks ago asking politely to make an appointment, I knew what it was about. I had failed to respond to a neurology appointment, with everything that has been going on family wise I just could not face it.

So today I finally went, I explained why I did not reply and the Doctor said he would write to them and get me back on the list. End of that story. The GP practice what I am with has seemed to have expanded recently, a lot of new Doctors and they rotate around the several surgeries. I am used to seeing the same person, a person who knows my history, who knows the reason for my medication.

The new Doctor I seen today was good, but he struggled to understand me when I explained why I was on certain medication, namely Pregabalin. In vain I tried to explain some of my past, how myself and my ‘regular’ GP had built a working medication plan. I felt that he was more interested in the addictions of the medication than the help it gave me. Most importantly he made me start to question my medication.

I have been and still am to some extent in a major depressive state with periods of mania. My medication is my baseline. My feelings and emotions above or below that baseline enable me to gauge my emotional state. From here I can apply the right coping mechanisms to retain some state of ‘normal’. Some of my medication I know I can increase and decrease depending on the severity of how I am feeling. I have spent a lot of time finding this balance, the last thing I need is doubt.

I guess I am not the only one to question their medication, I read it a lot on forums. People questioning if what they feel are side effects or symptoms. With long-term mental health problems it is a difficult thing to untangle. Most of my medication is addictive, so how do I know if problems I encounter are due to this? All my medications have side effects, how do I know if they are the problem? I guess, thus far I have relied on my continued understanding of myself. I have spent a lot of time learning, not just about mental health but also how to recognise changes within myself.

Today opened up a door of doubt in my mind, a door I will have to walk through and face. Maybe it will change my thinking, maybe it will cause a chain reaction of doubt that will spiral me downwards. Either way I must pay attention to this doubt. As I sit pondering what I am writing I feel that change is in the air. I need to think, find clarity, and listen to my inner self………..