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

Should The Government Be Teaching Children To Count Calories?

When it comes to the government, they are always coming up with handy suggestions as to how people should live their lives. You know the stuff, “eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day”, “don’t drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week” and “drive on the left hand side of the road” (actually that one might be a rule rather than a suggestion…I wouldn’t know. I failed my driving test and every time I asked my instructor for more driving tips after that, he ran away screaming which really did not help with answering any of my questions…)
Always ready to tell the population what to do then, for 2018, the government in the UK have come up with a new suggestion, complete with its very own catchy advert, where play-dough people morph around the screen and a happy jingle plays advising parents to teach their children to restrict themselves to “100 calorie snacks, two a day max”. Now I am not one to turn down advice from our dear Theresa May who is doing such a wonderful job of running the United Kingdom without any trouble whatsoever (pause for laughter), and even I can admit that it is a catchy slogan with a tune that isn’t bad either, but in my opinion this “handy lifestyle suggestion” is a terrible thing that should cease being taught to children immediately.

Obviously for someone (aka me) who is in hospital trying to recover from anorexia and is following a meal plan where snacks exceed 100 calories and are more frequent than twice a day, this kind of thing is unhelpful and triggering. On one hand I have dieticians and psychiatrists coming out of my ears (I really don’t know how they got in there in the first place), telling me that I need to eat this far higher meal plan than the one Theresa May suggests and on the other hand I have play dough people telling me to restrict my intake, which as I have said is obviously confusing and not particularly useful, but it is not just to people with eating disorders that I think this advert is detrimental, rather it is bad for the entire population (far worse for your health in fact than, dare I say, more than two snacks a day comprised of over 100 calories each).

The problem I think with any lifestyle suggestion or diet tip from any source, is that people hear it and immediately take it as gospel. In the real world however, nutrition isn’t governed by blanket black and white, one size fits all rules like that, and there is no such thing as a “diet expert”, only people who have done a lot of research about food and have opinions about it, a point highlighted to me during my brief stint working in a bookshop.
Unsurprisingly, this job involved various tasks including book shelving, and one day I was in the self help department (insert joke about how I need to spend a lot more of my time in such a section here), which was helpfully next to all the diet books. Therefore whilst shelving, I couldn’t help but get a good look at all the titles and diets being advocated.
Now generally, when it comes to reading about a topic, one would assume the more books you read, the more educated you become. For instance say you read 30 books about penguins, it is then likely that you will be more intelligent on that topic than someone who has only read one and that you would do better on any quiz regarding penguins. Alas, when it comes to nutrition, things are not like that, for as I shelved those diet books (working very hard I might add just incase my former boss is reading this…), I realised something ridiculous. Turned out if I were to read all of the diet books, take all of the information, all the “no carb”, “no protein”, “no fat” nonsense and I were to mush it together to make one overall diet plan (which you would think would be the best and most informed having been the culmination of so many books’ worth of information), I wouldn’t be able to eat anything. All the health advice added up together in the world and the conclusion from it? No food is safe, which I think is fairly unhealthy considering such a thing would lead to death, and, were we all to follow that advice, the extinction of all human life on earth. Marvellous. Therefore when it comes to rules like this “twice daily 100 calorie snacks” thing dolled out by nutritionists, taking them as gospel is never a good idea as they are merely opinions rather than facts.

“But for some people limiting snacks to twice daily amounts of 100 calories might be a good, healthier idea than their current lifestyle choices” I hear you cry and I am not going to disagree with you on that, but another thing I want to point out when it comes to guidelines is that they are not universal and are actually only helpful or beneficial to SOME people, which is why it is not helpful to have them rolled out as rules for the general population. As I have already said, this advert is obviously not applicable to people who are in recovery from eating disorders, but neither is it applicable to a large number of the population who all vary in height, weight, activity levels and nutritional needs. What about athletes for example. Is this rule supposed to apply to them too because I am pretty sure that that Mo Farah and Usain Bolt wouldn’t get very far nor would they get any more gold medals were they to restrict themselves to two 100 calorie snacks a day…
Okay I get it, there does need to be some kind of suggestion out there as to how to live a healthy lifestyle and it is important to teach children about food and nutrition but whatever happened to “general education” and suggestions like “eat your vegetables”, “everything in moderation” and try to have a “balanced diet” as opposed to these rigid rules and guidelines ridden with fixed numbers. Where pray did these numbers come from because last time I checked people don’t eat numbers, they eat food (and for good reason too. I once tried to eat a number nine and it was terrible. Tasted purely of pepper.)

