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

The Pressure Of “Perfection” On Mental Health

World War 2 started in 1955.

See that? That statement is wrong. It is a mistake, an error, and you know what? I am going to just leave it there for us all to deal with together.

It is fairly well documented that people with mental health problems like anorexia and anxiety are perfectionists, and I can certainly say that I am one of them.
To be honest the whole population is a bit obsessed with perfection, and magazines are constantly splattered with articles on how to get the “perfect body”, “perfect life”, “perfect relationship”, even “perfect eyebrows”. Seriously? Who needs perfect eyebrows? What even is a perfect eyebrow? I keep seeing loads of people shaving their eyebrows off and drawing them on again with pencil but how is that perfect? THAT ISN’T EVEN AN EYEBROW! It’s a line of charcoal or whatever the hell they put in make up these days. It can’t be the perfect eyebrow at all because it isn’t an eyebrow! The real eyebrow was shaved off! I can’t just doodle a nose on my arm and start sniffing through my elbow! Anyway back to my point…

People want perfection, most people fear failure and we all want everything to go smoothly, a nice idea, but not exactly a realistic one because perfection does not exist and I think it is time we all tackle it before our brains explode from the mental health damaging stress caused by trying to reach something unattainable.

Being a perfectionist affects my mental health on a daily basis in a variety of ways. With OCD I am always washing until I feel “perfectly clean”, with my eating disorder I am weighing myself or food to a “perfect” number and when it comes to the fear of abandonment caught up in my personality disorder, I am always writing and rewriting text messages or emails until they are “perfect” because I fear that one wrong word will make the recipient of my message hate me forevermore.
Being a perfectionist has also stopped me from doing a lot of things in life, from serious things like certain choices at university, to unimportant hobbies in my free time. I used to play video games all the time and found the act of roaming around fictional digital landscapes helpful in giving me a break from real life problems that were bothering me. Because of this obsession with perfection however, even that coping mechanism has been tarnished and I rarely ever pick up a control these days because the perfectionist in me found the pressure too hard to handle. When I was a kid, playing Pokemon on my original black and white gameboy was easy enough. I knew I could catch the required target of 150 Pokemon if I tried, but these days there are 802 Pokemon in total which makes it infinitely harder to “CATCH EM ALL”. I fear starting up the new games purely because I worry that I won’t be able to complete them “perfectly”, so for this reason I don’t play at all, don’t end up catching anything, all because I am scared of not living up to the task and hating myself for it.

Perfectionism is even slowly making it difficult to post anything on this blog, as with every Monday that arrives I am worried that what I am planning to post for the day won’t be good enough and that everyone will think that I am an idiot, hate me, refuse to ever read my blog again and send round a crowd of people with pitch forks and flaming torches to destroy the fool who dared post such nonsense to the internet.
I can guarantee that after I have put this blog up I will be reading it again and again, worrying that it is rubbish, seeing all the flaws, all the imperfections, hence why I made that initial mistake on purpose about World War Two. Yes it is there, I do not like it and there are probably many others, but I am trying to fight this neurotic need to make everything perfect so I am going to damn well leave those errors where they are! Queen Elizabeth is my sister and I turn into a saucepan at nighttime. YEAH. That’s right, two more errors (I actually turn into a teacup), LOOK AT THOSE ERROS AND DEAL WITH IT.

The really ridiculous thing about it all and the thing that makes the quest for perfection so futile is of course the fact that the “perfect” anything doesn’t even exist. The only thing close to perfection is Helena Bonham Carter and even in her case I am sure she must have a flaw somewhere (if you are reading this Helena please forgive me for making such an assumption but I am trying to make a point).
The word “perfect” itself is an idea, a concept that simply cannot be in the real world because what it represents is utterly subjective. A spatula is “a thing”, so we can all talk about spatulas collectively as a society (and oh how we love to talk about spatulas these days), because when two people say the word spatula we know we are referring to the same item. When it comes to “the perfect…” however, everyone is referring to something different so we cannot relate or talk meaningfully about it as a solid thing or goal to aim for.

