Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Ten Things I Learned about Myself Last Week

It’s been quite a week, one way or another. At times I’ve been as low and despairing as I have in months; at others I’ve felt grounded and whole.

Here are ten things I’ve learned about myself in the process. Maybe some of them will resonate with you too.

1. Things Are Shitty Sometimes

It’s rare for me to feel so low, stressed, or overwhelmed that it interferes with my day-to-day life. Mostly I move through upsets and difficulties fairly smoothly. But sometimes even my tried and tested strategies for making it through bad days fail me.

The best thing I can do then is accept I’m struggling. That’s not easy, because my life is generally stable and secure. I have a home, a family, a job, financial security, amazing friends, and decent health. What is there for me to feel overwhelmed by, anxious or low about? I’m aware of the danger such thinking presents, however. “I’ve no right to be struggling” stops people seeking the help they might need. So yes, my life gets shitty too sometimes.

2. Things Will Shift If You Allow Them To

When you’re in the middle of a bad situation it can seem like you’re stuck there permanently. The lost friendship or relationship is gone for good. The period of difficulty or illness or whatever it might be is never going to end or improve. There”s no hope. What’s the point of even trying to move forward?

When I get to feeling that way it helps to recall times in the past when I felt similarly stuck and remind myself that no situation, good or bad, is permanent. Do whatever you need to hang in there. Change will come all the easier if you’re not holding too tightly to the present situation. As American big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton puts it: “If you just get out of your own way... It is amazing what will come to you.”

3. Sometimes I Need to Put Me First

Friends sometimes ask me if they’re ever a burden. With complete honesty I can say that is NEVER the case. However, there are times when I get triggered or overwhelmed by whatever is going on my life. It’s vital I recognise when that is happening, pay attention to my boundaries, and take whatever steps are necessary to bring myself back to a more secure and stable place. The Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) workshop I took last year helped me understand this and I turn to my own plan when I start to struggle. I have done in recent months and did so again last week.

4. It’s OK to Ask for Help

Reaching out for help is a crucial step on the road back to stability. What that looks like will depend on your needs and the support network you have in place. I’m blessed in having friends I can be honest and open with, but even so it’s hard for me to “fess up” and ask for help. It gets easier with practice though, which is why that first step — which can feel like a huge leap of faith — is so important. I’m proud that I asked for the support I needed, and grateful to those who were there for me.

5. I Can’t Help Everyone All the Time

Sometimes I have to accept that I’m not the right person to help someone I care about, no matter how much I want to. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me or our relationship, it’s just that I can’t offer what they most need. It’s harder when it’s someone I’ve helped in the past, but needs change and on a different occasion they might need support I’m unable to provide.

Maybe I don’t have the relevant skills, knowledge, or experience. Or maybe I’m unavailable or struggling myself so that I need to put all my energy and focus into self-care for a while. And of course this applies to others too. Their ability to help me depends on my needs at that moment and their personal situation.

All this might seem a sad state of affairs, as though we can’t rely on anyone to be there for us all the time, or rely on ourselves to be there for others. This is true (to pretend otherwise is unrealistic and unhealthy) but if we can face it with compassion the realisation can be deeply empowering. That’s why it’s important to have more than one person in your support network. There are four or five people I trust to be there for me. At any given time some may be unavailable or unable to offer the support I need, but I trust them to tell me if that’s the case.

6. Paying Attention Pays Dividends

There is a line in our book High Tide, Low Tide:

Give people what they need. Not what you need to give them.

This hit home hard recently when I failed to pay attention to what one of my friends needed. Instead of listening to what she asked me to do I took it upon myself to decide what was best. At another time it might have been no more than a minor annoyance to my friend. On this occasion, however, it was deeply unhelpful and hurtful.

And that’s the point. We can’t know when paying attention really matters, so make it your default approach. My friend and I have repaired the damage. We’ve talked it over and are closer for the experience. I’ve already used what I learned to help someone else who was struggling with a similar situation. I’m sad, though, that my friend had to pay the price of my learning something I ought to have known already.

7. Trust Is the Antidote to Fear

Some people wear worry as a badge of honour or as a sign of their commitment — “I’ve been so worried about you!” — but I know how toxic it can be. I learned this with Fran years ago. Don’t worry about me, care about me is the central message of our book High Tide, Low Tide and the foundation of our relationship. The key distinction is that worry is based on fear whereas caring is based on trust. I sometimes lose sight of this, however, as I wrote to a friend recently:

You’ve been so poorly lately and had so much going on for you that at times I have slipped into worry. The stressy, unhealthy worry energy that’s hard to avoid even though I know it doesn’t help anyone. Not you. Not me.

The antidote to fear is trust, and I’ve relearned that this week. I acknowledged what had happened and let go of my need to control things I had no business imagining I could control. I trusted that my friend is doing everything she can to be as well and safe as possible, and that the rest of her support team are there for her. And I renewed my trust in myself, to be the friend she needs me to be. No less, no more.

8. My Mood Is Dependent on My Relationships

A friend recently sent me an article by Angela Theresa titled Six Things Your Borderline Friend Wants You to Know. I was surprised how much of the piece rang true for me; especially the fear of abandonment, the need for validation, and the emotional intensity:

If you are my friend, I am loyal to you. You are beautiful to me. Your accomplishments are poetry. I think you’re fucking amazing. And you’re one of the best friends I’ve ever had.

My intensity has caused me issues in the past. I’m usually too much for people (or not enough, if I have been overcompensating for my tendency to excess). The downside is that I hurt deeply too, but I’m working with that. I still get it wrong more often than I like to admit but I have a small group of close friends with whom I feel safe and able to be myself. I am more grateful to — and for — them than I can ever say.

9. I’m (Still) Not Perfect

At work and outside it, I strive to improve myself. I read. I take courses and attend workshops. I talk with people. I listen. I’ve certainly learned a lot in the past week or so. And yet, I am still not perfect. (Sorry to disillusion you, Fran!) I make mistakes. Only last night a friend pointed out that I wasn’t paying attention to what she was saying. Rather than listening I was leaping in with suggestions and potential “fixes.” She was right to call me out on it and I am grateful to her for doing so.

10. Honesty Can Be Breathtakingly Beautiful

I write a lot about “honesty and openness.” To me these are essential components of any friendship or relationship. I’m not 100% full-on, in-your-face, open with everyone all the time, of course. That would be overwhelming and is what Brené Brown calls floodlighting.

I do, however, aim to be honest with everyone. As I wrote on social media precisely one year ago, “If you can be honest about what you need, that’s a real relationship right there.”

The past week has been characterised by honesty. I was honest with myself and others about the fact I was struggling and needed support. Friends were honest about how they were feeling, including letting me know when I’d contributed to their distress. (Thank you — how else am I to learn?) I was able to hear what was being said and take responsibility for my mistakes and my share of any misunderstandings and miscommunication.

Best of all, I’ve been honest with friends about how important they are to me, and heard how important I am to them. It’s not a sign of insecurity to value such moments. They can be breathtakingly beautiful. As I told one friend the other day, “I’m glad we can be honest with each other like this. It doesn’t happen with everyone and it’s lovely.”

