Life Lesson: Running Away From Your Problems Is Not A Good Idea

Last Wednesday (the 22nd of June if you want to put it in your diaries for next year), was my 24th birthday. I anticipated a day of being at home with my family and playing on my new games console, but things did not go exactly to plan, much like the rest of this week. So, for today I wanted to use this post to provide a brief personal update on my current situation, as I feel it will be necessary for you all to know for the next few weeks of blogging delights, and the whole thing has taught me a little lesson I wish to share with you, the lesson being that you cannot run away from your problems. Actually that is a lie, you can run away from your problems very easily, but they will chase after you, and those little buggers can run fairly fast (so fast that I am convinced that they are on steroids and am hereby requesting that “Problems” are not allowed to race at this years olympics).

But I am getting ahead of myself, spouting lessons before I have explained how I learnt them, so let us go back to the beginning, by which I mean my 24th birthday rather than the dawn of time and the dinosaurs.

So, on the 24th of June at 10:30am my dad picked me up from my house to attend my appointment at the hospital and there I sat in the waiting room until my Psychologist arrived. I was taken to be weighed as per usual (a fairly disappointing experience, as the scales were just as they always were, no balloons/ribbons on the scales to celebrate my birthday or anything), and then we went through to talk. Had barely been chatting for five minutes however, before my psychologist presented me with an unexpected birthday present, this year, the very unwelcome surprise of an inpatient bed in hospital due to recent deterioration in my mental health, the bed being for Friday, less than 48 hours away. Now I know that people say that it is the thought that counts, and if anyone offers you a gift for your birthday you should be grateful and say thank you, but suffice it to say that I was not at all impressed with this suggestion, and couldn’t help thinking that my therapist should do any future present shopping for friends and family on amazon. I would rather she had given me a moustache maintenance kit for a gift, and I don’t even have a moustache…yet.

It was all pretty unwanted and sudden in my eyes, not the birthday party I wanted at all, so I left feeling rather deflated, much like the non existent balloon my therapist had failed to put on the scales to add a bit of merriment to weigh day proceedings. Luckily my mum later cheered me up by taking me to the park I used to frequent as a child to play on the swings, a far jollier birthday activity. I then played my new games console all evening, so I managed to have a nice birthday in the end by generally ignoring all worries about hospitals and anything other than which character I wanted to be in Mario Kart. (Incase you are interested I picked Toad because he looks like a mushroom and if you don’t find pleasure in watching a man who looks like a piece of spotted fungi zoom around a racing track throwing bananas, then quite frankly there is no hope for you). Basically, I ran away from my problems and pursued my dreams of winning the grand prix instead.

The next day however I was rudely awaken by my problems (quite literally, my therapist phoned me whilst I was still in bed dreaming of penguins), and she told me once again that I should go into hospital the next day. Again, I refused and got on with my day, but a little later I got another phone call that suggested the problems I was avoiding were rapidly gaining on me, this time the notification of a Mental Health Act assessment later that afternoon. My parents have since told me many a time, that it would have been the best idea to just remain calm and attend, but as a natural born problem avoider without marbles, I decided to do the next best thing, aka run away on bus and then a train to Exeter. Do I have family or friends in Exeter you ask? No. Did I have a place to stay or plan in Exeter at all you cry? No. I quite simply had no idea what I was doing other than getting away from the situation and possible hospitalisation to be re-fed back in Bristol. Unfortunately things got a little messy around this point, and though I caught the train and found myself hurtling across the English countryside at 65mph, the mess I had got myself in was hurtling right alongside (not even on a train, the mess was literally running alongside the track that fast. Steroids I tell you. STEROIDS). I won’t bore you all with the details, but in summary, my problems burst on the train to seize me no matter how hard I tried to deny any of it was happening, and a few hours later they had rudely dragged me back to Bristol where I was sectioned under section three of the Mental Health Act and admitted to an eating disorders hospital right away with none of the things I would have needed to pack. All I had in my bag was my wallet and my train tickets to Exeter, which I had well and truly learnt were of no use in my current predicament.

