A Message To Parents Of People With Mental Health Problems

In life, people like to blame people for things that happen, regardless of whether or not it was the person’s fault. If there is nobody to blame, things that happen are random and don’t make sense, so really we blame people to make the world tidy. When I was younger I lost my banana scented gel pen (it was a tough time in my life but I think I am just about getting over it), and in my head it was incomprehensible that the pen was just lost. I didn’t think at all about the fact its loss was probably the result of many little events, dropping it somewhere, someone spotting it and tidying it away, a gust of wind blowing it off a table under a chair, that was too much to think about, so instead who did I blame? My cuddly monkey, a culprit who made a lot more sense than some complex chain of events I couldn’t figure out. It was the perfect story, my cuddly monkey was clearly having jungle withdrawal symptoms living with me in Bristol, in my eyes he had heard the call of the wild and hankered after the scent of his favourite food in his homeland. I assumed he must not like the invisible bananas and cups of tea I provided (let it be known I did pretend to feed him and in my eyes this thievery was not an act of desperation out of hunger, I am not a monster who starves cuddly monkeys thank you very much), and that the taking of my pen was for nostalgic scent purposes. Obviously, my monkey did not really steal my banana pen (I am 99% sure he didn’t anyway…), and it was silly to jump to that conclusion before the idea that the pen was just lost, but like I said, people like to blame people to make the world simple. 

Unfortunately, this desire to blame often happens when someone gets diagnosed with mental health problems. After the initial surprise has worn off and people have time to really think, they always look for someone to blame. They start wondering why someone is ill, what could have caused it, and often, especially in young adults or children, the conclusion will be that it must have been something to do with the parents. Even professionals say it sometimes. My mum used to work in a school and one day a nurse came in to talk about how to spot eating disorders in pupils. One of the possible causes for eating disorders listed in her presentation was “Troubled upbringing/home life”, which naturally upset my mum and had her worrying more than usual that the past decade of madness in our household has been because she failed as a parent. To her and to all parents I therefore want to say this:

If your child has been diagnosed with mental health problems, that does not mean that it is all your fault or that you have done anything wrong. 

Your child does not have anorexia simply because you tried a lot of different diets when they were growing up. Your child does not have OCD rituals around washing because you insisted they washed their hands before meals. Your child is not depressed because you didn’t hug them enough and they don’t cut their bodies just because you didn’t give lessons in self acceptance over breakfast. Maybe you did all of those things, maybe you did none of them, but either way they are not the reason your child is ill. Many people with eating disorders grew up in houses that promoted a healthy relationship with food just as many people without eating disorders grew up in houses with parents who ran weight loss classes at the local leisure centre. The complexities of mental health problems are not as simple as A causes B, they are often frighteningly random, they don’t make sense enough to have someone to blame at all, and sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. 

Like all illnesses, mental health problems do not discriminate. Depression doesn’t go door to door and interview the parents to see how well they have brought their child up before it attacks. If depression is going to happen, it will just charge in and make itself known, it will not peer through a window, notice that you have a lovely home with a matching three piece suite and freshly plumped cushions and walk away to find someone whose mum didn’t cut the crust off their sandwiches. 

Now I will admit, upbringing can have an impact on a child’s development and mental health, if you locked your child in a basement and beat them with a wet slipper every morning, that may have played a part in their low self esteem, but generally things are not that clear cut and the reasons are so numerous and so bound up in random life nonsense anyway that you can never pin point a cause. You can list a thousand reasons why I have mental health problems, a history of mental illness in the family, certain events, loss of loved ones, broken hearts, a desire to control a world whose unpredictability frightened me, being the geek with glasses, you can say anything and even then you could not grasp the reason why, because all of those potential influences are glued together with a million invisible things that nobody will ever know or understand. It is rare that an illness can be pinned down to one thing, just as you can’t entirely blame a cancer on the fact someone smokes, when it comes to any illness, it is too complicated to be anyone’s fault. If someone watches a man on a bus stop raise his arm and stop the bus they could conclude that the stopping of the bus was caused by the arm lifting into the air. Okay it may look like that on the surface and make sense as a neat tidy story, but it takes no account whatsoever of all the other knots in that chain of events stopping the bus. For example the driver had his eyes open to see the arm, his brain recognising it as a symbol for “stop” (and hopefully not “Heil Hitler”), someone else having already pressed the button, a foot had to go on the brakes and various cogs and things in the mechanics of the bus played a part too. Blaming someone for causing a mental health problem is like blaming that man for stopping the bus without thinking of all the other things that come into play. 