 

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Black Garbage Bags

By Julie A. Fast

I lived in Japan for years in the early 90s. I remember being so down that I would go out on the roof of the gaijin (foreigner) house where I lived just to be in the sun and the fresh air. My friend Maggie would come sit with me and try to help — but how could she help when I had NO idea what was happening to me? I knew she experienced depression and anxiety, but the other side of the story was missing when I talked to her.

  • The wildness that would come before my super down mood swings.
  • Sex with strangers that ALWAYS ended badly in big hotel rooms where I would black out after a night of partying.
  • Enormous creative surges and work ability followed by a body that could hardly get out of bed.

I felt possessed by my out of control behavior and swore I would stop it each time, but then it would happen again and again.

I was also seeing and hearing things that were not there, but didn’t know this was not part of the regular human experience.

I do remember asking What is wrong with me? over and over again. I never had answers.

When I first moved to the house, I rented a tatami mat room that included a futon, book shelves and a closet. I heard from the other women that the former renter was picked up by her parents and taken back to Australia the week before I showed up. When I walked into her room I saw that the windows were covered with black garbage bags. The room was incredibly warm and there were books all over the place. It felt crazy to me. We talked about her as though she was a ghost. I never met her but I knew that something must have been wrong in her life to lead to the black garbage bags and her parents having to take her away. Was she keeping something out or trying to keep something inside? It all felt really crazy to me and a bit scary and spooky!

The black garbage bags represented being out of control to me, and yet I also had a story about black garbage bags that was equally bizarre. I didn’t make the connection because as often happens with mental illness I could see it in others but lacked insight into seeing it in myself.

When in college the year before I moved to Japan, I parked my car quite far from campus and had to walk on a Seattle trail in the woods to get to my classes. I have very clear memories of being freaked out on rainy or dark days on that trail. One day I looked to my right and saw a black garbage bag and could just tell there was a body in the bag.

I could SEE the body.
I could feel the body.
I heard a voice that said, ‘You need to call the police! You have witnessed a murder!’

I experienced this with all of my being. It freaked me out and I turned away. When I looked back, it was perfectly obvious that it was a bag of leaves. On other days, I would see a leaf that looked like a severed hand and when I looked away in fear and looked back it was once again obvious it was just a leaf. I didn’t tell anyone about this, not even my therapist. I assumed it happened to everyone.

It’s incredible to me now that the story of the young woman who put garbage bags on her windows and my own black garbage bag experiences didn’t lead to any kind of self-awareness. She was crazy. I was depressed. It wasn’t the same thing.

For the next four years in Japan I would be high on the world and then so down I couldn’t function. I had a fabulous job in Tokyo that allowed me to really use my brain — and then the brain that could be so amazing would just SHUT DOWN. And I would end up back on my futon crying or going out on the roof to lay in the sun. It made no sense, but not for one minute did I think of myself as mentally ill. After out of control behavior that led to deep shame I kept asking for help from very uneducated therapists who would try to get me to figure out why I made such poor decisions.

I once told a therapist about waking up with a strange man in a hotel room. I explained that this was SO out of character and shocking to me that I needed help. She said, “Maybe you need to address the lack of Christian values in your life.”

Oh yes, that is an exact quote. How could I know what was going on with me if the ‘professionals’ who were supposedly trained to help people with depression were this ignorant? This level of ignorance of serious mental illness is still present today. We don’t know what’s happening with us and when we finally do tell a therapist or general doctor what happened we need them to have answers. Often they don’t.

I often wonder what would have happened if I told the therapists in Japan, “I see dead bodies in garbage bags and leaves that look like severed hands.” When I finally did tell this to a psychiatrist in 1995, along with all of my out of control sexual behavior, work problems and deep, suicidal depression, I was told, “You have bipolar disorder with a lot of psychosis.” My official diagnosis is schizoaffective disorder. (This means I have bipolar disorder and a psychotic disorder.)

The garbage bag with the body and the leaves/severed hands were visual hallucinations. The voice that said I had to call the cops as I witnessed a murder was an auditory hallucination. The paranoia I felt all through college and often during my time in Japan was a delusion. The out of control sexual behavior was mania and the sadness that led me to sit in the sun was simply depression.

Between the ages of eighteen and thirty-one I saw at least twenty health care professionals and asked for help. Not one asked me the right questions. I hope that the woman from Australia got the help she needed once her parents got her home.

We are the sisters of the black garbage bags.

I’m sharing this story to shine a light on how and why people with serious mental illness like me can see mental illness in others and not for a minute recognize the same behavior in ourselves. The woman with the garbage bags was obviously sick. I didn’t feel sick in the way I observed her being sick. I was just confused about my behavior. And yet our symptoms were the same.

Everything — and I do mean everything — was explained by a correct mental health diagnosis. This diagnosis gave me insight. Insight is something we can grow in ourselves once a diagnosis gives us a direction for care.

I still have hallucinations and delusions. I have an illness! But I live with it now and I am no longer scared. We can learn to manage symptoms. Now if I see a black garbage bag and a body that isn’t there I know I am sick and I get help. The fear is gone.

About the Author

Julie A. Fast is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder and Get it Done When You’re Depressed. She lived with a partner for ten years who has bipolar one. They met in a Tokyo bar and neither knew they had bipolar. You can find more about her work at www.JulieFast.com and www.BipolarHappens.com.

 

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Ten Ways to Turn a Bad Day Around

There’s nothing inherently wrong with having a bad day. It’s natural, I would even say healthy, for our mood to fluctuate in response to whatever is going on around us. On the other hand, no one wants to stay stuck in a rut.

Here are ten techniques I use when I’m having a rough day. Several of them feature in my Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP).

It’s worth saying these are not fixes or solutions for anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions although they might form part of a person’s wellness toolbox. They help me weather the ups and downs of life and I offer them on that basis.

1. Go for a Walk

I’ve written elsewhere about how important walking is to my wellbeing. It’s my go-to strategy when things are getting me down. Walking allows me to acknowledge whatever feelings are present for me, experience them, and then let them go. I sometimes use the “hot coals” technique I learned from Fran. I close my hand at my chest, taking hold of whatever feeling I wish to release. I extend my hand to the side and open it, palm down as I walk on. As silly as it might sound, it works. Try it next time you are feeling stuck.

2. Talk with a Friend

I’m fortunate to have a small number of friends I can turn to if I need to share what’s going on for me. I don’t find it easy to be vulnerable but with these few people I feel safe enough to be myself, knowing they will listen without judgement. There are few personal skills more important and healthy than the art of listening.

3. Write It Out

Writing features prominently in my Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP). Apart from our two books and my blogging I’ve kept a daily journal since I was fourteen years old. For most of that time I wrote my diary each evening for the previous day. More recently I’ve started capturing my thoughts in the morning and at various times throughout the day. This means my diary is more of an in-the-moment account of how I’m feeling than an historic account of “how I felt yesterday.” Although journaling is an important part of my wellness regime I occasionally find myself trapped in an unhealthy cycle of introspection. To break the pattern I might challenge myself not to write any more about a certain person or situation until something specific changes.

