What to Do When a Mind is Struggling

It’s mental health awareness week! Wahoo! To celebrate, for the first time ever, I opened up my blog to my Facebook friends. I asked what they wanted to see more of- and I got a brilliant response! The thing I want to tackle first is how exactly people can help someone with a mental illness. It was in demand and it is so great that people want to help.

First, three important words:

“I believe you.”

Never underestimate this statement. It is subtle yet effective in the way that it works. You see, a lot of people with mental illness feel like they are misunderstood or not believed. Just these words can make all the difference.

You can’t fix it

If you ask a mentally ill person what’s wrong you may get a variety of answers. Some of the problem might be abstract- dark feelings or hallucinations. If this is the case listen. You can’t get rid of these things but you can get rid of the loneliness that person has in the situation. Good things to say are: “That must be really hard”, “You do so well to fight all this.”, “I can see how hard it must be.” And “It will pass soon and I’m here until it does”. Notice there are no questions? Questions can make the person feel interrogated or judged. Listening is your best bet.

If there is a physical problem that is ongoing, making the person distressed, you may be tempted to leap on it. Just because it isn’t as abstract as the above it doesn’t mean you can solve it. If the issue has got the person to the point of complete distress then it is not something easily solved. Mentally ill- not stupid. For some of us logic goes out the window when in crisis, to you the issue may seem to have been completely blown out of proportion but be patient! I’d encourage you to think of what kind of situation would make you feel that distressed, and act how you would want to be treated. It might be that a mug has broken, but the distress may seem equivalent to how you’d feel if you had a near miss on a motorway. As a last thought on this- problem solving at its most effective usually takes place when all parties involved are dry-eyed and rational.

Distraction

Use with caution. Never give the impression that you want the person to stop talking to you or that you have heard enough. Hear them out and then, when things start to slow and calm a bit suggest doing something. “Shall we put a film on for a bit?”, “Is there anything that might make you feel a bit better now?”, “what should we do now?”. Preferably stay with them, do something else and try to promote different topics. If the problem does raise its ugly head, talk about it and then move on. Don’t make the person feel that the problem is being belittled.

Breathing

If the person is out of breath or has irregular breathing then try to encourage a calming breath. Use your voice to calm and instruct in and out breath to a slow count of three. Do it yourself. You can quietly do this without saying anything, just by beginning the exercise yourself and making the breaths audible.

Reassurance

Reassurance is always good. You might be asked for reassurance or you might feel like it is needed. If you are being asked for reassurance- don’t even think before giving it. Say what you have to to get the person to calm down but If the person needs reassurance a lot, and not just in crisis, think more carefully. Don’t use blanket reassurance. I’m going to use an example.

Emergency reassurance:

*person showing distress, irregular breathing etc*: “I won’t be sick will I?!”
Friend: “No, don’t worry you won’t be sick. You’re fine.”

This is the blanket method. It helps when the person is panicking about something very unlikely and the fear or panic is intense not ongoing. If by some chance the person’s fear actualises don’t worry about covering your back. When your friend has calmed down they will realise that you were trying to help and that if anything you were both very unlucky that on this occasion the fear actually happened!

Using this example, if someone is in need of regular reassurance because they have a phobia or perhaps OCD a different tactic is needed. You can’t assure someone they will never, ever, be ill because both you and they will know that that just isn’t true. It can also not be productive to treatment to rely completely on other people’s reassurance.

An Example: “Will this make me sick?”
Answer: “Well you have felt this way before and you are usually fine once you’ve calmed down. Even if you are sick- it’s fine. It happens.”

See how you are trying to make the scary a little less so? This also can become an internal monologue of reassurance.

Mood lifts

If someone is suffering from low mood or depression remember that it isn’t always a case of pulling yourself together and getting on with it. Anything you say to this affect won’t be taken very well by the person at all. This is by far the topic I find most difficult to write on because there is no clear solution. All I can say is try and think of it as like having flu. It’s one of those things, but you can help it get a little better by doing basics. Bathing, fresh air, healthy food and water. Keep in mind that all these things are probably not very appetising to your friend right now so coaxing and persuading might be necessary. Go back to the distraction section of this post and get something light going.

I hope this helps. This is all written from my personal experience so I can’t promise it will work for everyone but if nothing else it’s a start. Let me know if you would like to request any other topics or anything to be covered in more detail. Anyway- happy mental health awareness week!

Angels Can Have Four Paws

I thought I would share this post with UpsideDownChronicles readers as well as people who know me from elsewhere. It’s the next day and I have slept the majority of the day and have lots of aches and pains. Nothing more than what could be expected though. Noodle has waited for me to play all day. She gives me hugs and licks my feet as I sleep; she is never impatient with me. We had a play at lunchtime and she got a good groom and a game of fetch. Now she is sleeping next to me as we watch Mean Girls for what must be the 6th time this week… Night! 

Today I am grateful for my furry colleague and partner in crime. How can this paw perfect little guide dog switch roles so fast? In church she was a guiding dream- she even got blessed. But this evening I had two major dissociation episodes and she turned into my own furry superhero! There was a short time when I came round and it looked like the worst of it was over, so the staff propped the door open with a chair and went to get me a drink. The gremlin gripped me again while they were gone and the last thing I remember was the sound of her scrabbling to get out, under the chair, to find help. If I was fine she would never dream of doing this, It’s against all her training but she knows she must do it if I am going to get help. She went straight to staff and brought them to me. Things could have got so much worse if she hadn’t.

