Stigma reduction

Update – September 2020

It’s been an absolute age since I last wrote a proper update. As time passes, I feel like I have less and less to say and yet, so often, I’m desperate to write, to say something, to try to make a difference but I remain silent. I can’t even tell you how many half-written blog posts I’ve started and abandoned. They’re all saved, they all start off with promise, with a point or a purpose and before I know it my confidence dies again and the words dry up and I post nothing. It means that every time I do attempt to post I feel the need to explain, justify, and apologise because I never intended to be so sporadic about posting. I planned to show up regularly, for this to be my space that I’d carved out to inform, educate and share my experiences with the world. But somehow I always talk myself out of it.

However, today I’m here and hoping it’ll be different and that this won’t be left unfinished and saved and never seeing the light of day again. There are so many things going on in my life that it’s hard to even know where to start but the thing that made me open the document and start typing was that I’m getting worse again. I’m sure it won’t last like this, it happens regularly, almost always when there’s way too much difficult stuff going on in my personal life for me to handle, but it never feels temporary at the time. It’s always a shock when I get worse because my daily life is challenging at best and I live with some level of symptoms every day. But when I deteriorate everything is ramped up. Today for example, I’ve had 3 panic attacks and cried twice. Today’s not a special or challenging day, nothing was planned, nothing happened, but I’ve spent the whole day just feeling completely unable to cope. For weeks now I’ve felt like I’m drowning. Most of my waking moments I feel like I can’t get enough air and my sleep is worse again. I feel stressed and on edge the whole time and I’m so irritable and at times I’m becoming aggressive because I’ve just had enough of everything.

One of the biggest contributors to this deterioration is that I finally applied for disability benefits. I’ve put it off for 6 years because I’m so aware of how awful the process is but I was finally persuaded into applying in February. It’s been a long and arduous process. A 40-page form to fill out where I had to detail all the things I can’t do, the things I need help with and the ways in which I fail to function. 4 months later I had an assessment on the phone which was terrifying but I thought it had gone well. 2 weeks after that I got my decision letter through saying not only was I not entitled to anything but a whole load of lies, assumptions and errors which just felt like a personal attack. While I know the system isn’t personal, having it implied that you’re making up the severity of your condition when you’ve been disbelieved about your suffering for two thirds of your life is immensely damaging. It absolutely floored me and sent me into a tailspin. I’ll be completely honest, it made me seriously consider suicide. Thankfully I was able to talk myself round and my determination to fight has returned and so I’m going to do my damndest to get what I know I’m entitled to but my god has it made me ill just trying to keep my head above water. On top of multiple other horrible circumstances I’m living through right now, this was the last thing we needed.

As ever, it just feels like it’s one thing after another. It’s relentless. The anxiety is so ramped up that I’m regularly having panic attacks because of ridiculous things making me jump. Examples just in the last fortnight have included Joe getting too close to me, a seed blowing across the floor, Joe’s shadow, my own hair, the window cleaner, a fly, Joe speaking unexpectedly, and the remote control getting knocked. I spend most of the time, nearly every day at the moment feeling like I can’t cope and wishing I could just sleep. I’m so exhausted and utterly burnt out but I’m lucky if I get 7 hours of broken sleep a night at the moment. My concentration is absolutely shot and I can focus on almost nothing. It’s got so bad that I tune out during conversations or TV programmes that I’m watching because I just forget to listen. My attention span is a few minutes at best so I can do almost nothing. I’ve not done any colouring for weeks. I’ve had embroidery threads out for a project for 2 weeks and I still haven’t even cut the fabric or transferred the design. My brain feels like it’s running at a hundred miles an hour, constantly seeking out new sources of anxiety and fear but never able to settle into anything useful. I long to do one of my hobbies, to be able to do something other than mindlessly scrolling through social media, taking nothing in and just intensifying my loneliness. For weeks I’ve thought multiple times every day about taking diazepam to take the edge off and try to get through a little better because this is just unbearable. It gets so bad that it feels like it’s killing me from the inside out. I know this must sound dramatic but honestly, this doesn’t even capture the true severity of how intolerable and unending this feels. I guess it’s little wonder that in the midst of all of this, receiving an assessment saying that I’m basically fine was the final straw to me being able to fight this latest relapse.

I’ve not really worked out what point I’m trying to make in this post. I always try to have a purpose for them, a specific thing to say or message to impart but right now, I can’t think of one and I’m not sure I started with one in the first place. I guess I just wanted to share what this is like, to explain that 6 years on, it’s often still like the first time, that I still go through periods of my panic attacks ramping up to multiple times a day with no specific triggers or reasons and the little functioning I’ve built up gets torn down again. I always try to give a full and honest picture here of what it’s like to live with these conditions and this is part of that. I can’t go into detail about most of the reasons why things are so hard right now, perhaps I’ll be able to in the future but we’re in for a very rough ride and I’m already really wishing I could get off. I’m sick to death of the existential dread that seems to just shroud me at the moment. I want to breathe normally and freely again and not keep feeling like my heart is about to stop or the oxygen is running out. I know I’ll get through this, I always do but I wish the process got easier and quicker.

Written on August the 27th.

Let Down in Lockdown

Yesterday I got an unexpected phonecall. It was a private number. That always fills me with dread. What I really wasn’t expecting was that during a global pandemic, while my country is on lockdown, my mental health service would phone to discharge me. A lot of what ensued is a blur. I was on my back foot from the start and was just completely stunned that a stranger was calling me and trying to discharge me back to my GP. I’ve not been checked up on during this crisis so when this woman introduced herself and where she was calling from, I was immediately really pleased and impressed that they were phoning to see how I was. They weren’t. In fact, I don’t think I got asked any questions about how I am, how or if I’m coping or if I’m getting enough support. She went straight in for the kill and said they were planning on discharging me. I then spent nearly 20 minutes trying to find out why, what that would mean, how I can stay on their books, what criteria I have to meet, all the while trying not to burst into tears and have a panic attack.

More and more unexpected information came out during this phonecall including the fact that my psychiatrist retired in September or October which I’d not been told. I apparently should have been written to by him but even she couldn’t find a record of that letter on their system. He had, seemingly wrongly, promised to keep me on their books until I was well enough to attend treatment in the future. He’d apparently promised this to a lot of patients, all of whom I’m assuming are getting the same out-of-the-blue phonecall passing them back to their GP with no warning or support. It means that I’ll no longer be allowed to have visits from my support worker, the only professional involved directly in my care who actually sees me and knows what I’m going through and how damned hard I’ve worked despite the lack of visible progress or improvement and who continues to support and boost my confidence and self-esteem and treat me like a valuable human being. She has to work under a clinical lead and I’m not allowed one of those because I don’t fit the criteria and so she won’t be allowed to work with me either.

