Alex and The Joker

*This post comes with a potential trigger warning as there are some elements that readers might find triggering.*

This post is the one mentioned in Episode 16 of the PBTS Podcast, taken from my old blog when I originally started writing.  To listen to the podcast, find it here.

The Joker

I tell awful jokes. Really awful ones. I’ve mentioned my humour before because it’s a coping mechanism, a way of getting through the day. It was one of two things that got me through work yesterday and quite often it’s a big part of my mask. I hide behind the jokes, the puns, the humour. That way they can’t see me breaking inside. If you look happy enough and smile enough, people just assume everything is ok, even when it isn’t. They won’t push too hard to find out what’s wrong because, to look at you, they’d say nothing is wrong. So it works well. In fact…sometimes it works too well.
Often I find that the jokes are just getting me through by putting a smile (or a grimace) on other people’s faces…it doesn’t really help me because I don’t find them funny. If anything, I’d say I’m not a funny guy because I don’t feel the funny side of things much anymore. Another thing to add to the list of how broken I am. On the surface I seem to be a joker, playing for the laughs and trying to get people to smile but deep down I’m anything but. Deep down I’m chaos.

Oddly enough, I’ve been thinking a little bit about the Joker from the Batman films over the past couple of days. I watched a clip on YouTube of some of the iconic film moments that are actually accidental, where something didn’t go according to plan and the reaction was so good and so genuine that the filmmaker kept it in the final cut. I find that the Joker has some of the best lines, lines that I can relate to…which is both good and scary at the same time. One such example would be when he asks “Wanna know how I got these scars”…although I think you all know the answer to that.

“Wanna Know How I Got These Scars…?”

I’ll be honest with you: I feel absolutely awful today. Mind is playing up in overdrive, head is almost hurting and my chest is tight and nothing seems to be going right. Not to mention the pain that I’m in both physically and mentally, which is slowly doing my head in. I’m in such a way today that I’ve locked myself in the flat, I haven’t got the motivation or desire to go anywhere. I don’t want to see anyone. I don’t want to do anything.
Well, earlier I was chatting with my friend PJ and I got quite irritated. Not with her but with other people. While we were messaging, I suddenly said a couple of people had made me think of the Joker. In the scene in the hospital when Harvey Dent (Two-Face) is recovering from the explosion that turned him into the villain, the Joker says this:

“You know…you know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go ‘according to plan’. Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics because it’s all ‘part of the plan’. But when I say that one little old mayor will die…well then everyone loses their minds!”

I can relate. Supposedly I was meant to somewhere and I really didn’t feel up to it. Effectively, yet again, I’ve let people down because I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. What irritated me, though, is that none of those people noticed that I was struggling, they didn’t message me asking where I was until today. Last week I was at my parents’ and wasn’t meant to be there so when they didn’t see me it was “all part of the plan”. Suddenly, when I’m not there because I feel awful, they all want to know how I am and where I am. Seriously? It’s like a bad joke. In the majority of times, the minute people want something from you, that’s when they start acting all concerned and messaging and finding out how you are. Otherwise they forget about you and don’t bother unless you message them and even then sometimes they don’t bother. I’ve been told that someone is too busy to reply to a message once before, where that person told me their life was too busy to be messaging me. Considering at that point I had no one else to turn to, that cut.

The Joker and I

So…wanna know how I got these scars? Want to know why I’m drawing further and further in on myself? Want to know why this blog is full of depressing stories of how crushed, broken and alone I feel? Look no further. For every word you’ve read, every conversation you’ve skipped over with me because you’ve been “too busy” is stored up ready to explode and maybe one day it’ll be too late, maybe one day I won’t be around. Perhaps I turned to you because I had no one else…did that get considered? Or perhaps I didn’t message because I couldn’t bring myself to message. But I don’t think that would have even crossed your minds…

Already today my phone has been shoved to one side because I’m getting messages from people who would otherwise be ignoring me, too wrapped up in their busy lives to bother finding out who I am and it’s pushing me further and further down. It takes five minutes at most to send a message to find out how someone is, why is it only when they’re not there that you notice?

Yes, this is a bit of a rant but I feel that bad today that I’m past caring. Why should I feel bad for feeling this way when no one else takes any regard of me? Granted, there are some exceptions (you know who you are) but in the majority of people, why is it so hard? I sit here with around 300 scars that I’ve collected over the past few weeks but I’m fairly certain that not many of you would notice or ask how it’s going, even if you’ve read it on here. Why is it so hard to talk to me? I’m broken, I’m bloody, I’m a mess and I’ve almost given up trying…what does it say about you if you’re too busy to be the helping hand that I’m desperately reaching out for?
Or are you just too busy?