4. Distract Yourself

Distraction is a core strategy of Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT); others are self-soothing, improving the moment, and pros and cons. My friend and fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson has written extensively about distraction in a DBT context on her blog I’m NOT Disordered. According to Aimee,

Distraction can include writing and other creative activities, reading, beauty treatments, really anything that can take your attention away from what is bothering you. It is important not to overuse this or it can become avoidance.

I find distraction techniques help when I’m feeling stuck or overwhelmed, especially if other approaches aren’t working. Recently I’ve distracted myself by listening to the BBC News channel when I’m at work or at home in the evening. I can understand that for many people the barrage of world affairs might be upsetting or triggering but it stops me obsessing about things that are troubling me. Music can have a similar effect although I’m careful what I choose to listen to in case it exacerbates how I’m feeling rather than providing relief.

5. Escape for a Bit

Escape is similar to distraction except that the intention is to consciously set the difficult situation aside and find comfort and solace elsewhere for a while. Movies and television shows work well for me, especially when Fran and I watch DVDs or Netflix together online. For an hour or two we can put everything on hold and immerse ourselves in whatever we are watching. This doesn’t fix things but it allows time for my emotions and thoughts to settle and for fresh ideas to emerge. Taking a break from social media can have the same effect.

6. Reward Yourself

I’ve written elsewhere how important it is to recognise and celebrate our successes. That said, when I’m low or upset it’s hard to believe I’m worthy of reward because my default is to blame myself for whatever’s gone wrong. My friend Jen reminded me that no matter what’s happening I can take responsibility and reward myself for that.

What about playdates, Marty? Do you have playdates with yourself? Take yourself to a movie, or to dinner, or to a good bookstore?

This doesn’t work too well if my underlying mood is very low; rather than celebrate I’m likely to spend the time brooding. But if I’ve begun to shift things using some of the other techniques, treating myself can help move me forward.

7. Find Solid Ground

When I’m overwhelmed it can be hard to find a stable point of reference. Paying attention to my day-to-day routine helps but it’s not always enough to get me to a place where I feel grounded and secure. When other techniques fail I sometimes attempt to “jolt myself” back to a time or place when I felt more stable. Music from a particular period in my life can work, as can looking through old photographs or reading my journal from years ago. The aim is to get my feet under me again and then return to the present to face whatever is going on from that place of stability and safety.

8. Change Something

Changing even one small aspect of your situation can affect how you feel. When I’m low or stressed I take less interest in my appearance. Sorting out a nice shirt and my favourite tweed jacket in the morning can be all it takes to shift my mood in a positive direction. Get out of the house if you’ve been stuck inside. Try a different café or even a different table at your regular place. Drive or walk an alternate route to work or to the store. Talk to someone other than the people you usually turn to.

9. Accept How It Is

Despite having all the techniques at your fingertips, sometimes nothing can turn the day around. Processing, talking, escaping, distracting, rewarding — they all take time, energy, and focus and sometimes you just can’t. All you can do is accept you’re having a rubbish day and handle it as safely as you can. Cry, scream, grumble, isolate — whatever it takes to get you through. The very act of “giving up” can help shift your mood. It may not, but it’s worth a try.

10. Go to Bed!

If you’ve made it to the evening — or even the middle of the afternoon — and things are still looking grim, sometimes the best option is to turn your back on the rest of the day and turn in. Tomorrow is a new day and maybe things will look different in the morning.

I’ve shared some of the techniques I use to turn the day around. What works for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and ideas!

 

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

My Journey Through Mental Illness, Addiction, and Recovery

By Kailey Fitzgerald

Growing up, I always felt like I didn’t fit in; I felt like I was a little off when compared to my peers. I had this terrible and seemingly constant feeling in the pit of my stomach when I would try to talk to other kids, and a ringing voice in my head that told me I wasn’t good enough. When I would accomplish something, I would find the reasons that it didn’t amount to anything and head down on a path of self-destruction.

Everything appeared perfect from the outside, but from the inside, I was absolutely falling apart. I managed to maintain until I was around twelve years old. I started to have violent emotional outbursts that I couldn’t seem to control, and it began to affect my relationship with my mom. She noticed that I wasn’t behaving normally and decided to send me to a psychiatrist. At first, when I was diagnosed with Intermittent explosive disorder and social anxiety I thought my whole life was over. I was only twelve years old and society had led me to believe that having any sort of mental disorder meant I was clinically insane; I was ashamed.

The medication my psychiatrist had prescribed me seemed to only make me worse, I began having suicidal thoughts and had socially withdrawn completely. My relationship with my mother was almost nonexistent and she was distraught. My explosive episodes were even more frequent, tearing apart any friendship or relationship I had left. I felt helpless because I didn’t want to respond to people in such anger, but I literally had no tools to control myself. My hopelessness led me to drugs. I began hanging out with an older crowd and attending highschool parties in order to find any substance available to calm the voices in my head.

For a while, the drugs helped me — or so I thought. To my friends and family, I seemed to be doing well. No one had any idea that I was drinking, smoking weed, and taking Xanax in order to attempt to quiet my anxiety and control my violent emotional outbursts. What I didn’t realize was that every time I took in a substance I was just covering up my issues and letting them fester over time, and as if that wasn’t enough, I was developing a drug addiction.

My addiction led me down an even darker path; abusive men, withdrawals, violence, and incomprehensible demoralization all became my new normal. I watched myself become a shell of a person and all the while, I couldn’t care enough to save myself. Eventually, I grew such a tolerance to the drugs I was using that they weren’t getting me high anymore. When I wasn’t high, I wasn’t numb, and all of my emotions came back with a vengeance. I spiraled so far out of control that I finally couldn’t take it anymore, and I FINALLY asked my mom for help.

Considering half of my family were members of Alcoholics Anonymous, they knew exactly what I needed. My mom enrolled me into a dual-diagnosis treatment center, which helped me learn to cope with the mental disorders I was suffering from and allowed me to overcome my addiction safely. I have found a life that allows me to not feel ashamed of my mental illnesses or my history of drug addiction. Going to treatment gave me the tools I needed to live my life peacefully, provided me with a group of friends who have gone through similar things as me, and has given me the strength to continue fighting when my mental illness may creep back up.

About the Author

Kailey Fitzgerald is a writer in recovery from PTSD, Anxiety, IED, and drug addiction. She is passionate about spreading the word and breaking stigmas regarding mental illness and addiction. She writes for The Discovery House, a treatment center in California.

 

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Fighting the Stigma of Addiction and Mental Illness

By Cassidy Webb

In recovery I see a lot of people go in and out. Unfortunately, not everyone makes it back. I’ve lost a lot of friends to addiction and I’ve watched even more of them struggle with their mental health. I’ve watched mental illness take over the minds of good people to the point where it drives them back to the needle or the bar. When it’s somebody close to me, I just want to shake them. I want to shake the misery, the despair, and the fear right out of them. I want them to get well. I want them to get the help that they deserve. However, I can’t do that. I’m not that powerful.