I know that mental health teams are increasingly underfunded. Before all of this, I worked in one. I know all too painfully the limitations of the services, the understaffing and the squeezing from all angles. I’ve tried to make myself as little of a burden as possible on the NHS and specifically on my local mental health team. I’ve not agreed to appointments unless I really believed I’d be well enough to attend. I stopped booking them when it was making me worse and I was becoming unreliable at attending because I didn’t want to waste appointments that could be given to other people. I didn’t agree to have therapy that I’ve previously had that I knew wouldn’t help me and that again, I wasn’t well enough to attend. All I asked was to see my support worker for an hour every couple of months and to be kept on their books, under a named psychiatrist, so that I didn’t have to wait weeks to be re-referred in the future by a GP surgery where I’ve met none of the doctors and the last doctor I was under kept me on a medication that my psychiatrist described as basically poisoning me with horrendous side effects.

Oddly, this phonecall came the day after I had a completely unexpected letter from the same team telling me that an appointment had been booked for me to have a telephone consultation with a new psychiatrist. I have no idea who booked this or why and the lady on the phone yesterday wasn’t aware until I highlighted it and she checked my records and even she didn’t actually know why it had been booked. I was already stressed and anxious because of this random appointment but it also really upset me and made me pretty angry because I begged to have telephone appointments 5 years ago so that I could still engage with support but not make myself really ill trying to go to appointments. I was always flat-out refused this and told that it was completely impossible. I know that we’re living through “unprecedented times” right now and that people are having to change and adapt their work in order to maintain services during this pandemic but I cannot for the life of me work out how it’s possible, doable, and acceptable to have telephone appointments with a psychiatrist now, when a few years ago it was completely impossible even though that meant that I had to stop having any support from a trained professional because I was too ill to do it in the way that they offered.

All I kept being told yesterday was that their service only offers time-limited, goal-specific help, none of which I’ve ever been well to engage with because the offerings are so limited and are all aimed at people who are much less ill than I am. All I’ve ever been offered (apart from medication which we’ve all agreed I can’t and shouldn’t take again) is 6 sessions of CBT and group art therapy run by a support worker, the same job role I had when I was working. Yesterday, I asked what people like me are meant to do, those of us who are too ill to engage with what they offer and she said there were community treatments, all of which she acknowledged required you to be well enough to physically attend. I’m severely agoraphobic. I can’t go out. So the upshot seemed to be that there’s nothing for me, no service, no treatment, no one to keep an eye on me or make sure I’m not spiralling. No one unrelated to me who I can talk to about how this is actually all making me feel or what it’s like to live like this which actually leaves me with no one to talk to about that because I just can’t bear putting that on people around me. My social network has reduced and reduced over the years of my illness and each time I’m struggling, there are fewer people to talk to and I feel further and further away from them and from normality. I’m good at getting through the day-to-day stuff, I’m great at ignoring my limitations and working within them to the point where I sometimes forget that I’m ill and often forget what I’m not capable of until I’m rudely reminded by circumstance and it all comes flooding back. I don’t have people to talk to about how frightened I am, about how much my belief and hope are fading as each month passes. It’s not because I don’t have people close to me, it’s because I can see how painful it is for them when I talk about these things and I know that what often keeps them going is my grit and determination and continuing belief that I’ll get better. I don’t have the heart to tell them that I don’t know if I believe that anymore and that although I mostly do think that I’ll be better, albeit not cured, one day, that image is increasingly vague and I’ve got no idea of how to get from here to there, what to do to make it happen or when it may occur. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be 6 months from turning 30 and still severely agoraphobic and unemployed. I know I achieve a lot and this isn’t meant to be a pity-party but it’s very hard to keep yourself going, day after day, year after year, when you have to fight for even the basics of medical support and then have that randomly threatened with being removed.

The only reason I’m not now discharged is because of this mysterious appointment that’s been arranged for me. She eventually agreed that I could speak to the new psychiatrist and see what he says and that we’d “discuss it”. So now, I get to spend the next month, waiting and trying to work out how or even if I should try and persuade them to keep me on their books. Because even if I manage to stay this time, how long will it last? It will always be hanging over me. They offer me next to no support and no treatment anyway so in many ways I won’t be any worse off without them. But it feels like I’ll be even more alone, even more adrift and cut off from reality, normality, and help. It makes me sad and angry that people like me are just abandoned. That we’re so ill we can’t function and are essentially punished for that by having accessible treatment denied. So many people have the opposite problem of needing help but not being so ill that it’s deemed necessary and having to wait until they deteriorate before anyone will treat them. Increasingly it seems that there’s a right way of being mentally ill and more and more of us are failing to do it that way and then get denied treatment. I can’t make my illness fit in with the criteria they set, I can’t get myself well enough to attend the treatment that they say will get me better and so rather than bring any of it to me or even keep it paused until a miracle happens and I can get myself there, they decide that I look bad on their books and need to go. I wonder how many people out there exist as I do? I don’t think we’re even counted. They know how many people have a diagnosis, how many people went through therapy, how many people had a psychiatrist. But once I’m discharged, I won’t exist anywhere as a statistic. I won’t be counted as one of the people they failed, I won’t be listed somewhere as one of the people who was so severely ill that they couldn’t be treated. I’ll just disappear. Even statistics for houseboundness don’t seem to exist. I’ve looked and looked over the years and never found anything that even attempts to give numbers to how many people are physically or mentally ill enough that they’re confined to the house. I know there are many of us. The sheer number of people who, well-before lockdown or Coronavirus, were arriving at my blog because they wanted advice or help to cope with being housebound, is huge and I’m just one blogger with a small following and a pretty small reach. There must be thousands of us. But we’re all hidden away and mostly we’re forgotten about and just left. Lockdown has shown just how hard living your life indoors is to the masses. People are going stir crazy. They can’t work out how to entertain themselves, how to stop eating every 30 minutes, how to work, how to get medical help. This has been my life for 6 years and I’ll tell you for nothing, there’s never been a better time to be housebound because of the sheer number of free resources that have been released. So many things have adapted and been made accessible so that life can continue despite us all being indoors and still it’s unbearable for many people. Spare a thought for those of us for whom this is our life permanently, who don’t get to do PE with Joe or have church services via Zoom or watch Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals in our lounge the rest of the time. The majority of the time, these things are completely inaccessible to people like me and now even mental health treatment, in the midst of a pandemic, is being withdrawn because I don’t fit into the box neatly enough. As yet, I’m undecided about what to ask for in this appointment and whether I’ll put the energy into trying to fight or just give in this time because as seasoned readers of my blog will know, absolutely every step of the way, I’ve had to fight to get any treatment or support and I’m so unbelievably tired of doing that and being let down. I always thought that I’d get through this on my own, in my own time and I have no idea if that’s true but it looks like that’s the only option I’m left with and I’ll just have to hope that one day, the solution will reveal itself and I’ll somehow get from here to “better”.

6 Years’ Agoraphobic – Coping with Social Distancing, Self-Isolation and being Housebound: Advice for COVID-19, Anxiety and Beyond

For 6 years, I’ve been virtually housebound suffering from severe Agoraphobia, Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety. It means I’m in a fairly unique and experienced position to advise about the dos and don’ts of being indoors for a prolonged period of time. Below is a long list of suggestions that have helped me and that I hope will help you to cope and keep occupied.

