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…


How to cope with PTSD flashbacks?

I feel it pertinent to point out that this isn’t a ‘how to’ post. You may feel slightly jipped to discover this, especially since the first two words of the post title are “how” and “to”, but I did place a wee question mark at the end of the title, meaning I need your help. And with your help, perhaps we can write the ‘how to’ post that you were probably expecting.

My PTSD is a complicated beast. It doesn’t just come from one traumatic incident, but several, the memories of which have combined to form an almost impenetrable wall of trauma that I have no idea how to deal with. Firstly (and foremost) there is the emotional abuse that I was the victim of. Without question this causes the most damaging of my PTSD symptoms. Secondly, there is the assault and rape I experienced when I was in Adelaide in 2007. Thirdly, there is the recurrent memories of being homeless; of being ostracised by society and forced to exist in a sub-human state on the streets of Melbourne and beyond. Fourthly, comes the various physical assaults that I received during this homeless existence. On a daily basis I am hounded by flashbacks of these four incidents; flashbacks that occur without warning, leaving me a quivering, delusional wreck.

Over the last few months, ever since becoming unwell, the memories of the emotional abuse I received have been impossible to contend with. I have been regularly conversing with a hallucination of my abuser to the point I devolve into a fuming, shouty monster. Lord knows what my neighbours think of me, for the walls between us are thin, and my voice is raging. I will scream, yell, holler, bellow, bawl and shriek as I replay specific abusive events and attempt to discover why she saw fit to abuse me. I am desperate for answers, desperate for closure, but I know I can never receive it so my voice rages ever louder. I want to know why she decided to destroy my sense of self, why she was so cruel and callous in her criticism and insults, why she worked so hard to drive a wedge between my friends and I, why she decided I didn’t deserve to be in tertiary education and why she decided I should die because “my voice is so boring and monotonous it inflicts pain on everyone I talk to“. I need to know why I deserved the abuse she gave me. But like I said, I know I will never discover these answers, I will never have the closure I need, so how do I cope with it? How do I live with the trauma rather than let it control me?

At least fourteen hours a day are lost to these fuming, shouting sessions. They occur when I’m home, they occur when I’m walking down the street and they occur when I’m surrounded by people in the high street. And I have no idea how to stop it. I have no idea how to cope with these intolerable flashbacks.

My GP believes a new anti-psychotic will help – a week into taking it, it hasn’t. I’ve tried mindfulness techniques. I’ve tried my usual coping mechanisms. I’ve tried CBT and DBT techniques. I’ve tried flooding myself with distraction. But nothing has worked. I always devolve into the shouting, always devolve into the trauma and always allow it to control my thinking, my actions and everything in between.

Hence the question – how to cope with PTSD flashbacks? How do you cope with your PTSD flashbacks? How do you stop it controlling your life?


How to create a self-harm safety box…

Once upon a time, when I was much a much younger (and sexier) man than I am today, I used to own a box. On a purely aesthetic level, there was nothing special about this box. It was just a run-of-the-mill shoebox decorated with Doctor Who stickers, newspaper cuttings and images of the great Australian actress, Toni Pearen.

What was special about this box was on the inside, for I’d filled it with colouring pencils, rubber bands, bath salts, candy, a mini-colouring book, a couple of novels, a DVD and some (slightly more) risqué images of the great Australian actress, Toni Pearen.

For this box was my safety box; a box I could turn to when my self-harm urges grew so intense that I needed some serious distraction to stop me from injuring myself.

Over the years I owned this box I lost track of how many times it prevented me from doing something stupid, how many times I cried over its contents or how many people I lied to about its true purpose. But, as with most things, time stole this box from me and ever since it was taken from my life, I’ve missed it on more occasions than I can count.

Of all the tricks I used to dissuade me from self-harm, this box was the most successful.

Because it was mine.

And I loved it.

