High-Functioning Anxiety

High-Functioning Anxiety – the Basis

We’ve all heard of anxiety, haven’t we?  Just like we’ve heard of depression, insomnia, bipolar and other mental illnesses.  As standard, we seem to have these ideas that depression or anxiety are the only parts of those struggles, but in reality they are but basic terms that encompass a whole spectrum of conditions.  So what would happen when we apply the term “high-functioning” in front of some of these words?  I’ve talked previously about high-functioning depression – something a lot of people weren’t familiar with – but what about high-functioning anxiety?

Let’s take a look!

First off, let’s take a quick look at what this concept of “high-functioning” would mean.  According to NAMI Montgomery County, specialists determine how well you function with your mental health conditions by using the Functioning Assessment Short Test, or FAST.  It consists of questions designed to find out how you do in the following areas:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Occupational Functioning
  3. Cognitive Functioning
  4. Financial Issues
  5. Interpersonal Relationships
  6. Leisure Time

If you “do better” in each of those areas, then you’re considered to be high-functioning.  If we put that psychological jibber jabber aside, though, it basically means that you have the condition but you can still function well, therefore anyone seeing you on the street wouldn’t necessarily know you struggle with mental health issues.

The Nature of High-Functioning

OK, so we’ve established what high-functioning actually is, but what does that mean in our normal, everyday language?  For starters, we should focus on the last part of what I’d said in that last paragraph.  If someone came across us in the street, they wouldn’t know that we struggle with anxiety because, to them, we would be able to function “normally”.  (I use the term “normally” in quotes because none of us are normal really, are we?)

In itself, high-functioning is just another way of saying our masks are very very good.  We can go out and about, we can continue working, we seem to be exactly like any other productive member of society.  Those things people normally associate anxiety with?  Yeah, we don’t exhibit them much.

It might sound strange, but that is the essence of high-functioning mental health conditions.  Whether we manage them or not, people don’t seem to notice when we’re struggling.  We’re able to interact with others, able to hold down a job and we’re able to do anything that any other member of society can.

Well…almost anything…

My High-Functioning Anxiety

I’ve talked previously about how I have high-functioning depression how it affects me.  What about my anxiety?  I believe it to be high-functioning as well.  Why?  Well, for the most part I can do anything anyone else can do.  Granted, I don’t really like doing things like going out, off to the shops or being amongst crowds and stuff, but I can still do it.  There are several other reasons why I would class myself as high-functioning in my anxiety, and these come from an article published on Women’s Health (What?! I read!) called 8 Signs You’re Struggling With High-Functioning Anxiety.  Its 8 signs are as follows:

  1. People describe you as a “Type A” perfectionist.
  2. You exhibit controlling patterns.
  3. You’re constantly busy.
  4. You’re not sleeping well.
  5. You have aches, pains, repetitive habits or ticks.
  6. People have a hard time reading you.
  7. You have a crippling fear of letting other people down.
  8. “No” isn’t part of your vocabulary.

Let’s see…check, check, check, check, check, check, check and check.  Oops.  That’s done it.

Conclusions?

I have high-functioning anxiety.  I am a perfectionist.  Ask anyone.  I will do things over and over or take as much time as I can to ensure that they’re perfect.  While I’m not a controlling person, I enforce routines to ensure that I’m in control of my life (which is more or less what they said in the article).  I’m always busy, and I mean always!  Really really.  I rarely sleep very well, as I’ve talked about before.  I have those repetitive habits or ticks, commonly found in the form of cracking my knuckles or constantly jigging my leg, those sorts of things.  As for reading me, so many people have said that!  I crack a joke and they have to look really hard to tell whether or not I’m serious.  Letting people down…in my therapy, that’s coming out as one of the top reasons all my symptoms trigger.  Finally, saying “no” just doesn’t happen, as I will do anything for anyone, even at the cost of myself.

What can I say?  I do have that high-functioning anxiety though, just with high-functioning depression, you wouldn’t know it to look at me.  I used to always turn up to work and no one would know anything was wrong.

So high-functioning anxiety is real.  Remember: just because someone looks perfectly fine, doesn’t mean they are.

And it can be a killer!

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Justified or Just Unjust?

