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…


5 Comments

Blog for Mental Health 2014

bfmh14“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”  

When I began writing this blog in 2007 I had no idea that I’d still be writing it seven years later. Truth be told, with everything that was happening to me at the time, I genuinely thought I’d be dead by now! But I’m not. I’m still here, still wandering the seemingly endless road to recovery and still rambling on about all things mental health related.

Sometimes I do question why I continue to write this blog. Back in those early days there were very few mental health blogs, and hardly any of them were written by people living with mental illness. Today there are hundreds upon thousands upon millions of people making their voices heard; all of whom with far more clarity and panache than I’m able to muster.

But whenever I begin questioning my little corner of the internet, I remind myself of the reasons why I began blogging in the first place; so that other people experiencing mental health problems would not feel alone, so that those prejudiced against mental illness could learn about what people have to live with and so that I could explore myself through the therapeutic act of writing. All causes I am still committed to.

This is a blog about mental illness, but it’s also a blog about me; a valiant (if futile) attempt to tell the world that no one thing defines who a person is, that they are so much more than their mental illness, homelessness, sexual predilection or social standing.

So as a new year dawns, I once again commit to write about all the topics that the mainstream media have labelled ‘taboo’; self-harm, suicide, poverty, homelessness, discrimination, abuse, sexual predilections and mental health in general. I once again vow to be as honest and open as it’s possible to be. And I once again pledge to give stigma the spanking it so richly deserves.

~ You can learn more about (and take) the Blog for Mental Health pledge here ~


1 Comment

Day #4: The Trade Off

This is the latest installment in the “Try Looking At It Through My Eyes” challenge, as devised by Bold Kevin on his blog Voices of Glass. If you’ve missed any of the previous posts, you can read them via the links below. I’d also like to take the opportunity to apologise for the break in daily posting. Unfortunately, part and parcel of suffering from mental illness is that horrible thing known as a ‘bad day’; where someone’s mental health becomes so bad they find it difficult to function at a normal level. Well, I am currently in the midst of what it known as a ‘bad week‘. I’m doing my best to stop it developing into a ‘bad fortnight’ and will post as frequently as I’m able! :)

| Day 01 | Day 02 | Day 03 |

~◊~

Day Four – “The Trade Off”
You walk into a fun fair or state fair and see a small tent entitled “The Trade Off”.  Curious you go and look at the writing under the sign only to learn that for 1 dollar, euro or pound, you get to take a pill which will allow you to trade your mental health condition for another mental condition of your choosing for a whole week.  The only rules are that you have to trade one for one and there are no returns until the end of that week.  Would you do it, what would you choose and why?

tradeoff

However bizarre this answer may be, it is one I didn’t have to think about. I knew it before I even reached ‘the only rules are…’ sentence in the question.

Not only would I take advantage of the offer, I would keep taking advantage of the offer until I’d worked my way through the entire pantheon of psychiatric conditions.

When I was at school – beit Kindergarten, Primary or High – learning revolved around either hour-long lectures that were tediously boring and completely hands-off or re-writing passages from text books in our own words. Certainly, there were occasions when we were allowed to let our imaginations run wild with creative writing and/or creative essaying, but generally these flights of fancy were kept to a minimum. Personally, I found this had a severe impact on my education as I’ve always learnt better from actually doing or feeling something rather than merely reading or being told about it.

This is why I learnt more about Scotland in my four weeks backpacking the country than I had in the previous four years of reading about it. Although I enjoyed immersing myself in those tomes I found it difficult to recall or repeat any of the information I’d read. But now, if you were to ask me about Culloden, Scapa Flow, the Glencoe Massacre or the Loch Ness Monster, I could share hundreds of facts and historical anecdotes because I’ve walked the moor, stared at the wrecks, smelt the blood soaked earth and tasted the loch. My knowledge of these events are intrinsically anchored to my physical experiences of being there.

In fact, through my life, there are dozens of examples of where I fought though my anxiety to experience something purely so I could understand it better. From hurling my naked body into a deserted lake in the middle of the Rocky Mountains (so I could experience ‘freedom’) to allowing myself to be strapped to a birching block during a tour of a jail museum (so I could experience ‘captivity’). In fact, my 101 things to do before I die list is littered with things that I wish to experience purely because I want to know what they feel like, such as: go to university, spend the day on a nude beach, ride the Indian Pacific railway or some of the secretive password protected things.

