Guilt And Depression – “What Do You Have To Be Depressed About?”

When it comes to physical illnesses, it is rare that someone is told that they shouldn’t feel the pain or discomfort they feel. If someone has kidney stones for example, it is unlikely they will be told that they have no reason to complain of the agony (I haven’t had kidney stones myself but from what I have seen on television it doesn’t look like a pleasant experience), but are accepted in their distress and treated accordingly. You would think then that the same would apply to mental illnesses which are after all as legitimate and debilitating as any physical illness out there, but for some reason this is not the case, especially when it comes to things like depression. 

Over the years I have been diagnosed with depression, one of the most common things I hear is that I shouldn’t be depressed.

Indeed, several times after people have heard that I have depression I have been told to imagine I am a person in a concentration camp during the holocaust. Now I am all for using one’s imagination, without people using their creative abilities to imagine scenarios separate to the ones they were experiencing we would never have had Harry Potter (cheers J.K.Rowling. Good work there mate), but I find it hard to understand exactly what benefit using my imagination to pretend I am living in Nazi Germany will have on my mental health. 

I think when people give me this advice the purpose is to illustrate how lucky I am in comparison to other people. They think that people in concentration camps who were unhappy were allowed to feel that way because their circumstances justified the emotions. They didn’t need to feel any shame or guilt for complaining about their situation because their situation was truly horrendous and beyond comprehension. So what is my excuse? What have I got to be depressed about? 

I am not being held captive in disgraceful living conditions, I voluntarily inhabit a light and bright flat with running water, heating and a television with over a hundred channels. I do not have an army of Nazis in my life, I have two loving parents who often go out of their way to make me feel better about myself and demonstrate how much they value me as a human being. I am, compared to many people in this world both past and present, incredibly lucky, so I suppose I understand the confusion someone would feel when they hear how incredibly unhappy I am on a day to day basis. That said, when people tell me to compare myself to someone who has been in a situation as traumatic as the holocaust it doesn’t make me feel better or happier at all. Instead all it does is make me feel guilty for sounding so ungrateful in my privileged existence, ashamed of my emotions and, like many people with depression, likely to bottle my feelings up to avoid stigma attached to them.

It is almost as if people think that people with depression need to carry around a permission slip with them at all times to justify their condition and thus mean they don’t have to feel guilty about it. Who on earth would decide who had permission? I know when I was unwell at school my mum was allowed to write a note to the PE teacher excusing me from playing sport, so does this mean she is the one who needs to write my little “Katie is allowed to be depressed” note. If my mum is the authority does that also mean that she needs to write depression permission slips for everyone out there? Do people realise how many people out there have depression? Where do people expect her to find the time? More importantly where the hell do they expect me to keep this document that must be carried at all times. Most of my clothes don’t have pockets and my rucksack is already full of things I need on a day to day basis. My bag is not a bottomless pit! I AM NOT MARY POPPINS! (Though I am practically perfect in every way and am rather fond of a spoonful of sugar alongside my antidepressants every morning). 

Without a permission slip then, clearly I have no right to be unhappy and should be taken to court for the crime of feeling emotions without just cause. Its odd really because people would never complain about a person who is feeling unexplainably happy. Sometimes a person might wake up in a good mood for no particular reason, they may walk with a spring in their step and a merry tune hummed between their lips, yet if someone asks why they are so cheerful that day and they reply that they simply are, nobody whips out the truncheons to demand they provide a valid list of reasons to justify their emotional state with the threat of shame and judgement were a list not to be provided. 

I really can’t help but wonder how on earth people telling me how to feel expect that to resolve the situation. If someone complains that they were hungry, me telling them that they aren’t hungry isn’t going to take the pain away and magically make a well filled baguette appear in their digestive system. Similarly, when someone hears that I am depressed and then tells me that I am not or that I shouldn’t be, happiness doesn’t suddenly start flowing through my veins. All it does is make me feel invalidated, guilty, ashamed and embarrassed, all of which are emotions that are a large problem in people with depression and are reasons that many don’t speak out to seek treatment. Depression as an illness makes you feel enough guilt and shame as it is without other outside influences supporting those inner voices. To feel the need to keep quiet because of those outside influences is an incredibly dangerous game and unfortunately one that I would argue is a reason many people lose their lives to this illness.

When it comes to depression I honestly think that the best thing to do is not to deny that it is a problem in the hopes that will make it go away, but to accept that it is the way it is and that that is ok. Obviously it doesn’t feel OK to be so desperately painfully unhappy for no reason at all, but that doesn’t mean you are not valid in your experience. When you actually listen to someone with depression rather than trying to make sense of their inner turmoil, you are far more likely to help them than you would be telling them to picture the bleak and terrible atmosphere of a Nazi concentration camp. When you listen to someone with depression you are allowing them to feel validated and sometimes feeling heard and validated is all people want. When someone speaks out about a mental health condition it doesn’t mean they are demanding you provide an explanation or solution for it. Sometimes they just want people to hear them. If you have depression it is OK to feel whatever you feel and rest assured that you don’t need to come to my house to get a permission slip to justify your emotions (you are more than welcome to come over for a cup of tea of course but as for the permission slip thing there really is no need to bother.) You are allowed to feel and justified in feeling sad, whether you are suffering in a traumatic situation or if you are “lucky” enough to live in Buckingham Palace with a crown on your head, five hundred corgis and are able to pay for your daily newspaper by simply handing over a self portrait printed onto a circular metal disk. Feel whatever the hell you are compelled to feel whether that feeling be positive or negative, even if it makes no sense (especially if it makes no sense), and don’t let anyone tell you that you should do any differently. 

Take care everyone x

Judge1

What It Is Like To Be Taken Into Hospital Under A Section 136 Of The Mental Health Act

I honestly don’t know where to begin with this week’s blog, as lord knows it has been a fairly traumatic seven days.

I guess I will just have to start at the very beginning (a very good place to start according to a certain Maria Von Trapp), the beginning being Saturday afternoon when things with my mental health blew up like some atomic bomb (and by atomic bomb I mean a really massive nuclear weapon of mass destruction and total insanity. There was even a mushroom cloud). 