Justified – How It Starts

How did we get here?  In the middle of an argument or at the tail-end of one, both parties wounded in some way, counting the tallied victories or points scored.  That’s the way of it, isn’t it?  We say what we say, do what we do and then decide later whether or not it was justified.  A society of speak/act first, think later.

And we are the pinnacle of that society.

It always starts with something small.  A spark, if you will.  Be it a comment, an action, an inaction…it doesn’t really matter what.  That spark lands on the wood that makes up our life and suddenly there’s the potential for that flame.  Instead of putting it out, we lash back, adding another spark and another and another until suddenly we have a fire.  Not just any old fire like you’d get in the garden firepit, but a roaring one that’s almost out of control.  As the flames rage, so do tempers and we lash back with venom and bile, letting the fires jump from branch to branch just like a forest fire.

We felt justified though, didn’t we?  When we tossed that first spark…weren’t we right?  After all, they were wrong.  Whatever they had said, whatever they had done, they were wrong.

It gives us that feeling of exoneration…but that feeling is short-lived as it turns to ash along with everything else.

Just How Justified Are We?

If I had to pick a favourite quote from a TV programme or a film, the title would definitely go to a particular quote from Doctor Who.  Say what you will about the casting and/or performance of Peter Capaldi, I’m sure we can all agree that this little monologue of his was one of the most memorable moments in the series:

“Because it’s not a game, Kate. This is a scale model of war. Every war ever fought, right there in front of you. Because it’s always the same. When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die! You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn! How many hearts will be broken! How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill until everybody does until what they were always going to have to do from the very beginning. Sit down and talk! (sigh) Listen to me. Listen, I just, I just want you to think. Do you know what thinking is? It’s just a fancy word for changing your mind.” – the Doctor, from The Zygon Inversion, series 9 episode 8.

So come on.  How justified are we really?  And I include myself in that, because I know I get things wrong.  How right are we?

Perhaps will never know.  But even so, there’s something we need to think about first.

Behind the Scenes

The one thing we forget when we are quick to bite back is what’s going on behind the scenes.  What is the other person or people involved dealing with?  Not just the “here and now”, but beyond that.  How is their home life?  Their job?  Their finances?  Now go deeper.  What about their emotional and mental well-being?  If you believe in such things, what about their spiritual well-being?  Are they actually coping with life?  Their response could be due to any one of these factors.  Also, their initial comments or responses could have been caused by anything.

The harsh truth is no matter how justified you feel in your response, how concretely right you feel, you have absolutely no idea what triggered their response in the first place, nor what they are dealing with.  Life throws plenty of stresses at us and that can create all sorts of responses that we wouldn’t normally give.  While that doesn’t excuse it, it’s certainly something to bear in mind.

But let’s go deeper still.

What if your seemingly justified comment/argument/curse/temper-snap causes some harm?  Those of you familiar with how mental health works will doubtlessly know that some situations and scenarios can lead people down dark paths.  For anxiety, depression and BPD, self-harm can be a release for the pent-up emotions that threaten to overwhelm us.  While we are ultimately responsible for self-harming because we are the ones who pick up the blade, who is to say that someone’s abrupt or rude comment can’t push us down that path?

Behind the scenes, there may be a mountain that they’re struggling with, something that your “just action” (and that’s not to say it isn’t justified, for it might be) pushes them towards.  Who knows what kind of conflagration the spark of your actions will cause?

Getting On With Life

We don’t know what other people are struggling with.  Ultimately, no matter how justified we think we are, we need to stop.  Think.  Assess.  Is it actually worth the hurt, pain and potential suffering that it will cause?  Perhaps it is better to wait for things to calm down before we say our piece.  That’s not to say that anger or arguments cannot be justified – there are plenty of examples of this – but there is a time and a place for it.

My words can only go so far.  For a better meaning behind this post, I’d ask you to check out this song by Philippa Hanna.  It speaks volumes to me and summarises what I’m trying to say beautifully.  Why not take a listen, because you might find it speaks to you.

“Cos we’re all just getting on with living Going into battles nobody sees us fight Yeah, we’re all just getting on with living So try to be forgiving when we don’t see eye to eye We’re all just getting on with life.” – Philippa Hanna, Getting On With Life

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Your Voice Matters – Depression

Your Voice – Depression

In a world full of 6 billion+ people, we can feel as though our voice gets lost.  We are one person in a sea of millions of faces.  What do we matter?  Yet, each one of us has a voice, one that needs sharing, and so in this special post I bring you the experiences of people who suffer with depression and what it means to them.  Take a look.

