Monthly Archives: April 2013

Why are we all so fucked up?

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Mental health is a BIG issue. The stats are that 1 in 4 of us will experience some kind of mental health problem in our lifetime. These figures can only have been measured in terms of who has presented themselves and owned up to it. I’m convinced there must be millions, or even billions of people around the world who haven’t told anyone and tried to deal with it themselves, which makes the stats even higher. In the UK, waiting lists for therapy and other treatments are outrageously long because so many people require them. Mental health problems cross all the barriers of age, race, gender, occupation, social class and status. No-one is immune.

When you consider how much of a problem this is, it seems both ridiculous and amazing that as a society, we don’t put much emphasis on preventative measures. Sure, there is a lot of talk about improving services and developing new treatments along with many extremely worthwhile campaigns designed to get us talking and end the stigma. These are all fantastic developments. But they could be seen as locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.

In order to truly address the scale of the situation, we need to look at WHY so many people are struggling.

It’s complicated to break down because there are a lot of different factors to take into account. You could say it’s because of someone’s upbringing, a crisis that happened or that mental health conditions are attributed to genetic factors. These are certainly true in a lot of cases, but I think much of it is down to the fact we do not place enough importance on emotional wellbeing in our society.

By this I mean there is no education or preparation designed to equip us for the basics of surviving life and developing skills to deal with anything life might throw at us. For instance life can hurl relationship difficulties, communication breakdown, self-esteem problems, family issues, raising children, divorce, illness and death at us. That’s just the tip of the iceberg from my cultural perspective. Put yourself somewhere in the world that is experiencing war, extreme poverty or oppression and try to come out of that in one piece. You may suffer adversity or difficult circumstances and cope with it, but what if you can’t? The evidence is that many people simply can’t deal with the hand they have been dealt in life. We don’t know how to talk about and deal with our own problems and it can also be difficult to know how to help someone else.

Life is hard. It has never pretended to be anything else and it has no obligation to be good to us. But why don’t we know earlier about the way that life can suck and have a better idea how to deal with it?

I think a lot of the problems people develop are normal responses to difficult or abnormal circumstances, but we just don’t know how to deal with these responses and feelings.

I think it is shocking that we are allowed to leave school without an obligatory life management skills qualification. I don’t think it’s enough to say that this is a job for parents, or for the person themselves to find out through ‘life experience’. I think we should be taught how we can look after ourselves emotionally, recognise the signs of not coping and have a toolbox of resources both internal and external to draw on should we feel unwell.

It should be commonplace to implement mental health training and awareness for students in the curriculum but also have sessions focused on positive and proactive ways to deal with life problems.

Basic counselling skills would not go amiss either. How much easier would life be if we were all trained in listening properly, helping somebody to reflect on their situation, adopting a non-judgemental approach to another person and assisting them to find their way through their emotions? I gained a basic counselling skills certificate in 6 weeks, so surely it wouldn’t take much to have this as a module in a personal skills/health subject for older teenagers?

It needs to be normal for children to grow up feeling valued, heard and equipped with life coping skills. To have a realistic sense of the world they are going into and to feel confident in their abilities to handle emotions and situations. Particularly because mental health issues, specifically anorexia and bulimia are now presenting themselves in children under 10.

Education focuses on grades and preparation for University or jobs. It doesn’t focus on the whole person or look at what might be stopping them from achieving. A student may be extremely academically capable, but be unable to attain their potential if they are struggling emotionally and mentally. They are sent to Learning Mentors, counsellors or behavioural therapists if they are in trouble. Why not eqip them early on with the skills to express themselves and work through issues directly in the syllabus?

It needs a significant shift in perspective which I don’t think will happen unless we take the emphasis off fixing the problem and look instead at the root causes. Education is only one route into addressing mental health difficulties, but it’s a start.

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Trigger happy.

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If you are suffering from long-term mental health problems, you will probably find that any episode is preceded by some sort of trigger. Identifying your own triggers can be a useful skill in avoiding or minimising the severity of an episode. It can take time to work out what sets you off, or makes you feel worse. But self-awareness can be the most valuable tool at your disposal when managing your condition or dealing with an oncoming crisis.

