The Difficulty Of Managing When Mental Health Carers Go Away On Holiday

So last week I did a whole blog about tips as to how to manage when carers go away on holiday and do you know what? I was totally unqualified in giving that advice because good lord…as of today it has been seven days since my parents, aka my regular carers, went away (with three still left to go), and boy have I not been managing to a degree I seriously didn’t expect.

I think the hardest thing about planning for your carers to be away on holiday is that until it happens, you don’t realise how much you needed them in the first place. It is easy to imagine how you will cope without your mental health carers around, but it isn’t until it actually happens that you see all the little things that they do for you that you never would have thought of.
In my last blog I mentioned the importance of writing a list of the things your carers do for you so that you can figure out solutions and alternative ways to manage those things without them, but something I have realised in this past seven days is that I don’t just need general carers, I need my parents as carers specifically, and as a 25 year old I am ashamed to admit how dependant I am on both of them. I am 25 years old so I should be living an independent life without needing family around, but as much as I hate to say it…this past seven days…I have really needed my mum, and you have no idea how pathetic I feel in admitting that.

As you know, in preparation for the holiday my parents hired a nurse to look after me, but it only took a few minutes with said nurse for me to realise that things were not going to work out. Don’t get me wrong, the nurse my parents hired was lovely. If you were to be casting parts in a play and needed someone to play the role of “extremely kind, supportive and understanding mental health nurse” you would have cast this guy in a second, no audition needed and I doubt he would even have to read the script before knowing all the lines required. In short, this guy (we shall call him Eggbert for now because I am fond of names that start with the three letters used to denote the object laid by chickens and often eaten by members of the public for breakfast), was amazing and I couldn’t have asked for anyone better. Indeed, I knew he was going to be lovely from the start so I expected it all to be fine but like I said, I don’t just need a general carer, at this stage in my life with my mental health as it is, I specifically and ashamedly need my mum so this guy was not going to work purely due to the fact that he was not familiar to me.

Eggbert arrived to take care of me on my very first day and was more than capable of carrying out all the tasks and helping me in all the ways that my parents help me, but there was one problem, he was a stranger, and that was where we ran into issues. Rather than finding his presence a comfort, I started to have a panic attack because all of a sudden there was this stranger in the house who I didn’t know, and even if a stranger is lovely and comes bearing bouquets of flowers and freshly baked cookies (which Eggbert didn’t do actually…if you are reading this Eggbert however please rest assured that your lack of foliage and baked goods was not the issue, rather it was my incredibly silly brain), they are still a stranger.
I tried to calm down and remind myself that this person was not a threat to me at all but a trained registered professional mental health nurse who was there to help me but the bit of my brain that controls my “panic” mode was not listening to any of that and consequently it wasn’t until I had asked my nurse to leave that I managed to calm down.

The obvious problem then however was what to do as an alternative because there was no way I could manage by myself, a point that was proven to me after I tried to survive a mere few hours alone. It is very hard to describe how those hours felt because I didn’t myself expect or comprehend the difficulties I would face and to be honest I am still left baffled by it all, but if I had to try and explain it in the simplest terms I would just say that I fell into an extremely dark pit of depression highlighted by a heart attack pang of anxiety and I became so suicidal that there seemed no way to avoid doing something rash.

Luckily, my sister is amazing and came to visit at that time and realised as well as I did that I could not be left alone. Consequently, she took me back to her house and helped me to bake blondies (like brownies but made with white chocolate and peanut butter as opposed to your regular cocoa) because apparently in my eyes when you are feeling that suicidal, it is imperative that you bake something. That was several days ago and since then I have not been alone for more than about an hour at a time because I have the most amazing friend who has agreed to come and stay with me. Like I said, it isn’t the same because right now the person I really need is my mum, but as an alternative carer my best friend is familiar and insanely amazing and doesn’t send me into panic mode like the trained mental health professional did. I hate to say that my friend has had to take some time off work to look after me because I hate to be a burden, but there has been no way around it and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t still be alive were it not for the support I am currently receiving from new alternative carers, my sister and my best friend.

A lesson I have also learnt during the past few days, aside from the fact that I do not need simply carers but people who are familiar to me looking after me, is the importance of staying busy when your mental health carers are away. Usually I manage to do the same daily routine every day with my mum and that works just fine but with my parents away that usual routine is too placid and is not distracting enough from the onslaught of suicidal thoughts I have been pelted with ever since my parents left through the front door (and if you are wondering why those thoughts suddenly intensified the second I was left to my own devices then welcome to the club because I have no idea either.)
Still like I said, the way me and my friend and sister have been managing is to keep me busy at all times so that I have less time to think. For example one day we went to the local aquarium, on another we baked loaves of bread and on one particular day when I was feeling especially self destructive and in need of doing something rash, my amazing Auntie took me to a tattoo parlour to get my eyebrow pierced…apparently when it comes to me the way I manage in times of mental health crisis it is to look at fish, bring out my inner baker or have metal bars shoved through parts of my face (I would however ask any dear readers out there to keep that last bit on the down low though as I have not yet alerted my parents of the fact that I now have a silver bar going through my eyebrow…hopefully they are too busy on their holiday to be reading this because otherwise this is awkward…yeah…surprise mum and dad if you are reading! I have used your time away to have needles shoved through parts of my glorious visage…BUT SO FAR I HAVEN’T KILLED MYSELF SO REMAIN CALM IT IS ALL GOOD…just focus on the coping mechanisms of witnessing sea life and making yeast filled products instead…I love you…*runs away*)

Like I said it has been seven days of my parents being away with several days still to go and what I have learnt over this period of time is that surviving without your regular mental health carers around is a lot harder than I ever anticipated. Often it is not simply a case of being mentally ill and needing a general carer, but of needing a specific carer, in my case my mum, or at least someone familiar like my sister, friend or Auntie. To be honest, the thought of getting through another few days without my parents turns my stomach and I genuinely don’t know how I am going to manage it but at least I have the best people around me to support me in this situation and for that I feel incredibly lucky and eternally grateful.
How the next few days will pan out I do not know (although I do feel another piercing coming on…), but for now, that is what I have to say for the week and the latest lesson I have learned in this mad old life I am living with mental health problems. So yeah…If anyone else out there is struggling or is parted from their regular carer at the moment may I suggest a trip to look at marine life, a spot of baking or perhaps pay someone to shove a needle in your face (I AM SERIOUSLY JOKING THERE DON’T DO THAT KIDS PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD IT WAS JUST A JOKE).
On a more serious note however, if there are any other people out there without their regular carers at the moment then please know that I feel for you, that I understand and that as hard as it is to accept, if I am honest with myself maybe it is time to admit that it isn’t pathetic to still need your mum or other familiar family member or carer around even when you are technically an adult, and it is actually just part of this whole mental illness thing to feel this way. I feel like a burden on my parents more than ever now but I am trying to assure myself that it is not my fault, I am just ill and am going to have to do the best I can for now, as we all do in these situations. In the mean time I hope you are all well, if you are struggling I hope you are lucky enough to have amazing people around you as I am.

Take care everyone x

Loaf and fish

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5 Tips For When Mental Health Carers Go Away On Holiday

If you struggle with mental health problems, there is a high chance that you have some sort of carer in your life, someone who helps you get through the day, someone who supports you through the particularly bad times and stays with you when you need. Indeed, carers for people with mental health problems can feel like people you couldn’t live without because they are so integral to your daily survival and that is how I feel about my mental health carers, my parents, although mainly my mum, who had to give up work partly to look after me because having a real job and the job of looking after a total lunatic was far too much for one poor woman to manage.
So if carers are so vital for life, what happens when carers do the terrifying thing and go away for a while, perhaps on a much deserved and needed holiday? What do you do then? What do you do when your person isn’t there for a period of time? Well, to be perfectly honest if it were me, I would go into a total panic and start crying hysterically which is funnily enough how I have been reacting in this situation for as of today both of my parents are heading off to Cyprus on holiday for a week, a week in which I am going to have to find different ways to manage my survival.