* Due to the high number of responses we received, we were not able to include everyone’s response.  If you want to see all the responses then visit the tweet on Twitter or the post on Facebook!

So there you have it: the experiences of people who struggle with depression.  Is it what you expected it to be?  Different?  Let us know, we’re interested in your experiences as well!

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The Dreaded Question

Question After Question

Questions.  Our lives seem to revolve around them and be driven by them, don’t they?  Job interviews, health checkups, shopping visits, even some of the ordinary conversations we have; there are questions.  “Where can I find…?”  “How do I do this?”  “Would you like fries with that?”  OK, that last question might not be such a frequent occurrence but it still crops up every now and again!

Regardless, we come across many questions in our lives.  Some of them are easy.  Others…not so much.  That being said, it’s a normal part of life, to question.  One of the things my partner’s toddler often does is practically interrogates us.  I’m sure parents are familiar with the word “why?”  Combine it with “but why?” or “OK…why?” and you’re got a recipe for a headache!!  Children are inquisitive by nature though, aren’t they?  It’s how they learn, how they grow.

As we get older, though, those questions become less inquisitive and more practical.  We ask how to do things, what kinds of specifications there are and other such things.  Sometimes it can lead to secrets or to the latest gossip, but we can be just as curious as those children.

An Uncomfortable Question

Not all questions are good questions though, as I’m sure you’d expect.  If I was to ask you all what your least favourite, or most uncomfortable question, I’m sure you would all the say the same thing…

“How are you?”

Yikes!

What do we even say in response?  For the majority of us, we’ll put on a smile and say “I’m fine”.  Even if we’re not fine, we’ll say that we are anyway because if we don’t, we unleashed a tidal wave barrage of more questions.  No one wants that, aside from masochists!  Why would we want to be asked more questions on top of the uncomfortable “how are you”???

But that’s just an uncomfortable question.  I believe there is one that’s even worse…

Intrigued?

Want to know what it is?

The Dreaded Question

So here it is, the dreaded question.  Personally, I believe it to be a horrible one, though admittedly it’s one that I use loads, especially when talking to others who are struggling.  Have you guessed it?  The question is:

“What can I do to help?”

That’s right: I asked “What can I do to help?”  On the surface, it might not seem like that bad a question but really it’s probably one of the most frustrating and exasperating questions ever asked!  Or is that just me and I’m overexaggerating it…?  I’m never sure!

See, people ask us this question when we’re struggling and it seems like a perfectly innocent question.  Yet…what do we say?  Just like “how are you”, we have no idea what to say.  Most of the time, we don’t have an answer we can give to ourselves, never mind anyone else!  How do we answer that question when we don’t even know what would help us?

Now, it’s not that people are being mean when they ask this question, as really they’re asking because they care.  Yet sometimes it’s one of the most awkward things that we can be faced with.

So how do we deal with it?  What can we do?

An Alternative

As difficult as it is, an alternative is possible.  One of my favourite suggestions is, instead of asking what people can do, simply come alongside them and try this:

“I know you’re not particularly good at the moment, so I just wanted to remind you that I’m here for you.”

It’s simple, it’s reasonably succinct and it gets the right message across.  There’s no pressure, then, to figure out what’s wrong, no obligation to give a truthful answer if we don’t really want to answer the question in the first place.

Believe me, it takes a major retraining of the brain because it’s almost human nature to ask what we can do to help, but it will be worth it.

So why not try it?

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

 

Evaluating Experience

The Weight of Experience

Experience is one of those things that we seem plagued with in life.  Often, it can be beneficial because there are situations we go through and we know what to do or not do because experience has taught us.  Sometimes, though, experience can be a problem.  Take, for example, a job interview.  Nowadays, a lot of companies want previous experience – something which you, as a fresh-out-of-uni/college student, might not have.  Getting that experience can be difficult, especially if no one will give you a chance without you having previous experience.  It can be extremely frustrating!Quote: Experience is the teacher of all things - Julius Caeser.

