When You’ve Lost All Hope

When You’ve Lost Your Hope

How hard is it to cling to hope?  If you’re anything like me, there are days when your crushing blackness is just so dark and so heavy that you feel like all hope is gone.  One of my favourite sayings for this feeling is that the light at the end of the tunnel has been switched off to conserve energy.  But it often feels like that, doesn’t it?

What do you do when you’ve lost hope?  How do you find it again?  How do you carry on without that hope?

I believe Naomi Jane has a great answer to this.  I recently found Naomi on Twitter and had a look at her blog and some of the things that she writes about and she came up with this post: To Those Of You Who’ve Lost All Hope – Naomi Jane

Let Others Hold Your Hope

If you’ve reached the stage of hopelessness, where you have no hope no matter what you do, then let others carry it for you.  That’s the basis for her article.  When you can’t carry your own hope, let others carry it for you.

Having people around you to support you, be that friends or family or colleagues, is a very important thing to have.  They can encourage you on your journey and help you along the road to recovery.  It’s one of the great things about togetherness, that we can carry each others’ burdens and help them.

As Naomi says, eventually we can find glimmers of hope again.  Even in the darkness we can find those little rays of light, those little bright spots in amongst the bad stuff.  Sometimes it’ll be unexpected but I’m sure you’ll agree that it will always be welcome.

So, as Naomi says: until you can fine the glimmer of hope, until you can carry your own hope again, let others carry it for you.

Stay strong.  You’re not alone.

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The Strong and Silent Type

What Makes a Man?

As the mum to a teenage boy, I often wonder about the different stereotypes of masculinity we see every day. So many expectations, idealised images of what manhood should look like. No wonder it’s confusing if you feel like you don’t quite measure up.

30 Days to be a better manMy own personal bugbear is with the idea of the ‘strong and silent type’. The idea that men who don’t talk about their feelings are somehow stronger than those who do. It’s idiotic when you think about it. Especially when you consider the horrifying statistic that suicide is one of the highest causes of death in young men aged under 35 years old.

So is strong and silent really that good a thing? Is this what our sons, brothers, fathers and friends should believe? No, it’s not.

When Alex first started talking about setting up this site, one of the greatest fears for both of us, was how some people would respond?  On his private blog we’d already experienced what some people’s reactions could be. The phrase ‘he should grow a pair’ was touted by a rather ignorant anonymous individual. Worryingly, this is a common attitude.

Be a Man

It’s so frustrating to hear comments like that touted around. ‘Be a man’, ‘Grow a pair’, ‘boys don’t cry’. Yet we hear these phrases so often that we don’t really think about it. Someone close to me recently lost an old school friend to suicide. This man had been battling depression and had a testing time through divorce and injury. The saddest part was so many of the tributes to him were along the lines of “I never knew he was suffering”, “he hadn’t said anything”, “he seemed so strong”. So he was strong and silent and ended up taking his own life? That’s terrible.

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Silence is a Killer

When you cannot release the negative thoughts that depression can heap upon you it can quickly escalate out of control. One of the most effective ways to combat this is always going to be to talk. If you cannot fight the demon in your head alone, it helps to have someone who will counterbalance the venom that depression spouts to you.

What we want to encourage is that it’s OK to talk about how you’re feeling.  Depression can so often be an incredible deceiver, convincing you that you’re worthless and the world is a better place without you.

It lies.

For any man, young or old who reads this, I want you to listen to what I say next.

SilenceBeing silent is not a reflection of your strength. Not asking for help with your mental health does not make you more of a man. It’s good to talk about your feelings.

For any man who doubts this I recommend you read Jeremy’s interview. He lives with depression, it doesn’t define him and he maintains a happy, growing family. His story is an inspiration and one I often read myself.

One thing I’ll leave you with is what I say to my son when I know he’s down. “It doesn’t matter who you talk to, I don’t mind if it’s not me. But talk. Get it out of your head. You’ll feel lighter for doing so.”

Take care guys.

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Can the Quick Fix be good?