So, picture the scene, it is Saturday afternoon and I am with my mum in the car outside my house (as in the family home where I grew up, not the flat) and we were talking about the fact that from today, my parents are going on holiday for two and a half weeks. Now, I realise that I am 26 years old and should therefore feel fine about being left alone for two and a half weeks, but due to my issues I am incredibly reliant on my parents and in reality they are more like a pair of carers as opposed to members of my family. Indeed, as I may have mentioned before, my mum gave up work to look after me full time as my level of independence is quite low, especially when I am struggling as much as I am now, and in fact my level of independence has been rapidly falling in recent weeks because the noise in my head is so loud that I have been finding it hard to take care of myself properly. I also fear this holiday because due to my diagnosis of Borderline Personality disorder (or Emotionally unstable personality disorder as the kids are calling it these days), I have an extreme fear of abandonment, which manifests itself in me doing anything I can to keep people from leaving me alone. I want to write a full blog about this fear of abandonment thing one day but for now just know that the idea of being left by my parents strikes absolute terror into my very core.

When mum and I were talking about the holiday then, I became extremely anxious and things only got worse and worse as time went on. It was then after about ten minutes of conversation that it happened. I snapped. 

It is extremely difficult to explain what I mean by that but basically it was like a switch went off in my brain and I became so terrified of being left alone that I completely lost control, so the rest of the scene happened in a total blur with me sort of watching the action and what I was doing rather than taking part in it. As soon as the thing in my brain snapped I just started hysterically screaming and crying and then for some reason I started to lash out. Like I said, all that happened was a total blur but from what I have been told afterwards in this lashing out I ended up hurting my mum and then in an act of total wildness I grabbed her phone and smashed it in the road. Naturally, my mum was terrified so she ran into the house without me, at which point I was left alone in the garden and the screaming in my head got worse. As you know, I have OCD with an extreme fear of contamination and in my daily life I barely touch anything unless it has been antibacterialised before hand, yet at this point I was so out of control that I started actively tearing up plants from the garden, running my oh so perfectly washed hands through the filth and soil, ripping roots and flowers like a maniac. I could feel the dirt wedging itself in my fingernails as I grabbed at the earth but still I couldn’t stop until the point where the anxiety in my mind reached such a point that I realised I need to stop the noise and the only way I could see to do this was to end my life. At this realisation I ran from the house, sprinting faster than Usain Bolt on steroids, the only thought in my head being that I needed to end my life. I won’t tell you exactly how I planned to do this as I don’t think that is helpful for anyone, but just know that I ran and I ran, desperate to reach the moment where I could end it all and in turn end the terrible thoughts. 

For about half an hour I was running alongside a river, looking around in fear that someone was going to save me and it was at about this point that I saw the first policewoman. As I saw her I started to panic but she let me pass without a word so I thought I was “safe” and continued on. Soon however I reached a pub, and it was here that I spotted two police cars in the distance as well as two police officers coming towards me. It was then that I realised that they were here for me and I froze like a deer in the headlights. I wanted to run but as I turned I saw the other policewoman coming from the other way and I found that I was completely ambushed. Still I tried to escape, but the three of them managed to trap me in a corner where I stood crying and shaking uncontrollably. As we stood there they asked me a few questions and then told me that I had to go with them. Naturally, this was not what I wanted at all, I wanted to be left alone to die but I had no choice in the matter and after a few more words I was escorted by the police through a giant crowd of people in a beer garden, enjoying their drinks in the summer sun, and into a police car. It was quite possibly the most humiliating experience of my life. Once in the car I was then driven home, but as two police officers went into the house I was left locked in the vehicle with the third police woman who was trying to calm me down. I however could not calm down and this fact was only made worse when the other two police officers came back to the car and told me that I was being arrested for assault, and criminal damage against my mum’s phone and the garden. It was honestly like something out of a movie with the police officer saying that whole speech about how I didn’t have to say anything but anything I did say could be given in evidence etc etc. Desperately, I pleaded to be allowed to speak to my mum or at least give her a hug as I was so afraid, but the police officers refused and with that I was driven to a police station where I was supposed to be interviewed by a sergeant. I however, was far too distressed to talk, so I was taken into a police cell with a new policewoman, an extremely empty, cold and uncomfortable room with nothing in it other than a bench. Together we sat on the bench, me frantically asking questions and begging to go home but the woman would not talk to me. I don’t know how long we stayed in the police cell (it felt like forever) but eventually one of the previous police officers appeared to tell me that because all of my actions were due to mental health problems I was being “de-arrested” and instead sectioned under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. It is likely that if you have any mental health problems yourself you will know what a 136 is, but if you don’t it is basically a Section of the Mental Health Act under which police can detain you if they deem you to be at extreme risk of hurting yourself or other people. This then meant that I had to go to a hospital, so without further ado I was placed into an ambulance, driven to a 136 hospital and then I was escorted inside by the police. Once there a mental health nurse came out to ask me a lot of questions but I was still so distressed that I just cried and could barely speak. Questions over I was then escorted to my room, possibly the barest room other than the police cell that I have ever seen. Naturally, because a 136 suite is a hospital where people who are trying to end their own lives are taken, there is nothing in the room that you could hurt yourself with which basically meant that there was nothing at all. Ok I have been in mental hospitals before but this was an entirely different kettle of fish, with nothing other than a bed nailed to the floor and not even a door to the bathroom or a seat on the toilet. 

I am sure the place was clean (after all it was a hospital) but because I was in a new environment it was this point that OCD kicked in and I totally freaked out. As I had been picked up by the police I didn’t have any belongings (they had searched me and had taken everything away from me at the station) so without my trusty hand sanitiser I was at a loss and started having a panic attack. Thankfully the staff were absolutely amazing and a kind HCA talked to me to help me calm down. She then went to find some anti bacterial wipes as well as a mop and bucket and together we cleaned the whole room. Even when clean though I was still desperately suicidal and at risk of self harm, so she stayed with me and helped me to shower and get into some clean clothes . Naturally I continued to beg to be allowed home to see my mum, but obviously because I was sectioned I wasn’t allowed home for 24 hours or until a mental health team could come and assess me, so to my dismay I had to stay the night. Thankfully the staff there were completely amazing and kept me safe until I fell asleep around 3am. 

I must have been tired after all the drama because I slept then until 3pm (other than a few five minutes during the night where I was woken up by the screaming of other patients) and at 3pm I was awoken by a nurse telling me that the doctor was there to assess me. From there I went in pyjamas looking like a right scruff bag (not that I really cared at the time…I was so out of it and traumatised that I would have probably been assessed in a penguin suit and not been embarrassed) to another bare room with a few chairs to talk to a social worker, a doctor and a psychologist. Naturally their main goal was to assess how at risk I was to see if I needed to go to a longer term hospital, but I was so scared of that that I am ashamed to admit that I lied. They asked me if I felt in danger or suicidal so I told them that I felt safe over and over again. I must have been convincing because thankfully they agreed to not renew my section and said that I could go home, which I guess takes me to this point right here, writing this blog in my flat feeling as unsafe and at risk as ever, all alone and traumatised by the past 24 hours. On the plus side, if any of you out there have ever wanted to know what it is like to be picked up by the police and taken to a 136 suite, now you know! Hoorah for small mercies! 