Another thing that usually goes hand in hand with experience is qualifications.  If you are going for a job as a translator, for example, employers will look to see if you have the experience (ie, living in the country of the language you are translating to/from) and whether or not you have the qualifications (ie a degree or equivalent).  Qualifications are something that can be hard to come by, though at the same time a lot of people nowadays go to university to get degrees and an emphasis is put on getting higher education.  Sometimes, though, things happen, plans change and qualifications become a little redundant.

Take me, for example.  I trained as a linguist, getting a degree in French and Linguistics.  I didn’t do too badly and languages open a lot of doors, as it provides opportunities in translation but also in different countries if I wanted to move.  Having a background in Czech as well from the time I lived in the Czech Republic with my family, you’d think I would have gone into a career in languages.

Then depression happened.

Granted, getting a job in those fields was rather difficult and I ended up first in a wholesaler warehouse and then a bank, but depression knocked my career aspirations completely off.  Instead of looking at translation or language teaching or a career in France, I looked into blogging.  Specifically, mental health blogging and writing.

Which, as you know, is what I do now.

Experience…Or Lack Thereof

From that bit of my background, you’ll have seen I don’t have any qualifications in mental health.  In fact, you’ll see on every page of this website the words: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.  I put that because, no matter what I write, I am not qualified.

But I have experience.

Now, one thing I’ve noticed during my walk with depression, anxiety and insomnia is that people seem to look more for the qualifications.  When I first started posting content from this website on Facebook, a psycologist that I know immediately started commenting telling me she was surprised I was doing this and how “in her experience” these were the arguments against what I was saying.  She also went to great lengths, at one point, to make sure I knew exactly how long she had studied and how long she had been a psycologist.  Similarly, in my post about the So-Called Professional, I went with my friend to speak to that doctor after that disasterous appointment and she was equally dismissive of the things I had to say.

In more recent weeks, I’ve had similar struggles with my own GP.  I believe the things I’m feeling and experiencing, such as the vast swinging of my mood, to be symptomatic of Rapid Cycling Bipolar or Ultra Rapid Cycling Bipolar.  It’s taken a couple of months but I’ve finally managed to get a GP to listen.  It took both my partner and I fighting, where the GP refused to entertain the notion based on “his experience”.  It seems my lack of any qualifications and my lesser experience than his was simply not good enough for me to have an opinion, as it seems to be with a lot of other people.

But is experience all that it’s cracked up to be?  Is it the be all and end all?

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Extenuating Experience

One thing that I find to be true is that those of us who have personal experience of mental health seem to relate to it far better.  I know this is like the majority of things in life but hear me out.  Where doctors see us as patients who have X condition and need treatment A, therapy B and department C to be successfully treated, we take it to a more personal level.  We interact with each other, we look at how things affect us and apply that to other situations.

Customer Experience MattersMy prime example would be my blog.  Specifically, things like my Understanding Self-Harm guide.  Imagine a doctor whose only experience of self-harm is the patients in front of him and what they’ve done.  Explaining self-harm the way I have would be difficult, if not impossible.  Would he understand all the innate needs and desires that we feel when we want to do it?  Could he imagine just how different all those needs or desires would be?  After all, no two mental health struggles are exactly the same.

Is not my experience, in this instance, far more valuable than his years of training, his qualifications and then his subsequent years of qualification?  Am I not able to explain the phenomenon of self-harm better than the doctor might?  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that my opinion is so much better than the professional, qualified opinion.  What I’m saying is that my opinion is different and that that can be a good thing!  You see, the professionals, with all their years of study, qualification and experience, will have all the technicalities, the medical and physiological answers down to a T.  Me, standing in for the lay person Joe Public, will have the whys, the hows and some of the reasoning behind what I do.

Is that so difficult to imagine?

That I, Alex Davies, lay person with no qualifications in the mental health sector whatsoever, might actually have a different, yet just as important, understanding of mental health?

The Power of Our Experiences

Unlike the professionals, as not all of them will have lived with these conditions, we know what’s going on inside our heads.  We know where we fall on categorisations.  Mood charts and on everything else that would come under our diagnosis, we understand.  We know how we feel.  Don’t we?  We know if something isn’t right.  Does that mean we should always bow to the professional opinion because they have their qualifications?

No.

I don’t think so.