The Quick Fix

Everyone looks for that quick fix, don’t they?  Usually when problems arise, one of the first questions asked is: “what is the quickest and easiest way that I can solve my problem?”  Sometimes even those of us who might want to try the tried-and-tested longer method of solving the problem might want the quick fix.  It can be nicer to have a short and simple solution but is it all it’s cracked up to be?  Does it sometimes cause more problems than it’s worth?  That’s what I aim to find out.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

My Quick Fix Need

If you follow my journey then you will know that I use self-harm as a coping mechanism for getting through my struggles with depression.  As Theresa Larsen wrote in her article concerning her son’s self-harm, it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be but it does work.  However, there are times when I know I’m in danger of going down that route and I don’t want to.  To avoid it, I need something else to pull me out of my cycle.

That’s where my quick fix comes in.

When I know I’m going in a downward spiral and I need something to pull me out of it, I turn to a variety of other coping mechanisms.  I’ve mentioned some before – gaming, music or simply reading or writing – but there is one that can sometimes work better than any of the others.

Talking.

That’s right, talking can be a valuable quick fix for my problem.  Sometimes all it takes is for someone to ask what I did the day before, something as simple as that, to start pulling me out of the spiral.  It doesn’t make the problem go away, nor does it do anything to solve my overall condition but in that black moment it helps.

Other Quick Fixes

In many respects, self-harm is also a quick fix.  It’s a temporary solution to an ongoing problem that alleviates immediate symptoms but does nothing long-term.

Which is exactly what we need it to be.

Therapy, counselling and medication are some of the longer-term fixes and they are important but sometimes we need something that will simply get us through the moment.

These quick fixes come in many forms.  For some, drugs or alcohol abuse are the prevalent ones.  A number of people will talk about how they turned to substances and alcohol to cope with their depression or their anxiety. Those people who need a drink to steady their nerves or those who want the euphoria of certain chemicals to bring them out of their darkness.  Whatever their choice is, the effects are only temporary, making them nothing more than quick fixes, just like self-harm

So you might be wondering at this stage what good a quick fix serves?  If it doesn’t have the desired long-term effect, is it a good idea to start down that path?  Or is it necessary?

There Is No Real Quick Fix

Realistically, the term “quick fix” is a misnomer.  No such thing exists.  In reality, it’s a quick alleviation to our problem, it fixes nothing.  If anything, it can make the problem worse.  With alcohol comes the hangover, with substance abuse you can get withdrawal symptoms and addiction and with self-harm you get the guilt and the pain later.  Whatever quick fix we try, it doesn’t fix anything.

When it comes to recovering from mental health, there is no quick fix.  It’s the long-term therapy, medication or other things such as encouragement that is needed.  Without them, there is no getting through, no getting better.  They are the pillars upon which recovery is built.

There are no quick fixes.  Not ones that will actually fix things.

However, sometimes the quick fix is necessary, even if it isn’t a fix.  Being able to temporarily alleviate the symptoms can be a valuable coping mechanism.  In exactly the same way that you would treat a broken leg with a splint or cast instead of immediate rehabilitation therapy, you treat mental health with a series of “quick fixes” alongside the traditional long-term term treatments.

The quick fixes are vital.

They can push you through those dark moments and enable you to face up to the long-term fix.  They are the splint to the mental broken leg.  Ultimately they don’t mend the problem but they give you that short-term stepping stone to get you through.

The Answers

I don’t know why you visit this blog.  Maybe you come for the encouragement that I write.  Perhaps you come for the insights that I share behind mental health and different ways that it can affect people.  It might be the interviews or it might be for my own personal journey and the look behind the iron curtain I put up as my mask.  There is the possibility, though, that you come here for answers.

I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint you.  I have no answers.  There are no quick fixes, no immediate solutions.  All I can do is provide you with my experiences and the experiences of others and let you do the trial and error.  None of what I write is necessarily an answer or a solution, it’s simply signposts for you to follow as you walk your individual journeys or walk someone else’s road with them.

Even though there are no answers here, continue to read.  See where the signposts take you.  You never know, it may surprise you!

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About Self-Harm – Part 4 – How To Help

Welcome to part 4 of our series about self-harm.  Last week I debunked the attention-seeking myth by explaining how people could do it for attention but the majority don’t.  Today we’re going to look at how you can help someone who self-harms.  *Be advised, this post may contain potential triggers.*

How to Help

I’m sure this is the question that is in your thoughts, especially if you know someone who self-harms.  How can you help them?  What can you do? Well, I have a few facts for you but also a few suggestions as to how you can truly help them. Stick with me, as I think you’ll be quite surprised with some of the things I suggest.