So today, seeing as it is so scary to have carers go away and seeing as I am dealing with this myself, I thought I would talk about how to manage, for I think it is an occasion that requires some kind of plan and is not very much like eyeliner in the sense that it is something one can merely “wing”…

Tip 1 – Make a list: Over the course of any one day, a carer can perform a multitude of tasks and when we try to think about all these tasks all at once and how we will manage them alone, it can become overwhelming. For this reason I think the first part to the plan of action is to make a list of all the things your carer does for you or helps you with every day or every week so that you can tackle each hurdle individually and set up a solution for every single one rather than throwing yourself in at the deep end with the overwhelming task of simply “managing everything” by oneself. If you are faced with a week without your carer the prospect can seem daunting, too many hours and too many tasks to truly comprehend but if you break it down into more manageable chunks it becomes less intimidating and also allows you to anticipate what exactly is going to be difficult when left to your own devices. For example, before my parents were going away I made a schedule of my 24 hour day plan and have gone through my daily routine picking out any issues to solve to avoid them springing up unexpectedly like some demented and rather terrifying Jack in the box…Jack in the box surprises are never appreciated, especially when you are living with mental health problems without a carer, so make a list and anticipate those problems before they can become an issue.

Tip 2 – Look into respite care: Making a list of challenges and things you are going to struggle with whilst a carer is away is all well and good but there is a chance that even when that list is made, things are still going to look incredibly daunting and perhaps unmanageable even if you break it down. When this is the case my tip would be to perhaps look into various institutions or options of places that you can go for respite care. It sounds a bit scary and dramatic but all across the country there are houses and facilities available for times exactly like these when a carer about to go off galavanting and they provide an option or place to stay whilst the carer is away so that you can manage living without them whilst getting the care you need. Crisis houses and specific respite houses will be around if you do a bit of research, although with this one it is important to look up these type of options as early as possible. Crisis houses may have spaces available more last minute (although usually there will be some kind of waiting list so getting exact dates is never certain), but respite care often needs to be planned in advance. Getting funding for a respite placement is another difficulty so this tip is not one without its issues (although if I could remove the issues for you please rest assured that I would), but it is certainly an option to consider or something to look into if tip one has left you still feeling that the idea of living without your carer is unmanageable. Indeed, personally I would say that looking for and going into respite care when carers are away is a great, safe and secure option that I would be head over heels for and going for myself during this week but alas because of late applications, lack of funding and various OCD reasons (like sharing bathrooms) this option is not available to me at this time and we have had to look for alternate ways to get through the situation….for example….

Tip 3 – Look into replacement carers: If like me, you find yourself incredibly intimidated at the thought of a period of time without your carer (even if that carer is away on a well deserved holiday that you fully support them in travelling on), but have not been able to access respite care either for lack of date availability or lack of funding (please insert comment about how desperate this country is for funding in the mental health department here), or OCD like complications like me where staying in your own house is preferable, there may be the chance of looking into an option of hiring or getting care from a replacement carer who can come and help you out in your own home and indeed this is the option that I am taking this week. The problem with this option is that it can be expensive hiring a nurse from an agency to come and support you, but luckily or unluckily depending on how you look at it, my parents have been so desperate and so worried that they have found the funds somewhere. Perhaps there are places and people who are eligible to receive this kind of care from the National Health Service (I know that the government provides hired assistance for people with learning difficulties for example, just not for people explicitly with mental health problems), so certainly check first to see if you are eligible for that kind of care but if not and if you do have the funds, my tip here is to know that hiring a replacement carer for a period of time is at least a possibility you may not have thought of (I know I certainly didn’t know this kind of thing existed until my parents ran into issues with my care for this particular holiday) and certainly an option to look into if you don’t think you will be able to manage being home alone.

Tip 4 – Make plans: When faced with a week home without my parents I shudder at the thought and my teeth chatter together like Scooby Doo’s after he has been through a particularly intense ghost chase. Thinking of all of those hours by myself/even with a nurse is terrifying, so as well as making a list of things you are going to need to challenge whilst your carer is away, I think it is important to make a list of things you can do to break down the time and give you structure. Being told to “survive the holiday” full stop is far too intimidating, so the key is to break it down into things that you are going to do in order to survive. Maybe this means planning to go on a walk one afternoon or planning a morning of crafty activities (by which I mean the arty kind as opposed to the sneaky sneaky burglar kind…no burgling whilst carers are in or out of the country please folks) but whatever it is make a rough plan for every day to stick to. Then, instead of “survive 7 days”, you will be faced with smaller and more manageable tasks like “watch a film for two hours” or “knit a penguin tea cosy” (other animal shaped cosies are optional but not advised). If choosing activities for each day is too stressful maybe simply write a list of ways to keep yourself busy, tear them up and put them in a jar and then when your carer is away and you find yourself at a loose end pick an activity from the jar and get distracting yourself with it. Either way time used productively is infinitely easier to manage than time spent simply worrying about where your carer is or what you should do to pass the time, so get a timetable going and make some structure for your time!

Tip 5 – Have a list of emergency numbers: In an ideal world, candy would rain from the sky, Donald Trump would not be president and your time at home without your carer would go swimmingly without a hitch but unfortunately we do not live in an ideal world (clearly evidenced by the current inhabitant of the White house and the lack of strawberry gum drops falling from the sky) and so we must face up to the fact that when carers are away, there is the potential for things to go wrong. Therefore it is important to prepare for such circumstances in advance by making a list of phone numbers of friends/family, support services, carers and crisis teams who you can call should things go awry. Hopefully you will make this list, hang it up beside the telephone and never need glance at it for the duration of your carer’s holiday but just incase things do go wrong, it is vital to have people in place who you can call on for help ready and prepared.

So there you have it! 5 tips as to how to manage when your mental health carers go away on holiday or at least 5 tips that I will be using over the coming weeks to survive my parents’ jolly jaunt off to Cyprus (they are going for a wedding…I am sure it is going to be lovely despite the fact that a holiday for my carers abroad is both delightful and terrifying). Whether these tips will be helpful to anyone else out there in a similar situation I do not know but whatever the case I thought I would try to help my pals out there and hopefully I have.
When carers go away it is always going to be scary but I will keep my fingers crossed that with these tips and that by hanging in there together, we will be able to get through. I guess there is only one way to find out…let’s give it a go shall we?

Take care everyone x

CarersAway

The Frustration At Not Getting Better From Mental Health Problems

I like to think of myself as a fairly calm person (watch as my anxiety laughs hysterically in the corner), but lately, I have found myself getting angry, like proper smoke coming out of the ears angry, and the same is happening with my mum. Nay, maybe angry is the wrong word for I am not exactly angry right now but frustrated, and this frustration is aimed entirely at my mental health and the fact that no matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, my mental health is not improving/is sliding further and further into the abyss of insanity, and now even the professionals are at a loss as to what to do.

You see, ever since I left inpatient, things have been going in a downward spiral, and I am finding myself becoming hysterical and requiring my “emergency” medication to calm me down practically every night. Hell the other night things got so terrible that even my mum took some of my emergency calm down medication just to stop her from going completely bonkers herself and all in all it is getting out of hand. We have been phoning the crisis team almost daily in our attempts to manage my latest series of breakdowns and it has just got me asking, staring up at the sky and shaking my fist asking why, why is all of this happening?

It isn’t even as if I am one of these people who thinks life is supposed to be fair, far from it, I am one of those people who, when others protest “life is so unfair” ask them “my dear, who on earth ever told you that it was?” but this is ridiculous. I just don’t understand it. I have been in mental health treatment for almost 15 years now, 15 long years. Think about how many hours of 1:1 sessions with psychologists that includes, think about how many months as an inpatient in hospital that involves, the number of different medications tried (so many that when you shake me I rattle like a bottle of tablets and a leaflet of side effects falls out of my left nostril), and all for what? For me to still be completely insane…IT DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE.

What frustrates me is that I know how lucky I am and I know how grateful I am and should be for all the help I have received over the years. There are people across the country who have been suffering for as long as I have, maybe longer and they have not been given the support or access to help that I have been blessed with, they have not had the supportive family that I am lucky enough to be a part of, so logically I should be ok. Logically I should be doing better than most people out there, but I am not and it has me sitting here feeling angry and asking what the hell is wrong with me. What is it about me that seems so untreatable and why are my mental health problems so resistant to every form of treatment?

I think when you live with mental health problems you are expected to feel sad about them and to be fair I have felt sad about my sorry state of affairs many times but this anger is new, this rage at the fact that I have been ill for such a long time with no improvement and I wonder if this is an experience common to people with mental health problems out there. I have to ask, is it? Are there other people out there who, like me, have stopped feeling despair at their situations and have started feeling angry? Angry that no matter what they do or no matter how hard they try, their brains will not co-operate?