It is just somewhat ironic that the whole focus of this campaign is to encourage health but encouraging children to see food in terms of calories and numbers really is a disordered habit struggled with by many people with eating disorders. If healthy snacking is the priority then advising healthy snack foods and providing possible examples would be a far better way to go about it because this focus on calories isn’t healthy at all. When numbers are brought up things start to get obsessive and this is where I think the problem lies. By specifying 100 calorie snacks they are labelling a strict limit to adhere to, but how ridiculously close are people supposed to stick to it? Is a 101 calorie snack ok? What if it is a really healthy snack that is slightly over? Should an “unhealthier” food be chosen instead simply because it fits the amount? Should we weigh already healthy fruit to check that they are “safe” in this new government scheme? Should children be taught how to count calories from the moment they exit the womb? Is that a normal healthy attitude to food? Seriously, think about it, does all of this sound healthy and worth advocating or more akin to rigid disordered behaviour seen in people with eating disorders aka a mental health condition needing treatment?

Overall then, if I had any say or control in any of this government malarky, I would say the whole “100 calorie snacks” with “two a day max” idea needs to be binned and for calculating numbers to be kept in children’s maths lessons in schools rather than in their lunch boxes or at the dining table at home. If you want to educate and give healthy food guidelines from the government then fine, go ahead, but when this advice is given it should be just that, GUIDELINES like the old “eat more fruit and veg” rather than strict, prescribed, rigid calorie counted rules that must be followed exactly and are carved in stone and sung over the breakfast table like some terrible national anthem.

If you have or even if you don’t have an eating disorder but are finding these adverts unhelpful, as hard as it is, my advice would be to do your very best to ignore them. Remember, just because it is prescribed by the government it doesn’t mean it is automatically healthy and it doesn’t mean that its obsession with numbers is not disordered. Nobody is the authority on rules regarding food and diet, it is all opinion, and strict rules, hell even general guidelines, are not applicable to everyone.

Take care everyone x

GovernmentFood

The Unpredictability Of Life With Mental Health Problems

Nobody can predict the future (except for Raven Baxter of classic Disney Channel hit “That’s so Raven”…anyone else miss that show? SOMEONE REMINISCE WITH ME).
Predicting the future is, however, a hell of a lot harder when you are living with mental health problems, aka almighty inconveniences that could pop up and smack you right in the nostril at any time. Of course everyone has the risk of things popping up unexpectedly in life and smacking them in the nostril, regardless as to whether they have mental health problems or not (which is why I always keep mine protected and am currently running interviews to employ my own personal nostril body guard…applications are still open for any hopefuls out there), but I think when you are mentally ill, the chances are increased and you are far more aware of them.
It is like leaving the house and wondering whether or not to take an umbrella. Some people may look out of their windows and see a blue sky with no sign of anything to suggest that an umbrella will be needed in the near future. Maybe a storm will randomly come along out of nowhere and surprise them, but they are not thinking about, nor are they aware of that storm before it has arrived. With mental health problems though, you always know that the chance of rain is there, you can always see the black clouds looming and can’t risk planning a picnic too far in advance or leaving the house unprepared without your wellingtons, just incase.

It isn’t that I particularly want to predict the future, but I cannot stand the swirling uncertainty that being a bit bonkers in the head can cause. Take right now for example. Okay I am in hospital so we have my current location all clear, but other than that I have absolutely no idea as to what on earth is going on.
Being under a section, I can’t exactly decide on discharge dates right now, so I do not know how long it will be before I am home. I don’t even know where I might be in the coming weeks as things are currently not going particularly well and there are talks of me being moved to another unit, one of which could be in Glasgow which is a long way from my hometown of Bristol and is terrifying the life out of me (if you do not live in the UK and do not know how far apart these locations are, all you have to do is get out your Atlas and find a map of the UK. All good? Ok, now put one finger on the very top of the country and the other on the very bottom in the little denty bit. That is how far away they are, aka THE ENTIRE LENGTH OF THIS TEA OBSESSED ISLAND. It is so far that there are airports in both locations so that you can fly between them because nobody has time to sit on a train or in a car for three million hours.) Everything is being done both by me and staff to prevent that from happening, but all in all, it is not my decision and more down to professional people in suits. Then if I were to be transferred to some currently unknown location anywhere across the country, I have no idea when it would be or for how long I would be there.
When it comes to medication I am similarly in the dark as to what will happen because a certain medication I have a problem with and do not want to take, has now been approved by a second opinion doctor, so legally if I refuse to take it orally, I can be injected with it. IN THE REAR. People really should not be stabbing that area with needles. I need it kept bruise free for me to sit on!
I don’t know how long I will have to take it, what will happen with the dose, if it will change, or how I will feel if it does (I am really not a fan of the current side effects).

