The Difference Between Thoughts and Plans

*Trigger Warning: this post talks about suicide, suicidal thoughts and suicidal plans.*

Thoughts…Plans…Suicide…

Whenever someone with depression or a mental illness that can prompt depression-like symptoms is in a counselling or therapy appointment, one of the most common questions asked by the therapist is: “have you made any plans to end your life?”  It’s a scary question and one that we don’t like to contemplate.  Whether we’ve had those thoughts or not, the notion that we might end our lives can be terrifying.

For friends and family members, it’s almost a taboo topic.  No one likes to hear that their loved one is having thoughts about their own death.  If you hear that someone close to you is considering ending their life, it might prompt you to reevaluate yourself, asking why you’re not enough to keep them here.

Regardless of who is talking about it – the therapist, the one suffering, the friend or the family member – suicide is never a pleasant topic.  That said, it is one that is integral to many mental health conditions and it’s important that we break down the stigmas attached.  So here, I’m going to tell you a few things about suicide that might help.

“Plans To End My Life”

For the majority of people, hearing someone talk about suicide immediately makes them think that person is planning to end their life.  Certainly, this might be a possibility and it seems to be the part of suicide that we hear the most about.  True, we hear about people who have committed suicide but whenever we hear about people who think of suicide, we hear about those who are making plans.

In many respects, it’s almost become something of a horror story.  Someone struggling with mental health mentions suicidal thoughts and next thing we know they’re being sectioned for their own safety.  OK, these things don’t quite go down like that, but it’s one of the impressions of suicide that I’ve heard.

But did you know that there is a difference between plans and thoughts?  It’s something that people forget but it’s a very important differentiation to note.

Suicidal Thoughts

Contrary to popular belief, suicidal thoughts are far more common than you might believe.  According to mind.org.uk anyone can have them, regardless of their background or situation in life.  Yet it might surprise you to know it’s not quite as concerning as it’s made out to be.

Many of us who struggle with suicidal thoughts don’t actually have any intention of following through on them.  We have thoughts about how we would do it, we have thoughts about what the world would be like if we did do it but they aren’t plans.  They are abstract thoughts.  Think of them as the fleeting thoughts, the ones that aren’t too important, but surface every now and again.  A lot of the time, they’re not very intense and we’re not likely to act on them.  They are more like musings than actual proper, seriously considered thoughts.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not making light of suicidal thoughts.  If someone is having them then it is vital they consult a medical professional to determine whether there is an underlying problem.  What I am saying is that we, as friends and family members, should not freak out if someone we love comes to us and tells us they are having suicidal thoughts.  The best thing to do is to be understanding, to be calm and empathetic.

Having suicidal thoughts does not mean that we will necessarily act on them but they must be taken seriously nonetheless!

What You Need To Know

As with all aspects of mental health, suicidal thoughts vary from person to person.  Some experience them strongly, some don’t.  For some, they last a long time, for others they are fleeting.  As for reasons, some people have clear ones why they would be thinking of it, others might not know.  It is a complicated thing.  The best things you can do are:

No one likes admitting to having suicidal thoughts and it can be scary for both sides.  Yet it can be part and parcel of having depression, bipolar, BPD and other mental illnesses.  A counsellor once told me this:

“Suicidal thoughts aren’t necessarily a bad thing.  It means your mind is looking for a way out of your current situation.  All we have to do is provide it with an alternative.”

So what do you say?  Shall we work together to find an alternative for the ones we love?

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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.

Don’t Tip the Scales

The Table Tip

It might seem like an odd title for a post, “Don’t Tip the Scales” but, as usual, there is logic to my madness (I know, I know…it’s scarce!)  Before I reveal that, though, I want you to think of the show Total Wipeout.  Do you remember that?  Based in Buenos Aires, Argentina and hosted by Richard Hammond, it was an obstacle course competition where contestants pitted themselves against each other to be crowned the Wipeout Champion.  They’d go through the qualifier, eliminating the out-of-shape or slowest of them.  Next came a second challenge designed to thin out the herd even more.  Then the last three would compete in the epic Wipeout Zone for the title of champion.

I loved it!

Seeing people fail…while it’s not necessarily a nice thing to enjoy, seeing people fall into the pools or muddy pits was actually really funny.  A bit like seeing those people take on Takeshi’s Castle or the American Ninja Warrior challenges.  There’s an odd kick that can be had out of seeing these people, so confident and full of that bravado, trying and failing to beat the course.

One part that I remember from Total Wipeout was the Tippy Table in the Dizzy Dummies run.  A large table that tipped steadily from side to side (at least as far as I remember it), making contestants slide into the pools at either side.  It’s that that I want you to picture.

The Total Wipeout Tippy Table

A Mental Health Tip

Just as the Tippy Table tipped contestants into the water, I find our mental health can tip us as well.  If you have depression and anxiety, as I do, then it’s possible for our mental health to tip like that Tippy Table.  Walking with depression and anxiety is like walking a knife’s edge because one false move or misstep and you’re over the edge.

What do I mean?  Well, I’d like to tell you a little story of something that I’ve experienced.  It’s one of the harder parts of walking with depression and anxiety.  I was sat in my old church in one of the services, participating as I normally would (I was in the brass band, the singing group and so on) and I suddenly felt my anxiety clawing at me.  Yes, I do actually mean clawing at me, because it felt like some ferocious beast trying to suffocate my heart.

