No one ever told me that self hatred would be the thing that stopped me functioning. We talk about depression and anxiety, but their most powerful associate hides in us all. If you have too much of it self hatred is potent. Hating yourself can stop you from getting dressed, eating healthy foods and it can make you punish yourself. The truth is that if you completely loathe who you are it becomes impossible to live in between the lines and complete basic tasks.
The only weapon you can use in combat against self hatred, I’ve been told, is a compassionate approach. It sounds straight forward but if you are a sack full of self deprecation it is really difficult to face the world. By making an effort to self care you can stop yourself deteriorating physically and emotionally. So you have to make yourself do things that might help- like having a bubble bath or going for a walk outside. You’ve got to do what it takes to make your body feel loved; even if your brain tells you that it isn’t deserved and you feel drained
Self care can range from maintaining the basics of being alive (keeping yourself hydrated, fed and rested) to more creative methods (like putting on some nice moisturiser or buying yourself a treat). It can also mean doing things that simply need doing for the sake of your wellbeing- like tidying up, making phone calls or booking a GP appointment.
I’ve not mastered self care yet. Some days even doing something I really want to do feels painful. Sometimes I feel like I can’t be in my own skin. It doesn’t feel right treating myself nicely when my skin is crawling and I feel so disgusting. But it is a skill that I, and everyone else, should learn. So right now I’m going to try and look after myself until I feel a bit better. If you are feeling bad right now I challenge you to do the same.
What things do you do to self care?
I’ve been trying out these temporary tattoos from motivationaltattoo.etsy.com
They are reasonably priced and once on skin can last four days! They include affirmations like: “be strong”, “I am enough” and “love yourself”. Great reminders for mindfulness, self care and a good tool to use instead of self harm. They are shaped like plasters and come in colourful, patterned or clear. They are a little fiddly to peel the plastic from- though well worth it!
I got these as a gift, what a great way to remind someone, or yourself, that you care!
New year is difficult. You feel the pressure and exhilaration of trying to make this ‘your year’. If you have OCD this can become a compulsion. All year long I promise myself that I would do better on a huge array of things. Some people call it determination, I wouldn’t say that. It is constant feelings of disappointment and perfectionism and it is intensified by the season.
For example last summer I received my AS level results. I opened the envelope and was relieved that I had done well in two exams but received a ‘U’ in my other subject’s main paper. A ‘U’ is actually worse than a fail, and as I had recieved pretty respectable grades in mock exams despite being poorly I had no idea how I’d managed to get such a low grade. Had I gone into an episode during the exam? Somebody would have definitely noticed. Anyway, I went home in tears and used a drawing pin to attach the piece of paper to the side of my wardrobe. The purpose of this was to ‘make me work harder’. I knew deep down that I had worked hard anyway and that the grade was unusual for me, but I accepted and internalised that it was because I was rubbish.
A week or so later my tutor ordered my exam back to see how I’d got it so terribly wrong. She opened the paper and found that three quarters of it were missing. The exam board had lost all but one of my questions before marking and I was given a U. It wasn’t my grade after all and so it got corrected, however the piece of paper is still nailed onto my wardrobe. I must be a glutton for self torture.
The same thing haunts me with coursework. It takes ages as I read it again and again irrationally fearing it contains a murder confession or expletives, I can never hand it in because there is always something in my mind that I need to add or do to make it ‘better’. I set a lot of resolutions this new year, most of which talked about improving on 2016. What I didn’t think about when writing them into the front of my journal was that last year wasn’t a bad year. I wasn’t locked in a ward and there was no major traumas. It was pretty alright by previous years’ standards. By desperately trying to improve too much, mostly on things I can’t change, I will likely send myself back into oblivion and that would not make 2017 good at all.
This is a rambly post because my head made the first post of the year into a big deal, when actually it shouldn’t be. What I’m trying to say is:
Just try not to have a worse year than the one before and do what you love. That’s enough.
Last week I was over the moon to see the ‘Hearing Voices: Suffering, Inspiration and the Everyday’ effort myself. I have blogged before about how myself and a group of other young voice hearers created art to be displayed. In absolute honesty I was expecting hushed rooms and many glass cases; maybe with undertones of pity for us voice hearers. I was pleasantly surprised to find colour and sound and passion. Yes: it actually makes voices appear as just a part of life that some of us happen to experience. In the exhibition is tons of information and even areas where you can stand on a carpet to hear a simulation of what it is like to have voices in your head. My wonderful Learning Support Practitioner, K, managed to see the exhibition while in Durham on holiday. She said: “it makes hearing voices seem like just a part of being human”. This message is exactly what myself and the other young people had hoped to get across in our work. So what was the best bit? For me it must have been seeing the work of young people who struggle so greatly at times alongside original manuscripts of Virginia Woolf and Julian of Norwich who experienced the same. I felt pride to have my work next to creatives like Wolf and Beckett. Overwhelming pride for the project and all it encompasses for people who hear voices. Maybe, just maybe, alongside the horrific pain the experience can cause, there is a vibrance, passion and creative flare that we can share with the world or simply use to get by.
Want to see it for yourself? The exhibition is open until the 26th of February 2017. You can find out more here.
Recently I’ve been having assessments to see if I’d benefit from a therapy programme that uses DBT and Mindfulness. After many worksheets and conversations I have been put forward for a full programme. This means one skills group and one 1:1 session a week for about a year.
