Looking for the Positives

Positivity and Depression

It’s something we’ve touched on before, the idea that simply being positive will cure depression. It’s something that any sufferer will at some point face. Someone well-meaning will point out all the good things you have going for you in effort to somehow snap you out of the darkness. If it were truly that simple would depression even exist? This is not to say we shouldn’t keep looking for the positives as a way of getting through, but waving them at people like some magic cure isn’t going to work either.

Recently, someone close to me, in an effort to ‘snap me out of it’ during a depressive episode, did try the ‘you’ve got so much to be happy about’ approach. It didn’t work. If anything, it made me feel worse. In my head it translated to ‘you have so much to be happy about, so why aren’t you? You’re so ungrateful.’ All the things they pointed out to me as my reasons to be happy, my relationship, my children, my job, my home; it’s not like I don’t appreciate and am grateful every day for the things I have. I am incredibly thankful for all the wonderful things in my life. But having them all pointed out to me as if I don’t appreciate all these things already hurt a great deal.

I Don’t Go Looking for the Positives

I know what the positives in my life are. I do. A depressive episode doesn’t change that. Yes, it can make it harder to see them, but they’re still there. I know they’re there. Reminding me isn’t going to shift the feelings that depression creates. Because I want to make something very clear; depression is not simply being unhappy. This is something that some people forget. It is an illness. Would you ask someone with a broken leg to be positive to make it better? Of course not!

Positivity does have it’s place with mental health. But it is personal. Other people telling you what to be positive about is not going to help. I don’t go looking for positives. I just take some time each day to remind myself what I see as the positives. And I change them regularly as part of an exercise that my counsellor and I have devised. And right now I’m going through a difficult patch, I’m struggling because my mental health is not at it’s best. But that’s okay. Like with any illness, there are times when we feel a bit worse than others. Right now, I’m not so good. But I’m doing what I can to get me through. I have the tools, I have the support I need and thankfully work are being understanding.

A Little Tip or Two

It’s not due to a lack of looking for the positives that has created this episode. It’s a culmination of things going on in my life, feeding into the illness and amplifying things so I feel like it’s crushing me. This does not mean I am ungrateful or unseeing of the positive aspects in my life, if anything it makes me even more grateful. I see the good things probably even more clearly than you do. To me, they are in technicolor compared with the insidious monster that slithers through my head.

So next time you’re helping someone with depression, rather than sit there and list all the things they have to be happy about. Just talk to them. Let them go looking for the positives themselves. By all means praise something about them that you like, encourage them. But please, PLEASE, don’t go telling a sufferer all the things they should be positive about, because in all honesty it does more harm than good.

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The Little Things

To You It May Seem Stupid

Sometimes it can be the smallest, most seemingly insignificant things that can trigger a person. Likewise it can be the tiny acts that you make as a supporter of a sufferer of depression that can make all the difference; that can turn a bad day into something survivable. This weekend I am struggling. I did everything I can to prepare for it as I knew this weekend would be hard. It’s been a year to the day since my dad collapsed and never woke up again. I have tried to do all the things I know will help me cope. All the little things I would suggest to someone who was facing a hurdle like this. Spending time with friends and family in the safe space of my home has been a help. We’ve laughed, I’ve cooked, I’ve spent time doing daft little acts to make others smile, but that aching, gnawing is just devouring me. It feels like my heart has turned into heavy, weighted stone, and is dragging me backwards into the dark. I know that this is part of grief, aided and abetted by depression having a field day, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

Don’t Under-Estimate the Importance of the Little Things

It’s the little things that are both helping me and flooring me this weekend. The simple act of my sister sending a photo collage she’d printed of my dad was beautiful. Standing in the bathroom of my mother’s home and seeing that a year on and my dad’s razor still sits on the bathroom shelf, broke my heart. As I stood there, I picked up the can of body-spray of his that was also still there. Just holding it close to my nose and for a moment it conjured up a huge sense of him. The scent I was so used to smelling, bringing back a flood of memories. Him and mum getting ready to go out for an evening with friends. My son proudly announcing he was clean after a sleepover at his grandparents, when in actuality all he’d done was liberally sprayed himself with his granddad’s Lynx.