Do remember that this will have an end point. Much as it’s not clear when that end point will be, there will indeed be one and it’s important to focus on that and not get too bogged down or pessimistic. For those who don’t know me, I’ll point out here that I’m not an optimist, nor am I a fan of most self-help stuff because I find it patronising and overly simplistic. I’m not involving myself in the medical side of things because there are plenty of articles already available on this and I’m not a medical expert, but I am an expert in how not to go stir-crazy when cooped up indoors for an indefinite period of time, for reasons beyond your control.

1. Create and Keep a Routine – Getting up and having a routine are absolutely key to keeping focused, motivated and having any sense of what time of day it is. You’d be amazed how quickly those things fade if you don’t stick to at least a few basic plans each day. The absolute musts are getting up, going to bed and eating at set times as those all help to regulate your body clock. Getting dressed and having activities planned for the day are also great for helping you be ready to tackle things and motivate you to get stuff done rather than lounging in front of the TV all day. Writing out a timetable can be really helpful, as well as a list of suggestions for activities and tasks to do if you get bored or can’t think of something to do at a specific time.

2. Limit Accessing of News Updates – It can be really tempting in times of crisis and uncertainty to want to be as informed as humanly possible, all the time. Stop. It’s SO bad for your mental health, won’t lead to you being more informed and is likely to just make you panic and feel sick. Choose your news sources wisely! Don’t take notice of the umpteen viral social media posts written by so-called experts that are constantly contradicting each other and spreading misinformation and worry. Pick one or even a few specific times a day where you will check on these reliable sources and then avoid the rest of the time. If you find this too much, then keep reducing down until you reach a happy medium of informed and calm-ish. If it’s all too much and you want to hunker down, then feel free to avoid all news and stay in your happy place. Do whatever it takes to stay sane and coping!

3. Be Prepared but Don’t Panic Buy! – We’re all well aware of how ludicrous the situation is in the shops right now (at least in the UK) and it’s important to be prepared and to have in the things you need for if lock-down happens or you have to self-isolate. Having enough food and supplies in is really useful but please, please don’t panic buy because it’s stopping everyone from being able to be prepared and causing widespread anxiety. If you’re able to get food in, then a great idea is to batch cook some meals to freeze so that if you become sick, you can eat nutritious food, won’t need to go shopping for a while and can just defrost and reheat instead of cooking when you really won’t feel like it. You do not need 1500 toilet rolls, they don’t taste nice or help your lungs! Make sure you eat healthily and regularly and stock up on some treats too – try to avoid eating all of them on the first day of quarantine!

4. Finances – Money is becoming a huge worry for many. Try to avoid burying your head in the sand and work out exactly where your family stand and look into what help is available to you. Making a spreadsheet of current expenditure and income can help you identify areas to cut back on, as well as showing you your budget. This puts you in the best position to act quickly and pre-emptively if things are going to worsen for you and could help you avert a crisis. The finance situation is different for everyone and changing daily so keep researching and applying for all of the support available to you and remember that even small changes can build up to make a big difference.

5. Social Contact – While we’re all having to avoid physical contact with people outside our household (and inside for those self-isolating), we don’t have to be isolated from all contact. Phone calls, emails, video calls and group chats are just some of the ways in which we can continue to socialise. Talk to people about how you and they are feeling, give each other tips of how to pass the time and talk about anything other than the virus when you can! Check in with others who you think might be struggling and rekindle friendships that fizzled out due to lack of time – there’s an abundance of that right now. Setting up cyber groups is another way of doing joint activities whilst being socially distant, things like film nights, book groups, cocktail evenings, lunch dates, debates and more can all be done via video chats or cyber groups to keep you involved and connected with each other, sharing activities and combatting boredom.

6. Plan for the Future – During scary times, it can feel all-consuming and never-ending but this will pass and there will be light at the end of the tunnel. In order to keep focused on that and to keep you getting through all of the difficulties and things you currently can’t do, rather than focusing on what you’re missing, put all of those things and the things you’re looking forward to doing once this is all over, into a list. Keep adding to it each time you think of something new and it’ll give you all sorts of ideas for how to fill your time once this period of isolation and restriction comes to an end. It’s highly likely to increase your enjoyment and gratitude for the ability to do those things once you’re finally able to again. I never get over the novelty of feeling the wind on my face having spent the majority of the last 6 years indoors.

7. Use this as an Opportunity – You’re likely to suddenly have a lot of time on your hands and while that might seem like a dream come true, the novelty quickly wears off. Rather than letting the boredom set in, use this as an opportunity to get tasks done that you’ve been putting off, to learn new things, to start something that you’ve always wanted to and even to re-evaluate your priorities and make changes to your life. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day busyness of life and forget that we can change things we don’t like and put more time into the things we do and now is a perfect opportunity to start making that happen.

8. Look After your Mental Health – This is crucial! A lot of us who have mental illnesses, have strategies and coping mechanisms to keep our symptoms at bay and enforced time at home may be restricting your ability to do some of those things. Even those who don’t have mental illness may well have things they do that keep them calm, focused and able to cope well with daily life and being indoors for prolonged periods of time is likely to have quite a profound effect on your mental wellbeing. My key suggestions would be to talk to others and tell them how you’re feeling, share tips on coping and activities to pass the time and set goals together that you can help each other achieve. Being at home can be extremely lonely and isolating but you don’t have to be mentally alone, there are a lot of us out there all in this together so head to your contact list or social media to find others to connect with and you’ll realise you’re not alone in finding this hard and that might just make it a bit easier. If things get really bad then reach out for professional help, it’s still accessible especially over the phone and online, so don’t suffer in silence!

9. Help Others – If you’re feeling bored or have any skills, services or supplies that you could share with others in order to help them then do it! Helping others is a great pastime as well as building community spirit and connectedness. In times like these, even small gestures can make such a huge difference and they help us see the wider picture of us all being in this together. Obviously, maintain social distancing whilst doing this.

10. Be Creative – As you’re likely to soon find out, there truly are only so many hours of daytime TV and trips to the kitchen to check the fridge for snacks, that one can take before wanting to climb the walls. Therefore, creating, rather than consuming, is a great way of getting out of that cycle and making your day better. It doesn’t have to be drawing or painting, it can be literally anything from writing a poem to building a shed, taking photographs to making up a dance. Anything that involves you making something or changing it and using your hands and your brain to produce something, will do just fine and it’s great for giving you a sense of achievement too because you can see the result of your efforts at the end.

11. Keep Fit – You might have to get a bit inventive here and try not to annoy your neighbours (especially those of us in flats/apartments) but getting your heart rate up and your blood pumping is a sure-fire way to help clear your head and get rid of excess energy and anxiety. If you have home exercise equipment then use that, if you’ve got a garden then get out there and run, play with a ball or even skip. For those of us who only have indoor space we’re a little more limited but thanks to the wonders of the internet you can find free workouts, yoga and Pilates tutorials, dance classes and more. You could do strength training if you’ve got weights and if not, get out some of those stock-piled tins of beans and use them instead. If motivation is tricky, then get your friends involved and hold each other to account or even video chat whilst you all do the same workout and cheer each other on!

