Episode 9 – A Look Back

Join Alex as he takes a look back at how Pushing Back the Shadows came about.  From his original blog to public speaking to podcasts, he looks a little at his journey.  Dive in!

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Depression Striking Early

What Do You Think?

With this post I’m interested in hearing your views on the topic.  When you’ve finished reading, please leave us a comment below and share this post with others so we can build up a good idea of what people think.

Early-Years Depression

So this post comes from reading a news article the other day.  On Psychology Today, Robert T Muller Ph.D. talks about depression striking as early as preschool age.  He states that depression affects approximately 4% of preschoolers in the US, a number that increases by 23% ever year.  Apparently it is an increasingly common thing that people can identify.  Robert Muller says that doctors and therapists are better equipped nowadays to ensure that it can be treated better.

In a news report from WNDU, Maureen McFadden has said one of the early warning signs is if your child seems sad all the time or doesn’t enjoy playtime the way he or she used to.  That’s when there should be some concern.  Parents should also watch for things like irritability, eating disturbances and sleep problems such as difficulty going to sleep or waking up during the night.  Increased negative self-perception is also an indicator.

Potential Causes

On WedMB, Kathleen P. Hockey, a licensed social worker who has also suffered from depression, says there is no single thing that causes depression in children.  This is according to NMHA’s Children’s Mental Health Matters campaign, she says.  Potential causes include things like life stresses – losing a parent, perhaps due to divorce – discrimination, a family history of depression.  She also observes that things such as abuse, neglect and other traumas of chronic illnesses can be contributory factors as well.

David Fassler, MD, says that depression in children will often occur alongside or along with other mental health problems, notably anxiety and bipolar or disruptive behaviour disorders.

Over To You

What do you think?  Is depression amongst preschoolers something that’s possible or is it something that is more applicable only to older children and adults?  Someone can be born with diabetes or liver problems but can a 3-year-old have depression?

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The Scars You Don’t See

The Scars Inside

This week Alex posted a rather brilliant post called When the Scars Fade. It looks at the aspects of how the scarring of self harm can be a physical validation for the mental illness, and the struggle that arises when that visible proof begins to disappear. It’s something I know I’ve struggled with, as have many others judging by the messages we get on Twitter. It seems to be part and parcel of the journey. What I want to look at this week is the scars you don’t see.

My external scars are fading, even despite a spirited attempt last night with my fingernails to reopen them. It’s odd. I’m improving. The medication is working. So why? Why in a moment of struggling did I turn against myself again? The answer is worryingly simple. The scars inside are not healed.

Old Wounds

Stupid, isn’t it? Something can be said, an event can happen, or even just a random thought can reopen that mental scar, leaving us raw and vulnerable once again. The darkness opens its welcoming arms once more to wrap itself around us and convince us of our worthlessness.

Right now I’m back in therapy to help me close those wounds and I’ll be honest I’m not sure how well it’s going. I’ve only had two sessions so far so we’ll see how we go. But I’ve been here before, I should be better at the techniques than the therapist by now!

But one thing I do know from all the therapies I’ve been through before is the scars will always be there. The hurts of rejection, loneliness, self-doubt are always going to be there. Every desecration of my self-esteem, my sense of worth, they are all built into the scars. I cannot simply pretend they don’t exist.

Part of The Journey

In fact pretending that those wounds aren’t there isn’t going to help. Accepting them is part of my journey. As I’m writing this, I’m listening to music and a song from the Disney movie ‘Moana’ has popped on. It’s a song that keeps popping up at the moment for me (watch out for the upcoming podcast where Alex and I discuss music and how it affects us or check out Alex’s post on music) and there’s a couple of lines that keep standing out to me.

“Sometimes the world seems against you, the journey may leave a scar. But scars can heal and reveal just where you are. The people you love will change you, the things you have learnt will guide you. And nothing on earth can silence the quiet voice still inside you.”

It’s beautiful. And it’s a message that speaks to me and I hope reaches out to everyone else who is struggling. Those internal scars are not a bad thing, they are a part of what makes who you are but they do not define you. Like the physical scars I’ve inflicted upon myself they will fade too. Neither will go away completely, but to quote another character from ‘Moana’, “The tapestry here on my skin, is a map of the victories I win.” I’m still here, I am the sum of everything that I have gone through and I am still standing albeit a bit shakier than before. The scars both physical and mental tell the story of me. Yes, not all of it is pleasant, but it’s mine and I’ve got more chapters ahead of me. You do too.

