The Unpredictability Of Life With Mental Health Problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care everyone x



An Important Reminder For People Struggling With Mental Health Problems During Exam Season

Ah summer, a wonderful time of sunshine, drinks with umbrellas (as we all know if anyone needs a device to keep something dry it is a glass of liquid), and, less wonderfully, exams. No matter what kind of exam is being thrown at you, whether it be a GCSE, A-level, university finals or your N.E.W.T’s at Hogwarts, I think we can all agree that exams suck and are a very stressful part of the year for everyone involved, especially people with mental health problems who are pretty stocked up on stress and need no exam boards adding to it. If you have exams coming up I can guarantee you have been told how important they are by teachers and lecturers and if you are anything like me you will feel that they are the most important things in the world, but I want to provide an alternative voice to all that stress and pressure and let you know that in the grand scheme of things, exams and other education related worries are not important. Now I know what you are thinking, “why should I listen to a weirdo on the internet when I have educated officials telling me that these exams are vital to my future happiness?”. Well dear reader, because I am going to prove my point with an analogy using the absolute best thing about summer, ice-cream, and if that doesn’t get me credibility then I don’t know what will.

For the purpose of this post I would like you to imagine an ice cream cone. That empty cone represents your physical health, no emotions whatever, just the heart beating oxygen to carbon dioxide basics of being alive. Now add a scoop of ice cream to that cone (one involving chocolate or peanut butter preferably but I suppose you could use any flavour for your metaphorical ice cream…just not rum and raisin because that is nasty). That scoop of ice cream is your mental health, stress levels, emotional stability, any brain activity that involves quality of life, pain or pleasure, and makes you different from the empty ice cream cone of the amoeba. Now add a cherry to that ice cream cone. That cherry is exams/good results/fantastic education stuff in general.

If you went to an ice cream van in the real world and asked for an ice cream, you would expect at least a cone with a scoop of ice cream in. A cone is fine but it is worth nothing without the ice cream and without the cone the ice cream would have no “body” to chill in (literally). To be worth having, you need both the cone and the ice cream. Having a cherry added on the top would be nice, but without the ice cream and the cone it is pointless. Without those key components you just have a random cherry floating in the air and that is useless in terms of the ice cream experience (otherwise known as “life”). Exams alone are that useless floating cherry.

The most important things to focus on and look after throughout life, exams and education in whatever form, are your physical and mental health, because if you don’t have either of those things then exams have nothing to sit on.
When I was doing my A-levels I was absolutely terrified and my exams literally became a life or death situation. My head was compressed under so much pressure and my brain had made some kind of OCD rigid deal that I had to get straight A*’s or kill myself. No other grade would give me “permission to live”, not even an A which is an incredible grade to get as it is. My anxiety and OCD drive made a life or death situation out of “a star” and you know what that star is? IT IS JUST AN ASTERISK. IT IS PUNCTUATION. It is not the be all and end all goal of life, this mystical magical holy relic to be chased to the end of time. Nope. Look here is one now *. And another one *. Is “*” and therefore any grade worth the pressure and insanity placed upon exams?

The stress of exams, grades and dedicating all of your energy to revision is like chasing a floating cherry without the cone and ice cream needed to support it. If education is causing so much stress that your anxiety is out of control, if you are revising so much that you are “not having time to eat”, then that is not OK. At university I spent my entire time chasing that illusive floating cherry (otherwise known as “a first”). I read books obsessively, didn’t sleep, took notes on things with unnecessary detail and precision. Revision sheets were awash with bubble letters that I took hours colouring in using the order of colours in the rainbow. I had to get a first so everything had to be perfect, but I was so busy colour co-ordinating titles that I didn’t look after the cone or the ice cream and eventually everything fell down with nothing there to support it. I never took my final exams at university, I never wrote my dissertation or got the resulting “dissertation picture”, because I was in hospital. Thankfully I had the most amazing tutor and team at university so I was still able to graduate. Did I get a first? No. Has having a “2:1” rather than a first changed my life in any way? No. Do you know how often I get asked about my degree or A-level grades? How often someone asks to admire my colour co-ordinated revision notes with obsessively neat handwriting and bubble letters? Never, because in the real world none of it matters, what really matters is keeping yourself alive and able to function.
When you are in school I know that education feels like the world and grades are the tip of the mountain in importance, but when you leave school you realise that that mountain was just a mole hill and the real important mountains in life are actually living your life both physically and, hopefully, with some mental stability or quality that make it worth it. Getting an education or a dissertation picture are things in life, but they are not the ONLY things.

Obviously I am not telling you not to bother with revision, if you can handle it then that is great and of course you should do your best in exams, but you shouldn’t sacrifice your emotional or physical wellbeing to achieve, catch a cherry that is useless without the cone and ice cream to balance it on. An earlier hospitalisation during sixth form meant I had to go back a year in school so I did my A-levels a year late. Again it seemed like the biggest deal in the world, but I needed that time in hospital and that time out and eventually I got my exams, Ok they were a little late, but the only difference between my certificates and the ones my initial year received was the date. Also, I actually made loads of new friends in my new year, so in retrospect going back a year was not only vital but actually gave me some positive experiences with people I wouldn’t have met had I forced myself through exams the first time. Especially if I had died in the attempt.

In short, education can wait. Education can be done any time if needs be, but what cannot wait or be done at any time is keeping yourself alive and looking after your health. If you need to take time out, do it. Lower the pressure and expectations for grades. In short, give yourself a break, give yourself time to breathe. If you have exams and revision this summer then I wish you the best of luck and hope they go brilliantly, just please remember to look after that cone and scoop of ice cream first, and don’t kill yourself over a floating cherry that in the grand scheme of things matters nowhere near as much as the ice cream.

Ice cream