Mental Health New Year’s Resolutions

Quick everyone! Get your noses out…Do you smell that? Just there?
That whiff of hope, new goals, exciting plans and new calendar pages all waiting for you like fresh, crisp bed sheets from the washing machine with just a slight undertone of possible regret for your behaviour last night and the sharp tang of cheap gin? That my friend is the smell of New Year’s Day, aka a day that is only a few hours later in time than the previous one, but a day in which we are supposed to be reborn and regenerated like Doctor Who (yes I am also thrilled that the next Doctor Who is going to be a woman but I have to admit that I’m still disappointed that the BBC didn’t go with casting a penguin in the role…Admittedly it would be hard for a penguin to hold a sonic screwdriver or operate a Tardis with flippy flappy wings but the waddling away from Daleks chase scenes would have been unbeatable).

As lovely as this whole “New year new me” idea is however, like I said in last year’s “new year” post (Oh my goodness, look a handy link to that very post:Why Baby Steps Are More Important Than New Year’s Resolutions In Mental Health Recovery), it does put rather a weight of pressure onto one’s back to make sudden drastic changes, which is why I said last year about the fact that I am very much in favour of setting smalls goals and making small gradual changes over a long period, especially when it comes to goals relating to recovery from mental health problems.
Indeed, last year I made a big point of talking about making small mental health New Year’s Resolutions, but this year I realised that as helpful as that is as a piece of advice, I did not provide any examples or suggestions to help figure out what these goals could be…Shame on you Born Without Marbles of 2017!
Thankfully though, it is, as of today, 2018 and therefore, now being a completely new and different person since midnight (please note the use of extreme sarcasm), I am here to solve that mistake from last year with this post where I am going to try and sprinkle a few ideas out there for you on the internet as to mental health New Year’s resolutions should you so wish to make any this January.

I think that coming up with mental health goals is often a tricky one because mental health is such a broad spectrum that cannot be pinned down or confined (much like a cloud, a wave upon the sand or a certain curtain sewing, puppet operating, singing nun called Maria) so to help make this whole thing a bit easier, I have divided my set of suggestions into four main categories of ways that you can make small and manageable changes over the course of 2018. Let’s go!

1. Goals about treatment – This is probably the easiest category to make mental health goals for because these are basically just goals relating to whatever mental health treatment plan you have going on. Say for example you take medication but struggle to do so, one idea could be to set yourself the goal of taking your medication every time a dose is required, with a calendar or chart to help you keep track and aid as an extra reminder or motivator. Maybe you have an eating disorder and have a meal plan set by a dietician or are working towards building a meal plan up, maybe make a goal to follow what that dietician has said or to gradually keep up with increases in your meal plan until you reach the amount that is right for you and is going to help you best in your recovery. Hate turning up to appointments with your therapist either because you find them awkward or because your local psychologist’s waiting room smells like cauliflower cheese? Make a resolution to attend all appointments or at least increase attendance over a period of time (and maybe invest in an air freshener for your nearby surgery…I recommend something with a hint of lemon if like me you are partial to a citrus tang).
If you already turn up to appointments regularly, then there are still loads of appointment related goals that are possible like doing any therapy homework on time (I think I might need to make that one of my resolutions for 2018…the ”my penguin ate my homework” excuse has not been going down well for some time now), making more use of therapy sessions by being more honest or maybe taking notes of important things that are said to take away so that they don’t get lost in the “post appointment mental blank abyss”.
Even if you have a mental health problem and are not in specific mental health treatment you can still make goals in this category especially if for example pursuing professional support is something you are interested in. Booking yourself an appointment at your local GP surgery to discuss possible treatment options, filling a form in to get your name down on one of those pesky waiting lists, making a phone call about a first appointment or setting up an assessment or perhaps doing some research into nearby therapy groups you could attend, are all awesome mental health treatment related New Year’s resolutions to get 2018 started off with a bang (and by bang I mean therapeutically supportive environment…ahem…Kapow!)

