Being Afraid Of Your Own Brain When You Have Mental Health Problems

I feel like there is someone in my brain who is trying to kill me. It feels like I am being stalked by something, like a lion stalks a gazelle, but I can’t see how close or far away they are because when I turn around there is nobody there. Nobody else can see them either, they are in my head and unfortunately my eyes are positioned in a way that I can only see the outside world rather than what is going on internally (sort it out evolution for goodness sake, you gave us opposable thumbs now can you please work on swivelling eyes…And whilst you are at it can you please take this appendix away because it is taking up valuable storage room).
I am scared that this thing in my head is going to succeed in trying to kill me and I am also scared that it will fail. I don’t like being chased and sometimes I just want the thing to catch up and get whatever it is planning over with.

You might be wondering how on earth it is possible for someone to be afraid of their own brain because surely if the brain belongs to me, I am in control of it and what it decides to do. You don’t go round worrying that your own fist is going to punch you in the face because if your fist were to ever get such an idea it is likely you would tell it that you would rather not be punched in the face and could it maybe do something more helpful like make you a cup of tea.
That’s the thing though. I don’t feel in control of my brain and I don’t feel like I know what it is going to do at any given moment anymore. I always thought that if I owned my brain and my brain was me, then I would know my way around it. I would know every lobe, every memory, every thought and every desire because…well…they are supposed to be mine. If I have a secret that I keep from other people I tuck it away in my secret brain cupboard so they won’t be able to find it, but lately it has felt like my brain has a whole separate section where it is keeping its own secrets in its own secret cupboard that I cannot access.

“Maybe it is a nice secret” I hear you cry, “maybe your brain is preparing you a surprise party” but I don’t think that is the case, partly because it doesn’t feel like a nice secret and partly because I know for a fact that my brain hasn’t been balloon shopping recently and as I have said many a time on this blog, one cannot have a party unless there is at least one balloon present. If there is something magical in this secret cupboard, I know that it is not Narnia and is more likely to be a direct doorway to the White Witch.

I am worried that I am not making any sense and that I am being confusing in this post but if I am I guess that would be an accurate representation as to how things feel with my mental health right now, confusing and making little sense.

The Depression and BPD are still there, the OCD, and anorexia still have their claws in and dictate every one of my actions, yet still it feels like there is something different, something weird going on. I am more out of control than ever and half the time I don’t know who I am or what is going on.
I keep seeing things and I can’t tell if they are real or if I am imagining them. It started off as spiders, not the most pleasant things to imagine crawling around you and I would far rather imagine waddles of penguins approaching if I have to imagine anything, but I don’t think I have much of a choice in the matter. I started seeing spiders out of the corner of my eyes yet I was able to turn to face the place I thought I saw a spider and I could see that there was nothing there. Now though the spiders are bigger and they have tails. They also have fur and have lost four of their legs. They are rats now. Even when I know I am alone in a room I can feel people standing behind the curtains or crouching just outside beyond the window sill. I don’t know what they are doing there and it must be incredibly stuffy wrapped up in a curtain for hours every day (I can confirm this after years of playing hide and seek as a child), but they stand there anyway.

I am scared that I am actually “going mad”. More often than not I have been having to wake my mum up in the middle of the night to come in and sleep in my room because I don’t feel safe from my brain. It is as though, if I close my eyes and go to sleep for a minute, I am leaving myself unguarded and it will be able to sneak an attack in whilst I am busy being unconscious. I don’t understand the logic behind this fear as surely if I am asleep, my brain is asleep too, yet still I feel so disconnected from it these days that I can’t be sure what it is up to when I am not looking. It is clearly doing something underhand during my snoozing of late because I keep waking up screaming and often have no idea why.

I stay awake all night to keep myself safe and I also have stay awake all night to guard the house, because if I go to sleep ,not only will my brain start wreaking havoc but the people outside below the window sill will also find a way in somehow. It is ridiculous, if there ever was an intruder in reality I highly doubt my presence would be the thing to deter them (a point my psychologist pointed out last week…I think she was trying to be helpful but to be honest I took it as rather rude because clearly rather than assuring me of my safety she is actually implying that I don’t look as terrifyingly strong and powerful as I clearly am and I take the insinuation that I could not intimidate a burglar very offensively.) Still, logical or not, sense or nonsense aside, the feeling that I must guard the house is always there.

It is just a difficult situation to be in because I know that I should be responsible for my own mental health and therefore should be responsible and keep myself safe. I am 25 years old, certainly old enough by society’s standards to look after myself but I don’t feel responsible or in control and consequently I don’t feel certain I can keep myself safe. I have been disassociating for days on end (I will do a post soon explaining exactly what that is because it is an important mental health topic I somehow haven’t discussed yet…FOR SHAME!), but basically it means that there are a lot of days where I am not really “present” and therefore I have a lot of blank spots in my memory. It is all so frustrating I could scream, yet I don’t think that would make any difference. All that would mean was I was scared and could hear myself screaming and I would rather have the former without the latter if I have to have the former at all.

Like I said before, I am worried that this post won’t make any sense as I am not sure I understand it either, but still I wanted to write about how this feels. To try and explain or raise awareness of this side of mental health problems, the side where your brain is so mixed up all over the place that you are frightened of it, just incase there is anyone else out there experiencing the same thing and feeling as scared and alone as I do right now. Sometimes my mental health problems involve being depressed, being suicidal, or self harming. A lot of the time they focus on being afraid of germs, being afraid of food, and now, apparently they involve being afraid of myself.

Take care everyone x

ScaryBrain

Why It Can Be Scary To Take Medication For Mental Health Problems

Recently, my psychiatrist prescribed me a new medication to help me with some of my mental health problems. I am on various medications already with a variety of different purposes and have been for some time, but in terms of what these new tablets are “supposed to do”, the aim is for them to reduce some more of the anxiety that my current medications are allowing to linger long after they have done their jobs. Ironically though, despite having had this packet of anti anxiety medication on the kitchen worktop for over a month, I am too anxious to take them.