Recently, courtesy of a self-harm support group, I’ve created a new safety box for me to turn to. A box I have once again filled with fun little items and distracting shenanigans to quell any self-harm urges that may occur. So today, as well as sharing my box with you all, I’m going to tell you how you can make your very own safety box.

How to make your very own self-harm* safety box


The external of my new safety box (the Disney Princess contact was chosen by Meadhbh, as she has promised to play with me should I ever feel the need to open the box!) :)

  1. All you need to start is a box. It can be an old shoebox, a gift box from your local giftware store or even a discarded cereal box. As long as it has four walls, a base and a lid, you’re good to go!
  2. Once you’ve got your box, the next step is to personalise it. For this you can cover it with contact, decorate it with funky wrapping paper or even paint it. Let your creativity soar…this is your box after all!
  3. The third step is to fill the box with items that will help you regain control during periods of emotional distress. Think things that make you happy. Think things that are tactile. Think things that trigger your senses. Think things that cannot do you harm. This is your box, so whatever you decide to put in it will be personal to you, but here are a few ideas to get you started:
    •  Arts and crafts: colouring pencils, finger paint, plasticine, paper, water colours, brushes.
    •  Brainteasers and puzzles: a small jigsaw puzzle, word-searches, Sudoku.
    •  Fun and games:  small toys, cuddly toys, travel board games, a pack of cards.
    • Odds and ends: books, DVDs, luxurious bath products, essential oils, meaningful photos, candy.
  4. Once you’ve filled your box with all manner of exciting and smile-inducing items, simply store the box in a special, easy-to-remember place so that when things get rough you’ll know exactly where to find it!


Once your box has been completed and placed in special place, all you need to do is remember to use it should you ever become triggered and/or feel the urge to self-harm. When you come to use your box, make sure that you are in a private and safe place within your house (perhaps on your bed) and that the box and its contents are the only thing you have to hand…then just enjoy yourself! Go to town with colouring in, make cute monsters out of your play-dough or draw epic artworks upon the canvas of your body with a chunky red pen.

Remember, creating a self-harm safety box isn’t just about distracting you from the demons of self-harm, it’s about celebrating the awesomeness (and uniqueness) of you. Have fun with it, play with it, enjoy it and be good to yourself.

Self-harm safety box

The contents of my self-harm safety box!

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* It should be noted that you don’t have to be a self-harmer to create a safety box. Anyone can have a safety box to turn to in times of emotional distress, whether that distress be mental health related or simply the pains of day-to-day life!

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Day 03: What treatment or coping skills are most effective for you?

Apologies for the slight delay in the latest installment of the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge, I had scheduled the post to publish yesterday (hence the Thursday Thirteen format I decided to use) but a wee gremlin must have invaded the system as for some reason it didn’t publish. Hopefully we will have better luck today!

The prompt for day three is: what treatment or coping skills are most effective for you?


Thirteen treatment or coping skills that are most effective for me

(in no particular order)

1. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy [Treatment]
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a behavioral therapy all about creating a rich, full and meaningful life whilst accepting the pain that inevitably goes with it. I have written more about this method of treatment here.

2. Distraction Techniques [Coping Skill]
One of my primary coping skills is the simple act of distraction. Whether it be curling up in front of a movie, moshing to some great music, kicking Ganandorf’s ass in the The Legend of Zelda video game series or even cooking up a treat in the kitchen. Anything that can take my mind away from the trap of negative thinking and heightened anxiety is quite wonderful.

3. Self-Efficacy [Coping Skill]
…aka the measure of the belief in one’s own ability to complete tasks and reach goals.

4. Writing letters to younger self [Coping Skill]
I write so many letters to my younger self that I’m seriously considering putting together a book entitled “Letters I Wish I’d Received When Young” For me, they are a glorious way of showing myself compassion, understanding and self-love. They are also a way for me to vent frustration and focus on the positive aspects of my life.

5. Grounding Exercises [Coping Skill]
These coping skills involve grounding you in the current moment. A popular exercise is taking a few moments to name five things you can see/hear/smell/feel and focus on these senses as you do so. I have taken to, after advice from a friend, performing this activity when I wake up to start my day in a relatively relaxed and grounded state.

