All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…

Five life lessons I learnt in 2013

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1. We don’t plan to fail, we fail to plan.

Throughout every year there are four days that have the power to reduce me to a quivering, self-harming, self-medicating mess; the 26th February, 7th May, an undisclosed date in July and the 11th October. These are my key anniversaries; each one replete with memories of breakdowns, suicide attempts, the deaths of loved ones and painful, traumatizing abuse.

Every year I tell myself that this is the year that will see me survive each day relatively intact, and each year I find myself struggling harder and harder to make it through.

At the beginning of this year I decided to try something different. Instead of winging it through each of my anniversaries on a hope and a prayer, I decided to plan a series of  coping strategies into each day in the hope that this year would be the year that would see me survive them intact.

In February, I purchased a second-hand Wii; in May, I acquired an oversized cheesecake to celebrate, rather than mourn, Stephanie’s death; in July, I left my self-harming tools with my support worker and spent the day watching Pixar animated classics; whilst in October I spent the evening watching The Amazing Spider-Man.

Although there were still depressive thoughts, moments of self-harm and other mental health related chicanery, in retrospect, I’ve realised that the plans I made to survive each day succeeded.

Next year, I will be repeating this planning and hope to eliminate all self-harm and self-medication from these anniversaries. After all, we don’t plan to fail, we fail to plan…and next year I fully intend to take planning to a whole new (and successful) level!

2. Give yourself permission to do what feels right.

At the tail end of 2012 I began working with a mental health organisation that offers a range of psychosocial rehabilitation opportunities; from one-on-one work with a support worker through to social and support groups. During those few months in 2012 I attended only a couple of groups in order to ease myself into a new way of life. This year, with each successive term, I pushed myself harder and harder, attending ever more groups as the year went on.

As with most people who suffer from mental health issues, there were times I began feeling overwhelmed with my actions, days that I just wanted – nay, needed – to just chill out on my own for fear of pushing myself into a catastrophic depressive episode. But each time these moments occurred, I swatted them away and pushed forward, inevitably causing the depression that I knew would happen.

But since returning from Melbourne in late November I realised I had overdone things. My energy levels were shot, and with them, my concentration and ability to focus. So I did what I should have done all alone – gave myself permission to not attend the groups. Although I felt bad about not going, I realised pretty soon that it was the right decision, as it has given me the opportunity to not only prepare for (and survive) the insidious Christmas/New Year period, but put achievable goals in place for the year ahead.

So remember, if you’re not feeling up to something, you don’t have to do it. Let your heart, body and mind tell you what it needs…and have the courage to listen to it!

3. Public speaking isn’t anywhere near as traumatizing as your mind would have you believe!

On the 7th October, I performed the first piece of public speaking that I’ve done since the heady days of primary school plays. Before the event I was nervous as hell, fully believing that I wouldn’t be able to go through with it. I even managed to convince myself that if I did go through with it I would be either laughed off the stage or someone in the audience would magically summon a giant slime monster to consume me for the entertainment of the gathered masses.

Fortunately, neither of these worst case scenarios happened, and as the minutes of my speech ticked away I realised that it wasn’t as traumatizing as I had first imagined it to be. In fact, nearly three months later, I look back on that moment as one of the highlights of my year; one I fully hope to repeat in 2014.

4. You can never go home again.

Twenty-thirteen was the year that saw me return to the city of Melbourne and in the two years that had passed I realised pretty darned quickly how both I, and the city, had changed. I was no longer the dissociating, homeless blob that I’d been during my last time in the city; and the city itself was no longer the livable utopia that it had been during my Melbournian heyday of 2002-2006.

In the intervening years, Melbourne has become a city choked with congestion, pollution and a serious attitude problem. Within hours of being there I was shocked by the sheer level of self-absorbed arrogance on display, with everyone and their dog seemingly out for only one person; themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Melbourne, but my holiday there has made me realise that I’m no longer in love with the city. Perhaps if I’d never left my love for those congested alleyways would be intact and I wouldn’t notice the selfishness as much as I did, but I did leave…and I no longer regret doing so.

5. If at first you don’t succeed…keep working your arse off ‘cause one day you will!

At the commencement of 2013 I set myself thirteen goals for the year ahead. At the time I fully believed that by years end I would have completed every single one of them. I didn’t. I completed five of them.

By my usual reckoning this is a catastrophic failure. Despite months of bloody hard I wasn’t even able to cross 50% of the items from my pretty reasonable list. In fact, I wasn’t even able to complete things as simple as ‘see six films at the cinema’ or ‘write one blog post in every month of the year’!

However, in spite of this failure and the barrage of self-criticism I’ve leveled at myself, deep down I know how hard I’ve worked this year. In fact, even though I didn’t complete all my goals, I did achieve several things that at the beginning of the year I didn’t even think possible; things such as facilitating my own psychosocial rehabilitation group, publically telling my story in front of 130 people and attending the World Hearing Voices Congress alongside 750 other people!

So even though I failed to complete all of my goals, I know that there is always next year. And I know that no matter what anyone says, I will never stop trying. I shall just keep picking myself up, dusting myself off and finding new, alternate ways to achieve all that I want to achieve.

However long that may take!

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