The staff tried to make her calm down but she wouldn’t stop licking and licking me, putting her paws on me. She wanted me back! A member of staff took her out but still she wouldn’t calm. Had I been able I would have told staff that this was pointless- she only calms when she knows I’m supported and safe. Then it died and I was finally okay and she sunk straight back into being a beautifully behaved guide dog. No more craziness from either of us.

Now I’m as tired as if I ran a marathon- but if I stand up she will stand with me. I will slip a finger inside her collar and she will help me. One step at a time. I can’t express how thankful I am to have her in my life right now. I couldn’t do it without her and I certainly don’t say it enough. The nurses are now calling her ‘the super dog’. Anyway this has taken like an hour and a half to type but I just wanted to say thank you to anyone who supports guide dogs in any way. Every single guide dog is a super hero, they are our eyes and so much more. It’s incredible. I am also just so thankful that my little guide dog decided ophthalmology wasn’t enough, and took on the neurological too. Guide Dog of the Year Beyond the Call of Duty? I think it was very much deserved. Who knew angels could have four paws ey?

noodle and human snuggling

Old photo- “If I lay here, if i just lay here, would you lie with me and just forget the world”

If.

I am currently staying on a hospital ward, I’m by myself so my internet friends are the ones to keep me company most of the time…

If I had pneumonia I could curse my lungs in the comments of my latest status update.

If I had norovirus my friends would accept that it could get worse before it gets better.

If I had a broken leg most people would feel comfortable about asking how I am doing.

If I had cancer it would be despicable to say that it is my own fault that I am ill with the disease.

I have none of these illnesses. But I am in hospital with an illness which makes me the odd one out on the ward. And so begins the most difficult and agonising blog post I have ever had to write…

I have a chronic and acute condition. It is there all the time. It dabbles around inside me and latches onto anything and everything. It makes me do things I don’t want to do. It keeps me up at night. It makes me painfully bony and my skin coarse. It makes it hard for me to do anything, because it hurts so much sometimes.

What is it?

No nasties are attacking my nervous system and no cells are concocting chaos. It is a disorder which is invisible to the naked eye, but shows up like wild fire on a brain scan.

I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Depression.

Why does no one ever mention that like a physical illness a mental illness can kill you if you don’t get the treatment you need? OCD has had several cracks at trying to win the tug of war for my life. But there is no way I will let it win.

So I am in hospital. I got rushed here in an ambulance. Not that dissimilar from a severe asthma sufferer my illness had stopped me breathing. On arrival I was assessed and told that I am too ill to return home. Just like the man in front of me in the queue who had just had a stroke. A normal heartbeat for someone my age is around 100bpm but mine spikes around 170 due to the anxiety which is coursing through my capillaries. My muscles ache from being forced to repeat the same actions again and again. My skin is full of potholes, where the wheels of the condition have dug in too deep for me to bare. My body is a puppet and my life feels like it has disappeared. Below all of the layers of this condition’s destructive attempt at self soothing is the girl who is left to write this post. Scared, Ill and battered.

I am in a paediatric ward at the moment; waiting to be transferred to an inpatient psychiatric unit especially for young people. I am lucky enough to be in receipt of an NHS funded place at a private hospital. I will stay there until I can move to a different unit closer to my own psychiatrist. I don’t know whether I will be able to blog while I am in there, and I don’t know how long exactly I will be there for. But when I come out of the other side I hope to feel a lot better!

If it is so hard, why am I telling you? Well I want to live in a world where people can go into hospital to regain mental health, just like they can physical health. I want people to see these conditions as a real threat to not just people’s happiness, but to their lives. Mental Illness is not something that just happens to the weak. It is by no means a choice. It is also not something that a positive mind alone can solve. My experience with mental illness is that it explodes, smoking in the most distant parts of your mind and rapidly growing outwards. But it can also lurk under a person’s skin for a lifetime. In my opinion, as far as bullies go, mental illness is the biggest coward of them all.

If you are judging me by making assumptions because you cannot see my condition just think: my eyes mean I don’t always notice when people are using walking sticks. But just because I can’t see the stick does it mean that the person can walk fine?

 

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I Am Exhaled: A Poem

I started letting things inhale me;
Books, films, documentaries and albums.
They restrained me from thinking for myself.
Entrenched me in the lives of others.
Whether they were humble,
Bewitched
Or powerful.
I was inhaled.

During this time it felt like my own respiration was at a stop.
I no longer took breath as myself.
I hid beneath duvets and learned the ins and outs of fictional character’s lives.
Until I knew them more than I knew myself.
Day turning to night, it kept me safe.

I was deprived.
I needed air.
My lungs like crumpled paper bags trying to inflate.
My feet pounding the fields and my heart ricochetting in its cage,
In an effort to self-resuscitate.
And then I could feel it,
Pounding in my ears and burning through my veins.

I’m running.
It’s behind.
I’m sprinting.
To the boundaries undefined.
I fall.
My lap is un-timed.

There it sits,
Over my senses like a mask.
Forcing the air into me.
Whether I want it or not.

The colours are bright and the smell embraces,
The petals kiss my hands and the herbs rub against my fingers like affectionate kittens.
I flop back on the grass and admire the nothing above me.
And how beautiful simple nothing can be.
And how lucky I am to have found it.

I can move.
I spin and walk and make my fingers dance on the surface of the pond.
I carefully stroke the baby apple tree and I can feel it respire between my index finger and thumb.

And then I had broken free.
And I was exhaled.

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