I sat there as best I could, trying to fight the demon – yeah, I know, not very religious and holy to have a demon inside of me in church, but that’s how it felt at the time!  Unfortunately, all my best efforts failed and I ended up having to get up and remove myself from that situation.  I found a small, quiet room and barricaded myself in a little so that I could have a moment to attempt to recover.  Seemed like a good idea at the time, but it didn’t work.

In the end, I went home.  It was only a five minute walk, round the corner to the block of flats I lived in, but I thought the fresh air and the home environment would have done me some good.  Already, the anxiety was abating and my heart-rate was slowing back down to normal.  I bet you can’t guess what happened next…

Off the Knife-Edge

Imagine for a moment that you are walking on that balance bar.  Cheryl did one recently at Cattle Country when we went on holiday.  We’d stopped off to break up the journey and give the 4-year-old a little bit of respite from the car and Cheryl decided she was going to do the balance beam.  As her weight shifted, the beam went to turn one way so she compensated for it to right herself.  That compensation turned into overcompensation, however, and she fell off the other side instead.

Well, this is what happened to me.  In my attempts to push myself out of my anxiety attack, I pushed myself too far.  Instead of my mood and emotions rising and rising in the uncontrollable bouts of anxiety, they plummeted like a meteor crashing or a spaceship re-entering the atmosphere in free fall.

My mood crashed.

In a matter of half an hour, perhaps even less time, I went from being so anxious that I was bright red from additional blood flow, heart racing, unable to sit still and remain in the situation, to being at rock bottom.  I was feeling nothing.  It was as if I’d just completely severed any kind of emotional link in order to protect myself, much like an electrical device has a fuse to protect itself from too much electricity.

And so it was that I crashed.  Completely and utterly, back to “the cutting room floor”, so to speak.  Yes, I’m attempting to put a humorous spin on it, but that’s one way that I cope.  In pushing myself out of the anxiety attack, I’d sent myself head-first into a depressive spiral that sent me back to self-harm to cope.  It wasn’t something I’d have thought I’d go straight to, but it happened.

A Balancing Act

So, as you can see, having a mental illness is just like a balancing act.  You walk the knife’s edge, trying not to tip yourself one way or the other.  It’s a constant struggle between sink or swim, fight or flight, getting yourself where you need to be with the resources that you have.  If you wonder why someone with depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions is often tired…this is why.

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The Name of the Beast

What’s In A Name?

“Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.”
– Juliet Capulet, Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare

What’s in a name then?  I felt Juliet Capulet had a few interesting thoughts on that, though we’re not really here to discuss names, are we?  No, this post is on a slightly different slant.  More specifically: diagnosis.

Plenty of people have asked me over the years why I am committed to delving as deeply into my mental health as I can to find out exactly what I struggle with.  After all, I do seem to dig deeper and deeper until I’m satisfied that everything that is there is diagnosed – which is how my Borderline Personality Disorder came to light.

But why do I do it?

A Society Neatly Labelled

We have a lot of labels in our society.  Naturally, it makes sense that things around us have labels, but we find a lot of people have them too.  Everyone, nowadays, seems to have some kind of label, no?  Some defining attribute, something in their physical appearance, something else…it gets taken and turned into a label.

So it is with mental health as well, for people find their diagnosis becomes their identity.  Just as the classic line for AA says “Hi, my name is X and I’m an alcoholic”, we find plenty of people are being labelled according to their mental health.  People are known by whether they’re depressed, anxious, bipolar, have a personality disorder, or even an array of physical health conditions.

Assuming all that is accurate…why, then, would I want to find out what all my labels are?

Quite simply: it names the beast.

The Name of the Beast

Call me crazy (although my mother had me tested…no, only joking) but I find a label helps me to cope with my mental illness.  In the same way someone else can identify it, I find that I can better identify with it as well.  It helps me understand what I’m dealing with.  In a sense, it gives me a truer understanding of the problem.

Alright, let’s sidetrack a moment.  Imagine you’re in the swimming pool with your child – for argument’s sake, we’ll say a four-year-old, as I’ve got experience of that.  As she can’t swim well, she’s got a rubber ring on but you find the rubber ring keeps deflating.  That implies that there is a hole in it where the air is escaping, but you can’t fix it without knowing where the hole is.  So begins the epic hunt for this tiny pinprick so that it can be fixed.  The only trouble is you have to know exactly where that hole is.

Likewise, having a diagnosis provides me with the information that I need to be able to cope with the condition.  Before the diagnosis, I know something is wrong.  I know that there are things that will need changing, perhaps, or things that will need attention before whatever it is can be made better.  But without knowing what it is that needs fixing (as opposed to the location for the rubber ring analogy), how can I fix it?

So for me, having a name for whatever is wrong, having a diagnosis is helpful.

The Caution to this Tale

Knowing what the illness or condition is is all very well, but what happens afterwards, what we choose to do with it is something else entirely.  For some, it seems to be that they collect medical diagnoses almost like scout/brownie badges, as avidly as a collector.  That’s not disagreeing that they have those conditions, but does it really help them move past it?

Others will take those labels, make them their own and continue to hold onto them the way a miser holds onto money.  They cannot be parted from them because suddenly it is an immovable part of their personality or psyche and no one can take that away from them.

It’s important, as we gather these labels, that we don’t stick them to ourselves with superglue.  We still have that responsibility to try and work through them instead of sitting in them.  If we don’t move forwards, we will be forever stuck with them when there is still the potential to move past it or through it.  (Granted, some conditions are lifelong and that’s OK, but others aren’t and it’s those that this last comment concerns itself with).

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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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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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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.

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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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.

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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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.