Ready Your Weapons.

Life is a battle, especially when you’re living with a mental illness, so it’s important to be ready for a fight. But what can we do to make sure we’re ready?

WEAPON: Know your coping mechanisms

Coping mechanisms are what we have to fight with, they’re the methods with which we batter away our negative thinking patterns and fight against what our illness tells us to do. I have a diary where I make a note of any negative thoughts and use CBT to question whether they’re reliable. I have a scrapbook with encouraging notes from my friends and family which tell me my true value when life makes me question it. I have a colouring book and crochet to keep my hands busy and mind distracted when I need to keep my badly behaving brain at bay. I have mindfulness exercises and grounding exercises for when I need to gain some control. Medication can also fall into this category, it can help you to live day to day and ward off the worst effects of your illness. Do not be ashamed or afraid to take your medication, it is a weapon.

I advise that when choosing these coping mechanisms we are aware that some can be negative. For example: alcohol is a blocking technique, it can calm us and distract us from the problem at hand… however excessive drinking can have dangerous consequences and it also means we never deal with the core issues which are hurting us. There is a list of some positive (and less so) coping mechanisms here.

SHIELD: Keep your support network tight.

The people around you are your support network: they can be friends, family or even a doctor or nurse who are assigned as your case worker (or whatever they call it).  Make sure you talk to friends and family honestly if you can, let them know how you’re feeling and allow them to show you that they care. Keep in touch with doctors etc and do your best to show up to appointments or rearrange if you have to. This way people are keeping an eye on you, if they notice you’re getting a bit tired with the battle they can prop you up a bit and help you to fight. Here is a link to my blog on getting support/supporting someone whose struggling.

MEDIC: Know where to go in a crisis.

Knowing what to do when you’re in the middle of a crisis is really hard. When I reach my lowest possible point I revert to my most natural coping mechanisms (some of which are harmful) but there are ways to lessen the chances of this happening.

Firstly I’d get to know your early warning signs: when I’m on my way to a crisis I withdraw into my room and socialise less, I binge watch shows until I think I’m a character within it, I chain smoke, I stop doing things to help people. These are some of my early warning signs, because I’m so aware of them I’m able to take measures to stop myself from spiralling deeper, and I’m able to let other people know that I’m struggling.

Secondly, think about some of your coping mechanisms. Are there some that work better than others? For me, a fast walk with my headphones in calms me down a lot and can avert the worst bit of a crisis so that I’m able to respond more rationally. Once I’d identified my most effective coping mechanisms I told my family and friends so that if they notice these warning signs they can help me to remember how to cope.

Thirdly, take the number of professionals who can help. I have spoken to the local crisis team a number of times and Samaritans too. Both can really help. Save the numbers in your phone and have them ready at a moment’s notice in case of emergency. You may not think you’re worth helping, but surely it’s worth at least giving someone the chance to try? (Numbers at the bottom of the page

Now we fight!

The battle will not always be easy, no battle is! But to find the most worthwhile things in life we need to fight through the suffering and pain and come out of the other side. No matter how hard it gets – keep fighting! You’re not fighting alone, people all over the place are rooting for you, and I’m one of them. Never give up.

 

NUMBER FOR SAMARITANS (UK)

INFORMATION ABOUT CRISIS TEAMS (UK)

MORE INFORMATION ABOUT CRISES

 

It’s okay to slip.

On Wednesday I was writing about the importance of looking how far you’ve come and noticing your progress without comparing it to that of other people. However, I understand that when we’re looking back we may also notice times when we’ve taken a step backwards and fallen back into a behaviour we thought we’d gotten rid of. So I wanted to remind you all that it’s okay to slip up.

We’re fighting a battle here. Every day we’re fighting against the monsters in our brain that seek to control and destroy us. People get knocked down in battle every now and then, it’s not surprising, nor is it something for which they should feel guilty. What I’m trying to say is that this is hard, living with a mental illness is not easy by any stretch, so when we mess up and fall back a little that’s not something that should fill us with overwhelming guilt. It probably will make us feel bad, but we don’t have to.

Recovery is an ongoing process. I’ve left the recovery service behind and been discharged from the mental health service, but I’m still recovering. This illness still has its roots in me and I have to shake them off every day without fail. Sometimes I’m not strong enough. Sometimes I fall back into easier and more harmful patterns which I thought I’d managed to stop.

A little while ago I cut myself. I’d not self-harmed for over year and it felt like a huge step backwards. The disappointment and guilt over what I’d just done was even worse than the initial upset which had led me to doing it! I thought I’d undone over a year of hard work in that split second. But that wasn’t true.

