Katie – the Interview

Katie – the Interview

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First Day Fears

I’m Going Back, But I’m Not Better

My anxiety is ramping up each day this week. From Thursday onwards, I’ve noticed a distinct uptick in those anxious feelings. I’m more forgetful (I left my keys in the supermarket!) It doesn’t seem to take a lot to knock me backwards and the scratching of my hands has resumed at a frenzied rate. Why? Because I’m going back to work next week even though I’m not fully better. My head is going crazy with first day fears even though I’m returning to a job I’ve done for 16 years.

The Coming Weeks

Oddly I’ve decided to put this experience to good use. For the next few weeks I’m going to be sharing with you what this going back to work experience is like. From the first day fears, to me being back at full speed and everything in between. I want to share all of this with you, whether I’m successful or not. It’s a journey many of you are going to have to take at some point. Depression and anxiety can severely impact on our work attendance, some people have months off or even never return to work because of mental health issues.

I’ve decided to go back after a lengthy absence. I feel I’m improved enough that with some help from my employer that I can do this. I need to from a financial stand point, but also from the point of view of my recovery. It’s time to face this challenge, because if I don’t do it now I never will.

Facing Down First Day Fears

So what is kicking the anxiety off? I know the people I work with, I know the job inside out. It’s the same building I’ve been going to for years. I’m not scared of any of these things, parts of me are even looking forward to seeing friends I haven’t seen for months. What exactly am I so anxious about?

My current biggest fear is me. Or more precisely my mental health. I don’t cope well with crowds or loud environments and the office I work in has an abundance of both. The fear is that I’ll walk in, not be able to cope and end up back at square one. This fear is nagging at me, I don’t want to go backwards. But there is that risk.

So what do we do?

Well I’m taking the risk. I’m going back and facing down those first day fears head on. My boss is prepared as he can be, he knows that I’m not good with noise so he’s arranged for a desk in a quieter wing of the office. Colleagues are being made aware to try to not bombard me (a common problem when people return from absence in my office). For me, I’ve made as many arrangements as i can to make it easy as possible.

Preparations

So here goes. Here’s my list of what I’m doing to get myself ready as possible. My thinking is if I share it with you it will help me follow through with everything. Plus you never know, it might help someone else too!

  • Make the first journey as easy as possible. To do this I’m making sure the car is clean and tidy inside. I’ve arranged that someone else is going to take the kids to school so that stress is removed for now. I’ve made a playlist of relaxing music as well. Car will be fuelled and checked over.
  • Get my stuff together. I’ve already chosen and hung up my clothes ready for the day. Lunch will be prepped the night before and everything I will need will be in my bag. ( sicknotes, letters from counselor, return to work note, pass and fidget spinner)
  • Treat myself.  Have a relaxing bath the night before. Take a small bar of chocolate with me on the day. Make dinner as easy as I can for the day (slow cooker, ready meal or if all else fails, takeaway).
  • Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. This one may sound odd, but it’s what I’m doing. I’m going for counselling the day before to try to get some of the worst things out and get some strategies for coping set in place.  My partner is going to have his phone to hand in case it gets really bad on the day. I also have talked things through with my boss about the most scary concerns I have and he’s doing what he can to help me cope.
Ready, Set….

So, for me I’m looking at phased return , amended duties, a quieter environment to sit and getting occupational health involved to make this process as smooth as possible. My boss is fully aware that I may need to step away from the office, I may lose my speech when stressed or begin scratching. One of my closest friends at work has already said they’ll be on hand if I need some help, even if it’s just to make me laugh or wind me up.

All in all, I think I’m as ready as I can be. I’ll let you know how it goes next week, what’s worked, what hasn’t etc. Here’s hoping I haven’t crashed and burned! If you are facing this challenge too I wish for you that it goes well.  It’s scary as anything facing down those first day fears, but I think with a little bit of preparation it won’t be as bad as you or I think.

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Episode 20 – Finding Light in the Dark

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Become a PatronEpisode 20 – Finding Light in the Dark

When suffering with depression, anxiety, bipolar or any other mental health struggle, it can frequently feel as though we’re struggling to get through the darkness while looking for the light.  Sometimes it feels like the light is some mythical entity that exists only in our imaginations.  But when we press forwards, there is the chance that we can find that light.  Here, I talk about some of my tips for finding the light in the darkness.  Why not join me?

