Crossing the Borders

The Borders of Borderline

Borderline Personality Disorder doesn’t seem to get much coverage, does it?  It’s pushed over the borders of what’s talked about and what’s not, left in the dark.  Why?  Possibly because there are still a lot of things that people don’t really know about it.  It’s one of the reasons we did our Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness Week back in August.  Well, this won’t be like all those times it’s not talked about because today I’m talking about the borders of Borderline Personality Disorder.

Saturday 03/11/2018

So, on Saturday I had quite a good day.  In the morning, I had a bit of a lazy day with Cheryl (the Little One was at her dad’s as it was his weekend with her) and we took advantage of that to relax a bit.  In the afternoon we went out to the shops to pick up a few things for the firework display at Cheryl’s mum’s that evening and then we went to pick up the kids (as their dad didn’t want to go to the fireworks with us) and we went off to Grandma’s for the bonfire and fireworks in the garden.

It was a lovely evening, with Cheryl and her sisters and their husbands, the kids, their cousins and, of course, Grandma.  Oh and the cat lurking somewhere about and the fish!  We ate hotdogs and soup and snacks, watched amazing fireworks from both Grandma’s garden and the garden a few doors down, as is the nature of fireworks.  Then the anxiety started up, the noise levels got a bit too much and I decided I needed to go home.  As if that wasn’t enough, I ended up with a bit of a squiffly stomach, which didn’t really help.  Anyway, we took the Little One back to her dad’s as it was late and she was getting tired, then I headed home and Cheryl went back to Grandma’s for that bit longer.

Truth be told, it was a lovely evening.  That night, however, things went pear-shaped.  Due to some mistake somewhere – with the chemist or the doctor or maybe I lost them – I didn’t have enough of my Quetiapine to see me through this week.  Normally I take them before bed and they help me sleep.  Well, I didn’t have them, so couldn’t take them.

And all hell broke loose.

Sunday 04/11/2018

I had two hours sleep.  For whatever reason, I couldn’t switch off.  I ended up binge watching Daredevil on Netflix, playing a little bit of a game on my tablet, tossing and turning, the works.  (There’s a blue-light filter on my tablet so it wasn’t that!)  It was only at around 5am that I was finally able to get some shut-eye.  Needless to say, it didn’t set me up for a great day the next day…

So Sunday…Sunday Sunday Sunday.  Depression, anxiety and Borderline Personality Disorder.  Lucky me, right?  Yeah, that’s what I thought.  On waking up at 7am-ish (don’t ask me why, I have no idea why) I was bright, I couldn’t sit still, I was bouncing ever so slightly on the bed (like the same way you’d jig your leg or be tapping your fingers, but I was sat on the bed at the time).  Then the mood crashed.  I lost all energy and motivation.  It was all I could do to get myself out of bed.

This was how my day went.  Up then down.  Up then down.  And again and again, over and over, mood cycling almost half-hourly.  It’s the part people don’t really talk about.  They talk about the lows of depression, the highs of anxiety…but what about the mood cycles?  Really, it was something like this:

You may have laughed at that and, if I’m honest, I smiled at it.  Yet how true is it?

The Reality of Crossing Those Borders

For those of us struggling with BPD, it’s a reality.  One minute we’re fine, the next we’re not.  The highs, the lows, the depths, the summits.  Crossing the borders between fine and not, between “happy” and “depressed” is so easy.  It’s sudden.  Unpredictable.

Horrible.

Do you know what makes it worse?  When you’re high and riding that feeling it can be quite euphoric.  I felt as though I could conquer the world; it was my oyster ready for the taking.  Nothing could stop me, anything I put my mind to could be achieved.  Then only moments later I was at the depths of despair, where everything was pointless, meaningless and I was hopeless.

Imagine that for a second if you can: going from that euphoric high to that crushing low.  If anything, it makes it so much worse because that drop is suddenly so much further.  Going from a reasonable day into a depressive spiral is one thing but going from that unlimited high down into that depth?  It really does make it so much worse.

So that was my Sunday.  How was yours?

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Left Behind – The Battle Behind the Choice

Simply Put: I Left

OK, so this latest post in my journey is difficult for me to write.  It talks about why I made the decision to leave behind a big part of my life.  A lot of people don’t know this, perhaps a lot of people don’t understand it, but here it is: the battle behind why I left my church.