So many of what some people would see as small, insignificant things. Nothing worthy of getting upset over. Yet I have been so low that I have struggled to keep from crying since I woke this morning.

The Flip Side

There is also the flip side. The little things that have made it okay. Spending half an hour snuggled in bed with Alex and Little ‘Un watching ‘ Scooby-Doo: Where Are You?’ this morning helped more than I think he realised. Hugs from those I love. Being given the space to be quiet if I needed it. A cup of tea just placed by my side without a word.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is whether someone is grieving or battling their own black dog (or like me are trying to deal with both) then the little things matter. The little acts of kindness that can be made, even if it’s just a phone call or a text can make a huge difference. These things help to counterbalance all the little things that can sneak up on someone and knock them to the floor.  After all what may seem like nothing to you, could be the thing that makes someone else’s heart break into pieces.

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Let it Be

A Revelation

Now, while I do identify myself as a Christian, I don’t know if I’d be classified as a good one. I drifted away from church as a teenager and have only in the last few years come back to it (albeit to a very different church to the Church of England  I walked away from). But throughout, I’ve still had faith. Belief in that higher power that helps us be more. Now, I don’t care if you have faith or not, or what in; that’s your choice. But for me, today I had a revelation. It was something quite a few people had already told me, but the speaker today had been driven to bring a message. Let it be.

Now, no he didn’t stand there and specifically start quoting The Beatles, but was more talking about how much we strive to be defined and accepted. How we judge ourselves and others by what they do,when actually we need to accept who we are. God loves us unconditionally as we are. Rather than fighting to be more, or to get others to recognise our status, we need to just be.

Your Approval is Not Required
It really hit home with both me and Alex. For him, helping him to redefine how he perceives the work he does here at PBTS. When he’s lacking in motivation, the lack of external recognition from people close to him has made him question the validity of what he’s doing. After all, blogging is not what people look at as a ‘proper’ job, no matter how much work he puts in. But does it matter what others think? It’s what he feels called to do. He reaches out to people struggling with depression and other mental illnesses every day on Twitter and Facebook.

He’s a listening ear to those who need it, when they need it most. Listening to the speaker this morning it bought it home, that the approval and support of those who don’t see it as a ‘real’ job isn’t really necessary. From day one, he’s felt called to do this and that alone gives it worth. So instead of fighting for the approval he’s going to let it be. He cannot force others to see the value in his work, but that does not devalue what he does.

I Need to learn to Let it Be

For me, it drove something else home. I mentioned in a previous post how someone in my life had recently inflicted a great deal of hurt on me. That no matter what I did, or how hard I tried, nothing was good enough. Because they are important to me, I kept fighting. Kept trying, giving them what they wanted to get it thrown back in my face again and again. My depressive side had a field day with it. I was obviously not good enough. A failure. It heaped the blame on to my shoulders alone. Which in turn was driving me to try harder and harder to get this persons’ approval and affection.

So many people had said to me that I was fighting too hard. If anything by fighting so hard it was having the opposite effect and driving this person even further away. For a long time I couldn’t hear it.

Backing Off

But I’d started to back off in recent weeks. I’d accepted that the acquiescing to every single demand they made wasn’t making any difference. So why was I doing that? I remember sitting with Alex one evening saying how I didn’t know what else I could do, what more could I change ? The answer was so simple. Let it be. I have done everything I can and more. This does not mean I’m bad, I am a good person, this is not something I can force to change. I have to let this individual come to terms with their own issues on their terms. The moment I realised that, things began to get better. I felt better. I’ve accepted how I am; I will always help someone when they call, but that does not mean I have to fix everything for others. It’s just not realistically possible. And that does not make me a bad person or a failure.

