Stipulating Stigma

Stigma – What Is It?

I spend a lot of time talking about stigma in a number of my posts but I realise I’ve never actually defined it.  I’ve never told you how stigmatisation feels.  What it does to you.  So I’d like to start.

The dictionary defines stigma as A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person.  Officially, I guess that’s what it means but I think there is a lot more to it.  For example, how does it make people feel?  What kind of response does it generate in people?  Let’s take a look.

Mental Health Stigmatisation

This seems to be the most common occurrence of stigmatisation in our world today.  It’s right up there with the stigma surrounding homosexuality or transgender people.  Even looking through the example sentences in the dictionary, I have found numerous entries directly mentioning mental health as its example.  It’s a big problem in today’s world.

I say it’s a big problem but why?  What exactly is mental health stigmatisation and why is it such a big problem?  Let’s take a look at a video project that the IWK Health Centre and the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) made to help explain stigma.

So there you have a couple of different views.  What do you think?  Would you say you have a good definition of stigma?  How do you think it feels?

Let’s take a look…

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How Does It Feel?

Imagine you have the flu.  You might visit the doctor so that you can get some kind of treatment for your illness.  Sitting in the waiting room, you might see the other patients looking at you but you know they will see the runny nose, the red eyes and they will hear the sneezing and know that you’re ill.  You might see other people who appear to have the flu or a cold, just like you.  Then, when you see the doctor, he or she will immediately give you some kind of treatment for it and you’ll be on the mend in no time at all.

Now imagine you have depression.  Already, going to visit the doctor takes a lot of effort because you know the condition is inside your head.  Sitting in the waiting room, you might see other patients looking at you…and you know they can’t see that you’re ill.  You’re not sneezing or coughing, you don’t have a cast or a sling and you have no outward physical signs that you are ill.  Looking around, you see other people with those physical signs but you can’t see anyone sitting there with mental health problems.  You feel alone.  Then, when you see the doctor, he is reluctant to offer a firm diagnosis.  He is reluctant to offer you a concrete form of treatment.  The worst part, though…is that you know it will take a long time to get better.

Loneliness

Stigmatisation really feels a lot like loneliness.  No one can fully understand what you’re going through, which means you’re alone in your struggle.  Professionals pass you to and fro, from person to person, each one unwilling to take full responsibility of your treatment.  If they do, they might get blamed later on when things don’t work.

It’s a difficult thing to deal with.  You feel cut off, isolated, alone.  You wish someone could come alongside you and understand how you feel but you know that can’t be.  People can understand snippets of your journey but they can’t understand the full picture.

Afraid

Imagine being afraid to speak up about your mental health for fear of what people would say.  They might treat you differently or abandon you as soon as they find out that you have mental health troubles.  You fear being judged, you fear being abandoned, you fear being let down.  Going to the doctors, leaving the house or seeing friends, all these things start to become objects of fear in your mind.

You’re constantly afraid.  Constantly worried.  Constantly wondering what is going to change next.

You’re afraid they will say it’s all in your mind.  As Jessica said in the video, when you have a broken bone, you can see the x-ray and see that it’s broken.  With psychiatrics, there’s nothing you can see.  So people don’t believe you.  At least, you’re afraid they won’t believe you.

From the Community

On our Facebook page, I asked what the term “mental health stigmatisation” meant to people.  I also got a few privately messaged responses.  This is what they said:

“It’s the unwillingness to talk about mental health, which I’d say includes an unwillingness to talk perhaps to a mental health sufferer about it, and an unwillingness to confront the issue itself.” – Anonymous

“When people look at you different the minute you say you have a problem.  Or don’t trust you when they did before (e.g. looking after your children).  Or the way people don’t seem to recognise it as an illness at all.  Also, there sometimes seems to be a perception of cognitive impairment, which again isn’t true.” – Cheryl

“Fear misunderstanding and unwillingness to accept or to think of mental health as something equal to physical health.” – Rebecca

“People not believing it’s a problem, thinking you are faking it and the attitude of ‘I get sad but it doesn’t stop me from doing things.'” – Amy

“A lack of empathy and compassion for another because they haven’t taken the time to understand the individual who has a differing mental health status to their own.” – Kate

Let’s End Stigma

So let’s start talking.  Let’s end the stigma.  Together, we can help other people get the help they need by allowing them to feel as though their illness matters.