12. Avoid Substances and Bad Habits – It’s a really tough time for everyone and it can be all too tempting to look for ways of escaping difficult feelings but leaning on substances or bad habits will only harm you more in the long-run. Try to avoid alcohol, comfort eating and any other self-destructive behaviours and talk to others if you’re struggling to manage. Keeping busy is the key to getting through as unscathed as possible.

13. Free Activities and Resources – Companies and individuals are offering free services, resources and activities, with new ones popping up daily for kids and adults worldwide. There’s everything from fitness routines to tours of zoos and museums, education and language-learning resources for all ages and abilities, colouring pages, recipes, courses and qualifications and so much more. Now is the time to start looking into all of the things you always wanted to do and never quite made the time for, be it learning sign-language, pasta-making, or crochet, there are guides to almost everything, if you look.

14. Change your Environment – If your country allows and you feel it’s safe to do so, then go outside to an open area, staying 2 metres apart. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden or a balcony then use that regularly. If, like me, you don’t have outdoor space then you have to be more creative. Watching nature programmes and documentaries is a great way of seeing outdoors without actually being out there and opening windows as often as possible to get fresh air in is really beneficial. Even just changing rooms or sitting down the other end of the sofa is better than staying in the same spot for days on end. You could redecorate or rearrange some of your living space to freshen it up and make it feel different and new. Keeping your curtains and blinds open and making sure you get enough daylight will help your mood, sense of time and your sleep pattern and although you may not notice the benefits, you’ll certainly notice the deterioration in all of those things if you keep the light out. Another great way of getting the outdoors indoors is to grow something. It’s very therapeutic to have a plant to look after, it’s good for air quality, and it can even be useful if you grow something edible – my personal favourite is chilli plants which grow pretty quickly and easily and can then be added to my cooking or saved up and made into chilli jam.

15. Working From Home – For those of you who are unexpectedly working from home, try to keep a distance between work and home. If possible, keep your work to one area of your home, keep it to specific times and outside of those don’t be tempted to check emails or do extra unless you absolutely have to. Psychologically, it can be hard to keep a mental distance when there’s little to no physical distance but our brains are really good at picking up on cues so setting routines and times that are similar to your regular work schedule and even changing clothes, eyewear or hairstyle so that you have ‘work’ and ‘home’ versions could make the difference between feeling like your work is never finished and being able to fully enjoy your free time. It requires discipline and it’s not easy but having separation really helps you to focus on the task at hand and then let it go when the time for that is over.

16. Tune Out – Although most of the things I’ve suggested involve ‘doing’ stuff to keep your mind and body occupied, you sometimes need to just ‘be’ and that’s just as important. Write a list of things that help you relax, calm down, and zone out, and plan those in so that you’re not exhausted from too much ‘doing’. Anxiety, stress and worry are exhausting, trust me, I live this every day and it’s really tiring and you’re likely to get a lot less done than you’re planning or hoping. Try to be ok with that. Plan in regular time to just ‘be’ and you might find that the rest of your time is more productive because of the breaks you’ve taken. Similarly, if you’re religious, spiritual, or have regular practices like mindfulness, meditation, or relaxation, then ensure that you’re still building that into your life, even if it means using alternative methods to access it. You’ll need periods of escapism too and reading, audiobooks, gaming and passive TV can all provide this and give your brain a much-needed break.

These are frightening and uncertain times but hopefully by following some of my suggestions, you’ll keep as calm, occupied and content as possible, until freedom is restored.

For specific, anxiety-related tips on how to cope with being housebound, you can find my post written 14 months in here.

Random Mood Drops

It doesn’t matter how many years go by of being mentally ill, there are some things that surprise me, no matter how many times they happen. One of those is the random drops in mood that occur for literally no reason. As I write this, I’m on the verge of tears and have that, oh so familiar, heavy, rock-like sensation dragging down in my chest as if my heart is made of stone. I can physically feel it. This has always been the most persistent and long-lasting symptom of my depression. Depression for me was never just sadness, or numbness, it was the weight in my chest that got heavier and lighter but that never went away. I’ve had it since I was 15, 12 and a half long years and there’s not been a day that I can remember when that weight in my chest has gone. My depression is now mild, it remains very stable and manageable thanks to a lot of work on my part to keep it at bay and not let it rise up or take hold of any more of my life than it already has its grip on. But every now and again, for no reason at all, the weight in my chest exponentially grows and it physically hurts. It makes me want to curl up into a ball, go to bed and sleep for days or burst into tears. I instantly want to self-harm again despite not having done so in years. It makes me feel sad and guilty and angry and overwhelmed about everything and nothing.

Despite dealing with this so many times and for such varying periods, it’s still a shock every time. I never get used to it. I still can’t ever find a reason why it happens. It just does. It just is. It takes my breath away with how fierce and strong it is. It’s like someone sitting on your chest, you can’t breathe, you can’t think or concentrate. Everything suddenly feels pointless and dark. Breaking out of this is hard, each and every time. There’s no reason so there’s no specific fix or problem to solve. It just is.

Today, I’ve had a good day. I spent time at my Nana’s helping her clear out her house and tidy up. We had a lovely time and some really nice conversation. I was tired when I got home and slept for a bit. I felt much brighter and perkier after that but quickly my mood just dropped. Nothing happened, nothing that I can identify caused it. My mood just dropped off a cliff and here I am, feeling sad, feeling weighed down and already struggling to remember feeling better or brighter even though I know I did just a few short hours ago.

Although it shocks me every time, I have at least learnt to stop being scared by it because I know the feeling will pass. I never quite know when or how and occasionally it lasts for a couple of days but usually sleep, distraction and care from my loved ones helps pull me back out of the pit and gets me back on the even keel that I’m used to. Hopefully the feeling will pass quickly this time and the mighty weight that’s currently in my chest will go back to being pebble-sized. I’m not sure if these random mood drops will ever stop, they seem to be very similar to the random attacks of anxiety about nothing that I also get. It’s so disconcerting not knowing why or how something has occurred or when it’ll go or when it’ll next come back. It’s horrible feeling so vulnerable and not having control. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day.

Update – Caring for Relatives, Life Changes and More (1st May 2019) – Video Post

This video was recorded on the 1st of May, 2019. It provides an update on where I’ve been, how I’ve been and what I’ve been doing that’s kept me busy and away from recording or writing. I talk about being a carer for my Grandad and what life is like now I’m not one anymore and how lost I’m currently feeling.

Five Years On – Five Years Of…..

I never know where to even start these posts. You all know by now that I’m one for anniversaries but as more of them pass, I’m increasingly put off and seem to mentally avoid them. I haven’t even known what to title it because how on earth do you sum up five years of being ill? How do you title something detailing what it’s been like to be unwell for such a long period of time?

Whenever I write a blog post, I try to have a plan. I’m quite a spontaneous writer, I break all of the writing and blogging rules about having a word limit and a posting schedule. As you’ll have seen, I post as and when something comes to me and sometimes that’s multiple times a week and other times I go for months without having anything to share at all. But, I do usually have a reason to post and something specific I want to say and that’s why these anniversary posts are so difficult to write because usually the only reason to write them is the date and because I feel I ‘should’ have something to say rather than actually having anything to say.

