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.

Remember to enjoy it!

The first obstacle showed itself only hours after my dad dropped me off at the airport – I remembered that I hate flying! My family usually travel using ferries or a car so it had been quite a while since I’d got on a plane. So I squeezed my armrest so hard that I’m surprised I didn’t leave marks and babbled nervously away to the bored businessman beside me, as the aircraft (which suddenly felt very flimsy) screamed and vibrated as it sped into the air. It didn’t get any better once we were up either, I tried to read but couldn’t concentrate so instead stared out of the window at the distance we’d drop to the ground if we crashed. Luckily there was a very kind air host who brought me a cup of tea to calm me down, and if you’re reading this – thank you so much!

When we touched down I’d never been more relieved to stand on solid ground and couldn’t get off of the plane quickly enough. I had a cigarette in the sunshine and calmed myself before preparing for the next step of my journey. I’d planned it well and knew exactly where the shuttle stopped and where to alight in order to get my train to Firenze. It was at the train station that I realised my first big mistake – I spoke no Italian! Everyone had told me that anyone I spoke to would speak English but they were wrong: no one could understand me as I begged them for directions to my platform and the screens were all in Italian. Panic stations? Nope, nip outside for a quick cigarette and some breathing exercises, a cheeky bit of mindfulness because I’d left enough time before my train. Eventually I found it, sat in my reserved seat and took a deep breath.

The next step was to catch a bus from the station to the plaza near my hostel. I’d looked this up on google maps and thought I knew where it stopped, but I couldn’t find it. So it’s here that I’ll pause to give my next piece of advice: if you’re tired and struggling, give yourself a break! It’s better to fork out the extra cash for a taxi than to stand panicking at a bus stop where you can’t communicate with anyone. So if you need to change your plans and just get to the hotel/hostel and have a rest, do it! There’s nothing wrong with accepting that you’ve taken on a bit too much and need an easier route. I took a taxi.

It dropped me off outside of my hostel, I was tired and hungry and couldn’t find any food. I was also slightly panicked at the thought of going back outside into the land where nobody spoke any English. I was meeting a friend that evening to attend the dance together and he agreed to meet me. We had to ask the hosts of our event to help us in ordering food, and they gladly obliged. So the next piece of advice – if you need help, ask for it! People in hostels or hotels will normally speak some English, if you find yourself stuck just ask for assistance rather than sitting around feeling tired, hungry and helpless!

You might not be able to move at the same pace as you anticipated before arriving. I certainly found myself a lot more tired than I’d predicted and had to cancel a few visits in order to catch up on some sleep. There’s nothing wrong with that. The important thing that I had to remember and think you should too, is that it’s more important to enjoy the trip than to see everything you could possible see in that area. I prioritised the organised aspects, attending dances in palaces and going on a walking tour of the city, above trips to museums and lesser sights in the local area. I missed out on seeing some thing which I’d have liked to see, but the most important thing was that I stayed healthy enough to enjoy the things that I did. So I guess my point is to prioritise your health and stay flexible when  you might have to change plans.

The last point in this short series is that you should probably stay in touch with your family and friends if you can. I made sure to call or text my parents every day so they knew I was okay, and I think this is important. They can’t see how well you’re coping or how much fun you’re having, but sending that one text that only takes thirty seconds can ease a lot of worry for them and let them know that you’re safe and enjoying your trip.

So my final advice to you is:

  • Give yourself a break – it’s ok to struggle while you’re there. Just focus on remembering your coping mechanisms and staying calm
  • If you need help – ask for it!
  • Prioritise your health – don’t push yourself too hard to see everything when what you really need is a break.
  • Stay flexible – sometimes plans may have to change, try to enjoy whatever the trip throws your way
  • Stay in touch with loved ones, they’ll be keen to know how it’s going.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this very short series about travelling with a mental illness. Remember that mental health problems don’t have to stop you living your dreams, if you work hard you can do anything that you want to do!

Enjoy the journey.

Enjoy the journey.

I used to think that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy anything, until I had completely recovered from the illness that completely characterised my life. How can I do anything while I’m barely able to mop up a spillage without having to go back to bed? How can I achieve anything when I’ve had to drop out of university? How could anyone love me when it’s clear that I’m mad? No – none of these things can possibly happen until I get better.

I lost hope in ever achieving anything and resigned myself to a future of simply managing the symptoms of my illness without moving forward. Time rolled past and life continued without me. But I remember having a chat with someone  and they encouraged me to enjoy the journey. At the time nobody could have guessed how much impact this would have on my life. I suppose it’s linked somehow with the mindfulness stuff I’ve written about before, basically enjoying the moment, but it goes deeper than that too and I wanted you guys to know about it.

It is easy to believe that our life will re-start once we have recovered, and not before. This is a lie. If we allow life to roll on by without us playing a part, we will inevitably miss things – potentially things which could bring us great enjoyment and healing. When you’re walking up a mountain you could ignore the views with an aim to reaching the ultimate view at the top, but in doing so you’re bound to miss countless beautiful sights on the way up. The same is true of life, if we’re waiting for our enjoyment to come when we’re better we miss enjoying time spent with loved ones, reading a good book or listening to a new band. We miss the adrenaline of rides at a theme park or the feeling of accomplishment and health after a hefty bit of exercise.

Take notice of the little things, pause to look at the view as you climb the mountain, it’ll make the journey a lot more enjoyable.