It’s not selfish to spend time working out what makes you feel bad. It’s taking responsibility for yourself and your mental well-being. Sometimes the triggers may be obvious, or it may seem there is no particular cause for the way you feel. I’ve found that if you look hard you might find triggers so subtle, your mind didn’t acknowledge them at the time.

Therapy can help you work out what triggers your moods and behaviour, but long waiting lists and limited sessions could mean you only scratch the surface. It can only be as successful as the honesty and self-awareness you bring to the sessions anyway. It can be useful to do some self-analysis before your first appointment and have a list of ideas about why you may be feeling the way you do.

Triggers can also change over time. The things that trigger me to feel anxious or depressed now are not the same as when I was younger. I am relatively well at the moment, or ‘sub-clinical’ as the medical profession would say. This has given me an excellent platform to be able to look back over various periods of past depression and anxiety to work out what may have set them off. In doing so, I hope I can learn from them and possibly avoid any severe episodes in future. I don’t see this as ‘dwelling on the past’ or not being able to move on; it’s more of an evaluation of my experiences and self-protection insurance policy.

Everyone will have different triggers, but in the spirit of honesty and sharing, I’m going to list some of mine and show how identifying them has led to me being able to make some drastic positive changes to my life.

The main trigger to my most recent bout of depression and anxiety was my Dad dying suddenly, 5 years ago. Of course, it’s perfectly understandable that this caused me a lot of problems; it was a massive shock to the system and it was normal to be struggling as a result.

What I hadn’t accounted for was the aftershocks and complete inability to function which followed. His death set off a chain reaction of problems and although I sought medical help, I don’t feel that I received the right support. It’s only now, five years away from this that I can look at it rationally and think that all my symptoms seemed to match up with post-traumatic stress disorder. I really wish that one of the millions of doctors I saw at the time had diagnosed this correctly.

The practical upshot of this was that I lost all ability to control my moods and function normally. I was hideously depressed and suffering from severe anxiety and flashbacks, whilst simultaneously trying to keep my job and appear ‘normal’.

Thoughts, situations, people and events which I would normaly be able to deal with were triggering horrendous lows and anxious meltdowns. I was a wreck for years.

I’ve had to learn almost how to ‘re-wire’ my brain so that I could function again and experience some sort of joy out of life.

Part of this was the natural process of getting over my Dad’s death, but most of it was identifying the numerous triggers which were causing the aftershocks and meltdowns. It was difficult, especially when I felt that I was constantly on one of those death-defying rollercoaster rides. The main triggers are listed below:-

1) Anything connected with death. Of course, death is all around us so I’ve had to learn to cope with the idea of death as a part of life. I’ve accepted that I will always be over-sensitive to anything death related and be aware that it is a major trigger. For this reason, I avoid any funerals that it is not strictly necessary for me to attend. I don’t visit my Dad’s grave and I don’t mark the anniversary of his death. I turn over the TV if there are any references to dying or death and I don’t allow myself to ruminate about it. I tell myself that although death is traumatic, I will be able to get through it if anyone else dies because I’ve survived this experience. Really I could do with everyone staying alive for at least 5 years to give me a break from it. People, please try your best!

2) Being tired. Unfortunately, I am tired all the time as I have M.E. I’ve found that this can disturb all my carefully rewired brain settings in an instant. When I’m tired, I have a lot less control over my moods. My brain likes to gravitate towards topics I’d rather not think about. Thoughts, images and feelings come into my head in a random and disjointed way and it makes me feel confused and out of control. There is a level of extreme tiredness that I have only experienced since I got M.E which is similar to feeling drunk. This is a bad and not enjoyable drunk sensation that makes me feel like throwing up. Once it has gone this far, I have about half an hour to get to bed otherwise an extreme anxiety episode will follow that can go on for 12 hours or more. Now I’ve identified the damage that tiredness can cause, I prioritise rest, relaxation and sleep. As soon as my trigger radar picks up progressive tiredness, I act quickly to avoid my moods worsening. If I find myself stuck in the ‘drunk zone’ whilst travelling or in a situation where I can’t go straight to bed, I tell myself that the thoughts, feelings and mood I am experiencing are tiredness related and not a real reflection of how things are.