So, that pretty much brings me to my present situation, legally detained in hospital, unsure of how long I will be here and frightened in relation to every aspect of my life. Worst of all, the hospital in which I am detained doesn’t even have wifi (I am officially back in the stone age), and I will admit that one of my worries when I woke up the next day was you, my dear little internet blog readers. Though a small crowd I admit, you are in all honesty a key motivation for me to keep kicking ass as much as I can. I have no control of my personal life at the moment, but I still have my blog and writing to escape to so that is what I am focusing on for now to get me through. That said, without wifi posting this is going to be an almighty challenge, so if it is Monday and you are reading this then another lesson we will have learnt from this week is that I am a technological genius who is more educated in the ways of computer than Bill Gates.
Thankfully, as one positive to brighten up this rather bleak post, I do at least have some of my things in my hospital room now, as my mother was kind enough to bring the basics in, and it is always nice to have your own toothbrush and teddies when trapped under stressful circumstances. I guess that is yet another lesson right there: never underestimate the power and importance of clean teeth and something to cuddle.

I really hope you can all forgive me for this slightly indulgent post that is all about my personal mental health and situation, rather than stigma reducing information or any advice I can offer, but to be fair this is my birthday week, and if you can’t be a bit indulgent and have a ramble about yourself on your birthday then when can you? I promise normal/more interesting blogging will resume next week when I have settled in and know what is going on in my life, but for now I hope you can all at least take away the main lesson I have learnt and point of this post that in some ways we can all benefit from it, that being that when it comes to mental health issues and things generally in life, you cannot run away from your problems as they will always catch up with you eventually, (even if you are on a train to Exeter).

Orange.jpg

(For the purpose of this picture I have envisaged my problems as a giant orange with a satsuma for a nose. This is not because of any symbolic significance related to oranges or their complex segmented form, it is simply because I really do not like oranges and never miss an opportunity to draw them in a bad light).

 

 

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Why Being Suicidal Is Not About Wanting To Die

Before reading this post please note that it involves trying to explain what being suicidal feels like, so if there is ANY risk of that triggering you in any way please click away now.

Suicide is a difficult topic to talk about because there are so many feelings that go alongside it. For some it can be immoral, too upsetting, something “selfish” people do, too sensitive, too dark, maybe even something that people avoid talking about because it is too difficult to understand why someone would commit such an act. For all of these valid and understandable reasons, suicide is not often talked about, it is a bit of a taboo, especially for people who find themselves plagued by suicidal thoughts on a daily basis.
To say you feel suicidal sounds melodramatic and “actually mad”, so I feel that a lot of people who feel that way keep quiet because they either don’t want the judgement/stigma that comes with honesty, or because they don’t want to be thought of as “crazy” and locked up in some imagined padded cell with a straitjacket and men in white coats. However I think that if more people were honest and able to openly talk about suicidal thoughts without any stigma, maybe more people would come forward to discuss how they feel, which could then save lives. Before this can happen though, I think more people need to understand what people mean when they say they are suicidal, rather than jumping to the conclusion that the person is insane and simply wants to die.

As it happens, or at least in my case, when I have suicidal thoughts/ideations/damn annoying brain intrusions that I wish would kindly leave immediately (that is the official medical term), it is nothing about wanting to die. Obviously I cannot speak for everyone who has ever thought about suicide, but from people I have spoken to, I have found a common ground in that a fair amount don’t exactly want anything. For many, suicide is actually more about not wanting something.

Imagine being on one of those step machines in the gym. I don’t know what they are called, but I am talking about the thing that is kind of like a treadmill but with steps instead of flat space, so you can effectively walk up a constant stream of stairs without actually going anywhere (what a productive way to spend your time!).
Imagine you have been on that same step machine for hours, constantly walking up stairs that take you nowhere. Understandably, after several hours you will be exhausted, fed up, in physical pain and unsure as to whether you can continue. There is however no off button on this machine (a severe design flaw), and you cannot get off it without falling into a giant tank of hungry sharks, poisonous jellyfish and squid with tentacles poised to strangle you the moment you hit the water (please note this is not often the case when it comes to machines in your local gym, but for the sake of example just humour me).
You don’t want to keep walking, but you certainly don’t want to fall into the lagoon of doom, so you force yourself to persevere in the hopes that if you keep pushing, eventually the machine will stop and you will be free. A week passes. The machine is still going, you are in agony, yet you persist. 9 months pass. You have been walking up these seemingly pointless stairs for as long as it take for a human to be created and born and you are in pain that cannot be described. You are worn out, spent of all your best efforts, and are the walking definition of “at the end of one’s tether”. You then look down and find yourself contemplating the only way you can see out of the situation, the lagoon of dooSuicide Squidm which is no less terrifying than the first day you found yourself on this godforsaken machine. Obviously you do not want to jump into the water, (you can’t swim and have a severe phobia of marine life), but after 9 months on this damn machine, the sharks and jellyfish look like the only/best option. When thinking about whether or not to jump, you are not thinking about what you want to do, you are thinking about getting away from the pain coursing through your body
, opting for the lesser of two evils, even if the evil hovering below you is a giant furious squid with a monocle (the squid isn’t actually wearing a monocle but this post is getting a bit heavy and I am trying to lighten the mood. I want this post to inform not drag readers into a bottomless depression).