I think being scared of taking medication for a mental health problem is extremely common and to be fair it would be weird if people weren’t a little afraid of whatever tablet their doctor has recommended them to take. A big reason for this is of course the long list of side effects that comes in any box of medication from Calpol to Morphine, although when you think about it there are no medications that have side effects, there are only effects.
Tablets do a lot of different things and it is the scientists/elves (I am not sure who makes medicine these days but I am sure it is one of the two) who decide which effects to put in the “Purpose of tablet” column and which go in the “side effects” column, aka the effects that are harder to advertise. For example, for some people Paracetamol can have the effect of giving them yellow skin so that effect is categorised as a side effect because that effect is less easy to advertise than the more attractive “this will help take your head ache away” effect (unless of course you are dealing with someone who wants yellow skin so that they can look like a Simpson, in which case I suggest body paint which is probably a lot safer).

I think mental health medication is scarier to take than “normal” body medication though, because there is a fear that it will fundamentally change you as a person, your characteristics, interests and identity. When you take a physical medication that may turn your skin the colour of a freshly picked banana, there is a separation there between you and the skin. Ok the skin is your skin, but aside from holding all your body parts together your skin doesn’t affect who YOU are and no matter what the colour of your skin, you will be the same person you were before and will be able to react and interact with friends and family in the same way as you did prior to your sudden transformation into a Simpson. The skin is just the irrelevant wrapping paper on the more important gift. If you wrap a new video game in white paper and then colour it yellow, you will still have the same present inside.
With mental health medications however, they are designed to interfere with how your brain works and the side effects of that can feel more personal. By changing your mind, it feels that they are changing an integral part of you, so that one second you could be a lover of Julie Andrews dancing round your kitchen belting out “the hills are alive” and the next you are on some uncontrollable rampage to burn every copy of the Sound of Music and Mary Poppins
I think we can all agree it is infinitely less stressful to take a tablet that might change the colour of our wrapping paper rather than one that risks turning the games console under the Christmas tree you have been waiting months for, into a sardine which in comparison is about as much fun as…well…a soggy sardine.

Indeed, I know from experience that medications can change fundamental parts of my personality. When I was a teenager there was one medication that practically turned me into the incredible hulk. I was filled with rage all the time, a rage without reason, and I became violent and out of control. I am really ashamed of a lot of things I did during that time of constant fury, as it changed my character so dramatically that I ended up doing a lot of things I wouldn’t normally do like kicking through a glass door.
As well as medications that have changed my character, I have experienced medications that have simply had mental side effects that were unpleasant such as one tablet that pretty much knocked me out and left me sleeping twenty four hours a day. I guess it did its job of reducing the number of OCD rituals I was carrying out, but that was only because I was a comatose zombie who could barely lift a duvet let alone shower for several hours.
I have also been on a medication that gave me hallucinations (if the police are reading this I would like to make it clear that these tablets were prescribed to me by a medical professional and were not in any way purchased in a dark alley from someone in a rather large coat). This was yet another unpleasant side effect, and every day I found it even harder to tell the difference between what was real and what wasn’t, what had happened in reality, and what was just a figment of my imagination. Luckily, during this time I was in hospital so there were nurses around constantly to help me distinguish between the two or sit with me through the scary ones, and though a lot of that time is a blur, looking back I find it easier to separate events that actually happened during that time from the more fantastical fictions written by my dodgy brain chemistry, based on what things are most likely to be true. For example nowadays I reason that it was most likely a hallucination when one of the nurses danced around my bed waving an assortment of Hawaiian shirts but obviously real life when I was awarded the Nobel prize for literature and rode around the country on an ostrich…I just wish I could find the prize money…and the ostrich…

It is also scary to take a mental health medication because the same medication can affect two people in completely different ways so it is impossible to hear of someone else’s experience with a particular tablet and know what to expect when you swallow it yourself, so you sort of go into it blind like some medication Russian roulette. Will you continue dancing around the kitchen singing “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” or will you wake up next day to a smouldering pile of ashes in which you can vaguely make out the image of Julie Andrews dressed as a nun.
Indeed I have friends who have taken the same tablets as I have but with completely different results, and the medication that turned me into the Incredible Hulk (a medication I was swiftly removed from), is the same medication as the one that my friend has been taking for years because for her, the effect is far more calming than the urge to kick through the conservatory door.

With this medication I have been prescribed most recently though, the fear I have isn’t actually one that is related to the fear that it will change my brain chemistry and me as a person. To be honest things are so difficult at the moment that I wouldn’t give a curtain wrapped Von Trapp child if the medication changed me as a person (please forgive me Julie Andrews).
No, this time, the fear is more about the physical side effects listed in the instruction manual, most specifically the one that says “possible weight gain”. I know that whenever medications put this as a side effect it generally means that the tablets may increase a person’s appetite, consequently leading them to eat more food and gain weight because of that, rather than directly from the medication itself, so as someone with an eating disorder who eats the exact same rigid meal plan and amount every day without taking heed of hunger cues, that reason for weight gain would not happen to me. However again, as someone with an eating disorder, the fear of risking a random weight increase because of a tablet, even if I don’t change my diet, is terrifying. If that were to happen I would feel totally out of control, more anxious and likely to restrict my diet more than I already do. It is a difficult thing to balance, on one hand I could take this new medication and it could help me with anxiety, and on the other it could simply make things worse.