I am not really sure how to end this blog other than to beg all of you out there not to see me as a terrible person for all that I have done and explained in this post. I will admit I have behaved disgracefully and I am extremely ashamed for all my actions (especially hurting my mum who like I said I love more than anyone in the world and would never hurt whenever in control of and feeling rational about my actions) but I really want you all to know that all that has happened has happened because I am really not well at the moment and am more out of control than ever. As you know I was un-arrested in the end and was taken from the police station to a hospital, so please do not think any less of me or assume me to be some kind of criminal, as when I am in my right mind I would never behave as I have done this past few days. I cannot control what any of you will think of me after admitting this (I hate admitting it but as I have always said on this blog I am nothing but honest) but if I could influence your way of thinking whatsoever please do not think of me as some violent, nasty person, but rather as a person who is very unwell and struggling with their mental health problems more than ever. 

As I go forward after this incident all I can do is hope that I can manage to keep myself safe even though when I told the psychologist this, it was a lie. The next two weeks are going to be extremely tough for me as my parents are away, but thankfully I do have friends who are coming in to look after me and the crisis team are visiting every day. I hope I can stay alive for them and equally I hope that I can stay alive for all of you too. For now though, I will end this post and simply hope that you have all had a good week. You all mean so much to me and I am eternally grateful for all the friends I have online who supported me during this “incident”. 

Take care everyone x 

Handcuffs

Can Some Treatment For Mental Health Problems Make Issues Worse?

Peanuts are a great source of protein, anti oxidants, and have been shown to be beneficial to heart health. When I eat a peanut, my heart throws a little fiesta in celebration and uses every ounce of peanut to make itself extra awesome. When my imaginary friend Jimmy eats a peanut however, he explodes and turns into a bucket of water (Jimmy has a very severe imaginary peanut allergy. Don’t worry though, I gave him an imaginary unicorn to ride on as compensation for his unfortunate condition). 

Clearly then, sometimes, things that are supposed to be good for us and that are supposed to be beneficial to our health don’t work for some people, and the same can be said of mental health treatment. 

Now before I get carried away I would like to express that I am VERY grateful for all of the mental health treatment I have received over the years, even the things that haven’t worked out, because they have taught me what kind of things do and don’t work for me. I know I am very fortunate to have had so much and such a variety of support, as there are all too many people out there who don’t get any treatment at all and that is heartbreaking. Anyone suffering with a mental health condition should be able to access treatment, end of discussion, so I am not saying “screw all of you people who have never had any help, I have had some unhelpful help so pity me”. 

Instead, I think it is important to look at some aspects of mental health treatment that can maybe cause more problems than they solve so that we can improve that treatment and make it better in the future. It is all well and good to say “all treatment is good treatment and you should just take it no matter what” but if we did that we would never move further in the ways people with mental health problems are supported and increase the benefits that support can bring.

Hundreds of years ago, people with what we might potentially diagnose with mental health problems, were seen to have evil spirits lurking inside of them and were treated by having a drill shoved through their skull to let the spirits out. If nobody had ever stopped to think “hey, maybe this bashing people about the head isn’t very helpful after all”, we might still be doing that today (which would make my weekly trip to my psychologist even more terrifying), so although I don’t think anything around today is as detrimental as head drilling, I have personally found some treatments to be quite problematic. In this post I therefore I want to be seen as looking at the peanuts and trying to keep all the goodness in whilst getting rid of all that stuff that turns imaginary people like poor Jimmy into imaginary buckets, rather than as throwing all the peanuts into the bin and declaring them all to be useless. 

I am sure there are a lot of people out there who can attest to treatments that have been more detrimental than helpful in the sense that a lot of times, group treatments and inpatient settings can be rather triggering. I have known many people who have picked up behaviours from other people they have met in hospital, but I think this is less a problem of the style of treatment and more a problem with the competitive/comparative nature of certain illnesses themselves. It would be unrealistic to say that everyone who is ever hospitalised should be kept in a separate room away from other potentially triggering patients because that isn’t real life, there are always going to be people who trigger you no matter where you are, and the key is to learn to deal with and manage that. 

When it comes to problems with treatment however, an important example for me in terms of an actual treatment style that made things worse for me, was a certain inpatient unit I was in for my eating disorder, and their extreme “this is the most important thing ever” focus on weight. 

Before I went to that unit, I did not weigh myself, nor did I care about the number of kilos on the scale or what my BMI was. 

My eating disorder was all about how I saw myself in the mirror and how I felt inside. Some days I would struggle more because I “felt” and saw myself as extra disgusting, whereas other days I would do better because I maybe didn’t feel as terrible about myself. 

If I had been weighing myself during those times, there probably wouldn’t have been much difference between the numbers shown on the scales on the days that I “felt massive” compared to the days I “felt not as bad”, like I said, it was all subjective and all internally measured by my emotions as apposed to any little plastic square I could stand on that would then flash numbers at me. Ok, I counted calories obsessively, but when it came to weights, numbers were irrelevant to me, and if you had told me what I weighed it wouldn’t have had any meaning to me. 

During my first inpatient admission for my eating disorder however, all of that changed, and it is since that admission that my eating disorder has progressed to the point where my it is still concerned with how I feel but also obsessed with the number on the scales and the great significance “what that means” (spoiler alert: it means very little nothing at all in terms of a person’s self worth or value on this planet. That kind of thing is instead measured by how lovely you are to people and whether or not you are one of those cheeky people who puts an empty carton of milk back in the fridge just to destroy someone’s morning hopes of a bowl of Coco Pops. THE MILK CANNOT TURN CHOCOLATEY IF YOU DON’T LEAVE ME ANY MILK).

I understand that in eating disorder treatment it is important to be aware of weight to a certain degree for various reasons (not that the weight of someone with an eating disorder will tell you how ill they are or how physically at risk they are of serious complications), but in this unit, weight meant EVERYTHING and every number on the BMI scale had a significant consequence to it. It would have been one thing if there was a rough weight band stage thing to use as a guide, but instead of that each number specifically told you what you were allowed or not allowed to do. 

