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…


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Days 29 & 30: The Long and Winding Road to Recovery

The final two prompts in the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge ask:
~ Day 29: what are a few of your goals regarding your mental health? ~
~ Day 30: what does ‘recovery’ mean to you? ~

road_to_recovery

A little over a year ago, on the 22 October 2012, I wrote a post about recovery that just happens to be the namesake of the final prompt of this challenge. I began the post in my usual random style:

As one half of my psyche lurks in the dangerous yet intoxicating world of nostalgia; recanting the painful, pleasurable and painfully-pleasurable events of the last five years, the other half of my psyche continues on its journey down the road to recovery.

Before continuing with my personal definition of ‘recovery’:

Recovery means living; not existing or surviving.

Recovery means allowing myself to be better version of myself. To not be controlled by the demons, anger and confusion of the past. To accept that these events happened and that I was strong enough to not let them drag me into the undertow. To understand that mistakes were made and to learn self-forgiveness. To give myself permission to move on from these mistakes and not let them define me.

Recovery means learning how to love myself. To accept that I do not deserve to be alone for the rest of my life because I am a caring, loving, talented and passionate human being with much to offer the world. To not allow the abuse I received to continue defining my personality. To understand that I am a wonderful person who deserves everything his heart desires.

Recovery means believing in myself. To set realistic goals that I can work toward; goals that I know I deserve to achieve. To stop endlessly belittling and playing down my achievements and realize that I am a man of many talents and skills. To give myself permission to be the man I know I am in my heart.

~ from “What does recovery mean to you?

Compared to where I was when I wrote this definition, I have moved further toward the mythical (yet achievable) realm of recovery; I’m partaking in more meaningful activity, I’m (very) slowly forming new friendships, I am (slightly) more contented with my life and although I don’t have hope for a better future, I do have dreams that I would like to achieve.

When it comes to my mental health, some of these dreams/goals that come to mind are:

1. Social Anxiety
  • Reduce my anxiety in social situations, such as: shopping, walking down the street etc.
  • Broaden my social options, such as: (re)continue going to munches, find new avenues to make friends etc.
  • Be able to contribute more, such as during support/social groups or online (comments, emails etc.)
2. Hearing Voices
  • Build a better relationship with Vanessa and Shay.
  • Continue building a better relationship with Audrey.
  • Maintain the relationship I’ve built with Meadhbh.
  • Co-facilitate a session of the Hearing Voices Support Group I attend,
  • Find a way to contribute more with Hearing Voices Networks across the world.
3. PTSD
  • Reduce the amount of nightmares/flashbacks I experience.
  • Re-empower some of the more prominent triggers I experience.
  • Reduce the amount of time I spend in a ‘heightened state’.
4. Bipolar
  • Stabilize my mood swings/episodes
    I’ve crossed this from the list as now I am back on a medication regime, I am close to achieving this! :)
5. Body Image Issues
6. Related Issues
  • Manage my finances more proficiently; such as reducing comfort spending etc.
  • Continue eating a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Continue going to the gym three times a week (at least!)
  • Continue blogging in order to share my experiences and (hopefully) inspire others.
  • Find a way to tackle my crippling car/bus anxiety so I can take more trips outside of Wodonga.
  • Co-facilitate another social/support group for people with mental health issues.
  • Undertake more public speaking, with the hope to inspire others by sharing my story.
  • Continue working with GT House so I can continue having help with all of the above! :)

With all of that said, I promise to keep you updated as to if/when I am able to cross items from this list! :)

And this marks the end of the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge! If you missed any of the installments, you can catch up on them by checking out the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge category. :)

Society does need to talk more about mental illness, and even though this challenge has been completed, I vow to continue talking about it (in my own random way!) until the stigma against it has been spanked into submission once and for all.

I’d like to thank everyone for their wonderfully kind and supportive comments over the last thirty days and a huge thank you to Marci, who created this challenge and made all my posts this Mental Health Month possible! :)


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Day 16: Out and proud (of my mental illnesses)

Woohoo! With this short and sweet post (possibly the shortest in my blog’s history!) I’ve finally caught up with the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge. Day sixteen asks how many people are you ‘out’ to with your mental illness(es)?

The answer is: everyone!

Given that everyone I know in real-life work for mental health organisations and everyone I’ve met online have been met through this blog, there’s no point hiding my mental illness(es).

And to be honest, I don’t want to hide them.

It shouldn’t matter that I have Bipolar, PTSD and Social Anxiety Disorder. None of these things define who I am because they are all just parts of me that anyone who matters should accept without question.

I spent nearly fifteen years of my life hiding my mental illness(es) from family, friends and girlfriends and all this brought me was more pain, chaos and emotional frustration.

I’m happy to be ‘out’ because I’m tired of lying to the world about who I am.