To me, that is what feeling suicidal feels like, it isn’t a case of wanting to die, it is a case of
not feeling able to carry on. That said, the analogy is not perfect and I AM NOT SAYING THAT SOMETIMES SUICIDE IS THE ONLY OPTION. My explanation is HOW IT FEELS to be suicidal as opposed to the reality.

If the person reading this is well aware of the pain of suicidal thoughts, I want you to know that the reality of the situation is very different. Little do you know that whilst you are on that machine, helicopters and cranes are on the way to rescue you, the machine is going to run out of electricity, you are not going to be walking in that pain forever and there is always a way out or an escape even if you can’t see it. Things don’t stay the same forever, even the Spice Girls broke up eventually and we all thought that was a bond that would never be broken. Machines and depression or suicidal thoughts cannot survive into infinity and whilst you fight your way through I can guarantee there are a million people out there who want nothing more than to help you off that machine. It may not be today or tomorrow but some day a giant bird is going to appear with a rescue team on its back and you are going to have a way out that doesn’t involve the lagoon of doom or actual suicide. The important thing, is that you are alive to see that day, and hopefully ride off on that giant bird/life without these thoughts, that when on the stepper you never thought was possible.
If you can relate to this post in any way, please know that I am marching up those seemingly endless stairs alongside you, not knowing what to do but just hoping that one day that bird is going to come and all of this pain will be a distant memory.
This post is to explain how it FEELS to be suicidal to people who may not understand, but if you do understand please know that the feelings are not reality. They can’t be. Squid don’t even wear monocles.

Seriously though, If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts please tell someone right away, whether that be a friend, stranger on a helpline (you can call Samaritans on 116 123) or even go to A&E. Just don’t be afraid of talking about it, because staying silent is ultimately a hell of a lot more dangerous.

Take care peeps x

Suicide bird

Why We Need To Rename The “Loony bin”

In terms of mental health, there are many slang terms used to refer to a psychiatric hospital, (“nuthouse/funny farm etc), but while these terms are still offensive, there is a particular slang term that I think is particularly dangerous. I understand that slang is useful in society and I am not demanding the removal of all slang from now on, but issues can arise with slang when the term becomes more notorious than the correct phrase and actually alters the perception people have of whatever is being referred to. That is the unfortunately the case with the term “loony bin”.
I realise calling a psychiatric unit a “nut house” isn’t accurate either, for example I have never encountered a “nut” when in hospital (other than the odd almond or macadamia in my fruit and fibre…I once heard someone claim they found a pecan in their bowl but I think that was just a myth so don’t take my word on it), but the “loony bin” slang term is particularly damaging as it conjures up ideas of a place into which the rubbish is tipped, a place that people don’t come back from and if anything is utter trash, it is that image.

I myself have had several admissions to various different “loony bins” and I can state with the utmost conviction that none of them bore any similarities to a bin, neither appearance wise or in terms of function. Firstly, on the whole they were all very clean (one had the bathrooms cleaned after practically every use so sometimes I was unable to shower BECAUSE they were being made extra clean), but more importantly none of the patients were anything like waste needing to be dumped.