Then there is my appeal against my section at a tribunal in a few days time, again a place where I can share an opinion but not make a choice. Being in hospital means waiting for a decision to be made and permission to be given on EVERYTHING, even whether or not you can go to the toilet, have a shower, or whether you are allowed to have a cup of tea in your room with your friend, aka things you would generally take for granted. You want to pee? You pee! You want tea with a friend? You tea! In hospital though? We are going to have to “discuss that with the team”. Good lord do they love to discuss things. It isn’t even just short term plans either, because things get even more foggy with a chance of showers and a few tornadoes when looking to the long term, especially when people consider their lives outside of a hospital setting, where things can be even more uncertain.

I love to keep things organised, I love to plan and I have always liked the idea of those huge calendars that big families buy brightly coloured magnets for, to stick to the fridge. In my mind every square and every day is scribbled on in black marker with holidays, social occasions, appointments and of course Great Aunt Enid’s 94th birthday. How can you book a holiday to the Canary Islands though when there is a 50/50 chance as to whether or not you will be well enough to go. Maybe when you book the holiday things are fine, but how can you guarantee they will be the same in a few months time? How can you be certain you will be able to make Little David’s football match on the 12th when depression could strike you down into immovable zombie mode ten minutes before the big game? How can you guarantee your presence at Aunt Enid’s all night rave at 2am? (She may be 94 but nobody can control Aunt Enid. When that woman wants a party, you had better be ready. With glow sticks.)

Obviously the only thing you really can do in these situations is to go ahead and agree to these potential plans and hope for the best, but as ok as that is in theory, it doesn’t take the uncertainty of the future out of the equation, sometimes financially worrying uncertainty if there is a risk that your flights to the Canary Islands and all inclusive hotel resort are going to have to be cancelled.
Aside from long term social activities, there are long term considerations like job courses to consider or places at university. In 2014 I was given a place at a university nearby to study to become a teacher, applications, exams, interviews, all done and ready to go…then I went into hospital. No worries we thought! The children can wait an extra year for my excellent teaching skills. Maybe it will be a good thing, give me more “life experience”, “develop me further as a person”. I asked if I could defer my place to the next year, all was agreed and the plan seemed back in place. I left hospital, I started to prepare for a life in the classroom teaching children all the reasons as to why penguins are awesome (might chuck in some lessons on times tables and ABC’s to keep OFSTED happy…Penguin starts with a P…One penguin plus another penguin equals two penguins…potentially three if dinner and a movie goes well).
Then, unexpectedly and unplanned, I ended up in hospital and my 2015 teacher training once again had to be put on hold. I asked if they would let me defer the place one more time but that request was denied and to be fair that is probably a good thing, because since then my mental health has been even more unstable.

Due to this I haven’t really been able to make any future plans because I never know how well my brain will be functioning, so whilst being unsure of the current plan here in hospital, things are even more uncertain when we look to the future. I often see people making “5 year plans” and “10 year plans” involving things like “get married”, “Become manager”, “own first house” or “give birth to child”. 10 year plans? Good lord I don’t know what is happening in the next ten days! Ten hours! Ten minutes (actually that last one is a lie…I am going to finish this blog, make a cup of tea and then mum is coming to visit. YAY).

Like I said, regardless of whether someone has mental health problems or not, we are all going to get unexpected storms that crop up and throw our neatly colour coded calendars from the fridge and into the recycling. It is however made even more complicated when you can already see the clouds forming, have a brain that is known to explode, and you are constantly aware of that ticking time bomb waiting to go off.