2. Goals about physical self care –  In any toothpaste or shower gel advert they always make acts of self care like brushing your teeth or showering, look like such an easy, pleasant task (to be honest some toothpaste adverts I have seen go way past pleasant to the point where someone will look so eager and thrilled about brushing their teeth in the morning that they have the deranged look of a serial killer in a horror film with minty fresh breath), but in real life those things aren’t as simple as they seem. Sometimes when you have mental health problems just getting out of bed is a task to be proud of, let alone things like brushing your hair, showering, cleaning your teeth, eating or putting something on that isn’t pyjamas…However, as hard as all of those things are to do, they are important and taking care of your physical health and physical needs, though exhausting, often helps take care of the mental side of things too. Trust me I know, I have the days where I stay under a duvet and refuse to move but as hard as it is to drag myself out of my cocoon and into the shower, I have to admit I always feel a bit better when it is done.

Similarly getting fresh air is important for your physical health as is eating which, even if you don’t have an eating disorder, can be difficult when you can barely muster the motivation to blow your nose. That said, it is bad enough being mentally ill without your body becoming physically ill and deprived of care, which will only make you feel more hopeless, so goals around self care physically are also important. Again they don’t have to be big and can start out as small as you like from “get out of bed for at least X amount of time every day” or every other day if that is too big a step. Setting yourself a goal to shower a certain number of times a week, brush your teeth every day, spend five minutes outside for a short walk and fresh air, or maybe make goals regarding eating enough proper food meals to take care of yourself properly. Whatever it is, in this category just make goals that are about taking care of your outer physical needs and hopefully they will have some effect on making your internal mental health nonsense a little better too.

3. Goals about socialising scientific Studies show that humans are social animals and that we feel better when we aren’t lonely. My brain studies however, show that socialising with humans is nevertheless very difficult sometimes, often terrifying and mentally exhausting. Again though, like showering and all that fresh air our lungs crave, it is important so some New Year’s resolutions for your mental health could be to do with your social life and, dare I say it, talking to other people and actually going out to make friends and have “fun” (Oh God I shudder at the thought!). I know that a lot of years my goals in this category include things like “Text a friend at least once a day”, or “meet up with so and so (trusty friend so and so, she really is good to me), X times a month.” When you are getting ready to actually carry out the action part to those goals and are getting ready to see good old so and so, you might be so anxious that the meeting doesn’t feel like it will be of any benefit to your mental health, but at the same time, doing what I usually want to do and isolating myself doesn’t benefit much either. Of course alone time is important but a bit of conversation can be a nice distraction and it can be a great motivator to see and hang around with the people you care about and who care about you. Who knows, despite all the anxieties, maybe you will end up having a bit of a laugh by accident and what a happy accident that would be!

4. Goals about interests I think this category is the hardest category to make goals up for as in this one to help your mental health it is about investing time in things that are nothing to do with mental health. That may sound like trying to improve your swimming without going anywhere near water, but mental health problems tend to be all consuming and it is important to make goals to try and get a bit of space away. I know that for me, days when I have multiple therapy appointments and spend the entire time talking about all the madness in my brain are exhausting and as important as it is to pay attention to the mental health things, it is also important to take space away from them too. Again this is incredibly difficult because i know that for me it can feel like you can’t take space away from your mental health problems because they are not a separate thing to you, they simply are you, glued into your internal brain make up but the key thing to remember is that though you might have mental health problems, you are not entirely your mental health problems (even if they try to convince you that you are). Whether you see it or not, you are a person too and a person who deserves to be treated like one. You would never tell someone with a broken leg that they were their broken leg so don’t let anxiety convince you that you are just one bundle of neuroses either. The best way to make goals here is to think about your interests which once again is difficult because when you are consumed by mental health problems, you don’t really have interests and might not get pleasure or enjoyment from doing anything. In that case I set goals to do things like “try a new hobby” or “try something that I used to enjoy” to at least make an attempt at getting in contact with even the tiniest bit of you that isn’t broken. Like I said you may not feel it, but trust me it is there and making goals that pay that little part attention might make it stronger in the long run.