Over the past nineteen months that Pushing Back the Shadows has been going, I’ve talked about my faith only a few times.  Not because I’m embarrassed about it – quite the opposite, really – I just don’t agree with using this mental health platform to push my religious beliefs onto anyone else.  If they happen to coincide with what I’m writing about, I’ll add them in, but only then.  It’s because of my faith that you’ve had posts such as The Mustard Seed – the fifth part of the Inside My Head series – and Why I’m a Christian But Have a Problem With Religion.  Now we come to this one.

To clarify, before you read what I have to say, this does not reflect everyone in that church.  Nor does it reflect my views on the church as a whole, the Salvation Army (as that’s the church involved), any kind of problem with other churches or other faiths and denominations.  It is what it is.

So what happened?

My Life In the Church

OK, let’s jump back to the beginning for a moment.  I’ll catch you up, don’t worry.  I was brought up in the church.  My parents are Salvation Army ministers and, as such, I’d go every Sunday, attend the Sunday School, you know how it goes.  I also became a member of the church, first as a Junior Soldier (the young people’s commitment) and, later on, a senior solider.  We also moved a lot, which was par for the course, and it led to many fantastic experiences such as living in Prague in the Czech Republic.  That’s definitely something I wouldn’t change for the world!

Don’t laugh…it was for an article and the photographer got me to pose! 🙂

Eventually, as these things happen, I was old enough to go to uni and my parents were moving onto their next posting.  Needless to say, I stayed behind, going to the local Salvation Army church.  That’s where our little journey begins.

Despite a few problems early on – being the pastor’s kid can present those kinds of challenges, as some people will dislike you simply because of who your parents are, others will think you know everything about the inner workings for the same reason and there are a few other reasons too – I settled into the part that I was to play.  A member of the brass band and the songsters (church choir, in a nutshell) as well as the worship team and youth team.  Later, I became deputy bandmaster for the brass band.  I took on the leadership of the worship team.  Also, I started leading my own groups in the Sunday School.

So what, you ask, went wrong?

My Mental Breakdown

Fast forward to around August 2016, when I had my breakdown with depression and anxiety.  I was under extreme pressure at work due to the number of calls I’d take working for the bank, how I was only a temporary worker and able to be let go at any given time (something that seemed held over our heads when it suited) and pressured into being at work and not being off sick.  We know how work turned out for me, but what about my church life?

I was under a lot of pressure there too.  Being a member of the different groups in the church was alright, I could cope with the responsibilities, but the leadership I was under became an issue.  Doing my best, then being told that I was doing things wrong but being given no guidance on how I was meant to do it…it led to problems.  Especially as my depression and anxiety started creeping up, I started to feel as though I couldn’t take a step without getting it wrong.  Quite rapidly – and rather shockingly – my church life, which had been a rock and a constant in my life for nearly a decade, was becoming very similar to that terrible workplace.

Having depression and anxiety is crippling and I’m unashamed to admit it got the better of me.  Exhausted, drained of almost all energy, I found that I was having to make choices.  Did I go to things like band practice, church, social gatherings or did I conserve my energy to get myself out the door for work, my only source of income and supporting myself?  I think we both know which I picked.  Unfortunately, not everyone saw it that way.  Apparently I was choosing to let my depression and anxiety beat me, choosing to let it keep me inside.  While that was right on a fundamental level, the truth was much more complicated than that.

One By One…

Aside from that one comment, at first everyone was supportive.  They tried to keep in touch, reminded me that I was missed, telling me that I was remembered in thoughts and prayers.  Then, as it became more apparent that my condition wasn’t improving at the pace they might have liked, they started to drop off the radar.  Encouraging messages and phone calls became fewer.  Visits that were barely in existence from the beginning also became fewer, bordering on the non-existent.

Add into this some of the people that I’d supported in that church, through difficult times, sometimes without getting anything in return, started disappearing off the radar as well…you can imagine how it must have felt.  All the while, the subtle voice of my Dark Passenger was whispering in my ear, telling me I didn’t matter.

After months of this – visits that never happened, messages that never came, people who were fair weather friends – I left.