It is like when I watch the Great British Bake Off (before Channel 4 rudely stole it and destroyed a summery British tradition whose absence will forever leave a doughnut hole deep within our hearts). Whenever it used to be pie or pastry week, Mary and Paul would often use the word “perfect “ to describe the base of a tart if it was crisp and there was no sign of “a soggy bottom”. To them, a crisp base was the epitome of pastry perfection, but that is the complete opposite to how I would see a pie as perfect.
When my grandma used to bake apple pie, I would have a sizeable bowl full of it, drowned in thick yellow custard. Had I ever found the base to be crisp I would have been very disappointed. I liked it when the pastry was all gooey, had soaked up all the apple juice and custard and turned into a mushy mess with no crunch or chewing required whatsoever. That was my perfect apple pie, and I would pick a pie like that any day over these crisp bottomed tarts I see praised on cookery programs like Bake Off, tarts with pastry more suited to building a house than squishing about on a spoon for a bit of deliciousness. Aiming for perfection in anything is therefore like trying to make a universally acclaimed “perfect apple pie”, a futile pursuit because it is searching for something that doesn’t exist.

Ok being a perfectionist can be good in some settings. If I undergo surgery I would very much like a surgeon with a perfect success rate rather than one who has been known to give people a few extra lungs or a bonus forehead nostril, but in life on the whole this quest for perfection is nothing but an unnecessary strain of pressure on our mental health, with anxiety so crippling that it leaves you unable to do anything for fear that something will go wrong.

If you are reading this as a perfectionist like me, and if you find that perfectionism is leading you to avoid something or you are buckling under pressure, sadness and anxiety, scared that you won’t do something perfectly, I urge you now to go ahead and do it anyway, just as I am uploading this post now, knowing that as a perfectionist, I will NEVER be satisfied.
Let the anxiety come and fight against it by knowing that if you are a perfectionist, no matter what you do, you will never feel your performance is good enough. Do what you are avoiding and make mistakes, revel in them and appreciate them being there. They are important and more real than any perfection you are chasing because mistakes can exist and be found in the real world, unlike a concept like the “perfect” apple pie.
Make errors and leave them in as I have done with this bog (OH LOOK ANOTHER ERROR), and fight this building pressure and anxiety provoking burden of perfection in everything you are and everything you do.
Don’t keep all your eggs safely in the basket for fear of making a bad omelette and end up starving to death with no omelette at all, crack the little buggers and get whisking before they go stale because ANY omelette, just like anything you could possibly do in life, is better than not making or doing anything at all.

Take care everyone x

Perfect

The Effect Of Mental Health Problems On Carers

A few days ago I was out for a wander with my mother and I asked to borrow her phone because my OCD fear of contamination often means that I leave my own phone at home, meaning my “mobile” is ironically rather stationary. I did not ask to borrow her phone to play a few rounds of snake as I often did as a child (God I miss the 90’s), I borrowed it because I wanted to check my emails. You see, I am a very important person and for this reason I am often swamped with a lot of very important emails and thus it is vital for me to check my emails at all times to see what exciting opportunities I am receiving/check if my online shopping order of a new penguin onesie has been dispatched yet, because one cannot wait around all day for these things. What do they expect me to do, wear normal clothes? What a hideous idea!

Anyway, as I tapped on the little email icon on my mother’s telephonic device, I was immediately confronted with a word document in which I could clearly see my name. Had I not read my name I would have perhaps realised that this document was not for me and was actually an email sent to my mother, seeing as I was using her phone which was naturally signed into her account. Having realised this I would have, of course, closed the document and signed out in order to respect my mother’s privacy, but alas I did not realise this right away as, like I said, I had read my name. Thinking my emails had somehow popped up automatically I read on, but soon enough I realised that this message was perhaps one that had not been written for the eyes I had tucked neatly behind the rims of my spectacles (top tip: when wearing glasses always make sure your eyes are tidily kept behind the lens part of the glasses rather than allowing the eyes to wander aimlessly across one’s face).
When I realised that this document was not for me I probably should have closed it right away and swiped off to check on that penguin onesie, but alas I was all too curious and without saying a word, I read all of what was on the screen…