So there you have it! Four categories in which you can make possible mental health New Year’s resolutions and goals to try and improve your mental health and wellbeing in 2018! Maybe you will love this idea and pick several goals for each category, maybe you will just make one tiny goal in one category or maybe you just want me to shut up so that you can go and put the kettle on to make a coffee (if that third one is the case please make me a tea whilst you are at it). Either way I hope this post has been of some use or benefit to you on this fresh, January New Year’s day or has at least given you something to ponder over whilst you enjoy that coffee you are going to make now (AND A TEA DON’T FORGET THE TEA.)
Maybe if you do make mental health goals, write them down to serve as a daily reminder/keep yourself accountable but unless you know tick boxes are helpful for you to see progress, try to avoid them in the interests of the days when you don’t manage to tick any of the boxes and feel like you have failed. Mental health New Year’s resolutions are NOT something you can fail at, they are just casual things you are trying to do as best you can when you can and any progress is so flipping awesome that if you achieve so much as part of one of your goals once this year I highly encourage you to run to the nearest person and insist they reward you with a well earned pat on the back (unless that nearest person is that serial killer like actor in the toothpaste advert…avoid her at all costs).

Overall, do whatever you can to try and maybe end 2018 in a slightly better place than you were at the end of 2017, even if that slightly better place is only a little to the left or just around the corner from where you were. Any mental health progress is progress and whatever happens, I will be forever proud of you (yes even you person who isn’t making goals and just wants coffee. You just read a whole blog! That is very pride worthy…now go and make that tea!).

Take care everyone x

New Year Marbles

Why Baby Steps Are More Important Than New Year’s Resolutions In Mental Health Recovery

There are two kinds of people in this world, those who like and make New Year’s resolutions, and those who think that New Year’s resolutions are pointless and should actually be renamed as “things you try to do all year but give up on by February”. I myself however, am somewhat in the middle of these two kinds of people (much like I am on the whole Marmite debate. I don’t love it, nor do I hate it. I am truly indifferent…WHAT DOES THIS MEAN).
I actually like the idea behind New Year’s resolutions. I think it is good to see the new year as a chance to improve on whatever happened in the previous one, see it as a fresh start and a clean slate without all the baggage you have dragged around for the past twelve months. That said, I have not made a New Year’s resolution myself since 2010, and that is because I feel that when people make these promises to change, they are far too ambitious and unattainable. They set themselves tasks like “fly to the moon” or “play tennis at Wimbledon” when they haven’t yet thought to apply to astronaut school or pick up a racket. Back in 2010 I made three new years resolutions, those being:

  1. Be happy all the time
  2. No anorexia
  3. No OCD

As midnight approached I felt a surge of excitement. The moment that clock chimed (lets pretend we still live in a time where it is common to have a grandfather clock that chimes..it is a nicer image than me staring at the digital numbers on my phone waiting for 23:59 to become 00:00), my life was going to change, I was determined, and I had made a promise to myself that 2011 was going to be better. Then it happened. The clock struck midnight, and suddenly my carriage that had brought me to the party turned into a pumpkin and I lost a glass slipper!…Wait..no sorry…got mixed up in the life of someone else a little…no, what actually happened was the clock struck midnight and I felt a weight fall from my shoulders (much like a glass slipper was slipping from the sole of a future princess…)