The Battle Behind the Decision

I’ll be honest, people don’t understand this decision.  People tell me I didn’t give the church enough credit for what they did, that there were plenty of people trying to support me and that I ungratefully rejected it.  My take is that it was too little, too late.  Yes, there were those who were brilliant (and one who still is) but ultimately they let me down.  When they needed me, they were quick enough to come running.  When I needed them?  That was a different story.

The decision nearly tore me in two.  Part of me wanted to stay because of how long I’d been attending, how much I’d invested in it and the few people there who I still thought of as friend.  The other part…was still reeling from the hurt of what had happened.  Being abandoned in my time of need, being told I was choosing not to be there and being told I was rejecting offers of help…you can imagine.

Ultimately, I decided it was time to leave that part of my life behind me.  Trying to maintain it was only causing more hurt, the reminders of what had happened acting like mental scars.  For the sake of my mental health, for the sake of my recovery, I decided I had to leave the toxic part of my life behind me.

It was the only way.

What Came Next…

After making that decision, things have looked up.  I’ve joined a new church which is amazing.  There are two people in particular who are possibly the loveliest people that you could ever meet, who make sure they stay in touch and who are always on hand if you’ve got a problem.  It’s a beautiful little community of people and, more than that, it’s family.

I bear no ill will against the Salvation Army, for I still attend whenever I visit my parents and maintain a few friendships in the Army outside of that particular church.  As for the people of that church, I don’t hate them.  The only thing I feel, when I feel anything at all, is sadness.  Sadness that they didn’t realise what they were doing.  That even those who struggle with depression and anxiety and other mental illnesses didn’t know what to do to help me…or perhaps didn’t care enough to try.  Perhaps I’ll never know.

For the sake of my own mental health, though, I had to leave.

And that is the story of how I left my church.

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Taking Time Out to Put Time In…

Put Time Aside

I’ve talked a lot about the need to put time aside for ourselves, haven’t I?  Taking time out from our busy lives to simply stop.  Whether we’re too busy living life in the fast lane or we just don’t actually take that time out from our lives, we all need to stop for a moment, don’t we?

But why?  Why do we need to stop?  As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes it’s important for us to take that time out so that we can practise self-care.  It’s not always easy to do that, however, especially not with life being as fast-paced as it often is.  Yet it’s crucial, is it not?

In this post, I’m not just talking about taking time out, though, I’m also highlighting what we put our time into.  Our time is precious, is it not?  One of the most valuable commodities this world has to offer.  So it’s important we remember we’re not just responsible for taking time out of our busy lives, we’re also responsible for what we choose to put it into.

Behind the Metaphor

Alright, so we’ve already established frequently that I enjoy playing video games.  It’s my key downtime moments, my chance to unwind.  Some people enjoy a hot bath, others a good book, me…video games.  Recently, I started playing the Forza series, beginning with Motorsport 6, then moving onto Horizon 3 and now, after finding a good deal, Horizon 2.  (I know, I’m going backwards, but what can I say?)  To all who look at them, they appear to be racing games where you drive, you race, you compete, you (hopefully) win.  But there’s more to it than that.

One thing I love doing is taking a car, putting it in the garage and tinkering.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a petrol head or a grease monkey, but I really do love coaxing these cars to be better than better.  You’d think Lamborghinis, Ferraris, McLarens and the works would be the almighty holy grail of cars anyway, but in these games you can tinker with a variety of different car parts – from their engines to their platform and handling, tyres through to drivetrains and more.  It’s by swapping and alternating some of these parts that you can get these cars to the top of their respective classes and turn them into almost unbeatable machines.

And I love it!

Originally, however, I didn’t know what I was doing with them.  I’ve already mentioned that I’m not a petrol head or grease monkey.  I wouldn’t know how to do any of this stuff with my actual car.  That’s where the game makes it easier because it does it all for you, except you control what parts are being added and switched.  For those who can’t be bothered to do this or really don’t understand it, there’s a “quick upgrade” option, which you can select and the game will install all upgrades to bring it to its supposed optimal performance level.  OK, it doesn’t always work that way, but it’s an option.

But for me, it didn’t quite work.  Which was then that I realised I had to actually put time into my cars.

What I Put In

Selecting that quick upgrade option saved me a lot of time.  I didn’t have to go through the different workshops, selecting and deselecting parts, looking at performance scores and charts, determining what parts I wanted.  I also didn’t have to learn what on earth it was all about so that I would actually stand a chance of understanding what I was doing.