I hadn’t undone all of the hard work. What I’d had is a blip. I made a mistake in that moment because I’m not perfect and because life is a constant fight. I’d lost one tiny battle but decided that if I forgave myself for this little error I could still win the battle. If you feel like you’ve taken a step backwards, please remember it’s only a step or two. You’re still further  on than you were, you’re still making progress and can continue to do so. Don’t allow that guilt or disappointment to continue to unravel that progress. You can still move forward, just keep taking those little steps.

Look How Far You’ve Come

How do you judge your life?

Do you look at it in comparison with your facebook friends and come up short?

Do you look around you at everyone else working 9-5 jobs and feel disappointed that you’re not there yet?

Do you read articles about success stories and wonder why you’re not yet going viral with your outstanding recovery?

This is a natural thing and we’re all prone to do it, but there are a few reasons why this always leaves us feeling a little down.

1.Facebook only gives the highlights!

What do you post on facebook? Is it a general update on your life, whether good or bad? I know that when posting I tend to post positive things: today I’ve been for a beautiful walk, today I’ve seen an old friend, today I’m going on holiday. Despite the recent trend for posting pictures of our food online which led to an onslaught of cheese sandwiches and roast dinners popping up on timelines, we don’t tend to post the mundane things in our life online.

But my facebook is not a complete picture of my life, you won’t see the days when I fight to get out of the house or when I’m crying and hurt. People judging my life just from facebook would think I had it pretty jammy, and that’s why comparing our lives to social media profiles can be so dangerous. We’re comparing our whole lives – including the painful bits -with just the highlights of other people’s lives.

2. Everyone has a different story.

I have not met a single person to this day who shares the whole of my life story, or even someone who shares the majority. We can have things in common with people but it is very rare (and perhaps impossible) to find someone with exactly the same life experiences as yours. This means that when comparing your progress with other people, you can start to feel like you’re not doing very well.

The problem is that these people have different struggles to you. It may be that they’re more able to work full time or go to the gym but perhaps they struggle with maintaining emotional connections or breaking their routine. So someone can seem to be making more process than you, but simply be finding different areas difficult. Just because you don’t see their struggles, doesn’t mean they’re not there!

3. Your journey belongs to you.

When my dad did a half-marathon he wanted to get the best time possible. He trained hard and tried his best on the day, and at the end of the race he was pleased with his time. It was a personal best. There were runners crossing the line long before him, and there are always athletes who he’d have struggled to beat with his time, but he was still proud of his time.

Your journey belongs to you. It’s unlikely that any of us would aim to beat an olympic athlete with our swim/run/anything else times (unless of course we’re aiming to be an athlete ourselves) and if we’re willing to do this with exercise, why not with our recovery? Instead of looking around at other people’s progress, look backwards. Look at where you were a week ago, a month ago, a year ago and see how far you’ve come!

A week ago I was struggling to find hope in a world that suddenly looked pretty dim.

A month ago I was buried under deadlines and considering dropping out of university.

A year ago I was too unwell to work, study or do anything much.

Now I have only one exam left, and those deadlines have been replaced by half decent grades. I’m feeling pretty hopeful that my future could be bright again. I’m back at university, blogging and looking for a summer job. I’ve come so far in the next couple of years, perhaps not compared to other people, but that doesn’t matter because other people don’t share my story or my struggles.

One reason to stay alive

Today’s post was supposed to be ’10 reasons to stay alive’. However since it’s mental health awareness week and I’m a MH blogger I feel like I can be honest and say that I’m having a really tough time today. Sometimes life doesn’t go the way you want it to and the pain seeps into your soul until you forget what it felt like before. You’d do anything to get rid of that feeling and sometimes death can seem like a viable option to setting yourself free.

I’m here to tell you, from the depths of that pit, that death is not a good choice. I am hurting now, and I’m fighting with you which probably should make this advice all the more reliable. I fully believe, from previous experience and ignoring my current feelings, that life will get better.

I’ve been in pain before and I’ve felt joy after. I remember feeling so grateful for those people who called 999 and those doctors who made me drink charcoal to stop me poisoning myself beyond repair. I was so so so glad that I’d failed to kill myself, and so excited to be alive. Just because life is tough right now, doesn’t mean that I won’t get back to that place… in fact I’m pretty certain that I will!

So take it from me, someone who’s been where you are and I’m pretty low right now…. death is not a good option. Death steals the joy that’s waiting in your future. Death steals hope. Death steals you away from those who love you.

Please choose a different option. ❤

 

If you need more help please call your local crisis team, 111, or Samaritans.

A letter to loved ones

Thank you for supporting us.

Sometimes it may seem like we aren’t grateful for your help, but I promise you that we are… or will be when we’re in a better place. With you by our side we can fight through everything that life throws at us. You are our shield, our sword, the soldier at our right hand in battle. You enable us to feel more brave and stronger than we are by ourselves. Without you our progress would probably be slower and more difficult than it already is.