For the most part, I try to ignore the time of year, ignore the dates and don’t let them mean anything. But five years feels like a hell of a milestone and feels like I really should be saying something even though I don’t actually know what that is. My life is currently in upheaval with a huge amount of change going on and even more on the way. My grandparents who are a huge part of my life and who I’ve spent increasing amounts of time with over the last few years are moving away, it’s not that far but for me it’s a world away. I’m currently at their house at least 4 days a week, for about 30 hours as I’m a carer for my Grandad and in the next few weeks they’ll be an hour’s drive away and I currently can’t get there. I may discuss all of that at a later point but those are the basics and it’s the reason why I’ve been so quiet on social media and my blogs and YouTube Channel because all of my mental capacity is taken up being there or processing everything that’s going on and changing. It’s a hell of a lot to take in.

In some ways, I’ve been really glad of the distraction because although I’ve noticed the date approaching of me being ill for five years, I’ve not really had a chance to focus on that or be sad or really feel anything about it. I’m quite grateful for that. Five years is such a long time, it’s over a sixth of my life and I still don’t know how or when I’ll get better. Being a carer and being needed has definitely helped me to push myself harder than I thought it possible to push and I’ve certainly been noticing the changes that that has caused in my confidence levels and belief in my ability. However, it’s a very specific set of circumstances that those changes have occurred within and I feel very worried and doubtful that I can translate those to any other situations. I’m not being negative, I’m going to do everything in my power to continue to go out and not go backwards when my grandparents move and I no longer ‘need’ to go out but even though I’m managing that, I still can’t just make myself go for a walk or set foot inside a shop. There is such a mental block in my brain and somehow ‘needing’ to do something overrides that a bit but as soon as the task is a choice, I can’t do it. Even artificially ‘needing’ to do something isn’t enough to make me go. There are so many things that I want to do but wanting it isn’t enough to get me out of my front door. The situation with being a carer for my Grandad seems to have special status in my brain and overrides all sorts of things that little else manages to do. Mostly I’m just grateful that it has, that I’ve been able to build up my confidence and start meeting new people (the other carers on the team) and for it not to be so obvious outwardly that I’m suffering so badly with anxiety.

I do worry a lot at the moment about how I’m going to cope once my grandparents leave though, everything in my own life has been on hold since before January because I just can’t concentrate on anything else and some time soon, they just won’t be here anymore and I’ll go from every waking hour, and many asleep hours too, spent thinking about them to this void where they’ll be gone and my brain will probably still be so full that I won’t be able to do anything to redirect or distract myself. I’m trying really hard to be kind to myself, to be forgiving and accepting and just let myself feel whatever comes up but oh my God, it’s exhausting! My emotions are all over the shop and I can’t keep up. I’ve always been quite emotionally stable, often not in a great way but still, I’ve always felt quite stable and so I never know what to do when these periods of turmoil come up and not only is everything in my life changing, I’m also all over the place with my feelings about it all too. I’m worried about the time immediately after they leave. I have so many things and activities and projects to work on but they all seem to require concentration and even the most basic levels of that are out of my reach at the moment. I keep wanting to record videos explaining what this is like to live through because I know I’m not alone in experiencing this but I never get as far as even setting up a tripod and always remember at ridiculous moments when it’s not appropriate to be filming. I also have no idea what would come out of my mouth which is the status quo for me but when my concentration is off, it’s even more of a surprise and I feel like a liability so I tend to just avoid all of that. At least when writing a blog, I can edit it and take chunks out if I really need to, though that is something I try to avoid as I don’t like filtering things.

As you can probably tell, my brain, my thoughts and feelings are all over the place and my life circumstances are too, there is so much change coming up and I don’t know what’s happening from day to day, let alone from month to month. I have a lot of hopes about things I want to do and things I hope to achieve and I’m hoping that maybe once I have more time to myself and once my brain has finally cleared a little that I might be able to concentrate and focus and achieve some of those things. I’m hoping I might also be able to make some more significant and sustained improvements that aren’t so situation-specific. That’s a lot of hoping right there but that’s something I’ve learnt throughout being ill, I can’t plan, I can’t expect or demand but I can hope and I put all of my energy into that and then trying to make those hopes come true without placing expectations or time limits on it. It means that I’m always working and travelling in the right direction and not failing just because I’ve not achieved something yet.

Five years on, I’m not where I hoped or expected to be, but I’m still here, I’m still fighting and that’s enough for me.

Finding the Words

Finding the Words

I don’t even remember the last time I wrote a blog post. I keep meaning to. I keep trying to think of things to say, important messages to impart. Something. Anything! And I never even get as far as opening a Word document. Nothing comes in to my head and my mind stays blank.

So what’s changed? Here I am writing and you’re there reading. Well, I decided to take a different route and think about why I had nothing to say. After all, it’s so unlike me to not have something to say and not be full of ideas, I’m usually exploding with multiple projects and picking one is what I find hard. The reason I’m struggling so much is because my brain capacity is taken up elsewhere and I’m pretty rubbish at multi-tasking. As many of you know, I’m a carer for my Grandad and have been for a number of years but the time I put into this has drastically increased since Christmas. When I began, it started at 2 or 3 hours a fortnight and over time it gradually increased to being there up to 2 days a week for a few hours each time. By Christmas, I was there about 4 days a week and by January I was there 5 days a week including all day on one weekend day. As of this month, I’m due there 28 hours a week. There are so many changes, so many things to think about and work through and take in. I’m coping surprisingly well, I’m actually really proud of how much I’m taking it in my stride but it’s definitely come at the cost of me focusing on anything else. I can’t concentrate at all. My brain just feels like mush. I spend hours every day just staring into space and thinking about all of the things that I could and should be doing and yet never quite getting as far as starting any of them. Most of the time I don’t even know where to begin. It’s making it really hard to get on with stuff, to do anything particularly normal or anything that involves any sort of brain power.

I keep trying to think of things to say, topics to write about and ways in which I can help others by writing. But I just draw a blank the entire time. In fact, my brain only seems to think vaguely clearly when I’m actually at my Grandparents’ house and doing my job there, the rest of the time it’s like it’s on standby or something. I’m hoping that just by writing something, that this might help jump start my mind into thinking about things to write and not finding the whole task so overwhelming. I miss having a voice, I miss speaking about these issues and talking to people who are like me, who understand what it is to go through these conditions and these experiences. But I guess my mind’s way of coping with the difficult things I’m dealing with in my personal life is to shut down from everything else and just focus on the one issue. Nothing else manages to creep in. I have a lot of free time outside the time that I spend with them and yet I still don’t manage to keep on top of emails, remember to message friends back or keep on top of the washing up. I feel like a failure, like a burden because despite the fact that I’m working fewer hours than my partner and that this is by far the most hours I’ve worked during the 5 years I’ve been ill for, I still suck at being a housewife, I still can’t do even basic tasks and he still has to help or do so many things that just shouldn’t be his responsibility. It’s really hard to know where the line is between what I should and shouldn’t be doing and I know I have to be really careful not to push myself too hard because despite not coming out the other side yet of the breakdown I essentially had 5 years ago, I know I could have another one now and possibly get even more ill than I was when this began. I can’t afford to do that. I couldn’t cope with that. So I’m trying really hard to be kind to myself to do what I can and accept what I can’t and to ask for help with the multitude of tasks that evade my abilities. It doesn’t come easily.