“When I’m not supposed to be there, no one thinks of me when I don’t turn up because it’s all ‘part of the plan’. But when I’m supposed to be there and I’m not? Then everyone suddenly loses their minds.”

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Episode 16 – The Joker

Time for a little bit of my journey in here! Fans of Batman will invariably know the Joker, whether it’s Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson or Mark Hamill or anyone else, they will know him.  Others will undoubtedly know the aforementioned character but how does this fit in with me?  Well, I’m a bit of a Joker and there are a lot of things about him that I’ve found I identify with over the years.  Why not take a listen and find out?

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The Joker Post: http://pushingbacktheshadows.com/2017/12/07/alex-and-the-joker/

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Why I’m a Christian but Have a Problem With Religion

Being a Depressed Christian

As someone who has been a Christian for more or less my whole life, has pastors for parents and a brother who holds a degree in theology (though this post is not about them), this post is incredibly hard for me to write.  For some, it might be equally hard to read but it’s one of those things that I feel needs to be said.  Let’s walk.

Those of you who follow this blog regularly may have seen my series about Inside My Head, where I delve deep into my journey, into my mind, and look at some of the things that constitute me.  If you followed that series, you would have come across part 5 where I talk about how my faith affects my mental health.  In a nutshell, how being a Christian doesn’t make everything hunky dory, how I will still struggle and how that’s OK.  My life isn’t perfect, I’m not perfect and I don’t have to be.

But that doesn’t mean life as a depressed Christian is easy.

Mental Health and the Church

Throughout history, the church has done a lot of good work through it’s charitable actions.  That said, it’s also done a lot of negative things.  You might immediately think of it’s stance on homosexuality which, up until fairly recently, has been very against it.  Female bishops has been another one it is reasonably unpopular for.  As with any organisation or religious body, there will be things it does brilliantly and things it does poorly.  Well, I want to highlight one of those things.

Mental health has always been stigmatised in churches.  It’s one thing that the Christian community, particularly, isn’t so good at talking about.  Take depression, for example: for a long time, the attitude towards depression in church has been “if you’re depressed, you don’t believe enough”.  In other words, your faith is lacking if you suffer from depression because how can you believe in the Almighty God who created the Heavens and the Earth if you are depressed?  From their approach: you can’t.  Pure and simple.

Take these for example:

What do you think?  Do you read them the same way I do?

Mental Health and My Church

Now, this is a subject that I’ve steered pretty clear of since starting Pushing Back the Shadows, because I’m the type of person who doesn’t want to offend others.  I think, however, the time has come to bring it into the light.  Yes, it will offend some people but I’m sorry, I have to make others aware.

You already know that churches can sometimes be the worst offenders for mental health stigmatisation, as I’ve already mentioned.  When we say this, however, we think of the church as a whole.  Christians in their collective.  What about the individual churches?  Mine is going to remain unnamed and I won’t mention any names of any people but I just want to tell you a little bit about that.

As you know, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety back in August 2016, but I was struggling before then.  Part of juggling my full-time job in the bank and managing everything else meant I was exhausted and I reached a stage where I felt as though I had no energy.  Consequently, I started missing services because, when it came to the weekends, I was that tired that I couldn’t get myself out of bed.  I was absent from a lot of things and it shocked me how long people took to care.

At this stage, I should also point out that at least seven people I can think of in my church have depression.  You would think they would understand.  Apparently not.  It seems that as soon as it became apparent it was a long-term problem, a deep-rooted one that was going to take a lot of fixing, people didn’t want to know.  It makes it hard.

Putting the Onus On

When I disappeared, I was shocked by the response I had.  Originally I had almost no messages.  Then, as the weeks dragged by, I started to get a few messages from people who had noticed my absence.  “Hope you’re OK.”  “Hope to see you soon.”  Those sorts of niceties.  As the problem became more long-term, however, those messages dwindled until I only had two people consistently messaging me.  Now, as I write this, I only have one person who messages me on a regular basis to check if I’m alright.

When I mention this, the first thing they say is that they don’t hear from me.  Those of you struggling with depression and anxiety know how hard it is, sometimes, to reach out and send a message to someone else.  You feel like a burden, you feel unwanted, so why would you?  But it’s my fault for not messaging, evidently.  It links directly into what I said about putting the onus on the person who is struggling.  They always say that I know they’re there for me, that they are doing all they can…but are they?

I do get messages occasionally from other people in the church.  Most of the time, though, it’s because they want something.  Sometimes it comes with the preamble of a “how are you” or something along those lines but, more often than not, it’s straight to brass tacks.  Quite frankly, it hurts.

Mental Health and Being Christian

At the end of the day, the church does have a fair amount to improve upon regarding mental health.  Whether you have faith as small as that mustard seed or whether you believe wholeheartedly, God will not solve your depression in a heartbeat.  It might not be a part of His plan.  He may have a different purpose for it.  That may sound cruel but think of it in the same way you would an operation.  Some live-saving operations will come with pain and perhaps months of rehabilitation, yet they are done for that important reason that, in itself, is positive.  Think of it like that.