I have heard it said that it isn’t until you get angry at your disorders that you can actually get better from them because you need that anger in you to fight, but at the moment this anger doesn’t feel like it is doing anything constructive, rather it feels like a block that is holding me back in my therapy sessions and appointments. Rarely do I meet with a psychologist now with an open mind, now it is always a case of me going in enraged that things haven’t improved after the last session and show no sign of changing any time soon. I think I wouldn’t mind this anger so much if somebody else knew what to do with it, but I find I am dragging it around with me in a bin bag wondering where on earth to put it and the professionals don’t know either.

Today I went to an appointment with my ED support worker and the rage was bubbling, so I asked her what to do. I asked what we could do to treat me, where we could go from here, what new treatments we could try over the next few weeks to see if they help, and you know what she said? “I don’t know” or to be more specific “I don’t know what to do with you at the moment”…She doesn’t know what to do with me? Doesn’t know what to do with me? What am I supposed to do with that!? What is anyone supposed to do with that? Indeed, what on earth is one supposed to do when even the professionals are at a loss as to how to help or resolve the situation? What do you do when the person with all the answers tells you that they do not have any more answers, or even rough guesses, to have a go at answering your question? When I left that appointment I felt like a grocery shopper who had gone to a bakery and asked a baker how to make bread only to be told that the baker had no idea. What use is that? What use is a baker who doesn’t know how to bake? What is the point in a baker who just slaps flour around the place and wears a funny apron and chef’s hat? Sure it may be entertaining to watch someone slap flour about (for we all know that much hilarity can take place when a person is gallivanting with flour), but what use is it?
What do you do with that?

I think the main thing that is frustrating me however is the fact that whilst other people don’t have the answers, I don’t have them either, and if anyone should know how to help a person it is the person who understands the problem better than all others. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I would say I understand my mental health problems pretty well, I have explored them so much over the years that I am familiar with every nook and cranny (particularly the one in the far left…damn that is a tricky cranny), yet I am no more familiar with how to solve my problems than anyone off the street who has never spoken to me a day in their life.

Truth be told here, as I am writing this I am starting to think that maybe I am not angry, maybe my mother (who has also been getting frustrated at my current decline – not angry with me you understand, rather like me angry with the fact that no matter what we try we are not seeing any improvement) isn’t angry, maybe we are just scared because we cannot see the answers and when you are being stared at in the face by a pretty massive problem it is scary not being able to see any way around it. It is scary to be stuck in a vice getting tighter and tighter by the day with no sign of relief and hell, maybe some of that fear is what I am writing about rather than anger because in reality I don’t think I am angry with anyone in particular. I am not angry at my psychologist for not knowing what to do with me at the moment, I am scared, I am scared that if she doesn’t know what to do then nobody ever will and I will be stuck like this forever. It just doesn’t make sense to me. I have friends who have received the same levels of treatment as I have, who have been to the same hospitals as I have and they have recovered and that is another thing that scares me. If I have had the same treatment why have I not had the same outcome? Why am i different? Why do the answers for one person not serve as the answers for another? Is there something wrong with me or am I just one of those people who is doomed to never get better? How will I know? Will I ever know or am I just going to find myself sitting here asking these same old questions for years until I am blue in the face (and then indigo followed by a vibrant shade of violet).

To be honest I feel I have lost track of what I am even talking about and barely know what I am saying anymore but I had to get this out, this anger, this fear or whatever this is that is bubbling up inside me like the contents of a witches cauldron. Everyone knows that living with mental illness is sad, but I think today my message is that sometimes, when you don’t have the answers to your problems, that sadness turns to rage or maybe fear. Who knows, like I said I am confused myself, but I at least wanted to write about it in the hopes of finding some sense in all of this. Maybe I haven’t made sense here, maybe I have, but either way if anyone has the answers to any of my questions or feels the same as I do now, I would really appreciate knowing about it. I hope you are all well and know I am thinking of and supporting you all.

Take care everyone x

Frustrated

6 Tips For Managing Your Self Esteem On Social Media

Recently, because I am struggling a lot with my mental health, I have not been posting much on social media, and the other week I went a full fortnight without posting on everyone’s favourite photo sharing app: Instagram. In the grand scheme of things, this is not a big deal at all, but in my head, after fourteen days still with no photo to post, I was in a right panic and felt like the apocalypse was bound to begin.
As much as I hate to admit it, my self esteem rests a lot on what people think of me in real life and online, and therefore a large portion of what I think about myself comes from things like social media. I know it is unhealthy, unhelpful and perhaps a little bit silly and I am ironically the kind of person to shake my fist at the sky when people get upset about the number of “likes” on their selfie and cry in dramatic anguish “The number of likes doesn’t matter and doesn’t dictate your value as a person”, but in the end I cannot help it.
After two weeks of not posting a photo I managed to convince myself that everybody hated me, was furious at my inability to post a reasonable selfie or a witty hashtag and so I resigned myself to the fact that this was the end. Solemnly I sat in my lounge and listened for the sound of an approaching mob, preparing myself for the hoards of villagers to arrive with their flaming torches and their pitchforks. After four hours of anxious worrying however, no angry villagers, no flaming torches and no pitchforks had arrived which was both a nice surprise and quite a shame as I had bought a nice bag of marshmallows to toast on those terrifying torches for a little snack before the riot started and I had a lot of hay and straw that needed tidying (according to Wikipedia: “clearing hay and straw” is what a pitchfork is used for…handy little farming fact for you right there…ooh and in other farming fact news, chickens lay eggs and sheep say “Baa”).

Turns out I may have got a bit carried away with the catastrophising (which is odd and so unlike me…), and I would imagine that there are some other people out there with buckets of anxiety and no buckets of self esteem who have been in similar situations. Therefore today I thought I would try and help my fellow pitch fork, flaming torch fearing, mentally ill pals out there which is why I am here to offer a few tips as to how to manage the anxieties that can be caused by this 21st century obsession with social media accounts and how to help keep your self esteem and the way you think about yourself away from that..

Tip 1: Know that trolls exist – Twenty years ago, the word “Troll” was used to denote a creature that likes to live under bridges tormenting billy goats. Nowadays though, if someone speaks of “trolls” they are more likely to be referring to those hate filled creatures on the internet (otherwise known as humans who have nothing better to do), who spend their time locked away in computer filled rooms spouting as much hate as they can to torment all the innocent people they can find (like the original troll definition they also are known to torment billy goats if they come across them, although billy goats are slightly harder to come across using the internet due to their lack of opposable thumbs, laptops, Wi-Fi and their preference of crossing bridges to googling cat videos.) Basically, these are people who are going to potentially post negative or offensive comments on your uploads regardless of what they are and the key here to remember is that it is NOT your fault nor is it personal. If you find yourself getting hate online do not simply accept that it is hate you deserve and be aware that as well as cool things and nice people, some real idiots exist on the web, but whatever they say is no reflection on reality. Seriously, if people want to be nasty they will say anything just to get a reaction and that reaction is all they are looking for rather than a desire to state the truth about you as a person. I once saw a troll commenting on a video of a penguin saying that “penguins suck” which I think perfectly illustrates my “some people are idiots,” as clearly penguins do not suck and I think we can all agree are waddling miracles of nature who deserve much love and respect. If you ever get hate remember that penguin hating troll and with that remember that some people just want to be mean for the sake of it, so don’t take any negative comments you might get to heart.

Tip 2: Remember that interactions are open to interpretation – One day years ago, my mum and I were buying a new microwave and in asking for my opinion of which one I preferred, my mother asked me “if you were buying for your own house which one would you pick”. By this she meant “I know nothing about microwaves. Do you have a preference or opinion you would like to share to help me?” What I heard however was “how long are you going to live in our house for? Please start thinking about buying microwaves and other appliances for your own place and start the process of moving out of the family home immediately.” I guess the point I am making here is that I can often read too much into comments made by other people, or indeed read them as meaning entirely different things to what the speaker intended, and I think people often do this online in social media where comments and likes are flying all over the place without the correct tone or specification of the meaning perfectly portrayed. Therefore whenever reading a comment or interpreting the meaning of a “like” online, always remind yourself to not get carried away with interpretations and that it is unlikely that a simple statement such as “I do not like penguins” on a photo of you and a penguin means something dramatic like “The entire foundation on which you base your life is wrong, please jump off a cliff”…