Having spent the better part of the last five years researching and writing about mental illness, it frustrates me that there are certain illnesses that I will never truly understand. Although I know (only too well) what it’s like to battle the rapidly fluctuating mood swings of bipolar or the crippling panic attacks of social anxiety, I will never fully possess the knowledge of what it’s like to be lost in a paranoid schizophrenic delusion or confined by the all-controlling thoughts of anorexia nervosa, for this knowledge can only truly be gleaned from experience, not from the cold, dispassionate font of a text-book.

For someone obsessed with physical experiences, the opportunity to experience something I would never normally have the chance to, would be too great to resist. For my $1 (bargain!) I would begin by swapping bipolar for schizophrenia, then exchange schizophrenia for BPD or anorexia. Perhaps I would then swap my social anxiety for narcissistic personality disorder or PTSD for Misophonia. Whatever combination or order I would choose is largely irrelevant, all that matters is I would relish the opportunity to experience these conditions so I could increase my knowledge toward building greater empathy and understanding.

Some may think I’m mad to want to experience such potentially debilitating conditions for whatever reason.

Perhaps they’re right.


4 Comments

Sunday Stealing: Growing Up

Sunday Stealing originated on WTIT: The Blog authored by Bud Weiser, who has now passed the baton to Mr Lance (who writes the blog Solitary Haze). Here we will steal all types of memes from every corner of the blogosphere. Our promise to you is that we will work hard to find the most interesting and intelligent memes.

This week, we continue the epic 100 Question meme that began last week :)

15. How would you describe your childhood in general?

Until my teenage years I would use the rather boring term ‘normal’ to describe my childhood.

16. What is your earliest memory?

My earliest memory is of walking to the local library in Treharris all by my lonesome. I always remember it being approximately 5 or 6 miles from my house but according to my parents it was closer to 100 metres and my parents stood in the doorway watching my every step. But still, my earliest memory is of walking to the library! Quite chuffed with that :)

17. How much schooling have you had?

Everything up to and including A-Level, and then a year-long college course in Television, Photography and Sound Production. I have had opportunities to do more tertiary education (including a uni course and a CAE course that would have been a pathway into Uni and beyond) but they failed due to my own mistakes and my inability to see what cunning plan my abuser was about to unleash.

18. Did you enjoy school?

I enjoyed the learning, the girls in netball skirts  and the writing – but I didn’t enjoying the bullying and the social anxiety.

19. Stop and count, Since you were born until today; how many homes have you lived in?

Approximately 80, when you include my ‘homes’ whilst sleeping rough.

Leeds | Treharris (x2) | Portlethen (x2) | Caldicot | Inverness | Mull | Inverness (again, x3) | Elwood | Fairfield | Fitzroy | Melbourne | Caldicot | Inverness (again, x2) | Melbourne (again, x3) | Kings Domain | Preston [BH] | Frankston [BH] | Brunswick [BH] | East Preston [BH] | Reservoir [BH] |  Glenroy [BH] | Tent | Here | and approximately 50 random places in different parks, suburbs and towns whilst sleeping rough.

Note – [BH means Boarding House, Tent means a tent, not an obscurely named suburb or town, Here means where I am now]

20. While growing up, did you have any role models?

Indiana Jones.

Also; Matilda, Lloyd Dobler, a teacher at school, Roald Dahl and my dad.

21. While growing up, how did you get along with the other members of your family?

I got on well with other members of my family, until my sister’s mental illness developed, and then things got difficult.

Indiana Jones comic books

22. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Happy. But also a writer…and Indiana Jones.

23. What were your favorite activities 3 years ago?

Three years ago I was living in a park in Melbourne so my activities revolved around: finding somewhere safe to sleep, trying to retain mental stability (and failing spectacularly), queuing at the soup van for food poisoned sausage rolls and wondering what I’d done to deserve this existence of pain and misery.

But if you factor this out, my favourite activities have been the same for nearly fifteen years: writing, reading, movies, trivia nights, hanging out with friends, adventuring (still trying to be Indiana Jones), sex, kimnyking, and constantly challenging myself to become a better version of myself.

24. As a child, what kinds of personality traits did you display?

Shyness. Creativity. Compassion. Determination. Strength. Naughtiness.

25. As a child, were you popular?

Depends on your definition of popular.

Was I the muscular jock that all the cheerleaders wanted to get with…no, definitely not.