If you are a parent and your offspring has mental health problems, I beg you, please do not blame yourself and assume you must have done a bad job in raising the baby you dreamed would grow up to have a perfect life, that is unlike the one you see in reality. In life, shit just happens and there is very little you can do about it. Your role as a parent is not to stop the bad things from happening, to wrap them in cotton wool so that the monsters don’t get in. Monsters do not give two hoots about cotton wool. Don’t blame yourself for things that were not your fault and that you cannot change (for even if you could blame someone, talking about whose fault something is will never resolve the situation), instead do what you can with what you have. Love and support your child even when those monsters get in and help them fight those assholes until they flee the house rather than checking the locks and wondering how the hell they got in in the first place. Nobody can raise someone to not have mental health problems and that is  not a necessary requirement of a parent. Mental illnesses suck, but nobody can stop them, your only job is to offer love and support regardless of what is going on. That is what a good parent is, so relax, if you are doing that, then you are doing everything. 

Take care everyone x

Parents

6 Tips For Managing Your Self Esteem On Social Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care everyone x

SocialMediaSelfEsteem

The Difficulty Of Dating When You Have A Mental Health Problem

If you have walked into any shops or restaurants in the past few weeks, you may have noticed a lot of brightly coloured hearts in various shades of fuchsia splashed about all over the place. Cards with hearts on, posters with hearts on, even giant teddy bears holding hearts (which is biologically confusing as without the heart how is the bear able to breathe and thus hold the heart at all…unless he is holding someone else’s heart in which case that is pretty damn sinister if you ask me). Funnily enough this is not because February is a month in which humans feel the need to celebrate the life giving aortic pump caged within our ribs (or in the hands of a rather terrifying and possibly murderous teddy bear), all this heart shaped nonsense is because tomorrow is Valentine’s day. Personally I have never understood why you should need a holiday to remind you to let your partner know that you love them, but I suppose it is better to have a day dedicated to love than something horrible like punching puppies in the face. Nevertheless, I still find it quite a difficult holiday as it is one that reminds me all too loudly of the detrimental effect my mental health has on my love life.

To sum up my current “love life” I guess you could simply say that it is non existent and has been this way for several years. During my life, in times in which my mental health has been better, I have somehow managed to have two “proper” relationships thus far, both of which it can be argued ended either because my mental health problems were actively getting worse or because they simply became too overwhelming for my partner (which was totally understandable in both situations.)
I guess in a way it is good that the main reason for both of my relationships collapsing is centred around an illness because at least an illness can be cured and could potentially disappear one day. Had the problem been a weird habit of belting out ABBA’s greatest hits in my sleep, that would perhaps be more frustrating, as to my knowledge there is no cure for that kind of thing. When it comes to OCD, depression and anorexia however, I know there are people who have got better and hopefully one day I will be able to count myself among them.
Truthfully though, I cannot see that happening. I would love it if it did and I will never stop working towards that goal, but realistically the chances are pretty slim, and even professionals have admitted that I am going to struggle with my illnesses for the rest of my life, maybe not to the same extent as I do now, yet chances are they will always be there. Assuming these predictions are right then, any relationship I ever have is going to involve my mental health problems having some kind of an impact, and that is the kind of thing that inspires the classic “I am going to die alone” worry considering my mental health problems have been the destruction of all former attempts at having a partner. I can’t even do what most people who fear this do and resign myself to the identity of being a “crazy cat person” because I don’t think I could handle four little paws spreading potential bacteria around my house let alone a whole litter’s worth… What back up is there to the “crazy cat person” back up plan? The only option is to be simply “the crazy” person…That doesn’t sound fun…

I think relationships are actually one of the biggest struggles faced by people with mental health problems but it is a struggle people rarely talk about because admittedly it feels a little embarrassing. Nevertheless, it is because nobody really talks about it that I think it is so important to talk about it. If I struggle with and worry about this kind of thing whilst feeling totally alone in it, amongst other people my age who are doing things like getting married and giving birth, then there is a high chance that there are other crazy people out there who feel the same and need to know that it isn’t abnormal. Indeed, I think the impact mental health can have on relationships is seriously under reported. The instability of my mood, the inability to touch most things, the compulsion to clean obsessively, body image issues blocking the way to physical intimacy, trust me, the list of obstacles in my way is endless, and those are the problems you face when you have actually managed to get into a relationship in the first place.