Tip 3: Be aware that people do things – There are periods of time when people use social media. Logically then, this means that there are some periods of time when people don’t use social media and it is vital to be aware of this fact if you, like me, often find yourself relying a little too heavily on social media as a source of self esteem. Every time I post a tweet, photo on Instagram or a blog on this delightful website you are currently visiting (cheers for that), unless it is well received within the first five minutes I am in despair about the fact that everybody hates me/nobody likes me anymore and that I am a terrible human, without realising that there are multiple reasons for silence on one of your posts, one of these reasons being that people haven’t seen it because they are not on social media. It isn’t as if people sit 24 hours a day, 7 days a week staring at your account in anticipation of your next post, ready to react seconds after it is uploaded, they do stuff and live their lives. If you ever find yourself panicking about the lack of likes on a post a few minutes after you have submitted it, try not to assume this is because you are hated and get carried away thinking all of the negative thoughts you can about yourself. Maybe some people won’t see your post at all but that is fine and the lack of interaction is more likely to be down to that than some flaw in your character. Whenever you get no likes just remember, people need to leave social media to do things like pee (an activity they are hopefully not doing whilst using their phones…)

Tip 4: Think about the long term – Life is unpredictable and none of us can be sure where we will be in ten years time even if we make very organised plans for our lives over the next decade. One thing I can predict however, is that any interaction you have on social media today (yes…even commenting on this blog…feel free to do that by the way…as long as it is nice and doesn’t make me cry), will not matter to you or mean as much to you in ten years time as it does right now. When you find that social media scores and numbers are getting you down and are comparing yourself to other people with a million retweets on that picture of a tortoise (people love a tortoise), imagine yourself living in a nursing home at 100 years old reminiscing about your life and adventures. I cannot guarantee that you will have achieved all you wanted nor that you won’t have some regrets over time, but what I can guarantee is the fact that if someone were to ask you at 100 years old what the highlight of your life was, it is not going to be “that time my Instagram picture got over 1000 likes”, and is more likely to be something along the lines of “that time I swam with penguins”, “that time I hugged a penguin” or something else people see as important…like marriage and the birth of your kids…that stuff. Of all the nursing homes I have ever visited people in, I have never heard of anyone reminiscing about the time they got retweeted by that guy from that band (and not just because twitter wasn’t invented in the time period being discussed). In the long term, likes and comments don’t matter, it is experiences, people and penguins that do.

Tip 5: Know that none of it is real – Ok, with this one I am going to hold my hands up and admit that I do not exactly know how the internet works, where it comes from or where it “is”. In my head however, though the internet is a real thing that we all use and experience in day to day life, it is not something like a cliff which would take serious crane action to remove and technically, with one flip of a switch, it could all be gone tomorrow. Of course nothing real is permanent and mountains and rivers can be “deleted” with enough effort, but few things aside from the internet that are so integral to our lives could be gotten rid of so easily. The internet exists but it could just as easily not and sometimes that also helps me when I find myself basing too much of my self worth on things I find on there. Every time you are upset or struggle with a comment or interaction on social media, perhaps it will also help you then to think about the fact that it makes no sense to base your self esteem on something so flimsy, for at any second the internet could just be over (LORD PLEASE DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN) and could all disappear at the flick of a switch…

Tip 6: Don’t forget the “real” world – I suppose this point is quite similar to the previous one but it is still important because as much as I want to encourage remembering that the internet is so fragile in it’s existence, I want to encourage people not to forget that the real world (you know…that stuff outside that you see when you peep out from under the duvet every few weeks) and the “real” life exists outside. Virtual and digital worlds exist for sure and they can be fantastic places to get lost in or even find yourself in, but though our world can be a bit rubbish at times, it is there and you do have a life within it away from social media, so tuning out of social media and into the real world is ok. Again of course, everything in the world is technically very fragile and not even mountains or oceans will exist forever, but in a way it is a lot more permanent and real in my eyes than a thumbs up icon or a few characters typed on a mysterious “mobile telephone” device. I know that shortly after that incident where I didn’t post online for a while, I met up with a friend and it really helped because it reminded me of what is actually important and that there is a life and dare I say it real people around as apposed to digital emojis and Facebook profile pictures, and sometimes those real people are worth spending time with too (unless their name rhymes with Bonald Wump. Never trust anyone whose name sounds like Bonald Wump.) If you are too caught up in social media scores and “friends” and what they all mean, take a step back and maybe glance around at the real world to remind you of the other things out there. Trust me, some of them are quite fabulous and worth keeping an eye on.

So there you have it! 6 ways to manage and look after your self-esteem/general mental health and wellbeing when you find yourself spending too much time on the internet or worrying about social media. I am not saying that these tips are going to make that bizarre side of 21st century life easy, nor am I denying that you will probably still freak out a bit about that comment and that photo with only 2 likes on it (don’t worry…I may have written these tips but I know I shall be doing the same), but I hope these at least help a bit with those stresses and anxieties, even if they are things you only remember once in a while.
Now if you don’t mind me, I am off to upload this blog to that trusty friend the internet and then I am going to spend the next few hours staring at the screen to see exactly how many people read it, how many like or comment on it and how quickly so that I know how much to value myself/hate myself for the rest of the day/generally get an idea of my worth as a human. PLEASE LIKE ME AND MY BLOG OR I AM NOTHING. NOTHING I TELL YOU…ahem…

Take care everyone x

SocialMediaSelfEsteem

The Importance Of Listening To People With Mental Health Problems

This Wednesday the 14th of March is a very special day. Why? Because as of the 14th of March 2018 this little blog you are visiting right now will be two years old. That is right folks, as of Wednesday it will be two whole years since the birth of Born Without Marbles, nay not birth, the hatching of this tiny little mental health blog egg that I had been keeping in my oh so sufficient plumage until that moment (and my my do I have a lot of plumage).

How crazy is that? Pretty crazy if you ask me as two years is a really long time…Like a baby can go from a screaming ball of tears to a waddling and talking human creature in that time and I would like to think that my blog has undergone a similar amount of progress.
Now, you are going to have to forgive me in this entry as I fear I am going to sound very much like one of those actresses in a ball gown making a thank you for my Oscar speech and I am well aware that two years of running this blog does not entitle me to any award, but still today I really wanted to thank all of you out there reading this for making this blog what it is and for putting as much effort into reading it as I put into writing it. Indeed, you readers have helped and supported me more than you can ever possibly imagine. “How?” I hear you ask “What have we done?”. Well dear friends, you have done the most important thing that one can do when living with or dealing with someone with mental health problems: you have listened, and I think that this whole listening malarky is a seriously underrated piece of malarky on the scale of all things malarky.

I know people have messaged me in the past, people who may know or care for people with mental health problems and who have asked me what they can do to support them and the answer I want to advocate today is to listen to them. That is it.

I think a lot of people often find that when they have a loved one with mental health problems they want so desperately to fix their problems and unfortunately that is seldom, if ever, possible.
Mental health illnesses and disorders are complex and difficult to understand, intricate beings (which is why I have managed to write about and try and explain them for a whole two years now without really scratching the surface as to their mysteries), and I think that when people see themselves as responsible for curing a loved one it is simply too much responsibility to take hold of. It would be like asking one person to fight a whole army of sword wielding warriors who will need a lot of strategy and weaponry to defeat as apposed to one lone soldier with a mallet (for we all know it is notoriously easier to get hold of a mallet than it is to get hold of a sword…seriously where do they even sell those? Are they available on Amazon? Not that I want a sword of course…I am just seriously curious as to how one would obtain such a thing were one to be in need). If you ever set yourself the challenge of you and you alone curing someone with mental health problems then I think you are setting yourself up to fail.

This doesn’t however mean that when it comes to mental health problems and people who are struggling with them that it is best to do nothing, and that is where this listening thing comes in that I want to thank you all for today.