Ultimately, however, that didn’t serve me half as well as it was intended.  A lot of the time, the quick upgrade feature would simply add all available parts.  Alternatively, it would maximise engine power and not worry quite so much about handling, giving you speed over overall performance.

Yet how often is that what’s needed?

Customising a car in Horizon 3.

For some cars, the power is already inbuilt and what they need is the handling to go with it.  Springs and dampeners, better brakes, body weight reductions.  For others, they did actually need that power.  In other cases, an entirely new engine or entirely new drivetrain – changing it from all-wheel drive to rear/front-wheel drive, for example – was needed.

How would the quick upgrade know that?

It was all about that personal touch; how to get the car driving exactly as you wanted.  Personal preferences, driving styles and so on were lost inside that quick upgrade, as it indiscriminately whacked every upgrade it thought best onto the car.  So it needed something a little bit more…me.

Gradually, I started learning what I was doing.  Tutorials on YouTube or on the game, tinkering, experimenting and finally I was building cars of my own on this game.  And do you know what?  They worked a lot better!  Why?  Because they had a better match to my driving style.

Taking Time Out to Put Time In

So what am I actually trying to say?  Simply put, sometimes it’s not about taking the time out to recharge, it’s about making sure we take the time out so that we can put time in.  Be it a hobby, a new skill, something that we want to learn…if we don’t put the time in, we won’t get anywhere with it.

What is it you want to accomplish today?  What do you want to get out of whatever it is you’re trying to do?  I’d like to encourage you: take time out so that you can put time in.  You’ll be amazed at what you can do!

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Become a Patron - No Room For ErrorDisclaimer: 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.

Continuing to be Remembered

“Don’t Forget You’re Remembered”

It’s an amazing thing, isn’t it, what happens when you have a mental breakdown and suddenly disappear off the face of the earth.  For a short while, it’s as though nothing’s happened.  You lock yourself away, avoiding anything and everything that could possibly make your excruciating mental state worse and you go radio silent, preventing anything from getting to you.  Then, people suddenly seem to notice that you’ve gone.  That’s when the messages start.  Messages reminding you that “you’re remembered in thoughts and prayers”, “best wishes to you” and the like.

You’re remembered.

Isn’t that nice?  In my mind, it sounds remarkably like I’m already dead, but that might just be me and the state of mind that I’ve been in recently.  Anyway, it has a sense of finality to it.  Perhaps they think you’re never coming back.  Or maybe they’ve just given up on you already.  After all, the world can be very fickle.

Have you ever felt that?  That the words people choose for their messages push your mind in certain directions?  “I’m thinking of you”, having that ongoing concern but “you’re remembered in thoughts and prayers” feeling like you’re a part of the past?  It’s something I’ve dwelt on for a long time, wondering.

You see, there are so many things that I believe people get wrong when dealing with mental health.  One of those big things, as I’ve written about before, is putting the onus of communication onto the sufferer.  I feel there is no need for it, as people who care – and truly care – about the person suffering shouldn’t take the attitude that says “well I never hear from you, so why should I message?”  Though that’s a subject from a previous post.

But even when they’re not talking…don’t worry, because you’re remembered…

A Lame Excuse

Perhaps a little of my anger will show through in this particular section, but I’m sure as we progress you will understand where I’m coming from.  You see, the lines of “you’re remembered in our thoughts and prayers” just smacks of an excuse to me.  Not just any excuse, but a pretty poor excuse.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but it really really sounds like they’re saying “I want to care but I’m far too busy, so I’ll give you this lovely sentiment of being remembered so that you’ll feel better.”

Am I wrong?

It feels lazy.  As though they’re either too busy to bother arranging something or they simply cannot be bothered.  At least, that’s what it seems like to me.

Now, a lot of people reading this who have used that line will argue with it.  They’ll say that they’ve tried to arrange things, that they’ve attempted to make more of an effort to see you.  They’ll say that they’ve been met with a brick wall of radio silence, that they’ve not had any answers or that there has been no effort made on the part of the sufferer.  In other words, they’ll say it’s not their fault.

And maybe it isn’t.  Maybe they are simply doing the best they can with the situation that they have.  After all, if we won’t reply then what exactly can they do, eh?

What people don’t realise is that first impression, that initial moment is the key.