Finally 2011 was here and I was recovered, I never had to do an OCD ritual again, I could eat and I would be smiling for the rest of my life. Looking back I can’t believe I was so deluded, but the first thing I did in 2011 was to run to the bathroom to wash my hands once, just to prove that I was in control again and could stop easily after one squirt of soap. But I didn’t stop. After the squirt had been collected in to my hands my thoughts immediately burst in and I found myself rubbing my hands together vigorously with the same urgency as I had done in 2010. I became incredibly stuck, thoughts flying so rapidly that before I knew it a significant amount of time had passed, over 100 squirts of soap had been used and the only thing I could see through the tears of despair and frustration was a basin full of bubbles. As I went back downstairs to join the others still milling around drinking champagne and watching the odd late firework banging about in the distance, I felt totally defeated. I had failed. I hadn’t even kept my resolution for 24 hours before engaging in the behaviours I told myself I was finished with, and my hopes for change fizzled out like an old sparkler. Granted I was being a bit dramatic by seeing the whole year as ruined and giving up because of one ritual, but logically because of the strict boundaries of “No” OCD, I had in essence failed, so what was the point carrying on? Clearly recovery was impossible.
It is only now looking back that I realise that the problem with my resolution and the reason I had “failed” was entirely the wording and dramatic nature of the resolution I had made. I didn’t set myself a manageable goal of trying to reduce the amount of time in the shower over the course of the year or anything reasonable, a goal that would focus on steady progress with potential slip ups yet still a continuous effort to push forward. Instead I had set myself the impossible task of transforming from a person who had been dominated by mental health problems for the last 7 years to a “normal person” in less than 7 seconds, which is pretty much like someone setting the goal of “flying to the moon” without realising all the steps it takes to get to that point.

Admittedly, I have always struggled with people telling me to “take things steady” and “take baby steps” when it comes to recovery. I am a very black and white person, either I am better or I am not, “baby steps” and little goals like “exercise for five minutes less per day” do not help me. I want total freedom from this mental health cage, not just the same cage with an ocean view.
However, my attitude to all this recently underwent a bit of refurbishment when I was glancing through pictures on Facebook and stumbled across a photograph that I posted online in 2014 to commemorate the fact that I had graduated from university, and for the first time, as I looked at the picture, taking “baby steps” made some sense.

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As you can see this picture is a comparison shot between little 4 year old me on my first day of school, and 22 year old me graduating from university after a rocky 18 years bumbling through the education system (I look pretty happy in that picture but that was because my mum took it before I found out I wasn’t allowed to keep the funny hat and gown. That was a major disappointment. The only thing I got out of that day was a piece of paper saying I had a theology degree. Who the hell wants that? I didn’t go to university to be educated, I went for the damn hat!)

Looking at these pictures it is very black and white. In one I have a degree (and a marvellous hat), and in the other, I have no degree (and no hat. 4 year old Katie had a hard life). That said, though there is a stark difference in achievement between those two pictures, it isn’t because I made a grand resolution at the age of 4 that changed my life in a second. When I was 4, the thought of getting a degree one day had not entered my mind.
Imagine if someone went back in time now, found little 4 year old me and said “go and get a degree in theology this year”. I would probably have cried (and asked what the hell theology was). When I was 4 there was no way I could just go off and get a degree. I had birthday parties to plan for my teddy bears, letters to write to Santa and hopscotch competitions to attend! I couldn’t tie my shoes yet let alone write essays on Saint Thomas Aquinas or Augustine of Hippo (genuine name…Hippo…it has been years but I am still amused), so setting that goal for me at age four would have been overly ambitious and basically would have set me up to fail.
Had this time travelling person told me to go to school that day however instead of getting a degree right then and there, I would have probably looked at them, nodded and then got on with it. When doing so I wouldn’t have realised that me turning up for a morning of finger painting was actually the first part of my journey to that oh so lovely yet tragically temporary hat (and a degree I am now stuck with forever), but it was. Without achieving all those little steps in-between, the sports days, the story books and the words of wisdom over the years, I would never have got that degree (actually maybe cancel the sports day bit..I don’t think they were particularly important…).