It’s not easy to remember that when you have mental health issues. You are not defined by how others treat you, it defines them. If they behave poorly, do as the Beatles suggest, “let it be”.

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Who I Am

Who Am I ?

At one time or another, everyone faces this question. Sometimes we follow it up with who do I want to be or where do I see my self in 5 years, but the starting point is always, who am I? It’s sometimes that big philosophical moment, that moment of addressing the human condition or even a self-inspection of our own souls. Yet it is the bedrock of who we are. That core of what makes who up who I am. So who am I?

Now I could list the things I am.  A mum, a daughter, a partner, a call centre worker. I am depressed. Is that me?

No.

Who I am is so much more, even if I don’t see it myself a lot of the time.

Getting To The Crux

So what’s got me thinking about all this? Well, to do that I’ve got to tell you a little story. Someone in my life who I love very much has hurt me, repeatedly in the last few months, someone who I would never have thought would. Called me unforgivable things. Rejected me and Alex when we’ve tried to reach out to them. Ignored us for weeks on end. This person has promised over and over that they’ll change, that they’re sorry and that they won’t do it again, to then repeat the whole process, again and again. It’s been agonising for both of us.  Believe me, there is a lot of anger both in me and Alex about this.

Then this morning, a call came. This person needed help. Nothing huge, but they needed a lift and they called me. So what did I do?

Now you could ( quite rightly) argue that I told this person to swing their hook. They’ve hurt me and those who I love, over and over. Why should I help them?

Because at the crux of me, that is who I am. Who I am is the person that if someone calls and says they need help, I help. No matter how much they’ve hurt me. I am the person who will answer that call, go out in the dark to take a friend food when they haven’t eaten, lend money when I don’t really have it to give. Buy someone a gift they can’t afford for themselves because I know it will help lift them out of the darkness.

It’s who I am.

I know, it’s annoying as anything. Because more often than not I will end up getting hurt again. But does that mean I won’t help? No. Does it mean I have forgotten or forgiven those actions? Definitely a NO. Believe me, you have no idea of the anger I felt this morning when this call came. It would have been very easy to leave them stranded.

But as I say, that’s not who I am. It doesn’t make me better or worse than anyone else. It certainly doesn’t mean I’ve forgiven their actions. (they may have had quite an earful about it on the car ride) It’s just, this is me. It’s conflicting and annoying and it can contribute to my mental health issues in a terrible way sometimes. The impact of having people you care about you use and abuse you can be huge. I am learning to build up walls to that, but it’s slow.  And it goes for everyone in my life.

Now I know that I’ve mentioned the movie ‘Moana’ before, but one of the lines from my favourite songs in the movie looks at the issue of who you are.

“Who am I? I am the girl who loves my island, and the girl who loves the sea. It calls me…………..I am everything I’ve learned and more”

For the character loving her island and the sea is conflicting and even against the wishes of her parents. They are angry and fearful that she will be hurt because of her fathers own experiences. I get that. I see why Alex is so angry with the people who hurt me, it reminds him too much of his own hurts. But does it mean I should change one of the core things of who I am? One of the things that he loves about me?

I truly hope not.

Like I said, I have not forgiven or forgotten. I am learning. But this part of me, no I won’t change it. It’s who I am.

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Trying to Change

Is Change Possible?

Something that I frequently find myself thinking is what will it take for my mental health to truly recover? I get tired of trying to change and it seems to be an incredibly long journey.  Little things can knock me backwards. Yet everyone says that compared with how I was, I am vastly improved. I don’t feel it though.  But I keep trying, over and over. I do the exercises and activities I’ve learned from counselling over and over, along with taking my medication. A broken leg would be healed by now, but my broken mind? Apparently not. Only recently, it took everything in my power not to end up back self-harming. The crawling shadow of depression has been haunting me for days and I’m exhausted from fighting it. So why do I do it? Why do I keep trying to change what seems to be inevitable?