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Through the Dark

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A Tweet, A Trigger and A Minefield

*This post contains images of self-harm, which may trigger people.*

A Trigger

Triggers are something that I hear a lot about, both on and off the internet.  Therapists will ask if we know what triggers our depression or anxiety, we will then be told to look at identifying our triggers so we can look at coping with them.  Is this sounding familiar?  Theoretically, if you can identify a trigger, you can start employing your coping mechanisms to ensure that you get through whatever situation it is that might set you off.

Recently on Twitter, I advertised our Understanding Self-Harm page to promote awareness for self-harm.  It contained the image below:

Understanding Self-Harm scars.

What do you think?  Do you think the image is particularly triggering?  Or is it more that the image is a bit shocking and uncomfortable to look at?  Here are some of the responses I’ve had to it:


Do you agree with these?  What do you think?

Talking Triggers

First off, I feel I need to say that I do believe in mental health triggers.  Honestly, I do.  There are things I know that can set me off on a depressive spiral or a panic attack, no matter what I try to do.  Admittedly, I’m not very good at identifying those triggers, nor am I particularly good at avoiding them or dealing with them, but I know they are there.

My question, however, is this: at what point do triggers hamper mental health progress?

One thing that society teaches us on a regular basis is to keep our mental health struggles hidden.  Have depression?  Smile.  Have anxiety?  Breathe.  We are taught, very much like Elsa in Frozen (yes, I have a 3-year-old who loves Frozen) to keep it in: don’t let them in, don’t let them see, be the good girl you always have to be.  If we avoid talking about subjects containing potential triggers or avoid using images like the one above because they “may trigger someone”, how are we doing ourselves any good?  I’ve been told the image above has shocked people into reading the content because they find it disturbing enough that they want to know more.  Would you not say that’s a good thing?

It’s raised awareness for self-harm.  It’s raised mental health awareness.  Someone else has walked away with an understanding of a struggle that plagues a lot of us.

I’d say that’s a good thing.

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My Experiences

Two comments – one of which has since been removed because the user decided to block me – went along these lines:

I feel, at this point, I need to direct people to reading my journey, particularly posts like Pills and Blades, that discuss my own personal struggle with self-harm.  I have loads of scars covering my legs, even now after I’ve been “clean” for a few months.  It’s something that I’ve battled with relentlessly.  Below are just a couple of instances of when that happened.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sharing these lightly.  I’ve made sure that my scars are hidden so that people won’t see them and start judging me or commenting, etc.  Sharing them with you all is something I’m doing to continue raising that awareness and take the first step in my stand.

I believe that this subject needs to be talked about.  I believe people need to see these images so that they might understand just how serious mental health is.  Outside, in public, we put on smiles, we fake feeling as though we’re part of the community and we try and appear normal.  Behind closed doors, however, we end up turning to coping mechanisms like the one in the pictures above.  It’s something that’s not talked about, something that we avoid showing others, but we do it.

And people need to realise this.

People need to see the damage we do.

Shying away from it is not going to work anymore.

We need to be more vocal about this!

A Minefield

Realistically, what can I do regarding the images that will potentially trigger others?  It’s like being caught between a rock and a hard place.  On one hand you have the people who need to see the image, who need to be shocked into reading and become aware.  On the other hand, you have all those who would claim to be triggered by the image (whether that’s genuinely triggered or, as so many people will do, jumping on the bandwagon to have a moan).  In the middle, you have me and the people like me who are all trying to raise the awareness.

As far as triggers go, though, it’s a minefield.  Everyone is different, everyone has different triggers.  Asking anyone to find something that won’t trigger anybody is virtually impossible.  So why should we hide what we feel, why should we avoid any potentially triggering images when there is no image that exists that might not trigger someone?

We need to stand up.  We need to take ownership.  This is real, this is happening.  People struggle with this on a daily basis.  To make a change, we need to shock people and we need to make them uncomfortable, because people will never change if they are comfortable.