3) Being asleep. I know this seems crazy because I need a lot of sleep to cope with my M.E and mental health problems as detailed above. But sleep and especially dreaming seem to totally mess with my head. Again, it seems to disturb all the rational re-programming I’ve done in the day and my brain sees it as a chance to go on a frenzied free-for-all. The dreams I have are bizarre, disturbing and downright fucking insane. I had one last week where a man came and removed my brain and cut it into 50 pieces. He laid them all out in rows of 10 and then started eating it, piece by piece. I felt that ‘I’ was in a piece of brain in the back row, but when he ate a chunk, I could feel pain in all the pieces. Luckily my partner heard me making weird noises and woke me up. It makes me so mad that I have to dream shit like this. I don’t watch horror films or anything remotely disturbing. It’s all a product of my own inscrutable head. I thought my brain was supposed to be on MY side? I wish I could dream about kittens and fields of flowers. I deal with this by forcing myself to get up and on with my day. My normal routine seems to rebalance the order of things and I try not to dwell on these stupid night terrors.

3) Feeling alone or lonely. This is a trigger I’ve had all my life, although it has picked up it’s intensity since my Dad died. It’s an interesting one because I do love my own company and need a lot of time to do my own thing. Plus,I have a partner, family and friends I can talk to along with numerous Facebook pals and support groups I belong to. So it’s been tricky getting to the bottom of how and why feeling lonely is a big issue. I think it’s roots are in my teenage years, when due to extreme shyness and lack of social skills, I spent a lot of time in my bedroom. Some of it comes from years of not being able to talk about my depression and anxiety; from feeling like I couldn’t be myself with people or that I had to hide my problems. I think some of it is also due to spending excessive amounts of time at home alone with Neutropenia related illness. I’ve realised that as soon as I start feeling ill, it automatically triggers the lonely feelings because I don’t know how much time I’m going to spend cut off from the world. As soon as I feel a sense of loneliness coming on, I force myself to interact with people. I remind myself of all the support I have around me and I put the TV and computer on if I’m stuck at home ill. Seeing humans on telly and chatting on Facebook is sometimes enough to get me through if I am going through a tough time.

4) Being surrounded by people all the time. I know, I’m a mass of contradictions! This can send me mental just as much as too much me-time. It manifests itself as extreme irritation and claustrophobia. I’m still working on getting the balance right between company and solitude. But I’ve realised there is nothing wrong with taking time out for a solitary walk if on a group holiday, or taking lunch alone if work is busy and frenetic.

5) Being bored. I get bored very easily and it is an absolute recipe for disaster. My mind will instantly wander onto all kinds of unsuitable topics and mental mayhem will ensue. Popular choices include the meaning of life, the nature of reality and why are we here? As I’ve spent most of my life pondering these weighty issues and not arrived at any conclusions, I’m not allowed to think about them anymore. I realised that all the great thinkers, philosophers and scientists had already spent years on these topics and not arrived at any answers, so what’s the point in me wrecking my own head over it all? If I get bored and these thoughts come into my head I tell myself to stop it. I remind myself that life is for living and go and do something less stupid instead.

6) Music and background noise. This one took me a while to pick up on as it is what I’d call a subtle trigger. I realised I can feel suddenly depressed or extremely agitated if there is a moving soundtrack on TV or a sad song playing on the radio or in a cafe. Anything in a minor key can set me off, even if the music is technically beautiful. In the past I loved this kind of music, but post Dad’s death, it triggers extreme mood swings. Ditto any repetitive noise, such as roadworks,traffic, phones ringing and the fan in our bathroom. I can’t avoid all of these things but being aware of their effect is very useful.

7) Changes in routine. I know this may seem an odd one for someone who is easily bored, but I function best these days when everything is more or less the same. I’ve always been a creature of habit but this has now been taken to the next level, like everything else. I think it’s again due to the shock of my Dad going. He was literally here one minute and gone the next. My subconscious has obviously decided that everything now must be more or less predictable to offset this. Work days are now bizarrely, the times when I feel most stable. The whole day follows a set routine and structure wheras being off on holiday, or going away does not. I’m annoyed that it’s now ‘fun’ things that cause me massive problems and mood swings. I used to love being off work and could quite happily mill around for the whole summer break. I still like it, but I’ve learned I have to implement a different routine and can’t float around at leisure. If I let the days go by, I end up feeling lost, disconnected, anxious and adrift. Going on overnight trips or holidays has become fraught with difficulty as the transition brings on severe anxiety. It doesn’t matter how much I’m looking forward to it, I can’t avoid being up all night with anxiety before I go. The first night on arrival is usually fucked too, as I adjust to a new routine. I’d never let it stop me, but it’s a fucking pain in the arse and very debilitating. I tell myself I’ll be fine when I get there and will enjoy it because this is always true. I never want to become one of those people who is ruled by their anxiety. So what if you arrive on holiday or to stay with someone looking a bit mental? It’s better than not arriving at all.