Stubbornness: My Greatest Character Flaw

One thing many people say about me, is that I’m stubborn. It can be one of my less desirable traits.  Like my dad before me, I dig my heels in and won’t back down. One of his favourite songs when I was a teenager was by a band called Chumbawumba, it inspired him to keep going with his small business even in the face of increasing odds of failure. It kept him going. Last year when he was in a coma after collapsing I played this song to him over and over, trying to get him to come back to us. Sadly, the truth was he’d already gone.

After his death last year, I truly thought I would not recover. My mental health was already devastated. Losing my dad on top plunged me even further into the darkness. But I kept hearing that song. The same line, over and over.

I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never going to keep me down.

Every time I think about giving up trying to change my mental health state, I hear this song. Like a whisper from heaven, I hear it and see my dad, telling me not to give up.

Keep Trying to Change, because it’s Time for Change

The reason I keep trying to change is that I want to show that even when you may not ever be cured of a mental health problem, you can change enough of your behaviours to manage it. You can be the person to break down the stigma surrounding mental health by talking about it. By sharing my experience I have come into contact with countless others, and we’ve learnt from each other, supported each other. These are changes I want to continue making. By sharing my story at work, it’s helped others step up and voice their concerns over mental health and how it’s treated in the workplace. To make the change, we have to be the change.

So yes, it’s difficult. There are times I feel it would be easier just to sink back into the darkness. But I don’t. You don’t have to. It’s okay to have a mental health problem, no matter what it is. There will be bad days, there will be good days and that’s okay too. By being honest about it, hopefully we can bring someone else out of the darkness where they thought they were all alone.

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Fighting the Urge

A Little Context

I’ve done this for you before, given you a little snippet of what’s actually going on inside my head. Last night  was tough for me because while balancing care for partner with BPD (who was crashing) I was also fighting the urge of my own demon. But it’s important I share this with you in the same way I do the good stuff where I hope I inspire or motivate others. To show how a person with depression copes on the good days and the bad ones.

Stop my brain, I want to get off.

It’s just after 3am. I’m still awake. Again. I really don’t know why this keeps happening. I know insomnia is a symptom of depression, but I really thought I was doing better than this. But no, I back to fighting the urge to self harm, back with the dark thoughts, back to sobbing in the dark with what feels like a gnawing, aching hole in my chest. It really, really sucks.
So why am I back here? I’m well on the path to recovery if you look at the big picture. I shouldn’t be back fighting the urge to harm myself. I’ve already scratched myself, but thankfully not too badly. And in this frame of mind, why am I writing this?
I’ll be honest. It’s giving me something to focus on. My hands are busy because I’m typing. Weirdly it’s helping pull me out of it a little, because it’s oddly like talking to someone. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see me sleeping tonight. I feel truly awful. But that persistent, nagging urge has quieted. It’s taken a lot to get to this point. I’ve watched about 3 hours of That 70’s Show on Netflix, I’ve tried meditating, reading, playing a game. Believe me the thoughts are still there, but I’m fighting the urge off with everything I have at my disposal.
It Might Seem Simple to you, Fighting the Urge. It’s Not.
Now to some people it would be really simple. When it comes to this subject they think it’s a case of you just don’t do it. I really wish it worked that way. You see, the dark whisper in my ear reminding me how useless I am has been screaming tonight. A relentless torrent of abuse, over and over. Crushing me. Reminding me of how utterly worthless I am. The draw of pain to silence that voice is seductive. I can punish myself for all of my failings. After all, the darkest part of me believes I deserve it.
But I’m fighting the urge. At this point I’m not even truly clear on why. Everything else is saying to me that it’s what I deserve. Logic doesn’t really come into this. All I know is that if I succumb, I will feel worse. I will feel like a failure. I have to fight this. All I want  is to get better. No matter what the bitch in my head is saying, I have a family that loves me, a partner that loves me. I’m going to keep holding on to that tonight.
It’s time I try to attempt sleep again, so I’ll sign off now. Wish me luck!