Ultimately, I’m not going to apologise for these images.  People need to see this.  Realistically, the minefield is such that I won’t be able to find images that won’t offend someone, somewhere, so I will use the images I feel best fit what I’m trying to accomplish.  What I will say is that understanding of self-harm needs to be raised.  We need to do this.  We need to take that stand.  So stand with me.  Help me fight this stigma.

I hope you understand.

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A New Year

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to you all from the Pushing Back the Shadows team!

Out With the Old Year

2018!  Is it just me or does anyone else think that 2017 flew by?  It seems like only yesterday that we were celebrating the end of 2016, which most people seemed to think was an awful year.  I know that’s what everyone says – that it seemed like only yesterday – but it really does.

Looking back at 2017, I’ve had a few opportunities to pick as highlights. Starting this website, for example, has been a major highlight as it’s enabled me to help people with their mental health struggles.  Whether on Twitter, Facebook or just this website, it’s been extremely rewarding to be able to connect with people and bring a little light into their darkness. Simply by reaching out and encouraging them, I’ve been encouraged as well.

Still, 2017 has had its difficulties.  If you follow my journey, you’ll have seen it’s had its ups and it’s had its downs.  I wrote about the Harrowing Void, how my scars have faded and the desire to bring them back has just increased.  I told you about my sleepless battle, how depression and anxiety affected me at work and much more.

In With the New Year

So as we’re gearing up towards the New Year, we might be approaching it with anticipation and trepidation or excitement and enthusiasm.  Perhaps you’re thinking that this will be your year, where everything goes right, you get that dream promotion, you get your finances in order and so on.  Conversely, you might be thinking it will be a disaster of a year where everything goes wrong, you lose lots of things dear to you.  Who knows?

In truth, no one knows what the future will bring.  2018 will continue to be elusive and mysterious.  It’s important to remember, as we approach this new year of new opportunities and events, that the only thing we can truly control is the here and now.  We don’t know what tomorrow holds, yesterday is done, so we focus on the present.  Live for today.

Now, I’m not saying go wild and blow all your money, drive your car recklessly, go out and buy booze and drugs and live wildly because that’s just not practical.  No, what I’m saying is make the most of the time that we have.  Tomorrow could be one day too late, as anxiety keeps telling us, or it could be one of the biggest success stories of our lives.  Make the most of it.  If that doesn’t tell you what I’m trying to say, check out this scene and let one of my favourite fictional characters tell you:

2018

So, as 2018 unfolds and we launch into this new year, take the time that is given to you, decide what to do with it.  Perhaps start a new project, one that will help your mental health.  Alternatively, make a New Year’s Resolution that might change the course of your life.  2018 is your oyster, you go and make the most of it.

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No One Cares About the Individual

An Individual Illness

One thing that I’ve always said is that depression is a highly individual illness.  No two cases are the same, no two treatments are the same, which makes it individual.  When people try and compare themselves to the progress others are making, or when people tell others that “this treatment will work for you as it worked for me”, I feel it is important to remind them that it doesn’t work this way.

I say that mental health is unique and individual becasuse we, as human beings, are all very different.  None of us would react in the same way to the situations life puts us in, which is just one mark of our individuality.  Different stressors affect us in different ways and, as such, our mental health becomes very personal, very unique.  My partner and I, for example, process things in different ways because of how unique the illnesses are, despite us both having the same label of “depression”.

Why am I talking about individuality though?  Simply put, as the title says: no one cares about the individual.

No One Cares

It may sound harsh to say that no one cares but hear me out on this one.  Think back over the past couple of years and think about how mental health is in our society.  How is it treated by others?  Is it viewed as important?  Is it belittled?  What do you think about the way it is treated?  Now ask yourself whether or not it has changed vastly in the past couple of years.  What did you come up with?

See, the truth as I see it is that there have been some changes made to mental health services, but not enough.  The world is still rife with stigma and concepts such as self-harm or suicide are still greatly misunderstood.  There are thousands of people struggling with mental illness and yet not enough people are willing to raise their voices to campaign for better services.

Until it’s a celebrity.

Please don’t get me wrong, celebrities struggling with mental illness is just as bad as people like you or me struggling, yet I can’t help but notice that they manage to garner more attention.  When Chester Bennington died, for example, social media exploded with tweets and posts about the singer, from tributes to mental health awareness campaigns.  Yet when Joe Public from down the street died?  Nothing.