Are you with me?

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I Bet You Won’t Find the Dog!

Can You Find the Dog?

Find the dog in the picture below:

Find the dog in the picture.

 

I found this picture on the Huffington Post after spotting it on Twitter. Looking at their article, I did my best to spot the dog and (I’ll be honest) it was extremely challenging!  I’m sure some of you will have found it instantly but others of you, like me, will have struggled.

Now find the depressed person.

Find the depressed person.

No?  How about here:

Find the depressed person.

Still no one?  OK, well what about here:

Find the depressed person.

It’s challenging, isn’t it.  Yes, these are stock images pulled from Google but the point remains the same:

Mental illness does not have a look.

“But you don’t look depressed…”

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen this on Twitter or Facebook or had it said to me over the past year.  It’s something that a lot of people seem to latch onto when you tell them that you have depression or when you are struggling.  “You don’t look depressed.”

Tell me…what does depression or any other mental illness actually look like?

You see, stigma has given rise to the belief that mental illnesses have a look.  To be depressed, you have to be the person who cannot get themselves out of the house, is covered in self-harm scars from head to toe and has not been able to shower or change their clothes in days.  (A generalisation, I know, but I’ve heard it said!)  Yet where do people like myself fit into that depiction?  I have depression, I am depressed, yet almost every morning I get up, shower, eat, go about my day as normal. Where is the stereotypical “depression look” in that?

The answer: there isn’t.

Just like the dog in the first picture, depression and other mental illnesses can be hard to spot.  There is no definable, typical look about each mental illness, despite what stigma and stereotypes might suggest.  People will put on masks, they will act the part, they will do what they can to ensure you never find out that they are ill.  It’s part of the illness.  It’s what we do.

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Find the Mentally Ill Person

So, you see there is no definitive way of finding the person suffering with a mental illness.  As I’ve mentioned numerous times on this site, mental illness is unique to each individual, manifesting itself in various ways with overlaps between cases but without two cases being completely 100% identical – a little like a Venn diagram.

Take a moment to look around you next time you’re in public.  1 in 4 of those people will have a mental illness.  I guarantee you will see several of them as you look.  My question, though, is do they look any different?  Do they have that “signature look” about them for depression?  Can you see it?

AlexLook at me now.  Do I look depressed?  Is there that signature look?  Somehow, I don’t think you’ll see it.  I hide it.  Perhaps I shouldn’t, but it’s my way of coping.

You will not see it unless you know me very well or I want you to see it.

As one of my former managers said when I had to tell him that I was depressed: “If you were lined up with ten other people and I was told that someone in that line-up had depression, you would have been the last person I would have picked.”

You see?  No “one size fits all” or “definitive” look for mental illness.

The Signs are Always There

Contrary to what I’ve just said, however, I would like to point out that the signs are always there.  In things I say, things I do, things I write on social media, there are clues in all of them that would tell you I’m depressed. There are signs that everyone gives off.  Signs that someone is anxious, signs that someone is depressed, even signs that someone is suicidal.  The trick is finding them.

Like that dog I started this post with, mental illness can be quite hard to spot but you can spot it.  Things out of character, things done out of the ordinary, other little things that you can pick up on.

But they are there.

Just like that dog.

So my challenge to you is this: look for the signs.  Remember that 1 in 4 people suffer with a mental health condition, so look for the signs.  Yes, the signs will be different to each person so there is no definitive guide to spotting them, but they are there.  Look for them.

Don’t let them suffer alone.

But don’t tell them that they “don’t look depressed”.