These are the main triggers that I’m dealing with right now. There are more, but I don’t want this post to resemble the length of War and Peace. I’m delighted to find that writing about triggers hasn’t triggered anything nasty, so this is a plus point! Why not have a go at writing a list of your own?

Blog award number 2!

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Wow, what a great week I’m having! Just as I finish celebrating my Dragon’s Loyalty Award, I find out I’ve received a Liebster Award! I was nominated again by my dear blogging friend Kimberly, whose blog can be found at words4jp.wordpress.com.

Her blog is amazing, inspiring and thoughtful and she has been a great source of help and support to me as I fathom my way through the blogosphere. Particularly in terms of displaying the awards, which is a lot harder than you would think.

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The word Liebster is German and means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, valued and endearing. Aw, how nice! The award is given to up-and-coming-bloggers with less than 200 followers. I met the criteria before the nomination, but as my followers went up since the Dragon’s Loyalty Award, I may be slightly over now…

The criterium for receiving the award is as follows:-

1. Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog and link back to the blogger who presented this award to you.

2. List 11 random facts about yourself.

3. Answer the 11 questions from the nominator.

4. Present the Liebster Blog Award to 11 blogs who you feel deserve to be noticed.

5. Create 11 questions for your nominees.

6. Leave a comment on their blog letting them know they have been chosen.

7. Copy and Paste the blog award on your blog.

OK folks, time for 11 random facts about myself. I will have to make sure I don’t duplicate any from the list in my last post!

1) When I was 17 I used to collect road signs. The piece de resistance of my collection was a ‘keep left’ bollard.

2) I like to eat sweets and chocolates in even numbers.

3) I like to eat savoury foods in odd numbers.

4) I have lucid dreams, but as yet can’t control them.

5) My favourite colour is purple.

6) My favourite TV show at the moment is Girls.

7) I once met Graham Norton at a party.

8) I have a lamp in the shape of a squirrel.

9) My favourite song at the moment is ‘What about us?’ by The Saturdays.

10) I love crafts and making things.

11) I hate touch screen phones and computers. I need keys, man!

For the next part of my award receiving criteria I have to answer 11 questions from Kimberly, which are:-

1) What is your favourite cuisine? – Carvery, chinese takeaway, Italian and of course, CAKE.

2)Where is your ultimate travel destination? – New York. I went once and loved the energy and vibrancy of the city. Would love to go back and ideally live there for a while.

3) Favourite animal?- Dog.

4) Do you prefer long or short hair?- Long hair on myself because it’s too curly and frizzy to suit any other style. I flatten it straight with GHD ceramic iron technology. If it was naturally straight I’d have an asymmetric short cut.

5) Bottled water or tap? – Tap. Bottled water is too expensive and probably filled from a tap anyway.

6) What are you most afraid of? Snakes.

7) a. Do you write drafts of your blog before posting? – Yes.

b. Do you write directly on your computer, or write on paper then computer?-  Directly on computer.

8) If you could come back in another life as an animal, what would you want to be? – A monkey. I’d like to be as close to a human as possible, but without all the thinking and angst.

9) Do you get your news from the paper, radio, TV, computer or smart phone app? – TV and computer and celebrity mags.

10) What was your first paid job? – Supermarket cashier.

11) What is your favourite spectator sport? – People watching.