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When the Scars Fade

*Potential Trigger Warning: in this post we talk about self-harm scars, so be advised there might be a potential trigger in this post.*

Scars

Wanna know how I got these scars?  Who am I kidding, you already know how I got them.  What matters to me right now, though, is that they’re here.  That’s what I want to talk to you about.  My scars.

It's hard to hide your story when it's written all over your body.Scars can be both physical or emotional.  We all know what physical scars look like.  I have two near the bottom of my stomach from where I had hernias as a baby.  Other people have other scars, it’s just part of the fragility of our bodies.  Traumatic events can leave memories, anxieties and fears on your mind that can be thought of like scars.  Again, just part of our fragility.

As you might expect, I now have plenty of marks and half-healed wounds from my struggle.  In Pills and Blades, I told you about my self-harming journey.  My depression, as with a number of other people, has manifested itself in this way.  It’s a way of giving me several types of release but it also leaves behind a physical mark, almost like a badge of my struggle.  You can check out more about self-harm in our series About Self-Harm.  For now, though, let’s focus on those scars.

A Comfort and An Antagonist

It’s odd, isn’t it, how you can think of those physical marks as both comforting yet antagonistic at the same time.  It’s something that might not make sense to a lot of people.  You cut yourself, the cut starts to heal, the cut then starts to leave a mark…and you take comfort in that.  Why?  It’s not a good thing, really.  Self-destruction is never perceived as good.  So where is the comfort?

In Pills and Blades I list three reasons why I self-harm:

  1. Self-hatred
  2. A way of feeling
  3. A distraction technique

In a nutshell, that’s what it comes down to.  So if it’s a reminder of my self-hatred, if it’s a way of feeling and a distraction technique, why would I be finding comfort from it?

My scars are fading and I feel lost without them.

The simple truth, as I mention later on in our series About Self-Harm, is that they provide me with some form of evidence that I’m struggling.  Call it a badge of achievement, in perhaps a rather twisted sense of the concept.  It’s a marker that tells me my struggle is real, that it’s not all imagined in my head and that I genuinely have a problem.  For that reason, they are a comfort for me.

At the same time they are antagonistic.  They are a reminder of the battles that I’ve lost with my head.  Scars like these carry with them guilt and shame as well.  You cover them up so people won’t see, so the stigma won’t be attached to you.  If you talk about them, it’s only with a few people, people you trust.  You see…sometimes the scars are our biggest enemy as well as our best friend.

Especially when they fade…

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When They Fade

In my mind, there is nothing worse than when the scars start to fade.  Those physical reminders that your struggle is real, those comforting marks of evidence are beginning to disappear.  Suddenly the struggle is back inside your head with no outward sign that things are not OK.  You find you have to begin convincing yourself all over again that your struggle is real.

The scars start to fade and the urge to bring them back becomes stronger and stronger.

When my scars start to fade, my urge to bring them back starts to grow.  It’s a vicious cycle of cut, scar, scars fade, miss them so cut again.  You’re trapped in that never-ending circle, unable to get yourself out.  You look down at your scars and find the overwhelming urge to reopen every single one of them, to watch the blood run down your arm, leg, stomach or wherever you cut.

Then comes the guilt.

Guilt

The guilt is the hardest part.  You’re getting there, your medication is working.  The fact that your scars are fading suggests that you haven’t cut in a while.  Surely that means you’re doing well, right?  So why would you want to reopen them?  Won’t that put you back several steps?

Sadly, it will.  Everyone is happy that you’re making progress, everyone is pleased that you’re not cutting at the moment and so the guilt overwhelms you.  As you pick that blade up again, you feel that colossal weight of shame but at the same time you feel the release as you renew those scars on your skin.  Silver turns white to red and you feel as though you have your evidence again.

For a moment you’re at peace.

Then it starts all over again.

Just because the scars started to fade…

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Social Barrier

Social Media Icons

Social Media

Social media is an effective way of keeping us connected, isn’t it?  The flick of a thumb, the touch of a finger and boom, a plethora of posts at our fingertips.  Everyone’s latest updates, everyone’s pictures and statuses and so much more, all accessible for us.  Sometimes we can get overloaded.  And really that’s the problem, isn’t it?  No holds barred, no barrier to stop us from being bombarded, nothing.  It can be a mess!

Sometimes social media can be great for encouragement.  As someone going through depression, we can find what we need to keep going.  Other times, it just drags us down.  Do you find that?  We look at everyone’s updates and it just makes everything worse.  It looks like they’re doing so much better than we are.  Everything seems to be going right for them, doesn’t it?

