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.

Bollocks to BPD

Diagnosis ain’t easy.

I first heard of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) at Heron. The psychiatrist there seemed to be trying to fill a ward quota of 25% of female patients being diagnosed with BPD. I wasn’t in that percent.

The next time I heard it I was sitting in my CPA meeting for professionals. My new psychiatrist reeled off my conditions and then the letters- B.P.D. After the meeting was over and myself and my key nurse were on our victory lap around the village I asked if she’d heard it too. She wasn’t sure.

I asked for confirmation when I saw the doctor next. He quickly drew a grid with numbers and the disorders I have come to know. Then there it was- BPD. He said something about how this is what he suspects my problem lies within- my Jabberwocky to fight.

“Personality disorders have a stigma to them.” He added. “But don’t worry, it’s not the one serial killers have.”

Looking it up on the Internet isn’t pleasant. People with BPD were clingy and unstable. All the stories I could find were negative. ‘WHERE ARE THE REAL PEOPLE?!’ I found myself mentally screaming. And I’m ashamed to say I didn’t want to make myself one of the few who spoke up. The stigma seemed huge. But if no one speaks up, who else will be scared into silence by this monster? I tentatively took my first move with my poem borderline and now this.

To make matters worse in my quest for information, symptoms listed on every website I searched seemed increasingly vague or scary. Out of desperation I hit the books and surfaced with “Sometimes I Act Crazy“. Which gave me the broadest picture of the disorder and those living with it. I would highly recommend it for anyone else scared away by the Internet.

I think the description of BPD on rethink is the best:

  • “Borderline personality disorder (BPD) can mean that you are prone to strong emotions, mood swings and feelings you can’t cope with easily and may feel distressed a lot of the time.
  • Around 1 in 100 people have BPD.
  • There may be different reasons why someone develops BPD.
  • There are a number of different approaches to treating BPD, most of which include different types of one-to-one and group talking therapies.
  • Complications can arise if you have BPD, including problems with substance misuse and self-harm.”

It’s still vague; but every warrior is different. The thing with mental illness diagnosis is that it says more about your past than your future. My brain developed a little different. I see and hear things you can’t. My moods swing in ways you can’t predict. But whatever it says about me now, or me then, I am going to have CONQUERED my Jabberwocky soon. Just you wait. It doesn’t matter what it’s name is. If it is one disorder or three. It’s going down.

And then I will stand in the street; in the rain, in bare feet and scream at the top of my lungs: 

“I made it!!”

And I don’t care who hears me. 

 

Because I’m getting out alive.  

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! 

  

Mental Health Awareness Week: Talking and The Toenail Metaphor

I was alerted to the fact that it is mental health awareness week via Twitter, and after checking that I am in the correct country to take part I decided to begin this two-part series of blogs. I will be focussing on the lack of conversation about mental health and also the huge amount of incorrect language used when we eventually do talk about it. This will be alongside my normal writing schedule.

Firstly- the lack of talking.

For years we have had this idea as a society that people with mental health problems are just ‘mad’. They are not thinking correctly so therefore why should we listen to them/give them jobs? Luckily this image is slowly shifting with more and more people in the spotlight talking about their mental health problems. After all, a massive 1 in 4 of us will suffer a mental illness at some point in our lives.

But why is this important? Why should people talk about mental health?

OK, so somewhere around a quarter of us will be suffering from mental illness at any one time. Lets change this scenario for say… your toenails falling off. You get home from school or work – you are ready to kick back and relax. You take off your jacket and reach for your slippers. They are the comfy kind you get for christmas from relatives who don’t know you very well, but you like them all the same. You unlace your shoes and take off your socks. You stop. Inside the sock you can feel small hard lumps and on the floor you see that one of them has tumbled out. It is a toenail. You look at your feet and see that all of your toenails have fallen off. There is no apparent reason, they look perfectly healthy, but they are just not on your feet.

At first you laugh it off but then worry sets in. Why would all ten fall off at the same time? You decide to google it. No one seems to have ever had the same issue as you and all you can find are gruesome pictures of infections. The next day you go out to meet some friends for a coffee. As you chat you realise you would really like to ask them if the same thing has ever happened to them. Perhaps they could give some advice? But you are too embarrassed to speak out and take another glug of your latte instead. Little do you know that across the table your best friend’s big toenail is only just growing back after being absent for months. You have no idea.

At the weekend you go home to your parents. You decide you could ask your Mum- after all there is a slim chance that it might be genetic. She asks you a million questions you don’t know the answer to and prods and pokes at your feet. She doesn’t give you an answer so you leave feeling worse than when you came. Seconds after you have shut the front door behind you she paints the skin where her toenails used to be so no one will notice when she wears sandals at her friend’s barbecue.

By now you have come to the conclusion that you must be the only person in the whole world that this has ever happened to. You feel like you are weird, and you begin to question whether your nails are actually there or not. Or in fact; did you ever have them in the first place? This small issue has grown and you are now scared and desperate. Then in one last attempt to find someone who has gone through the same thing as you, you turn to the internet once more. After some digging you find the correct links to click. Suddenly you see that it is something which a vast amount of people will go through at some point. You are not alone and there are ways for it to get better. Some people’s toes are worse than yours and some people’s are better – but you all share the common need for toenails!

If anyone had said something sooner along the line then you wouldn’t have been so upset by what happened. You would know that there are treatments out there for your toenails to regain strength. This is mental illness. We have come a long way in how we see mental health problems, but there are still many barriers. If you know you aren’t feeling right- talk about it. Chances are the person you talk to will have gone through a similar thing or know someone who has. Mental illness is invisible- so you don’t know until you ask!

Picture of two feet, on the big toe are smiley faces drawn on in black ink.