I will now present the Liebster Award to 11 other bloggers who I feel embody the Liebster spirit –

http://www.brigittesbanter.wordpress.com

http://www.iancaimercer.wordpress.com

http://www.creativedepression.wordpress.com

http://www.diabeticredemption.wordpress.com

http://www.littlecuckoobirdy.wordpress.com

http://www.kenyatta2009.wordpress.com

http://www.rustbeltbliss.wordpress.com

http://www.betweenfearandlove.wordpress.com

http://www.wendylavin.wordpress.com

http://www.dwarfwench.wordpress.com

http://www.wakingupandspeakingout.wordpress.com

Now for the final stage of my award, I must post 11 questions for my Liebster Award nominees.

1) You inherit £10 million pounds the same day aliens land and say they are going to blow up the world. What do you do with the money?

2) Would you rather have scissors for hands or wheels for feet? Please explain your answer.

3) If you were locked up in jail for life with one other person, who would it be and why?

4) Do you believe in ghosts?

5) Have you ever tried limbo dancing? If yes. what was the outcome?

6) If there was a nuclear holocaust, do you think people would be more likely or less likely to be eating Hellman’s mayonnaise?

7) Do you know how to defend yourself against a rhinocerous attack?

8) Henry Ford declared that ‘History is bunk’. Do you agree or disagree?

9) If you could invent something, what would it be?

10) What is your favourite part of being a blogger?

11) Do you prefer Britney or Shakira? Please give reasons for your answer.

That’s all for today folks. New blog post coming soon! Over and out.

Laura X

My first blogging award!

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Greetings and salutations! A pleasant surprise awaited me on WordPress this week – my first award! I’ve been nominated by fellow blogger Kimberly, whose blog is at Words4jp.wordpress.com. I’ve only been following her for a short time but find her posts moving, uplifting and inspirational. Her poems evoke a myriad of emotions and are beautiful and insightful. She has that rare ability to make me think and also make me laugh. She is well worth a follow!

Here is my lovely Dragon’s Loyalty Award below –

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Thanks for nominating me Kimberly, I’m properly chuffed. If I have understood correctly, this award is given for strength in writing. I don’t know much about mythical beasts, but Wikipedia informs me that dragons are symbolic of wisdom. Now I have this award, you can rest assured that I will try to impart wisdom in my blog at all times and also try not to breathe fire over you.

During the process of receiving my award, I’ve also been forced out of my comfort zone and learned how to include an image on my blog. This needed to happen and I’m thankful for the kick up the backside. I’ve chosen some amazeballs bloggers to receive the award too.

1) http://www.searchingforthehappiness.wordpress.com

2) http://www.littlecuckoobirdy.wordpress.com

3) http://www.halfwaybetweeenthegutterandthestars.wordpress.com

4) http://www.walktheselftalk.wordpress.com

5) http://www.alittlelocalcolor.wordpress.com

6) http://www.rustbeltbliss.wordpress.com

7) http://www.diabeticredemption.wordpress.com

8) http://www.iancaimercer’sblog.wordpress.com

9) http://www.betweenfearandlove.wordpress.com

10) http://www.improveyourlife.wordpress.com

11) http://www.wakingupandspeakingout.wordpress.com

12) http://www.creativedepression.wordpress.com

13) wwww.weatheringthestorm.wordpress.com

14) http://www.wendylavin.wordpress.com

15) http://www.dwarfwench.wordpress.com

The criterion is essentially the same as that of all awards –

1.Display the Award Certificate on your website.

2.Announce your win with a post and link to whoever presented you with the award.

3.Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers.

4.Drop them a comment to tip them off after you have linked them in the post.

5.Post 7 interesting things about yourself.

Now let’s see if I can find 7 interesting things to say about myself…

1) I used to perform stand-up comedy. When I am not bogged down by life crap, I can be quite funny!

2) My house is currently festooned with miniature Easter chickens. Courtesy of my partner Alan.

3) My blood group is B positive, which is also my motto in life.

4) I’m about to become an Auntie for the first time.

5) I love anything neon at the moment. I need neon nail varnish, accessories and clothing. I particularly want a neon satchel.

6) I love graffiti art and would love to get some sprayed onto my yard wall.

7) I will never become a grown-up and that is my promise to you.

My next post will be arriving this weekend and I will be talking about triggers. Not the kind found on guns, but the ones that set you off into hopeless states of melancholy. Until then, I’m off to celebrate my award with a giant Easter egg.

Live long and prosper. May the force be with you!