The Yankee Candle Life Bomb

Sometimes Life thinks it is lighting a Yankee Candle… but really it is causing a major explosion. Oops! 

The gang on my Facebook page said they’d like to see more of my original illustrations on both UDC and Facebook. So here we go. 

This one is a bit symbolic of my life at the moment, things start okay or nice and then… boom. If there is anything that could go wrong it does. Hence the blog silence. BUT things are getting sorted slowly, which means when I’m up to writing a full blog post I’ll have lots to tell. 

Mouse stands next to a small pile of explosives. ‘Life’, a character which looks like a blue and purple ghost, is standing next to Mouse. Mouse says: “Okay Life, if we stay very very still we might be okay.” In the next image Life is holding a pink candle in a jar and a lit match.  “Yankee Candle?” Life asks. “No Life No!!!” Shouts mouse looking shocked. In the next image, after the inevitable explosion, blue and purple Life is lying on the floor looking forlorn. Mouse is standing looking at Life. Mouse says: “oh for crying out loud... let’s start again... “ Copyright Upside Down Chronicles

Thanks for reading 🐭x

Four Results Days, Four Realisations.

I’ve had four A level result days.

2014 was the first. Having been incredibly ill all year I knew I had failed. Everyone told me I hadn’t, but I knew I had. I hadn’t been eating properly or sleeping for weeks and had fallen asleep for part of two of my exams. The day before the results, my psychiatrist told me down the phone that I was having a major depressive episode and needed an ambulance immediately.

2015 was the results day where I had no results. I had been in psychiatric units for the entire year and was reflecting on the year before’s experience. I wrote a blog about it ‘FACED BUG – Some Results Day Rationale’, and ultimately realised that no exam result was worth being suicidal for.

In 2016 I worked hard on my AS levels all year and, despite still acclimatising to the outside world, I did well in English. I also got a very unwelcome ‘U’ in French. Obviously, being me, I internalised it and declared to myself that I was stupid. It was a couple of weeks later when my paper was sent back that my tutor realised that the awarding body had managed to lose the majority of my A3, neon yellow, exam paper. Instead of noticing that things were amiss the board merrily awarded me their lowest mark, a U. After a complaint I got a C grade based on the one questions they did manage to keep hold of.

This year I was incredibly nervous. I didn’t know what was going to happen. This year was different in that I had been in touch with my dream university and had asked about applying for 2018. I had accesss problems in one of my exams, which as always I worried would affect my grade. I arrived at college clinging to my Dad and softly hyperventilating. We went to the desk and got the envelope. The exam officer, a complete star, appeared at my side. “I want to be here when you open this!” She said.

‘Oh boy’ I thought. ‘She’s making sure she’s here to pick up the pieces. It must be bad.’

She smiled and opened the envelope. I got an A* in English and a C in a very hard French paper. I’d even got an A in my French AS resit. I couldn’t believe it. It’s the first year that anyone from college has been there when my results were opened, it’s the first time people smiled and the first time my Dad cried with happiness. It’s the first time I’ve been in disbelief because the news is good and the first time the conversations about ‘next steps’ have been positive.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that once I decided that my mental health was worth more than exams I was actually able to do better academically for it. That first year I stayed up all night studying for weeks on end. I was ill but wouldn’t stop. It did me no favours at all. Okay, my friends from high school are well into their degrees by now, but I now realise that I do things in my own time and in my own way. I’ve got my own beat and my own drum and I definitely dance to it. Your mental health is so important. Years of being mentally unwell can’t be retaken and they are so much more regrettable than a disappointing brown paper envelope. Look after yourself and take your time, good things do come to those who wait.

My dad and I hugging just after opening the envelope

Jim Poyner Photography

 

OCD Vs Perfectionism On The Mighty

If you ask people who have been diagnosed with OCD what the biggest misconception about their illness is, one thing comes up over and over.

We’ve all heard it: “I’m so OCD” people joke as they emerge from their wardrobe having spent a happy hour sorting it by season. They believe OCD refers to a quirk of character, a term for their perfectionism, even a synonym for high productivity. In reality OCD is very different and when the monster rears its ugly head compulsions made up of tiny and meaningless actions can consume hours. It’s far from efficient because, after all, tapping a desk or moving an object from side to side again and again in search of the ‘right’ feeling doesn’t cross things off your to-do list.

I think this video by The Mighty is perfect to show the difference between clinical OCD and perfectionism. The film shows two young women’s days side to side. If someone you know is a repeated offender of joking that they are ‘so OCD’ consider giving this a share and maybe they will learn something new.

Leaving DBT

I’d heard such good things about DBT and the wide array of issues it can help with. But once I began the therapy things very quickly went downhill for me. My voices were so loud in the group, defiant they wouldn’t be silenced, that it was difficult to concentrate, and I had so many questions that didn’t feel welcome. I felt like I was expected to just absorb the information given and make it work.  The skills of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy seemed to contradict each other and some sounded like they were straight out of ‘The Little Book of Calm’.

One of the skills ‘Radical acceptance’ is about just accepting the past. I wondered why anyone is in therapy at all if radical acceptance is the ideal cure. Society constantly asks us to radically accept whatever has happened to us. But I don’t know anyone who has found the societal kicking to ‘just get on with it’ healing. I became more and more sceptical of some of the skills, no matter how open minded I tried to be. It made me realise that in order to be more mindful I needed to understand myself and get properly assessed. Until this happens I can’t put everything aside and ‘just be mindful’ as DBT asked me to.

