Words and Ideas can Change the World

I am a person of few words so it feels odd to want to start a blog. However, I feel there is something that needs to be talked about by more people in order for it to be socially acceptable:

I have been suffering from depression intermittently since I was a teenager. Nearly half the UK population have had a mental illness at some point in their lifetime, I feel this is a secret society that no one acknowledges.

Firstly I want to define it. Rather than go to the bog standard definition. Here’s mine;
“being stuck in a dark room knowing that there’s light outside but you just can’t seem to get to the door. You can’t get comfortable, it’s hard to find distraction from your own thoughts, and you’re left clawing for the way out”…it is possible though.

I see it in other people. Sometimes when my mask slips, my friends closest to me see the desperate look in my eyes. In the past I haven’t had the courage to say anything to help anyone else. Now I feel the first step (like with everything) is to admit; that I (as well as society) has a problem.

To actually say these words to a person; “I have depression/anxiety/social phobia” makes my palms sweat, and my stutter come back. I am met with 3 options in sharing my illness:

1. Continue to put on the mask.
2. Down play it, hoping the person will read into your subtle signals.
3. Go balls out and say it loud and proud.

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Today I’m going with option 3.

After all, it takes people to speak out to change perceptions in society. Mental illness, is a chemical imbalance in the brain, which can be set off by traumatic events, or just be left dormant waiting for a trigger. Mental illness is an illness. Therefore should be treated with the same respect as a physical illness. The attn.com link below depicts this perfectly:

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There have been times in work (and to my friends) I have lied about getting help. As there is this stigma attached to mental health. I really… really regret this.

Why should there be shame associated to depression/anxiety? Or shame with getting help for this. This allows us to make better decisions in work, show trust and grow in our relationships.

Sometimes I Can’t Get it Out

Relationships are read to us in fairy tales when we are little, and then played out in movies when we are getting older. Over tubs of popcorn we compare our relationships to people declaring their undying love for each other in the rain. We are fighting over small things that are metaphors for feelings of rejection, and emotional abuse. Every sock that is failed to be put in the laundry basket is a mark of disrespect on one part, and a failure of recognising an others perspective of feeling overwhelmed.

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The truth is that every couple wades through the same crap as everyone else. It makes some stronger, and it breaks others. With every moment of silent treatment, every screaming row shows pain. For “pain that hasn’t been transformed will be transmitted” (Brene Brown).

When that pain hits, it comes from the gut.

“No you don’t understand”, “you’re being irrational”, “no I’m fucking not”, “you’re just like the rest of them”, “go on say it”, “…sometimes I can’t get it out”.

The punch in the gut is usually from a rejection 10 years ago. But a gentle shove in that region can echo the pain all over our body. We can live our lives covered in bubble wrap, telling our partners to watch out for our scars, or we can work on soothing them ourselves.

I believe the most important relationship is with yourself. Although that is a sentence I would normally vomit at, recently I have come to believe that is more and more true. I’m working on my past feelings of anger (which did feel energising at the time), and then sadness (through which I felt has healed me).

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I realise now that all I have ever wanted was the strength to set healthy boundaries. I embrace the darkness that I’ve walked through, and I know where to find the light switch if I find myself in there again.

At times I still feel fear that I will die alone, and my cat will eat my face… But I’m hoping wisdom comes from that somehow.

Simple Math

Our past influences our future. Our genetic code is influenced by environmental factors, our past behaviour is learned into habits which become our mannerisms, and our memories influence our a behaviour to an extent… right?

I have 3 parts to my life equation that I felt that made me, and grew exponentially to show me in the future. These 3 parts are 3 life experiences of violence, depression and death of a loved one.

Violence came into my life unexpectedly from an ex. I used to think that the violence came and left like the song he sang me “If you walk away, I’ll walk away”. But the waves of flashbacks of him kneeling on my chest, as I struggle to catch my breath, just like I did then.

I was with my Grandmother when she passed. She stopped breathing just moments after I was panicking about work. Work. I had been sending emails next to her deathbed. I feel this is the worst sin I have ever done. I’m willing to do Hail Mary’s until my death to rid myself of this guilt.