I know that medication is not always the answer, neither does it solve all your problems (a topic I really want to come back to sometime if you are willing to stick around as a reader of my blog…I will give you cookies…), but right now I do think that I need to give this medication a go considering the fact my brain isn’t responding to any of the other therapies/attempts to sort it out. In a few weeks time my psychiatrist will ask me how the new medication I have been taking for the past few months is going and at the moment I will have nothing to tell him because all I have done is look at it and I can wholeheartedly confirm that staring at the tablet has had no therapeutic benefit to me whatsoever. I really am determined to try it…at some point…possibly…definitely…I think…It is just the case of taking the first one and getting over that hurdle, cracking out a pot of maple syrup – going with the grand advice that a spoonful of sugar will make the medicine go down and not my weight go up…Good lord, where is Mary Poppins when you need her eh?

Take care everyone x

WheelOfFortune

Mental Health Problems In The LGBTQ+ Community

This is just a little note to say that this post mentions incidents involving self harm so if that would trigger you, I thank you very much for joining us today but maybe go and treat yourself to a good cup of tea and biscuits instead. Safety first pals!

I once had a psychologist who, during a talk about my mental health and how broken my brain is, asked me if I thought any of my issues “were because of being gay”. I was appalled.

“How dare you!” I replied. “What homophobic nonsense is this? I am deeply offended! You think people who are gay must also be mad because nobody with common sense would be queer? For-shame! A plague unto you and your ancestors! Watch me flounce out of this room waving my rainbow flag in a fury! Watch me flounce I say!” (please note that this was what I replied in my head…in reality I think I just squinted my eyes a bit and formed a quizzical expression).

At the time I didn’t see what being a member of the LGBTQ+ club, had to do with my mental health at all, but after a little bit of discussion, research, and no actual flouncing, I realised that this psychologist was on to something.
Turns out, rainbow folk in general show higher levels of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts than heterosexuals, so seeing as it is Pride month in the UK this month, I thought I would use this post to think about why that might be. It’s like that old saying, “if you are gay and you have mental health problems, it is your duty to mush those experiences together and write a blog about it.”

In my experience,I wouldn’t say that for me personally, being a member of the LGBTQ+ community has been THE trigger that led to all of my personal mental health problems, although I know that for some people, it can be.
Often I think it can be things like homophobic bullying and external discrimination that are the reason people who are LGBTQ+ might go on to suffer problems, and in that respect, I have been very lucky.
I have never been bullied for my sexuality, my family have always been very accepting (my mum to the point where she is basically a walking gay pride parade all year round and always gets very excited/becomes a fan every time any celebrity comes out as a homosexual), and I live in a country/time period where it is safe for me to be “out” without fearing arrest.
The only discrimination I have ever had has been the odd homophobic slur shouted out of a car window at me as I was walking down the street, but this has never really bothered me as I don’t have that much respect for the opinions of people who shout abuse out of car windows… I might admire their ability to project with their vocal chords out of a moving vehicle, but when it comes to their judgements on who I fall in love with, frankly, I don’t give a damn.

However being LGBTQ+ has certainly affected me because of discrimination, it is just that all of that discrimination came from my own head and in the early days of my queerness, led me to feeling very ashamed.
Nobody in my external surroundings was telling me I was weird or shouldn’t be gay, but my head was, and consequently I was scared to tell anyone about it incase they felt the same. Indeed I decided that rather than tell anyone, I would start a grand “make Katie straight” mission so that nobody would ever have to find out. You may wonder how on earth one goes about “de-gaying themselves” as surely to do so is impossible, and in that assumption, you would be right. Little old me however, was convinced otherwise.

The idea came to me whilst watching a television program which funnily enough, was about a straight woman seeing if she could undergo treatment to turn her gay…Good lord they show some weird things on TV these days…
Anyway, in the program, this woman was told by some mad scientist to use this machine that would give her electric shocks every time she thought something heterosexual in an attempt to recondition the brain to stop thinking those things. The theory was that if your brain experiences an electric shock every time you think about something, it will stop thinking about that thing (either that or your hair will stick out all over the place forevermore and you will run up one hell of an electricity bill).
Unfortunately, I did not have an electric shock machine. I did however, have access to a lot of sharp things around my household, and I think you can guess how things went from there without me providing any more detail. As part of my “make Katie straight” plan, I set about trying to literally cut the gay part away from me, a futile pursuit considering “gayness” is not an extra body part or a long fingernail you can clip away at until it is gone. Unsurprisingly, that plan didn’t work, but it did get me into a cycle of self harm that I couldn’t get away from and still struggle with to this day.

Admittedly, my struggle with self harm is not about being gay anymore, but the whole situation introduced the idea of self harm as a punishment, a coping mechanism to try and remove guilt or shame I was feeling about anything in life.
Rather than being a punishment for being gay, it has become a punishment for things like bad marks on a test at school, or saying something mean in an argument, and I actually used to keep a little notebook in my pocket throughout the day to keep track of my “crimes” so I knew how many “punishments” I deserved later.
At first I was only doing a few things “wrong” a day, but because I was scared to talk to any of my psychologists about it as that would involve telling them how self harm started, and though I was ok with being gay, I didn’t expect everyone else to be. Consequently the notebook of punishments escalated and got so out of hand that after a few months, every action was considered a crime deserving of punishment, from using a “large blob of toothpaste” (which would use up the family tube sooner and lead to money needing to be spent on a new one), to “not smiling well enough at my friend in the corridor at school”.