Some I could vaguely understand. There was a weight at which you were allowed to do yoga for example, a weight at which you could go bowling, and a weight at which you were given permission to walk around the grounds. It is the more arbitrary number obsessions that I think should have been focused more on the individual and their struggles/progress, rather than simply basing it on silly numbers. For example there was a weight under which you were not allowed to pick your own food at lunch and instead had to keep your fingers crossed that the nurse wouldn’t pick the one option that you genuinely hated for reasons outside of your eating disorder, a weight at which you were allowed to pour your own milk into your cereal, even a weight you had to reach to earn the right to spread butter and jam on your own toast. 

Again I get the importance of this, very early on in treatment people may be unable to spread an acceptable amount of toppings on their toast or decide what option to chose at lunch so that extra support may be warranted, but who is at what stage should not have been decided by weight alone. 

For example what if someone who was severely unwell came onto the unit above the weight of toast spreading privilege. Was it fair to leave them wrestling with the marmalade on day one just because their weight was a few digits out? And what about people who mentally progressed very quickly and although they came in at low weights were able to manage marmalade responsibility before their weight reached acceptable levels. I knew of several people whose bodies struggled to gain weight no matter what they ate and they got frustrated in feeling mentally held back by not being allowed to spread their own toast or pick from the options at lunch themselves, skills that would have been beneficial for them to practice to carry out responsibly. 

Obviously if they had started demanding dry toast and a celery stick for meals it might not have been the best idea, but neither is holding people back or pushing them forward simply because of a number that doesn’t measure the mental part of the mental illness. 

Like I said, before that admission, weight was not a concern, but ever since then, what I weigh has always been significant, and I still think of my personal weight as a measure of how well I am to some degree, regardless of the mental struggle. Even now I still see those weights as the “well enough to spread jam” weight which allows my head to use these opportunities when I am at these weights to convince me that I am “ok now” (clearly when one has the ability to spread jam on one’s own toast it means that a person is fully recovered and needs no other progress to enable a healthy life…YAY EATING DISORDER LOGIC.) It just seems a bit confusing to me how so many therapists and eating disorder services over the years will tell you to “ignore the number” and tell you that “it doesn’t matter”…yet then go on to measure your level of wellness by that number and dictate your rights accordingly, showing that it actually matters and means a lot…contradictory much? 

The second example of treatment that I personally think caused more problems than it solved was my first admission to hospital when I was about 11. Admittedly I needed to be there, my OCD behaviours were controlling my life, everything was completely out of hand and someone needed to step in, but remember I was a scared 11 year old suddenly waking up in this mental hospital and  living away from home for the first time. I needed treatment yes, but primarily, I needed mental support, and that wasn’t what I got.  

My shower and soap rituals were instead physically controlled by means such as locking me out of the bathroom and stealing my soap. Now, exposure therapy for things like OCD is a very valid method of treatment, you are scared of something, you expose yourself to it, people help you through that exposure with support and you keep practicing until it isn’t scary anymore. 

Problem was, I had nobody to help me work through that exposure, all treatment was physical and ironically there was no mental support whatsoever despite the fact it was a mental hospital. 

Therefore, instead of working through my problems, I was just traumatised for weeks and left to struggle alone in absolute terror, so naturally, when I went home, I was not a fan of psychologists and would refuse further treatment. Had they worked with rather than “on” me, I would have trusted them and would have seen them as people I could work with to get through my problems, but in my 11 year old brain that experience taught me that therapists were nasty people who take you away from your parents, lock your bathroom, leave you to suffer alone and then send you home with all the mental pain you had before plus a little bit of bonus anxiety. Consequently, there were several years where I refused to see therapists and would lock myself in our home bathroom when they came to visit, refuse to go to clinics, or “forget” to leave lessons when they came to visit at school for sessions (that’s right…I hated therapy so much I voluntarily stayed in Maths lessons that I was allowed to get out of…MATHS!)

It has taken a long time for me to get to the point where I can trust therapists again, actually talk to them, see them as humans rather than soap stealing villains, and still every mention of exposure therapy sends me bananas because my first bad experience of it has not left me excited to give it another go… 

So, can certain kinds of mental health treatments actually make a person worse? Well, yes, and though I think it is important to try new things and approaches, it is equally important not to label all treatment as helpful and to be able to critique the bits that maybe aren’t as helpful and could use a bit of a rethink so that we can improve them, keep the good and edit out the bad, or else we would still be in the time of drilling people in the head, and nobody wants that. By all means use a drill to put up a nice painting or build a table, but when it comes to my noggin, I would rather you kept all power tools at a safe distance. 

Take care everyone x 

Bucket

Eating Disorders And Gender Identity

As you can probably tell from reading my blog, I am pretty open about my mental health, and I suppose, by putting my life online, you could argue that I am pretty open and honest about most things I experience. Nevertheless, there is one aspect of my identity that I have kept secret for years, not just online but with friends, something which I have only spoken about to my mother and certain therapists. In the past few weeks I have been asking myself why this is, and the answer to that is fairly easy (far easier than answering the question what is 4504 divided by 789 at least…NO CALCULATORS PLEASE), that being that I fear judgment and still see this aspect of myself as somewhat taboo. 

However, I have started to realise that by keeping this part of me on the “down low” because I feel embarrassed, is only perpetuating the idea that this “secret” is something I should be ashamed about, and that isn’t going to help anyone out there struggling with the same thing. What if there are people who are feeling as uncertain as I am about things but who are scared to speak out? What if they feel as alone as I do?

Ok, so it is probably time for me to stop beating around the bush and get on with the topic (the bush is fairly battered by now…there are so many leaves about I can barely see the keyboard…sorry bush, you didn’t do anything wrong…not that if you had done something wrong that would be an acceptable reason to beat you…I don’t condone violence of any kind…gosh I feel I might still be beating around the bush…SORRY AGAIN BUSH). 

The topic around which my “secret” revolves? Gender, though more specifically, my personal gender identity and how that affects my mental health and experience of anorexia. 