On top of all of this, my memory has got way worse. This is a particularly cruel blow and makes everything so much harder. I’ve always had a fantastic memory and I miss it so much whenever it drops and it’s the worst it’s been for months at the moment. I have to write everything down and then have to try and leave the writing in obvious places so I actually remember to read and work through the to-do list. Even basic stuff that would usually be so obvious to me just isn’t and doesn’t get done unless I’m reminded by a list. I think old age is kicking in at 28! I jest. I know that this is one of the brain’s protective mechanisms and that it’s also a sign that although my body feels ok, my anxiety levels aren’t increasing and I don’t feel physically sick the whole time, I’m only really holding on by my hands now. I’m definitely not at fingertips point, I’ve got a fairly good grip of things at the moment but it wouldn’t take a lot for me to become distracted and my grip to loosen and the whole situation to become WAY more precarious. It’s a weird place to be. I would have expected to be feeling horrendous. I’m under a lot of pressure, there’s a lot resting on me and my family are currently reliant on me being able to do the shifts I’ve signed up for because none of the other care team members can do those at the moment. Normally, pressure is my absolute nemesis. So I’ve certainly been wondering if I’m finally getting better. In some ways I think I might be. I’m certainly coping better with this whole situation than I was and finding it easier and more comfortable to travel to my grandparents’ and to be there. I’m sure a huge part of that is that I’m finally now desensitised to it and that after the umpteenth time of going, it’s got easier. It’s also partly because I’m needed. I take a lot of responsibility for things and if I’m given a task then I’m not one to drop that or not do it properly, I always do things to the best of my ability and won’t let people down unless I absolutely have to. I’m needed at the moment and I can’t let them down. But it’s also very apparent to me that I’m still very ill. Even though I go out 4 or 5 times a week to my grandparents’, I still can’t go into a shop. I still can’t just go for a walk randomly and I still can’t take my bins out. It’s ridiculous and makes absolutely no sense to me but that’s something I’ve certainly learnt about these conditions, they don’t conform to a set of rules and there’s no guessing what will or won’t change at any given time or for any given reason. I’m better at being able to go out to my grandparents’ house, to spend time there and remain calm, even when difficult circumstances arise there, but the rest of my life and capacity seems to be on hold and so all of my resources are being used up there leaving me with nothing left for things at home. This is alright for the short term and we’re trying to put things in place to allow this to not become a long-term thing.

I often wonder how I’ll be when the need for me comes to an end and I’m back to having unlimited free time and nothing specific to fill it with. I don’t cope very well without a project. I really hope that the words and ideas will have returned to me by then so I can take time to readjust and express what this has been like and process the difficult parts. I hope I can continue to be a voice for the mentally ill and for myself and that inspiration will strike soon. I really miss writing, I miss expressing myself and I miss making a difference and I hope that I’ll be back to writing and recording videos again soon. I hope I’ll be able to get back to colouring and writing reviews and being more productive but right now, my brain is mush and getting any words out at all is more than I’ve managed in months so this jumbled stream of consciousness will do for now.

If you’ve got any suggestions or requests for ideas of things to write or video about then do get in touch because I’m absolutely open to ideas and seeking inspiration from anywhere I can find it!

Would You Wish Away Your Illness?

Would You Wish Away Your Mental Illness?

Someone recently asked on Twitter, would you get rid of your mental illness if you could? You can read the original thread and the replies here.

Fairly obviously, my instant reaction and answer was yes and I’d question the motives of anyone who’d say otherwise. However, I started thinking on it a bit further and realised that the answer isn’t quite so simple. I don’t think I’d ever say no to getting rid of my mental illnesses but I’m not sure it’s a 100% yes, especially not if it meant that I’d never had them. While I would never sign up for being ill, would never wish it on anyone else and have spent countless hours, days and probably weeks of my life wishing it away, the experience of it has changed me and not all of those ways have been for the worst. I’ll point out here that I’m not grateful for these experiences, this isn’t some evangelical post where I change your point of view about suffering and “teach” you that really it’s an “opportunity for growth and learning”. It’s not. Suffering is exactly that, suffering. It involves being uncomfortable and worse and it’s sure as hell not something I want to have to continue to experience (albeit I don’t have a choice about that one), or something I’d sign up for again. However, without the experiences that I’ve had because of mental illness, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I’m a firm believer that we are a product of our experiences and so without them we wouldn’t be the same.

I would never have done a psychology degree without becoming mentally ill. Mental illness and the way the brain worked weren’t even on my radar until I developed depression right before my 16th birthday. I was going to pursue geology and hoped to work on oil rigs getting very rich whilst discovering oil around the world. If not that then I was going to become a scientist or teacher. I wasn’t going to work with sick people. Not ever!

If I hadn’t become mentally ill then I wouldn’t have been forced to take a gap year. I wouldn’t have gone to the same university. I wouldn’t have met the friends I did on my degree course. I wouldn’t have met my partner, Joe, the man I hope to spend the rest of my life with. I wouldn’t have saved lives at work.

Without becoming mentally ill, I wouldn’t now be a carer for my Grandad. I wouldn’t have the understanding I do about his condition (Posterior Cortical Atrophy, a rare form of Alzheimer’s) and I wouldn’t be able to support my Nana in her role as his primary carer. I wouldn’t be able to explain his behaviour to her or be as understanding and sympathetic to him when he tells me the same story or asks me the same question for the umpteenth time. (For the record, I don’t mean that one needs to be or have been mentally ill in order to do these things, simply that they wouldn’t have occurred for me had I not been). I would be working a normal job and have very little spare time to even visit them, let alone spend time in a caring role two or more days a week.

If not for mental illness, I wouldn’t have created my blog or my social media channels, I wouldn’t be helping others and I wouldn’t be as nice as I am. I was a very opinionated child who thought they knew it all and would have quite happily voiced my almost certainly stigmatised views about anyone else who was mentally ill. I would have thought they just needed to pull themselves together and snap out of it, to be stronger willed and to just get on with it and suck it up. I wouldn’t have been half as empathetic and sympathetic as I am now. I would have remained far more ignorant and arrogant. I also wouldn’t have learnt about others as much as I have because through being mentally ill I’ve learnt to ask questions, to not assume, and to find out directly from others about their experiences and motivations.

If not for mental illness, I don’t actually know who or where I’d be, I don’t know what I would have become or what I would be doing but I know it would be different and I know I wouldn’t be as caring. I’ve always tried to remain separate from my conditions, to have them but for them not to have me and more importantly, for them not to become me. But, when you’ve lived with something for such a long time, there’s no way that it won’t affect you. You can’t stop it from seeping in and from making changes. There are the obvious changes like the constant worry, the dark thoughts and the incessant need for control but you don’t notice the more subtle changes or the positive ones and you’re never quite sure whether they’d have happened regardless or are purely a result of the conditions. If not for mental illness, I wouldn’t have self-harm scars, I’d have eyebrows and eyelashes because I wouldn’t be incessantly pulling them out due to Trichotillomania, I wouldn’t have had an eating disorder. But I also wouldn’t have the friends that I met when I was an inpatient, I wouldn’t have got into most of the hobbies I have now including photography, colouring and crochet, and I wouldn’t have the problem-solving abilities that only someone who’s imagined every single possible and impossible scenario can develop.