It wasn’t until my mum found some blood soaked clothing in my bag which I had been trying to smuggle into school to wash in the school sink before she could see it in the laundry, that the whole self harm as punishment thing came out, and even then I wouldn’t tell people how it had started.
By the time I did tell people that I was gay, I had already been in therapy for 8 years or so and had been through two admissions to psychiatric hospitals, always keeping that part of my identity hidden. Like I said, being gay has never been a cornerstone in the almighty Jenga tower of my insanity so I don’t think that keeping that part of me a secret severely hindered my treatment. I was still able to talk openly and honestly about the depression, OCD, BPD related problems and anorexia in therapy, yet although it isn’t the source of my mental health problems, when I finally came out to professionals it did serve as some kind of relief. Whether it had been important to OCD or not, I always had to watch what I said in sessions incase I accidentally let a possible clue slip like “I LOVE HELENA BONHAM CARTER AND I WANT TO MARRY HER IN A BIG GAY WEDDING WITH A BIG RAINBOW CAKE BECAUSE I AM A BIG GAY MYSELF”. Being able to talk openly without worrying about that certainly made a difference and made me feel more connected to my therapists, because I think if you are ever keeping a secret from anyone, you are automatically reserved around people even when that secret isn’t being discussed.

As you can see then, compared to some members of the LGBTQ+ community with mental health problems, being queer hasn’t had anywhere near the impact on me that it has on other people. In essence, being gay is the vanilla extract in my giant cake of insanity rather than the flour of which the majority of the cake comprises.
That said there are a lot of LGBTQ+ folk out there who struggle so much with their identity either due to judgement from outside sources or internal judgement on themselves, that being LGBTQ+ can be a direct cause of certain conditions like depression or anxiety and it is for these people that we need to talk more about this kind of thing in the hopes that they will be able to seek help themselves. If shame about your identity leads you to having mental health problems, it is likely that shame will prevent you from seeking help for them, and as we all know that is just going to make things worse.

In this post I do not want to do a shoutout to all the LGBTQ+ people out there who are hiding in the bushes and tell them to run about telling everyone about their identity, because I understand that for some people in certain families or countries, that might not be safe for them.
All I want to say is that if you are struggling and feeling like there is nobody to turn to, you are not alone and I can promise you that there are people out there who understand (I am one of them. Hello, it is nice to meet you. My name is Katie and if you bring me penguins we can be best friends). If being LGBTQ+ is causing mental health problems and it is not safe for you to speak to people around you, there are hundreds of LGBTQ+ mental health charities out there for every country (I will link a page recommending some existing in the UK below), and if you can, I would encourage you to reach out to them for support.
I am not going to demand you just get a rainbow flag and feel proud because it is pride month, as I understand it is not as easy as that, but I do hope to offer some sense of reassurance that being LGBTQ+ is NOT something anyone needs to to be ashamed of or punished for, no matter what that voice in your head tells you.

Take care everyone x

RainbowBlog

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/lgbtq-mental-health/useful-contacts/#.WV0XKlKZPVo

 

Birthdays And Mental Health Problems

When I was younger and heard adults saying things like “I just want to forget about my birthday this year”, I thought that adults were crazy and needed to seriously reconsider the way in which they were living their lives. Why on earth would anyone ever want to forget about their birthday?

For me, birthdays were something to look forward to and something I couldn’t forget about if I tried. Birthdays were about choosing which soft play area you were going to take all of your friends to for the party, buying rainbow coloured bouncy balls to fill party bags with and deciding whether you wanted a Thomas the tank engine or Spice Girls birthday cake ready to decorate with a flaming beacon of candles. Birthdays were about unwrapping incredibly exciting and complicated plastic contraptions that you would then spend the rest of your day watching your mum struggle to assemble amidst an encyclopedia of instructions in every language but English, before finally making it look like the thing on the box, only to realise that batteries were not included, causing your mother to curse the creators of Toys R Us and howl at the moon until the early hours of the morning, Barbie’s camper van standing motionless and taunting you from the corner. Birthdays were about wearing a badge with your age on it to school so that everyone would know how very mature you were and how much respect they should bestow upon you, and no birthday was complete without a trip to TGI Fridays where you would stand on your chair like a king whilst a chorus of red and white striped waiters belted out “Happy Birthday”, the performance concluding with rapturous applause from all around and, if you were lucky, an extra gummy worm in your Mississippi mud pie. With all that to look forward to, how could anyone dread a birthday?

I was sure that I would always look forward to my birthday and would never be one of these fools who looked upon the occasion with anything other than spine tingling excitement. I was wrong.
For the past few years, despite little Katie’s best intentions, I have become one of those people who wants to forget about their birthday, and I think it is because as you get older, birthdays don’t mean the same things as they used to. They become less about gummy worms and birthday cakes and more about time passing you by, life passing you by, which isn’t something you really care about when you are younger and your main focus is getting the bit of icing on the cake that has your favourite cartoon character on it. On top of that however, when you are mentally ill, I think they are especially hard because for me at least, a birthday can feel like a reminder that you have wasted another year drowning in anxiety and the older you get, the longer you have been stuck with this mental illness bothering you all the time.

That said, I guess you can sort of see birthdays and that marker of time passing as a positive thing. This year for example, I turned 25 (I did it last Thursday as a matter of fact and luckily, despite all the dreading and worrying about it talked about in this post, I really did have a lovely birthday, so if you sent me a birthday message or said hello to me at all on the 22nd June then thank you for being someone who made it special. I really appreciate you all so much). Alas! I must get back to the point!
So, turning 25 means I will have been unwell for 14 years. On the plus side, whilst a depressingly long time, it is an improvement in the sense that I can say the number 14 because it is a safe number, unlike the number I used to have to say, (the one that comes between 12 and 14), which is a somewhat difficult number for me to handle in terms of OCD (YAY SILVER LININGS).
Also there is something rather motivating about birthdays in that they often inspire you to make goals of things you are unhappy about and want to change before the next one.
Indeed, I think that as the number of years I have been ill has gone up, the more motivated I have become to fight my illnesses and push as hard as I can for recovery even when it involves doing something scary.

