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: ‘What’ Skills

 It was explained to Mouse that mindfulness could be practiced in different ways- some of them are covered here in the ‘What’ skills. 

Observe

A white mouse holds a magnifier to their face 'observe' is written alongside. Copyright upside down Chronicles. Observing is about just noticing as thoughts and feelings come and go. One way to do this is to imagine that your mind is a conveyer-belt and you are passively watching your thoughts trundle by. You are paying attention to the thought as it goes; acknowledging its existence and letting it pass without judgement. You can also observe by noticing the rate of your breathing or by doing a body scan meditation to recognise any physical sensations you may have. You can also observe things external to yourself, like watching people in a cafe or admiring the tiny details in a beautiful view. It’s noting the facts of what is going on in as much detail as possible.

A cartoon image of a conveyer belt. A brown cardboard box is moving along on it. It is labelled 'mouse's thoughts'. Copyright upside down chronicles
Describe

A mouse holds a magnifying glass to the word describe. A question mark above his head. Copyright upside down Chronicles.Describing is all about focus and understanding. In the group session all the mice were each given a chocolate Minstrel. Using the describe skill they tried to find words for the shape, texture, taste, smell and colour of the chocolate. Doing her homework Mouse found that the easiest way to practice this skill was to describe her beauty regime as if she was filming a YouTube tutorial video. She described the products she used, how they felt on her fur, how she applied them and how they change the way she looks. As well as describing actions and objects you can use the same description exercise for thoughts and feelings. Putting words to something as abstract as feelings makes them seem less scary and more controllable.

Participate

A white cartoon mouse poses with one hand on his hip and one in the air in a Saturday night fever dance pose. Music notes around him and the word 'participate'. Copyright upside down Chronicles. Participating is about actively being in the moment. Focusing on the one task you are doing and then doing it with all your might. This could be: singing to the song you are listening to or not allowing yourself to slip into the background during social situations. By taking part in everything you do fully you can stay in the here and now.

What a lot of people don’t understand is that mindfulness is not about clearing your mind. Clearing your mind is actually not very mindful at all. Mindfulness is about acknowledging the moment you are in and accepting things for how they are. These ‘What’ skills are a way to focus and engage with the now. Practicing these skills is hard as you have to try and let the thoughts that interrupt your mindfulness exercise drift past on your brain conveyer belt without letting them pull you completely off task. Mouse’s conveyer belt seems to be being used to transport tonnes of manure around her mind. What skills will need some work.

(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: The Wise Mind

Welcome to a brand new blog series- “Mouse Does DBT”. DBT skills explained by mice!

A cartoon drawing of a white mouse sitting on a blue seat. Mouse holds a tiny toy mouse in her paws and has a thought bubble above her head with grey lines through it. It looks like TV static. Image copyrighted- UpsideDownChroniclesMouse has been having trouble with her thoughts. Sometimes she’s too high and hyper, others she is too depressed to move. Sometimes she is neither, but she is always incredibly anxious. So mouse was referred to DBT (dialectical behavioural therapy) and after some assessments and a waiting list she was finally invited to join group and 1:1 therapy.

Mouse was really nervous about coming into the group. In fact she wasn’t even sure if it would help. She was given a cup of tea and then she just listened to the conversations of people coming in and sitting down.A picture of mouse sitting on a blue chair. Inside the outline of mouse's body is grass, a snow topped mountain and a blue sky. A sun is rising behind peaceful mouse's ears. Copyright- UpsideDownChronicles.

The group starts with a Mindfulness exercise. At the sound of a chime the group’s leader began to slowly read a relaxation exercise for everyone to follow. You had to imagine you were a mountain standing strong and confident breathing in and out.

Mindfulness is the main base for Dialectical Behavioural Therapy. This mindfulness begins with the search for the ‘wise mind’. The wise mind is a hybrid between your emotional and reasonable mind. All three minds live inside all of our heads. For example; if you were out shopping your emotional mind would be the one telling you to buy everything you fancy right there and then. Your reasonable mind would say: “It’s nice but you don’t need it.”. The wise mind however would say “Maybe wait until next payday, if you still want it then you could buy it.”. The reason one of the first parts of DBT is trying to find the your wise mind is because it is the wise mind that is best placed to understand situations and make decisions. The wise mind is the most diplomatic and rational of the three minds and therefore decisions are safer when made in wise mind (or wise mouse)’s hands.