So what can we do?  Well there are a few simple things that anyone can do to support someone.  Here they are:

  • Be supportive: it goes without saying but if they know you are supportive of them, they will take far more comfort from that than if you berate them for doing it.
  • Try to be understanding: this links in directly with the last one; try and understand what they are going through and why they do it.  This is a good opportunity for you to put some of the things we talked about in our Talking Things Through series into play!
  • Don’t express extreme worry: this is a difficult one as they are hurting themselves and that is concerning but please try not to express worry.  If anything, it’ll make them feel worse for something that could be completely out of their control.  Again, a good opportunity for using things from out Talking Things Through post about sensitivity and mindfulness.

If you follow these steps, you’re well on your way to establishing yourself as someone they can turn to when they’re in trouble.  If my journey is anything to go by, establishing yourself in such a way is a good way of setting yourself up as an alternative to self-harming.  I’ve turned to one of my most understanding friends far more times than I can count when I’ve known I’m starting down that road again. More often than not, she’s helped me through it.

What do you need to know?

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what you need to bear in mind when dealing with someone who self-harms but there are a couple of things that Cheryl and I discussed that we thought would be useful for you to remember.  Here they are:

  • It’s not your fault: if you try and support them and stop them doing it and they do it anyway, don’t think you’ve failed.  If they want to do it, they will do it, regardless of how good you are at helping.  I’ve been there. I’ve had some of the best help ever and I’ve still gone and done it anyway. It depends on where they’re at in their own journey at that point.
  • Be non-judgemental: expressing disappointment or having a go at them will be the quickest way to drive them straight back to the blade.  Being non-judgemental and calm is the best approach you can possibly take.
  • Remember: you’re not an expert: this is more for those of you with no experience of it.  Find out why they do it, find out what helps them avoid it and go from there.  Build that rapport so you can support them better.  If they feel like they’re being taken seriously, they will open up and trust you with it.

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What not to do

Regarding self-harm, aside from those couple of points I’ve mentioned about not having a go, not being judgemental, etc, there is only really one thing that I need to mention.  This is the one that might surprise you.

Do not remove all sharp objects from accessibility.

That’s right, don’t remove them.  

I can almost hear you asking why, so let me explain. Doubtless you’re doing it with the best will in the world.  After all, removing sharp objects can remove temptation, which should lessen the act.  Despite that thought, it’ll actually cause more harm than help.  By removing the sharp objects, not only are you removing their ability to self-harm, you are removing their control over it and possibly removing some of the safety aspect too.

Control

I shall explain control in more detail next week, as I feel it is too long to go into in this post, but suffice it to say that sometimes knowing that the blade or other instrument is there can greatly increase the control against not doing it.  As I said, though, more on that next week!

Removing Sharp Objects

Removing sharp objects doesn’t sound like it would go against safety aspects but let me give you an example.  Someone I know removed all the sharp objects from the house so her husband couldn’t self-harm.  Without any blades or anything to turn to, he went somewhat out of control and smashed a glass instead and used that.

Think about it, which is better: a surgical razor blade that makes a clean cut or a shard of glass that leaves a jagged cut with the potential for getting glass in the wound?

You may be trying to help and we all understand and appreciate that.  We really do. However, please do not remove the sharp objects from the house.  It can have disastrous and dangerous consequences. As difficult as it is, let them keep at least one blade around. If they use it, they use it.  If they’re determined enough to self-harm, they will find a way no matter what steps you put into place.

I hope this gives you some insight into what you can do to help them.

Next Week

As I mentioned earlier, next week we will be looking at control.  It may sound like an odd thing, thinking of self-harm as control, but all shall be made clear next week.  In the meantime, check out our Talking Things Through series if you haven’t already or go Inside My Head to see a little more about my journey.

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Relapse

My Relapse

When recovering from an illness of most descriptions, there is always the possibility of a relapse.  By definition, a relapse can only happen after a period of improvement and that’s what happened to me.  I’d like to tell you about that to begin with.

For those of you following my journey, you’ll have seen I’ve been struggling with my depression and anxiety since around August 2016.  During the first four months I experienced quite a sharp crash that resulted in me turning to self-harm in order to cope.  Well, since then I’ve been making significant progress along the road to recovery.