During the first years of my illness when I had to go back a year in school and take time out of education to go into hospital, I was motivated to fight purely because my illnesses were making me unhappy, but not so much because I realised what I was missing out on whilst stuck in my head. Ok I often couldn’t leave the house and I missed out on a few sleepovers with friends, a couple of school trips and several opportunities to share a pizza and watch a movie on a Saturday night, but to begin with, missing the odd pizza isn’t that big a deal. Obviously I would have liked to have done all the things like going bowling with friends and eating popcorn at the cinema, but for me being safe at home not having to touch or eat anything, felt a lot more comfortable. I would have rather stayed in my little bubble avoiding as much anxiety as I could, even if that meant being a little bit lonely, than go out of my bubble and cause myself a lot of distress trying to wear a pair of bowling shoes or eating a mouthful of popcorn. Staying safe was my priority, and if that meant missing out on a few sleepovers/meant less terror, that was a necessary sacrifice I would take. Why terrify yourself for weeks and weeks just trying to get the courage to see a friend for an hour? Better just to avoid it.

However the longer you live with mental illness, the more those little things add up over the years, and suddenly you find you have not just missed the odd sleepover, you have missed hundreds of sleepovers, hundreds of moments in which people took photos and made memories that they reminisce about and fondly recall with sentences beginning “Oh my goodness do you remember when…”. After several years, you haven’t missed one bucket of popcorn, you have missed an entire swimming pool worth of popcorn (not that I advise you put popcorn into a swimming pool…just trying to get the image of how much popcorn we are talking about across), and that amount of popcorn can’t be caught up on as easily as the one bucket you missed in the first place. As the days become months and the months become years, you realise just how much of your life you have missed out on because you were too scared to take part in it, and suddenly the motivation to work even harder to stop the years passing by without you noticing increases, because you finally understand how rubbish it feels to be left so far behind everyone else.

However at the same time, whilst the longer you live with a mental illness the more anger and frustration you have at it to motivate your recovery, the further entrenched you are in that illness and thus the harder it feels to get better. It is a catch 22 situation, the most vicious of all the vicious circles.

Time passes, you get angrier at all the time wasted, you become more motivated to fight but then find it is harder to fight than the first day you tried to challenge yourself because the illness has used the time wasted to dig its claws into you even further. Odd things that started out as little quirks to keep yourself safe become engrained habits and habits are a lot harder to break than things you only did a few times. I have smoked only one cigarette in my life and I will be honest, I hated it. It was like swallowing a smelly smokey fire. Therefore deciding to “give up” on the idea of smoking after that cigarette was not a challenge at all. I had spent longer as someone who didn’t smoke than I had spent as someone who did, it wasn’t a habit and I was not addicted or used to the comfort or feeling of a cigarette in my hand. Now however, I have officially been mentally ill for longer than I have ever been not mentally ill and I have dug myself into a hole so deep that it is far harder to get out of. Years ago I didn’t go to a meal out with friends because it made me uncomfortable, but that uncomfortable feeling has built over the years, and now I don’t go because I am terrified. Eating out doesn’t make me anxious, it makes me feel like I am dying on the inside. The longer you are ill, the more set in your ways you are and the harder it is to get better.

This year then, as always, though I dreaded my birthday as it scares me to think how long I have been trapped in my own mind, I am trying to see it as a positive motivation for change, an opportunity to say “this past 14 years has been hell and I am determined to fight as hard as I can to make sure that number doesn’t go up by one every time my age does”. I am fed up, truly angry every year as I see the growing list of all the opportunities I have missed out on and I really do want things to be different. It is just difficult, ageing with mental illness. As the years pass you may feel more motivated, but at the same time, you just feel more trapped.

Take care everyone x

BirthdayBlog

Is Donald Trump Mentally Ill?

Since his inauguration in January 2017, there have been a lot of articles written about Donald Trump and considering he is now President of the United States (feel free to cry uncontrollably about this), that is not a surprise. The job of President of the United States is not exactly one you apply for if your goal in life is to keep a low profile and avoid people noticing you. Of all the articles I have seen there have been serious statements about his political endeavours as well as more lighthearted comments about how his hair always looks like it is trying to escape (and who can blame it), or a more recent movement talking about how much his chin looks like a frog. Lately though, more than people comparing the lower part of his face to a tadpole laying amphibian, people have been writing about the fact that Donald Trump is so outrageous in his running of the country that he must be mentally ill.

Now, I am not denying the possibility that this is the case and that Donald Trump is indeed suffering from a mental health condition. I am not a psychologist who can make a statement either way on the matter and funnily enough I have never met old frog face (sorry, “President Trump”), as he lives in America and he doesn’t tend to hang out in the places that I am frequently found (aka my nearest Eating Disorder support service and my local Co-op.) For this reason I cannot meaningfully make accusations either way with regard to the accuracy of these claims. Maybe he is mentally ill, maybe he is not, but my issue with the whole thing is the fact that Donald Trump is only one in a long line of outrageous unpopular characters who has their persona explained away by the idea that they must be mentally ill. You hear it all the time from the newspapers to day to day conversation. If anyone ever says something ridiculous or if you ever hear about some murderer on the loose, people make comments like “they are clearly mad”, “they ought to be committed” or, as my Dad says, “their mind’s addled and they ought to have their bumps read”.

Of course, I understand that in some cases criminals are mentally ill and are therefore sent to psychiatric hospitals rather than prison, so I am not denying that diagnosable madness is never the cause of a crime or a foolish opinion. That said, this is not the case for EVERY crime or every stupid statement made and stating this idea over and over again, always explaining a murder or Donald Trump with the label “the person is mentally ill”, does nothing but perpetuate the mental health stigma that already exists and that damages the general “crazy” common folk like myself. I am always saying that nobody should ever be ashamed of being mentally ill and a lot of charities and celebrities have lately been supporting this message, coming out with their stories to encourage others to speak out and seek help. Is it any wonder people are afraid to say that they have a problem though, when the word “crazy” has become synonymous with actions or opinions that people think make someone a bad person.