As you have probably all assumed, I was born and am biologically female, yet I do not see myself that way. In all honesty I feel quite ill when people refer to me as “a woman”, and every time a stranger refers to me as a “lady”, I feel physically sick. Saying this may make people think that therefore, inside, I see myself as male, but again this is not the case. With regards to my gender, I do not feel like a woman (just one of the many personal emotions Shania Twain and I disagree upon), nor do I feel like a man, in truth, I feel simultaneously like neither and both all at the same time. Thankfully more and more people are talking about gender these days what with the transgender FTM/MTF bathroom debates going on in the US, and there are even labels out there to describe people like me who do not see themselves as belonging in either of the binary box options presented on health forms. Names like agender/gender-non binary/genderqueer/gender neutral are now words many people, rather than just those whom they affect, are familiar with, and there are even more pronoun options and gender identities available in the “about me” section of your Facebook profile. Which of these “non binary terms” I best identify with I am still not sure as I find my gender identity rather confusing. 

The one thing I know for certain however, is that I am not female, and having a biologically female body has had a bigger impact on my anorexia than most people would understand. 

I have written before about how anorexia functions in my life, as a sense of achievement, sense of control, friend, identity and many other things that make it a lot more complicated than the common understanding of “people with anorexia just want to be thin”, but the other way in which anorexia functions for me is as a way of trying to minimise the “femaleness” I am uncomfortable about in my body. 

I see a lot of females on recovery websites listing perks of recovery to motivate themselves and others to keep fighting their demons, and more often than not one of the things on this list will be “recover to get your boobs back” (for when a person’s eating disorder leads to weight loss/becoming underweight, “boobs” are obviously a part of the body that will undergo some shrinkage.) Indeed I have known people whose cup size has fallen several letters of the alphabet due to their eating disorder (side note: who the hell coined the name “cup size” as a way to describe the space taken up by a boob? Why don’t we just say “boob size”? Who the hell is putting their boobs in cups? Don’t people realise those things are for drinking out of not measuring body parts? You don’t call your shoe size your “colander size” do you? No! So what is this…SOMEONE EXPLAIN). 

This loss of BOOB SIZE is often met with discomfort and people saying things like “I don’t feel female anymore” as if that is a bad thing, when for me, that is part of the point. For this reason, people trying to motivate me to recover by saying things like “recover for boobs” or “recover for curves” is more like a threat of “if you gain weight you are going to have to wear massive bras and stop running for the bus incase you knock yourself out with a rogue breast”, so I often find that I cannot relate to people with eating disorders despite sharing a diagnosis. 

In a way the idea of my chest increasing in size shouldn’t scare me as much as it does, as, in terms of revealing another aspect of myself that people are unaware of, I actually wear a binder rather than a bra. 

For those of you who don’t know, a binder is basically a very tight vest like thing that “binds” your chest somehow (magic and wizardry I think), to give you the appearance of a flat chest, and it is often a thing warn by transgender men. Indeed it was from a trans man that I myself first heard of such a garment and immediately picked one up because I too hated my chest. What I couldn’t relate to with this trans man however, was the need for things like testosterone hormone injections and a desire for facial hair, and it is there that my confusion of “what the hell gender am I then” began. 

I have worn my binder for six years now at both healthy and underweight BMI’s, so I know that technically, no matter how far I am in terms of physical recovery, when I have to go out in public I do not need to worry about my chest. At either weight I know that my binder will give me the appearance of a flat chest, but I also know that I cannot wear my binder in places like the shower which is where the appearance of my chest really bothers me. 

I know that in the past when in the process of getting to a healthy weight, one of the main parts of my body I have feared gaining weight on is my chest, and my bare chest makes me so uncomfortable that I have often refused ECG tests in the past to check how my eating disorder is affecting my heart (these scans are apparently very clever but involve you having to be naked from the waist up…not that clever in my opinion then). 

It has caused such issues in hospital before that even nurses have been confused and contemplated forcing me to stop wearing a binder as they wonder if it could actually be an eating disorder driven choice to “make me look thinner”. People have also suggested that me wearing a binder could link to my desire to remain a child and not grow up into the scary world of adulthood, but as possible as that is, it doesn’t explain the other issues I have with regards to being called “lady”, “she” or even “daughter”. You might not have noticed but if you look through any of the posts I have written previously mentioning my mother, I always refer to myself as her “offspring” and never as “the D word”. Maybe you thought that was just because I wanted to sound fancy, but in actual fact all of those instances were me trying to write on my blog honestly whilst keeping a secret, which is sort of like trying to make a cup of tea without any tea leaves. 

Other things I have seen on websites to motivate females to recover is the idea of getting their menstrual cycle back/being able to bear children, yet again this possibility is something from which I want to run away in fear rather than welcome with joy. When I lost my menstrual cycle I was secretly thrilled and as terrible as this sounds the idea that eating might make my womb work properly was terrifying. I feel so guilty saying that, as I know there are so many women out there who can’t have children so I shouldn’t be wishing my fertility away in such a manner, but I can’t help it, I don’t want a womb and I do not want a monthly reminder that I am trapped in a female body with no escape. When I was told I had osteoporosis (caused by the lack of periods), I even refused to take oestrogen hormone replacements because the idea of getting my menstrual cycle back was more frightening than the idea of breaking my spine, and my google search history has more searches like “can you get a womb or breasts removed” than I care to count.

Unfortunately, I realise that yet again it is one of those “here is a mental illness problem people struggle with” without any conclusion or advice to support those out there struggling with the same thing, which sucks because I know how horrible and complicated this whole relationship between eating disorders and gender can be. That said, considering I don’t fully understand my gender identity in relation to anorexia myself, I would be hard pushed to say anything of any worth, yet still I wanted to write this post if only to get the topic out there and the conversation started. I haven’t come to a conclusion as to “what” I am and I haven’t given advice on how to manage an eating disorder when gender identity is one of the things causing problems with recovery, but I hope I have at least shown another aspect of how complex mental health problems like eating disorders can be, and done something to dispel the idea that they are simply a case of going on a diet that gets out of hand to look as thin as the people in the magazines. More importantly though, I hope that I have made anyone else who feels as confused and alone with this as I do, feel a little less weird, knowing that someone out there does understand, and that though they are also confused, at least you are confused together. Maybe the more people who talk about it the more research will be done and the more will be understood, so as anxious as I am about posting this, I am doing it anyway to add to the voices of those telling professionals that this is a problem only to receive responses like “I have never heard of this happening before”. As I always say, when it comes to mental health problems nobody is weird or a freak, and none of you are alone in any of your struggles.