Because there is no definitive “depressed look”.

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Pushing Back the Shadows – A Supporter’s Thoughts

This is a post written by one of our supporters.  We would be quite interested to hear your views on this so please leave a comment, let us know what you think.  Let’s get a discussion going!

Although the symptoms of depression are relatively universal, each person’s experience is different because each person is unique.  To dismiss a professional’s help because your depression is different is not saying that the symptoms are different, but that their manifestation is different in each individual.  This then makes the task of professionals challenging when faced with each person who, quite understandably, are focussed on their own signs of depression.  What works for one may not work for another, but the challenge is to not let personal depression manifestations to simply dismiss something before due consideration.

As I think about this title, “Pushing Back the Shadows”, I initially understood it as pushing back the stigma, the lack of understanding that depression is an illness – like physical illnesses – except there are no “plasters” or “bandages” evident.  It is therefore dependent on the explanation of the depressed individual to a professional to obtain the treatment that works best for that individual.  It is hard enough to explain depression without having to do so when you are already depressed!  Therefore, “Pushing Back the Shadows” gives opportunity for people to share their personal experiences in the hope that someone reading it may have that moment when they recognise themselves in the descriptions.  However, is there not a danger of focussing on depression so much that you become the slave to depression and no longer able to look for the next step?

This leads to another viewpoint on “Pushing Back the Shadows”.  If depression is the shadow, then “Pushing Back the Shadows” can be understood as the battle against depression – pushing the dark cloud of depression to the point where daily life can function.  This takes effort and energy, which Alex has already identified, is not necessarily available, making it difficult.  Those who are surrounding and supporting the person want to fight that battle for them and will encourage them to fight, but the battle is for the person alone – only they can take each step, like a young baby learning to walk.

As one who is permanently on anti-depressants to deal with a life-long medical condition, I can identify that the daily battle to “push back the shadows” is faced by more than people diagnosed with depression.  When getting out of bed and getting dressed for someone with a life-long medical condition is achieved – it would be a reason for celebration, a sense of achievement, a battle won.  But in the great scheme of life, such an achievement is not seen as that great – people get out of bed and dressed every day so what is so special in that.  “Pushing Back the Shadow” is a personal achievement in the privacy of an individual’s life and not one where congratulations will be ringing in the ears.  In the perspective of normal life, each battle won is normal – not news-worthy.  Unfortunately this is a fact that has to be accepted – one person’s health battles are not the centre of the universe so will not be high on the radars of many people’s hectic lifestyles and priorities.

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Yet, I suppose the key to any health battle – whether it is mental or physical – starts with understanding.  What are you dealing with?  Unfortunately “Google” will give you loads of information from professional and “wacky” sources.  Unfortunately this is the first search we make in seeking to understand.  But, as academia will remind you – check your sources – anyone can write anything and post it on the internet.  As Alex quite rightly states, this blog is not from a professional basis, but from a personal experience and a desire to help others – it is not of great academic worth but simply an insight – “Pushing Back the Shadows” of understanding.

In seeking to understand, the medical profession have access to tried and tested resources and will happily point you in the direction you need to understand what you are dealing with.  The libraries in the UK are also a great untapped resource that can help as well without the cost of purchasing a book.  However, if you find one that helps you could always invest in your own copy.

When you begin to understand what you are dealing with, you have already achieved the first battle to “Pushing Back the Shadow.”  The first battle, yes, but each day will continue to be a challenge which, like learning a new skill, will get easier over time and practice.

As a supporter, it is never easy to “say the right thing” or “give help at the appropriate time”, especially when you do not see the person every day to be able to gauge where they are on their challenge.  It can also be hurtful when your support is denigrated by a comment or reaction that bears no resemblance to the last contact you had with that individual.  However, “Pushing Back the Shadows” I believe takes understanding, where this blog is only one resource – not the ultimate resource; and takes that desire of the individual and their supporters to want to push against the shadow of depression rather than remaining trapped by it.  It is not a smooth path, but one that has many pitfalls and obstacles to be overcome.  BUT you don’t have to achieve release all at once – it is simply just one step (one day) at a time. This is what each professional and supporter will be encouraging you to do – take the next step – it’s not as big as “the shadow” would try to convince you. They are on your side, even when they say what you don’t want to hear.  They are trying to help you win today’s battle and take the next step to “Push Back the Shadows”.  