My 2010 new years resolutions to totally recover in the blink of an eye then, were basically the equivalent of me telling 4 year old Katie to go and get a degree before the little tike had learned to read, and it is in realising this that I can see the value in making new years resolutions, as long as they are the baby steps to get you to your goal rather than a leap to success that no Olympic long jumper could make even with a springboard.
If you want to set yourself a resolution for 2017, make a resolution that you can do over time, that allows for mistakes and gradual progress rather than instantaneous results. If you want to recover completely from OCD, make your goal to try and reduced the number of times you get caught in rituals over the course of the year. If you want to recover from depression don’t set the goal of being happy all the time, simply think about the things that could one day make you happy and go out trying to achieve them, even if that goal is just phoning up to enquire about a course. It is the same with progress in eating disorder behaviours as well as any other mental health condition, and though admittedly it takes a lot longer than the midnight miracle method I wished for in 2010, I think it is the only way to make it through this journey.

My hope in life is that one day I will be able to take a picture as someone who is no longer struggling with mental illness and to see it alongside that 4 year old me as a sign of how far I have come in ways other than education, and working towards that is my goal for the next twelve months. 2017 is not going to be “my year”, the year I change, recover totally and get a brand new life, but it is another year in which I will continue my 2016 resolution of doing all I can, listening to professionals, talking and attending all appointments, to one day make that massive goal of recovery. Taking my medication this morning has not made me better, but hopefully it is a baby step along the way.

Happy New Year everyone x

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How To Get Through New Year’s Eve When You Have Mental Health Problems

If you are one of those people who really struggles around Christmas time what with all the anxiety of social interaction, disruptions to routine, pressure to be “merry” and bountiful buffets of sausage rolls and Christmas pudding…THEN CONGRATULATIONS!
If you are reading this that means it is now Boxing Day and the bulk of Christmas is over for another year (except for Boxing Day obviously but if you struggle to manage that then my advice is to hide away from everyone in a box and say that you are celebrating the holiday in the “literal sense”).
So hooray for you mentally ill winter holiday fearing person! You don’t have to go through the celebratory stress anymore! You can pack the tinsel and paper hats away now, sit back and relax into your usual routine and …wait…I have just been told that celebrations are not actually over…apparently we still have New Year’s Eve to get through…the celebration with yet more social interaction, overt displays of happiness, buffets (albeit with slightly stale Christmas pudding by now) and crowds of people disrupting day to day life…ah…well this is awkward..sorry about that…seriously who put these two holidays so close together? This is just too much pressure for the already anxious around the world! Next year I am moving to Beijing to celebrate new year in late January/February with the Chinese…

Now, with New Year, we are all forced once again to face many of the fears we already had to deal with at Christmas (aka the aforementioned necessity to be jolly and crowds of strangers/family members). However there is also an added extra stress with New Years, that being the obsessive need to reflect upon the past twelve months whether we like it or not.
For some people, with or without mental health problems, this can be a pleasant experience and the stroll down memory lane can be a nostalgic jaunt lit by sunlight and rainbows. If that is the case then that is fantastic and jolly good on you if you are finding yourself in that situation. All too often though, memory lane can be a dirty back alley scattered with garbage bags of bad days and regret that you really wish the bin men would hurry up and remove. Everyone has bad days (even Mr Happy from the Mr Men books…they just didn’t publish that story), but at New Year for some reason we don’t just look back at those bad days feeling pleased that they are over, rather we look back feeling guilty and ashamed that they happened at all and all the things that we were unable to achieve because of them.

If you have a Facebook or Instagram account it is likely that the next week or so will see an onslaught of collages uploaded displaying all the happy times people want to remember of 2016 and that is great. I love seeing all the happiness the year has brought to my friends and all of the things they have achieved. Lord knows I would be unhappy were they to have had terrible years, yet the issue with these collages is the compulsion we feel to compare our lives to them and the collages in our heads.
Many of these collages for example will involve things like images of new high end jobs, new houses, weddings and holidays abroad. I think this is hard for anyone (I know a lot of “sane” people who find New Year difficult for this reason too), but the difficult thing when you are struggling with a mental health problem is that you are more likely not to have done these things not because you didn’t have the opportunities, but because your mental health physically prevented you from reaching them. I know being mentally ill is called having a “mental disability” when I have to fill out forms or applications, yet still I think it is easy to forget just how disabling these mental health problems can be, how dramatic the impact they have on lifestyle.