Living With a Partner With BPD

The Ups and Downs of Living With a Partner With BPD

First off, to clear any confusion, I’m referring to borderline personality disorder, not bipolar. Two very different animals on the spectrum of mental health issues. No, I want to talk about BPD because I live  with (and love) someone who suffers with it. Living with a partner with BPD can be incredibly difficult, sometimes painful and draining. It can also be wonderful and exciting and incredibly loving.

For a long time Alex and I assumed (along with his doctor) that he was battling depression and anxiety, and yes he does have symptoms of both conditions. But when there seemed to be no obvious triggers or cause, it slowly became apparent that something else was going on. Certain aspects of how he suffered just didn’t fit. For example, the harrowing void where he literally feels nothing, not for himself or for anyone else. He’s shut off to a point where no-one can reach him. It was so vastly different from how I would describe the numbness of depression. The times where you have to be numb because otherwise your feelings would overwhelm you. It just wasn’t the same.
It was literally feelings of nothing. Not for anyone or anything. Empathy, compassion…all gone. To hear someone you love say this is how they feel is both heartbreaking and terrifying.  I’ll be honest it frightened me, and was perhaps the biggest clue that Alex was not just dealing with depression. I will be honest I genuinely feared we were looking at something more akin to him being diagnosed as a sociopath. But even I knew that didn’t really fit either. It was only after long discussions with the psychiatrist that he finally filled in the gaps and diagnosed Alex as having BPD.
What’s in Their Head
Living with BPD is exhausting and depressing for the sufferer. Their emotions are so wildly out of kilter sometimes. Part of them knows how they are behaving is not appropriate to the situation, which in turn leads to feelings of inadequacy.  They beat themselves up because they know their irritability at the world is out of proportion, they struggle to show sadness and then feel guilty because they couldn’t. They can be over-excitable to the point of annoyance. Logical one minute and chaotic the next. After seeing Alex day in, day out, struggling to cope just like this, and reading up online, it became increasingly apparent I was living with a partner with BPD. Getting the firm diagnosis from the doctor only came about after he’d talked with both of us. When I described the vast shift from highly excitable to down in the depths of despair that occurs (sometimes multiple times within an hour, let alone a day) the treatment focus moved away from depression to Borderline Personality Disorder.
But what makes it worse is how others can see it. They mistake the irritability and isolatory behaviour as rude or aggressive. They see the difficulty in expressing emotions as being narcissistic. The truth is sufferers of BPD do feel, they’re often very loving, there’s just something blocking it. Maybe fear of not being able to control it? That the emotions will so consume them they will end up in chaos ? All I know that with Alex, it’s incredibly hard for him. Being vulnerable, either with me or the children, is something that he truly struggles with. Watching him go from feeling nothing at all to emotions so intense they are crippling, is hard. There are times when it breaks my heart as I watch while he battles against it.
Know What You’re Getting Into !
Living with a partner with BPD can be extremely difficult. It will require patience, understanding and love. BPD sufferers often have issues maintaining relationships because the vast majority of people don’t bother to look past what they see. They hit the wall of irritability or emotionlessness and give up. They take it personally and write off that person as ‘a tool’ and walk away. Which then just feeds the depressive symptoms, it reinforces their feelings of inadequacy and forces them to become even more isolated.
Yet behind it is someone who loves, deeply. They care incredibly about what others feel. Their empathy for others is both a gift and a curse, because they take things very, very personally. When someone they care about walks away, someone who they would have moved mountains to help, it wounds like nothing you have ever known. So somewhere along the lines they learn an instinctive defence to just not feel. It’s better than getting hurt.
But break past that, be patient (and believe me sometimes a saint’s patience would be tested) and it’s worth it. It will be a bond like you’ve never known. Yes it will be difficult, but at their heart is someone who loves fiercely and completely, they’d defend you to the end. So don’t mix up when they’re being irritable because you didn’t answer their message as them being a tool, it’s just because to them, it hurt. It equates in their head that they’re just not important to you. A lie that their condition has constructed. But one their condition tells them daily and has sadly been reinforced by all those who walked away before you.
So, you will have to be strong. But like I said, it’s worth it. Practise your own self care.  And talk. One of the biggest ways we’ve been able to move forward is by sitting down and talking. When the irritability side of BPD has been getting the better of Alex, the fastest way to stop him in his tracks was to talk to him about it. Just a gentle reminder that we are on the same team.  Or it can be just give them some space. If they don’t want hugs, don’t. Just remind them you’re there.
My final piece of advice is that no-one is perfect at dealing with a loved one with mental health issues. I get it wrong. We all will at some time or another. The important thing is we keep trying.

