Birthdays And Mental Health Problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care everyone x

BirthdayBlog

June Loneliness Birthday Tea Party

It is that time again! Prepare the mugs! Boil the kettles!

Also, to gain the full experience of this Loneliness Tea Party, please don a party hat or alternative form of merry headwear. Many thanks…

Why We Need To Keep Talking About Mental Health

Tomorrow is a very special day for this blog that you are oh so kindly reading in this moment (cheers for that), for tomorrow will mark the one year anniversary of Born Without Marbles being “a thing” on the internet as opposed to an idea in my head that I was too scared to carry out.
That means that I have been harping on about mental health, whether you have liked it or not, for an entire year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were people out there wondering why on earth I am still waffling on about illnesses that the majority of the population are well aware of by now.
Ok the general public may have misconceived ideas and perceptions as to what an illness may really be like, but everyone has a rough idea these days as to what things like OCD and Anorexia actually are, so why am I still talking about these things and why do I plan on continuing to talk about these things for the foreseeable future? Newton isn’t still harping on about the time that apple fell on his head (partly because Gravity is old news that doesn’t own the headlines these days and partly because he died in 1726 which somewhat limits his abilities to “harp on”), so why do I keep talking about what it is like to be mentally ill when the existence of mental illnesses is no longer breaking news. Well friends, whether you have been here from the beginning or whether this is your first experience of Born Without Marbles (Welcome. Please excuse the penguins I have left lying around in each post. They are kind of important), today I am going to answer that question and tell you why, even after a year of weekly waffling, I still feel that we all need to keep talking about mental health.

Of course there are all the obvious things like the fact that the more we talk about mental illness, the more research there will be and in turn the more likely we are to find a cure. To explain why I personally have such a passion for the subject however, I need to take you back to 2003, and, more specifically, eleven year old Katie (to set the scene I looked exactly the same as I do now only shorter).
As the name of this blog suggests, I can see that I have shown signs of mental illness from the moment I was born, but it was in 2003 that things really began to become a problem, that I became afraid and ashamed for the first time of the thoughts going on in my head. It was the first time that I didn’t feel normal, and feared that I was different from everyone else.

Every day at school I would watch other pupils in awe. I would see them eating school dinners, opening doors and shaking hands with each other as if it was the easiest thing in the world, and I would wonder how on earth they did it all. For some reason when I tried to open a door, I would find myself frozen in fear, unable to touch the handle as if someone was holding my arms behind my back. When I was in the queue for school dinners, my head was screaming at me to run away because I wasn’t allowed to eat, and no matter how hard I tried to concentrate in lessons about ox bow lakes, all I could see in my mind were images of terrible things happening to all the people I loved, and hear threats that the only way to stop those things happening was to repeat some kind of ritual. This would have been rubbish enough, but the worst bit was that I had no idea what this meant or why this was happening. I thought long and hard, trying to come up with an explanation but the whole thing made very little sense to me. What was so scary about the germs on a door handle when I had evidence all around me showing that nothing bad was happening to people “contaminated” with them? Why couldn’t I go to lunch, even on pasta days? Logically I knew that I loved pasta (pasta is flipping awesome), so why did the idea of eating a steaming bowlful topped with as much cheese as I could get away with before a disapproving dinner lady grasped my cheddar filled palm, scare me so much?
These things went on for months, and I said nothing to anyone because I was too afraid. Maybe mental health wasn’t as widely discussed in 2003 or maybe I was just unaware of what mental illnesses were, but I had never heard of anyone experiencing these things so I kept silent and hoped they would go away. Spoiler alert: they didn’t. Of all the awkward situations I found myself in however, there is one in particular that sticks in my mind and one that continues to motivate me and my dedication to this blog today.

“It” happened at the end of a music lesson. Now, in my school, music was taught in a separate building to all others, ditto art, drama, and DT who all had their own individual buildings (something tells me the staff members of the more creative subjects did not get on well…this explanation of the separate buildings certainly correlates with the time I saw the head of drama pelting the art teacher’s studio with water balloons anyway…)

On the day in which our story occurred, our class had been taken to a room on the top floor of the music building where there were a lot of computers and keyboards set up for us to spend a few hours learning how to play the theme tune from Titanic (a vital part to any eleven year old’s education). Then, the lesson ended and we were dismissed, a fact that meant we were going to have to leave the room and therefore, someone was going to have to open the door. Usually I was very good at avoiding such a responsibility, and at the end of every lesson I would fumble around with my bag until someone else had done the job so that I could scoot on after them without touching anything. This technique worked perfectly for every lesson, but today, for some reason, the teacher wanted us to lead out in single file from the nearest computer to the door. I think maybe someone had been messing about with a keyboard, playing Celine Dion’s soundtrack with a little too much gusto, so in the exit of the classroom, the teacher wanted to establish some serious authority. I felt sick. I was at the computer nearest the door. I was to be the first to leave, I was to lead my fellow students to freedom. I was to open the door. When I saw that it was a push door then, I was thrilled. Happily I nudged the door with my foot and led my classmates out, but the relief was short lived as I realised we were headed for another door, a pull one with a handle…AND AN EXIT CODE KEYPAD.
I thought about pausing in the corridor to let someone overtake but the corridor was too narrow, it was single file, there was no escape, and as I walked down the stair case to the door I genuinely felt like I was walking to the gallows. This was it. I was going to have to touch a door handle, and it was going to be the end of the world. When I reached the door I stopped. The time had come to raise my hand, but I couldn’t move. Instead, I just found myself stuck, panic building as the queue of students eager to go home started forming behind me. Luckily everyone was talking about the day too much to notice my embarrassing situation at first, but after a few minutes of standing in a line waiting, understandably, people started wondering what the hell was going on, and from the back of the line I heard a voice ask perfectly reasonably “is there something wrong with the door?” From then it went silent and all I could hear was the response in my head of “no actually, there is nothing wrong with the door, there is something wrong with me and I have no idea what it is”.

Eventually, after what felt like 34 years, the person behind me became impatient, reached around and opened the door, and from there I ran sobbing to the medical centre with shame, fear and embarrassment. I didn’t want to see anyone ever again, I had to hide, so I decided to take refuge in the sanitarium. When the nurse asked me what was wrong, I lied and told her that I had a tummy ache. I spent the rest of the day curled up on the sofa with a hot wheat bag watching episodes of the Simpsons, feeling more alone than I knew it was possible to feel. There were hundreds of other pupils in the school, but for some reason I was different, I couldn’t open doors or eat meals like they appeared to, and there was nobody, least of all me, who understood why.

It is for that Katie sitting on that sofa with that smelly hot wheat bag that I started this blog, and it is for all the smelly hot wheat bag holding people out there pretending to be fine, pretending to have tummy aches to cover up the fact they are terrified of their own minds and too scared to speak out for fear that other people won’t believe them, that I write this blog. Had I heard about mental health problems sooner, maybe I would have asked for support sooner, but what I would have found more helpful than any of the symptoms listed in the millions of health care packs, would have been the knowledge that there was at least someone out there who struggled with the same things, who let me know I wasn’t crazy, that I wasn’t alone. It is for that reason that, no matter how much awareness there is about the existence of mental illnesses, I will keep talking about my experiences with mental health problems in public spaces. This isn’t a blog to just give information, in my eyes, this blog is a friend, both to me, to the readers and to anyone out there who comments to say that they can relate to my problems and thus remind me once again that none of us are alone.

So happy birthday Born Without Marbles, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the support anyone reading this has ever provided. Here’s to another year, another 52 weeks of my ramblings, another 365 days of friendship.

Take care everyone x

MarblesBirthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orange.jpg

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