Isn’t that the problem with social media, though?  There is no barrier preventing us from getting depressed by what we see.  Nothing to stop us from getting mired in that downward spiral, that depressive funk that makes it worse.  Or is there?

Social Media and the Barrier

Those of you following the blog will know I’m active on Twitter and Facebook, updating fairly regularly on either and doing my best to interact with followers.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to do the same on our Tumblr and Instagram accounts.  Not to spoil the secret or anything but when I go to interact, I search for the hashtags of depression or anxiety to find people to interact with.  Now, Twitter and Facebook let me find them without any problems.  But Tumblr and Instagram?  They have a barrier.

Instagram IconTake Instagram, for example: when I search for #depression, the following message pops up…

Can we help?

Posts with words or tags you’re searching for often encourage behavior that can cause harm and even lead to death.

If you’re going through something difficult, we’d like to help.

Learn more

Isn’t that fantastic?  You search for something like #depression and Instagram and Tumblr both put up a barrier for you to pass.  You literally have to click the “Show Posts” button to be able to access posts of that nature.  But they also offer support if you’re suffering.

Isn’t that great?

A Call to Action

For a society that seems to put some form of emphasis on mental health awareness, you would think that the other social media sites would do it too.  Facebook and Twitter, with their millions of users, should take similar ownership, wouldn’t you say?  Isn’t it time we took that responsibility and offered support?  If Tumblr can put up a barrier that forces you to click to accept to go through to the #depression posts and offer links to support services, why can’t Twitter?  If Instagram can do it, why can’t Facebook?

Do you think this is a good thing?  Would you say Facebook and Twitter need to do something similar?  Comment below to let us know!

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When You Make A Mistake

You Made a Mistake

It happens, doesn’t it? Everyone makes mistakes. Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you what your biggest mistake is or anything like that, though feel free to comment or message with it if you want to.  Still, everyone makes mistakes, some big and some small.  But what do we do with those mistakes?  How do we move on from them?  Do they weigh us down?  Sadly, yes…so let’s take a look at that.

Don't cling to that mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it.Have you made a mistake in the past week?  Again: you do not need to tell me.  The important question to ask, however, is: have you forgiven yourself for it?  Have you forgiven yourself or are you clinging to that mistake?

To give you a little scope, the general mistakes I’m referring to are the ones you would do in your darkest moments.  In my case, I’d class self-harm as a mistake.  Even though I can justify it and explain the reasoning behind it, it was still a mistake because it’s something I should never have done, something I’m not proud of.

But what do I do with it?

Forgiveness and You

Forgiving yourself is one of the hardest things to do, isn’t it? We aren’t good at forgiving ourselves when we make mistakes.  If anything, our depression magnifies what we’ve done and turns the molehill into a mountain, making it harder for us to practice forgiveness.  We cling to our mistakes because we think we should never have made them.  Forgiving ourselves is all but impossible.

How do you forgive yourself? Honestly, it takes a lot of practice.  Combine that with some willpower and you can start the process.  Every time your own Dark Passenger drags up your mistakes, put it aside and say to yourself “it’s in the past, what’s done is done”.

OK, definitely easier said than done but it’s a starting point.

Forgiving yourself is the first step of letting go of the mistake you made.  While it isn’t easy, it’s the only way to begin that process.  If you’re particularly hurt after the mistake then it is one of the few ways to kick-start the healing process as well.  Forgiveness can lead to a recovery from it.

But it all starts with you.

You’re only humanThe only time you should ever look back is to see how far you've come.

There’s a song by Christina Perri called Human that talks about how we’re only human and we bleed and we fall down. As I write this, I think there’s a ring of truth to it where mistakes our concerned.

You’re only human.

Making mistakes is a natural part of life and we are all going to make at least one in our lifetime.  No matter how much people might like to think it, no one is perfect, so we are going to get things wrong from time to time.  Do you know what, though?  That’s OK.

That’s right: it’s OK.

Regardless of whether you got it wrong or not, you still tried.  As I said while talking about relapsing, trying is the important part.  Yes, you made a mistake but that is always going to be a possibility when you’re trying to get better.

If today you’re dwelling on a mistake that you’ve made then please try and forgive yourself.  You are more than the sum of your past mistakes, you are just a human trying to find their way in the world.  Just like the rest of us.  Everyone has a mistake that they wish they hadn’t made.  So it’s OK.

If you want to talk about it, send us a message and we will do what we can.  Please do try to forgive yourself.  You can do it.  Mistakes are OK.  It’s what you do with them that’s important.

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Making Progress

How do you know if you’re making progress?