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The last of the 3 ghosts to visit was depression. This was depression that made me hear the clock ticking extra loud when I got home. Depression that made me so detached from the real world that I didn’t care about deadlines on Monday…. I probably wouldn’t be there then. Depression that made me thankful to talk to the Samaritans.

The Simple Math of these experiences used to equate to me, that I would be, and always be: alone. Living with an old experience of domestic violence, gives panic attacks and the other two experiences further cements my belief that I will always be alone. I believed it without even thinking about it.

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Yesterday I thought; what if I was wrong. That my past cannot equate to my future? I can create new thought patterns, by not trying to silence my past. By trying to add new thoughts to the equation. These new patterns allow me to change the way I react to triggers of flashbacks, and when an episode of depression happens. I feel that I am not depression. Depression is something that will come and go, and these instances will be less and less. This is because I have overcome it so well in the past. Through changing my thought pattern, I will change out of my own predetermined future. I now feel more in control of my triggers, depression and my future.

You Already Know

Every day is a challenge for a person with mental health issues. I get up for my morning cup of tea in the office. Oh no wait there is a person in the kitchen…

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I stutter and I stumble through awkward silences back to my desk. I’m trying to quieten down my inner voice of “you can’t just end a conversation like a normal person?”.

My emails and spreadsheets lull me back into a daze… Someone touches my shoulder and this sends an electric shock through my body. I’m triggered into a place of 12 years ago. It’s odd I don’t see it, but I feel it. The shame, the panic, the loneliness, oh the panic.  Whilst I’m finding my way back to reality, I hear that same person saying “oh you don’t like to be touched do you?”. I feel bad for my strange requests. Why can’t I just be “normal”?

Glancing onto instagram confirms that I’ve not hit the life markers of baby, or marriage at the age of 32. Or I’m not out there in the sun, or winning competitions, or my make isn’t perfect. Which compiles onto body image, and life image anxieties. Thankfully I’m now onto the “I just don’t give a shit” stage of my life. I just wish it was possible for so many other people.
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People with poor mental health don’t just have anxiety or depression or bipolar. They are a mesh of all sorts or mental health issues. Throughout the day they can be triggered in all sorts of different ways, either by social media, situations or the people around them. It is important that we show understanding and care of each other, and we speak out about mental health.

Not speaking out is ordinary – Roman J Israel esq

 

 

True Blue

I have written a lot things about the art of being happy, and read 10 times more than what I’ve wrote. The conclusions that I had drawn to in the past were what had worked for me. What works for me is due to my life experiences and meeting with the right tool at the right time.

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In the past all I used to hear was CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) was the way to go for anxiety and/or depression. Now it’s mindfulness. Although I believe that these suggestions are coming from the right place, I have to ask when a suggestion is made for someones mental health is it one size fits all? We have to use the toolbox provided to us, and know which one is the best for which person and which situation.

The Toolbox I have so far:

  1. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – This is used to help a person understand that it isn’t necessarily the situation that is upsetting. It is the person’s interpretation of that situation of that situation that is causing the stress/anxiety/depression. Please read more here. Some great grounding questions from Tara Brach:
    • “What is true now?
    • What is asking for attention?
    • What is asking for acceptance?”
  2. Mindfulness – This is all about being in the present moment, and reconnecting with our bodies, sights, smells, touch etc. For example when we are in the shower we are actually in the shower, and not thinking about the meeting we have later on. With mindfulness we are able to bring ourselves back into the present moment. This helps us notice our thoughts as a “good” or “bad” thought, rather than becoming emotionally invested. This is normally achieved by meditation.
  3. Flow – Some theorist state that to question whether you are happy, means that you are effectively not happy. If you are happy you are in the flow of the world. For example if you are playing the piano (painting, listening to podcasts, reading etc), you are not thinking about money troubles or if you are hungry. You are simply in “flow”.
  4. Nature – I cannot put into words why this works, but being outside makes me feel peaceful. When I don’t see a soul and I’m out on the hills, I oddly let my thoughts wash off me. I often think that the more effort you put into your happiness, the more you will get back.
  5. Less interaction with Technology – Anyone will recommend that you should have social media timing locks on your phone (you can access this in your settings). Turn your sound and vibration notification off if you can (trust me you will still see it light up). Leave your phone out of the room if you are watching a film. Do you ever look up and realise you have just spent half an hour on instagram? That’s time you will never get back.