Take care everyone x

Gender

The Fear Of Moving Out With Mental Health Problems

So it has happened. My parents have finally had enough of my mental health problems and consequently I am being forced to move out this week on July 14th 2018 (it was supposed to be Friday the 13th but when I realised the date I, being a very superstitious bean, begged for an extra night at home.) I am absolutely dreading it and could not be more terrified if I tried (not that I imagine anyone would try to be more terrified than they were in any given situation…that would be weird). It is what I have been dreading my whole life, leaving home, especially now when things are particularly prickly in my old brain, but that is why I have to leave. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am not being kicked out with nothing more than a bag of my belongings and a tent, I am in fact going to live in a small flat my mum and I bought with some inheritance money (god bless Grandma and Grandad), but at this stage in my life I think I would be terrified even if I were moving into the Ritz. A lot of fellow 26 year olds may read this and think that there isn’t much to be afraid of, but I am not your average 26 year old and I don’t know how to do anything I should have learnt by now. Because of my OCD I have never done a load of washing nor do I know how to, I have never changed a bed sheet, done a weekly shop for food,  nor have I ever paid a bill. Ok my parents will be living five minutes away and will hopefully help me out a bit for the first few weeks but within a month of me moving in they will be jetting off to Malaysia for their summer holiday and consequently I will be all alone in my flat with no safety net for two and a half weeks. I don’t know quite what else to say other than that I am crying as I type this as I have never been so scared in all my life. I cannot believe it has actually come to this. 

My parents have mentioned that they couldn’t cope with me before, but I always figured that we would work it out like those previous times, yet this week there is no working out, I am actually going and it makes my stomach do all those fancy somersaults you see trapeze artists do in the circus just thinking about it. I just wish I could have recovered from all my illnesses before now so that it never had to come to this. To be fair I guess a lot of people my age are moving out from home, if not now then earlier, but i simply don’t feel ready. Maybe nobody ever feels ready to move away from home and maybe this is normal, but regardless I don’t like it at all. I want to stay at home in my childhood house where I grew up with my mum and dad. I want to live in my room that I have slept in for 26 years and I want to shower in the same shower I have used for all of that time too. I want to pour water from the same kitchen tap I have lived with all my life and I want to sit on the same sofa I have sat on for every movie marathon I have ever had with my mum. I am not ready to be alone, being alone is my biggest fear and now I am being forced to face it head on. I don’t know what I am going to do with myself. It is pathetic but because of my mental illnesses I have become so dependant on my parents that I seriously have no idea how to manage without them. How do I wake up without my mum there to help me get ready in the morning? How do I prepare food alone with all the voices screaming in my head? How do I avoid alcohol as I have been trying to and failing to do for the past month? How do I get through the day? How do I go to bed? How do I breathe? How on earth do I survive? 

I know I must sound extremely melodramatic and immature to be worrying about all these things at my age, but I think that when you have mental illnesses your ageing process slows down so in reality I am mentally nowhere near where I should be in comparison to other people my age. I have written about it before but I must reiterate the fact that when other people were growing up and learning to do all these things, I was too busy washing my hands or starving myself or crying into a pillow because I was so depressed. I never did the usual teenage rebellion of independence, I never snuck out of the house, dated people who were bad for me or got grounded, because I never had time to do anything wrong. I was mental, that was my identity and it still is and now I am going to have to live as this mental lunatic alone, with no idea how to cope. 

I guess my message this week then is that if you are mentally ill and are still living at home, seek help now before it gets to the stage where you have to leave home and figure it out alone too. Seek help now and learn to be independent before it is too late, cherish living with loved ones before they run out of patience and cherish knowing that there are people there when you struggle. Hopefully within the next few weeks I will be getting a carer from social services to help me figure all of this out in my flat, but for now that carer isn’t available so like I said I will be trying to do it all myself. Just please seek help out there even if you have the most loving parents in the world as I have, because at some point, with mental illness, everybody breaks down and gets to the point where they cannot manage. It feels weird to think that the next time I post a blog it will be from inside my new flat. I still cannot quite believe it, although I am sure reality will kick in and I will realise what is happening soon enough. Until then I hope you are all well and are keeping yourselves safe. 

Take care everyone x 

LifeChange

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

The Difficulty When Mental And Physical Progress Move At Different Speeds In Eating Disorder Recovery

In a few days time, I will have been in hospital for 16 weeks aka a grand total of 4 months, and because of this, I am often being asked questions like “How are you getting on?” or “are you feeling better?” which are both very complicated and difficult questions to answer when you are in treatment for an eating disorder. You see, on one set of paper work, things are going rather swimmingly and I am indeed doing much better, yet on the other set of paper work in my opinion, I am actually feeling and am “doing” worse than I ever have done in my life.

Oddly enough, this discrepancy between paper works is not because I have two very different doctors with opposing ideas writing sets of notes about my progress, but because when it comes to recovery from an eating disorder, there are two very distinct and different sides to it, the mental and the physical, and unfortunately these two sides do not work as sleeping otters do (aka hand in hand – yes, fun otter fact for you, otters hold hands when they sleep to make sure that they don’t drift away from each other. Apparently they also make waterslides and play with pebbles. Conclusion: Otters are cool).

Indeed the two sides to eating disorder recovery are so separate that I think that asking someone in treatment for an eating disorder how they are, is a question that needs to be asked twice, once for each side of recovery, because otherwise getting one coherent answer is impossible.

To be fair, towards the beginning of my admission, the physical and mental sides of how I was doing were fairly in sync. Mentally things were a bit all over the place and physically things were too. This then continued as I struggled to work with the program at the eating disorder hospital, until the introduction of my NG tube and since that most unwelcome introduction, everything has changed, in my eyes, for the worse.

Before, when I was mentally struggling and didn’t feel able to manage food, I was able to avoid it which obviously didn’t help my body very much but it prevented my anxiety levels from getting worse. Now though, since the NG tube, I have a constant and unavoidable source of nutrition and it doesn’t matter how I feel, food cannot be avoided. If I don’t eat, the food still goes in, and consequently my mind is in utter turmoil. My body on the other hand is as they say “loving life” and ironically, it is killing me.

Seeing as food is unavoidable now, I have been following my meal plan in one way or another for weeks and the affect this has had on my body is dramatic. I am gaining weight faster than I have ever gained weight before (perhaps because I have never had such an unavoidable source of nutrition stuck up my nostril before), so health wise, I am “improving”. I am no longer at a weight where I require a wheel chair, I am now able to stand in the shower for long periods of time, even on one leg (I am a fantastic flamingo impersonator these days), and when I get out of bed in the morning, the world doesn’t swim before my eyes and go black. Objectively these all sound like good things and for the medical professionals and my friends and family, these are good things but to me, these are terrible things.