Professionals are great, as they have the technical side of things nailed, this is true.  But we understand what’s actually going on inside our heads.  My opinion may not be a learned, qualified one but, instead, it’s one brought through first-hand experience and one that, in its own way, is just as valuable.

What do you think?  Are our experiences and our opinions just as valid as the professional one?  I’d like to know!

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Ignorance or Ignoring?

Are People Ignorant or Just Ignoring the Issue?

So often, while I’m scrolling through tweets and doing my interactions on Twitter, I see stories of how people seem to be struggling with how others view mental health.  Too often they are talking about how other people dismiss their struggles as trivial or “all in their head”.  I can’t help but wonder, when reading these, whether it is deliberate.  Are they ignoring the issue?

In the past year, someone I know has gone through a separation.  This separation has been made difficult by the other party effectively burying their head in the sand.  Despite my friend being out of the house for a year or so, the partner still insisted that my friend was going to come back, that they were all going to be happy families again.  My friend has said unequivocally that that will never happen, yet still the ex-partner insists on referring to my friend as “love” and won’t accept that they are completely separated.

Is the ex-partner truly ignorant of the issue?  Or simply ignoring it?

Ignorance

At Pushing Back the Shadows, we are no stranger to ignorance.  We see it every day on our Twitter account, on our Facebook account and on other social media profiles.  Plenty of people don’t seem to understand mental health.  More the hows and whys than anything else, but there is that lack of understanding.  When I see these, I try and offer explanations for some of the things going on.  I try and shed light on those issues.  After all, it’s what we do.

Personally, I find ignorance is excusable to a point.  If you haven’t really come across anything that really requires you to learn about the subject, how can you be expected to know about it?  With mental health, if you don’t really know of anyone who suffers (granted, statistically there will be someone but they might not be open about it) then why would you feel the need to educate yourself?  To a point it is excusable, as everyone has something they need educating about.

But when does it become inexcusable?

Ignoring the Issue

As with my friend’s ex-partner, there comes a time when the ignorance is more than just ignorance.  It’s deliberate.  People who have the evidence put in front of them or have had the problems explained multiple times are ignoring the issue, plain and simple.  Unfortunately, there aren’t two ways about it.  They are burying their heads in the sand, unwilling to accept that their view or their belief is being challenged.  Some perceive mental health to be a load of rubbish and, despite more and more people talking about their struggles, refuse to budge from that stance.  Others realise there is a problem but won’t accept that the person suffering cannot always make a change the way they would want.  They think of it as an issue of laziness, which isn’t always the case.

For people like this, it doesn’t seem to be a case of ignorance, as they have had plenty of opportunities to learn.  It comes down to ignoring the issue, refusing to accept something different to what they believe.  It’s sad that people like this exist, but that’s what makes us all unique and all different.

Ignorance vs Ignoring the Issue

So what do we do with these people?  Those who are ignorant and those who bury their heads in the sand?  Realistically?  We should seek to educate those who are ignorant to the struggles of mental health but not to the point of exhausting ourselves.  We should identify when they are refusing to accept the truth or reality and when they are burying their head in the sand and realise that we’ve tried our best, we can do no more.  As long as we’ve tried, that is what counts.

What do you think?

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The Long Haul

The Long Run

There is no quick fix.  No shortcuts.  When it comes to mental health, it’s something that can be thought of as a long run.  A long-term illness.  Wouldn’t you say?

See, that’s the thing that I hear most often about depression and mental health.  The most common misconception seems to be that depression is like a light switch, that we can just switch it off and snap out of it.  Too often we hear people telling us to just get over it.

But it’s not that simple.

If it were that simple, wouldn’t we just get over it?  Wouldn’t we try and avoid living like this?  From the things I’ve experienced and some of the things I’ve heard, I can’t imagine anyone who would ever want to actually live like this!  I could be wrong, of course, as there might actually be someone out there who wants to live like this, but somehow I doubt that.

No, the sad fact is that depression is a long-term illness and there is no quick fix, as I’ve previously discussed.  Out of all the mental health stories I’ve heard, none of them are over and done with in a matter of weeks.  It takes months and months of medication and/or therapy to recover.  Even then, there is a possibility that it will never truly go away, that it will lie under the surface much like a ticking timebomb, ready to strike again.  There is no short solution.