There are many ways in which my life would be better if I weren’t and never had been mentally ill, I’d be in full-time work, I’d be well on my way to owning a property, I probably wouldn’t have completely written off the idea of having biological children and I’d be able to do anything and everything I wanted to without the restrictions of my conditions. But I don’t think I’d notice all of the little things I do, I don’t think I’d be as observant, as grateful, or as driven and determined as I am. There’s little else that will focus you quite as much as having to fight through adversity.

As I started off by saying, I wouldn’t wish this on anybody and I’d wish it away in a heartbeat but I’m not sure that I could wish away all of the ways in which it’s changed my life because without mental illness, I’m not sure I’d be the same person, I’m not sure I’d be who I am, and I’m not sure I’d even like who that was and so when answering whether I’d get rid of my mental illness if I could then the answer is yes…..but….. The things that I’ve gone through are in the past, even the things that happened yesterday or even a minute ago and so I’d allow those, I’d wish away the conditions right now but I’d want the changes that have occurred to stay. I couldn’t have studied a better degree, I couldn’t have met better friends, I couldn’t have wished for a better partner and I couldn’t have picked a better field to get a career within and without mental illness I’d have none of those. So I’m really ready to no longer be mentally ill, to have mental illness as part of my past rather than my present or future, but I wouldn’t change much at all about the past because if I did, I wouldn’t be who I am today and much as that includes being a huge heap of worry, anxiety, and nervous energy, I couldn’t be prouder of how kind and caring I am and the fact that I’m turning the negatives of my own conditions into positives to help others who are suffering too.

Insomnia and Mental Illness: Its Impact and Effects – Video Post

My latest video about insomnia and its effects on mental health. Going through a severe phase of it for about 2 months is now leading to personality changes and an inability to tolerate much and this video goes into detail about the impact this has on my life and my health.

Considering Self Harm? Here's What You Need To Know First

Considering Self-Harm? Here’s What You Need to Know First.

This post may be a little triggering for those who self-harm, however, I have tried to write it sensitively and most certainly haven’t glorified it or written about it in a positive light, nor have I vilified or criticised it. Please take care if you choose to read it and seek support if necessary.

I’m guessing that the readers of this post will mostly fit into one of two categories, either you’re considering self-harm, or you’re wanting to know why someone would consider self-harm. Hopefully I can help both groups. Self-harm is the act of harming oneself, in any of a multitude of ways, which causes pain and either temporary or permanent injury. I’m not going to list all the ways in which this is done and I’d seriously advise against looking a list up too because it just tempts those of us considering it to think of ever more inventive ways of harming and researching this topic can make you more likely to think about self-harm and ultimately do it. If you’re seriously considering self-harm then please read the whole of this post before acting on your thoughts because this is what I, and others I know, wish I had known before I hurt myself for the first time.

It’s Addictive
The first thing you need to know which I wish I’d known before starting is that it’s addictive. Yes, you read that right, hurting yourself becomes addictive and while most of us start doing it in order to exert some control and express pain, it quickly becomes addictive and out of control and rapidly becomes part of the problem which doubles the number of issues you’re dealing with. It’s addictive because it releases adrenaline and along with adrenaline you can get a release of endorphins, just like when you do intense exercise or overcome a fearful situation, you get a high afterwards because of the hormones coursing through your system. The problem is, that these highs get shorter and shorter and you therefore have to harm yourself more often or more severely in order to get the same effect. I have a long history of cutting myself, never severely enough to need stitches or any sort of medical treatment but I went from doing it once a fortnight to 4 times a day and running out of “safe” spaces to cut myself quicker than I was getting relief from it. It rapidly stopped helping me and became a problem of its own and a huge part of this was because I became addicted to it and when I was actively harming myself I would obsessively think over how, where and when I next could. It was a really dark few years of my life and not something I wish to repeat.

People finding out
Once you start, you’re pretty much starting a timer until someone around you finds out. This is never easy. It never gets easier. I still remember so many of the incidents of people around me finding out I was cutting myself at 16 and 11 years on I try very hard to not remember them because it still causes me pain to relive those moments. Seeing the pain and hurt on other people’s faces is really tough, feeling guilt, fear, feeling like you’ve let them down is really hard and I can guarantee that you will feel that way. When you’re young it’s very difficult to cover up any injuries and people aren’t half as stupid as you might think, the excuses of a cat scratching you or falling into something will only work once or twice, they won’t work multiple times a week and people react very badly when they find out that you’ve lied to them. Many take it very personally and blame themselves. In many ways, people finding out is the best solution because then you don’t have to deal with the problem on your own anymore but this assumes that whoever finds out is understanding and sympathetic, that may well not be the case because most of the time they’ll find out by accident, when you’re caught off guard and the situation will shock you both and neither of you is likely to react well under those circumstances.

Education and Work Problems
Self-harm isn’t accepted in education or workplace settings. If you are found out to self-harm at school, college, uni or work then you could be asked to leave. You will have to disclose your history of self-harm on occupational health forms which then leads to a fun chat with someone from occupational health at each company you work for having to explain to you that it’s unacceptable to self-harm at work or school and that any injuries must be sufficiently covered up not to arouse suspicion and that if you’re found to be self-harming within the institution that your contract or course will be terminated. This isn’t fun for anybody involved, it’s not the end of the world but it’s another thing that I wasn’t aware of until after I’d started and it was too late. I’ve never self-harmed anywhere other than my own home and was rarely tempted to do so either but if your main coping strategy is self-harming and something triggers you while you’re at work or school then you’re going to need to have a very good plan in place for how you’re going to cope with that without breaking those rules and jeopardising your future.

Scars
Scars don’t fade half as much as you think. I convinced myself that the scars would go really quickly each time and that I wouldn’t be left with any permanent reminders. This isn’t the case. Some do fade really quickly and keeping your injuries clean, allowing them to heal as quickly as possible and moisturising your skin certainly helps but most scars don’t disappear quickly at all. I had chickenpox scars as a child, all of which have gone, I don’t have a mark on me from the various times I must have scraped my knees or ended up with accidental injuries that every child accrues. But self-harm does cause scars and you need to be aware that while you might be fine with that now when you’re feeling desperate and looking for anything that might offer temporary relief, you may well not be fine with it later. Personally, I’ve made peace with my scars, I know that those actions kept me alive and if they don’t fade any more than they have then I’m ok with that but some of them I do wish weren’t there. I’ve got scars on my right leg that are very obviously from self-harm and that can make me quite self-conscious in any sort of swimsuit. I also have them on my left forearm and these are faded but noticeable and people, especially inquisitive children, do sometimes ask and it’s a bit tricky to think up excuses on the spot or decide whether you’re going to tell the truth. Scars are a very permanent reminder of how bad you felt, sometimes they can help remind you of what you’ve overcome and in that way they can almost be positive, but they’re also a constant reminder of how bad things got and a reminder of that coping strategy having been an option even years after you’ve managed to stop. People aren’t always very understanding about self-injury scars and can be pretty judgemental and you need to also be aware that if you have them in very prominent places that are tricky to cover up, these may possibly cause you problems with employment and possibly other opportunities.