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Broken Together

Inspired by a Song

Maybe you and I were never meant to be complete, could we just be broken together?My title for this weeks post is from a song by Casting Crowns. It’s a particular favourite of mine and one that seems to crop up on my music player whenever I’m not doing so well. (Look out for our up coming podcast about music and how it supports both Alex and I)

In the chorus, there’s a particular line that stands out for me.

‘Maybe you and I were never meant to be complete, can we just be broken together?’

Now the song itself is surrounding a marriage in trouble. But this line particularly makes me think about who we have that supports us when we’re suffering. Can the broken support each other?

We Bend, We Do Not Break

Now this is a statement someone used to say to me a lot, usually when I’d gone to pieces.  The implication was always that breaking down completely just wasn’t an option for me. As I sit in my editor’s corner (I literally have one now, and very comfy it is too!) putting together my recommendations from the blog, I find I agree, sometimes we do bend, but sometimes the break is also necessary. You have to hit rock bottom to find your way back up.

I may bend but I will never break.For me, I would find the way back up much harder without the support of my friends and family. I am someone who finds it incredibly difficult to say when I’m struggling. I’m lucky, one friend of mine is brilliant at spotting the signs that I’m not doing well. But that’s only come about through Talking Things Through.

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Signs I’m Broken

Most people would not know I suffer with depression. I can be bubbly, loud and crazy. I smile widely and laugh a lot.  That’s the surface. If you don’t understand how this is possible I really recommend you read Masks and Masquerades. I won’t show I’m crumbling unless I truly trust you. But there are signs.

My friend only discovered one of my more obvious ones because they thought they’d upset me. I was in the middle of a spiral when they were visiting and I disappeared on them. I kept going into the kitchen, if I interacted it was a bare minimum. They were completely confused! Normally I’m a pretty good host to visitors, so they couldn’t help but notice.

Thankfully, they were brilliant. Guessing something was up, they gave me some breathing room. They didn’t push it. They waited until the time was right to ask what was going on.

And we talked about it. More openly and honestly than I had with anyone else. They realised my withdrawing and going quiet was a flashing neon sign that I was spiraling.  We also began to see other signs, more subtle ones that my depression was setting in.

Friends and Family

The reason they were so good at spotting the signs, was because they have depression too. Now, some people would say that 2 depressed people shouldn’t support each other. One Facebook participant recently went as far as saying friends and family are more often the root of most depression, therefore they shouldn’t be the ones to talk to at all when you’re struggling. Their advice was to only talk to the professionals but does that always go as well as it should?

Friends and Family SupportThis may be true for some. But for a lot of people like me, their friends and family are their rock. They help you through the dark times. Also with waiting times on the NHS being what they are, therapy can be a long time coming. And private therapy can be beyond the financial reach of many.

In the meantime you’re struggling, your family or friends are left in the dark and you tumble further? That just seems insane. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be careful. Nothing can replace proper mental health care, your family and friends are NOT your therapist. Likewise if your family is your trigger then you’re not going to find support useful from them.

What I would say is that some of the best support I’ve had has come from friends and family who’ve had depression. And not for giving advice on treatment, but just by recognising the signs and being there for me. Sometimes it’s just been giving me a hug, or a cup of tea or giving me space when I need it. Other times it’s just sitting in silence so I know I’m not alone.

OK, so we in the case of me and my friend we might be broken, but we’re broken together. At least we’re not fighting this demon alone. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, so feel free to drop us a comment.