What is DBT?
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is all about breaking down negative and destructive cycles and creating better ways of coping for yourself. It has foundations in Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and allows people to develop a more in depth understanding of their negative thought and behaviour cycles. It involves practical skills of how to take action to avoid dangerous behaviour. It is also about helping you to accept your struggles as part of the make up of who you are, but not your whole definition.
What came over very strongly during the assessments was how much hard work DBT involves. It means two sessions, plus my CPN appointment and then homework on top- every week! From what I gather it seems the skills need to be practiced near constantly (even when they aren’t required) in order for them to develop into instinct at times of need. It’s about acknowledging the problems you have, why they may be valid, why they may not, and finding strategies to overcome them.
During the assessments I had to talk about some very difficult things that I find painful. The assessment is important because it ensures that you are suitable and will benefit from the therapy. I think the wonderful Ruby Etc. shows the trouble in seeking help from services perfectly in this diagram. In mental health services you are either ‘too mad’, ‘or not mad enough’. Luckily(?) for me during this assessment it appears I struck the middle ground.
I’ve wanted for a while to include more help and advice on Upside Down Chronicles. I’d like to be able to share skills and strategies with others and enable people to try techniques for themselves. I know how hard it is to get the help from services, so maybe getting second hand skills from UDC might just help someone. Obviously I’ll be writing as a person experiencing the therapy- not as a therapist or expert myself. I don’t know when there will be a space for me to start the course, but I am very excited to be finally offered some formal help.
If you want to have a look and a head start, the book the programme uses has been published online for free here.
On Thursday I was honoured to be asked to speak to a group of young people who, for one reason or another, are unable to attend school regularly. They meet in a brightly painted bungalow ominously named as home of ‘The Prevention Services’. There were five young people all facing very different issues to do with school- bullying, anger, frustration and fear being the main reasons for not regularly attending. This general anxiety surfaced in the form of long absences and sometimes exclusions.
Talking to the group was great. As someone who had a lot of trouble attending mainstream school because of intense anxiety I knew what I would have wanted to hear in their position. I told them that they may be terrified of school but they should never, ever, be terrified of learning. Hatred of school does not equal hatred of learning, and if you keep learning there is a way through the tangle of school refusal. I hope I was able to be of some use to them.
It was hard to imagine these bright, quirky and talkative young people not thriving in school. We talked about the problems in the school environment; it is too big, with too many people and holds too greater focus on discipline. One young person spoke about anger problems and how in mainstream teachers would rile up the situation more by using discipline rather than redirecting or calming down the rage. Since moving to a specialist unit this young person has access to these strategies and enjoys learning much more. Before the unit they had been excluded a dozen times. Not everyone’s anxiety showed through acting out and anger, for some it caused them to turn inwards- too scared to speak to anyone or walk through the gates.
The young people’s idea of an ideal school was surprisingly achievable. A more college-like setting where staff respected students and vice versa. They would want to be treated as individuals with different learning styles. The classes would be small and with more hands on practical learning. There would be more support because, to my surprise, some of the young people had made it to year 9 without knowing if there was any pastoral care in their school at all.
The project involves making an animated film in order to explain to professionals the miriad of reasons why a young person might not be attending school. This sounds like it couldn’t be more needed. We started styling objects out of plastercine. We made a foreboding looking school gate and a young person contributed a skull on a stick to place next to the gate. Across the table a young person made a plastercine noose. I saw how not attending school could be both a necessity and an agonising decision to make as they are intensely aware of the pressure it puts on their families. They feel immensely guilty and sad. At the end of the session taxis pulled up to take the young people back to their education providers. One young person who had pre-arranged to go home instead due to an injury went wide eyed:
“Is that taxi for me? I won’t go. I’m not going. I can’t.”
“They’ll kidnap me.”
School refusal and low attendance is not straight forward. These are not ‘bad kids’. They have anxiety, precarious home lives and aren’t equipped with strategies to get through. School adds steam to the pressure cooker. School refusal is far more complex than many would believe.
Listen to your gut instinct. Not anxiety’s gut instinct. Yours. We’ve heard enough from anxiety. Is this food something you would like to eat? Have you eaten it before or want to try it? If you answered ‘yes’ move on to step two.
Do it. Think no more.
… Okay, it isn’t quite as easy as that, but go for it. Find an accomplice to aid you in your tasty mission. Enjoy it. Don’t talk yourself out of it.
By far the hardest. Do not let your mind fool you into believing this is a big deal. It isn’t. There will be things you regret in your life but in twenty, thirty, forty years time you will definitely not be regretting eating this. It will not play on your mind until your old age. The feelings you have now can be interpreted as anxiety… or excitement. You are rubbing anxiety’s face in the freedom you have found. And that is exciting. Either way this feeling is temporary. This will pass.
Distract yourself, listen to music or watch a film, read a book or go online. Do not waste a moment on anxious thoughts. If you find yourself getting anxious reread the previous paragraph.
Later, record somewhere what you have achieved. Keep it and use it as evidence that anxiety is wrong. Nothing bad happened. Anxiety may have made you feel rubbish, but that is not the food’s fault! Your anxious reaction will get less and less if you keep fighting it. Keep challenging and gaining new territory from the anxious dictator and you will conquer. Some battles will be harder than others, but if you keep fighting you will come out on top.