In It For the Long Haul

Recently, I talked about how we, as a society, put the onus on the person who is struggling.  Phrases like “you know where I am if you need me” have started to become the norm.  Roughly translated, a lot of the time it means “I’m going to make the offer of support but never follow it up, so it’s up to you to contact me when you’re struggling”.  Is that your experience or is it just mine?  (Disclaimer: I know that it isn’t the way everyone means it, it’s just been my general experience with people and I’ve heard of a lot of similar experiences).

Anyway…enough about that bit.  My point is that we have a tendency to put all of that responsibility onto the person who is struggling.  Coupled with that, we seem to have some kind of misconception that it is that short-term illness with a quick fix.  A couple of pills, a little therapy and you’ll be alright.

Wrong.

It’s long-term and, subsequently, you need to be in it for the long haul!  Half of people’s struggles nowadays come from people promising they will be around and then disappearing after a couple of weeks when they realise that it isn’t going to be an easy fix.  They stick around as long as they think they can bring you out of it but, at the first signs of rebuttal or long-term illness, they retreat and abandon you.

Be Prepared

Now, this isn’t what everyone does, I know that.  I’ve been blessed with some great friends who have stuck by me through thick and thin, whether I’m in a good place, a bad place or an absolutely awful place.  That said, I’ve also had people just drop away like flies the moment they realise it isn’t as simple as providing me with a little encouragement and a kind word here and there.  Admittedly there has to be some give and take as well, we as the sufferers have to be more understanding of other people’s situations as well, but as I’ve said in the Onus: it takes 5 minutes to send someone a message checking up on them.

So be prepared.  Be prepared to help these people.  Be prepared to accept that there isn’t a quick fix.  There is no easy solution, nor should there be.  To fix something complicated, you have to take time.  So we have to take the time to fix mental illness.

That means we’re counting on you.  We’re counting on you to support us and to keep supporting us, whether we’re ill for weeks or months or even years.  We need that support.  In our minds, we can’t do this on our own.  We either believe we’re not good enough or we believe we simply can’t do it.

So please, if you say you’ll be there for someone then make sure you’re there for the long haul.  If you don’t think you can cope with that, please don’t promise the help.  We need you.  We need your support.  So please…be in it for the long haul.

That’s all we ask.

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A Blanket Fort

Memories of Blanket Forts

Have you ever made a fort out of blankets?  In our house, it was something we used to do a lot as children.  Grab an airer or clothes horse, grab some sheets and blankets and build a den or a fort.  It’s simple, it’s fun and it’s something that kids enjoy.

I remember we had some brilliant blanket forts as children.  We used to let our imaginations run a little wild and see if we could make it bigger and better than last time.  Often this meant borrowing some of the double sheets from mum and dad, or a large blanket.  Add some torches, some pillows and a couple of fun things to do like books or toys and you were sorted!

Does that sound like something that you’ve tried?  Perhaps you’ve got some fond memories of making dens or blanket forts when you were younger.  I think it might be something we’ve all done from time to time.  It’s great fun!  But guess what!

It has a practical application for adults too!

A Blanket Fort

Roughly six months ago, I made a blanket fort.  My friend, who was in the process of learning how to cope with being separated from her husband, was struggling.  She’d had to take the kids over to see him for his visit.  Consequently, her anxiety had tripped, she was doing really badly.  During these times, it’s common for her speech to disappear so she can’t communicate.  She also worries at her hands with her fingernails, scratching psychological itches.  Frustrations increase when she can’t talk or when she catches herself itching.  Needless to say, it gets into a bit of a vicious cycle that she can’t seem to bring to a halt.

I was on the phone with her at this point, as she and the kids were staying with me for that day.  Due to housing troubles, it had had to be arranged like that so she could leave her old house.  As I was talking to her, I quickly picked up on just how bad things had got.  It was then that I remembered this cartoon:

Making a blanket nest to help someone through depression.

You probably see where I’m going with this, but I had an idea.

Quickly, I grabbed the airers dotted around the flat.  Grabbing some blankets off the bed and duvet covers out of the cupboard, I started setting up a nice blanket fort around the sofa.  It took a little work but it was there, able to be sat in.  A few cushions came next, then I had another idea.  I have a little light-up Death Star model that changes colours and can be quite therapeutic, so I added that as well.  Finally, I put my tablet in there, setting it to play some relaxing music and go through space pictures.