Cataclysm

In interviews, they say, it takes only 7 seconds to make that first impression.  7 seconds.  That’s it.  If we fail…then we fail, that’s it.  No more chances to make that good impression.

So let’s travel back together to that XXX.  How did it begin?  As I’ve already mentioned, it began with me putting up those walls, dropping out of things, initiating that radio silence.   Getting to grips with my condition left me with little room for anything else.

It was hell.

The radio silence, for the record, might as well not have happened.  After all, with no messages coming in to find out how things were, there was no point in maintaining that radio silence because there was nothing to respond to.  Not that I would have been able to respond if there had been messages.  With depression haunting my every waking moment, I didn’t want to talk to people.  I didn’t have the energy.  Because that’s one of the big problems with depression and other mental health struggles: the lack of energy.  Responding to people, trying to find the words to explain how I was feeling…that took energy that I didn’t have.

That brings us back to first impressions.  No one had noticed I wasn’t there, no one had thought to drop me a message to find out how things were going.  That cemented itself into my mind and, when the messages finally started coming, it was too late.

I’d given up.

They were meaningless.

The Blame Culture

You see, we live in a culture that seems to emphasise blaming others for whatever is going on in our lives.  Whether it’s a person, an object or something else, we will blame anyone or anything so long as we can avoid shouldering that responsibility.  It’s far too common, isn’t it?   I mean…have you ever heard someone use the excuse of “the dog ate my homework”?  I’m sure that’s one you’ve heard of.  Check these out (from the Reader’s Digest):

You see what I mean?  We are so intent on escaping any kind of culpability that we will blame everything and anything else.  And that’s what happens in these situations.  People will give us those short, “heartfelt” reminders that we are “remembered” but then do nothing else.  When we raise it as an issue, we are then told that we’re being ungrateful or that we never give them a chance or that we simply don’t message or don’t respond so why should they?

Likewise, we are quick to blame others when we lose contact with people or they don’t get in touch.  Who is really to blame, though?  After all, both parties could do more.  We, as mental health sufferers, could try and message a bit more and see if we can keep in touch.  Similarly, we as friends and family members supporting loved ones could make more effort to be understanding, compassionate, and realise that sometimes it might not be possible for the sufferer to message first.

My Conclusion

At the end of the day, having that reminder that we are “remembered in thoughts and prayers” is a cop out.  Why not replace it with actual direct questions?  Granted, a lot of people think “Hi, how are you doing?” is a bit of a lame message, so why not take it the next level deeper?  “Hi, how are things going?  Been thinking of you lately.  I’ve been doing X, Y or Z recently.”  Make that little bit more effort.

Who knows?  It might actually get you somewhere.

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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.

Telling People the Truth…Harsh or Fair?

Convincing Depressed People They’re Mentally Ill – Truth or Lie?

Don’t you love it when someone is trying to make a point, one that goes against what you believe, and they then inadvertently give you a greater social media footprint for that day, better website views and a post topic?  Truth be told…I love it!

So let’s dive in.  What happened?  Well, on the 13th of August 2018, I sat down at my computer, opened my browser and started loading my website along with my social media accounts that I was going to work that day.  As I was catching up on my Twitter notifications, I came across this one response to a tweet of mine.  It was from Rob Grant.  Check it out:

So let’s look at the tweet in question.  It was one of our #BruisedMinds images that I share across our social media platforms.  In fact, it was the image on the left.  Looks pretty encouraging, right?  Well apparently Rob disagreed with one part of it: that depression is a mental illness.

Let’s have a look at his reply and break it down (no, honestly, I’m not getting some kind of enjoyment from this…but oh I do love a good debate/argument!)

“Mental Illness Can’t Be Cured – Depression Can”

OK, suffice it to say that I’m confused with this bit.  In a nutshell, Rob’s whole argument centred around this concept.  He is convinced that depression is not a mental illness because it can be cured, as opposed to things like schizophrenia or bipolar.  Forget for a moment that depression affects the mind and it’s, by its very nature, an illness (as apparently that’s wrong) but look instead at the part where he says it can be cured.

Did you know that?  Hooray!  That black dog inside your head can finally be cured!  *Now re-read those last two lines in a sarcastic tone of voice please…*

There’s a word for his kind of argument but I’m polite and won’t say it.  Even so, what is he on about?  Depression can be cured?  Since when?  Every single article that I’ve found – both scientific and casual – say that depression has no cure but it is treatable.  Treatable.  We’re given medication, we’re given therapy, but that doesn’t amount to a cure.  There’s no magic bullet that zaps it.  It’s trial and error for everyone which, correct me if I’m wrong, is treatment, not a cure.

