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.

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!