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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A Romance with My Recovery

This is the longest I’ve been single since I was a teenager. 

I never knew just how much I needed and would value this time alone. My last attempt at a serious relationship only ended a year ago and I can still remember how crushed I felt that things hadn’t worked out again.

For a little while, my main concerns were whether or not I’d ever meet anybody again and whether I’d ever feel truly in love. I worried that maybe I just wasn’t relationship material. I wondered if I ever really was. I told myself, with a sinking heart,  that perhaps nobody will ever love me again.

Talking to my friend, Donna, about my relationship woes over the last Christmas period, she strongly advised me to take time for myself. She reminded me that I hadn’t had that – not really – for a long time and that I need to learn to love myself again.

I didn’t know what else to do, but to take her advice seriously, so I began to try.

Fast-forward several months, and not only had I been diving into every self love self-help workshop I could find, but I was slowly starting to live my life exactly how I always wanted to.

I started focusing on all of the dreams and goals I’d been mulling over for years. I started to achieve things I kept putting off because it was never the right time or because I kept finding bad excuses.

I was learning that loving myself meant understanding myself and managing negative thought patterns that had me getting in my own way. I realised loving myself is about being true to my real self. But first, I’d have to get to know myself again.

It’s amazing how much of yourself you can lose in relationships if you’re not careful.

Alone, silently
the bamboo shoot
becomes a bamboo

– Santoka

I had a feeling when I turned 29 in 2017, that 2018 and turning 30 would herald some sort of major transformation for me and that’s exactly what this year has been about.

I had been through my fair share of trauma and had never taken any time to recover, thinking I could just stuff things down and keep on moving. Yet, I wasn’t really moving at all because I placed no importance whatsoever on healing past hurts.

I never considered that I shouldn’t date anybody until I’d dealt with myself properly. It didn’t seem logical to let someone pass me by if we liked each other. But my relationships, good or bad, were partly what was distracting me from doing the important stuff.

I wasn’t even living the life I want and parts of my twenties had dissolved into some sort of sad blur.

The truth is, I probably will meet someone again, I probably will love again and of course I’m relationship material; I got married once already, didn’t I? But there’s no rush. I stopped being concerned about romance months ago and I’m so happy with the way things are right now. I can focus entirely on my son and recovering whatever I’d lost.

This last year has seen me gaining qualifications that help me towards my career goals. I’ve gone back to my spiritual roots and stopped pretending to be someone else to avoid ridicule. I started setting goals, writing bucket-lists, facing fears, forcing myself out of my comfort zone and even decided to follow one of my dreams, literally.

Some time earlier this year, I discovered a London-based rock band on Instagram. I can’t ever get enough of music, so I always tend to check out the bands that fall into my lap and I enjoyed this band enough that I immediately bought every song I could get my hands on.

That band was Romances – an appropriate moniker for the five musicians who unknowingly became part of my journey of self love and healing!

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Romances at The Monarch, Camden, 7th August 2018 – photo by James Canavan

I was casually enjoying their music from time to time to begin with and thought to myself that maybe I’d see them live some day. Then all of a sudden, I started having dreams of going to watch them play.

After the first dream, I remember waking up thinking it must have been because I’d watched one of their videos on social media. But then the dreams kept happening, once or twice a week, and at first I was a bit confused. I hadn’t listened to them that much, but I seemed to be their biggest fan in my sleep.

As strange as it may sound, my dreams of Romances putting on an awesome show are what got me more invested and listening more to the band. I certainly wanted to see them play, but deep down I was sure that no matter how much I told myself I would go, I’d probably never get around to it.

I’m always seeing shows and events I want to go to, but I’ve never gone because a lot of my friends are usually busy or simply uninterested in the music I enjoy. Music is the most important form of art in my life, yet I’d rarely been to see bands play live.

Though I spent a lot of time in London when I was dating my ex and was more than accustomed to travelling there alone, I’d never gone on a ‘night out’ alone. I’ve travelled as far as America alone, but I’d never been to a pub or club on my own and the thought of it just seemed terrifying!