Take care everyone x

FortuneTelling

Why Familiar Surroundings Are Important When You Suffer With OCD

The original title of the blog I was planning to write today was “Tips on staying away from home when you have mental health problems”. You see, my parents were jetting off to Malaysia and seeing as I am not well enough to manage by myself at the moment, the plan was for me to go and stay with their friends in this lovely little house out in the countryside.
We have been planning it for months, I had visited the house and felt OK about it seeing how nice my bedroom, personal office AND personal bathroom were going to be. There was even a cat called Pingu. A cat. Named after my favourite childhood penguin. Ideal right?

Well I thought so, but was still worried about managing my mental health with new carers who do not know me as well as my parents, so I came up with a list of coping strategies and ways to manage it. Consequently I decided to write a blog sharing my oh so helpful tips incase anyone else out there was in a similar situation, but then…well…I went to the house where I was due to stay for two weeks, lasted approximately four hours and then was driven home in hysterics at midnight with my parents due to fly the next day despite having still not packed so much as a flip flop, because we have been spending weeks packing for me to go away (if you want to imagine how many things and bags it was, think of the average stuffed car that people often drive off to uni in, double it and chuck a penguin on top for good measure. Oh and a Christmas elf. One must never travel without one’s cuddly Christmas elf. Oh there we go! I did give a travel tip! YAY ME.)

Clearly then, I am in no place to be giving tips about staying away from home right now BUT over the course of this traumatic experience, I have been reminded of a valuable lesson about mental health problems, so I thought I would share that with you today instead.

Having been mentally ill and having been in therapy for over a decade, I would say I understand my conditions and myself rather well, which is why I felt that I could make a plan about an approaching situation in advance without running into any unforeseen issues.
Trying to do my same rituals in a different place however, really reminded me of something a lot of people might not realise: that being that sometimes with OCD, it is not just about carrying out a specific behaviour like a shower routine, it is about carrying out a very specific shower routine in a very specific shower.

I always knew that because of OCD and anorexia, I have a LOT of routines, rituals and specific ways of doing things. I eat out of certain bowls with a certain spoon, I drink tea out of a certain mug at certain times of the day and I wash my hands, shower and get dressed in very specific ways. As rigid as these and a number of different actions in my day are, logically you could assume that I could carry them out in a different place so long as I had the correct equipment. There was a shower where I was going to stay so of course I could do my shower routine, there was a sink so of course I could wash my hands and I was taking all of my cutlery/crockery so obviously I would be able to eat all in my usual ways.

Even I can admit that years ago, though still having OCD, I was able to do these fixed ritual things in other places with other sinks and showers. I have been on holiday since my diagnoses, have stayed in a hospital and went to university (kind of…), always carrying out the same actions just in different locations. Therefore I tried to do that this time going to a strange house but, with things how they are at the moment, as hard as I tried and as good as my intentions were at the time I attempted it, it isn’t possible (at least to a manageable realistic degree that doesn’t involve hysterics 24/7 for a fortnight which is less “a good challenge” and more cruel torture. I am all for accepting challenges and trying things out of my comfort zone but sometimes you need to eat a few mini muffins before you are up to demolishing an entire five tier wedding cake by yourself).

I was truly shocked as I sort of hadn’t realised how bad things have got again.
The descent has been a gradual process, little slips that in the end add up to a sky diver height of a fall. It is like what they say about if you put a frog in boiling hot water it will hop out but if you put it in warm water and gradually turn the heat up it will boil to death before it realises (that is what they say isn’t it? Who are these people? Please dear readers, do not go putting frogs in boiling water. If you really want to see some green bubbling in a pan just whack in a bag of frozen peas, far more humane AND one of your five a day).

When we pulled up at the house I fully intended on staying for the next two weeks (obviously I did, I had my penguin and my cuddly Christmas elf, I was committed to this trip). Even though I was anxious, by using multiple packets of anti bacterial wipes and with support from my parents, I got through the unpacking and after two hours my room, bathroom and office all looked really nice, filled with familiar things, a comfortable home from home.