Falling down is part of life. Getting back up is living.Until recently.

Back in May I started having my medication changed because the one I was on wasn’t doing what it should. While it was great that the doctors took my views on-board and started to make the necessary changes for me, it’s been a bit of a tough slog while being weaned off the old medication and put onto the new one.

Needless to say: I’ve relapsed.

Near the end of May, I found myself back in old familiar places.  Namely sitting on the bathroom floor with a blade in my hand.  While it was unpleasant to be back there, I should point out that it was a possibility from the start.  Changing someone’s medication does run the risk of a relapse.

What do I do?

Have you relapsed recently?  Was it a speed-bump in the road or was it a big crash like mine?  If you’re like me, perhaps you feel ashamed of it.  Perhaps you wish you had been stronger.  Maybe you’re struggling with how to deal with this?

It’s OK.

Honestly: it’s OK.

Relapsing feels like failure, as we were doing so well at getting better but then suddenly we weren’t, but let me tell you that’s not the case.  The road to recovery is not meant to be plain sailing or easy.  Unfortunately that’s why it’s recovery, because it’s plagued with pitfalls and potholes and problems.  Still, there is no shame in slipping into one.

The important part is what you do with it.

If I’m honest, I really hate the “get back on the horse” adage but it’s fitting here.  In my attempts to avoid it, however, let me give you a quote from Batman Begins instead:

“Why do we fall, Bruce?  So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”   – Thomas Wayne, Batman Begins (2005)

About RelapseRelapsing is a way of teaching us how to cope with depression or anxiety or any other mental health problem. No day will be perfect, no one will have a completely smooth recovery. There will be days where you slip or backslide or fall.  If that happens though, try to be nice to yourself and please try not to beat yourself up over it.

You tried.

You Tried

More important than anything else, you tried.  You’re making the effort to get yourself better, you’re trying to recover and that is the best thing you can do.  Trying to get better will always run the risk of a relapse but persist with it.  It’s a blip on the radar, you will get through.

I’m proud of you.  Even if I don’t know you too well, I’m proud of you.  You’re trying to get better.  You’re on the road to recovery.  No, it won’t be easy but you’re still trying with it.

Let me encourage you today: persist with your walk along that road.  You may not see it now but things will one day get better.  Even when they’re going swimmingly, you may have bad days like I have but you will make it through.

You will make it through!

Why?  Because we’re all in this together.  We are a community and we will support each other and together we can face any challenges as deep as the ocean and as high as the sky.

Keep holding on.  Remember you have a purpose and you are not alone.  No matter how dark the night gets, no matter how bad the days get, you are not alone.  Reach out to us if you’re struggling or even if you want to talk and we will support you.

Take care, guys.  Stay strong!

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Pick of the Week: Talking

Time to Talk

One thing that frustrates me greatly when I talk to my friends, family and colleagues about mental health is how often I hear the phrase “I just don’t know what to say, so I don’t say anything”.

It’s a prevalent problem. There is lot of focus on encouraging sufferers of depression and anxiety to open up and talk. Facebook and social media postings to remind sufferers that someone is listening go up regularly. It’s important that such messages are there.

But there is the flip side. If 1 in 4 of us suffer from mental health issues, then there are 3 in 4 of us potentially keeping silent because we’re scared of saying the wrong thing.

Here at Pushing Back the Shadows, what we are trying to encourage is to remind supporters that it’s ok to talk. Even if you don’t know what to say, the person you care about will appreciate that effort. It may also save a life.

Going Silent 

No doubt you’ve seen in the news the tragic deaths of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington. Talented people who have been taken by the insidious disease of depression. Their passing is a testament to how utterly devastating depression can be. Creative, brilliant men with what would seem like everything they could wish for; dead because they lost the battle against their mental illness.

It’s terrible that suicide was how their stories end, but it is having one positive effect: people are talking about depression and mental health. Now we just need to break down that fear of saying the wrong thing.  We’ll all make mistakes, maybe say the wrong thing, but by going completely silent we’re leaving our loved ones to battle with the negative thoughts that depression creates alone.

We need to stop being afraid, stop being silent. My pick this week is aimed to encourage all of us who are afraid to begin the conversations. If you’re scared about talking to someone who is suffering with depression,. I’d entreat you to read our series Talking Things Through, work your way through because it will give you some tools to help you with these conversations.

