mental health

Coping with Severe Mental Health Issues: Part 1

Nobody wants to be defined by their mental illness. I certainly don’t! But when a persons psychological well-being has dropped to the lowest states and a person remains mentally and emotionally unwell for prolonged periods, affecting every moment of every day, sometimes it’s as if your illness or disorder is all that you are.

I can relate.

Helping others manage their mental health is my primary interest and purpose for creating this website. It’s the reason I sought education and training in nutrition, counselling, mindfulness and energy healing and the reason I study psychology. It’s the reason I sign up to workshops that are supposed to change your life and read spiritual, philosophical and psychology orientated books.

And mental illness is the reason I don’t always manage to create a blog post twice a month and why – though I was very keen to begin working in complementary therapies – I have been unable to start properly launching a complementary therapies business. Instead I just help out friends and family when I can with whatever issue my training and knowledge allows me to assist with.

I’ve noticed that people seem to trust me and come to me for guidance. They always have ever since I was young and it’s why I’ve wondered, if there’s such a thing as a life purpose, that mine may have something to do with taking my role as a guide seriously.

At school, when I was selected to take counselling training, the deputy head explained that I was being selected because I had a lot of problems and I understand what it’s like. I was just 12 years old, but what she meant was I understand suffering. I completely get suffering, because right from a young age I’d started to experience it at tremendous levels and yet my worst problems back then were feeling rejected by my peers and starting to pick out everything I hated about the way society works.

I like that people trust me enough to come to me with their issues, asking for advice or taking the opportunity to vent. Much of this occurs online, messages landing in one of my inboxes unexpectedly and every single time, as soon as I am ready to face the inbox, I draw in the persons words and my brain begins to work on overdrive, determined to deliver some sort of support that actually works!

It’s a relief for me to feel like there is at least one thing that I do sometimes that seems to be meaningful enough that I can’t consider my existence entirely useless!

There used to be a time I expressed how much I was struggling and what kind of life I lived day to day on social media. Every time it was a desperate plea for support and for people to understand just how badly I need their understanding and support before I get to my lowest states, where I’d be so unwell I’m beyond help because I can’t even face or talk to people.

Now I try to pretend that I’m normal and not still bang smack on the bottom rungs of the ladder of recovery, failing to pull myself up to the next rungs because it appears the rungs have fallen off somewhere along the way. It’s like there’s this huge hole in my ladder, stretching twenty feet high, and I’m not going to make my way up to the next available rung unless I strengthen all the right muscles and learn to shimmy my way up.

Pretending to be normal is risky business when your only hope of putting food on the table is applying for welfare because you couldn’t possibly hold down a normal job and there are people out there who most certainly want to ruin your life. You can’t be seen to be normal for even a minute in front of the wrong person.

Admitting that I’m not normal and not okay doesn’t seem like a smart move for my blog. I’m sure I’m supposed to be selling myself as someone who used to be at rock bottom, but then who figured out all the lifesaving tricks and secrets required to become a success story. I see those ads on Facebook all of the time.

One day you will tell your story of how you’ve overcome what you are going through now and it will become part of someone else’s survival guide.
~ buildbrotherhood

Honesty seems to be serving me well so far throughout my life and maybe I can see why some people come to me, instead of the success story. I don’t want to talk to one of those shiny, polished success stories right now either. They may remember what it’s like to struggle and they may empathise to a degree but they can’t always meet me where I’m at which is largely unsuccessful.

Honesty is important because remembering lies and keeping a false story straight is a lot more effort than I am mentally able to commit to. And I would agree with Dr. Jordan Peterson (12 Rules For Life: An Antidote for Chaos) that dishonesty makes you feel bad.

Honestly, I can’t believe people are even stopping to read these blogs. Nobody knows who I am and yet here you are. And you are absolutely amazing as far as I’m concerned. Thank you for reading.

And honestly, I’m an absolute mess at the best of times, trying to figure out how to make up for my lost late teens and twenties and not continue to drift through life aimlessly. I’m 31 years old and deeply concerned for the fact I don’t have it all together and convinced it means I can kiss goodbye to any idea of a career, soul-enriching relationships and repairing my family unit to include a man, some more dogs and more kids.

I’m such a mess at the best of times that I find myself unable to do the things I need to do to put myself in a healthier state where I may have some sort of miraculous breakthrough moment. I’m such a mess that I don’t show up to best friends birthday parties and skip half my aunts wedding. I’m the one who will plan a weekend break, paying for travel, a room and tickets to see a band and then stay at home. Music is one my biggest passions and even tickets to see one of my heroes playing live cannot magically defeat anxiety, depression, agoraphobia and the effects of trauma.

What the hell do you do when illness is kicking your ass that much, but you don’t really want to give up? What do you do when deep down you don’t really want to die or to continue to suffer and you’re  actually hoping for things to turn around and get better one day?