It was when I tried to shower that things went so horribly wrong. First there was the issue that the shower was a stand in shower cubicle with a door. At my house our shower head is hanging above the bath, so when I am getting all lathered I can stand out of the flow of water to reach the required bubbliness (I know that this is not the most environmentally friendly way to live my life and that I could just turn the shower off but just know that I am unable to do that at the moment and to be honest when you are focusing on just keeping yourself alive your carbon footprint is not a top priority. At least I am not flying across the globe in an aeroplane to Malaysia like SOME people…).
With this stand in shower however, I was unable to reach the desired bubbliness needed to get through all of my thought routines because before I had time to count to the required numbers the suds had all been washed away.
Then there was a problem that I had to put my soaps in a basket so my lemon shower gel for feet was too close to my banana shower gel for body and far too close to a wall that I couldn’t touch, and the way you turned on the shower made my usual vitally important life saving way impossible.

I took so long to shower that all the hot water ran out and after a while of forcing myself to stand under the cold ice like hail pelting me in the face, I got out though I still didn’t feel clean. I was in a bit of a state but I didn’t want to give up so I persevered and tried to get on regardless but it was one thing after another. I couldn’t wash my hands in the sink because the tap distance to the back of the sink meant holding my arm at 135 degrees rather than 90, I couldn’t step off the towel I had laid on the floor because my bare feet couldn’t touch the tiles and I couldn’t put on the socks that I had brought into the bathroom with me without direct access to trousers and slippers. “You should have taken slippers in and trousers too” I hear you cry but I had thought of that already and couldn’t because there was nowhere safe in the bathroom to put those things at an acceptable distance away from each other. I found myself standing stranded on this towel shivering and blue with cold, so I naturally did what any other person would do in that situation. I cried uncontrollably and screamed in terror for my mother.

Luckily my parents were still there because the unpacking had taken such a long time that they had ended up staying for dinner whilst I showered.
Seafood rice was cooked and eaten and a homemade rhubarb crumble was just being served when the screaming happened and mum came running. She tried to help by offering solutions, one being the ideal “I can go and get the trousers and not let them touch anything”, but I didn’t want to do that. Yes it would have been safe, but I wanted to solve the problem by myself somehow with support.
Mum could have easily gotten my trousers and I could have left the bathroom but what the hell would I do the next day when she was on a beach somewhere in Malaysia? Around this point my “in a bit of a state” descended into full on “out of control don’t know what I am doing dangerous risky chaotic hysterics and panic” and from there things are a bit of a blur. All I know is that I cried for several hours (I tried to talk too but was at that hiccuping crying point so “I don’t know how to manage I want to disappear” came out more like “Hic gasp gulp hic scream”), and my parents and friends frantically tried to decide what to do.
When I was able to talk and sob at the same time I made it clear that I felt it was a challenge too many and that rather than tackling the “parents away and totally different location for all rituals for two weeks” I wanted to attempt the “parents aka usual carers away, in a familiar place” challenge. Losing both was like losing both of my homes, a tortoise rudely ripped from his semi detached terrace house and his shell in the same day leaving a cold naked slug unable to survive in its place.

There were then more hours of discussion before we realised that this really was not a feasible option and then after two hours of packing all of my things back into the bags we had unpacked them from (we didn’t have to pack my elf. He went and got himself back in the car the second he heard the first bout of screaming. He knows me well), we were back in the car driving home in the dark, leaving the abandoned now cold homemade crumble on the dining table. It is a big shame. My parents love rhubarb crumble.

So it was that I ended up back home after my much shorter than planned and somewhat failed “stay away from home with mental health problems”. On the plus side I did manage to get to the house and unpack…I just left two weeks too early.

Clearly then, I think I have proved my point and raised awareness to all the people who might not understand OCD, that when it comes to OCD and other mental health problems with ritualistic behaviours, it isn’t just the rituals that are important to a sufferer but the specific location and circumstances under which those rituals are carried out.

Take care everyone x

Bubbly

The Frustratingly Illogical Existence Of Life With An Eating Disorder

A few days ago, I met up with a friend who I have not seen for 15 years. It was a friend I have known since the tender age of zero after we stumbled across each other at an antenatal class our parents had been attending in the hopes of learning what the hell to do with the new humans they were about to produce and were expected to raise without any prior knowledge of how to do such a thing.
We may have only been newborns but our connection was instant, we bonded over Thomas the Tank Engine and have been friends ever since (although like I said, we haven’t seen each other for fifteen years because when you get to senior school and puberty a lot of nonsense gets thrown at you and there isn’t any time left to discuss the wonderful intricacies of your favourite blue tank engine…senior school is cruel.)