Good luck!

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Episode 4 – To Keep Going

In Episode 4, we look at some of the ways that you can keep going through your struggle. It’s easy to feel like you’re not making progress, to feel that despair and want to give up so what can you do to keep going? Alex unpacks some of the key things that help him continue fighting.

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Insomnia – My Sleepless Battle

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About Self-Harm – Part 3 – Attention

Welcome to part 3 of our series about self-harm.  Last week I talked about the different reasons why I self-harm and why others might be do it as well.  This week we’re going to debunk the common myth that it is all for attention.  *Be advised, this post may contain potential triggers.*

It’s For AttentionWe're not all attention-seeking. We cover our wrists, keep our thoughts to ourselves and let no one in.

This is the most common thing that self-harmers hear from other people.  According to the majority of others, attention is the only reason that we would self-harm.

Today, I’d like to tell you that that’s not true.

As mentioned above, if you check out last week’s post then you will see the reasons why I self-harm and attention does not come into it.  If anything, in the majority of cases, attention-seeking is near the bottom of the list of reasons.  Ask yourself: if we were doing it for attention, why would we cut where we can keep it hidden?  I cut my legs, a friend of mine does their stomach, someone else I know does their arms but wears long sleeves all the time.  Why would we be working so hard to keep it hidden if we were doing it for attention?  That, if anything, makes no sense.

So where does attention come in?

My answer is twofold.

Some do do it for attention

Yes, I couldn’t avoid this one.  There are people out there who would self-harm as a means of attention-seeking, though let me stress that these people would be in the minority.  At least, people who do it primarily for that reason.  As people grow and change, they might start enjoying or liking being in other people’s thoughts or receiving the care or fuss that other people give them, so they may transition to doing it for attention but that’s not always the case.

As I said: those who do it primarily to receive that fuss and care are in the minority. Some could transition but, again, they are also in the minority of cases.  For the vast majority of people who self-harm, they do it for the reasons I mentioned last week – coping mechanisms such as distraction, evidence, a way of feeling or self-loathing – or for their own reasons that I haven’t covered.

However, there is a flipside to that story.

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Others do do it for attention…but not that attention!

I know, that makes about as much sense as a chocolate teapot but bear with me, it’ll become clear in just a moment!

I'm not attention-seeking...I'm asking for help in the only way I know how.How many times have you heard that suicide is a cry for help?  Now, while I disagree with that statement, I’d like to turn it on its head and point out that suicide is not the cry for help, self-harm is.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the case for everyone.  For me, it’s a coping mechanism, it’s definitely not a cry for help.  For others, however, it is the only way they know how to ask for help.  Instead of self-harming where no one can see, they will make it obvious so that someone will comment. Of course, this doesn’t always have the desired effect but more often than not, someone will comment on it and they can then start talking about their struggle and start getting the help that they need.

So yes, in this instance it is deliberately attention-seeking but not in a bad way.  Still, this particular reasoning could be in the minority as I don’t know many people who do it for this particular reason.  Most of the people I know try to hide it.

Next Week

We’ve covered some of the reasons why, we’ve covered the attention-seeking myth so what comes next in the series?  I think it’s time we looked at ways to help people who self-harm.  I’d challenge you to tune in for that one as I can guarantee that the things I suggest are not what you’d normally think of!  See you next week!

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Sophie’s Story

Sophie

Last night I was flicking through Twitter, looking for things to retweet or people to talk to, as I do, and I came across a blogger/vlogger I’ve never seen before.  It was a link to a YouTube video in which Sophie talks about her story, her journey with mental health.

Listening to her talk and watching the video, it was surprising how many similarities I could find between Sophie’s story and my story.  She talks about how she never felt as though she fitted in at school, as if she had done something even though she knew she hadn’t.  I often felt similarly, as though I never belonged.  It was something that has always stuck with me.  Other aspects rang true for me as well, so it was a really good video to watch.

Check it out:

Sophie’s Story
More About Sophie

If you want to find out more or get in touch with Sophie, check out her social media profiles below:

Website: http://www.petalsofperfection.blogspot.co.uk

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/petalsofperfection/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/PetalsofPerfect

Email: petalsofperfectionblog@outlook.com

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