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Some of the above might not work for you. But that doesn’t mean you should completely give up. There are other areas you can try (such as counselling, peer support therapy e.g. mind or frazzled). Keep trying till you find one that fits. After a while you might be like me and just not give a fuck….But in a good way

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I of The Storm

I have a block of memory missing from my brain. Doctors, therapists and friends say “it’s your body protecting you from a traumatic event”. It’s not that simple to me.

The charred memories I have, are like me watching a movie of a fake twin sister. It’s haunting and unsettling. – But it Happened

I watch my minds eye look in the mirror, and touch the bruises on my neck. It looks like me, but it doesn’t feel right. – But it Happened

I remember the police officer telling me that in court they were going to make me look like a liar (because I couldn’t remember). – But it Happened

I remember him coming into the club and refusing to leave, whilst I had a restraining order. – It Happened

I am just about coming to terms with the flashbacks, the non linear story line, the feeling of not being present. Part of me wants to open pandoras box, and sit and watch what happened to me from end to end. I am scared if I did, my pandora’s box wouldn’t have hope in it.

I have been scared to write to this because I don’t have a solution. Which is always my issue, I search for perfection.

 

Ghost of a Good Thing

When you have depression perfection seems like nirvana.

This is pretty close to perfection right?

  • Having 2.4 children.
  • Immaculate house
  • Be in the presence of Dave Grohl
  • No money issues
  • Boss that isn’t a dickhead
  • …Colleagues that aren’t dickheads
  • Having a loving, passionate, safe relationship

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When we don’t have this we feel either society nags, or own internal poor mental nags us at 3am. A growing list of things we don’t have. Or things we could have. (A could or should list). Depression is like an abuser. It will single you out at the dead of night, and make you feel like you should feel ashamed. Instead of sheep, you will go to sleep counting these worries.

The biggest piece of advice I can give is to talk to someone about it. As no one has all boxes checked. So they will be more understanding than you think. For the people that listen, always just listen. Never compare. Just because you might have had it worse doesn’t give you the right to invalidate that persons experience.

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I’m not here to say “Don’t worry about it”. As we both know… that doesn’t fucking work. I’m here to say, we are all imperfect. We will all die with unfinished to do lists, and it’s the journey that makes us happy not necessarily the achievement.

To quote Theodore Roosevelt “Comparison is the thief of joy

I Could See for Miles, Miles and Miles

Focus is everything to me. It can be my worst nightmare or my greatest asset. Without focus I am at the mercy of my emotions. When I’m on top of my emotional rollercoaster it almost feels like I slip into a rhythm:

Don’t think just write

Don’t think just reply

Don’t read just write

Don’t read just reply

Pure emotion flies by

I don’t know what I said, I don’t know why.

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Focus to me comes in ways that I never thought would happen 10 years ago.

At work I shut off email notifications at work, and I’m completely immersed in some geeky spreadsheet, with music playing in my ears. My mind isn’t wandering because I’m totally involved in that task. I don’t feel a sudden pang of stress because emails (or as I like to call it “other people’s to do lists”) are flooding in.

At home I write, and my brain doesn’t have the capacity to think about anything else other than writing. (Not that I’m happy, sad or hungry). Whether that’s journaling or getting something down for this. Or once a week I trail run. Although I have prodigy in my ears throughout most of the run, I pause “smack my bitch up” and take in the view. Being able to live in the silence, and be thankful that I have this time to take in the beauty that is around me. Years ago, I would have done anything to distract myself from the silence. I would have picked up my phone and scrolled through facebook. It’s strange that the one thing I was so scared of, is my salvation.

The silence used to be full of my anxious thoughts:

“You’re not good enough”

“You’re not pretty enough”

“You made a mistake there”

The silence is finally a place where those thoughts pop like a bubble. Outside I can see for miles, and miles and can see past these thoughts into the future. Where they don’t matter.