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A Man Called Bob

A Man Called Bob

When you throw a stone into a lake, you see the ripples expand.  It can be quite mesmerising to watch.  It’s also a source of encouragement.  When we cause a splash, we don’t know how far the ripples of our actions will reach.

And it started with a man called Bob.

Ripples

That ripple I’d mentioned came from my friend’s request to allow her sister access to this blog so she could better understand her husband’s depression by reading some of the explanations I’ve put up.  Whilst reading some of the things I’d written, she had found some answers to some of her questions and my writings had also helped her to understand some of the reasons behind some of the things he does.  A classic example of this would be how he puts on a mask like I do, even when it is just them, exactly the way I do.  There were a few other examples but I don’t need to go into too much detail on here.  After all, it’s not my story.

Somehow my explanations made it clearer and helped her gain a better understanding of it all.  Naturally, hearing that gave me a boost.  Yes, I used that blog to pour out my thoughts and emotions, releasing them.  That said, the blog had also helped someone.

Another ripple has been created.

The CD

Two or three days ago now, my friend sent me a message.  After reading my blog a bit more, her sister had decided she wanted to make me a CD that contained a compilation of relaxing music, designed to help me unwind.  I’ve given it a go and it does seem to help me unwind a bit, so I’m quite grateful to her for that, although in the end she did not make the CD.  My friend’s message explained why.

My good news stems from the husband, who, for the sake of anonymity and his own privacy, shall be called Bob in this post.  According to my friend, Bob had heard his wife had read some of my blog and was starting to understand his struggle better thanks to the words I’d written.  I don’t know quite what transpired but somehow he ended up reading this blog as well and apparently he found something in it that he has been able to connect with.  I don’t mean connecting with the feelings of isolation or how we feel like no one truly understands or anything like that, I mean he found something in my struggle that he could identify with and that has unlocked something inside him.

Around this time he has found out his wife was going to make me that relaxation CD .  He decided he wanted to do that for me instead.  Once he had made it, he then went to his in-laws’ house to meet my friend so he could deliver the CD, making sure it would reach me.  While he was there, he also managed to spend some time with my friend’s daughter.  That is something that has not happened in a long time.

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What of it?

I can almost hear you thinking I’ve gone mad.  A man I’ve called Bob made me a CD, met my friend and spent time with her daughter, what of it?

Well, allow me to explain just how amazing this news is.

Bob has struggled with his depression worse than I have, for it’s kept him virtually housebound for a while now.  Unless his wife or his in-laws or parents encourage him massively, he doesn’t leave the house.  Like me, he finds it hard to find the motivation to do anything.  For him to decide he was going to make that CD for me and motivate himself enough to do so was a big step forwards for him.

As if that wasn’t big enough, though, for him to then leave the house and make the effort to get that CD to someone he knew would be able to deliver it, that is just incredible!  Whatever part of the blog he read, whatever part of my struggle he has connected with, it gave him the motivation to do this for me.  If I’m honest, I’m somewhat staggered by how it’s made me feel.

The Purpose

When my friend messaged me this news, she said she couldn’t thank me enough.  Seeing him spending time with her toddler made her feel so elated and she was so pleased he had been able to leave the house.  Although, like me, he may not be out of his prison yet, my friend firmly believes I’ve managed to help him unlock the door and open it a little.  To me, that makes it all worth it.  To hear that my struggle has managed to help someone else, even just a little, is an amazing feeling!  Suddenly I wouldn’t change any of it, even looking back at the pain and suffering it’s put me through.  Even if Bob is the only person it helps, it is worth it and I wouldn’t change that.

And that’s because of a man called Bob.

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A Comment On Purpose

A Reader’s Comment

One thing I enjoy is seeing the interactions that we get from our readers. Whether from our Twitter, our Facebook or other social media accounts, I enjoy chatting with them.  Sometimes we get a comment or two left on the blog itself, which I really enjoy reading.  It’s great to hear from you all and it encourages me!