Because, quite frankly, I shouldn’t have to! :)


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Day 15: How has your life been affected by your illness(es)?

Day fifteen of the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge asks:
How has your life been affected by your illness(es)?

mentalhealth

Bipolar

Even though it’s considered one of the ‘big’ mental illnesses, the impact Bipolar has had on my life is negligible, mainly because by the time I was diagnosed my life had already been reduced to rubble courtesy of social anxiety, an abusive relationship and being ostracized from my social group.

Certainly, it did have an impact in the rebuilding of my life; the hypomanic episode I experienced in mid-2008 caused all manner of problems (from employment to relationships) and the constant fluctuations in mood were a large part of my homelessness and subsequent battle to escape it.

However, it also caused good things to happen to my life, notably the meeting of and subsequent friendship with Samantha, my increased creativity and a greater understanding of who I am and what I’m capable of.

PTSD

This has had a major impact on my life, especially as it feeds into the anxiety I experience.

One cause of my PTSD was the emotionally abusive relationship I was a victim of; as a result, I fear making new friendships as I don’t want to find myself in a similar situation of constant criticism, abuse and destructive comments. Similarly, the PTSD I experience as a result of the assault and rape has made me fearful of men, cost me years of restorative sleep and granted me a complex surrounding all things sexual.

As a result, I tend to isolate myself and withhold from any situations which could cause the PTSD to flare up (i.e. nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks etc.). This ultimately renders my life rather bland and unrewarding, which feeds into my unsatisfied state and, in turn, my anxieties.

Social Anxiety

A few prompts ago I wrote the blog equivalent of a ‘clip show’. For the social anxiety component of today’s prompt I revisit this style, for many moons ago I wrote a series of posts that looked at how social anxiety has effected various areas of my life.

I began by looking at how social anxiety has effected my ability to comment on websites:

Now, I cannot comment on newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites without suffering a major panic attack. The reason being quite simple; throughout my emotionally abusive relationship I was frequently insulted, criticized, attacked and publicly humiliated for sharing my opinions, so now, I fear a reprisal of the pain these incidents caused.

~ from Social Anxiety and its effect on sharing my opinion

Before continuing through its effect on my body image:

When the issue of body image arises people tend to think it the exclusive domain of the female gender; the sexualisation of young girls, the teenager struggling to accept herself, the woman instantly disbelieving her boyfriend the moment he says ‘no’ to her doubts over various body parts.

Rarely is body image seen as a problem that men struggle with. Over the years I’ve been in Australia, a country obsessed with appearance and physical shape, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard comments like: “men don’t care what they look like”, “men don’t see that they’re morbidly obese, they just believe themselves to be perfect” or “men don’t worry about how chubby their arse is”.

The simple fact is, some do; and I’m one of them.

~ from Social Anxiety and its effect on body image

How it destroyed my educational career:

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.

~ from Social Anxiety and its effect on Education

And, most importantly, the effect my social anxiety has had on building relationships:

As with many areas of social anxiety, this inability to communicate often translates to those who don’t understand as a form of snobbish behavior, with many people deciding I thought myself ‘too good’ to be talking to such ‘peasants’ – when in reality it’s the exact opposite. My anxiety drives me to believe I’m not good enough as a person to be around such vibrant, wonderful individuals.

~ from Social Anxiety and its effect on Building Relationships

Needless to say, the damage caused by Social Anxiety Disorder has been catastrophic!


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Day 10: What is the best thing about your mental illness(es)?

For the tenth day in the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge, the prompt asks:
What is the best thing in regards to your mental illness?

best things

In all honesty, whether I can see the ‘good’ things that my mental illness(es) have brought my life depends on the day. Some days I absolutely hate them and all the pain, devastation and isolation they’ve brought my life; but others I worship all of the things that would never have happened were it not for my mental illness(es).

If it weren’t for my manic phase in June/July 2007, I would never have walked into a bar and slapped Samantha on her deliciously round posterior. If I hadn’t committed such an uncharacteristic act, I would never have had the pleasure to become her friend or undertake the soulful exploration that we did.

Also, if it weren’t for my mental illness(es), I would be a far less empathetic person. For I truly believe that these illness(es) I’ve been forced to live with have given me a far better understanding not only of the world, but of the strengths and foibles of the humans who populate it.

However, if I had to pick the best thing about my mental illness, it would be the opportunity it has given me to help others; whether it is through this blog, from speaking in public or just having the chance to share my story in support groups.

The knowledge that I am helping people realise they are not alone in their experiences makes the hell that often descends on my moods more than worthwhile.


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Day 07: Triggers and Patterns

Courtesy of the build-up and aftermath of my first ever public speaking engagement, I’m a wee bit behind with the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge. For the seventh day, we are asked do you think there are any triggers or patterns to how your illness(es) affects you?