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Retraining Your Brain

The Mental Workout

Something I’ve found strange whenever I leave counselling, (both group and 121) is how exhausted I feel. I leave feeling drained, I’m usually yawning away and if I can take a nap, I will! When you think about it, it makes sense. Much of what you do in counselling can be emotionally draining, but it’s also retraining your brain. Our minds are not weak, but many of the unhelpful thoughts we experience with depression and anxiety are as a result of years of learned behaviour.  Instead of accepting compliments we dismiss them,  it’s easier to believe the negative because one way or another our brains have been trained that way.

Retraining your brain is difficult. But it is possible. Its not going to always be foolproof. I know from experience that there are times when my head will go down a particular rabbit hole and there is very little I can do to change that. But what I have noticed is that while I may still fall, I don’t fall as far. Recovery from a relapse is quicker. While some people dismiss mindfulness, counselling and therapy as fluffy mumbo jumbo, it’s positive effect on mental health issues are undeniable. I speak from experience!

Retraining Your Brain Takes Time

You see, what we forget is that retraining your brain takes time, effort and perseverance. While medication can help level us out in a reasonably short space of time, the effort of overriding years of learned behaviour and negative thinking is going to be huge. When your head is so utterly convinced of your own worthlessness and has been for a while, one session of therapy is not going to magically fix you. And if we don’t persevere with the exercises and techniques between counselling sessions, how can we possibly expect to get results?

This is the part we all too easily forget. Recovery from depression and anxiety can be slow. You are in essence trying to re-wire one of the most complex biological computers ever created. To try and fix it quickly in the past, doctors were prepared to reboot it using electro-shock therapy or even via removal of specific areas of the brain.  When we look at such practices now we can see how barbaric and ineffective they are. But we can also understand the desperation of doctors and sufferers families, trying to find a way to fix a problem with something as staggeringly intricate and complicated as the human mind.

I know a number of people who say mindfulness doesn’t work for them. They find it hard (or even silly) to bring their attention to one thing, shutting out the other stray thoughts that creep in. But here’s the little secret; you have to practice! Not just for a couple of days and then give up. But to keep trying, again and again and again.  Look at this way, a marathon runner doesn’t just wake up one day able to run a marathon. They have to practice. It takes training. They have to make changes to their diet, pay more attention to what their body needs. It can take months (even years) of building up the strength and stamina to be able to successfully complete a marathon. And even then, they may not be able to complete a run in the way they thought they would.

It might take a while, but you’ve got this!

I mean that. I really do! Each time you do that little something to get you out of your comfort zone, you are making progress. The more you practice what you learn in therapy, the easier it will become. And no-one has the right to say how long that process will take. When someone once said to me at work whether I was really well enough to be there, I’ll be honest it made me angry.  Who was this person (who had no medical or neurological qualifications, let alone experience) to question the progress I was making?

It’s something that is personal to you. Your doctor and you are the ones who decide if the rate and means of progressing are working. If they’re not, again, it’s not someone else’s opinion that determines what to try next. Just you and your doctor.