Growing up I was told to sit quietly and look pretty. Sharing my emotions was frowned upon, and when I did, I felt judged. I felt like the outcast whom nobody understood. I became a master at shoving my emotions down until they became too much to bear. I would then break down in major depressive episodes. As a teenager, I found solace in drugs and alcohol. I didn’t have to feel anything except pure bliss if I was drunk or high.

The lack of ability to cope with my emotions and substance abuse eventually spiraled into dangerous heroin addiction and severe depression. I had lost the will to live because I was too afraid of what people would think if I asked for help. Before addiction, I was an honor roll student and had my whole life ahead of me. I didn’t want to be seen as a failure. I didn’t want to be judged.

I tried to take my own life, promising myself that if I woke up, I would go to treatment. Treatment was my last resort because I didn’t know that it was possible to be happy. I didn’t know anything about addiction or recovery. I just thought I was insane.

I was one of the lucky ones. I went to treatment once, got diagnosed with depression, learned how to cope with it appropriately, and followed the path I needed to follow to stay sober. Unfortunately, not everybody’s path is the same.

I remember my first day in treatment because I was terrified. I was surrounded by people who were astonished to find out that it was my first time in rehab. Some of them had been to over fifteen facilities and still couldn’t stay sober. Honestly, it was really discouraging. As somebody who knew nothing about mental illness or recovery, I felt like I was doomed to live a life where I was in and out of dual diagnosis treatment centers. A lot of my peers made it seem like getting sober and staying sober was impossible.

Despite this discouragement, I was determined. I didn’t do everything right — after all, I’m human and what makes me human is the fact that I make mistakes. The difference was that I learned from my mistakes and turned them into opportunities for growth. In learning from my mistakes I also embraced transparency. I set my pride aside and I admitted when I was wrong. I sought the opinions from others on how to fix it and I set out to make my wrongs right.

When I celebrated a year sober, I stood in front of both the alumni and the current clients at my treatment center. Some people I was in treatment with were still sober, others were back in treatment. I didn’t condemn them but rather gave them words of encouragement. I wanted to show the people who had been stuck on this relapse rollercoaster that they didn’t have to use again. I wanted to show the people who were in treatment for the first time, feeling as scared as I was, that they can do what I did, too. I wanted all of them to know that, although it may feel like it, this isn’t the end of the road. It doesn’t have to be.

If I could just shake these people who I see struggling and make them ask for help I would. If I could expand mental health resources to be accessible to everybody I would do it in a heartbeat. However, the only thing I can do is use the voice I have been given to share the experience that I can have. If my vulnerability affects just one person, then I have achieved my purpose as a woman in recovery.

When the mental illness goes untreated in the midst of addiction recovery, it often leads people back out to relapse. When it comes to treating addiction, I believe that it is absolutely imperative to address mental health too. After all, nearly half of those who suffer from addiction also have a co-occurring mental illness. Failing to recognize this is doing those who want to get better a major disservice. On the other hand, failing to speak up and talk about mental health is an even bigger disservice.

I believe that the first step in destigmatizing people who suffer from co-occurring disorders is to talk about it from a first-hand perspective. It is absolutely crucial to share those dirty secrets that we hold on to and it is absolutely necessary to acknowledge the times when we fall short. It’s important for those who are struggling to feel comfortable in asking for help and feel comfortable talking to others about the thoughts that run through their heads. By being completely transparent and brutally honest, we allow others to relate to us. We allow others to see that they aren’t alone.

By withholding the truth, we not only suffer in silence ourselves, but we enable others to suffer in silence. This type of suffering is the worst kind because when it comes to mental health and addiction, it can mean life or death. Most of all, we must demonstrate to others that despite how dark the past is, there can be light in the future.

About the Author

Cassidy Webb is an avid writer who works with JourneyPure to spread awareness around the disease of addiction. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope. You can find her and read more of her work on Twitter.

 

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

21 Things You Didn't Know About Marty

Not even my closest friends know all this stuff!

1. What’s in a Name?

My middle name is Keith. I’ve never liked it much.

2. Schoolboy Crush

I had a major crush on my human biology teacher in Sixth Form. Her name was Helen and she was a huge inspiration to me, work-wise and creatively. As “Eleanor” she inspired some of my early poetry.

3. Cuddly Toys

When I lived in London I made cuddly toys. The budgerigars and white rats were very popular.

My favourite was Pemberton the bear who kept a dear friend of mine company for many years. After my friend died Pemberton returned home to live with me.

4. Nail-biting

I still bite my nails.

5. Wombling Free

The first concert I ever went to was The Wombles in Liverpool, 1978.

6. Pedal to the Metal

The first and only car I’ve owned was a mustard yellow Toyota Corolla, not unlike this one except mine had a CND sticker on the side. It cost £500 second hand. Two years later after spending a small fortune on the thing I got £30 for it at a scrapyard.

Highlights including losing my car keys with a few kilos of frozen blackcurrants in the boot, reversing into a bollard, and having the gear stick come away in my hands whilst driving (my passenger seemed more concerned than I was).

7. Heroic Failure

I failed my O Level English Literature exam at age 16 achieving — if that’s the right word — a grade U (Unclassified).

8. Airborne (Just)

The only time I’ve flown was from Liverpool’s Speke Airport (now John Lennon Airport) to the Isle of Man and back when I was maybe eight years old.

The flight takes forty minutes. I used to joke that the pilots turn the engines off once the plane’s in the air and glide the rest of the way!

9. Just Don’t

I hate the word “should” with a passion! It should be banned!

10. Naughty Boy

I was sent to the head teacher’s office in primary school for eating the dried pasta in art class.

11. Baby Doll Nightie

Yes, I did once go to pyjama party dressed in a friend’s baby doll nightie. Yes, I looked cute. No, there aren’t any photos.

12. Fantasy Fandom

I ran an online Tolkien fan club called Middle-earth Reunion: The Alternative Tolkien Society for ten years, and published our quarterly journal Reunion: The Journal of Middle-earth Studies and newsletter Parish’s Garden.

You can still read all our material at www.alt-tolkien.com, mainly because I keep forgetting to cancel the hosting contract.

13. Home from Home

I lived in the nurses’ home at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital for six months in 1982 on placement from university.

14. Poetic Injustice

I stole a book of poetry by Ezra Pound from my school library.

15. Street Photog

I was Panasonic Amateur Photographer of the Year in 2003. My winning entry was a photograph of the Blue Carpet installation here in Newcastle taken from the Laing Art Gallery.

16. London Calling

My first job was at the Parkinson’s Disease Society Research Centre in London.

17. All That Glisters

I much prefer silver jewellery to gold.

18. Animal Magic

I designed a website and promotional leaflets for Wetheriggs Animal Rescue Centre.