You see, when you live with mental illnesses, you live with a constant stream of noise and mayhem between your temples and that noise is difficult to deal with. Maybe that noise comes from the barrage of thoughts that come with depression, maybe they are the intrusive thoughts from OCD or an eating disorder, maybe they are audible hallucinations from psychosis or schizophrenia, whatever the condition, whatever the disorder, there is a lot of noise, and keeping quiet about it is a sure fire way of making that noise louder.
If people don’t speak about the noise, the noise tends to build up, louder and louder until all “real” sounds are drowned out by the cacophony and therefore it is important to have an outlet, a place to talk about and release a bit of that noise, not necessarily because that will make it all go away but because it will slightly lessen the burden that staying silent will weigh you down with.
That is where listening comes in. When you simply listen to a person with mental health problems, when you allow them to be heard, you are helping them more than you could ever know because you are sharing in that noise and therefore are giving it a little less power. I think when a lot of people think about going to see a therapist they assume that they will have these big elaborate contraptions designed to zap the mental illness away or physically remove it by some grand operation when really that is not what therapists do. There are no magical contraptions (unfortunately) and there are no magical zappers (also unfortunately), instead therapists listen, they hear and take on some of the noise because when you speak out loud about something it loses power. That is why in Harry Potter everyone is so scared of Voldemort, they don’t speak his name and by keeping it locked up in their minds as this big scary word they increase the fear. As Hermione wisely once said, “fear of a name increases fear of a thing itself”, and that is exactly how I feel about mental illnesses. When we fear them and keep quiet about them, we give them more power to control us, we give them authority as some big terrifying thing never to be spoken about and alright, I admit it, they are terrifying, but unless we talk about them and get them out into the real world, they cannot be tackled. If everyone were to keep their illnesses inside of their heads then they would be kept in a place where nobody else could reach them but by talking about them, they become tangible, they become part of our world and thus are something that can be dealt with.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that talking about a mental illness is going to cure it instantly, if ever, as I know very well myself that after a lot of talking and a lot of therapy, things are still pretty terrible (hey, I am nothing if not honest), but as terrible as they are, at least I have an outlet to get them out of my head both in therapy and on my blog. I have people who listen to me and hear all the pain it is hard to speak out about and if you have been a reader of this blog from the beginning, last week, or even if this is your first ever entry (welcome!) you have been a part of that and you have helped.

So what do I want to get across today as we approach the two year anniversary of Born Without Marbles? Simply this: That if you want to help someone with mental health problems, the first and best thing you can do is to listen to them, and if you have been listening to me for years or just today, then I want to thank you for hearing and taking on my noise. Trust me I do not know where I would be without all of you wonderful people out there listening and supporting me and I want you to know how much I appreciate, and how much all people with mental health problems appreciate it when people listen, when they are heard and when others are there to share in the noise. From the bottom of my heart and from my head to my toes, today, my message is thank you for being there. You do more than you know, and more than I can ever thank you for in a mere blog post. I hope you all know that I am also here to hear all of you struggling out there and share in any of your noise as well.

So happy second birthday Born Without Marbles and to all readers and mental health sufferers alike, remember to keep talking and to keep listening, for doing so is one tiny tactic we can use to tackle the mental health demon army.

Take care everyone, and thank you x

Anniversary

Being Institutionalised After An Inpatient Admission

Humans are very much like lions. They have very fluffy manes and they like to stalk antelopes…no wait…that wasn’t my point…what was my point…ah yes, humans are very much like lions: they are not supposed to live in captivity. When you see a lion in a zoo standing behind the glass peering out, longing for freedom, they do not look happy, they do not look free, they look listless and bored and tend to pace around a lot because that is not an environment they are supposed to be in. Similarly, humans are not supposed to live in psychiatric units, it is not their natural environment, it is not where we evolved to be and being in one is an abnormal and temporary experience. Problem is, when you have been staying in a psychiatric unit for almost half a year, you start to get a little bit institutionalised and consequently over these past two weeks I have been struggling with my new found freedom.

Indeed, going back to the lion thing, I feel very much like a lion who has been living in captivity for a long time and then has suddenly been chucked out into the wild without any of the coping skills or natural instincts necessary to survive. I didn’t like living on one small corridor but at the same time it was a contained space that I knew every part of, it was a place I understood, yet now I find myself in this big wide open space of a world and no idea what to do or where to go. Over the past months I spent so much of my time desperate to get out of hospital that I never really thought about what it would be like when I got there and am now finding myself feeling a bizarre sense of “right….now I am out…what the hell do I do now?”. It is like my sense of direction has gone, my goals and my aims were all so focused on getting out and being free that I forgot about what would actually happen and what I would actually do when that freedom was achieved.

What troubles me is that I am not living in a place where I should feel like this, I am not living in an abnormal environment as I was when I was in the hospital, I am living where I am supposed to be, out in the wild, out in the real world, yet it is suddenly a world in which I do not feel I have a place anymore.

To be fair I am quite a homebody, I don’t go out much and the most adventurous trips I have been on since I have been out have been to places like the local supermarket, but every time I go to these places I find myself wandering around watching all these people casually buying food as part of their day, part of their lives that they are living and I wonder how on earth they do it. How do they live in this big scary world? How do they have jobs and families? How do they know what food to buy in a shop and then how do they go back home and make it into something to nourish themselves before maybe going on an evening out to do something similarly alien to me like socialising? I am not a part of that world. I am part of a world where I am used to waking up and being timed to eat a bowl of cereal under the watchful eye of a nurse or other mental health care professional, before gathering in a group room around a box of tissues to talk about my feelings. For five months the biggest deadlines and expectations I have had on my shoulders have been things like making sure I turn up to emotional regulation group with my notebook on time and making sure I am at the clinic to be weighed at 7:30 on a Monday morning. True I didn’t like it, to be honest I hated it, which is why I spent such a long time fighting professionals and trying to get out. I didn’t belong there anymore than a lion belongs in a perspex box, but it feels like so much time has passed and I have become so institutionalised, this admission more than any other even though this has not been my longest, that I don’t belong out here either. I don’t belong anywhere, I am like a ghost wandering around aimlessly haunting old places that I used to know yet now don’t feel a part of.

I think all of these feelings highlight one of the main problems with putting people into hospital for long periods of time, that being the institutionalisation I have mentioned and the fact that people forget how to survive anywhere else. They forget what it is like to be a person with a life and an identity other than a mental patient required to take their medication and have a stab at some therapeutic writing on a Wednesday morning or creative group in the art room on a Tuesday. It probably sounds ridiculous because I wasn’t even in hospital for that long and I have had many admissions before that I survived, some of which were longer than this, but I can’t help it, I just feel so out of place and so confused as to what to do now, A few weeks ago I talked about how living in a psychiatric unit is very much like living in a fish bowl and now I believe in that analogy more than ever. I am a fish out of water, or I suppose to put it more accurately since this is where I am supposed to be, a fish who has been used to a tiny little bowl with a little castle and a turret and is now presented with this great big ocean with giant sharks and other fish busily swimming past as if they are all going some place important and all know a lot of things that I don’t.
If it wasn’t for this blog I wouldn’t know what I was doing at all and to be honest I am even struggling with this. At least my blog gives me structure, my blog gives me a plan to work to, every week I write it, I draw the picture, upload it on the Monday and then pray that people read it and don’t suddenly hate me, but even writing has got harder since I left hospital because I am at a loss as to what to do with myself and my brain doesn’t feel like it is working properly. There is too much stuff out here in the real world, too many people, too much noise, too much responsibility and I am just an unemployed head case living at home (for now). It isn’t as if I am some boss at this high powered company where I am entrusted with the responsibility of managing loads of people and their lives and actions as well as my own.

I guess it is all about what you are used to and that I will settle into the real world and get used to it again eventually, but still I wanted to write today to highlight how institutionalised you can get even if you only stay in a psychiatric unit for a couple of months and how very disorientating it can be once you leave. Don’t get me wrong, I do not want to go back there by any stretch of the imagination and I am doing everything I can every day to keep myself safe enough to stay out. Like I said, it wasn’t that I belonged there at all, I just want to know where the place I belong is now because at the moment I cannot seem to find it. I am supposedly back where I should be right now, yet I am very lost and frightened and really in need of some kind of map to find my way home. I just wish I knew where home was.

Take care everyone x

Lion

Dramatic Life Plan Changes When You Are Living With Mental Health Problems

You know that feeling where you don’t see a friend for a year (maybe they were backpacking around Australia or herding elephants in Africa), and then they come back for a cup of tea asking how things are going and you just sigh because there is so much to catch up on? Yeah. That exact feeling is the one I have today, only in this situation it isn’t that I haven’t written on my blog/spoken to you for a year (heaven forfend!). In actuality it has been a mere week since you last heard from me but what a week it has been and good lord with cheese and chopsticks do I have a lot to catch you up on!