Granted, the celebrities have the added bonus of the limelight and that spotlight that means people notice them.  My question, however, is why should it take a celebrity coming out with a mental health struggle before anyone raises their voice?  Why shouldn’t we be campaigning for better mental health care for the individuals struggling?

Why do we sit back apathetically?

Supporting the Individual

The heading says it all, really.  We need to be supporting the individual more because for every Chester Bennington or Robin Williams, there are plenty of people dying from suicide every day.  What are we doing to support them?  No, scratch that…what are you doing to support them?

That’s right, I asked what you are doing to support them.

Because it’s personal.

It’s individual.

It always was.

It always will be.

We need to be caring for the individuals, making our mental health campaigns long-term missions, not something that spikes every time a celebrity dies by suicide.  How many more deaths will it take before we realise this?  Realistically enough is enough, we need to make the change!

But we won’t, will we?

Because no one cares about the individual.

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Dirty Little Secret

What Makes You So Uncomfortable?

One thing Alex and I have received commentary on is the image we use for our Understanding Self-Harm page. We’ve had a few people comment that they fear it will be triggering, that the sight of someone’s arms with healed scars will encourage them to cut. The interesting thing is these comments have not come solely from sufferers, they have predominantly come from people with little to no experience of mental health.  The sufferers I have spoken to both on social media and the real world have said that an image like that was NOT triggering at all. It didn’t encourage the need to cut. If anything, it showed that you can get to a point where the cuts will heal. Cutting can stop. So the dirty little secret seems to be that it’s not because of a fear of triggering. People don’t like the image because it makes them uncomfortable.

The Dirty Little Secret

I have self-harm scars. There, I’ve said it. I have scars on my stomach, arms and legs that I inflicted upon myself when my mental health was in a pretty poor state.  My recovery is happening day by day, with the help of medication despite a woeful lack of contact from my therapist. (I haven’t had a session with her since November due to her cancelling) In that time I’ve had two instances of self-harm and whilst that sounds bad, neither relapse was as serious as previously.  I’ve been able to get past them with the support of Alex and my family. But my scars are very visible if I’m not vigilant in keeping them covered.

And I do. I hide them from everyone if I can, even from the man I love and who loves me. It’s not from a fear of triggering someone (my partner has had issues with self-harm too), but from the stigma and judgement that arises when people encounter self-harm scarring. Self harm is now a dirty little secret. I hide how my depression has manifested because of the reactions from others. My previous partner would make me feel guilty, shout at me and generally make me humiliated that I’d harmed myself. When I should have been treated with understanding and care, I was treated with anger and disgust.

Image result for dirty little secret self harm

Why Do People Judge?

As a society people are not good with difference. There is an ingrained aversion to anything that does not conform as what we think of as ‘normal’.  There is a prevalent (and worrying) trend for a certain type of body image. Whether it’s ripped abs or being a size 6 with DD breasts, there is increasing pressure from media of all forms to appear a certain way. And scars do not fit in with that.

I’ll give you an example; look at the picture below. It was circulated on  Facebook as the woman featured had chosen rather than undergo painful reconstructive surgery after a double mastectomy, to have a beautiful tattoo celebrating that she survived breast cancer.  This picture of her breast-less, tattooed body was posted and very quickly there was a backlash. People complained that it was obscene, gross, wrong and Facebook responded by getting the picture removed.

Image result for mastectomy tattoos

Why Exactly?

There is an almost daily stream of semi-nudity (in some cases full nudity) of numerous celebrities. That’s ok, but someones survival of breast cancer is not? The truth of this dirty little secret is society doesn’t like to be reminded of illness. Whether it’s cause is mental, disease based or genetic, there are people who cannot bear to see the physical manifestations of illness.

In the same way some cancer sufferers wear a wig to hide their hair loss, self-harmers cover their scars because of the judgement and embarrassment they face from the world. We are ill. Self harm is a physical symptom of mental health problems. I have never come across a true sufferer of depression  where the need to hurt themselves was instigated by an image of someone else’s scars. What drives you to pick up a blade, or scratch or any other method is within you. It can be a need for self destruction, self-hatred, a release from anxiety or from numbness. It is NOT because you’ve seen some scars.