But that’s not the point I want to make here.  That particular point stems from the first part of his tweet…

Convincing Depressed People They Are Mentally Ill Will Put Them In a Deeper Hole…Truth or Lie?

OK…let’s make one thing very clear: depression affects the mind, depression is an illness, depression is, therefore, a mental illness.  Are we all agreed?  If we’re not, you might want to skip the next section, because you won’t like it.

Alright, glad you’re still with me.  So how many of you actually have a problem with the term “mental illness”?  Do you find that it actually makes you worse?  Interestingly, I had a number of people tell me it actually made them feel better in terms of fighting their depression.  So, ignoring the remark he made at the beginning of that, let me tell you what I think.

Personally, I’ve found that there is nothing wrong with being told I have a mental illness.  Truth be told, it is something that I would expect once I’ve been told that I have depression.  After all, depression is a mental illness in my mind.  Regardless, I find that it is beneficial for people to know that they are mentally ill.

Think of it this way: your computer has a problem that needs fixing.  You get it to run a diagnostic and it comes up with the error code and what the problem is.  OK, machines can’t think in the same way that we do, so it’s not like you’re telling the computer it’s ill…but by getting it to tell you what’s wrong, you’re able to fix it.  Likewise, if someone has anorexia then surely there’s something in their brain preventing them from eating?  So is that not a mental illness?  Whether a biological or chemical factor preventing us from doing what is deemed “normal”, is it not still an illness?  If we aren’t told that we are mentally ill, won’t we just assume that we’re fine and then not get treatment?

What do you think?

So you tell me…is making the link between depression and mental illness cruel?  Is informing someone that they have a mental illness going to put them into a deeper pit of darkness and despair?  Somehow I don’t think so – though I’d welcome attempts to change my mind.

Let’s see if you can!

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What I’ve Learnt About Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders…eh?

So we’re rapidly approaching the end of our Eating Disorder Awareness Week and boy, it’s been great!  It’s been wonderful to see people getting on-board, helping us raise awareness.  As Hannah Brown mentioned in her opening thoughts, I knew next to nothing about eating disorders when we started this week but now…?  Now I’ve learned a few things!

I know, I know…it goes without saying that if you take a subject about which I know nothing, add in experiences of people who know things about it and then give it all a good shake in my head then I’ll learn, but even so!  But what have I learned?  Let’s take a look!

A Difficulty to Comprehend

Before this week, I’ve always found eating disorders difficult to understand.  In my limited understanding of them, I’ve always believed anorexia to involve starving oneself, bulimia to involve eating then bringing it back up.  While aspects of that description are accurate, they’re not completely true.  As our guests Hannah Brown, Elle Rose, Hope Virgo and Cheryl have already told us, there is more to each of them than that.

Still, I always found it difficult to understand.  As someone whose appetite has only started wavering lately with my depression, I’ve never quite understood how people can refuse to eat.  If I don’t eat, I know about it and end up getting quite cranky!  So to think that people could do this to themselves was always a little difficult for me.

Take bulimia now, where people stereotypically binge eat and then bring it back up.  Recently I had some battered fish and chips – something I’ve had plenty of times before – but there was something in it that disagreed with me.  After inducing numerous instances of uncomfortable stomach, I decided I needed to throw up to make myself feel better.  Simply doing that was, unsurprisingly, uncomfortable, and I didn’t understand why people would want to do it to themselves.

Now…I do.

A Different Perspective

As with any mental health condition, eating disorders are complicated.  For some, they fit the mould exactly, as do other conditions.  Others, however, are different.  There are people who would come “on the spectrum” of eating disorders but not really fit the typical aspects.  It’s just as complicated as any other matter of mental health.

A lot of us suffer with body image, perhaps as part of depression or anxiety, or perhaps because of the ridiculous standards that society put on us.  To look at me, you wouldn’t think so but I do have a problem with body image.  I look at the shape of my stomach and I don’t like it.  Most people would argue with me, but I look at it and see the wrong shape.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not an eating disorder (unless an outrageously sweet sweet-tooth counts!!) but it all ties in.  We get our misconceptions about our own bodies and that, in turn, leads to the complications, be it an eating disorder or something else.