Now, you remember last week when I talked about how I was about to go home after a five and a half month inpatient stay at my local eating disorders unit? Remember how I harped on about all the rules and regulations I had set in place to keep myself and my mental health problems on track and the importance of rules when living with mental health problems? Remember all that stuff I said about how I felt pressured to stick to the rules because if I didn’t there would be consequences including, but not limited, to my parents not being able to cope with me in the family home any more? (If none of this is ringing any bells I suggest you read the two posts that can be found, like aeroplane fire exits, here: The Pressure To “Get Better” When You Are Struggling With Mental Health Problems and here: Why Boundaries Are Important When Living With Mental Health Problems).
Good. We all up to date because you know that situation? Yeah, that situation has kind of sort of exploded all over the place and I have only been out of hospital for a week…

Indeed I can barely believe myself that it has only been such a short amount of time because so many things have changed. Like I said, I was only discharged last Tuesday, armed and determined with my rules and boundaries set my my parents to help keep my mental illnesses in check back home, but in this past week, all of those rules have gone horribly wrong.
From that first day back home my eating disorder looked at all of those neatly written out rules and laughed and I was smacked in the face by how much harder all of this eating malarky was going to be outside of hospital.
To be perfectly honest I do not understand it even myself.
For five and a half months I have been following a meal plan and now a simple change in location has completely thrown me off. I am not saying that I admit defeat already, far from it, but I can acknowledge that there is a serious problem and am well aware that, no matter how positive I try to be or how determined I am, I am currently unable to stick to the rules around eating certain amounts at certain times and not self harming that have been set.

“What is wrong with that?” I hear you ask “So you are breaking a few rules. This isn’t school, what are you worried about, getting detention or something?” I hear you cry!
Well no actually, I am not fearing detention but I have been fearing the consequences of me not being able to stay in the family home and in this past week it has come to my attention that me staying in the family home and living by my parents’ rules is, at this point impossible.

Now before I go on I would like to make it clear that my parents are not evil (well my mum is a little bit and she does cackle over a cauldron occasionally but that is a story for another day) and just because I am struggling with my mental health at the moment they are not kicking me out of the house. Far from it, they want and are doing all they can to support me with my insanity, hence why they set up these rules so that we could all try to live happily together, but to be blunt, they simply cannot cope with my madness any more for the sake of their own mental health (remember self care is important folks) and so me being unable to follow the rules has led to some consequences. What consequences?

Well, watch out because here comes a bombshell: I am not going to be living at home anymore. Yeah…I told you a lot had happened…

Like I said it was mere hours before we realised that I was not going to be able to live by the required rules and so, knowing that my parents could not cope anymore and that I didn’t want to put them through all of this again, I hopped onto google and started looking for a place to live. Mere days later I had impulsively used up my inheritance on a flat…yeah…I guess you could say things have moved pretty fast.

I don’t even know what to say or where to go from here because I am still so shocked and mind blown as to how all of this is happening and to be honest none of it feels real.

I am moving out.

I am in the process of buying a flat.

I have never lived by myself before and soon I will be living alone. WHAT IS HAPPENING?SOMEBODY STOP THE RIDE! I WANT TO GET OFF!

See what I mean about having a lot to update you on? Seriously, I have gone from living in an insane asylum for almost half a year, part of that time on 1:1 with a tube up my nose, to buying and living in a flat all by myself in the blink of an eye, and if I am honest, I have no idea how I am going to deal with it. Because of OCD and my eating disorder there are a million of normal every day things that I cannot do for myself from changing a duvet cover, to taking out a bin or washing a pair of socks and yet suddenly all of this responsibility is on me. Oh and how many Katies does it take to change a light bulb? THERE IS NO NUMBER HIGH ENOUGH BECAUSE THIS KATIE CANNOT CHANGE A LIGHTBULB. I AM GOING TO BE LIVING IN DARKNESS FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE UNLESS I GET SOME CANDLES WHICH I WILL PROBABLY DROP AND END UP BURNING THE WHOLE PLACE DOWN. I WON’T EVEN BE ABLE TO PUT THE FIRE OUT WITH WATER BECAUSE APPARENTLY FOR WATER YOU HAVE TO PAY A WATER BILL AND I HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO DO THAT EITHER. SOMEBODY HELP ME FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.

So yeah…that is my update, THAT is the latest Born Without Marbles news and an example of just one of the dramatic changes of plan that can occur when you are living with mental health problems…
Obviously it will be a while before I actually move out and into my new flat (turns out that buying property is far harder and more complicated than buying cuddly penguins…who knew?), but eventually that is what is going to be happening. In the mean time I will of course be living at home trying to stick by the rules as best I can and trying not to drive my parents completely mad but who knows how that is going to work out? Then again who knows how living by myself is going to work out because the only reason I am leaving home is because I am too insane and the last time I checked insane people weren’t the best at surviving in this world alone. Thankfully, whenever this flat does come through I will only be a five minute walk away from home and obviously my parents are going to support and help me through this more than I am probably giving them credit for, but purple onions and gravy am I terrified and filled with questions. How did this happen? How did my mental illnesses take over my life so much that they have led to me being practically evicted from my family home and forced to live alone where I cannot interfere with other people? How will I cope by myself if I can’t even cope with the support of other people? How on earth is this whole moving out of an intense inpatient setting and into an isolated empty flat going to play out? Well, truth is I have no idea. I guess we will be finding that out over the coming weeks together…

Take care everyone x

LifeChange

Why Boundaries Are Important When Living With Mental Health Problems

A few weeks ago when I was talking about the fact that I am getting discharged from an inpatient setting on the 20th of February/tomorrow if you are reading this on the day of upload, (handy link to that blog post here: The Pressure To “Get Better” When You Are Struggling With Mental Health Problems), I mentioned that there were going to be a lot of rules and boundaries in place regarding my mental illness that I would have to follow back home.
Seeing as these boundaries were set by my parents you might think I live in a particularly strict household with rules and regulations more often seen in a school rather than a home setting, but actually, I am starting to think that when you are living with mental health problems, it is vital for everyone to set some boundaries.

Thing is, when you have a mental illness bobbing along with you through life, you can guarantee that it is going to do all it can to interfere with any plans you had prepared. Thought you were going out for a night with friends? Surprise! Depression has crossed that out of the calendar and scheduled you in for a good old evening of crying into a pillow and thinking about what a terrible person you are. Decided to spend several hours working on that novel and actually being productive with your life? Nope! Instead OCD would like you to waste those hours antibacterialising various objects in the house that were already clean to begin with. No matter what illness you have, it is obviously going to impact your daily routine, and if left with total freedom, it is likely that it will impact your daily routine more and more as time goes on until you find yourself looking back and wondering how on earth things managed to get so out of control. Now when you are in an inpatient setting this aspect of mental health problems is managed somewhat by the rigid structure of your day to day life on the ward, but on the outside it is a hell of a lot easier to get carried away with your own rigid routines.

The reason for this is that I have started to realise that mental illnesses are much like dinosaurs, and living with them is analogous to being that professor that Richard Attenborough plays in Jurassic Park and it is that analogy (to be fair it has been a while since we settled in for a good old traditional Born without Marbles analogy) that I want to talk about today.

Maybe some of you out there haven’t actually seen Jurassic Park (and if you haven’t you really should, it is fabulous), but basically in Jurassic Park there is this guy called Professor Hammond (that’s the person with mental health problems in this analogy), and he owns this safari park of dinosaurs he created out of some blood that has been hiding inside of a mosquito for several thousand years (in the analogy the park is your brain and the dinosaurs are your mental illnesses, except obviously in the mental health version you did not create your dinosaurs/illnesses, rather they appeared one day and as a result you found yourself as keeper of this prehistoric zoo of insanity).

Having the dinosaurs there is obviously dangerous, so Professor Hammond does all he can to keep that danger to a minimum. In order to keep the visitors safe, he has a whole team of keepers helping him to keep an eye on his dinosaurs (aka psychologists and other mental health professionals), and there are physical boundaries/electrified fences set up all over the island around the dinosaurs to keep them in check. They are still dangerous dinosaurs, but when confined by their boundaries, their level of threat is somewhat controlled.

However in the film, before long, this idiotic man with absolutely no common sense turns off all the electric fences and cages that were housing the dinosaurs, and utter chaos ensues.
Without the fences, the dinosaurs do not remain in their neat little pens, they run amok and cause a hell of a lot of destruction and noise when doing so. That image (aka that of dinosaurs running madly all over the place eating people and crashing into everything), pretty much illustrates the importance of boundaries when living with mental health problems and why I have so many regulations in coming home.

For example, whilst I have been in hospital at my local eating disorder unit, there have been very definite rules set out to govern my behaviour. These rules are numerous and I cannot list them all for fear of boring you all to floods of uncontrollable tears, but as an example they have been things like the fact that if I do not eat my meal, there will be a replacement issued which if not completed will lead to consequences in ward round, or the rule that meal times take place at set points throughout the day with no option to delay that peanut butter sandwich for another five minutes. Meal times are meal times, you eat your meals in meal times, end of discussion.