Was I the popular object of derision, insult, bullying and abuse…most certainly!

26. When and with whom was your first kiss?

My first kiss was when I was twenty-two (yeah, I know…it’s all part of the perils of being socially anxious!)

Whilst studying at Inverness College I decided to visit the island of Berneray (in the Outer Hebrides) for a quiet, uneventful New Year. On my first night there a woman named Louise appeared out of the darkness and I was immediately enchanted by her hypnotic eyes, heart-warming smile and excellent posterior.

After a fair amount of flirting throughout the first twenty-four hours we found a drinking game stashed away on the hostel bookshelf and began playing. Somewhat tipsy we took a break and I went outside for a cigarette (at the time I was smoking cherry menthol rolling tobacco with liquorice papers) and she stood there staring at me with a cheeky grin on her face.

“Could I kiss you?” She said, awaiting a response.

Nervous to the extreme – but desperately wanting to lock lips  – I nodded yes and she took a few steps closer, tossed the cigarette to the ground and threw herself upon me as if suddenly possessed by a voracious kissing demon. After a few uncertain moments she pulled back and looked at me, completely aware my entire body was shaking uncontrollably.

“You’re shaking,” She whispered, rubbing my arms.

“Sorry, it’s…I…well…I’ve never…kissed anyone…before,”

She smiled sweetly and started kissing me again, much more slowly, not caring one bit that I was doing my best vibrator impersonation.

27. Describe any influences in your past that led you to do the things you do today.

There are numerous and many. I spoke of my sister’s mental illness and how it affected me here; I spoke of my social anxiety and how it affected my development and education here; I spoke of my self-harm here; in fact I am acutely aware of how childhood and teenage events have led me into this life of isolation and poverty.

28. What’s next?

Frack knows. But whatever it is, it better be more enjoyable than the ‘life’ I’ve been living for the last five and a half years!

English: The Machair towards West beach, Isle ...

The Machair, Isle of Berneray, Outer Hebrides. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Leave a comment

Anxiety and its effect on my education

Most of us have experienced a moment of anxiety or two in our life. The butterflies before a make-or-break your career presentation; the urgent need for a shot of whisky before delivering a best man’s speech; the tremble in your stomach as you disrobe in front of a new love for the first time. It’s important for us to feel anxious from time to time, it keeps us human, anchors significant life moments and enables us to grow as individuals.

The moment anxiety becomes an issue is when it affects our ability to function day-to-day. For the person overcoming abuse or rape, locked in the nightmares of PTSD or the socially anxious soul unable to connect with the world, anxiety is a prison not unlike that featured in The Dark Knight Rises; easy to get into, but nigh on impossible to climb out of.

Yesterday I wrote a little about the anxiety I feel in sharing opinions. Although this impacts on my life it could hardly be considered a severe impediment to my day-to-day functioning. However, when you look at how anxiety has impacted on my educational career, it may become more apparent the damage this condition can cause.

The Impact of Anxiety
#2: Education

A-Levels

For those who don’t have a working knowledge of the British educational system, A-Levels are the examinations that come after GCSEs (the exams you take after five years in High School). Once you’ve completed your GCSEs you are allowed to leave school and never return, but in today’s age, A-Levels are pretty much compulsory should you desire a career outside of fast food or dole bludging.

When I came to choose which A-Levels to take it was a no brainer. I’d known for months what I was going to do; Media Studies encompassed my love of film, television and print media; English Lit, my passion for literature and writing; Theatre Studies, covered my fascination with acting and theatre. With these three subjects under my belt I would be well on my way to university and, in turn, a career in film-making and the arts.

So, for two years, I studied Media Studies, Math and Computing.

Yep, you read that right. For months I knew what subjects I was going to do – but when it came to registering for them, I chose two subjects I had absolutely NO interest in whatsoever.

Why?

A large part of my anxiety is an intense fear of being evaluated or scrutinized by other people to the point that I will completely remove myself from the situation in order to keep myself safe and avoid any humiliation, judgment or criticism. It dawned on me that if I were to do English Lit, my writing would be subject to scrutiny by the rest of the class and presentations would need to be made that I just couldn’t do. The latter – obviously – being a pre-requisite for Theatre Studies. So in order to protect myself, I opted for two subjects where I could hide myself from the critical gaze of the class behind a text-book or keyboard.