But like I said. You have to put the work in! Retraining your brain is not something that will be achieved over night. Those little exercises you do every day that seem so silly? They are forming new habits, new pathways and coping mechanisms. Rebuilding your self-esteem and confidence that will help quieten those negative thoughts.

So I’m setting you all a challenge. I’m doing it too and if you want to leave comments either here on the website, or on Twitter or Facebook as to how it’s gone, I’d love to hear from you.

So here goes; your challenge is that every time a negative thought pops into your head think of two positives. It doesn’t matter how big or small these positives are. And keep doing it! If you look in the mirror and think ‘urgh, I look so disgusting today’, stop and take a good look at what is good. Be it you have nice eyes, a good smile…there always something. Mine today was I have good teeth and a kind heart! No matter who you are, you have worth. And if you’re struggling to see anything at all, ask someone who cares for you! Its amazing what you’ll find out when you see yourself through another person’s eyes!

Good luck guys, like I said. You got this!

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Getting Out of The Comfort Zone

A Safe Place

This week I attended my first in a series of coaching sessions aimed at helping me cope with the challenges that I face when I am at work. My first of several 3-hour sessions. All aimed at giving me some tools to help me manage my anxiety and depression in the office. There have been times when I have been struggling. Yet despite my manager’s initial scepticism, she agreed that some in-work coaching would be beneficial. Now, not every employer would do this. Luckily the company I work for has strong links with a mental health charity. This in turn means that sometimes they are willing to go the extra mile and get things for their staff to help them cope.  For me, it meant getting out of the comfort zone of what I am used to.

One thing I have never really realised is how important a safe place is to me. Getting out of the comfort zone of home is one thing, but I hadn’t realised how much I needed to feel safe. Even at work.

Getting Out of The Comfort Zone and Progress

Sometimes it can be challenging to see the progress we are making. It’s easy to get wrapped up in what we see as our failures and short comings.  But very time we stretch ourselves, doing things that make us uncomfortable, we are making progress. So for me, this was doing this coaching session. I was having to be very open and vulnerable about how my mental health impacts me in the office with a complete stranger. I’ll be honest, I found it really hard. When the course was first recommended by the DSE representative, I really couldn’t see me doing it. For want of a better word, it seemed another bit of fluffy nonsense that really was just there so employer’s can be seen to be ‘helping’. But it wasn’t.

What it highlighted to me was one of the places I feel least safe is at work. I often feel exposed. The feeling of everyone judging and looking at you as you crash into a panic attack is terrifying. The logical thinking would be that no-one is ACTUALLY looking at you, but it’s still palpable.  Some of that comes because there is that fear in my head of ‘what will people think?’. It’s been hard enough when colleagues have glimpsed my self-harm scars and asked about them.

But here’s my challenge to all of you. When you’re next asked about your self harm scars, or about your mental health, try getting out of the comfort zone and be honest.  It is a challenge, but it also helps you progress.

The Challenge

Now it doesn’t have to be anything huge (my son recommended base jumping off a bridge to really push those boundaries!). But do those little things. If you struggle getting out of the house, try each time you go to be out that little bit longer. Without even thinking about it, I’ve been subconsciously doing this with Alex for a while. He struggles to be out of the house for long. Yet we’ve managed excursions that have been for 3 or 4 hours, when previously he could only have coped with 1 or 2. Yes, it’s exhausting, but it’s progress.

Only yesterday I found myself in the middle of a hugely busy Ikea store. I could feel my anxiety ramping up, I was cursing myself for not thinking about how Saturdays are awful in there. So many people, so much noise! But I coped. A few months ago I wouldn’t have. The reason I coped was I have been bit by bit pushing myself. Getting out of the comfort zone of home and into environments that, while I still feel reasonably safe are still busy and potential triggers. Practising the breathing techniques I have learnt from counselling in a moderately busy supermarket. Having my fidget cube on me when I went for an interview. Having people with me who help those feelings of safety. Just little exercises to try to push me that bit more.