Every time I read a headline that says “Donald Trump is like someone who is mentally ill” it feels like someone is instead saying “Donald Trump is like Katie Simon Phillips”. Obviously I realise it isn’t personal to me specifically but the comparison of Donald Trump to someone with a diagnosed mental health problem does lead to a large group of people who are unwell and who have no similarities to our floppy haired President, being lumped in the same category of some horrible Venn diagram. It just doesn’t feel fair. Why do I have to be shoved into the same category as Donald Trump? I have never threatened to build a wall (much to my Dad’s disappointment, he really needs help building our new conservatory), I have never stolen anyone’s health insurance and though I admit to having insecurities and am not the biggest fan of my appearance, I don’t think that my chin is particularly reminiscent of a toad. Admittedly I walk like and have similarities to a penguin, but a toad? Seems a bit harsh if you ask me.

Like I said, I know that whenever anyone makes statements like these they are not meaning to speak negatively of the mentally ill people of our world, but I think that it is because it is so unintentional and “unmeant” that it is such a problem. Mental health problems are so synonymous with criminal acts or outrageous opinions that you don’t even have to make an effort to draw a connection, it is automatic. I have personally found it particularly frustrating with Donald Trump especially, because one of the main things people accuse him of is having some kind of personality disorder, a diagnosis I have myself. This specific correlation seems even more personal than “he is mentally ill like you” because it lists a specific condition I am familiar with and I am sure it feels personal to many people out there.
“He needs serious therapy”, “he needs medication”, “he needs to be hospitalised” the people cry, and I find myself wanting to wave my arms about and cry back “yeah. a lot of us do, but that doesn’t mean that we are bad people or power hungry tyrants who discriminate against a variety of genders, sexualities and races that don’t fit into his perfect ideal of the “straight white male”. Not everyone who needs medication wants to build a wall, not everyone who needs intense therapy has got to that point because they have committed a crime and not everyone in hospital is roaming the corridors with ridiculous hair (although to be fair to people I do at least fit into that one.)

In a sense I suppose it is good that there is more of an awareness as to the things that could influence a person’s behaviour. These days people are seen less in the black and white “heaven or eternal damnation” terms than they were in the middle ages. People don’t see others as simply “good” or “bad”, even villains in movies tend to get backstories these days and are rarely the two dimensional moustache twirling creatures of pointless evil, with no more desires or motivation than those who used to tie people to train tracks in silent movies. They say every Saint has a past and every sinner has a future and I fully agree with that as well as the ideas that human actions and behaviours are often far more complex than they appear on the surface. Nevertheless, why can’t we accept at the same time that as complex and intricate as minds and motivations are, sometimes there are still things that are random, things that don’t make sense and that how things look on the surface may occasionally be a good representation of what is underneath. Why do people have to see the morally questionable things Donald Trump says and does and explain them as a sign of a diagnosed mental illness that needs therapy and emergency hospitalisation. Why can’t we see things he says or does that we perceive as idiotic and explain them simply as due to the fact that he is indeed a bit of an idiot. Maybe this sounds incredibly politically incorrect, but to be honest as someone who is frequently likened to and lumped in the same pile as Donald Trump, I am bored of being politically correct. I just think that people we decide are bad people and moustache twirling villains, did not all disappear the day we discovered the explanation of mental illness. Mentally ill people exist, but so can complete and utter plonkers who have nothing to do with mental health problems.

So back to my original question and the title of this blog. Is Donald Trump mentally ill? I DON’T KNOW (bet you are glad you read all those words to get to that groundbreaking conclusion). Maybe he is perfectly fine in the head and maybe he is totally off his rocker, but either way can we please stop with this need to compare anyone who commits a crime or has a political stance that many regard as offensive, to people who are mentally ill. I am mentally ill but I am not Donald Trump and neither are a lot of people out there who I have met in psychiatric units, passed in the therapy waiting room or stood behind when queuing up for their latest prescription of anti depressants. Like I said mentally ill people exist, idiots with mental health problems exist, but sometimes, if someone is behaving like an idiot, maybe they are just an idiot.

Take care everyone x

Trump

The Difficulty Of Concentrating When You Have Mental Health Problems

 

Today is a good day for writing a blog. It is raining outside which puts any ideas of outdoor activity out of the window, my Dad is listening to classical music in the lounge which is making me feel rather intelligent (Ok I am in a different room but in my opinion if you can hear a violin playing somewhere it means you are somewhat sophisticated), and my cup of tea is at the perfect drinking temperature. The conditions couldn’t be better and thus I am making the most of them to write this post all about…Oooh I wonder what my parents are having for dinner…I hope they don’t use my special spoon…or touch my courgettes…Sorry what was I saying? Ah yes! A post about the difficulty of concentrating on ANYTHING when you are struggling with mental health problems.

I have struggled with concentrating on things ever since I first got ill, but recently the problem has been getting frustratingly worse.The other day I was watching a film, I was staring right at the screen with no background noise or distractions, yet still after 45 minutes I realised that despite being as attentive as possible, I had no idea what was going on or who any of the characters were. In my opinion the plot was simply far too complicated and convoluted with twists and turns I was unable to follow, so I switched it off in annoyance. If the film had been something with multiple realities like Inception or The Matrix, I would have been a little more forgiving of my brain’s inability to understand but this was not Inception or The Matrix. It was Winnie the Pooh, aka a film that has little more plot to understand than “these animals are living in a wood and that yellow bear in the red t-shirt really likes honey”. It isn’t even as if the characters look anything alike, one is a freaking piglet whilst another is a donkey who is clinically depressed and in need of some serious therapy, yet to me they all blended into one, just as all characters do when I watch anything on TV.