Nowadays before you can even get to that stage you have to go through the terrifying minefield that is otherwise known as “dating”. I know that a lot of my friends have been on these “dates”, but mental health wise I cannot get my head around the idea. For one thing, where are they meeting all these people with whom they go on dates?
Usually people come into contact with potential romantic entanglements during social events or hobbies, but because of my mental health I am rarely at social events and my only hobbies are things like repeatedly tapping doorhandles which is a relatively solitary pass time. The only places I tend to go regularly when I leave the house are therapy appointments, so the only people I meet are mental health professionals, and I think it is pretty frowned upon to start dating your psychologist.

Considering we are currently in the age of internet dating you may think that my lack of social skills in real life are no longer an issue as I could easily meet someone on one of these websites like match.com or an app like “Tinder” (WHAT THE HELL IS TINDER. Everyone has it and from what I gather it is just a lot of swiping…what are we swiping…where are things going when we swipe them out of view…should I want to be swiped? WHAT IS GOING ON).
Thing is, though I have never been on any of these websites myself, from what I gather they involve putting pictures of yourself online as well as a brief description of your personality. A brief description of my personality? What the hell can I write there? “Totally bonkers”? Who would look at that and think “well I want to spend the rest of my life with that insane creature”. Of course I could easily lie and write something like “I am a totally sane and calm human who is not crazy at all and likes long walks on the beach” (massive lie. I HATE the beach), but that seems far too much like false advertising. Ok, people false advertise in adverts all the time (like with that mermaid Barbie I wanted when I was 7…she wasn’t a real mermaid! I threw her in the bath and she didn’t even float let alone swim. What kind of mermaid sinks? LIES I SAY), yet despite its acceptability in general life the idea of putting myself online without mentioning my mental health issues isn’t just false advertising, rather it is dishonest. The truth is that at the moment there is no aspect of me that does not involve some kind of mental health complication, and were I to ever get into a relationship again, that would be something that I would have to be open about from the start.

Then even if you have mental health problems and manage to somehow get a date with your restricted daily schedule and unattractively marble free online profile, how the hell do you actually go on the date you somehow acquired? Usually a date will include something like a meal, but with my eating disorder a meal out is basically impossible and in terms of OCD any other activity like bowling is ruled out too. YOU CAN’T BOWL IF YOU ARE UNABLE TO TOUCH THE BALLS. Then there are the obvious issues caused by general anxiety, social anxiety and depression making everything more complicated, as well as OCD worries like the fact I wouldn’t be able to hold open a door for anyone which would look very rude, and that isn’t getting into the inability to hold someone’s hand or touch their skin without panicking. How can you advertise all that on an online dating profile or ask someone on a date in that situation? “Hi, my name is Katie, I would love to go on a date with you…but there can be no food involved or if there is food I will just have to watch you eat…also we can’t do any activity that involves touching objects in public or each other…and I need you to be aware that I might cry at random moments without warning…yeah…thats about it…CALL ME!..but not on my phone…phones are scary…CONTACT MY MOTHER.”

Maybe I am panicking a little too much about all this as I know everyone worries about the whole “dying alone” thing, but I have to say that with mental health problems the whole dating world and romantic stuff does get a lot more complicated. If I put on my optimist’s hat (it is purple with a penguin on), I like to think that in the end I will read this post back one day with my future wife and laugh at what a fuss I made worrying about something that really will be ok in the end.
Reading this back I now realise that I haven’t actually given helpful or constructive advice on how to date or manage a relationship with mental health problems. Instead I have simply splurged my anxieties all over you (apologies for splurging), but I hope that I have started some kind of discussion or raised some awareness as to the impact mental health problems can have on one’s love life. Right now I don’t think I am qualified to give any romance advice anyway, yet if ever I find myself able to manage the dating world rather than panic at the thought, any tips I do learn will be passed on to you. For now at least I have helped my fellow relationship worriers out there know that they are not alone and not a freak for being unable to go on Tinder or go on dates and have fun like everyone else this Valentine’s day.
Even though none of you are my other halves I still send each and every one of you a lot of love this Valentine’s day and every day of the year…You can thank me by getting me a date with Helena Bonham Carter, or at least getting her to call me (and by me, I mean my mother).

Take care everyone x

datingmhproblems