 

Rechargemas

I used to think Christmas was something was something you had to endure. The forced smiles of greeting uncle knobheads, and having families cross boundaries like they are doing the hopscotch. I used to feel inadequate that I wasn’t an exact blue print of everyone else. That the same things didn’t make me happy anymore. I don’t drink wine, and I don’t “do things for the gram”.

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So yeah, I did something. I spent the first Christmas on my own. At first I was thinking, “Oh God I’m going to be so lonely, I’m going to cry so hard I’m going to spend Boxing Day building an ark”.

Well it was fucking fantastic. I had a day free from social media, free from noise, free to go trail running (which gives me so much peace and inner calm), free from the shouting, free from the fake smiles. I was free. I have now renamed Christmas, Rechargemas.

I don’t think I want to go back. What I’ve learnt is:

  • Boundaries: Have clear boundaries with families. Don’t let them “should” all over you at Christmas.
  • Challenge: Challenge what “should” happen at Christmas
  • Permission: Give yourself permission to say “No”
  • Well Being: Your Well being is number 1 at Christmas
  • Communicate: Let your family and friends know you need quiet time at Christmas.

(Taken from the Mental Health Foundation)

Challenging the norms is the only way that people can feel that isn’t shameful to want to do things differently. That it’s ok, to not be an extrovert. That it’s ok to take some time for yourself, to recharge. That it’s ok to be yourself. Especially at Christmas.

Give Up

I feel that society feeds off telling you that you don’t have enough of one, or the other of these two things:

  1. Money
  2. Looks

Money… Well… More money more problems? We can all go for the rat race, piss off Brenda who sends a few too many “as per my last email” messages, and get that promotion. At the end of the day, that anxiety of ensuring you are heard in every meeting… There is a ceiling to that self actualisation. Or you can just go full gold digger. But let’s facing… always letting the other person win in a fight. That’s going to be demanding!

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Society will tell you, that you need to cover those spots. You can’t wear that old t shirt that you love. You can’t wear anything too outside the box (God forbid we stand out from our preformed tribes). We can’t have tattoos and shave our heads… Or can we? I’ve lost track of what is cool and what isn’t now. This endless checking leaves me feeling breathless. I can almost feel the anxiety of being on the podium of social stardom. Waiting to get knocked off by the next fashion blogger who thinks pink fluffy socks are the next big thing.

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If we feel that we don’t have the looks, then we sacrifice parts of ourselves until we are on par with the person with good looks. I’ve walked on that balance beam, given away my pride, my dignity and my safety. Until I felt like I wasn’t myself anymore. I had to ctrl-alt-delete after that. It almost felt like tetris. I’d won but I’d lost a line of myself. It took a lot of lost walks and long drives to find myself again. But I did, and now when I get up to that moment, my body freezes (like a spinning wheel on a computer). I just breath and reboot.

 

Bunny in a Bunny Suit

Something happened to me today. I remembered a ghost that haunted me as it was/is a true reflection of me. This woman’s face had a poker smile that would fool most, and when she thought no one was looking it fell, and I could see her true feelings of despair, loss and pain. When I saw it, it hit me so hard. My emotions were sailing on tranquil waters, no one warned me of this huge iceberg tearing my insides apart. I had an overwhelming sense to help, and the feeling of wanting to wallow that pain with her. When your wallowing in that indescribable pain, its like wallowing in shit. The small things like what clothes your wearing, when that works due, don’t matter anymore.

You see, after you’ve been through this, you start to give less of a crap about perception. As you know things aren’t always as they seem.

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In these times relationships matter more and more. They are your anchor into reality. At first I didn’t want that anchor, I just wanted to disappear. So my thoughts would disappear too. I don’t mean about every single person you come across. Those relationships that matter, and that bring out intensity around your emotions. The people that you immediately think about in the face of adversity.

The most important is taking that time out to be by yourself. I don’t mean finding the perfect wall light from Wayfair to go by your bed. I mean finding that time to put your phone down and learning to quiet your mind. I fought this quiet time, because I feared it unleashed pandora’s box. I feared it wasn’t the answer, and if it wasn’t then what was?Each time I go outside and sit in simplicity I feel more alive. This place brings breath, and light. If we all came to this place more often then what a world it would be.