Well how? With depression it’s difficult to see your own progress. In some ways you are just too close to it. But it can be there, that’s why friends and family are so important. They can see the progress even when you can’t. I’d like to share with you a little story about last weekend so you can see what I mean.

A Weekend Away

You seem to be a little better today.” 

-“Am I? I guess so… ” (inside my head, I fear that I’m not but I just don’t want my mum to think I’m not improving. She’ll worry even more.) 

Above is part of an exchange I jotted in my journal last weekend when lying in bed in my childhood bedroom. I was staying at my parents for the weekend and this was from a conversation I’d had with my mum on the Sunday morning. To give you some context, the pretext of this visit was so I could be close by while my son spent the weekend with his father, from whom I am separated.  All nice and logical and reasonable.

Except this wasn’t the reason.

The reason was I was afraid. Afraid to stay on my own for fear of where my thoughts would take me. I knew that I was going to be vulnerable, as even the thought of my children visiting their father can be enough to send my anxiety into overdrive. Likewise, my depression is often at its worst when I am dealing with my estranged husband. Reminders of negative feelings and self-doubt mount up and can often lead to a crash. My teenage son spending a whole weekend with him? My brain was going to have a field day!

Basically I didn’t trust myself enough to stay on my own for the whole weekend, even with my toddler. I knew that the moment she was asleep (i.e nothing to keep me busy) the potential for a spiral escalated. So I took up the long-standing offer from my mum for a weekend with them.

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Damage Limitation

So I’m guessing you’re wondering how this relates to progress. For me, this is progress. I find accepting help extremely difficult, and staying with my parents is something I’ve avoided as I don’t want to be a burden. But I recognised that there was a huge trigger looming and I took measures to limit the damage I knew could happen. And it worked. Yes, I did dip at points. The Friday evening was particularly difficult, as was late on Sunday afternoon. But with the support and encouragement of my parents and one rather brilliant friend who kept in touch by text the whole weekend, I got through. No new scars, no major crash. What could have been a potentially disastrous weekend, wasn’t. In fact it was pretty good. I went out for a meal, attended a Last Night of the Proms party on the Saturday night and reconnected with an old school friend.

So What?

To some people, that wouldn’t seem a big deal. But with how severely my depression has been affecting me lately, I’ve been avoiding social situations quite a bit. If you don’t understand this, I really suggest you read Aspects of Choice. The Proms party was a particular issue because it was loud, brash and with lots of ‘happy’ families together, while I was the single mom. To be honest, I didn’t want to go to it.

This is where my mum was my rock. She helped me sort out an outfit, helped me straighten my hair, lent me some shoes and essentially gave me a mini makeover.  My mum understood that there have been times lately where even brushing my hair has felt like too much. That of all my priorities, a little pampering of myself has been lacking. I felt awkward and fake, but she got me there. I’m glad she did.

I can now look on the weekend and see the achievements I made. When my mum was trying to point them out to me on the Sunday, I was struggling to see them. One of the questions we ask in the interviews is “What does a good day look like?”, and some of the answers we’ve received slant towards the negative; that there are no good days. It can feel that way, believe me I know. But maybe take a beat and really look at those bad days. Even at your worst what did you manage to do? Like Alex looked at in The Spoon Theory, I’m not saying it won’t have cost you. But every little thing you have managed, no matter how small, is progress. Sometimes it just takes someone on the outside looking in to see it.

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Episode 8 – Signs and Symptoms

How can you tell if someone is trapped in a panic attack or a depressive spiral?  The signs and symptoms aren’t always there, are they?  Or are they?  In Episode 8, Alex talks about some of the signs and symptoms that his friends recognise and look out for to tell when he’s not on such a good day.  Have you experienced any of these?  Drop us a comment below!

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Social Media’s Social Mess

The Social Media Buzz

Technology is an ever-advancing machine that seems to constantly be trying to better itself.  Big companies like Apple, Samsung and Microsoft are churning out improvement after improvement, bringing us better hardware and software as well as catering to our every whim.  We can shop online easily, find whatever information we want in seconds and connect with people all over the world thanks to social media.

Nowadays a lot of people are on social media.  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, you name it, there are people on it.  For some it’s a great way of keeping in touch with their friends.  For others, it’s used more for connecting with people and marketing their companies.  Whatever its uses, though, there are a lot of people on it.  As a result, it’s made the world very small.  Having lived in three countries over my lifetime, I’ve made friends across the world and social media, particularly Facebook, really helps me keep in touch with them.

But is it as good as it seems?  Is it really all it’s cracked up to be?

I’m not so sure.