So maybe we need to look at it this way. An image is not triggering. It’s just making you uncomfortable to see something that you’d prefer didn’t exist. But depression, anxiety, self-harm; they all exist and pretending they don’t is just as harmful to sufferers as if you’d handed them the blade yourself.

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Episode 19 – Inaction’s Iniquity

Sometimes we might think we can get away with sitting back and doing nothing.  If we don’t get involved, it’s not our problem, right?  Unfortunately that makes us just as culpable as if we deliberately did the wrong thing.  Join me for this episode where I follow on from how we are meant to take ownership of our problems.

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Episode 18 – If Not Us, Then Who?

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One Day Too Late

Too Late

Have you ever been late?  Perhaps to a meeting or to an event where you’re running five or ten minutes behind?  Sometimes it’s because of the traffic to get to the place, holding you up even over that careful margin you added to ensure you wouldn’t be too late.  Maybe it was the kids dragging their feet out the door that made you late.  Or maybe you’re just one of these people who has almost no concept of time, running behind for everything.

Of all the things I regret the most, I do...I’m sure we’ve all been late at some point in our lives, but have we ever been too late?  It could be the theatre where the doors are closed five minutes before a performance.  Or it could be a one-off event like a wedding that we’ve missed.  Whether it’s our fault or not – uncontrollable things like traffic or maybe we just forgot about the event so missed it – being too late can be hurtful, both to others and ourselves.

Being too late is something I’m becoming increasingly familiar with…

Too Little, Too Late

I’m sure we all know this phrase.  Unfortunately, it’s one that is going through my mind more and more recently.  Whether it’s in reference to a situation one of my friends is going through, or surfacing in my thoughts when particular people get in touch, it’s something I keep thinking of.

To add some context, I used to be heavily involved in a particular group.  They shall, of course, remain unnamed for anonymity.  Since my depression hit, my involvement has stopped, as I found myself unable to continue with the commitments while I was struggling.  You would expect that people would then be chasing you, asking what was going on, how you were doing and so on.  Needless to say, they did, but it died quickly.  A few weeks of concern, then nothing for months.  Well, nothing but sporadic contact.

Now, people wonder what the problem is, why I get so frustrated with this and turn quite angry.  The problem is exactly what it says at the top of this heading: it’s too little, too late.

When you’re struggling with mental health, you need supportive people around you to help you get through it.  When people disappear, making you feel like you’re too much trouble to bother with, and then suddenly reappear later on, all caring and kind, it is a little too late.

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Cinderella

I’m reminded of a song that I really, really like.  It’s by a guy called Steven Curtis Chapman and it’s titled Cinderella.  The chorus quite simply says:

So I will dance with Cinderella,
While she is here in my arms.
‘Cause I know something the Prince never knew.
Oh I will dance with Cinderella,
I don’t want to miss even one song.
‘Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight,
And she’ll be gone…

It's been a long day and there's still work to do, she's pulling at me saying: "Dad I need you."The song itself was written after Steven had been putting his two youngest daughters – Stevey Joy and Maria Sue – to bed.  The two girls had been stalling him all night by putting on their Cinderella gowns.  He particularly remembered hurrying them because he needed to go do some studio work.  After walking out, he felt drawn to write the song because he found himself remembering how he had rushed through some of the moments of his eldest daughter’s childhood because of his career.

Months later, his youngest daughter, Maria Sue, was killed in an accident in their driveway.  The song took on a whole new meaning for Steven, as it was a testimony of how quickly things can change, how frail life is.

Time To Act

Life is frail.  Life is short.  How often do we rush through things or how often are we too late?  We need to act now because who knows when it will be too late.  Those words we want to say to others, those things we want to do for someone…say and do them now.

With depression, suicidal thoughts can be a side-effect of the condition.  Some people do decide to end their lives.  What if, while you were putting it off, they did that?  What if you were one day too late?  Could you live with that?

So say the things you want to say, do the things you want to do!  Be there for the people who need you most.  Don’t do it tomorrow, do it today.

Because tomorrow could be one day too late.

'Cause tomorrow could be one day too late...

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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.