Today, I’d like to take a look at one such comment that was left by one of our readers.  You can check it out (and the post it was left on) below:

You Have A Purpose

What would that purpose be?  As Stephen quite rightly pointed out, it’s not always evident what our purpose could be.  What do you think?

Finding Purpose

As I mentioned in my reply to Stephen, it’s hard, if not impossible, for me to tell you what your purpose is.  You see, purpose isn’t something that people can tell you you have.  If you play the guitar, they can tell you that you play it well.  If you write, they can tell you that you write eloquently or inspirational posts.  They cannot, however, tell you what your purpose is.

So how do you find it?

Unfortunately, there is no five-point plan, no simple formula or any other way to find purpose.  It’s one of those things that you just find.  As you go through life, you find something that you’re good at that gives you joy, or something that you feel you were called to do.  As a concept, it’s difficult to explain, so perhaps the best way to explain it is by using an example.

When I started Pushing Back the Shadows, it was something that I felt I had to do.  My mental health struggles started and I felt awareness needed to be raised for all the different challenges and issues that surround it.  As I started blogging, I found that it was something I enjoyed doing and it helped me, as well as helping others.  As such, I realised that it was my purpose: I enjoyed doing it, it was helping people and it was something that seemed to come naturally.  One purpose.

Find Your Purpose

I hope that gives you an indication of how to find your purpose.  It’s out there.  Something that gives you a reason to get up in the morning.  You will find it.  If it brings you joy, if it encourages you to do something that you enjoy, it stands a good chance of being your purpose.

Sometimes your purpose isn’t evident until you’re in the situation.  You might be here to help someone specific.  It may be that you have yet to meet that person or it may be that you’ve met them and you don’t realise you’re helping them.  You might never know but I can guarantee that you have that purpose somewhere.

So my challenge to you is this: take a step back and have a look at your life.  Take a good look.  The people around you, the things you do.  The things you enjoy and the things that you can find that enthusiasm and motivation for.  Visualise them.  Now ask yourself, could you be doing something good with them?  Is it possible that there is something good happening through what you’re doing?  Are you an influence to those friends and family members and other people who you come into contact with?

Could that be your purpose?

Might it be a small, flickering light in the darkness that you have to find?

Maybe.

Maybe.

But you will find it.

In the meantime, place your hand over your heart.  Do you feel that?  Do you feel it beating?  That’s purpose.  You are alive for a reason.

But it’s up to you to find it.

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What You’re Worth

What do you say you’re worth?

What are you worth?

Take a moment and have a look at yourself.  Look in the mirror and see what you look like. Check out your social media profile and see what sort of things you post.  Have a think about how you talk to people, how you interact with them. Have you got all of that?  Good.

So what are you worth?

In today’s world there seems to be a large emphasis on value. Be weird. Be Random. Because you never know who would love the person you hide.We look at the value of things and decide whether or not it’s worth what we would have to put into it.  Time, money, effort, energy, we look at all of these and weigh it all up in our minds.  Would you agree? Whether we’re in the shops, talking to people, looking at things online or anything, we are looking at the value of the item and whether or not it is “worth it”.  More often than not, we will abandon it or ignore it if we don’t think it’s worth our time, money or effort.

If you’re like me, you probably don’t see much of worth.  You might hate how you look or how you laugh.  You might wish you were better looking, smarter, funnier or happier. I’m sure there are plenty of things that you wish you could change.  I do too.  Check out my posts concerning my self-worth here and here if you haven’t already and you’ll see what I mean.

So what are you worth?

OK, this is a tricky one.  You might say you’re worth nothing, just like I say I’m not worth anything.  You might look in that mirror and hate everything you see.  Well, I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong…but I’m not going to tell you that you’re right either.

Have I piqued your interest? Good.  Let’s take a look.

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  In today’s age of values, I’d like to modify that a little and say that worth is in the mind of the assessor. What do I mean by that though?  Well…what I mean is that you don’t necessarily know how valuable you are.  You might be worthless in your eyes but you might be precious to someone else.