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I think some of us are completely unresponsive to the messages from polished self-help coaches and “how to” guides, because that’s not at all what we need. We’re not stupid! And if we’ve already engulfed masses of self-help guides and information on how to be happy and healthy, or how to be successful, or how to cope with serious mental illness the issue is not really always that we don’t know what to do. We just simply can’t do it for whatever reason.

Sometimes what we really need and what is often running on short supply for most of us is an active listener. Counselling and psychotherapies aren’t advice-giving professions for good reason. We actually don’t often need coaches and guides telling us what to do, trying to solve our problems for us and giving us a sense of direction because part of being a successful, functional adult is doing these things for yourself.

We often just need someone we can bounce our thoughts and feelings off. We need a listener, so we can hear ourselves talk and maybe hear ourselves foolishly rationalising the irrational, or making mountains out of molehills, or being our own worst enemies. We need to express ourselves so we can realise ourselves.

And so, when you don’t have that person – the supportive friend or family member, the counsellor or the psychologist – the only thing you can do is become that person for yourself.

If nobody is going to listen to you, you need to listen to yourself. In fact, it might even be unrealistic to expect others to listen to you if you’re not already doing so.

It’s said that many of the most successful people in the world keep a journal. A journal is a safe space for an individual to pour their thoughts and feelings out onto paper without the patronising or well-meaning interruptions of somebody trying to help and thus getting in the way of your process of problem solving for yourself.

As long as you can think, you are perfectly able to hold an entire dialogue with yourself completely in your mind, and as long as you can talk, you are able to talk to yourself. Maybe you’d prefer to do it in a mirror. It might sound completely crazy, the notion of airing your complaints and pain to yourself as you’re obviously doing a lot of that already, but are you really listening when you do so, or are you getting so carried away in complaint that you’re not pausing to reflect?

Mindfulness of thought and emotion, as in observing your thoughts and emotions as they arise is a good technique to use to help you trace each negative thought and it’s resulting emotion back to the unhelpful belief that you have. Hearing yourself (or reading back to yourself) explaining a problem that you have can help you identify solutions and the real deeper issues behind something.

To refer back to Jordan Peterson again and his book 12 Rules for Life, we must treat ourselves as someone we are responsible for helping. Whether you respect Peterson and his book or not, and whether you fully understand this fundamental truth or not, unless we have completely diminished capacity for responsibility, we are ultimately responsible for ourselves no matter who we have around us in our lives.

I may be the human embodiment of the tremendously unsuccessful, defeated lobster, but I haven’t forgotten that management of my illness and lies with me first. I am responsible for being my own friend and my own caretaker especially where there is nobody else to do it, but even when there is support around. I am responsible for seeking help, accepting help and taking action.

I am responsible for listening to myself, non-critically and non-judgmentally and sitting with my problems until I figure out how I’m going to solve them. As long as I dare to wait for someone else or something outside of myself to fix the turmoil within, I risk being a state of waiting to be rescued forever.

 

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Personal

The Journey Begins: About the Author

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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I begin my career in complementary therapies in the summer of 2018, starting to see clients for Nutritional Therapy and brainstorming ways I can provide more, valuable services. It’s of course not clear yet if I’ll still be doing this in a year, in two years or even in ten years. I could end up taking another direction in life! However, as I never stopped wanting to finish counselling training and support people who might be having difficulties in life, I’m feeling confident today that I’m on the right path.

I was only 12 years old when I first had counselling training with Vale of Berkeley College. It was agreed among staff that students might benefit from having a team of “peer counsellors” available to talk to. They felt students in need may feel more comfortable opening up to people their own age, so about three students each from Years 8 through to sixth form were selected to receive specialist training from the school counsellor.

Staff invited students to apply for the role of peer counsellor and I was later informed I’d been selected because they thought I was a perfect candidate. The Deputy Head explained that though I was still so young, I seemed to have “lived” more than my peers and was noticeably already struggling with mental health issues myself, putting me in the perfect position to understand others going through a hard time.

I attended a three day training course at a pleasant countryside resort with about 15 other students. We never received official qualifications for the training done, but I’d say it was valuable training that had a tremendous impact on my belief system and helped shape the adult I eventually became.

I never stopped believing after that training that every young person would benefit from taking the course. Imagine being trained at the age of 12 to study your own prejudices, recognise them for what they are and come to the understanding they are not valuable beliefs! Imagine exercising your skills in empathy, listening and offering constructive and supportive feedback to those in need!

I can’t say I always effectively used the skills throughout my life and that I’ve been perfect. I can’t say I was always the best listener outside of a counsellor/client setting. I certainly can’t say that as I grew older, new prejudiced beliefs didn’t creep in that I’d eventually notice and challenge. But I can say I’ve been trained in such a way there’s a heightened awareness of these things upon self-reflection and such awareness of your faults is necessary for self improvement.

In my first training course, we covered more than just the basics covered in my OCN Level 1 counselling training course taken 6 years later. I began Level 2 shortly after completing Level 1, but my own mental health issues were so severe, I abandoned the notion of ever being able to support anybody.

