Wednesday, 9 January 2019

My Mental Health 2018: Aligning It All

By Peter McDonnell

I realise that some people reading this article might not be enjoying their mental health at the moment. I would like you to know that it is possible for things to improve.

January 2018 – “Let’s just keep all the good stuff and lose all the bad stuff.”

As a result, at the end of 2018 I find myself more confident and outgoing. I was already doing very well in those areas twelve months ago but now my brain is serving up witty stories and points of general interest in a familiar, effortless, appropriate fashion, sometimes in a magical way. I’m not arrogant or egotistical so I like to control myself in social situations when I feel like my confidence is getting away from me. I have been reminding myself that other people are simply not as interested in many of the things that delight me, and so I pass the conversation on to other people too and just listen for a bit, becoming interested in them and their lives.

I have two mental illnesses, psychosis and anxiety. Both are fading away – something that lifts me every time I remember how far I have come since being housebound by that stuff. For years my mental acuity and happiness was gone, beaten into submission by psychosis and anxiety. Now that the problems are fading, my mental acuity and happiness is coming back with quite a passionate drive and it’s very nice to be back. I am able to apply myself to my work more effectively too. In more recent years I had to grow thick skin in preparation for mental health problems bothering me while I was at work and I’d learned how to self soothe by taking breaks. This this year such problem moments have hardly even been there.

I started a new job in the summer at the same time as England doing themselves proud in the World Cup. I am now nearly six months in as a part time peer support worker on the local ‘P.I.C.U.’ (Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit) ward, the very same ward I was a patient at many times when my mental health was particularly bad. I have two other part time jobs. I work as a cleaner at the nearby Sports Centre, a job I do three hours a day at because it’s more interesting than you’d think and pays well. I also do a shorter amount of hours in a carpentry/joinery workshop making bespoke pieces from upcycled materials to sell in a shop. It’s therapeutic in several ways and very rewarding when my projects sell, and they sell quickly too! (I make coffee tables, wine racks, small cabinets, etc.)

You may well expect me to write a lot about my experiences on the PICU, but I rarely do because the patients have a right to their privacy, but I enjoy it. I feel useful there. I organise bingo games on the PICU and several other wards at Parklands Mental Hospital, which is part of the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust. I bother local businesses including the big five supermarkets every three months for bingo prize donations. They are all very generous, especially Waitrose and Sainsbury’s. I have been able to gather some impressive prizes. Enthusiasm for bingo is particularly high on the over 65s ward. “Two little ducks, 22,” the room shouts – “quack, quack!” and so on. I am becoming familiar with the call signs.

My Princess nieces, two and a half and four and a half, visited us from America in the summer which was of course the highlight. As well as being rewarding work (I am familiar with and fairly adept at doing the parenting thing, for days at a time sometimes – they used to live close by and I like to think I’ve helped raise them and will continue to do so) they are great fun. Them being born gave me a small prod into reaching a new level of maturity and good mental health. I understand the walking unicorn I got them for Christmas was the favourite present.

I haven’t had a holiday this year, though I had two brilliant trips across Europe in 2017. I haven’t got my book published yet but I have received professional advice on the process, including two manuscript assessment services that provided lengthy appraisals, both saying similar things including “Disneyfy your book Peter!” Disneyfying my book means: Start with an attention grabbing scene, then fill in a bit of the back story, then introduce the dilemma, then bring in hope, then confidence and then work towards the happy conclusion. My mental health memoir was already a bit like that and the reworking is thus feeling easy at times. Lots of work to do though as I am keen to make my story the best it can possibly be.

Disneyfying a book, film etc. is very common. They all do it; Harry Potter, The Lord of The Rings, Star Wars, Peppa Pig, The Cat in The Hat...

In mid-December I received a surprise in the post, a copy of the Taylor and Francis Psychosis Journal 2018. In it they published a 3,500 word article I wrote for them on things that helped or hindered my journey with psychosis. It was another real highlight seeing my article in print in a bona fide psychosis journal. I wasn’t sure how widely published or respected the T and F Psychosis Journal was/is, but my Auntie in California who works as a literary researcher providing material for professionals told us that she has provided articles from this journal to researchers and professors at Stanford University. It was nice to feel such validation.

Christmas has been good for my family and me too; a busy week of seeing them and celebrating. My mum and I had several video calls with my nieces in America and we watched them opening presents. I miss them a lot, but having video calls with them every week does actually fill the hole a bit!

And so for 2018 things are continuing to slot into place – something I feel lucky for but have also worked hard to make happen, and I have been growing as a person in an enjoyable way. After many years feeling like an outsider, feeling normal again is fantastic.

Of course in an ideal world I’d be out partying hard tonight, I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve 2018. One step at a time though. Maybe next year. I had a few big New Year’s Eve celebrations in my teenage years and early twenties so I’ll always have that.

I wish you a happy and prosperous 2019.

About the Author

Peter McDonnell, 36, is an author, woodworker and mental health advocate from Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK.

He often writes articles on his experiences with mental illness and recovery for mental health websites. He is working hard on his memoirs of his experiences with mental illness. He has a website where you can see book extracts and his articles as well as a few other things. He also likes to write about travelling.

His social media links are easy to find on his website: petermcdonnellwriter.com.

 

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