The document it turned out, was a draft of a letter from my parents, a letter about me. I won’t go into the full details of the letter’s contents, but as a brief summary it said “Dear High up person in Mental Health services, We are the parents of Katie who is really mentally ill and we are terrified for her life right now because things are so bad, so please can you help locate some kind of treatment that is more intense than the outpatient services she is currently receiving because she is truly insane and we do not know what to do with ourselves”. Suffice it to say, upon reading that, I was a little shocked. Obviously I know that I am mentally ill and I know that this has a large impact on the family and friends around me, but I guess that when you are the one suffering with the mental health problem, it is quite easy to forget the effect it has on other people because you are so wrapped up in your own world. Seeing this was a massive reminder and realisation as to how much people with mental health problems affect the people who love them. On this blog I am always talking about how my illness affects me and when we think about a household in which someone is a little bit on the bonkers side, it is often the person who is unwell, as opposed to the carer, who is in the forefront of our minds. This really made me think how if I, as someone who has a lot of experience in mental health problems, can forget or not realise the impact of insanity on others, a lot of people out there with no experience probably have no idea at all and therefore it needs to be talked about.

Indeed it reminds me of an incident a few weeks ago when the window cleaner rang on the doorbell to collect money for his bubbly services. Months prior, had he rang the bell, nobody would have answered because my mum would have been at work and I would have been hiding under a blanket somewhere worrying about who was ringing on the doorbell. However, recently my mum has given up work for “many reasons” she says, but if we are honest it is to care for me because, to borrow a phrase of every 5 year old trying to get out of a P.E lesson across the country, I am “not very well” (Thanks for letting me borrow that phrase kids. You may have it back now. Really appreciate it.)
Naturally though, the window cleaner is not aware of my mental health problems, so he was surprised at my mum opening the door in the day time. When she explained that she had actually given up work, he jovially commented “ahh, a lady of leisure”, and to be fair to him, how was he to think otherwise. Still it was a comment that made me a bit uncomfortable because I realised that there are probably some people out there who would hear that my mum has given up a “proper job” to look after me and would think that she is indeed a lady of leisure, swanning around the house in a floaty gown without a care in the world. She doesn’t have a mental health problem and since mine are all invisible creatures in my head, it would be easy to assume that they don’t affect her life very dramatically. This could not be further from the truth, and in my eyes my mum’s unofficial job of “looking after a maniac everyday” is not at all leisurely and, if anything, it is the most physically and emotionally exhausting job on the planet.

For me, it can take hours to eat a meal, hours to perform a washing routine “correctly”, hours to put my hair into a pony tail that is “just right” according to OCD and not likely to kick off world war three any time soon. Rituals take so long that I am frequently getting to bed around 6am, just as my dad is getting up for work, and though my mum isn’t there for all of that time, for the majority of it, she is there. She is the one calming me down after I have had a panic attack, she is the one helping me to prepare food and weigh courgettes if I am too scared to go in the kitchen myself, she is the one having to answer my constant reassurance seeking questions of “did I do that right/is something bad going to happen”. Aside from those more physically demanding things however, I would say that the biggest impact is the emotional stuff that goes alongside it.

I remember a time when I was having a particularly bad day and had found it hard to follow my meal plan so I ended up accidentally fainting (I am pretty sure it is hard to faint on purpose but I want to make it clear that the fainting had not been my intention). When I came round on the sofa I did not feel well at all and I remember mum being very anxious about it, a fact which, at the time, I felt really angry about. Looking back it sounds awfully selfish but I just couldn’t see why she was making a fuss. She wasn’t the one whose heart was skipping beats like a child with a jump rope of death, she wasn’t the one who was so weak she could barely move and whose vision was fading in and out of total darkness. If she was at all dizzy or weak, she could solve the problem easily by going into the kitchen and having a few chocolate digestives to perk her sugar levels up. I on the other hand, no matter how I felt, was still too scared to eat something. Little did I think about what it must be like to watch someone you love struggling to stay alive, without being able to do anything about it. Okay my mum “has it easy” in that she can grab a biscuit whenever she wants one, but she also has to worry about the fact that I cannot do that, that I cannot take care of myself at all right now, and that is incredibly difficult.