19. Chant Along

I can sing JRR Tolkien’s Namárië (Galadriel’s Lament) in Elvish from memory.

20. Unfinished Symphony

I never completed my PhD, which is a shame because it would have been fun to call myself Doc Martin.

21. Ghastly Gastronomy

I hate gin and avocados. If there’s such a thing as avocado gin, I hate that too.

 

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Six Things I'd Quite Like to Do in 2019: A Midyear Update

This is a midyear update on a post I wrote back in January: Six Things I'd Quite Like to Do in 2019. Let’s see how I’ve been getting on!


1. Take Three Well-being Courses

ONGOING

At the start of the year I enrolled on the Overcoming Self-Sabotage course at DailyOM. I completed the first three lessons (of fourteen) but ground to a halt and haven't managed to get moving again.

I have updated my Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training, though, and am currently taking OpenLearn's Understanding autism course.

I've also completed Pluralsight's excellent Introduction to Emotional Intelligence. The course recommended the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, which I bought and am working my way through. I'm finding it exciting and challenging — always a great combination!

Speaking of exciting and challenging, I've been offered the opportunity to undertake the three day Personal Leadership Programme by Living Leader later in the year. It will be scary but I've heard only great things about it from friends who have taken it already (mentioning no names, Judith, Lois, and Loveday!) and I figure I'm up for it!


2. Bring My Weight Back under 176 Pounds

NOT YET!

My aim for this year is to bring my weight down and maintain around 173 – 176 lbs. So far it has remained stubbornly between 179 and 182 pounds which is more or less where it was at the start of the year.

There’s nothing wrong with this but I would like to get it down if I can. I know what I need to do: stop having cheese sandwiches at supper time!


3. Happy Happy Joy Joy

GOING REALLY WELL!

At the start of the year I said “I’d quite like some more joyful moments, please!” Seven and half months in, I’m doing pretty well!

I’ve shared some lovely times with Aimee Wilson on our Bloggers’ Days Out, including Newcastle’s Life Science Centre, an Easter fundraiser at the Cats Protection Adoption Centre, and an afternoon in Blyth.

July’s holiday in Ambleside was lovely, in particular evenings spent lakeside in Borrans Park or the beer garden of the Wateredge Inn. My little trek to Stock Ghyll Force waterfall was fun too. Sharing such moments with friends on chat or video calls made for some special memories.

A recent highlight was talking with Jonny Benjamin MBE at the Stranger on the Bridge and Other Stories of Friendship and Support event in Newcastle. Not because he’s “all famous” but because he’s such a lovely guy.

I’ve also realised I can have fun on my own! Last week I stopped at STACK for a drink before going on to a mental health book event. It was a beautiful evening. I was surrounded by folk enjoying the live music and atmosphere. Just for a moment I felt something close to bliss. (I suppose it could have been the Red Stripe!)


4. Meet Two Online Friends Face to Face

ONGOING

I was delighted to meet my friend Soph in January for coffee and a look round Newcastle’s Hancock Museum, and again in March at the Hidden Histories: Mining in the North East event. Strictly speaking we met once years ago at a Time to Change event, but we connected properly and built our friendship online.

I don’t have any other hook-ups planned as yet but there are a couple of possibles, so watch this space!


5. Have One Caffeine Free Week

NOT YET!

I’ve yet to attempt a week without my daily two (occasionally three) cups of coffee, but I still intend to! Family, friends, and colleagues have been warned: apparently I get grumpy if I don’t have my morning dose!


6. Visit Barter Books, Alnwick

NOT YET!

I haven't visited Barter Books in Alnwick yet, nor Keel Row Books in North Shields which was also suggested to me. No reason, apart from having been busy doing other things!


Did you set yourself any resolutions, objectives, or “things to do” for this year? If so, how are getting on with them?

 

Thursday, 8 August 2019

The Stranger on the Bridge and Other Stories of Friendship and Support

Photo: Vikki Beat

In the latest of our Bloggers’ Days Out, fellow mental health blogger Aimee Wilson and I attended Stranger on the Bridge and Other Stories of Friendship and Support at George Street Social in Newcastle.

George Street Social is an alcohol-free bar and café run by the Road to Recovery Trust which offers hope and support to people in recovery from addiction problems.

We were among the first to arrive and were greeted warmly by Lucy Nichol who I first met last year at the launch of her book A Series of Unfortunate Stereotypes. Lucy is a trustee and marketing and communications lead for the Road to Recovery Trust, and chaired the event.

Photo: Martin Baker

The first to speak was Paula Cowie who is also a Road to Recovery trustee. Paula shared her lived experience and how important the Trust and George Street Social are to the local community.

Matthew Smith from the If U Care Share Foundation went next. He spoke with great honesty and openness about his older brother Daniel who took his life at the age of nineteen, and the impact his death has had on him to this day. The devastating experience led Daniel’s family to found If U Care Share.

“Our aim is to prevent anyone feeling the pain we felt as a family when we lost Daniel. We truly believe that talking can save lives.” (Shirley Smith, If U Care Share founder and Daniel’s mother)

Third to speak was Jonny Benjamin MBE. I imagine most of us at the event knew the story of how a passing stranger stopped Jonny from taking his life in 2008:

The Stranger on the Bridge, which was made into a book and a documentary film, tells the story of how, having been recently diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, Jonny stood on London’s Waterloo Bridge and prepared to take his own life. That was until a stranger walking across the bridge talked Jonny down from the edge.

Jonny was immediately taken to hospital and didn’t see the stranger again, but, with the support of the charity Rethink Mental Illness, he launched the #FindMike campaign, to track the stranger down. The campaign reached over 300 million people worldwide and eventually led to Neil Laybourn — the man who saved Jonny’s life.

Hearing Jonny talk about what happened on the bridge was intensely moving for me, as I’m sure it was for everyone in the room. He spoke of Neil holding space, of his being engaged and “invested.” Above all it was Neil’s positivity and lack of judgement that made the difference, as well as him telling Jonny there was no need to be embarrassed. This stranger’s acceptance, compassion, and simple humanity saved Jonny’s life.

The final speaker was Ashley Lowe, Wellbeing Manager at Newcastle United Foundation. Ashley spoke passionately about the Foundation’s wellbeing programme, their Be A Game Changer campaign, and why the football community is a great place to support your mates.

Photo: Vikki Beat

After questions from the audience there was an opportunity to meet the speakers. Lucy told me more about the events programme at George Street Social, including an upcoming evening at which she and fellow Trigger Publishing authors Mark Edwards and Paula McGuire will share their personal mental health experiences and discuss the inspiration behind their books.

Jonny and I spoke for a good while, exploring the evening’s themes of support and friendship. I told him about me and Fran, our book, and how we support each other despite being three thousand miles apart. I could easily have talked with him for hours but there were other people waiting, Aimee included. There was just time for a photo (thanks, Vikki!)

I apologised to Aimee later for monopolising Jonny’s time and for manoeuvring myself ahead of her in the queue. All I can offer in my defence is that I learned how to engage confidently with people from Aimee herself on our first Bloggers’ Day Out at Newcastle’s Life Science Centre:

Aimee is bolder than I am and I was fascinated to see how she engaged with people I might simply have nodded to in passing.