The problem with the phrase isn’t even just damaging to the self worth of current or ex-patients. Potential inpatients may be scared of, and thus refuse admissions for treatment that they desperately need, because this whole “loony bin” perception has made people fear they will go in and never come out, that they are a lost cause who needs to be locked away from society for good. Admissions to a psychiatric hospital however, are not final destination. Instead they are more of a holiday. Ok, I will admit they are not exactly like a holiday, I know I would prefer a beach in the Caribbean over a stark white bathroom with a staff member watching me pee, but what I mean by this comparison is that they are a place that people come back from (albeit without the much revered tan or photo album). Going into hospital doesn’t have to be a terrifying endgame, define people or morph them into the branded mental patient to be impersonated at Halloween parties.

There is of course also the issue of this “bin” (a name of a place usually reserved for objects not people), being used as a place for “loons”. “Loons” sound like magical creatures, inhuman half breeds who are fundamentally different to “normal people”. The whole idea just emphasises the false distinction between “mental people” and “sane” ones when really they are both exactly the same. People in mental hospitals are not a different species, they are human just like you (unless dear reader, you are in fact a penguin in which case may I congratulate you on finding my blog without opposable thumbs).
I think it is comforting to label people with mental health problems as loons to be kept in a separate lidded inhuman/object bin world of restraints and locked doors, because by separating the sane and the insane, making a “them” and “us” situation, it perpetuates the idea that those crazy people are different and therefore you are not at risk of being contaminated. To think that a person screaming and being held down to be injected with anti anxiety medication is just like you is frightening and prompts all kinds of questions like “what if that happens to me”? It is nicer to think of all of that stuff as things that happen to “other” people, that the person cradling a wooden spoon and singing nursery rhymes is different, no possible image of you in the future. It is nice to put the lid on the idea and leave it outside the house for the rubbish collectors to remove so you don’t have to deal with it in your home.

The derogatory slang of “loony bin” and resulting “loon/human”, “them/us” dumping ground view of psychiatric units really is a use of language that has the ability make patients feel hopeless and forgotten, doomed waste discarded for good, and it creates judgement in people without mental health issues that just continue the stigma and fear that surrounds it all. I urge people to know that none of this is true.

For patients who have been admitted I want to say that life is not over, and being in hospital doesn’t mean that you are rubbish or damaged beyond repair and the landfill is not your future and final destination.
If anything I would say the slang for a psychiatric hospital should be “the temporarily out of order and in need of repair tray”, just like “normal” hospitals that treat only physical illnesses. It is not a place to be thrown in when you don’t have a place in the real world anymore, it is just a place in which you remain as human and as worthy of life as anyone else on the planet, you just have a few cracks in your porcelain skin that needs a little glue to help them stick back together.
We need to stop seeing psychiatric hospitals as bins or end games for the weird wastes of failed humanity, but as places for ordinary people who are just struggling in life and need a little support to get back into full working order, simply time and space to patch things up and get them well enough to leave that repair tray so they can go back home.

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How To Survive Social Situations When You Suffer From Anxiety

Last Saturday it was my Dad’s birthday party. Being a large, jovial social gathering packed with family members, friends and loved ones, I was of course terrified. Parties are always something people seem to get very excited about and dare I say look forward to in the “real world”, but in my world and the world of anyone with social anxiety they are a minefield of stress, uncertainty, embarrassment and awkwardness.
However, I somehow made it through the party this weekend by following a “Social gatherings survival guide” that I created as a military style strategy to manage the whole thing like an army preparing for battle. So, in the interest of helping anyone else out there with any level of social anxiety (aka my fellow soldiers), I thought I would share my survival guide to surviving the obstacle course in life known as “the situation in which you have to hang around people”…

Step One: Make a preliminary plan for the evening – As every good soldier knows, the key to success in battle (aka a social situation) is a step by step plan to follow, much like the guide I am writing here but far more specific and suited to the environment in which you have found yourself. Thinking “I am going out to a party tonight” can be very overwhelming, but if you break it down into pieces it becomes a little more manageable. For example “I will leave for the party at 7pm”, “I will drive to the party”, “I will stay for two hours” sounds far less intimidating. I often find that by setting a time limit I manage to get myself out the house by thinking “it is only two hours” and then sometimes the situation isn’t actually too bad so I can stay for longer having fooled my enemy (aka my brain) into allowing my excursion from safety. Whilst you have a plan though, it is also important to be open to being flexible should opportunities such as staying an extra hour arise. The plan is more of a comforting guide to have in your back pocket rather than a rigid set of actions that you must carry out, even if that means leaving when you are having fun, just because it is in the schedule.