Similarly there are rules to govern my OCD such as time limits for showers because without this kind of rule, my OCD tends to grab hold of all control over how long I take to shower and run with it a lot faster than I can chase after it (I was never one for athletics in school.)
When I have a time limit however, I have something to aim for, and though my OCD will still be present in my behaviours for the duration of the shower, it is my attempt at controlling it as best I can. If in hospital I weren’t to shower within the allocated time, I would be removed from the shower, so I sort of had to reason with my little OCD dinosaur to get through it. My dinosaur wanted to spend the next three years washing yet the rules meant this was impossible, so we had to work together and compromise. I would shower and do all the rituals I was told to, but only for a certain length of time. Having a time limit obviously didn’t always work and there are times where I still couldn’t stick to it, but like I said, it gave something to aim for and consequently I will still have that shower time limit now that I am heading back home again. Again it is unlikely that I will always be able to keep myself in check, but I know that without any rules in the shower things would be a lot worse than they often are and if I didn’t have a boundary set in place, then I doubt I would ever be able to get out of the shower at all.
I can of course tell my OCD that I have finished washing but OCD will always come back with “just another five minutes”, a request that, when given into, will be repeated every five minutes leaving me stuck in a ritual with no way out. With my rule, I at least have an argument against that. In the shower the OCD still dictates behaviours, but when it is time to leave the shower, I at least have the statement of “time is up and we must leave now to avoid consequences” to come back at any “five more minute” suggestions that should arise.

If you are living with mental health problems then, it is important to have your own rules in place to try and keep track of the interference it causes. You can’t control whether or not you have a disorder, but there are some things you do have control of that can help lessen the impact. Say you have an eating disorder and, as I will be attempting when I get home, you are trying to give yourself enough nutrition.
If you say to your eating disorder “I am going to eat better today”, then it is unlikely that you will achieve much, as “better” is a negotiable, subjective term that you will find yourself debating. Instead, hard and fast rules like “I am going to eat three meals and three snacks today” are more likely to merit results. They won’t necessarily mean you achieve what you want, yet again, like the shower time limit, it gives you something to aim for rather than a wishy washy “I will eat something” or “I will shower quicker” which without specifics don’t really mean anything and give too much control to your illness. I know that especially with eating disorders, giving into little things are a sure fire way of letting them spiral completely.
Whenever I have a bowl of cereal for example, I weigh out exactly the same number of grams each day without question. This is disordered of course, and one day I would like to pour cereal with all the gay abandon of a cereal pouring professional, but I know that if I don’t have a weight from my dietician to stick to, aka a boundary, then my portions will just get smaller and smaller. My eating disorder won’t ask for anything dramatic at first, just little requests like “just one flake less today” or “one gram less”, which doesn’t sound much but if you keep listening to that you will end up a few weeks down the line staring at a solitary rice crispy in the bottom of a bowl wondering where all the others went (and possibly hearing a very quiet pitiful sobbing from the rice crispy as they are very social creatures who, when portioned out individually, often get rather lonely. Rice has feelings too kids.)

You don’t have to make loads of rules and they can be small rules to start off, but no matter what the size it is vital that the rules are there. If you have depression, that sucks and you cannot control the effect depression will have on your mood. What you can control however, is things like taking any medication you have been prescribed or attending any appointments to try and keep it in check. If you have an eating disorder and a meal plan you have been told to stick to, make that meal plan your rule, your boundary that cannot be negotiated. Ok the eating disorder will still be there screaming and it may interfere with your behaviours, but having that meal plan there is a non negotiable that is not up for debate. With OCD rituals put time limits on how long they can take so that a quick five minute tidy doesn’t descend into a five hour mass organisation mission or at least put a limit in place as to how many times you are allowed to do something simply to give you something to aim for.
Like I said, this is not going to cure you of any mental health problems nor is it going to stop them interfering/being dangerous beasts much like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. In or out of a cage, a T-rex is a T-rex (unless it is a bunny in disguise), and you cannot control the existence of that T-rex or its nature/behaviour as a stomping, roaring, chomping scaly thing. What you can do however, is put boundaries in place to try and limit the destruction that dinosaur can cause, to do the best you can to take control of something that otherwise will take lack of rules as a chance to run amok to see what it can get away with, and that is why, as I go home tomorrow, I go with a set of rules and boundaries in place.

Coincidentally, that is also why mental health problems are like dinosaurs and why it is vital to have boundaries when living with them in your head/prehistoric safari park. Rules may be broken, but having certain rules in place at home does often help me to manage typically unmanageable situations a little better. If you have been in hospital, take hospital rules back home when you are discharged so that the illness doesn’t have the total freedom to reinvade, and if you haven’t been in hospital then maybe come up with some rules with friends and family who are willing to support you in your battle for sanity. Remember, a dinosaur is always going to be a wild destructive interference, but with boundaries, that destruction can at least be controlled as much as possible…I hope…

Take care everyone x

BoundariesDinosaur

The Difficulty Of Eating In Public When You Have An Eating Disorder

To the average person the idea of going out to eat is a pleasant one, and when someone suggests going out for a coffee and a piece of cake in a local cafe or out to dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant, the usual reaction would be “Why yes what a lovely idea”, or “of course! I think I shall order the lasagne”.
To someone with an eating disorder however, it is likely that the idea of eating food out will be a terrifying one, reserved to the realms of nightmares rather than sweet dreams, and if you are anything like me when it comes to life with my eating disorder, it is likely you would rather dance a tango with a giant hairy spider than go out to “grab a bite to eat”. It is for this very reason that when I was in ward round this week and I was told that I had to go out to a local coffee shop for a snack with a member of staff, I started to wish there was a chance to whip out my dancing shoes and go to a ballroom with an enormous arachnid instead.

It is silly really because like I said, as a rule people generally enjoy going out for food (even if, like my mum, that is simply because you don’t have to wash up at the end of the meal), but for me there are so many things to be scared of and I don’t think people realise just how many things there are to worry about when it comes to going out for something to eat when you have an eating disorder rampaging in your frontal lobes.

First off there is the difficult task of looking at a menu and choosing what you are going to eat. Alright you may have to make some food choices in the home or out at the supermarket, so choosing food shouldn’t be a sudden and new experience, but at least with that kind of thing you can plan far in advance and prepare what you are having yourself so you know exactly what the meal comprises of. When you are eating out however, the ability to plan everything and control each stage of the process is whipped out from under you quicker than a slippery yoga mat on a vaseline coated floor. Ok, nowadays most restaurants and cafes tend to have menus online so in a sense you can prepare for what you are going to attempt and do not have to make a choice on the spot, but even if you make a choice from an online menu you can never guarantee that what you decide on will be available in the branch of the restaurant that you visit in particular. What if you have your heart set on the roasted aubergine spaghetti and then get to the table only to be confronted by a waiter breaking the news to you that they are all out of pasta and severely lacking in terms of aubergine supplies? What if you get your head all psyched up to tackle a chocolate muffin with multicoloured sugar strands and then find that the muffin man got caught in a traffic jam on the way to deliver his cocoa rich rainbow sprinkled delights? HOW CAN ONE RELAX AND MAKE A DECISION WHEN THE WHEREABOUTS OF THE MUFFIN MAN AND AUBERGINES ARE ALL UNKNOWN?

Then again, what if the aubergine harvest has been plentiful and the chef can prepare your chosen dish? How are they going to prepare it? How much pasta will they use? Will there be oil? Will there be butter? How will it be arranged? Will the sauce be served on top of or mixed into the spaghetti? Exactly what kind of concoction should you expect? Also what if you can’t even get that far and can’t make a decision as to what to have in the first place, either because there are too many options or not enough safe ones? When it comes to people going to restaurants a little bird told me (a very little bird. about half the size of Tweety Pie to be exact) that people chose what they “fancy,” but again when you have an eating disorder and find most of your decisions controlled by calories and grams of fat, what exactly does it mean to “fancy” something?

Even when food is chosen and aubergines can be found in abundance, the worries don’t end because then you have what I would say is the hardest thing about going out for food and the thing that I worried about most after this news about a snack out had been broken to me: eating in public. Indeed the choosing from a menu worry wasn’t even what made me anxious about the excursion as when I went out for snack with my nurse I actually took the food with me to the coffee shop from the hospital (not that that is technically allowed in terms of coffee shop table taking up without making a purchase regulations, but when you are terrified and have an eating disorder you don’t give a damn about the rules!), so it wasn’t the menu issue but the eating in public part that was troubling me.