I really don’t know how to explain this idea to people who may not have eating disorders as I know that to most people it sounds absolutely ludicrous. Physical health, the ability to stand in the shower and walk down the corridor are abilities to be appreciated not feared, but when you have an eating disorder, these abilities mean entirely different things.
To me, not being able to stand up without things all going fuzzy was a sign that I was “behaving” myself, a sign that I was doing a good job at punishing myself so the guilt I felt at being alive was lessened. Now though, I am unable to “behave myself” by not eating because even if I don’t eat the food will go in without my permission, so with things not going fuzzy, it is like a sign that I am doing something “bad” (even if it isn’t always me who is doing the eating), and I guess I am feeling all the guilt and shame as anyone else would were they to do something they thought was bad, like stealing or punching someone in the face.

Now I take up too much space in the world and with the weight going on as it is I take up more and more space each day, which is something I have always struggled with. When you hate something you want to make it as small as possible (or you want it to disappear altogether), you want it to take up as little of the world’s space as possible so as there is more room for the good things. In gaining weight I feel like a weed taking up too much space in the flower bed and stealing all the sunlight from the marigolds.

It is incredibly hard to watch this body you hate, morph in front of your eyes into this thing that is getting bigger everyday, getting “better” everyday whilst inside you are all the more depressed and tormented.
I don’t have any idea if I am making sense here because to be honest I am on so many medications right now that my brain is not functioning but if I had to resort to the good old Born Without Marbles way of explaining things, aka an analogy, it feels like my body and brain are one of those cars people drive off in after a wedding with tin cans on the back and “just married” scrawled across the rear windscreen.

My body is the car and as it gains weight it is zooming off full speed. Meanwhile my brain is the collection of tin cans tied to the back, being dragged along and through all of this road that it is not ready for, each can bouncing and denting, bruising and breaking a little more with every mile that passes. My body gains weight, my brain cracks a little more, I feel more broken, depressed and bruised and the faster my body goes the further it is from my brain which is actually all the way back at the starting line. I guess this analogy isn’t perfect because you could say “but your brain is moving in the right direction like your body if it is tied to the car” but that is where the analogy fails because that is not happening at all, like I said, as the car moves the brain just gets battered and even staff have admitted that in the past few weeks things have mentally become worse and worse as time has passed and weight has gone on.
Christmas day is a perfect example of this. When I woke up on Christmas day I was weighed (NOT something I asked Santa for and if I ever wake up to a set of scales in my stocking on Christmas morning again I swear to God I am marching to Santa’s grotto to give that beardy man a piece of my mind…and his scales back), and I had gained a lot of weight. On paper then and to the doctors, my body had got “better” but mentally the shock of it all had such a strain on my mind that I totally lost it. Within minutes I was having to take medication to calm down from the anxiety and agony and when my family came to see me for our two hour visit, the visit wasn’t better for the weight gain, it was worse. It should have been better logically, my body was healthier than the last time they had seen it but in becoming that way I became so upset, distressed and anxious that I had what we shall simply call “ a little incident” and I had to ask my family to leave early.

It is that which I think illustrates my point best as to how impossible it is to answer the question as to “how are things going” when you are in recovery for an eating disorder. Am I better? In a way, yes and I am getting “better everyday”, but in the other more important mental side am I better? Am I progressing? Not at all. I hate myself more than ever, I am more unhappy than ever and I feel more trapped than ever in a body that I no longer relate to. The distance between my body and mind is so great now that I have asked staff if there is any chance we can slow down on the weight gain so that my mind has got a chance to catch up but they are refusing and it all feels like I am being dragged and pushed too far out of my comfort zone. I am in hospital being treated for an eating disorder and the physical problem is being taken care of by a tube, but the mental aspect is being torn apart and I really don’t know how much longer I can handle it.

It is so frustrating trying to explain all of this and I guess in the end the main thing I want to do at the end of this blog post is apologise because I feel like I haven’t made any sense and that I have wasted your time with my incoherent waffle. Like I said though, I am on all sorts of crazy meds at the moment (to calm me down because I am in so much distress due to this whole struggling mentally with the physical progress my body is making right now when I am not ready for it), so please blame those meds and not my inabilities as a writer. I don’t understand half the things that are going on at the moment so explaining them coherently is somewhat difficult. I really am sorry. I am just so battered. I hope this makes some sense at least or that I have got the point across in some way that physical recovery and mental recovery for an eating disorder do not go hand in hand and can sometimes be literally travelling in opposite directions. “How are you doing?” is such a simple question but good lord when you have mental health problems is it a difficult one to answer.

Take care everyone x

RecoveryCar

Mental Health New Year’s Resolutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care everyone x

New Year Marbles

50 Ways To Celebrate Christmas When You Are In A Psychiatric Unit

Christmas is like Global warming. Whether you believe in it or not, it exists as a concept/event that people talk about. Maybe you have already written your letter to Santa (or to use the Global warming analogy, separated out your recycling for the week), or maybe you hate Christmas trees and are a real life embodiment of Scrooge (I guess in the global warming analogy, equivalent to this would be burying hundreds of plastic carrier bags in the back garden under a fire of perfectly recyclable paper, that you then dance around whilst spraying aerosol cans and cackling manically), either way, no matter what you do, whether you celebrate it or live by it or not, it is a thing and it is not going away.

Christmas is also something that is happening in the very near future, and is a festive period that a portion of the world’s population will be celebrating/experiencing in psychiatric hospitals. Maybe the idea of missing out on properly taking part in the holiday season doesn’t bother you because you are our embodiment of Scrooge (in which case hello, here is a friendly reminder that December does not last forever…also I have a sweetie for you…it is a humbug), but what if you are our Santa Claus worshipping/Christmas loving wannabe elf? What do you do then? How can you get through the Christmas period and celebrate what you consider to be the most wonderful time of the year when all the mince pies and fairy lights are in the outside world, whilst you are stuck on a corridor of mental health nurses, health care assistants and locked doors at every turn? Well my friends, if that is you then what you do is come to this blog (as you have done already, so thanks for that…I would give you a sweetie but I don’t think I have any that you will like…I do have some tinsel though…go wild!), because today I am here to solve that problem and provide you with 50 ways to celebrate this festive season if you are, like I am, spending all or part of it stuck in hospital…