6. Integrated Brain Mapping  [Treatment]
This is a process devised by Rita McInnes for people who have difficulty dealing and living with trauma. I have every intention of writing about my experiences of it in the future, but more information can be found on her website for those too impatient to wait! :p

7. Personal Responsibility [Coping Skill]
Something I learnt when I was a teenager is that the only person who can change me is myself. If I wait for someone else to do it I will be waiting the rest of my life. As such, I dedicate myself to putting in the hard work so that one day I will be able to lead the life I want to live.

8. Medication [Treatment]
I am not a huge supporter of medication and for many years was without any form of psychiatric medication. However, I cannot deny that taking medication does help control my moods and, to a degree, dulls the self-harm and suicidal ideation I experience.

9. Self-Harm [Coping Skill]
Please note that I am not in any way advocating self-harm. I ummed and ahhed about including this coping skill on my list but ultimately decided to go with it because, over the last twenty years, it has been one of the most powerful and consistent forms of release that I can think of. In fact, sometimes it is the only thing that has the power to calm me when I’m heightened.

10. Random Acts of Kindness [Coping Skill]
These fall into the ‘higher self’ category on Indigo Daya’s wonderful Coping Skills worksheet. Basically, there is nothing more wonderful in life than helping other people, so much so that it can often override your own stresses and negative feelings. Why not try it sometime?

11. Art Therapy [Treatment]

12. Laughter Therapy [Treatment]

13. Self-Love [Coping Skill]
I’ll be honest, I’m still not very good at this, but I think I’m (very slowly) getting better! :p

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Coping Skills: Fifty Things of Self-Love

Earlier this year I wrote a post called Coping Skills, which shared a coping skills worksheet that came to me via Indigo Daya’s website. One of the categories on this work-sheet was ‘self-love’, which are all the things you can do to love (or care) for yourself in times of distress.

In this section of the work-sheet I wrote:

Me? Love myself? You gotta be kidding, right? This never happens…but I know it ’should’ be happening, so I seriously need to sit down and try to work out some ways that will allow me to love myself. I just don’t know how anymore. :(

Now, six months on – and to celebrate my 550th post! – I’ve decided to take up the challenge and come up with fifty things of self-love; for how can I ever hope to experience positive emotions again (e.g. happiness, joy, contentment, relaxation, nurture etc.) if I don’t know what will bring them on?

My Self-Love List

A few notes on the above list:

(i) For the sake of clarification, I decided that ‘my’ definition of self-love is: ‘anything I can do to feel something other than shit’. Your definition may be different (and involve less/more swear words!)

(ii) In terms of the final count, instead of merely stating movies, books etc. I decided to expand these sections by listing the five most awesome candidates. It is these five things that are included in the final count of fifty, not the movies, books etc. genres themselves.

(iii) And for all of you rolling your eyes at ‘masturbation’ and ‘kissing/sex/oral sex’…What? I’m just being honest! :p

Now, over to you…what things do you do to love yourself in times of distress?
Are you willing to take the fifty things of self-love challenge?


Mi Recovery: The Biopsychosocial Model

At the culmination of the first week of Mi Recovery we played the warm-down ball game I have become so familiar with courtesy of the Hearing Voices Support Group. The moment Meadhbh suspected this was about to happen she squealed in girlish glee and prepared to intercept the rolled up Velcro (apparently the budget wouldn’t stretch to an actual ball) whilst I sighed in apprehension about having to say something worthy and meaningful about what I’d taken from the group; which was plentiful!

In approaching this series, I have decided to focus my weekly review around whatever I say during this warm-down game. Yesterday – and this is a direct quote – it was…

“…the biopsychosocial model.”