Step Two: Set up a safe base/camp – When putting yourself in a potentially stressful situation it is always important to have a safe place to retreat to when things get too much. Forcing yourself to stand in the stressful fray of pass the parcel or musical chairs, when your anxiety really cannot handle it, does not a good soldier make, and it is important to know when you need a break to refuel on sanity. The safe place will ideally be a place some distance from the battlefield that is a little quieter. A lot of social gatherings in my family happen at my Aunt and Uncle’s house who thankfully are very accommodating to this particular soldier and always have a camp (aka the back bedroom with blankets and cushions) for me to camouflage myself in when things are too much. If you are going to a gathering in surroundings you are familiar with, plan your safe place in advance. This is unfortunately not possible when entering unknown territory, but as a hint, good safe places to seek out in most locations can be found just outside the party venue (aka by the door for fresh air), in a bathroom (not an ideal habitat but guarantees the safety of privacy), or, if you drove yourself to the gathering, in your tank (otherwise known as your car).

Step Three: Lower your expectations – When I entered the party on Saturday I felt an immense amount of pressure. Being a general guest in battle is one thing but being the offspring of the person whose gathering it is is like being suddenly promoted to Commander in Chief. Everyone at the party knew who I was even if I didn’t know them and being related to the host I felt it was my responsibility to ensure the evening ran smoothly, entertain everyone, serve the food and start the conga line. Obviously nobody else expected any of these things from me (which is somewhat sad as I do like a conga line), and people just wanted to see me there. When you go to a party do not feel the pressure to perform or act in a certain way or as if the responsibility of the evening’s success is on your ability to be a good guest, people don’t invite you to a gathering to serve a particular purpose, they just want to see you.

Step Four: Prepare stock answers – When in battle it is likely that you will be interrogated (aka asked polite questions by nice people who want to find out how you are.) This is one of the most stressful parts of an evening in my opinion, as I always find myself tongue tied and never know what to say even to simple questions like “What have you been up to lately”. Obviously it is impossible to predict which probing questions might be launched during socialisation, but some questions are more likely than others (in my experience people are more likely to ask what you are doing with your life than what you think would happen if the world was run by a power hungry fairy with a passion for pogo sticks), and it may help to plan stock answers to whip out when the occasion presents itself. For example this weekend, for the inevitable “what have you been up to?”, I prepared “I am currently running a fantastic blog that you should definitely follow because it is the best thing on the internet” rather than leaving it to my brain to come up with an answer on the spot which would have likely been something along the lines of “um…I am living at home because I am mentally ill but the other day I managed to touch a doorhandle without showering afterwards so that was an achievement ahh please stop talking to me”.

Step Five: Bring an inflatable penguin along with you – Yes soldier, you read that correctly, that is a key step to this plan. Like horror films, social gatherings are things that are easier to manage when you have a buddy or someone/something you can trust with you. If you can take a friend or even a small object like a heavy pebble to cling to when things are getting scary it can be a great help in grounding you and hopefully prevent any spiralling into total irrationality and panic.
When my mum was buying things for this weekend’s party she foolishly took me to a balloon shop where she proceeded to purchase helium filled orbs with my dads age on them. How imaginative. Thankfully I was there to help/be an inconvenience, and by the time we left the shop, in addition to mum’s choices, I had obtained an inflatable penguin balloon on a lead which I proceeded to drag around the party with me for the duration of the evening. Sounds silly but it was oddly comforting and whenever I started to panic about someone coming over to talk to me I could just glance behind me and think “it’s fine, I have my inflatable penguin with me, what could possibly go wrong!”.

So there you have it chaps. That is my strategy guide and list of steps to get my fellow social anxiety soldiers through battle. Any situation involving a large group of people is going to still be scary, but hopefully with these tips you can at least feel a little prepared so that things are more manageable. Remember we are all in this war together and you are never alone. Now go forth my brave warriors, fight the fear, stay safe, follow my lead and commence mission socialise….

Social anxiety 1

Social anxiety 2

Oh, and for anyone who wanted to see a picture of my personal buddy this weekend…

Social Anxiety 3