They were the worst two years of my school life; I failed Math and barely scraped a pass in Computing. Whereas Media Studies, being a passionate topic for me, I excelled in.

No matter how I look at it, my anxiety controlled my A-Level decisions and, with the inevitable snowball effect that followed, it has haunted my life ever since.

University

Following my disastrous A-Level experiences it is no surprise that I didn’t go to Uni straight out of school. I knew by the end of the first year of A-Levels that I would not achieve the grades I’d need to gain a place. I also knew that the courses I was interested in – film-making, writing and publishing, arts and acting – I hadn’t taken the correct subjects for. Plus, the damage done to my self-confidence and self-esteem made me believe I would never be able to handle university life.

Basically, I was screwed.

So it comes as no surprise that my mood took a massive nose dive that summer. The realization that you’ve screwed up your entire life will do that! It was a realization that became a major factor behind my running away from home that summer.

College

Following two years of full-time employment and eighteen months backpacking I had built my confidence to a level I deemed sufficient to try to correct the mistakes of my past. I craved to return to education and achieve my dream of going to university, but wanted to make sure I was studying what I wanted. A course at Inverness College called ‘TV production, photography and sound production’ had everything I desired; writing, film-making, photography, acting, arts, film studies…everything was perfect.

By the end of the year-long course I’d caned every aspect of the course. In terms of written coursework, I was told it was university standard. In terms of practical assignments, although not perfect, were of a high standard. Classmates told me I should have my own radio show. Others told me it would be a waste if I didn’t pursue a university course.

So it comes as no surprise that, once again, I didn’t.

Only this time it wasn’t wholly the fault of anxiety, for I’d fallen in love, meaning I had to make a choice between my initial plan – of going to Vancouver to continue my studies at University (where, revealing one of my big life secrets, I’d been accepted) – or continuing my relationship with my girlfriend, which if I did, moved Canada off the table.

Although love was a major part of the choice I made, anxiety did play a part, for (like with A-Levels) not pursuing my dreams was a safer option than opening myself up to criticism, scrutiny and humiliation.

College (Reprise)

It would be nearly six years before I re-entered tertiary education. Throughout that entire time I attempted various night courses (all of which went uncompleted because of my employment commitments) and continually dreamed of going to university.

By this time anxiety was ruling my life. I rarely took chances. I rarely opened myself up. I had become safely coccooned in my safe little life with dozens upon dozens of protective strategies implemented to reduce the humiliation and insult I’d grown to fear since my teenage years.

When my relationship ended in 2006 it provided me the opportunity to reflect on my life and perhaps build a new future; hence, my decision to return to college.

I have written of this event several times in the past. Of how I was shit scared of returning to tertiary education after so many years in safe full-time employment, of how terrified I was of being in a situation where my writing would be regularly criticized, of how petrified I was of the numerous presentations I would have to give in front of dozens of people, but…for the first time in my life I felt confident enough in my abilities to believe I would be able to excel in the course.

A course specifically chosen not only on the basis that it reflected all of my passions but that it provided a pathway into several university courses I would have sacrificed a limb to get into.

Alas, as previously documented, things did not go to plan. The abuse fed into the glandular fever which fed into the anxiety which fed back into the abuse and cost me the course, my dreams and ultimately, my chance of tertiary education.

The Future

Although I do still cling to the hope that I’ll be able to return to education – albeit rarely – I know in my heart my chances have passed. If I can’t write my opinion as a blog comment, how could I write it in the form of an essay? If I can’t walk down the street to purchase food without a panic attack, how could I walk to a university lecture hall? If I can’t talk to a single human being without fear of humiliation, how could I present coursework without fear of public humiliation?

When I look back on how anxiety has shaped my educational choices – from the selection of my A-Levels, through turning down Vancouver, and ending up in the abuse fuelled loss of my college course – I wonder how different my life would be if anxiety didn’t have such a hold over me.

I’m aware it’s not all the fault of this disorder, that I must – and DO – take some responsibility for my choices, but they are choices that would have been easier to make had anxiety not been a factor.

Something that, if your only encounter with anxiety is making a presentation, being a best man or slipping your undies off to flash your boyfriend, is difficult to understand.

When it comes to my anxiety, we’re not talking fluttering little butterflies.

We’re talking a life-altering, heart-stopping fear that I have no idea how to fight anymore.

If I ever did to begin with.

Tomorrow: Anxiety and its effect on my body >>>