__Biopsychosocial Model

For those unfamiliar with the biopsychosocial model (BPS), it is a model that was created by psychiatrist George L. Engel in 1977 that posited a combination of biological, psychological and social factors play a significant role in human development. Which is in contrast to the traditional model of medicine that suggests every disease can be explained in terms of an underlying deviation from normal function; such as a pathogen, developmental abnormality or injury.

It was this model that we used to examine the theory of mental illness, and the causes, symptoms and treatments we (as individuals) have experienced on our life’s journeys.

As everyone’s experiences of mental illness are unique, our diagnoses (whether that is a Mood or Anxiety Disorder, a Psychotic Illness, a disorder resulting from alcohol/drug use or a combination of all four) are largely irrelevant. It is our life experiences that determine the course of our mental illness and the symptoms/treatments thereof.

The biopsychosocial model allows us to look at our lives from three perspectives in order to determine what events have been most relevant and, in turn, how we can use this knowledge to take control of our lives and find new paths on our road to recovery.

My Biopsychosocial Model

The core component of the biopsychosocial model is how it allows us to see how experiences through our lives our linked. As such, the model is approached from three viewpoints:

1. Causes

These are all the elements that can be/have been attributed to be the cause of our illness. For example, some people believe mental illness is genetic (which would be a biological cause) whereas others believe some of the root causes of mental illness are isolation (which would be social) and trauma (which could be considered psychological).

The following is my own personal BPS model of the causes of my mental illnesses. Yours, should you wish to write one, may look very different:

__Biopsychosocial Model (CAUSES)

Notes on my model:

  • Some may argue with my overlapping of homelessness as being biological, psychological and social. But having spent a large period of my life homeless, it was the only place that fit for me.
  • I have placed sexual minority in the overlap of psychological/biological because it has both a biological (I was born with it!) and psychological (if you have the password, I’ve explained this here) component.
  • The most contentious placement would probably be “abuse” which many at the group believed should be placed solely in psychological; I however believe it has a HUGE social component, hence my placement of it in the overlap.
  • If you have any questions regarding the items and their placements, don’t be afraid to ask! :)

2. Symptoms

The second viewpoint is ‘symptoms’, which are all of the symptoms we experience as a result of our mental illnesses. For example, the butterflies in the stomach or sweaty palms of anxiety (which would be biological), an increase in destructive voices (which would be psychological) or isolating behavior (which could be seen as a social symptom).

As with both the causes and treatment of our illness(es), these symptoms are unique to the individual. This is what I came up with when approaching my symptoms via the BPS model:

__Biopsychosocial Model (SYMPTOMS)

Notes on my model:

  • I have placed victim-blaming in the social/psychological overlap as I believe it has both of these components. The victim blaming we receive from others (social) and the blaming abuse victims place on themselves (psychological).
  • Over-indulgence relates to me as: excess alcohol consumption and over/comfort spending.
  • Personally, I believe self-harm begins as a psychological symptom that becomes a biological one, hence the overlap between these two factors.
  • The most contentious placement (and one which I mulled over for nearly two hours) was hypersexuality. Although many may see this as predominantly a social or psychological symptom, based on my own experiences of this state, it can become a biological one.
  • If you have any questions regarding the items and their placements, don’t be afraid to ask! :)

3. Treatments

One of my biggest (and longest standing) issues with the mental health and psychiatric industries is the “one-size fits all” approach to mental illness treatment. Everyone’s experiences of mental illness is unique, so why do people persist in believing that a singular course of action (be it medication, talking therapy etc.) will have the same effect on everyone?

Perhaps this is because I have (obvious) issues and grievances over how I’ve been treated by mental health services, perhaps not. Either way, treatments that may find their way onto your BPS are medication (being biological), talking therapies (being psychological) or support from family/friends (social).

In my personal opinion, one of the most important treatments (and one that is noticeably lacking from my own BPS) is nurture; the physical love we receive from those around us can have a significant impact on our ability to deal with the stressors and pain of mental illness.