Wouldn’t I look like a total loser, lingering around with no friends to accompany me? Wouldn’t it be dangerous?

I would have pushed it all to the back of mind, but then, Romances released their first single, Parallels. Soon after, the famous American singer Billy Ray Cyrus was telling his fans to “check out” the song. By this point, I was familiar with the band members names, extremely impressed with their talent and had watched every video they uploaded to social media.

I was turning into what my ex described as a “Romances super-fan” just like I was in my dreams. And of course, the dreams continued.

It is a positive sign to dream of a band or musical group playing live music. It usually refers to a good level of spirituality in your life, which brings you a lot of inner peace and contentment.

AuntyFlo.com

I wondered if the dreams meant something and it occurred to me that maybe I just needed to go! I had so many fears surrounding going out alone, being seen alone and getting into some sort of trouble, that I realised that perhaps a trip to London was exactly what my soul had ordered.

If you want a better life, it’s no good staying constraints of your comfort zone, hanging onto pointless fears! Life is about growing, changing and doing new things. If I could get on a plane to fly to America all by myself, I could probably take a trip to the pub alone, even if it did require several hours travelling.

I’ve spent much of my adult life not going to see bands I really wanted to see because my mind was always coming up with a hundred bad reasons not to.

I finally went for the first time in August, despite the nerves. I had quite a lot of fun alone in London. I did meet with my ex briefly, seeing him for the first time since we split. He joined me for two drinks and then left, with me free to do whatever I wanted and not have to worry about anybody else all night.

I made a friend at the bar, Yarek, and though I was mostly trying to sneak around unnoticed, he informed Ashby (guitarist) of Romances I’d travelled to see them play and before I knew it, I’d met the whole band and was spilling my guts to them about how much I loved their music. They were all so friendly and I’d managed to get through the night without much trouble at all!

The only issue I encountered was one that I think is quite typical for women, whether they’re alone or accompanied; I attracted the unwanted attention of a couple of men that evening and one was following me around for a while. I wont play it down as an issue. This is quite a serious issue that is, in part, one of the reasons I’ve been too terrified to go out alone.

I hadn’t really known how to deal with unwanted attention and that’s probably one thing I’ve yet to learn, but Soufian (bassist) spotted what was going on. He somehow managed to get rid of the man, quickly, with little more than a glare and declaring we’d ignore him.

Regardless of the behaviour of some intimidating men, I ended up having a wonderfully memorable night, for all the right reasons. I couldn’t stop smiling for days.

I enjoyed the support bands, Big Peyote and Rival Karma. Yarek insisted that I would love Rival Karma and he was absolutely right! They quickly became another favourite of mine.

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Rival Karma at The Monarch, Camden, 7th August 2018 – Photo by James Canavan

Rival Karma knew Yarek, so thanks to them, I was able to track him down on social media and stay in touch. And since first seeing them live, I’ve also been able to enjoy them treating their fans to a little live music on Instagram when I’ve been stuck at home, something they may never know just how much I appreciate.

(Or there was that time I was watching while walking around Tesco, attracting the gazes of everybody I walked past, but suddenly caring a whole lot less if I looked like a ‘loser’.)

I’ve enjoyed watching the bands so much, I ended up returning to London again twice this week so that I can see all three bands again. I also got myself tickets to see several other bands and wrote another bucket-list, specifically for all the bands I’m determined to see.

I took myself on a date to Daphne Restaurant in Camden, somewhere I’d always wanted to go when I was spending so much time in London. My ex and his girlfriend joined me to watch Romances this time and whereas that sort of situation might be awkward for some people, I had the best night with them. I’m so grateful to have them as friends.

After my experiences recently, now when I want to go anywhere, I don’t suppose that I wont go based on fear. Being alone certainly wont stop me! Now I know that I’ll probably go wherever I want to. My comfort zone has gotten a whole lot bigger all of a sudden.

I’m starting to think I was always supposed to go and see Romances eventually and I knew it, deep in my soul. It felt like destiny that I’d almost ignored, a chance to romance myself.