Seeing how Aimee engaged with people reminded me that you can never tell who you might meet or where a chance encounter might lead. Being passionate about your own work and interested in other people opens doors and possibilities.

All in all the evening more than lived up to its promise of being “an inspirational event for anyone interested in, experiencing or supporting someone with a mental health problem.”

You can read Aimee’s article inspired by the event on her blog I’m NOT Disordered.

Links

The Road to Recovery Trust
www.roadtorecoverytrust.org.uk

If U Care Share Foundation
www.ifucareshare.co.uk

Jonny Benjamin
jonnybenjamin.co.uk
The Stranger on the Bridge: My Journey from Suicidal Despair to Hope

Newcastle United Foundation
nufoundation.org.uk

 

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

I Will Rise

By Tracy Leppla

Suicide is a very touchy subject with me. Why? Because I have attempted suicide four times in the past. Obviously I didn’t succeed or I wouldn’t be here today sharing my story. I remember what it was like back then. How I felt. The darkness completely took over. I felt completely lost. Everything seemed like it was caving in and there was no way out. I had no desire to live anymore. I just wanted the pain to stop and I thought that was the only solution.

At the time of my suicide attempts I did not understand my PTSD, my anxiety or my panic attacks. I was angry about everything. I hated everything and everyone. I was tired of being bullied at school. After being beat up for the fourth time at school I decided I wasn’t going to take it anymore. I started fighting back. My fighting turned from survival mode to wanting to win mode. I wanted to show all those bullies not to mess with me and it worked. But it didn’t take the anger and pain away.

I was at home alone one night. My mom was out of town and my brother was out with his friends. I took a bottle of pills, laid down on my bed and waited to die. I started vomiting and it wouldn’t stop. Late that night my brother and his friend found me. He told me later I was white as a ghost, lethargic and not responsive. He took me to the hospital thinking I had the flu or food poisoning. Little did he know he just saved my life even though I had no desire to be saved. I attempted suicide three more times after that over the course of two years. I never succeeded so I am assuming I am still here for a reason. I hid my mental health illness for years due to feeling shame and being bullied. I just now started sharing my story. Maybe this is what I am supposed to be doing. I have no idea but I feel if I can help just one person than I have succeeded. That’s enough for me.

Two months ago a student that my son went to school with and was also on the football team with committed suicide. He was only sixteen. It broke my heart to hear of this. The reason he took his own life was due to bullying. Evidently he was being bullied so bad that he thought the only way to end his suffering and pain was to end his life. Even though I did not succeed in trying to take my own life I know exactly how he must have been feeling. I will never understand how a bully can feel so much satisfaction from making another human being feel so badly about themselves. What do they get out of it? Is it power? Is it control? Why would you even want to make someone else feel that bad? I will never understand this.

I read an article the other day from The Jason Foundation, the parent resource program. It stated that more teenagers and young adults die from suicide than cancer, heart disease, Aids, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza A, and chronic lung disease combined. Yes you read that right … COMBINED. That is unacceptable to me. Each day in our nation there is an average of over 3,041 attempts of suicide by youth grades 9 through 12. If you add in 7th and 8th grade the number would be even higher. The article stated that four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs. No one took them seriously. WOW! How could you not take any sign, any gut instinct, any remark about suicide seriously?

Is there anything we can do? I am not sure. I just know that these numbers are unacceptable. No child or adult for that matter should feel like taking their own life is their only option. We need to have more support groups, more resources, more help for the Mental Health Community, especially for teens. Teens have a hard enough time feeling accepted. They are going through puberty. Their hormones are all over the place. They have to worry about what they wear, what their friends will think, they so badly want to be accepted. There is a lot of peer pressure to fit in. And of course they have to worry about the bullies.

One thing that isn’t talked about enough is depression and anxiety among teens and young adults. We as a Mental Health Community need to bring more awareness to this subject. We need to reach out and offer our support. Maybe I don’t have a clue of what I am talking about. Maybe I am reaching for something that is impossible. I do know that if I would of had more support or even one adult that showed concern for me when I was a teen I may not have tried to kill myself. Maybe if the school had more resources or someone a student could confide in without judgement it would help.

As a survivor of childhood trauma living with PTSD, anxiety and panic disorder I have decided to stop feeling shame. I decided to share my story hoping it would help me and maybe help just one person be brave enough to face their mental illness with the fierceness of a lion and conquer their fears; to hold their head up high and be proud that they fight every day to be here, to live another day. I recently became an Angel Advocate for an online support group called MH Crisis Angels that you can find on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I have met some wonderful people online in the mental health community. This support group is there for anyone who needs a listening ear, support, or just someone to chat with if you are feeling like you are in a dark place.

I also met Steve, a wonderful person on Twitter (@Cockney_Buddha). He shares his experience with Anxiety and Depression. He uses Buddhism, yoga, and meditation for his healing. His website mindnutrition4all.com is amazing. I think you will enjoy it as much as I do so be sure to check it out. It’s absolutely amazing that within a few minutes of speaking with him about my photography and showing him a few photographs he gave me the little boost that I needed to show more. To actually want to show more. He truly is an amazing, kind and sincere human being who just wants to help people.

I also want to mention Jeremy Zinzan who did my interview for the live Podcast. He has a beautiful website beherenow.one. He does a lot with meditation as well. Please check out my interview. It is forty minutes long but you get a small idea of my story straight from me.

At one point in my childhood I may have been a victim. It may have changed me forever but I survived. Every day I Continue to fight and I will Rise….

This article was originally published July 2019.

About the Author

I was diagnosed with PTSD, Anxiety and Panic disorder when I was fourteen years old due to childhood trauma. I am wife to a very supportive husband. We have been married for fourteen years. I am also a mother to four boys.

My passion is photography. I love black and white photos. I use my photography to help cope with my Anxiety. Being out in nature with my camera helps me relax and calm my mind. I am a Mental Health Advocate and want to bring awareness so there is more understanding.

You can find me on my website Controlling Chaos, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

 

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

The Efficacy of Electroshock: a Personal Story

By Andrew Turman

Painting by the author.

In this day and age, it perplexes me as to why Electroconvulsive Therapy, or electroshock, still seems to get a bad rap. Some people not only question its use, but also call for the ban of this controversial treatment.

I, for one, can attest to the efficacy of its use for not only depression, but also mania. Just last week, I underwent shock treatment three times to control my mania, upon which the use of very dangerous psychotropic medications do not seem to have any effect.

The treatment itself has seen little change since it was first developed: it involves brief electrical stimulation of the brain while the patient is under general anesthesia. This stimulation induces a grand mal seizure in the patient, which under close monitoring, is harmless. This seems to “reset” the brain, much like rebooting a computer. Extensive research has found ECT to be highly effective for the relief of major depression, as well as being an effective treatment for mania and other mental health disorders.