Truth is, when I eat I prefer to do it in private because even though I am well aware that other people have too many things on their minds and in their lives to have space to think about what is on my plate, I am always paranoid that everyone around is looking and judging me for every mouthful that I consume. Why do I care what random strangers have to say about my choice of snack of an afternoon? I have no idea. Why do I think that a business woman on her lunch break or a student cramming for an exam over an espresso and a laptop, care about whether or not I eat a hobnob? Who knows, but regardless of the reason, I do care and I care a lot. For other people I do not see the act of eating as something to be ashamed of at all but when it comes to me there is something so guilt and shame filled about it that the idea of eating in public is sort of how I imagine the idea of showering in public would feel to most people, aka self conscious and like you want to throw a sponge and curl up in a ball so nobody can see you.

No matter what you do or what you eat, it feels like everyone is staring at and judging you, even if you can see for a fact that others around you may even be eating more than what you have on your plate and are not actually looking anywhere near your direction. When I was out for snack there were plenty of people busy reading papers over plates far fuller than mine, yet still I thought that they were somehow looking at me with some kind of laser vision and thinking that I was greedy for attempting what I had before me. It was so bad that just to get through the snack I had to close my eyes and play that childhood game where you imagine that because you can’t see other people ,they can’t see you either (side note: it is surprisingly hard to eat a snack when you can’t actually see it…).
Somehow I got through it using my head down, eyes closed, just keep munching method but still it was a horrendous experience and one that I am not planning to repeat in the near future or ever if I can help it.

Overall then, though it would seem that the idea of eating out in public, either for a snack or a meal, is some kind of treat to be looked forward to, when you have an eating disorder, it really isn’t that simple a task nor is it a particularly enjoyable one either. Like I said, I know I for one am not going to be attempting such a thing again voluntarily simply because even without the ordering stress and malarky it is the actual act of eating in public and being judged (however irrational that thought may be), that causes all of the anxiety. A snack out in a coffee shop may be a piece of cake physically, but in practice I can assure you that it certainly isn’t! PLEASE DON’T EVER MAKE ME DO IT AGAIN!

Take care everyone x

EatingPublic

The Pressure To “Get Better” When You Are Struggling With Mental Health Problems

It is official. After five and a half months of being cooped up in hospital with very little interaction with the outside world, I finally have a discharge date and I will be going back home on February the 20th. Considering this hospital admission has been possibly the hardest and most traumatic of my entire life so far (not that I am planning on having another one to top it), I am thrilled, but at the same time I have to admit I am a little scared because the pressure for me to do well when I go back home is overwhelming. Indeed I have had to make a lot of promises in order to get this discharge date agreed, and every day I am starting to doubt a little more whether these are going to be promises that I can keep.

It may be a surprise for some of you reading this to hear that I have a discharge date, considering my posts of late. After all it is only a few weeks since I was writing about the difficulty of being on 1:1 observations and living with a tube up my nose and I will admit this has all moved ahead fairly quickly. To be honest though, I think staff and I have finally come to realise that we have come as far as it is possible for me to go right now and any more time spent in hospital is simply going to be detrimental from now on. As you will know from my post about the body recovering faster than the mind in recovery from an eating disorder (a post you can handily read here…The Difficulty When Mental And Physical Progress Move At Different Speeds In Eating Disorder Recovery), I have been getting rather overwhelmed with the rapid physical progression of my body and weight gain side of things and I really am at a point where I cannot take it anymore. With every ounce of weight I gain my head is screaming louder and louder and the ability to stay alive and simply keep breathing is becoming more and more unbearable to the point where suicidal thoughts and urges to relapse are at an all time high. (God this isn’t a very jolly blog post is it…don’t worry I will try and fit in a knock knock joke or something soon to brighten things up a bit).

On the day that you read this (if you are one of those extremely wonderful keen beans who read my posts on the very day they are uploaded….high five to you and a chocolate chip cookie if you are one of them), my discharge date will still be two weeks and a day away, but in reality I have already checked out of treatment mentally. Then again I suppose you could argue that for the duration of this admission, I never really checked in (it has been five and a half months and I still haven’t fully unpacked and set up my room because I refuse to accept that I am a patient here even now).
I think inpatient admissions for mental health can only ever really be beneficial when both staff and patient are working together to the same end goal, but this time around I have been in such a dark place that I have been finding co-operating impossible and it has very much been an admission of having things done to me, staff feeding me when I was unable to do it for myself and staff keeping me safe because being left alone was too risky even for five minutes. Admittedly, for the past few weeks I have been eating without the tube and keeping myself safe, but that is only with the end goal in sight of going home, and now I am reaching that goal I am not sure if I can carry this good behaviour on. Unfortunately though, like I said there is a lot of pressure for me to carry on because in actual fact, me going home at the end of this admission was never really the plan.

Indeed with the way things have been lately, my parents have been saying that they do not want me back in the family home for the sake of their own mental health. These illnesses may look from my blog that they are only killing me but they are killing them too, so the plan has been for me to move to a more long term hospital. However, though I have been on the waiting list for places you can stay in for over a year, no beds have been coming up (a shortage of mental health beds being available in the NHS?! How shocking and unheard of!) and as I said, since that blog post I linked to earlier, staff and I have realised that I simply cannot wait anymore and that I need to get out of here now.
It may sound harsh to say that my parents have said that they do not want me living at home at the moment but to be fair to them that isn’t exactly what they have said and is only how I have taken it. In actual fact what my parents have said is that they cannot stand having my illness in the house anymore, and after 15 years of dealing with an utter lunatic in their living room (and other rooms of the house of course…I do move around sometimes … I just specifically mentioned the living room for alliteration purposes…) who can blame them? However, as someone who struggles to distinguish between what is “me” and what is “the illness” in my head, them saying that they do not want my illness in the house is very much the same as saying that they do not want me either, seeing as the two in my eyes are so inextricably linked. I know there will be people commenting to say that there is a Katie aside from the mental health stuff and that is very kind of you but really, in the past five months, Katie hasn’t been around much if at all.

Because I was never supposed to be going home then, in order to get my parents to agree to the plan, I have had to agree to live by certain very strict rules to stay in the family home. There are many of these rules but overall they cover general things like agreeing to maintain my new unbearable weight (I don’t even think I will be able to leave the house even when I am “free” because I simply cannot stand the idea of people seeing me with all of these extra kilos I have gained), agreeing to stick to my medication (a medication I hate with a passion due to the side effects) agreeing not to harm myself and agreeing to keep eating. When I made all these promises that I would be able to do these things I honestly meant every word I was saying, but as time has gone on, the doubts have crept in. When I agreed to these conditions initially I was several kilos lighter than I am now, but at this new weight I really don’t know if I can manage and the harder it is getting.

I think there is so much pressure for me to stick to things this time round though because the consequences if I don’t are extremely dramatic. I will be blunt, in my head right now the only thing I want to do is relapse and lose weight, I cannot stand how I feel now in my head or my body and the urges to give up are so strong I might explode, but at the same time I know that if I do, I will quite literally be homeless and back in hospital, neither of which are particularly appealing options. So what do I do? How do I deal with this overwhelming pressure for me to “be well” mentally when it all feels so out of my control. Physically I know what I have to do to be physically well enough to stay out of hospital but how do I manage that when I have pressure to do the opposite piled right alongside the pressure to stay where I am now? Well, if you were looking for answers, I am afraid I don’t have any (and I am afraid I don’t have any knock knock jokes at this point..sorry for that), all I have is pressure, buckets and buckets of it.

I think that for anyone leaving an inpatient admission it is hard because there are so many expectations to be upheld. Will you be able to uphold the changes you have made/carry on with any good behaviour? How? How long for? How long until the million pairs of eyes watching your every move tell you that you haven’t done it well enough and are going to have to be recalled.

What I want to raise the awareness of however is exactly what I have been talking about , the pressure to be well when you leave hospital after a mental health admission which is supposed to have “helped” you, pressure which causes a lot of stress you really don’t need because you are already stressed enough as it is. It is ridiculous really, with physical illnesses you never get this pressure which is why I struggle with this idea in society that mental illnesses are any more in your control. When I left hospital after my appendix there was no pressure to not have another organ explode (although I am rather glad one didn’t and hopefully such organ fireworks never happen again), yet now, leaving a mental hospital, pressure is all I have. I am not sure what will happen when I get home so I guess we will have to see, all I know is that I am going to have to do my best because I cannot afford to not succeed this time. I wish that felt like a manageable task. It just feels very much like a case of knock knock, who’s there? A very scared and messed up in the head person who really wants to stay home but doesn’t know if they can manage (haha see! I told you we would get a knock knock joke in there somewhere…)

Take care everyone x

Pressure