In the first picture on this post is a quote from C. S. Lewis: “Be weird.  Be random.  Because you never know who would love the person you hide.”  

And it’s true.

Everyone has their own defining qualities and there are people out there who will love those qualities.  Take me, for example: I think my sense of humour and my jokes are awful but I have friends who smile when I tell them.  I don’t think my writing is that great as it isn’t Shakespeare or Tolkien, but I have friends who say I’m eloquent and good at describing things.

Different people, different opinions.

So what are you worth?

Worth in today’s worldYour value does not decrease based on someone's inability to see your worth.

Society tells us how we should look, how we should behave and loads of other social pressures that are put upon us. Women have to be size zero while men should be muscular.  We should all be “cool” and not geeky.  Things like that. But why?

Looking at worth today, I’d like to tell you that you are perfect just the way you are.  OK, maybe not perfect as no one is perfect but if you were to change something about you, you wouldn’t be you. Everything that you are defines you and removing a quality, whether good or bad, might remove something that someone likes about you.

It isn’t easy.  I speak as someone who has great difficulty loving himself.  It’s extremely challenging but who says the parts of you that you hate aren’t parts that someone else loves?  It might be that the parts you hate are someone’s favourite part about you.  Your smile, your laugh, your terrible jokes.  Who knows?

So please try and see some worth in yourself.  No matter how small you might think it is, you’re still worth it.  If someone is helping you or supporting you, then that shows you’re worth it. Especially in today’s world when the mentality is “what can I get out of this?”  You are all worth it no matter who you are.

Take care and stay strong.

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Feeling like a Failure

Why do we Fall?

Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.The answer to this (admittedly abbreviated quote from Batman) is so we can pick ourselves back up again. We fail, but in failing we learn. We grow. It isn’t easy, believe me. I’m sitting here, writing this with over 50 marks across my stomach and leg attesting to my own failure in the early hours of this morning.

To Fail is Human

So, I’ve suffered another setback. Yet again, I’ve found myself dealing with the aftermath of a relapse. Today I feel like the biggest failure and it’s a lonely place to be. I’m usually the one supporting others, but today I’m not really much use to anyone. I’m scared I’m bringing everyone around me down, so all I want to do is hide.

But I’m human. I’m also suffering with mental illness. And I’m not alone. Just from our interactions on Twitter, I know I’m not the only one who slipped and fell into darkness again. Oddly enough, that’s why I’m writing this, it’s why I’m not hiding and avoiding my task of getting my pick of the week posted. To remind everyone who slips that they are not alone. We make mistakes.

Right now, I’m struggling to hold myself together and I’m angry at myself for feeling like this. I’m angry that I can’t seem to find the words to tell the person closest to me how very bad it got last night. All because my stupid depression is telling me how worthless I am. And that’s a mistake.

I am not worthless. I have a purpose. I am not alone. OK, so I’m struggling today, but how many people out there are also struggling? How many don’t feel like they can talk this morning or feel like they’re alone in this?

The answer is far too many. It’s one of the reasons I came on board when Alex asked me to edit on this site. We’re here to give support and encouragement to anyone going through this.

So maybe that’s why I failed last night. I’m not alone in this. And neither are you.

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Episode 6 – The Meditation

The Meditation

I thought we would try something a little different today.  In today’s episode, we’re looking at a meditation that will help you relax.  Why not check it out?

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The Spoon Theory

I was talking to a friend of mine recently about depression and how it can affect us.  One thing we agreed on was how easy it is to feel tired, to run out of energy.  It’s one thing we both struggle with.  That led her to bring up her interest in the Spoon Theory and that set me thinking…why not introduce you all to the Spoon Theory?  Perhaps you’ve heard of it, perhaps not but I did some reading and found it quite interesting.