It is the same with books. No matter how simple the book, how “easy to follow” the storyline, you can guarantee that I will not be able to concentrate or focus long enough to appreciate it properly and lately I find myself having to read the same pages over and over again before I can gleam any sense or meaning in them. Seriously it could be one of the Mr Men or Little Miss books and I will have to read a page a good ten times to grasp the facts that Little Miss Naughty is:
1. Purple
2. In need of an ASBO (for readers not in the UK an ASBO stands for “anti social behaviour order” which is what the police give you when you have been, as the main character in the aforementioned book is, “rather naughty”/a general nuisance).

With books and films this inability to concentrate isn’t too bad because at least with a film or a book you can wind back the DVD or flip to the previous page to see what you missed whilst your brain was elsewhere. In real life however, you cannot just rewind the bits you missed because people tend to only say things once no matter how hard you point a remote control at them.
I have been thinking about this a lot recently with the summer exam season coming up because I remember being in school and sitting in lessons desperate to get educated but unable to focus or concentrate long enough to know what lesson I was in. Indeed when I first started struggling with mental health problems my grades went down and it made me feel that I must be stupid, when really it was because it is incredibly hard to focus on the world around you when your brain is on fire.

It even happens to me in therapy sessions where we are talking about what is going on in my brain rather than the teleological argument or the significance of the green light in The Great Gatsby (exam hint – it is really significant). The other day I came out of a full hour session and despite listening closely the entire time, as I left, the only thing I could remember was that my therapist had mentioned that she once nearly drove into a cow. I thought this over and over all the way home and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how we had got onto that topic or indeed how it had been relevant and what help I was supposed to have gathered from it.
Since then I asked my therapist about the “I nearly drove into a cow” incident and I have learned that it was a story about how she nearly drove into a cow at a certain bend in a road and now always slows down for that bend because she associates that bend with wandering cattle, thus making a point about how the brain interprets things and makes permanent links from one off events e.g. between cows and this bend in the road…I think that was the point anyway…or was it that she really liked cows…REGARDLESS of the point she was very understanding, as always, of my inability to concentrate so I wasn’t embarrassed about admitting that our previous session had been a total blur to me, but in real life situations if you keep asking people to repeat things you tend to look rather rude or like you are not concentrating hard enough.

In actual fact the problem isn’t at all to do with how much effort you are putting in or how attentive you are and is all about the mental illness that is wreaking havoc behind your eyeballs.
For example when I am watching a film, lets say Winnie the Pooh, my eyes are watching the yellow bear in the red t-shirt and my ears are hearing something about honey. The information from the screen goes through my eyes and ears, but then when it gets to the place where the brain is supposed to collect the information and take it to the department of comprehension, none of the little brain people are there to pick up the parcel because they are off doing other things. In one lobe OCD is counting the number of breaths I am taking and insisting that some kind of disaster is about to happen because I am sitting a little too far to the left,. A little further along anorexia is dashing about with a calculator, calculating the number of calories in 200g of courgette for the millionth time even though the answer is always the same, and yelling that I should start doing 1000 star jumps incase I wrongly measured the courgettes earlier and accidentally ate an extra gram. Next there is depression generally crying and making everything a bit soggy, telling me that it will only shut up if I kill myself because the sadness will never end, and then finally BPD is there bellowing that all my friends hate me, want to leave and that I should probably text them all urgently begging for forgiveness, texts that, if not replied to within 30 seconds, mean they have probably all fled the country to get away from me.
For people who maybe don’t understand what all those mental health things can feel like when they are all going off at the same time, listening to a friend over a cup of tea is sort of the equivalent of trying to concentrate on a mouse standing on a stage who is whispering the works of Shakespeare, with the Philharmonic Orchestra standing next to you belting out Vivaldi’s four seasons whilst your head is being pecked at by vultures, expired eggs are being thrust under your nose, there is a Scotch Bonnet chilli pepper on your tongue and a Lush employee is vigorously lathering your body with handfuls of body butter. (Again for people who do not live in the UK, “Lush” is a lovely shop against animal testing, that sells things to use in the bathroom and whose employees are highly trained in moisturising anything that moves whether that thing wants to be moisturised or not).
How is ANYONE expected to concentrate when all of that is going on?

If, since becoming mentally ill, you have suddenly become incapable of concentrating at work or in school, I hope you know that, as I have demonstrated, it is not because you are stupid and is most likely to do with the mental health problems you have raging around inside you, so please give yourself a break. Obviously it is still important to work hard, listen in lessons or to friends and try to concentrate on the things you should be concentrating on, but if you can’t don’t beat yourself up about it and don’t be afraid to take breaks and try doing things on a day where your head is perhaps a little quieter/the philharmonic orchestra in my analogy are missing a few of its trumpets.
You often hear people accuse people they don’t think are listening of being “day dreaming”, but sometimes, when mental health problems really get hold of you, it is more likely you will feel as if you are stuck in a nightmare.

Take care everyone x

CowTrumpet

Embarrassing Incidents Caused By Mental Health Problems

I talk a lot on this blog about what it is like to live with various mental health problems, often waffling on about how exhausting, traumatic, frustrating and upsetting it is to have a brain that doesn’t want to co-operate with your goals in life. What I rarely talk about though, is that sometimes, as well as being all those serious things, living with mental health problems can just simply be damn embarrassing and leave you in awkward situations that you later look back on and feel like a fool.
Indeed, every time I have played one of those truth or dare games and the question has been “what has been your most embarrassing moment?” the first answer that has sprung to mind has been something related to mental health. It is also a question that often comes up when playing getting to know you games in any team building exercise you have found yourself roped into, yet every time I am asked such a question I never feel able to be honest because admitting to some of the nonsense you can get into when battling a mental illness, to a bunch of people who don’t understand such things, can sometimes be more embarrassing than the situation you are meaning to describe.