  1. Get a reed diffuser with a Christmas scent like “Winter Spice” or “Gingerbread” to give your room a more Christmassy ambience/make it smell less like industrial strength cleaner, and the pile of tear soaked tissues in the corner.
  2. Buy a pair of antlers and put them on the pet therapy dog.
  3. Impersonate crackers by wandering the corridors shouting “BANG” at random intervals, then proceeding to tell a joke and throw a paper hat and tiny pack of cards at anyone nearby (real crackers are unfortunately NOT allowed in most units because apparently they count as “explosives”…)
  4. Have a Christmas movie night with the other patients (if choosing a film is difficult maybe write down a list of suggestions and pull one from a hat…a Santa hat…obviously.)
  5. Spray fake snow on the windows which are likely to be misted over so that people can’t see in anyway and therefore will not interfere with the ability to see daylight/the clouds if you live in the UK.
  6. Do Christmas shopping online or send everyone a message saying that you can’t buy them a present this year because you are in hospital where shopping opportunities are severely limited.
  7. If allowed foliage, get a Christmas tree for the ward or at least a plastic one.
  8. Again, if allowed, decorate your room excessively to the point that Doctors and nurses comment on it in your notes.
  9. March the corridors with a CD player booming out all of the Christmas songs that the people around you will surely not be sick of hearing quite yet.
  10. Tie string around one of the staff members and then shout “On Donner on Blitzen! Now Prancer and Vixen!”
  11. Run around/walk glacially if on an Eating Disorder ward, asking “Has he been yet?” with frantic excitement.
  12. Set up a fancy dress competition and judge the therapeutic abilities of every staff member by how much effort they put in.
  13. Jingle bells outside everyone’s room each morning to add a festive wake up call to their morning routine.
  14. If you are allowed to cook or have a supported cooking group with an Occupational Therapist, bake mince pies and gingerbread men.
  15. Gather cotton wool balls for blood tests from the clinic and make your very own Santa beard.
  16. Knock on the staff room door and when they open it start carol singing.
  17. Insist that all wheelchairs be referred to as “sleighs”
  18. Insist your bedroom be referred to as “The Grotto”
  19. When visitors message you and ask if you need them to bring anything in for you, phone them back and sing out “BRING US SOME FIGGY PUDDING OH BRING US SOME FIGGY PUDDING”. Put a bit of gusto into it.
  20. Leave mistletoe above all of the doors that only staff are allowed to use in order to create awkward situations between the pharmacist and ward manager.
  21. Write a letter to Santa asking for leave over Christmas or maybe a discharge date if you have been VERY well behaved this year.
  22. Whenever a decision is made or treatment option that you do not agree with is suggested shout “Humbug”.
  23. Play Charades (a really good Christmas game for the days you are too depressed to talk but are physically capable of using mime to portray the literary classic “Little Women”.)
  24. Put glitter on your therapy homework
  25. Make a “gingerbread house” out of care plans.
  26. When you feel a panic attack coming on, get that CD player out and start playing “The Carol Of the Bells” aka the most intense and dramatically stressful song of all time (they use it in Home Alone when things are getting really dangerous and the burglars are on the way).
  27. Yell at the night staff for staying awake through the night and making noise, because at Christmas it is supposed to be that “not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse” let alone a mental health nurse doing checks.
  28. Write to the catering department and request sprouts.
  29. Create a tombola to raise money for the ward and leave posters around so that visitors can enter.
  30. Name one member of staff “Rudolph” and then do not let that member of staff play any of your reindeer games.
  31. Gather the patients together and perform your very own nativity
  32. If the ward is full (and let’s face it, with the shortage of inpatient beds across the country it is going to be), make a sign and hang it on the door to let people know there is “no room at the inn”
  33. Make Christmas cards for everyone on the ward.
  34. When you see the cleaner, steal their broom (sounds weird but apparently in Norway it is traditional to hide the brooms to keep all the bad spirits out at Christmas time…seriously google it…and steal those brooms!)
  35. Make your own Christmas drink stall with decorated mugs so that patients don’t miss out on the vital Christmas activity of taking a photo of their gingerbread latte in a Christmas cup to post on Facebook and Instagram.
  36. If a nurse asks to do a heart tracing/ECG refuse because last Christmas you gave someone your heart and “the very next day they gave it away” meaning that this year to save you from tears you have given it “to someone special”.
  37. Set up a secret Santa situation so that everyone gets a little present in December.
  38. Bring three wise men to your ward round. Or some shepherds (sheep optional).
  39. If you need the toilet in the night, pull the emergency alarm and ask staff to escort you through the dark to the bathroom with their star (aka the torch they keep shining through your window).
  40. Tie carrots to every door handle incase one of Santa’s reindeer comes past and gets peckish. EVERY door. Reindeers are unpredictable in terms of location especially at this time of year.
  41. Tamper with the emergency response alarms so that every time staff pull them they play Good King Wenceslas instead of that infuriating beeping noise
  42. Make balls of coal out of papermache and give them to all the staff who have been annoying you recently. Also tell them that they are on the naughty list.
  43. Flood the wet room, freeze it and go ice skating.
  44. If you are on 1:1, take a little drum to the toilet with you and bang it furiously in impersonation of “the little drummer boy” so that staff cannot hear you urinating.
  45. Wrap all objects available in wrapping paper and put bows on everything. It will be incredibly inconvenient and will likely destroy the rainforest but damn will things look lovely.
  46. When you knock on the clinic door for medication every morning have the staff announce the date as they open the door prior to the giving of the meds in order to be a real life mental health version of an advent calendar.
  47. Knock a hole in the wall, wear orange, sit in the hole and flail around a bit next to a sign inviting passers by to roast chestnuts over the “open fire”. Technically you should get planning permission for this one but my advice is to not bother because it will probably be denied and you do not want this opportunity for festive activity ruined…
  48. Ask to be treated for “Low Elf Esteem”
  49. In art therapy make some puppets and re-enact The Muppet’s Christmas Carol.
  50. Rewrite the lyrics to the 12 days of Christmas (Examples of ideas include “four HCAs three bank staff two stress balls and Lorazepam in a pear treeeeeeeeee”.)

So there you have it! 50 ways to celebrate Christmas when you are stuck in a psychiatric unit and are feeling all too far away from the fairy lights, Christmas markets and winter wonderland set ups across the country. As I said last year, when it comes to Christmas there is nothing I or any of us can do to make sure it is definitely a “Merry” occasion, but I do hope at least, that however you feel about Christmas and wherever you are spending it, you get through the festive season in the best possible way with the best possible and safest outcomes for all. If you have a merry time then that is fabulous, but remember, if you are struggling with it, that is ok too. Christmas is a hard time for a lot of us but I will be thinking of you all.

Take care everyone x

HospitalChristmas