American Christian Christy Wimber had one of the most refreshing approaches to this that I’ve come across.  She said that, in today’s modern age, mental illness was a tool used by the Devil and that this whole notion of “if you are not healed, your faith is not strong enough” was a load of rubbish.  I find myself agreeing with that, as depression and anxiety and all the other mental illnesses have absolutely nothing – that’s right ABSOLUTELY NOTHING – to do with your faith.

My Message

If you’re a Christian or a member of any other religion struggling with mental illness, let me remind you that it’s OK to struggle.  I do everyday and that doesn’t make me any less of a Christian.  But my challenge is for any members of churches reading this: step up to the mark.  Be the support that the church is meant to be.  Designate people to maintain contact with others, instead of leaving it all to the pastor or all to the person struggling.  We, as Christians, are called to serve others, to help them and to show the love of Jesus to other people.  Personally, I believe this is sorely lacking.

We need to be better.

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Words Hurt

Sticks and Stones

I remember as a child so often being told the old adage ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’. It’s something that’s trotted out so often to victims of bullying when they’re young. The idea that name calling isn’t somehow as damaging as physical violence gets ingrained from the playground upwards, and realistically it’s an attitude that needs to change. Whether you think it’s trivial or not; words hurt.

So many of the people I encounter on Twitter with mental health issues, either have been bullied, or worse are being bullied due to their condition. And this isn’t just children, and it’s not just in schools. It’s adults, in the workplace, on-line and in their own homes. People who are already vulnerable are being scarred even further by psychological damage inflicted by others. I should know. I’m one of them.

We Need To See That Words Hurt

I know as part of my own journey that I need to learn how to forgive those who hurt me, to move on and grow from it. I’m not talking about those people who inadvertently make a mistake and hurt my feelings. If Alex is snappish because of his mental health, I know that it is not meant. He’s not deliberately tried to hurt me or upset me. Usually by talking things through we can work things out again. We look at what happened and see what we can do about it for the future.

No, I’m talking about the times when someone uses names or insults to deliberately hurt you. To undermine you. Especially when they do this to make themselves feel better or more in control. These people are toxic. I have experience of people like this. I am the product of years of certain individuals who thought it was okay to abuse others like that. It eroded me, it broke me. Yet it was invisible to everyone around me.

The scars I’ve inflicted upon myself have been driven by my own self-loathing.  It’s a strong self-hatred that has been reinforced by these individuals confirming that everything bad about myself that my dark passenger whispers to me is true.  It’s a hard habit to break. But I’m trying.

Your Words Can End A Life

I’m serious. They really can. How many young lives have ended in suicide because of bullying? Far too many. It’s a tragedy we see over and over again. And it needs to stop. Zero tolerance of bullying in schools, the workplace, or online should mean exactly that. Zero tolerance. We need to be educating even earlier about the power of words, building it into our daily lives. Just being more mindful and if we see bullying going on, take a stand against it.  Not just sit by and let it happen. Bullying crosses so easily into abuse and it’s effects are devastating.  We have to scrap the old ‘sticks and stones’ and move forwards by recognising that words hurt. The wrong ones can kill.

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Episode 15 – Relapse

Relapse

Whenever we go through recovery or treatment for an illness, there is a chance that we will relapse.  For most people, they beat themselves up because they’ve relapsed.  They think they should be better than that, should be stronger than that, yet in reality it’s OK to relapse.  Join Alex as he talks about his own relapse and how relapsing should really be viewed.

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Relapse: http://pushingbacktheshadows.com/2017/07/24/relapse/

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To Have Great Expectations

I’d like to ask you a question today.  Before I do, let me tap into it a little bit first.  It’s all about expectations.  Let’s take a look.

Great Expectations

Did you ever read Great Expectations when you were at school?  The wonderful novel by Charles Dickens?  When I was in year 10 or 11, we had to read this book as part of our English GCSE.  I suppose it wasn’t so bad really, a crazy old lady and a young lad who then grows up.  It certainly had its moments.  Still, it seems like a wonderful title for this post, so I’m going to roll with it.

Great ExpectationsWe all have our expectations of what things will be like.  Job interviews, new schools, challenges and so on, we all know what we think they will be like.  In some cases, we build up those ideas in our head, allowing our expectations to take hold of us until we are either overly excited or overly terrified of the upcoming event.

How do we manage those expectations though?  Particularly when it comes to mental health, we can have such vast expectations that it’s difficult to know what to do with them.