Running an eating disorder awareness week has not only engaged plenty of people across the world and brought them more information and understanding about how people cope with eating disorders, what causes them and more…it has given me an insight and opened my eyes to them as well.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Tomorrow, Cheryl and I will be live on our Facebook page to talk about how the week has gone.  Even after this week is over, though, we still want to keep raising awareness for eating disorders.  It’s important that people talk about these more, so that those suffering can get the help they need and the friends and family members supporting them can also get support.

To quote Hope Virgo from her post “You’re A Worthless Fat Girl” in our Eating Disorder Awareness Week:

“Try and remember this, stand strong, keep fighting and don’t ever give up!”

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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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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 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.

Scream

Scream – the Song

Music.  Songs.  Lyrics.  Melodies.  I’ve mentioned previously how much music can connect with me and be therapeutic for me.  More often than not, the music can soothe us, give us something to relate to.  As the image to the right says: we want someone to explain the things we can’t.  So that’s where my post about the song Scream comes in.

As I write this, it’s not a good day.  I’m feeling that Harrowing Void I talk about, rather strongly.  So what do I do?  I turn some music on.  Now, I can’t just listen to albums anymore, I have to put them on shuffle.  I like the randomness of it, not knowing what’s coming next.  I have playlists and albums and individual songs and so much that I can turn to (I have something like 6600 songs on my iPod!!).  Does this sound familiar?  Anyway, as I’m sat here feeling awful, a song comes on and it captures something that’s been going through my mind for a little while now.

It’s called Scream.

Feeling Invisible

Over on our Community Page, on 10/03/2018, we featured a post from Katie called Feeling Invisible.  It was something that grabbed my attention as I was looking for content, because it spoke so clearly to something that I’d thought over the past few weeks.  My thought was: if you had cancer or some other physical illness, people would be checking in and asking how you were; with mental illness, all you can see are tumbleweeds.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are some awesome people out there who notice when you disappear, who notice when you’re not around and, perhaps more importantly, who notice when you’re not doing so good.  Cheryl is one of those people and I have another friend called Andrew who is another.  These people are worth millions because they are there when you need them, putting themselves at the back of the line to ensure you get what you need.

Despite having those people around, however, it can feel like you’re invisible.

All too often, people don’t seem to care.  I go through my Twitter or Google+ daily and see cries for help under the various hashtags; people saying they’re stuck in that proverbial rut, unable to cope and needing a bit of help.  And the worst part?  Their posts have practically no comments or anything.

It’s like they’re invisible.

With social media being so crowded with so many people vying for space, it can be difficult to get our voices out there, to make them heard.

Scream

That’s probably why I related so well to this song.  By ZOEGirl, it is an amazing song that talks about that invisibility that we can feel.  The lyrics to Scream, I find, are so powerful.  The opening verse, for starters, says: “Does anybody know how I feel?  Sometimes I’m numb, sometimes I’m overcome.  Does anybody care what’s going on?  Do I have to wear my scars like a badge on my arm for you to see me, I need release…”

ZOEGirl album cover for Scream.Perhaps more powerful than that, the chorus says:  “Do I have to scream for you to hear me?  Do I have to bleed for you to see me?  ‘Cause I grieve, you’re not listening to me.  Do I need to scream?”

How often have you felt like that?  Can you relate?  Desperate for the help, we feel like we want to scream, like we want to bleed so people will notice.  It’s perhaps one of the reasons why self-harm so frequently gets labelled as a cry for help, because it seems to be the only way that we can be heard.

We have to scream.

You Don’t Have To Scream

Those of you reading this, feeling as though you relate…you don’t have to scream.  Knowing what it’s like going through this hell, I’m here for you.  I will listen.  You don’t have to scream for me to hear you, you don’t have to bleed for me to see you.  I will listen.

You don’t have to scream.

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Episode 27 – Depression the Comforter

What brings you comfort?  Some might find a blanket or a particular blanket comforting.  I find that there is an odd comfort in my depression.  Its familiarity is a comforter for me.  It sounds strange, but there is a good reason for me saying that.  Why not take a listen with me and find out?

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Become a Patron - Depression the ComforterDisclaimer: 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.