Excuses and lying
Unfortunately, self-harm turns the most truthful of us into liars. I’ve always prided myself on telling the truth and always being honest but I absolutely wasn’t when I was self-harming. I couldn’t be. It’s not nice having to keep secrets from people or outright lie to them and then come up with excuses for why you’re wearing long sleeves in summer or flinching when someone hugs you too tight. When you’re suffering from mental illness you can feel really lonely and isolated, self-harm just makes this worse, you feel detached from people, you don’t want them getting too close to you physically or mentally and the lying drives a wedge in ever further. When it eventually comes out that you’ve been lying it can take ages to rebuild trust because most of the people around you won’t understand that you were only lying to cover up the self-harm, they’ll think that you can’t be trusted about anything and that’s beyond infuriating and upsetting. You’ll spend countless hours trying to think up excuses, work out outfits that won’t arouse suspicion and engineer situations so that you don’t have to change clothes in front of people or stick to a uniform code. It’s endless and it just exacerbates the stress and underlying conditions that you were originally trying to cope with.

It’s often mistaken for a suicide attempt
This is a difficult section to write because there are kind of two distinct types of self-harm, there is the type that is used for relief, to express pain and to help cope and then there is the more suicidal type which is either a suicide attempt or a very serious cry for help which requires immediate intervention. Many people think that all self-harm is a cry for help and this isn’t true but equally it should never be dismissed or viewed as attention seeking. Some people do harm themselves and then get deliberately “caught” because they don’t know how else to express the pain they’re experiencing. This isn’t done for dramatic effect, it’s done as a last-ditch attempt to get help and to have their feelings noticed, validated, and hopefully treated! Be warned that if you do decide to self-harm it’s a slippery slope and it’s often mis-interpreted by those around you who don’t understand the thought processes behind it. To someone who’s never self-harmed or even considered it, this world is very alien and it’s something they’ll never fully understand, they simply can’t, but once they know you’ve been covering it up, lying and making excuses and that in their mind you “can’t be trusted” they’ll make all sorts of assumptions and jump to all sorts of conclusions and this can mean that the situation gets escalated way beyond your control, really quickly. It’s really scary suddenly being unable to control what’s happening to you and you may get forced to go to the doctors or hospital and if you’re deemed enough of a risk to yourself you may be asked to go into hospital either as a voluntary/informal patient or under Section if you refuse and your risk is deemed high. While this is often necessary, it’s not nice to be on the receiving end of. I’ve worked with countless numbers of patients who this has happened to and it’s really hard for them to come to terms with and can cause a temporary deterioration because they feel so let down or betrayed or misunderstood. Learning more positive coping strategies rather than resorting to self-harm is the absolute best option and while it may not be such a “quick fix”, it will be infinitely more useful in the long run.

So, what can you do instead? There are heaps of things you can do that might help and different things work for different people so just because one thing doesn’t help doesn’t mean that the rest won’t. Some people need to feel pain and so pinching themselves or snapping a rubber band on their wrist can help. Others need the adrenaline and therefore doing high intensity exercise is a great, healthy alternative, especially high impact activities like running or boxing where you’re physically exerting energy, stress, and any bad feelings you’re currently experiencing. Often, self-harm is used as a way to express pain that you don’t know how else to express, learning to talk about these feelings or write them down or draw them can be really beneficial. Distraction is also a great tool and especially activities that use your hands so that you’re not tempted to start hurting yourself, things like adult colouring, knitting, crochet, sewing, baking, anything that uses your hands in a repetitive way is a great thing to keep you distracted and keep your hands busy and safe. Steer clear of activities that involve using risky objects for you, the less temptation you have around you, the better. Don’t make implements easy to get hold of, if you use something specific to hurt yourself then make it inaccessible, don’t get rid of it unless you want to because sometimes just knowing you could hurt yourself is enough to make you delay doing it or even not do it at all so removing all implements is not necessarily the best option but make it difficult to access them so that you can’t do it without thinking. Wrap them up, put them in a box, put them at the back of your wardrobe or under your bed with stuff dumped on top so that you have to go to some effort to reach it and in the process be thinking about whether you actually want to do it at all. If you’re going to hurt yourself, do it safely, make sure what you’re using is clean and that you keep any injuries clean too and if you think you’ve gone too far then please seek medical help. We’ve all heard horror stories of people seeking medical help and being treated very badly but times are changing and most medical staff are better trained now to deal with self-injury and help rather than judge. Please seek help if you need it. Some of the best ways of coping are simply to try to delay hurting yourself. Saying you’re never doing it again is really difficult and most of us who’ve managed to stop haven’t actually made that choice. While I’ve not harmed myself in at least 3 years, I haven’t written off the possibility of doing so again in the future and actually, by knowing it’s an option, it makes it much less likely that I’ll actually act on it. In many ways it’s like dieting, if I told you that you could never eat a cake again then all you’d think about or crave is cake, whereas if I told you that you could have cake whenever you liked and there was always a cupcake waiting in your freezer to be defrosted then you might find it much easier to have it in an hour, or three, or tomorrow, or next week, knowing it’s an option makes it much easier for most people to not have to act on it right away.

Finally, if you want to talk about how you’re feeling but don’t feel able to do this with anyone you know then please do contact a helpline or charity, there are heaps of them out there and they deal with issues like this all day, every day and have lots of training to be able to listen and help. It’s amazing the difference that can be made just by knowing that a stranger has volunteered to spend their time talking to people like you in the hopes that it might brighten your day just a little, it’s at least worth giving a try. This doesn’t just have to be done by phone, many charities now offer a huge range of talking services including face-to-face talking, phonecalls, texting, email, live online chat and more. If none of this has manged to put you off self-harming then fair enough, it wasn’t specifically aimed at doing that, I just wanted to write the post that I wish I’d have been able to read before starting, I’m not sure that knowing all of this would have stopped me but I’m sure I’d have started later and I’d have been better prepared and less scared about what came next so I hope that this has helped in that way.

If you know someone who you suspect or know is self-harming then try not to panic and please talk to them. Find out their motivations and find out how serious they are, accidents can happen when self-harming and those in deep despair don’t always make the greatest choices about hurting themselves in safer ways, try to find out the extent of the problem and advise them if you can. If you’re worried then seek professional help but try to be as honest as possible with the person because going behind their back will only cause more problems. The absolute best thing you can do is talk about it so that the person is no longer struggling alone. Show them you care and don’t berate or criticise their self-harm; they’re not doing it to you, they’re not ‘acting up’ and they’re very unlikely to be doing it for attention. Self-harm is almost always an expression of feelings that are overwhelming, unbearable, and intense and we need help to discover healthy and safe ways of expressing and dealing with this pain, not judgement for the way we’re currently handling it which is the only way we know how. You can make such a difference just by talking, listening, and showing that you care.