Depression and Social Media

Due to the increase in social media usage, people have begun to question whether or not a “social media depression” exists.  Now, this phenomenon hasn’t been officially added to the “depression” label but it’s something that seems fairly widely thought of.  People cite Facebook and Twitter as potential causes for depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.  There are a couple of valid reasons for this, despite some studies arguing that the two have very little in common.

So who is right with this one?  Well, going off my own experiences of things like Facebook and Twitter, I’m more inclined to believe there are links between the two.  I have a couple of reasons for this.

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How can it trigger depression?
  1. Green Grass Phenomenon – the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, right?  People only ever post their best photos or videos, don’t they?  You may be scrolling through your timeline or Twitter stream and seeing people in overwhelmingly happy situations.  But how many of them are real?  A lot of times this isn’t the case, they only choose what they want you to see.
  2. Isolation and Distraction – with social media being so constant, it’s become quite common to see people constantly checking their phones for the latest news and updates.  It’s become a subject of jokes for some, such as the image to the right, but it is a problem.  People isolate themselves, choosing to glue themselves to their phones instead.  That leads to a strong feeling of loneliness – one of the potential triggers of depression – and it can distract them from important things they should be attending to.
  3. Bullying and Oversharing – one of my earliest memories of Facebook is of people posting every time they went to eat or needed the toilet.  People have a tendency to share too much on social media.  For some, this gets them into trouble – employees who share skiving photos, forgetting they are friends with their boss – but for some this can cause bigger problems.  What if people access something you wouldn’t want them knowing?  A secret or a humiliating event?  As a result, online bullying is also a big phenomenon, especially amongst teens and children.
Is it real?

So is “social media depression” a thing?  Is it another gimmick that people will readily accept?  Well, I don’t believe it is one of the leading, primary causes.  I do, however, think it can be a contributing factor.

Take communication, for example.  You can have hundreds of Facebook friends and never hear from any of them.  In a world where communication is instantaneous and it takes only a few minutes to send a message, not receiving any messages can be extremely disheartening.  People don’t mean it that way but it can feel that way.  Add to that your already depressed state and it’s a bad mix.

Inadequacy is another problem.  Linked directly to that greener grass phenomenon I mentioned, if you see people posting pictures of being happy, you might feel your own life is awful by comparison.  It isn’t always the case.  Regardless of that, however, your depression or anxiety might tell you it is.  It can push you down lower and lower as you wonder whether your life is as bad as it feels.

What Do You Think?

Ultimately, I think social media is a contributing factor to people’s mental health struggles.  I’m not convinced that it’s a trigger, although it can exasperate things.  That being said, in some extreme situations I think it can be a justifiable cause.

But what do you think?  Is social media a contributing factor?  Or is it more of a root cause?  Leave us a comment, letting us know what you think.

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Khristina – the Interview

What conditions do you live with?
I live with Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, {mild} Anxiety, {mild} Schizophrenia and insomnia.
How long have you been living with them?
Two years (roughly), another two undiagnosed which brings the grand total to four years.
How does it affect you, for example what does a good day look like?
A good day looks bleak at best and I’m not trying to sound ungrateful here but that’s when the voices start to whisper in my mind and I start to see things and I feel so depressed and worthless I want to push myself off a cliff.I survive because I tend to be very vocal and have friends who tend to recognise the warning signs of my bad times.
How about a bad day?
I’m not sure what a bad day looks like because it’s usually a blur of too many pills mixed with copious amounts of alcohol (my parents would kill me if they read this) though I’ve sworn never to try drugs because I will surely take my own life then. Aside from that, there’s also the problem of sharp things and me being together in the same room. Suffice to say I may as well have donated that blood and saved a life instead of being a waste of space.
How does it affect work, family, friends, etc?
I am already a socially inept creature without my mental illnesses, I don’t know what God was thinking but I shall not question Him on such matters. I often take sick days off from work and have to miss family gatherings because of my illnesses and peoples’ inability to understand them.
What sort of methods or treatments do you use to cope?
My coping methods include:
  a)pills {meds}
  b) alcohol {wine only}
  c)selfharm
  d)music
  e)running
   f)online socialising
Most effective: meds/selfharm (don’t judge me)
Least effective:alcohol (it’s a suppressant which explains it)
If you could say one thing to someone going through the same condition(s) as you, what would it be?
Please hang in there and do what I say not what I do. Someone out there will love you, one day.
What would your advice be to people trying to support people with these conditions?
Do as much research as you can and do not ever belittle anyone’s illness(es).
Have you got any final thoughts?
I hope this creates a lot of awareness about mental illnesses to all who read it.
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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.