It seems that people cannot get beyond the images of ECT portrayed in the movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In that film, the main protagonist portrayed by Jack Nicholson, was basically lobotomized by his treatment. This is an inaccurate depiction of the true effect of this therapy, at least in my experience, and I have had 126 treatments (and counting!). The worst side effects that I have experienced are nausea (from the anesthetic) and a slight headache. There was one time when I experienced some confusion, but I have continued to work with my psychiatrist, and have resumed treatment. My doctor is very responsive and checks on my mental state and clarity every time I am scheduled for a session. He is very professional and asks about my cognitive state as impairment can be a side effect.

To lessen the chance of cognitive impairment and unwanted side effects, I only receive unilateral, as opposed to bilateral, shocks. It is thought that only stimulating one side of the brain mitigates against the possible negative side effects or brain damage. It is only conjecture that this is true, as the how and why ECT works is largely unknown. Perhaps that is what gives people pause when this treatment is suggested. We simply do not know how or why Electroconvulsive Therapy works. It just does, and I can attest to the fact that this treatment has literally saved my life. I no longer ideate on completing suicide, unless I get psychotically depressed.

Certainly it is not a first line of treatment: the process involves going to a hospital and undergoing sedation. However, a muscle relaxer is also given, to safeguard against the side effects of enduring a grand mal seizure. When I wake up after treatment, groggy from being “put under,” I usually spend the rest of the day relaxing. The biggest side effect I feel is muscle tightness and soreness, a result of my body enduring the seizure. If need be, I can do anything I wish, it does not hinder my functioning. I prefer to hydrate (to flush the anesthetic from my system) and take it easy, but I have gone to work painting windows when I had to.

However, the efficacy of ECT is not in question. It works better than most treatments for depression, including medication. There are questions surrounding relapse, and often maintenance treatments are necessary. I have found that overall I need to have the therapy done every two weeks in order to be stable. Going without treatment longer than that tends to put me in a bad space; either I get manic or depressed.

Sometimes, however, I do need it more often. ECT is an effective tool against depression, but also against mania. Treatments can be given three times a week when my illness cycles out of control, in either direction.

What I hope to accomplish with this essay is a little bit of understanding. I am an advocate for the responsible use of this therapy, which includes informed consent by the subject. No one should be forced to endure electroshock against his or her will. However, people need to understand that it is safe and effective. No treatment is without its risk of side effects, and ECT is no exception. Memory loss is a real concern, to both my doctor and me. Measured against the effects of uncontrolled mania and/or depression, I am willing to take the risk. I am willing to endure the soreness and headaches.

I would like to say a little about my father’s role in my treatment. He would take his “telecommute Monday” off, to get me to my maintenance treatment. We would make a weekend of it, going to Pittsburgh the night before to the Holiday Inn downtown, where he would pay the “hospital rate.” He would get up early to take me to my treatment, take me to Cracker Barrel afterwards, then drop me off at my apartment before driving two and a half hours back to his house. No expense was too great for him to bear, no treatment too extreme, if I got the help I needed.

I am grateful for the profound impact ECT treatment has had on my life and the great relief it has provided, not to mention the improved functionality.

This article was originally published July 2019.

About the Author

W.A. Turman was an “Army Brat,” and that explains a lot. Man of no accent, but also of every accident. Life has not always been easy for the artist and writer we affectionately call “Zen Daddy T.” A gonzo journalist along the lines of Hunter S. Thompson, an artist well-versed in the school of Ralph Steadman, including favoring beers from the Flying Dog Brewery, Andrew is an acquired taste. His abstract expressionist works bleed protest and contentment. His recent series, “Art for Airports” has drawn critical acclaim. Here are his stats: hospitalizations—89; medications—75; suicide attempts—6; ECT treatments—128.

He can be contacted via his blog, on Facebook (Andrew Turman and Zen Daddy T), Instagram (zendaddyt), and Twitter (@ZenTurman).

 

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Four Things It's Hard for a Mental Health Ally to Hear (And Why It's Important to Listen)

I’m going to talk about a few things said to me over the years by people who have what I do not: lived experience of mental illness.

They’ve been hard to hear but I’m grateful because I’ve learned something valuable each time.

“You don’t understand”

They say we all have mental health but as Fran and I describe in our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder there’s a fundamental difference in experience between someone like Fran who lives with mental illness and someone like me who never has.

Well or ill, we are all people. Nevertheless, it is naive, disrespectful, and dangerous to downplay the impact illness has on those affected by it. Those who are ill […] have particular life experiences, perceptions, expectations, and needs. To use Fran’s terminology, she is the ill one in our relationship; I am the well one. Nothing more or less is implied by our use of these terms.

High Tide, Low Tide, Introduction

So when someone tells me I don’t understand what it’s like for them or I can’t help because of that gulf in understanding, it hurts precisely because I get it. How can I understand what Fran is going through when she is manic or in the depths of depression, or when suicidal “stinking thinking” plagues her? How can I empathise when another friend is hallucinating and is convinced reality is other than I perceive it to be? How can I know what it means to self-harm or overdose?

I can’t. Not really.

Rather than allowing myself the ego defence of hurt pride and self-righteous indignation I’ve learned to accept “you don’t understand” as a simple statement of fact. I can’t always join my friends where they are. And that’s okay.

I’ve also learned that although our perspectives are different – indeed because our perspectives are different – we can complement and learn from each other.

I am a better person for knowing Fran. I have a greater understanding of my strengths, values, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities than ever before. I have learned more about mental and invisible illness, suicidal thinking, stigma, determination, courage, and responsibility since we became friends than in the fifty years before we met.

High Tide, Low Tide, chapter 10, “A Life worth Living”

“Don’t be so bloody positive!”

Fran calls me pathologically positive and it’s not meant as a compliment. We only met at all because she was furious at my inept response online to someone in suicidal distress. I’ve always been a positive person, but mostly I deployed it defensively to avoid facing up to how shitty life gets. It’s been hard to accept this was hopelessly naïve and prevented me engaging fully with life and with other people.

There are healthy aspects to it, of course. I can help Fran counter her illness-skewed thinking but I must never allow myself, consciously or unconsciously, to invalidate her experience or attempt to bully her out of her feelings. It also helps keep me grounded when those I care about are struggling. This is part of what my friend Aimee Wilson meant when she wrote, “I’ve seen how many people you support through social media. It’s inspiring to think of the strength you have in order to be there for so many people.”

I’m grateful to all who are patient with me as I open to a deeper understanding. I’m learning that courage isn’t about being relentlessly positive. Real courage is dealing with the shittiness of life when you’re unable to set it aside or run away from it.

“I don’t need you right now”

For me, mutual caring is an essential part of any meaningful relationship. The word mutual is crucial. I may be the “well one” and Fran the “ill one” but we each have issues, hang-ups, and needs. We support and care for each other, and the same is true of my other key friendships. That’s not to say both people will give and receive equally all the time, as this anonymous quotation attests:

A relationship isn’t always 50/50. Some days your person will struggle. You suck it up and pick up that 80/20 because they need you. That’s love.