The fort was complete.

The Effects of the Blanket Fort

It may sound silly, perhaps almost childish, to make a blanket fort.  After all, it’s something we do as children, not as adults (unless we’re playing with a child).  That said, it had the desired effect.

Upon her arrival, I brought my friend into the lounge where the blanket fort was set up.  Her initial reaction was surprise that anyone would do something like that for her but, once she had been brought into the fort, her anxiety started to abate.  After about an hour or so of sitting in that blanket fort, she was completely calm once more.  Even though it sounds a little daft, it worked.

And perhaps that’s the most important part.

You see, it doesn’t have to be a blanket fort.  It can be a snuggly blanket, a little nest like in the cartoon above, or any number of other things.  The whole point is that you’re creating a safe space for them.  Somewhere reasonably confined, warm and inviting where they can relax.  If they like music, put music on.  Lights?  They can help.  Alternatively, darkness might be more their thing.  Whatever they like, try and make it as inviting to them as possible.

As another small example of a safe space, I’ve talked about how music has a big influence on my life.  When I need a safe space, I plug my headphones in, turn my iPod on and listen to music.  With noise-cancelling headphones, I can retreat from the world and relax a bit.  It works for me, it might work for others.

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Just a Trend

Mental Illness is just a Trend

That’s right, you read that right.  I, Alex Davies, founder of a website that promotes mental health awareness and support, just said that mental illness is just a trend.  Do I really believe that?  Of course not!  That said, it’s an interesting topic to consider.  Take a walk with me as I unpack it.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen an increase in people being diagnosed with mental health issues.  Now, this could be partly due to the increases in external pressures and triggers, as some people would say, or it could be a greater awareness and openness for mental health.  In the past, mental health was not something that was widely talked about.  You kept it hidden.  It wasn’t heard of.  Out of sight, out of mind, that sort of thing. Nowadays, however, it’s more widely talked about.  So is it that it is on the increase or is it just that more people are talking about it?  That’s something for the philosophers to debate.

What I’d like to know, though, is whether or not the epidemic is as bad as it seems or whether it is “just a trend”.  (Note that my opinion will come at the bottom, so you’ll have to read on to find it!)

So is mental health a trend that people follow?  Are the people who claim to have mental health issues genuine?  From where I sit, I see three immediate categories that we can put this into:

  1. Genuine Sufferers
  2. People who don’t quite get it
  3. The social media hype types
Genuine Sufferers

This is exactly what it says on the tin: people who are genuinely suffering with some form of mental illness.  They have those day-to-day issues that hinder them, whether that’s getting out of bed, looking after themselves or being unable to leave the house.  Their struggles are real, their issues hamper their everyday activities and they clearly have some form of mental illness.  Note, these are not always diagnosed as, for some, they cannot make themselves go to the doctor but many of them will have been diagnosed.  They might be on medication and they may be undergoing therapy or they may be managing it with alternative means.  Nevertheless, they are struggling.

For genuine sufferers, they face a wall of stigma and judgement that often prevents them from expressing how they truly feel.  They keep it buried inside, fearing that other people would be harshly critical of them or simply not know how to express it.

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People Who Don’t Get It

These are probably the most multitudinous that I’ve come across.  You’ve seen them, I’m sure.  The people who post statuses like: “I have to wait a whole year for more Game of Thrones, I’m so depressed!”  In reality, they aren’t depressed, they’re just a little sad, but they blow it out of proportion.  How often do we see it?  Far too often, I think!

Why am I picking up on this group?  Well, I believe it simply adds to the fog of stigma and judgement around us.  If we can see they’re not really depressed, others can see through it too and it just builds up this wishy-washy idea of what depression actually is.  By associating it with the word, it can create that false image that others will then believe.  For all we know, it could be where this “just snap out of it” rubbish came from…

We see it a lot, though, don’t we: the ones who over-exaggerate this sort of thing.  People who give themselves labels without taking that moment to understand what it means.  What is depression?  What is anxiety?  Is it what they make it out to be – being “anxious for school exams” or “depressed because the latest season of Game of Thrones has ended” – or is it something more?