Medication

This is perhaps the biggest area that people ask me what my expectations are.  Whenever I’ve felt as though my medication isn’t working, both doctors and my parents will say: “Well, what exactly are you expecting it to do?”  It’s as if I might be expecting too much from it.  After all, medication is only meant to alleviate symptoms, it’s not meant to fix the problem.

So what do I expect?  Well, in my journey, I find that I tend to bounce a lot.  A bit like a yo-yo, I go from somewhere high in the sky to somewhere down in the depths without much in between.  As a result, I expect my medication to level me out a bit.  Lessen the gap between the highs and the lows, so to speak.  Is that too much to ask?

Sometimes it does feel as though I expect too much from it.  That said, we do that, don’t we?  We often set our expectations too high and then we find that we’re disappointed later on.  A horrible feeling, but one that I’m sure we’re all used to.

Your Expectations

Over to you.  What sort of things do you find you set your expectations highly on?  If you’ve been diagnosed with depression or anxiety, what did you expect from that?  How have those expectations changed over the months?  Get in touch, let us know.  Stay tuned for my upcoming post where I talk about managing those problems where we are expecting too much or too little from things.  In the meantime, drop us a message or a comment.

See you soon!

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The Light of Hope

‘Tis The Season

So it’s official. We’re in December and the countdown to Christmas has begun. It’s okay to start playing Christmas music and put up your tree (even if I still think it’s too early!). The chaos of shopping is well underway. It should be all jolly and bright, right? Unfortunately, no. For some it’s not. This time of year can be hard, the dark mornings and early evenings can exacerbate S.A.D, the almost enforced jolliness and pressure can make anxiety and depression worse. If you suffer with mental health issues it can be incredibly lonely and isolating at this time of year. So I wanted to give you a little gift if you are a sufferer, the light of hope.

So, okay at this point you probably think I’ve lost it completely. But let me explain. We’ve just finished our Very Mental Christmas week, our aim being to share hints and tips to help mental health sufferers through the Christmas period. I do advise you check it out if you haven’t already! But one thing that has come out is how fearful some of these sufferers are of the holidays. I know that fear. I feel it too. It looms up like a huge dark cloud; the endless what ifs, the pressure of perfection, the stresses of finances, family squabbles over whose turn it is to host. Instead of being a time of peace and goodwill it becomes a monster waiting to rip us to shreds. When you are already struggling it feels utterly overwhelming.

From Darkness to Light

One thing that many people don’t realize is that Christmas day was designated as 25th December to coincide with the old pagan festivals of the winter solstice.  In a bid to win over new believers to the Christian faith, some of the pagan traditions were carried over. One of the most recognizable is the Christmas tree, originally a green bough dragged into the home and burnt to bring light to the dark. An offering to the gods with the hope that winter would end soon and warmth and light would return to the people.

Sometimes when you are battling with depression, your mind can feel like it’s stuck in an eternal, long winter. It’s cold and dark and feels relentless. It’s why that little bit of light, that glimmer of hope is so important. Someday the sun will return, it might not be tomorrow but it will come back. We just have to hold on to hope.

The Light of Hope

So, to all of you. Don’t try for the ‘perfect’ Christmas. Just have your Christmas, your way. Make time for your self-care, even if you have to be selfish to get it. Go easy on yourself. It’s ok not to be okay and if you need some encouragement, you can find some here. Hope can be a powerful thing, and while things may not be good now, it can get better. On Christmas night I’m going to light a candle as reminder of the light of hope: the hope that the darkness in my head will fade, that the new year will be better. That even though it’s winter now, it won’t be forever.

I’ll just leave you with this. It’s from one of my favourite Christmas songs and it’s my hope for the coming year.

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light. Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.’

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A Very Mental Christmas – Day 6 Podcast

Christmas Day

Do you struggle with managing your mental health at Christmas?  Do depression and anxiety keep you from enjoying the festive period?  Join Alex and Cheryl as they bring you their top tips for making it through a very mental Christmas!

Today is the day, the big day is here! Join Alex and Cheryl as they talk about how to cope with Christmas day, what you can do to ensure you get through the day without any mental breakdowns.

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A Very Mental Christmas – Day 6

Christmas Day

Click to Access the Podcast!Access the Pushing Back the Shadows Podcast here for the latest episode!

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A Very Mental Christmas – Day 5 Podcast

Family Fandangos

Do you struggle with managing your mental health at Christmas?  Do depression and anxiety keep you from enjoying the festive period?  Join Alex and Cheryl as they bring you their top tips for making it through a very mental Christmas!

Spending time with family can be a wonderful thing but sometimes it can be difficult, particularly when struggling with mental health issues.  How do we make it through a Christmas family gathering?  When things get loud, we can struggle.  Join Alex and Cheryl as Alex talks about last Christmas, his breakdown and how he suggests you can get through it this year!

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