A cartoon image of a pink brain, inside the brain are three mice. On the left is emotion mouse crying into tissues, Wise mouse is in a lotus position levitating and looking blissful. On the right is reason mouse, standing with his hands on his hips and wearing sunglasses. Copyright UpsideDownChronicles.
Like in the mountain exercise, guided meditation is a good way to find your wise mind. Ideas to do this include: thinking ‘wise’ as you breathe in, and ‘mind’ as you breathe out and imagining being a snowflake on a lake. Alternatively (mouse’s favourite) you can imagine walking down a spiral staircase- from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. You can stop on the stairs any time, noticing your senses. You can find some more visualisation exercises here or alternatively you could try a children’s mindfulness book to help you start with the basics. The more time we spend in Wise Mind the better.

(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.)  

Self Caring When You Are Self Hating

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.

A mouse sitting in a chair with her cup of tea and toenails painted. Copyright.

What things do you do to self care?

Motivational Tattoos 

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! 


School Refusal Is Far More Complex Than Just Truanting

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.

Do Mental Health Awareness Days Actually Work?

Do they raise awareness or just give an opportunity to talk about how ill we are?

This year during a tsunami wave of Awareness Days for various mental health causes I found myself conflicted. As a blogger I feel almost obliged to write a summary of my story, list diagnoses and maybe share a selfie in aid of the cause. It’s what I’ve done previously along with many other bloggers, so why not this year?

This year I feel a bit sceptical over how much good some of the awareness campaigns are doing. In particular I think any social media campaigns on such days should be looked at carefully. I see a lot of people sharing their stories of mental illness in statuses and people who also suffer commenting on or sharing them. The mental health Twittersphere is enormous and very tight-knit. Sharing makes individuals with mental illness feel less alone, which is fantastic, but the message is not reaching far outside of the mental health community itself. Online communities are so important for supporting those with mental illness. On events like World Mental Health Day how do we spread the message to those who aren’t looking for it? 

According to TV Licensing 68% of the UK usually eat their evening meal in front of the TV. I’m really disappointed to not see any major documentaries shown to mark World Mental Health Day. A documentary on a major channel during prime time that someone not clued up on mental health might catch on a whim, would be really effective. Assemblies in schools which all students, mental health savvy or not, have to sit through. Big public events that  a stressed or distressed passerby might stumble across. These are great examples of awareness raising events. It is so important that we target those who don’t already know about good mental health.

There seems to be confusion in distinguishing between ‘mental illness’ and ‘mental health’- with some even using the terms interchangeably. On a mental health awareness day surely we should be stressing the health. Mental health and illness are not the same thing, in fact they are opposites. On an awareness day of mental health we should ideally see more articles and posts about how people keep, or try to keep, mentally healthy. Messages of encouragement, things that helped during struggles, symptoms you might feel too ashamed to seek help for, resources, support services. There is, after all, much more to gain from learning how to be mentally healthy than sharing what happens when you are not.

On social media are we being a little bit self serving? And is that a bad thing? Several Mental health tweeters responded to my call for a discussion on whether these days actually do what they say on the tin. Some even find the days overwhelming due to the influx of mental illness/health posts.

@bordeline_OK: "I worry that any "x day" ends up highlighting difference, not improving parity of care/esteem, not destigmatising, not removing barriers."@OCPDme: "On this account, the tsunami of MH awareness tweets was overwhelming."

@gerbillady: "Maybe on social media it enables people with mental health difficulties feel less alone. Depends what you mean by work."@WhiteCaneGamer: "If it takes a million tweets just to help one person who needed it, then let the tweets fly."

@AshleyCurryOCD: "Overall does it make impacts on improving access to right help and support from local servicesI think @AshleyCurryOCD sums the situation up well. Does it make an impact on improving access to services? In most cases no. I think our attention needs to shift to this as a goal. We should push for mental health to be a subject everyone knows about and make sure there is help so that everyone can gain it. We should support those with mental illness and treat mental health with the same urgency as physical health. People should be able to share their stories whenever they need to. There should be a day for mental illness awareness and visibility for people to learn compassion towards people with mental health problems. Days for awareness of individual mental illnesses are a fantastic idea and they should be just as well supported as the bigger events. Mental health is so important, and how to gain it should be public knowledge.