It isn’t even as if she can get a break very often from her role as “carer” because naturally if she isn’t caring for me she is worrying about who is doing it for her or worse, me caring for myself. She can go to bed at 2am and sleep through the rituals I carry out until 6am but I highly doubt she has a restful sleep knowing that I am awake charging around like a lunatic, worrying about whether i have eaten enough or whether I am going to have one of my panic sessions which usually leads to me doing something rash and dangerous before I have time to realise what is going on.
Living with someone with a mental health problem also restricts someone’s movement and freedom drastically, much like it might if you had a Yorkshire terrier or a golden Labrador. I have never had a dog but from what I gather, you need to constantly be aware of what they are doing and where they are going. You cannot just jet off to Paris for the weekend without worrying about where the dog is going to go, and in my mother’s situation, I am very much like that dog (only a really freaking crazy dog that you can’t just send to the local kennel.) In the letter from my parents to the fancy mental health person that I had read accidentally/kind of on purpose having discovered accidentally, they spoke about how they have a holiday booked in August and are panicking because if things remain as they are, I will not be able to be left. People know that as someone who is unwell, I often feel trapped behind the bars of the mental health cage, but it is important to realise that often, those around them are caught up in that cage behind those bars too.

Reading that letter has had a big effect on me, not in the sense that I am now “trying harder” to get better as if I wasn’t trying before, but because it has made me especially aware of how mental health problems suck both the lives out of those they inhabit and any other lives that happen to be within range. A mental health problem is not a vacuum with a specifically designed nozzle that only pulls on the sufferer, it is a vacuum with a flipping massive gaping hole that hovers over a household and jumbles up all that there is inside, so that even those who aren’t “technically ill” can feel like their world is spinning.
In a way I guess this blog is kind of like a shoutout or a thank you to my parents as well as an apology at how much I am affecting their lives negatively right now. More than that though, I want it to highlight the fact that in general, life as a carer is incredibly taxing and debilitating in its own right, and that it is a serious job, the stress of which should never be underestimated or brushed aside. Raise awareness for people who struggle of course, but it is important to also raise awareness and support for the people who are standing alongside them.

If you yourself are a carer of someone with a mental health problem, please know that on behalf of all mentally ill people, I see you, and I thank you.

Take care everyone x

CarerPrison

How To Tackle Suicidal Thoughts And The Fear That Things Will Never Get Better

So, I will be honest, I am currently in a very dark place (my parents haven’t paid the electricity bill and I ate our entire supply of candles because they smelled like Jaffa cakes…Alas they did not taste like Jaffa cakes and I am still picking wax out of my teeth. Life lesson: do not eat scented candles).
Seriously though, mentally, things with me are pretty terrible and I am on the brink of giving up entirely. I am losing hope in the idea that one day things will be better, and recently I have noticed a lot of friends or people online with mental health problems feeling the same.

I think that there have been times in my life where I have just assumed that I am going to get better, just as you grow up assuming you will naturally fall into the stereotypical life of getting married and having a few kids. When I was younger I was always watching Disney films, and when it comes to Cinderella or Snow White, there is never any doubt as to how things are going to end. When you watch Cinderella you don’t sit around worrying that she will be stuck sweeping floorboards for the rest of her life, you know straight away that the girl is going to go to the ball in a big ole pumpkin and that her poor choice of ill fitting footwear is going to result in her marrying the man of her dreams. Naturally then, I assumed that one day I would lose a shoe and automatically fall in love with and marry some Prince Charming, without realising that my mother would never allow me to buy footwear I hadn’t tried on to ensure a perfect fit, or that I was a queer little thing who wasn’t interested in princes no matter how “charming” they may be.
Similarly with mental health problems, I guess I have always assumed that somehow, no matter what happens, one day there will be a fairy godmother with a magic wand and things will get better. I do not know how or when, but I simply couldn’t get my head round the idea that this could be it, that recovery isn’t as automatic and as assumed as I imagined princes to be, that sometimes, people spend their lives as tortured mentally ill souls with no happy ending.

Thinking like this, if I am going be in this state forever, it is easy to ask myself why not just end it now? Why draw it out? Why not rip the plaster off quickly as it were. It sounds incredibly bleak, but mental health problems are incredibly bleak and I am not going to sugar coat them to insinuate otherwise. Recently I have been having suicidal thoughts every minute of everyday, and when you don’t think you are ever going to get better, it is hard to come up with a good argument to fight them.