And if I couldn’t cope? That was okay too. I tried. For every time we achieve a little win against whatever mental health condition we have, it will only because we have tried dozens of times before. Sometimes we will have failed outright. Others, we will have been able to cope for so long, then fell apart over something small. It happens. And it’s okay! Each time we try getting out of the comfort zone we are a step closer to , if not recovery, at least managing the condition. The important thing is to try. 

 

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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.

 

 

This Is Me

Why This Is Me?

For anyone who is a regular reader of this blog, you’re probably aware that music is incredibly important for both myself and Alex. It can help us describe how we feel, lift us when we’re down and be a balm when our mental health is at its worst. A few weeks ago I came across ‘This Is Me’ from the Greatest Showman soundtrack and this wonderfully anthemic piece really did something marvellous. It gave me a massive push, to try, to get out of my comfort zone and do things that terrified me. It reminded me that I’m stubborn and I’m not giving in to depression and anxiety.

Now, okay. To some, going for a couple of job interviews isn’t that big a deal. But to me it is. Going on holiday with Alex and my children for the first time was terrifying. Tonight I’m going to an outdoor performance of Macbeth and it’s been a struggle to find the motivation to make the picnic that I promised I would take. I want to go but the thought of going anywhere today is terribly daunting. This is the impact that having depression can have on me and for some people, well let’s be honest, they neither understand or like it.  Like many others who suffer with depression and anxiety, I’ve heard them all. The ‘just get over it’, the ‘snap out of it’, the ‘what is wrong with you?‘, the list of comments that can get slung at you is endless.

Because They Just Don’t Get It

A lot of people just don’t understand mental health issues. They don’t want to, can be just ignorant or sometimes just downright idiots. Unfortunately the idiots are the worst. Like the ones who think social media is the place to start ranting about how things like depression are because people are weak minded, or lazy. These same people are often the ones who call self harm attention seeking. This kind of thinking is what builds into the stigma that already surrounds mental health.

So what has this got to do with a song you ask? Well, as I was listening to the words I saw how this song could be an anthem for those suffering with mental illness against all those who disparage and belittle. Here’s a snippet of some of those lyrics that got into my head.

I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are
But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
The Shame Game
That’s the thing. At different times I’ve been told that no-one would love me as I am. I’ve been told I am broken and unworthy because of my mental health . I’ve hidden the scars on my arms, stomach and legs from the world and made to feel ashamed.
But I’m not. One thing Alex and I, and countless others like Hope Virgo, Rebecca Lombardo, Rethink Depression and more are all doing is taking a stand. We are not ashamed to share our mental health journey, we won’t be embarrassed into hiding our symptoms because it makes others uncomfortable. Whether any of these warriors realise it or not, by sharing their journey, like me they are shouting to the world THIS IS ME! Yes, I have a mental illness but it does not define me. I’m not ashamed of my illness and the damage I’ve done to my body when I was at my worst. I was severely ill, but I survived.
So, This Is Me!
Yes! This is me. I’m a mum to 2 children, I work in a call centre, I’m in a happy relationship. One of the things I love is watching The Big Bang Theory, I love cooking and having friends over for dinner.  Oh and yeah, I have depression and anxiety. I take medication for these conditions and there are days that are worse than others. No-one can call me weak minded or lazy, so I am as worthy as anyone else. The same goes for anyone who is suffering. You are not lazy, weak or a failure. You are worthy. Like it says in the song  ‘we are warriors’.
If someone is telling you any of those awful things, put ‘This Is Me’ on and drown them out. (Yes, I know the song is sung by the bearded lady, but what better song to demonstrate inclusion in a world where many are seen as outcasts?) Whether they like it or not, there’s a flood happening right now. People are taking notice and starting to talk about mental health issues, changes are happening. The more people who are standing up and sharing their stories, the more we can normalise the conversation about mental illness.
Why not subscribe?

Subscribe today to receive a free chapter from my eBook “Pills and Blades”, a subscriber-exclusive podcast episode and more!

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.