Recently however, after reconnecting over the 21st century miracle that is “social media”, we decided to meet up, and thus it was that I found myself sitting opposite my oldest friend in a coffee shop several days ago.
I think when you meet up with anyone, either new to you or as old a friend as your life itself, there is always a tendency to compare yourself to that other person in some way. Frustratingly, even though I know that appearance and weight are the least important of all things, my eating disorder automatically compares my body to those around me and without fail will always manage to convince me that I am an inferior disgrace who should go home and hang their head in shame. Like I said, I know weight doesn’t mean anything and I quite frankly don’t care what other people weigh. The number of pounds shown up on someone’s bathroom scales does not matter to me in the slightest, nor does it affect my opinion of them, yet for some reason when it comes to me specifically and my body, weight is of the highest significance and summarises my self worth as a person.

When I saw my friend standing there then, I felt really embarrassed and had it not been for the desperation to see her after such a long time, I probably would have run out of the coffee shop and would still be hiding in a bin somewhere.
Eloise Unicorn McGlitterface (I may have added the “Unicorn McGlitterface” myself just for fun…she really likes unicorns…and glitter…), looked fabulous, and I wished I could look like her.
Immediately my eating disorder was triggered and the thoughts telling me to lose weight struck up their familiar bellowing.
I didn’t want to be thinking about these things at all, as I left I wanted to be thinking about how lovely it had been to see my friend, but as I got in the car to go home, my head was screaming at me to lose weight, and here is where I get confused.

I know for a fact, that my friend Eloise Unicorn McGlitterface, on paper, is a healthy weight, and even though I don’t believe the “facts” my psychologists tell me about me being “underweight”, I understand them, sort of like someone understanding the theory behind someone’s religion without believing in that religion themselves. Logically then, according to doctors and science, most people would conclude that in order for me to look as fabulous as my friend, I would need to gain weight. On paper and if talking to anyone else, I would easily be able to agree with this argument yet somehow, when it comes to me, even though I cannot explain the science behind it myself, I am convinced that the only way for me to look like someone who weighs more than me…is that I need to lose weight. WHAT KIND OF LOGIC IS THAT.
When I tried to explain this to my mum I couldn’t. Naturally she thought that I sounded irrational and like a lunatic (she would have a point), yet despite my inability to explain the science behind my thoughts, I remain utterly convinced of their truth without really understanding them…
I even thought that if I tried to write this blog post and tried to explain my theory I would realise how ridiculous I sound, how my thoughts make no sense and therefore cannot be true, yet still here I sit, unable to explain how my body defies science and needs to lose weight to look like someone who weighs more than me, yet utterly convinced that this is the case.

There are a lot of things I believe that make no sense to other people when it comes to my eating disorder, but at least I can see the logic behind them. I know it doesn’t make rational sense that I cannot eat unless my hair is tied up in a very specific way at a very specific angle, but I understand where that belief/behaviour comes from and the rationale behind it according to previous experiences. I know it doesn’t make sense that I cannot eat with forks, knives or plates and am only able to use spoons and bowls, but again I understand the reason I feel this way. There is no science behind it, but it makes sense to me and I could explain it to people.

This however, I do not understand, yet like I said, this doesn’t make it any less compelling. I guess going back to the religious comparison, it is like being a devoutly religious person who can hear all the arguments against their beliefs but believes nonetheless and is convinced in their heart by pure faith. I don’t want to insinuate that my eating disorder is at all some kind of religious movement, it is a murdering mental illness that destroys lives, but I think this example goes to show that when you have an eating disorder your belief in your thoughts are held and driven mainly by a faith that you cannot explain the logic behind. In my experience at university studying theology and when talking to religious friends, if you ask them to explain “why” they hold their beliefs, any explanation will be secondary to the feeling they hold inside them. They can say “why” but when it comes down to it the thing that convinces them is a faith, an indescribable feeling that they have which means that they “know” what they believe to be true even though they can hear people arguing about why they might be wrong.