I thought ‘Why would anybody ever want my help?’

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Me during the summer of 2017. Still feeling very much like an alien.

At the time, I didn’t realise that most people working in psychotherapies and counselling (and other forms of therapies) are usually drawn towards healing professions because they have suffered themselves.

Carl Jung coined the term Wounded Healer to describe such people and so, professionals receive counselling and therapies themselves throughout training and during their careers to ensure they do not carry their wounds into sessions, thus potentially having a negative impact on their ability to help a client.

I have left it too long to begin counselling training again at Level 2, and must take the Level 1 training again, which I hope to begin next year. I think the timing will be perfect, as it is only now after many years of issues that I am finally on the real road to recovery and starting a new chapter in life. The time is right!

Throughout my difficulties, I have sought therapy over the years with the NHS and been rejected time and time again for various reasons. I am just waiting to find out if I will be rejected again or finally going to be having therapy. I begin studying psychology this autumn, after years of studying mental health and human nature at my leisure and being encouraged to go university because understanding people is supposedly one of the things I’m good at.

In the mean time, as well as completing a course in Nutritional Therapy and beginning to see clients, I continue to study nutrition at basic levels. I have taken some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy training and a course in Mindfulness and am trying to prepare myself for the huge (but slightly terrifying) moment I can officially get back to work after years of sickness and all my time spent as a stay-at-home mum.

The nature of my issues are quite complex, with me having been “signed off” for life. Nobody expects me to ever be able to function in society properly even as the unemployed, never mind at work!

I suffer tremendously with a disorder known as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), which is a severe form of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and quite frankly has been life-ruining. I’ve also over the years accumulated a stack of diagnoses, including a diagnosis of a personality disorder I have challenged repeatedly; Depression; Anxiety; an eating disorder; Agoraphobia and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I also have physical issues such as joint complaints and a long-standing sports injury from my younger, more active years known as Chondromalacia Patellae which has been causing me immense pain and mobility issues for almost 20 years now.

I don’t feel any of these labels adequately describe the difficulties I’ve had, but it would take much longer to explain why I’ve been deemed such a “write off”, and at such a young age too! Let’s just say I am no stranger to being called “crazy”, however, and stigma follows me wherever I go.

Who knows exactly where my mental health difficulties began? I feel most of the worst things that have ever happened to me, happened after leaving school. That’s when I faced the worst kinds of hardship and trauma, not limited to total poverty and abuse. That’s when I abused alcohol and cannabis as coping mechanisms. That’s when authorities really started to notice my existence.

My last mental and emotional breakdown was incredibly recent – just before my last period. All my knowledge and skills are no match for PMDD when I am not more actively working on preventing it’s symptoms through better management and coping strategies.

I don’t feel like I had a particularly bad childhood at home, though I sometimes suppose that watching age inappropriate movies was not healthy. My father left when I was very young and I have only a few memories of him. I particularly remember finding school horrible, not wanting to go and that every bit of teasing and bullying from my peers deeply affected me.

I was a happy, but sensitive young child and by the time I got to secondary school I was miserable. What started out as sadness when I felt so constantly rejected by my peers started to transform into anger. I was angry with everyone, and angry at the “system”, forcing me into schools that I deemed nothing but little prisons to brainwash and prepare children for some sort of lifetime of enslavement.

Some teachers thought I was a genius. If they liked me, I was usually one of their favourites! It was obvious some other teachers thought I was a “bad kid” with behavioural issues and, quite amusingly, as well as being a peer counsellor, I was also placed in anger and behavioural management classes on and off for three years with the fantastic Rob Turner, who I believe might have been the brother of famous TV chef, Brian.

I’ve joked before that at school I was every character of The Breakfast Club, rolled into one. I was smart and athletic, so – when I felt like it – quite the high achiever. I was also the “basket-case” and “criminal”, often in trouble, finding myself suspended or placed in isolation. I was even “the princess”, something I never truly realised until well after I’d left school and understood that I wasn’t widely hated like I told myself, and actually had plenty of friends!

It’s taken me years to “get over” school and stop blaming it for ruining my life!

As an adult, I believe that mental and physical health issues are so prevalent in the west, because we’re genuinely doing a lot wrong and we’re doing it to people from birth. I can’t say I always agree with the way things are run and I never did. Perhaps, that’s, in part, why I became unwell in the first place.

So, I wonder, what I can do to help people on an individual level, and what can I do to make a larger impact on society on the whole and begin to effect positive change?

Is it partaking in marches, screaming until I’m blue in the face about political matters, social issues and so on, or can I find other, less mentally exhausting and potentially damaging ways to do something about the state of public health?

I don’t know. Perhaps I’ll do a little bit of it all. You’ll have to keep on reading to find out how I’ve chosen to continue my own journey of recovery and supporting others around the world in their own.