When it comes to picking an embarrassing mental health situation I have a bag full of examples to chose from (the one with the fireman or the “box of soggy kale in the cinema” incident are particular gems), but for today I think I am going to go with one of my more recent exploits that occurred during what I thought would be an innocent little trip to the supermarket.
As always mum and I were doing the food shop together and I was, as always, sticking right by her side, the childhood lesson that you should never run off on your own in a supermarket still burned into my brain as well as the fear of such a thing happening (when I was younger I lived in terror of the idea that one day I would have to have my name read out by some lady on a tannoy as the idiot who got lost and was found sobbing in an aisle of loo rolls. The shame of it!)
There is, however, one aisle in the supermarket that I am not a fan of, that being the meat aisle, so when my mum wheels her trolley down there I often hang out in the adjacent aisle and wait very patiently without panicking about my name being read to the entire shop over any tannoys. As I was waiting in the next aisle during this particular expedition, I noticed a woman enter from the other end, her arms extended out wide to carry a large pile of groceries.
To be honest, this woman (lets call her Bertha), really should have had a basket, but I think she was doing one of those whip rounds where you only plan on popping in to get a pint of milk and end up leaving with some Bombay mix, three jars of pickled onions, and a birthday cake in the shape of a caterpillar. I ignored dear Bertha in the beginning, and each of us continued along our merry ways without taking much notice of each other…

Then it happened.

Disaster struck.

Bertha, dropped her yoghurt. *Clashes cymbals for dramatic effect*

It was like watching a car crash in slow motion only with fewer screeching tyres and more rapidly descending low fat dairy products. Now, Bertha, aka dropper of the yoghurt, would have probably liked to have reached down to retrieve her shopping herself, but as I mentioned, Bertha was carrying a lot of groceries and in her defence was rather incapacitated (again, this woman really needed a basket). Had she bent down to retrieve the yoghurt herself, she would have risked an overflow of all of the other food items she had clasped to her chest, smashed jars, broken Bombay mix, wonky caterpillars, aka, total disaster.
As I looked at her carrying those groceries and saw the yoghurt fall to the floor, I instantly knew what was going to happen next. I was the only other person in the aisle. Bertha was going to ask me to pick up the yoghurt. *Clashes cymbals again as a blood curdling scream is heard over some hidden speaker system*

To most “normal” people/sane people, the idea of being asked to pick up a yoghurt is probably not that terrifying, but to someone with OCD who fears touching anything that has been on or near the floor, it was a nightmare. If I had to explain it, someone asking me to pick something off the floor gives me the anxiety someone would feel were they asked to pick up a rattlesnake carrying a machete…in its non existent hand…(note to self, next time when trying to think up an analogy, think of an animal with hands…)

The second that yoghurt hit the floor, I immediately set about looking like the busiest person ever to exist, in the hopes that Bertha would not ask me for assistance out of awareness that I was on a very important mission of my own. I snapped my head away from the yoghurt to the shelves and feigned a deep interest in a bottle of olive oil (rookie error, nobody is ever interested in olive oil. I should have gone for pasta but alas, retrospect is a wonderful thing). I stared at this bottle of olive oil and peered at it so closely you would have thought the meaning of life was inscribed in tiny letters along the side of the label, as if this olive oil was the most fascinating and wonderful thing I had ever seen. My acting was impeccable, several people from the frozen section even applauded despite their distance from my performance, and sent fan mail which I received a few days later. Bertha however, did not take the hint. Despite my acting performance, Bertha saw me and my bottle of olive oil and said in a voice that sent shivers down my very spine “excuse me can you please pick up my yoghurt?” *clashes cymbals so violently that they break into a million pieces and the very centre of the earth explodes*

Looking back, you may ask me why I didn’t just say that I had OCD and couldn’t help, before venturing off to find someone better suited to the needs of someone who needs their yoghurt risen from the ground like some 21st century Lazarus. If I had had a leg disease or something, I would have had no problem in saying “sorry I am currently disabled because of my leg disease” yet for some reason it seemed unacceptable to say “I am currently disabled because my brain is broken”. It doesn’t make any sense, both are a disability and both physical and mental illnesses impact and interfere with your life, but still I couldn’t be honest because saying I had OCD felt a million times more embarrassing than saying I had a leg disease. This sounds especially weird for someone who is able to speak openly about their mental health problems online without shame, but then again I think that is because I don’t really believe that anyone is reading my blog and if they are (hello you), I know they can’t see me hiding behind a cushion in the corner as they do so. For some reason I found that I couldn’t tell Bertha the truth, provide her with an explanation as to why I was scared to pick up her yoghurt, so instead I did the next best thing. I ran away. As I sprinted off into the distance I didn’t look back, but in my mind I can still see the imagined image of Bertha standing there over her yoghurt, Bombay mix tucked under her chin, staring after me and wondering what on earth was going on.

I grabbed my mum and dashed us out of the shop before we could buy anything (we were all very hungry that week), and by the time we got home I felt terrible. Ok I was embarrassed but I also felt incredibly guilty. Here was this poor woman asking me for yoghurt help, and I ran away.
It just makes me wish that there was less shame and less embarrassment over disabilities caused by mental illness, so that people could be honest in that kind of situation. I truly dream to live in a world where one day it will be possible to say “I am scared to pick up your yoghurt because I have OCD” without looking like a lunatic and whilst being taken as seriously as anyone with a physical and more visible impairment. Maybe I am underestimating Bertha and maybe she would have been understanding, but still you have to admit it is more likely she would have raised an eyebrow at the mental illness excuse as oppose to the leg disease thing.

If any of you out there have found yourselves in similar embarrassing situations in which your mental health problem made you feel like a fool, I hope you see this post as a comfort. Remember you are not alone in feeling like a bit of an idiot because there is someone out there who left a woman with her yoghurt on the floor, but more importantly, remember that when in the supermarket, one should always remember to pick up a basket before heading for the yoghurt.

Take care everyone x

Yoghurt