I don’t wholeheartedly believe my eating disordered thoughts because I am stupid and don’t understand science, somehow I believe them in spite of that understanding. This whole “to look like my healthy friend I need to lose more weight” thing is exactly like my obsession with green tea. I hate the stuff and over the years hundreds of people have told me that it makes no difference to your weight, I have read the studies and I know they are true and more scientific/rational than any thoughts I get from my eating disorder…yet somehow I am still convinced that if I don’t drink a certain number of millilitres of green tea I will gain several stone overnight. Consequently I drink that green nasty fluid that I am horrified is held in the same category as all other teas. WHERE IS THE LOGIC HERE EATING DISORDER? HMM?

I think what this really proves is the fact that eating disorders make no sense and that even if their thoughts don’t have a reason behind them, they are nevertheless believable. People with eating disorders aren’t stupid people who don’t understand how bodies work, they understand all of those things, often better than most, yet still the disordered thoughts are so strong and so compelling that they are convinced to follow them without being able to say why. Eating disorders have the power to make science sound ridiculous and nonsense sound like fact. I guess this example also proves the fact that eating disorders are flipping stupid and will always manage to convince you and tell you that you need to lose weight no matter what the facts of any situation.
Usually when I write blogs about eating disorders I do it to try and explain the reasoning behind
them to people who don’t understand, but clearly, sometimes life with an eating disorder is about not understanding a damn thing about your thoughts yourself and just basking in a frustrating confusion.

Take care everyone x

NonsenseBin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care everyone x

ScaryBrain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care everyone x

WheelOfFortune

The Difficulty Of Concentrating When You Have Mental Health Problems

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care everyone x

CowTrumpet

Why Praise Makes Me Panic

Whenever I am praised for something people think I have done well, I panic. Even if the Queen of England herself (Hi Elizabeth if you are reading), were to turn up on my doorstep with a party popper and a handful of corgi shaped confetti to congratulate me on achieving something, I would probably have started hyperventilating before a single streamer had hit the floor. Contrary to popular belief, this is not because I have a fear of brightly coloured canine shaped bits of paper flying through the air, but because any positive feedback from anyone feels like a terrible mistake.

Take my A-level results day for example. It was 2011 and was around the time everyone started rioting around England…remember that?..Not that they were rioting about my A-level results…I am just setting the scene…
Anyway, after months of stress and exams, I was handed the envelope that would tell me whether or not all my hard work had paid off. Upon reading the string of letters on the page presented to me, I was a little relieved. I had got the grades I needed to get to university so I thought I had no need for any immediate worry. That was until I turned the corner and bumped into some of my teachers who were all hovering around the corridors.
As I passed, each one turned to me, all of them smiling, all holding their arms out to offer a hug, and with a sinister sparkle of pride in their eyes, they all muttered those immortal words to me…”Well done”. Good lord, just the memory sends tingles of terror to my very core! Stephen King himself is incapable of inspiring such fright with so few words! Grab me a cushion to hide behind and for the love of God someone take me home!

Don’t get me wrong, if I honestly believed that I had done well I would appreciate being congratulated, but in my head I am incapable of doing anything well, so any statement suggesting the contrary is terribly confusing and thus makes me panic. People were looking at my grades and calling me clever, yet inside I knew I wasn’t clever in the slightest. I felt that any of the marks I achieved must have been down to luck.
Maybe I had a really generous person grading my paper? Maybe they made a mistake and added the total up wrong, or maybe I hadn’t taken the exam at all, had dreamt the whole thing and someone else put glasses on and took the test for me? Part of me even worried if I had somehow smuggled a textbook into the exam hall and cheated without knowing it. I wanted to cry out to all the teachers and tell them the truth, tell them that I wasn’t really clever or capable of those grades and was in fact a fraud with a lot of luck and possibly a lookalike somewhere who was the one really in need of praise for the success.
It was like in movies when someone whips out a gun and the person at whom the gun is being aimed throws up their hands and says “You’ve got the wrong guy!”. That is how I feel every single time I am told that I have “done well”, only with me it is when people start aiming trophies at me rather than a gun. I would probably react the same way if I was ever aimed at with a gun too to be fair, but thankfully I haven’t had the experience to confirm this hypothesis (neither do I want to thank you very much.)