I would add — and sometimes your person will be doing okay and need less of your support, time, and energy. This is hard for me. In our early days as friends I’d react with fear and panic to any suggestion Fran was pulling away from me. It caught us both by surprise when it first happened. It took a while for me to acknowledge what was happening and accept that Fran needing less of my support didn’t threaten our friendship or mean she no longer cared about me. I’ve learned a lot about co-dependency since then but there’s no place for complacency and we remain vigilant.

Fran values the support of “well ones” when she is poorly but I also have friends for whom the opposite is true. When they’re struggling they’re more likely to seek professional help or reach out to people with comparable lived experience. This can be hard because I want to help too. One friend became understandably frustrated having to explain to me how things were for her when she was struggling and I offered to help. What she needed were friends who understood without having to ask. It was a painful lesson but one I hope I have taken on board. Aimee shared her perspective on this in a recent blog post:

I also wanted to say that if someone you know does have a mental health crisis and doesn’t reach out to you; don’t feel offended or useless. Other people aren’t usually the first place I turn in a mental health crisis — for many reasons — but I appreciate that there are a number of people in my life who could be so helpful at those times and I just don’t give them the chance. This isn’t anything against them.

What matters far more than my bruised ego is that the person finds those best placed to provide the care they need.

“Leave me alone”

Friends part sometimes. Relationships end. Where mental health appears to have played a part in the break-up it would be easy to justify myself by recalling how unreasonable their behaviour was, or how imbalanced the relationship had become. It would be easy — and untrue. I can’t think of a single friendship which ended for such reasons.

So what happened? As I wrote a few years ago, hardest for me is where the other person acted in their best interests by severing what had become for them a toxic connection:

A friend on Twitter shared a link today to her blog article about needing to let go of unhelpful, toxic people and relationships. Her words brought me face to face with the realisation that there have been times in my life when, for one reason or another, someone has needed to let go of me. It’s not an easy thing to admit to myself […] yet there are those who choose to remain distanced from me, and who would reject any attempt I might make at reconnecting. I must respect their need to do what they need to do, and to accept responsibility for my role in what has happened.

Not every friendship ends like that, of course. Sometimes it’s simply that the person’s needs or situation have changed. Perhaps they found others better suited to support them or they no longer need to rely on me as much as before. This can be hard to hear, especially if I’ve been doing my best and would like the opportunity to learn how to become the friend they need. Ultimately, though, it’s not my decision to make.

The most I can ask is that we part with honesty, in which case there need be no lasting guilt, recriminations, or regret on either side. I am grateful to those who have parted with me on such terms. We cannot be all things to all people.

Over to You

I’ve described some of the hardest things I’ve heard as a mental health ally. If you live with mental illness I would be interested to know your thoughts about what I’ve written. If like me you have no lived experience of mental illness but have friends or loved ones who do, what are the hardest things you’ve heard and what have you learned about yourself in the process?

 

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Vital But Often Overlooked Self-Care Practices to Focus on Today

By Brad Krause

What we do on a daily basis to take care of ourselves is the number one determining factor in our overall mental health. Many of us live under unhealthy amounts of stress, financial burdens, and physical and emotional strain from juggling home and professional duties. When we think about self-care, it’s easy to overlook the basics. Here is what you should focus on today.

Muscle Relaxation

We think a lot about chilling out and relaxing (mentally), but we often fail to consider physical relaxation. If you have a demanding job or like to hit the gym regularly, muscle relaxation and massage should be a part of your self-care regimen (the benefits are vast). You don’t have to go out and spend a fortune every week on massages. For example, when it comes to the all-important foot massage, great home models will work just fine.

Focusing on Sleep Quantity and Quality

For many, sleep is just a thing you have to do for the next day to start. Even if you love to sleep, you may value other things — family time, work, TV — more. For better self-care, prioritizing sleep (both quantity and quality) is a must. Most adults need between seven and nine hours per night, and it should be uninterrupted. Focus on setting yourself up for quality sleep — avoid looking at digital screens before bed, do something soothing like taking a bath or reading a book, and try to limit consumption of caffeine, alcohol, and food in the hours before bedtime.

Boost Diet and Energy

Everyone knows the importance of eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. But not everyone considers food to be a form of self-care. If eating healthy is a priority but one that adds to your workload and stress, take the guesswork out of meal planning and sign up for a subscription meal kit or choose one day to prep meals for the rest of the week. And if you’re into smoothies, a good immersion blender provides a compact and affordable way to blend those fruits and veggies without a lot of fuss.

Regardless of your approach, setting yourself up for success ensures you’ll stick to the quality food your body needs to do its job. Sometimes a healthy diet isn’t enough, and you still need key nutrients. A multivitamin can provide you with these nutrients and give you a boost of energy as well.

Stretching and Light Exercise

Exercise gets a lot of attention in the self-care realm. However, just as important for your overall (physical and mental) well-being is stretching. Some exercise routines like yoga and Pilates focus on stretching, but there are plenty of other ways to achieve your stretching goals. Stretching not only improves your flexibility and range of motion, but it also boosts blood flow to your muscles and vital organs (your brain!), helps relieve stress, and improves your posture.

In fact, adding a light exercise routine to your days can go a long way toward preserving your health and introducing some much-needed self-care into your life. Fortunately, there are several ways you can do this, from taking a stroll around the block after dinner to getting the family together for an afternoon bike ride on the weekends. And fortunately for seniors, Medicare Advantage plans offered by companies like Cigna-HealthSpring will give you access to SilverSneakers, which allow you to use fitness facilities in your area at no additional charge.

Getting Organized

Clutter — both in terms of your physical surroundings and your schedule — is a huge cause of stress in most people’s lives. Taking the time to truly organize your life — both at home and on the job — is a vital act of self-care. Studies have found that people with clean surroundings are typically healthier. Not only that, but keeping an organized schedule can also give you more control over your time, leading to a reduction in overall stress levels and mental fatigue.

Spacing Out

There are very few times in a day that we turn our own brains off and completely zone out. This is too bad because spacing out and letting yourself be free of focus (on anything) is actually very good for your mental state.

“Mind wandering is not useless mental static. Instead … mind wandering allows us to work through some important thinking,” says Discovery Magazine.

In essence, relaxing your mind to the point of low-level function helps it reset and work through complex issues. This can boost your creativity, problem-solving, and allow you to work through complex emotional thoughts — all good for your overall mental health.

Self-care isn’t selfish — it’s extremely important for your overall well-being. While eating right, exercising, treating yourself to things you want, and other well-known self-care habits are vital, so are these often-overlooked practices. In the end, anything that keeps your mind and body feeling fresh is a critical part of any self-care regimen.

About the Author

Brad Krause created Self Caring after years spent putting his own self-care on the back burner. Brad discovered his real calling: helping people implement self-care practices that improve their overall wellbeing. His website is intended to share his own knowledge and the many great resources he finds on his self-care journey.

Illustration by Max van den Oetelaar at Unsplash.