We’re sorry for all the times that we take our emotions out on you. We do our best not to hurt you and to keep them under control but it’s really hard! We know that it can take it’s toll on you and that it hurts and we’re sorry for all of the times that we’ve caused you pain.

Although we may not show it, we love you. We love you even when we shout at you. We love you even when we push you away. When we hold on to you and refuse to let you leave, it’s because we love you. Thank you for your patience.

You may not understand our illness but we’re so grateful that you’ve taken the time to listen to us anyway. You may not know it, but we notice when you take the time to find out a little more.

We notice when you take time out of your day to make us feel special.

We notice when you care enough to check up on us.

Although you may not get much out of us now, when we get better you’ll be the first one invited for a drink to celebrate. You’ll be credited in our articles, books and blogs about our recovery. You’ll be the one we tell our doctors, nurses and counsellors about.

And one day when you’re feeling down, we’ll be the first one there to help.

 

What not to say.

What not to say.

I am well enough, now, to recognise that sometimes those around me are walking on egg shells. Honestly I can be incredibly sensitive and fly off the handle about almost anything when I’m having a bad day. However on a good day I’m pretty stable and it’s not so easy to knock me off kilter, so I’ve picked some phrases that annoy me (even on a good day) so you know what to avoid and don’t have to walk quite so carefully.

You’re Always Ill. 

Put it this way, how often do you get a cold? It’s likely that people with mental illnesses get colds no more frequently than you do. The difference is that we are sometimes ill because of the long term illness that we suffer with, making it look as though we’re ill more often. However, swap out the problems with our brain for a more visible problem, a wheelchair for example. This person may have colds just as frequently as us, and will need to use the wheelchair every day… would you tell them that they’re always ill?

Chances are, the person you’re saying this to is trying really hard to manage their condition and in saying this you’re likely insinuating that they aren’t doing very well. So please, before you say this just consider their feelings. We’re not asking for sympathy all of the time, in fact I’d prefer my illness to be ignored for the most part, we’re simply asking that you don’t make us sound attention seeking, lazy or useless which is how this phrase makes me feel.

Everyone feels that way sometimes.

Do they? Do you? Consider this carefully because I think most people don’t and I understand that it often comes from a place of trying to help. The problem is that a mental illness is a real problem, a real illness – it says so in the title: ‘mental illness’. You’re right that everyone is sad, stressed, anxious, angry or tired sometimes; but that isn’t actually the same thing.

I’ve said before that I have pretty regular mood swings as a symptom. People can have mood swings, but do they push you from suicidal to completely despising everybody who talks to them and then you swing into such a high that you can’t control what you’re saying or how you’re moving? Do you have to monitor every single thought and emotion that passes into your mind just to avoid erratic behaviour? It’s the same with any mental illness: do you really understand the symptoms? Do you really think that everyone feels this way sometimes? It’s unlikely that this is the case…

If you’d like more information about symptoms of various illnesses to help you to understand why not try the MIND website?

Try to be positive.

Oh we are trying… we are trying so hard to be positive! I completely understand where people are coming from with this one – we do often get worse when we allow ourselves to mope and dwell on the difficulties we face, and I’ve often suggested on this blog that we push our boundaries and do things to improve our mood. However, I think this largely comes from a lack of understanding, because you’re essentially telling them that their problems aren’t that worthy of emotions and that’s not going to help. Instead try something a little more practical if you really want to help: invite them out for a coffee or bring coffee to them… I’ve written a post about this here> Loving in Tough Times

There are people doing much worse than you/what have you got to complain about?

There is always someone doing better. There is always someone doing worse. That makes no difference, and makes our individual suffering no less relevant. Mental illnesses don’t care whether people are suffering more than you, mental illnesses just want to make you suffer and they do this regardless of anything physical or emotional happening in your life. My brain doesn’t regulate emotions to reasonable levels so there were times when I’d spill something, not be able to cope with that and I’d go back to bed…. yes I was well aware that people were suffering more than me and that spilling something wasn’t a good reason to go back to bed, but at the time it was all I could do to cope.

By saying things like this you’re encouraging people to feel guilty about the suffering of others, as well as feeling guilty that they’re upset when people are in worse situations. It won’t help them. It won’t help you either, as they’re likely not to speak to you about how they’re feeling again.

 

This may have felt like a bit of a rant and I suppose that’s inevitable since I’m talking about the most irritating things that people say to me. The reason that I wrote this is not to lecture people or to upset them about how they may have spoken to people in the past, but to educate on why these things don’t help and may hurt. I want to encourage good relationships and careful thought before we speak to people because I think that is really important. So please, think carefully before you speak and ensure (as much as you can) that whatever you say is kind, truthful and helpful.