My mental health is so unpredictable and takes up so much of my time that I am unable to hold down a regular “serious” job. For this reason I do not have an income or any money to rent a room in someone’s shed let alone buy a house, and unfortunately in my life mental health problems have been the ruin of all previous romantic relationships (either that or my funny looking face of course) let alone marriages/weddings. In terms of the rigid nature of my OCD rituals, fear of contamination and my anorexia driven inability to eat outside of my house, I also cannot travel on holidays in my own country never mind abroad. There is probably a very lyrical way to express how this feels, but in summary, it sucks.
This year two of my best friends went to Greece and I would have loved to have gone with them, but it was simply out of the question if thinking realistically. Seeing photos of people on holiday or abroad building orphanages in faraway lands, happily married or running their own company then can make you feel inferior, a feeling that is often exacerbated by the common question of “how was your year?”

In comparison to many people, looking back at my year you could say that I have achieved nothing. I haven’t moved up the career ladder or taken a step onto the property ladder (the pressure to climb ladders these days is OVERWHELMING), and I haven’t found the love of my life or helped build a medical centre in Africa which will help save the lives of orphans in need of urgent treatment. If I look at it bleakly, I have simply carried out another 365 days of rituals that achieve nothing outside of the confines of my head, been hospitalised against my will again and basically carried out the same year in year out routine that I have rehearsed every year for the past decade. So what was the point? What did I achieve? Well, this is where I think all us marbleless folk need to give ourselves a bit of a break and not think about the things we didn’t do, but realise the value in all the little things we did do. If you are looking back at 2016 and are feeling that you have made no progress or step advancing you on your journey through life, I can guarantee you are wrong.
The word achievement is not limited to describing extravagant weddings, a three piece suite in your new lounge or a bungee jump across a beautiful landscape in New Zealand. An achievement can be anything.
Ask yourself, this year did you ever get out of bed even on a day you really didn’t feel able to face the world? WELL DONE YOU. Did you speak to a fellow human being even though your stomach was a mass of churning social anxiety? FANTASTIC. Did you put on clothes? Eat Breakfast? Open a door or do any little thing, despite fear in your heart and a head screaming all it could to prevent you from doing so. WHAT A CHAMPION YOU ARE. What a mental illness fighting warrior of epic proportions. What an achievement.

If you have simply managed to keep yourself alive, survive and make it through another 365 days with a disability then THAT is something worth celebrating and something for which you should be incredibly proud, even if you can’t exactly take a photo of that achievement to whack up on Facebook.
If you are reading this it is literally impossible for you to claim that you have had another year wasted or another year of not doing anything. Even if you come back at me with “I haven’t kept myself alive, I am in hospital/being held against my will with staff who are doing that for me”, I can come back at you and say without any doubt that you have achieved something because you are reading these words. Somehow you have found the strength to go onto the internet, click a link and made the decision to read it, and in my eyes, that is pretty damn fantastic. Also, if you are reading this, you have achieved the task of making me smile by listening to my nonsense and make me feel less alone, so that is two brilliant things right there in the past five minutes.

New Year’s Eve is of course still going to be difficult and no matter what I say, the parties, the crowds and the reflection of the past 12 months is going to be a challenge. Nevertheless, if all you have done is wake up today, I would say you have at least one good thing to reflect on rather than feel ashamed or guilty. When those collages pop up on social media, remember that you have every right to be very proud of yourselves, as I know I certainly am. Take care fellow warriors, I will speak to you in 2017 and again we will get through that year together. Stay safe and take care,

All my love, best wishes, hugs and Happy New Year vibes

Katie – Born Without Marbles xxx

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