Like I said, I am not alone in feeling this, and I have had many conversations with fellow mental health warriors who have lost hope, who don’t think there is any chance of them getting better so why carry on? Maybe you yourself reading this have resigned yourself to the fact that you are a terminal case, perhaps because a professional has given you the label of “chronic” or simply because the weight of your struggles is so heavy that trying to imagine life without them is akin to trying to imagine a penguin without the adorablessness which, as we all know, is impossible (if anyone wants to debate this issue feel free to contact my solicitor and I will happily see you in court).
There is however one thing that I do find comforting, even when I fully believe that I will be like this forever, one argument against the suicidal screaming in my head telling me to jump into oblivion and end the debates/suffering once and for all, an argument that funnily enough, comes in the form of basic mathematics (don’t panic, I hate maths too but this is cool maths I promise and you don’t even need a protractor or a calculator to join in).

If you hark back to your maths lessons at school, you may remember the point where you started learning about things like probability. The lessons get more complex as each year passes, but in the early days of primary school education, the grand complexities of probability and chance are usually explained via some kind of analogy involving a bag filled with balls, for as we all know, in later life it is an incredibly common experience to be confronted with a bag of balls and the need to calculate your chances of picking out a specific kind of ball.
In the lesson, it is likely that the teacher produced a bag to explain things, and would say something like “there are ten balls in the bag, five green, five purple” before waffling on a bit about how if you put your hand in the bag there is an equal chance that the ball you pull out will be purple as there is for it to be green. Then the teacher usually complicated matters (don’t they always), and added say ten more purple balls to the bag. This would then make the chances of picking out a green ball less than they had been previously, and you will spend the next twenty minutes of that lesson calculating chance and ratios surrounding various combinations of coloured balls in a bag.

Now for the purpose of this discussion lets scrap the balls and replace it with a bag of Smarties because let’s be honest, we are not in some official school right now, we can do what we want in this maths lesson and if we want Smarties instead of balls we will damn well have them (I told you this maths would be fun…THERE ARE SMARTIES INVOLVED).

So, picture life as a bag filled with millions upon millions of Smarties (it is a really really big bag and these are really small Smarties).
All the Smarties in this bag are pink. Except for one. One of the Smarties hidden somewhere in that bag is blue. That blue Smartie is the chance of you getting better in a world of pink Smarties telling you that that isn’t going to happen. If you put your hand in the bag you may very well be right, you may get a pink Smartie and be mentally ill and miserable forever. In your mind the chances of you getting better are as rare as that blue Smartie, but the key thing is, as long as you are alive, that blue Smartie is still there, and the only way to guarantee 100% your belief or the professionals’ belief that you will never recover and are going to be miserable forever, is for you to end it all now.

When I have days that are plagued by suicidal thoughts so loud I can barely breathe because I don’t think things will ever be better, I always remind myself that the only way to make sure they don’t get better, is to listen to those thoughts. Killing yourself is basically like pouring all of your Smarties into the ocean so that the colour washes off and they all become white Smarties with that blue Smartie existing only in the realms of myths and legend. If you hang in there, aka you keep plunging your hand into that massive bag, there are no guarantees of you getting better, but by keeping yourself alive, at least you are keeping that chance alive too, however small and insignificant that chance may be.

Now like I said, I am going to be honest in this blog, because if you are someone who reads this blog, then I consider you as a friend and friends tell the truth so I refuse to sugar coat any of this (the only sugar coated contents of this blog are the Smarties).
If you are in a dark place like me right now, and have spent the day contemplating your demise, I am not here to tell you that if you keep fighting through this rubbish it will all work out in the end. I am not a fortune teller, I do not have a crystal ball, and the only conclusion I have ever gleaned from reading tea leaves is that I seem to have run out of tea. If you keep yourself alive and keep fighting maybe you are right, maybe things will stay rubbish and maybe you will keep plunging your hand into that bag and pulling out the pink Smarties. However, no matter how hopeless you feel, if you keep yourself alive, the chance that the blue Smartie will crop up is there. I cannot tell you the probability/ratio of how likely you are to get better, but you must always remember that if you are trying, there is at least a chance. Don’t allow the fear of being mentally ill forever, convince you to do the one thing that ironically does nothing but solidify that conclusion.
Fight back, keep trying, keep safe, and even in the darkest days, no matter what, you have to believe in that blue Smartie.

Take care everyone x

SuicideSmartie