Another of the barriers for me was that my mood does not tend to swing violently on a day to day basis. I could go weeks or months where I didn’t have a real life depression to practice skills with. I practiced anyway, several hours on each homework and two visits to the clinic every week. However when there was a real life situation where a skill could be used, I found that dissociation meant I couldn’t apply any techniques. I found it increasingly more and more humiliating going to one to one sessions and hearing about all the things I should have done, when at the time I wasn’t aware of being in my body; let alone the whereabouts of my DBT worksheets. My OCD and general perfectionism made me incredibly anxious about the whole process. I tried bloody hard, but I couldn’t be the perfect DBT student. This alone made me despise myself even more than I did already. My mind had set me up with that goal, but unfortunately that goal became a big part of my DBT process failing.

DBT works for a lot of people and this is only my opinion. But the more I went to DBT the more I felt like I was in a sitcom about therapy. Everything from the clinking of the chimes at the beginning and end of a mindfulness activity and even some of the skills would have made great comedy material. One of the more notably bizarre skills was half smile and willing hands in which you look slightly sinister and wait for serenity to come upon you. My uncertainty as to whether DBT was the correct path for me seemed to frustrate my 1:1 therapist greatly. She said that by trying to get me involved she had been utilising the ‘foot in door’ technique and now she would move on and use the ‘door in face’ technique by suggesting I move on. I said that sounded like mind games. She said: “that’s DBT”.

In the end I realised that the amount of hours I was putting into something that was rendering me totally miserable was stopping me from being able to do things that did actually make me feel better. Energy is a precious commodity and after about two months and many hours I couldn’t sacrifice anymore of it. I did meet some lovely people in the DBT group who I admire immensely and wish the best of luck in their therapy. In the meantime I am having more assessments to work out what to do next. No therapy works well for everyone, we are all individuals. I was absolutely terrified that me leaving the therapy would mean I would not be offered any help again. This luckily did not happen and everyone working with me respects my choice and my right to receive treatment.  The ‘Mouse Does DBT’ category will now become ‘Mouse Tries’, a series of blogs about different techniques that may help people with mental health problems.

A mouse with crossed arms and closed eyes with the words 'oh well' above it's head

I’m Twenty

Today I turn twenty. Most people will celebrate their 21st birthday as the major milestone, but I’m partying today. Well when I say ‘Partying’… I’m drinking tea and feeling grateful. Partying.

To put it bluntly: I’m here. My teenage years are over and I made it. I got through. I did it. 

This may sound over dramatic, but there were times where it really was a close call. I was so ill that I was trying to end my life. It’s hard to look back, but I am proud of myself now, really bloomin’ proud. Ten year old me wouldn’t have been able to dream up all the things I am doing at the moment. I hit rock bottom, yes, but the only way to go from there is up. I live in fear that the lowest of low will return one day and I won’t be so lucky, but hitting the bottom of the pit turned out to be a catalyst for change.

I feel such relief. Relief that I wasn’t allowed to just die. I am so grateful to those who brushed the dirt from my face, inspired me and believed my life would change. They dreamed of what my life could be like when I couldn’t dream it for myself. They encouraged me no matter how many times I screamed at them to give up. I can’t thank these people enough. You saved me. 

I don’t think anyone could call me mentally well, but it’s not terminal. My illnesses aren’t going to kill me anymore- I can think, do things and meet people.

The day I am editing this (may the 12th) is international nursing day. So from the bottom of my heart thank you to those nurses who gave friendliness along with professionalism. For the hours I’ve had them by my side and for the hours I’ve cried on their shoulders. I’ve met nurses who are unshakable: They can handle any combination of crises and chaos. They are rushed off their feet on busy wards but still pop in to check that you are okay. The best nurses I know give more than just medication, they give genuine love and care to patients.

Mouse Does DBT: STOP Skill

The STOP skill is a way to slow down a crisis. When a trigger happens you can picture the stop sign:

S – Stop. Stop everything right now.

T – Take a step back. Get out of the situation or just give yourself a break.

O – Observe. Observe how you feel, what the situation really is and the sensations it’s giving you. What are other people doing and saying?

P – Proceed Mindfully. Think around the scenario from every angle. Before deciding on an action think of how you feel, how others feel and whether the action you want to do next will make things better or worse.

(Please note that Upside Down Chronicles has no training or therapeutic expertise, only experience. This series ‘Mouse Does DBT’ is to support people going through DBT themselves, or for those interested in the therapy. Please contact your GP if you need further support for mental health problems.)  

Mouse Does DBT: “How” Skills

Week Two brought Mouse to the “How” mindfulness skills. Though Mouse wasn’t sure why they were called that, or how to do them…

Non-judgementally

To be non-judgemental is to be factual and not emotional. Using the wise mind you can disarm the judgemental thoughts that we all have about ourselves or others. The disarmament comes from simply recognising when a thought is a judgement, not a fact.  For example:

img_0565-1

The first two mice are non-judgemental. They are stating facts about the state of the cake. However the third mouse is in emotion mind and is using emotion based judgements to define the cake. It’s really hard to be non-judgemental, particularly if you are so hating of yourself that you see the judgemental thoughts as fact. “I’m ugly.” “I’m stupid”. “I’m worthless”. We all have those pesky thoughts. But by realising that they are judgements rather than truths they can be less upsetting.

One mindfully

Doing things one-mindfully is about using the whole of your awareness in a task. One thing at a time, even if the thing you are doing feels insignificant. Notice the tiny details like the backgrounds of film scenes or how many buttons are on a shirt. One mindfully can be practiced using the ‘what’ skills from last week.

Effectively

Effectiveness is about practice. A lot of practice. Practicing these skills again and again until you become more mindful, and thus more effective.

Next in Mouse Does DBT, Distress Tolerance!

(Please note that Upside Down Chronicles has no training or therapeutic expertise, only experience. This series ‘Mouse Does DBT’ is to support people going through DBT themselves, or for those interested in the therapy. Please contact your GP if you need further support for mental health problems.)