The Social Media Hype Trend

As I’ve mentioned previously, I do a lot of interactions on Twitter and on other social media sites and I now notice patterns in some of the things that go up.  The most common example is the number of people who post things online – particularly photos – and appear to be fishing for compliments.  Comments like “I’m so ugly” or “I’m no good at anything” or “I’m so fat, I need to diet” and other such things are frequent posts.  The photos that are coupled with them, however, more often than not, contradict what is being said.  Like I said: it’s almost as if they’re fishing for compliments.

Now believe me, this isn’t always the case.  Insecurity is a horrible thing and it might be that they just want someone to give them that reassurance.  However, it’s possible that some do it just for the compliments.  If social media makes it “trendy”, everyone wants to get involved.

Your Turn

Over to you…what do you think?  Do you think I’m right or do you think I’m wrong?  Let me know by leaving a comment.  I’m interested in getting a discussion going here.

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The Onus pt 2 – The Damaging Effect

The Onus – We’re Here For You

In June last year, I tackled a subject that I thought was very uncomfortable yet very pertinent to mental health struggles: the effect of putting the onus on people.  In that article, I acknowledged that so often we mean well – we’re here for you, if you need help then all you have to do is call/message/shout – but sometimes that can actually lead to people being more isolated or feeling as though their concerns are not valid.  Basically, it can be highly damaging .  Check out this snippet of my point:

The Onus Problem

What’s the problem?  You’re offering them your support, you’re telling them to contact you if they need the help…so isn’t that a good thing?

Do you know what?  It’s great, it really is.  I’m pleased that you’re there for your friend or family member.  That being said, there’s something you need to consider.

Can they talk about it?

For a lot of people going through mental health struggles, opening up and talking about it is one of the hardest things to do.  Every time my friend struggles and spirals, the first thing she does is hide because she doesn’t feel she can ask for help.  I’m the same: I find it hard to say “I’m struggling, please help me”.  It’s just not something that comes easily.

Are they likely to talk about it? Not always, no.

Realistically, there is another reason that we have to be mindful of when putting the onus on people, one that might be far more dangerous than the one I mentioned in the post itself…

The Onus Effect

For some, the effect that the onus has on them is simply what I said in my previous post about it: that they feel like they can’t ask for help yet they really should be asking and, so, they beat themselves up for not being able to ask.  It can lead to additional stress and frustration and worse.

But that’s not the effect I want to talk about.

I think this one is actually much worse.

For some people…it can make them feel as though they deserve it.

Let me expand on that a little.  See, for some people, they wouldn’t feel like they were able to approach others and ask for the help that they need.  As a result, they wouldn’t get that help because people are putting the onus on them, making them speak up for help and thus trapping them in that cycle of needing help yet being unable to ask for it so not getting it.  Moreover, when no one asks them how they are, if they need help or makes that effort to contact them, it starts them off in a cycle of increasingly negative thinking.

Check out Aimee W’s thoughts on the matter:

Realistically, it’s not an uncommon perception for people struggling with mental health issues, as I am and as Aimee W is.  I’ll be completely honest with you, it’s something I’ve thought plenty of times.  I’ve mentioned before about how people have just cut me off and I’ve not been able to bring myself to be the first to message and that, in turn, has led me to think that I’m not worth it.

That I deserve this…

What Should We Do?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we need to stop putting the onus on other people.  If someone was suffering from cancer or from another physical health condition that left them in hospital, we wouldn’t be expecting them to contact us if they needed anything.  No, we’d be checking up on them, asking what we could do to help.

So why should it be different for mental health?

That’s right: why should it be different for mental health??

The answer is: it shouldn’t!

Really, we should be asking people with mental health difficulties how they’re doing.  We should be making that contact.  Yes, we all have other things that we’re trying to do because everyone has a life to live, everyone has priorities that need taking care of but still…it takes five minutes (if that!) to send someone a message.

1 in 4 people in the UK struggle with mental illness.  Do you know what that means?  That means there are 3 people for everyone 1 of those 4 who could be checking up on them, making sure that everything is alright.  Unless, of course, those 3 people don’t care.

Please don’t be one of those people.

As I’ve said before, reaching out takes 1-2 minutes and it could save a life.

People don’t deserve cancer or leukaemia, they don’t deserve mental illness either.

So please don’t make them feel as though they do.

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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.