Again I don’t want this to come across as the idea that I panic because I don’t want people to think good things of me. Even if people are mistaken I have no problem in being thought to be good at something. My teachers could have followed me around for the rest of the day with a brass band trumpeting my success if they wanted (for some reason they didn’t want. I blame the recession). No, what I fear is the consequences of someone holding that belief and the weight of expectation that goes alongside it. If you do well in education, sport or anything else that can be ranked competitively, you are branded as good at that sport or subject and are therefore expected to perform well the next time, which might not be possible. That is what I fear.
I fear that people will mistake any success I have in life for talent and that they will then expect me to carry on performing at whatever level, when in reality I am incapable of doing anything well and doomed to let them down.
I don’t fear them thinking well of me, I fear the inevitable disappointment when they realise they are wrong, the chance of being discovered as a fraud and made to stand up in court to defend myself against a judge with a hammer and a silly little wig. It is a problem I even struggle with on my blog, as if anyone gives me a nice comment about a post I am initially thrilled, yet at the same time worried that I have misled people into thinking I can write. After every good comment I wonder what the hell I am going to do and how I am ever going to write another post without exposing myself as an imposter.

The other day however, I was so fed up with feeling like this, scared that I was genuinely crazy or just ungrateful when people are nice to me, that I decided to google it to see if anyone else felt like this. They say you shouldn’t google something you think might be wrong with you because if you type in “I have a headache” the internet will automatically diagnose you with some horrendous disease/convince you that you somehow have a badger lodged into your temple which is causing all the pain, but this time I have to say that I am glad I did google this because it has made me feel so much better.

It turns out that this whole feeling like a fraud when praised is an actual thing, and was named as “imposter syndrome” by some clinical psychologists in 1978. Upon this discovery I set about scouring the internet on a grand research quest for knowledge (by which I mean I read some articles on Wikipedia), and it turns out that a lot of people feel like this! Apparently two in five people struggle with it, and though not a mental illness itself, more a psychological phenomenon, it is one that can in turn lead to genuine mental health problems like anxiety and depression. Therefore, knowing that others experienced this problem too, I looked to see if there was a solution or way for people to manage this “imposter syndrome”, and there is! According to some professional psychologist people out there, the main problem is that people who experience imposter syndrome are unaware that others feel inadequate in their achievements as well. However, “once the situation is addressed, victims no longer feel alone in their negative experience”, so talking about it openly with likeminded people is a key to “overcoming this burden”.

Basically then, what I learnt is that a lot of people feel the way I feel, that any success is luck and that they are a fraud undeserving of real praise, and the only way to deal with it is to talk about it. Upon my discovery I immediately wanted to grab a megaphone, climb to the tallest tower in all the land and shout this message to all the other people out there who feel like a fraud, in order to let them know that they are not alone in hopes that it might help. Unfortunately though, I was unable to find a megaphone and there aren’t many tall towers about where I live, so I thought it might be better if I wrote a blog about it instead, which funnily is the blog you are reading now. WHAT A COINCIDENCE.

Therefore I wanted to use this as an opportunity to write a message to anyone out there who has related to this in any way whatsoever, to let them know that feeling this “imposter syndrome” way doesn’t make you weird. More importantly though, the fact that a lot of people feel like it suggests that if you feel that everything you achieve is luck, you are probably wrong.
Ok, luck has it’s part to play in life and the opportunities available at a certain time, but “luck”, by definition isn’t a thing that happens all the time to everyone in every second of every day. The thing that makes finding a “lucky” four leaf clover so exciting is that doing so is rare, and that is what “luck” is about. It isn’t about a common occurrence in the general mundanity of day to day life, it is about those special unlikely moments that pop up infrequently and out of the blue. You cannot put everything good that you have ever achieved down to luck because it just doesn’t make any sense, and if a lot of people feel this way then we can’t all be this lucky, nor can we all be imposters.I know that people out there will probably read this and think the classic “I am the exception, I really am an imposter” but the truth is you are wrong. If we were all imposters and frauds where the hell would all the real people on whom we are basing ourselves be? Either way, the fact that this imposter syndrome is a common experience has made me feel a little less alone, so I have written this in the hopes that someone who also struggles with it will read this and experience the same reassurance I did on Wikipedia. None of you out there are “freaks” or “ungrateful” for struggling with praise, it happens to a lot of people, and hey, if we are all freaks together, then I feel I am in some damn good company. Well done us!

Take care everyone x

Imposter