The Origin of the Spoon Theory

So where does it come from?  Well, the Spoon Theory was created by a lady named Christine Miserandino as she tried to describe how you feel living with some kind of long-term illness.  She has written a lot about long-term sicknesses or disabilities and how it’s easy for people to say that you don’t look sick so how does it affect you.

On Christine’s website, she talks about how she and her best friend were sat in a diner talking.  It was one of the things she says she did a lot in college, sitting in the diner chatting about things.  Mostly trivial things, she says.  Chatting, eating and laughing, that sort of thing.  You know how it is, I’m sure you’ve done it too.

Anyway, she was about to take some medicine with her snack when she noticed her friend watching her.  It was one of those awkward looks people give you.  She asked what it felt like to have Lupus – Christine’s condition.  As you can imagine, a question coming out of the blue would be a surprise.  Certainly when people have asked me about my condition as randomly as that, it’s been a shock.  Still, Christine did her best to explain.  She talked about aches and pains, about medication and doctors but her friend wasn’t satisfied.  Finally, her friend asked what it felt like, not physically, to be ill.

That’s where the Spoon Theory came in.

The Spoon Theory

Christine handed her friend every spoon from the table.  Handing them to her, she said, “There you go, you have Lupus.”  She then went on to explain that the difference between being sick and being healthy is having to make choices or consciously think about things the rest of the world doesn’t have to.

At the beginning of the day, the majority of people will start with an infinite amount of possibilities.  They have enough energy to do whatever they want to put their mind to.  For sick people or people living with long-term health conditions, however, their energy levels are limited, meaning they are restricted in what they can do. They have to prioritise what they will do, think about every possible task they have to accomplish, and plan accordingly.

To do this, Christine used those spoons to convey her message.  Here is the quoted snippet from her article.

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Count Your Spoons

“I asked her to list off the tasks of her day, including the most simple. As, she rattled off daily chores, or just fun things to do; I explained how each one would cost her a spoon. When she jumped right into getting ready for work as her first task of the morning, I cut her off and took away a spoon. I practically jumped down her throat.

I said ” No! You don’t just get up. You have to crack open your eyes, and then realize you are late. You didn’t sleep well the night before. You have to crawl out of bed, and then you have to make your self something to eat before you can do anything else, because if you don’t, you can’t take your medicine, and if you don’t take your medicine you might as well give up all your spoons for today and tomorrow too.”

I quickly took away a spoon and she realized she hasn’t even gotten dressed yet. Showering cost her spoon, just for washing her hair and shaving her legs. Reaching high and low that early in the morning could actually cost more than one spoon, but I figured I would give her a break; I didn’t want to scare her right away. Getting dressed was worth another spoon. I stopped her and broke down every task to show her how every little detail needs to be thought about. You cannot simply just throw clothes on when you are sick. I explained that I have to see what clothes I can physically put on, if my hands hurt that day buttons are out of the question. If I have bruises that day, I need to wear long sleeves, and if I have a fever I need a sweater to stay warm and so on. If my hair is falling out I need to spend more time to look presentable, and then you need to factor in another 5 minutes for feeling badly that it took you 2 hours to do all this.”

It Will Cost You…

As the conversation progressed, they delved deeper into what things cost you spoons and what doesn’t.  Skipping lunch, for example, will cost you a spoon.  Sitting at the computer or standing on the train or the bus for too long would cost a spoon.  Even something as simple as choosing between running errands or eating that evening were choices that had to be thought about

Using spoons as symbols for energy, Christine conveyed her message successfully.  Every task, every chore costs you a spoon.  You can’t get more spoons – although you can borrow tomorrow’s spoons but that might burn you out quicker.  It’s all about prioritising what you can do.  That’s the only thing you can do.

The Full Article

If you’re interested in reading the full article, you can find it here.  Christine goes into detail talking about her explanation for her friend and how the conversation transpired.  I’d really encourage you to check it out!  It was an eye-opening article to read, even for me as someone who struggles on a daily basis with how many “spoons” I can start with.  Take a look.

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Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.