Now, I have written quite extensively about triggers over the years, so rather than retread old ground I’ve decided to write the blogging equivalent of a ‘clip-show’! :)

One of my favourite posts about triggers was from February 2013, in which I challenged myself to come up with an A-Z of my emotional triggers. When I began it I wasn’t sure if I would be able to come up with something for each letter of the alphabet but…well, I won’t tell you whether I did or not because you can find out for yourselves.

ADELAIDE, ALICE SPRINGS, APPLE PIE and AMERICAN PIE
Adelaide is where I was raped; Alice Springs was a nightmare from (almost) beginning to end; Apple Pie was being baked whilst I was assaulted in a boarding house; American Pie was part of one of the worst abusive tantrums my ex threw.

BRUNSWICK STREET, BOARDING HOUSES and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
Brunswick Street was where I lived during the abusive relationship; Boarding Houses are some of the worst establishments in the history of the world and I would rather sleep on the street for the rest of eternity than have to deal with living in one again; Buffy the Vampire Slayer (one of my favourite shows of all time and one I’ve seen every episode of at least 12 times each) is a major reminder of my abusive relationship and can no longer be watched under any circumstances! I miss it :(

CIGARS, COLLINGWOOD FOOTBALL CLUB and CARLTON (the entire suburb)
Cigars were the favored smoking choice of my rapist, he STANK of them; supporters of the Collingwood Football Club beat the crap out of me whilst I was homeless; Carlton is the suburb where my abuser lived;

DANDENONG RAINFOREST, THE DARK KNIGHT
The Dandenong Rainforest is where I once attempted suicide; The Dark Knight is a reminder not only of Alice Springs but of one of my biggest failures/fuck-ups.

EMOTIONAL ABUSE
This basically means anything dealing with emotional abuse. If there’s a trigger warning I might be able to deal with it. If there isn’t a trigger warning it can send me spiralling into chaos.

FROZEN (Tegan and Sara)
Frozen was one of Stephanie’s favourite songs.

from ‘The A-Z of my emotional triggers

But the posts I’ve written about triggers do not simply recant my own triggering experiences, they have also attempted to share some of the coping strategies I have learnt over the years.

In May 2013, I wrote about how the Biopsychosocial Model can be used to identify possible coping mechanisms that could be implemented to deal with a trigger:

Whenever I am confronted with a trigger my gut reaction is to avoid at all cost! But triggers can be preventable. Approaching triggers from the biopsychosocial approach is one such way to identify potential new strategies and wrestle back the control that triggers have on our lives.

The first step in applying the biopsychosocial model to our triggers is to work out which categories they each fit into; are they biological, psychological or social in origin?

For example, if your trigger is a place, food or medicine – then they are biological triggers. Whereas (in my opinion) loneliness, anniversaries and television series are psychological triggers and people, boarding houses and clothing are social triggers. However, how you categorise your own triggers is entirely up to you. There are no right or wrong answers, only those that are pertinent to your lived experiences.

from ‘Mi Recovery: Biopsychosocial Personal Treatment Plan (aka Self-Love!)

Whilst in April 2013, I shared a re-empowerment exercise to alter how a trigger affects you:

The first stage in this approach is to state how you feel upon being triggered. The best option would be to talk face-to-face with a close, trusted and supportive person (e.g. a friend, support worker or partner). With eye-contact, use direct “I” statements to voice exactly how you feel, such as “I feel anxious” or “I am petrified” so that both you and your support can understand exactly how you’re feeling.

If you do not have a support person and are undertaking this process by yourself you can use a mirror to make eye contact, just remember to speak how you are feeling aloud instead of just in your head as it’s important to make sure the emotions are heard.

from ‘Reclaiming ownership of your emotional triggers

As I have said many times in the past, I personally believe that identifying your triggers is one of the most important steps in the journey toward recovery, for only by knowing what brings on various episodes can we hope to find strategies that lessens the impact they have on our life.


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Day 05: Nature, nurture, a mix, or something else?

Today’s prompt in the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge asks:

Do you believe nature, nurture, a mix, or something else has an impact on mental health?

__Biopsychosocial Model (CAUSES)

~ The Biopsychosocial Model I created for the ’causes’ of my mental health issues ~

I believe in the Biopsychosocial Model; which means I believe there are biological, psychological and social causes that impact on one’s mental health. We are, after all, just a combination of our unique and plentiful life experiences.

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.

Earlier this year, as part of the Mi Recovery program I undertook, I wrote a post that shared my own Biopsychosocial Model in relation to the causes, symptoms and treatment of my mental health issues. This exercise was an enlightening experience and one I would whole heartedly recommend to others looking to understand the whys and wherefores of their mental health.