I hope one day to be able to add it to my own biopsychosocial model:

__Biopsychosocial Model (TREATMENTS)

Notes on my model:

  • Given the MASSIVE overloading of psychological treatments, is it any wonder I am teetering on the verge of a massive psychological breakdown?!?
  • I believe distraction comes primarily from the distraction we can find on our own (psychological) and the distraction our friends/family can offer (social); hence the overlap.
  • HVSG stands for the Hearing Voices Support Group I attend (I was being lazy!)
  • I have included Meadhbh (and occasionally Audrey) as psychological treatments because when they’re behaving themselves, they can be a source of great comfort, support and love.
  • Mindmapping is a self-help therapy designed to interrupt and sooth triggers. I’ve been working with it for a couple of months now.
  • I’ve long believed endorphins can have a massively beneficial effect on managing mental illness.
  • The all-overlapping kimnyk is something I have discussed in my password protected pages and relates to a part of my sexual-personality that I’m not comfortable sharing in detail with the world due to the abusive, ignorant and damaging comments I’ve regularly received about it in the past.
  • Once again, if you have any questions regarding the items and their placements, don’t be afraid to ask! :)

Once you have written your own biopsychosocial model, how can you use it to assist in managing your condition and working toward recovery? By comparing the three viewpoints and identifying the wheres, whats and wherefores of your life, you can begin to see links between the symptoms, causes or treatments you may wish to explore further.

Personally, I have already realized the immediate need to begin balancing  how I treat my illnesses as the overload of psychological treatments is already becoming a cause – and, if a breakdown occurs – a symptom.

I’ve also noted (as I have in the past) the enormous detrimental effect my tendency to isolate myself during periods of distress has had on my mental wellbeing and recovery. I need to allow myself to believe that asking for help is not only acceptable but doesn’t mean I’m weak, worthless or not trying hard enough. This was hammered home yesterday afternoon, following the worst reaction to a trigger I’ve experienced in months!

As I continue with the Mi Recovery group and learn more about myself and my illnesses, I fully expect to refer back to my biopsychosocial model on a regular basis. Not only to add any new items but to use the connections I’ve highlighted to assist in my journey toward recovery, forgiveness and acceptance.

Perhaps you should try writing one of your own (in a supportive environment, of course) as you may be surprised by the things you discover.

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Mi Recovery: Introduction

mi recovery

Following Acting Up, another group I have begun this year is called “Mi Recovery”. Of all the groups I have begun this term, this is the one I am most looking forward to undertaking.

Mi Recovery is a peer education program for people living with mental illness, offering a peer based approach to the complex issues faced by people with mental illness by combining challenges faced through the lived experience with up to date best practice research. The program adopts a holistic approach where a person can acknowledge their whole self rather than living ‘as their illness(es).’

As with some of my other groups, I have decided to share my experiences of the group on this blog, not merely to chronicle my progress but to share any information or strategies I learn in the hope that others may find them useful in their own journeys.

Given confidentiality is paramount, these posts will focus only on my personal experiences and journey, as discussing the health and wellbeing of others without their permission can have a devastating effect on recovery, trust and health.

Over the following ten weeks I am hoping that Mi Recovery will assist in the creation of new coping strategies, further refine existing coping skills and help remind me who I am and my place in the world.

Only time will tell whether I’m successful in these goals but, as always, I will be giving it my best! :)

“Recovery does not mean that one is ‘cured’ nor does it mean that one is simply stabilized or maintained in the community. Recovery often involves a transformation of the self, wherein one both accepts one’s limitations and discovers a new world of possibility.”
~ Patricia Deegan~

Week 01: Theory on mental illness and factors that enable recovery.
Week 02: Reframing my Whole Self and Understanding Stigma.
Week 03: Treating myself.
Week 04: Planning for Recovery.
Week 05: Working with Relapse.
Week 06: Communication Skills and Strategies.
Week 07: Stigma, Discrimination, Rights and Advocacy.
Week 08: Making the most of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Week 09: Motivating purposeful activity.
Week 10: Review of recovery aspirations and program conclusion.