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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Days 27 & 28: Take the good with the bad

Because I’ve been a little behind with the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge, I have decided not to think about the answers to days 27 and 28 all that much. Instead, I’ve decided to freewrite my answers in one combined post.

The prompts ask: explain a good day and explain a bad day, so I shall begin with the bad…

Bad Day

Bad day

The first thought that comes to mind when thinking about a ‘bad day’ is a complicated one. A bad day for me is a mess of complex emotions, crippling pain and (more often than not) tears.

I’ve become all too familiar with these days over the last five years. Hours upon days upon weeks of my life lost to the torment of negative emotion, obsessive self-hate and punishing self-harm.

On a bad day I struggle to get out of bed. Words lose their meaning and appear in random patterns on the page. I can’t think or speak. I can’t dream or believe. I become lost to the demon that lurks within me and obey her every whim, desire and torturous demand.

On a bad day I become someone I don’t recognise. My soul is stripped of the passions and pleasures that usually resonate from within. I lose interest in everything that normally brings me joy and spend my hours staring into space, wondering about the sweet release of death.

On a bad day I’m not Addy. I’m no-one. Just a shapeless object taking up space.

Yes. A bad day is a day that sees me disappear.

Good Day

Good day

The first thought that comes to mind when thinking about a ‘good day’ is a simple one. A good day for me is a day that sees me smile, even if it is just one momentary smirk of the lips.

Smiling is something I know I don’t do enough of. It’s not that I don’t like smiling; it’s just that after the half decade I’ve had there is very little left to smile about.

People tell me I should just “fake it ‘til I make it”, but in my opinion faking a smile is tantamount to faking an orgasm. Why pretend to feel something that you’re not? It just lessens the pleasure of when it happens naturally.

So when it does happen naturally, it’s something I became acutely aware of. I know why I’m smiling; it reverberates through my body from the tips of my hair to the nails of my toes, I celebrate it, relish it, bathe in it. I cherish every moment of those smiles and whatever has prompted my lips to curl and soul to sing in the first place.

Yes. A good day is a day that sees me smile.

 


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Day 26: Ten ways my mental illness(es) effect my day-to-day life

Day twenty-six of the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge asks:
How is your day-to-day life effected by your mental illness(es)?

Ten ways my mental illness(es) effect my day-to-day life

social

~ in no particular order ~

1. Social Inclusion

One of the worst things about my mental illness(es) is the immense loneliness I feel on a daily basis. It’s difficult for people to understand how painful it is to be on your own for as long as I have (coming on six and a half years!) And it’s just as problematic for people to understand the difficulties this can cause; “forgetting” how to be social, problems expressing basic needs, the inability to express emotions, the crippling pain of lack of nurture and so much more that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

2. Shop Assistants

This is tied in to point (1) above. My lack of social skills which have arisen from such an elongated period of isolation means that heading to a shop counter to purchase products (be it food, medication or clothes) is immensely difficult. In fact, I plan my shopping trips around stores which have ‘self-serve’ counters so I don’t find myself in a situation where I have to talk to a stranger, even if this means travelling several kilometers out of my way.

3. Self-Hygiene

Due to my body image/body dysmorphic issues I will not look at myself in a mirror or put myself in a position where I see myself naked. Therefore, shaving is an extremely difficult action whilst having a shower is a painfully anxious procedure of closed eyes, swimming shorts and T-Shirts.

4. Finances

Whether it is a result of my bipolar, an innate inability to be financially aware or just a product of living in abject poverty, one of the primary problems I have on a day-to-day basis is balancing the books. Saving for the future, paying bills on time and keeping a stocked larder are all immensely difficult for me, regardless of how embarrassing that is to admit.

5. Cooking

My cooking is entirely dependent on my moods. If I’m manic, I won’t cook, in fact I’ll rarely eat. If I’m depressed, I won’t cook, but I will binge of unhealthy junk food. If I’m stable I’ll spend hours in the kitchen experimenting with all manner of new recipes and foodstuffs.

The problem is, I’m rarely ‘stable’! :/

6. Sleep

One of the most important periods of any day is the period that we spend asleep. It recharges us, reinvigorates both mind and body and grants us the ability to face another day with a smile on our face. My sleep is scattered and uneven, rarely restorative and fraught with nightmares, random sleepwalking and tears. It’s a pain in the arse…and not of the kinkily pleasurable kind!

7. Living in a Heightened State

In order to protect myself, I live in an eternal heightened state of anxiety; constantly aware of everything that is going on around me and the possible dangers these things (may) hold. As such, I am constantly stressed, never relaxed. It’s bloody exhausting!

8. Psychosomatic Symptoms

As a result of living in such a constant state of stress, the psychosomatic symptoms I experience (namely headaches, body aches, sweating, hiccups and digestive issues) will often govern my actions. They will stop me going out, lessen my enjoyment if I do go out and rarely leave my mind at any point during the day.

9. Isolating Myself

As a result of a number of the above items (such as: 8, 7, 6 and 1) I will hideaway, even if I have important things to do, which often causes problems with daily errands and lessens the chance of combating my social anxiety.

10. Hugs

They say you need 30-40 hugs a day to survive…I’ve had 3 in the last five years! Enough said.


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Day 25: What is your opinion on forced/coercion in mental health treatment?

The 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge continues, with:
What is your opinion on forced/coercion in mental health treatment

Perhaps my view of this would be different had I ever been the victim of forced treatment for my mental health issues, but I’m not a strong supporter of coercive measures when it comes to mental health. In fact, the only times I could understand its necessity would be if a person was a serious danger to other people or that they are so unwell (i.e. suicidal, psychotic, delusional) they are unable to make their own rational decisions.

I know there have been times during my life when I wish a mental health agency, psychiatrist or doctor had forced hospitalization on me (e.g. my suicide attempts in 2007 and 2008 spring to mind, as do numerous periods of psychosis). If such an action had been made, although I would have vehemently hated it at the time, it’s possible that such hospitalization would have saved me a lot of pain and distress. But then, it’s equally possible that it would have caused more pain and distress.

As for the forced help from a friend/family member, although it can be difficult to watch someone you care about spiral out of control, sometimes all you can do is wait for them to realise they need help, for forcing it upon them may push them further away and worsen the situation.

After all, the saying ‘you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped’ is a classic for a reason.


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Day 24: Four alternative therapies that have worked for me

The 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge continues, with
Day 24: What is your opinion on alternative treatments or treatments that aren’t commonly used?

urlbjFour alternative therapies that have worked for me…

Whilst writing the last post in the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge, Four therapies that have worked for me, I ruminated extensively on whether to include ‘writing therapy’ or hold it off until this post. Eventually, I decided to include it because I believe writing therapy to be one of the most important and productive therapies there is when it comes to mental health.

Of course, there will be others who disagree with me, and believe it should have been included in this post, about four of the most successful alternative treatments/therapies that I have explored over the years.

Massage

Following my breakdown in 2007, my abuser decided that a number of things would “fix me”, principally there was her belief that self-help books held the key to my salvation, but a close second was ‘massage therapy’. She strenuously believed that a simple massage would “cure” me of my mental health woes, or what she termed “a figment of my imagination”.

Unfortunately, I was unable to test her theory, as the idea of getting a massage from a complete stranger stresses me out so much that the mere thought of it can bring on a panic attack. Part of my trauma – as a result of the various abuses I’ve received over the year – makes human contact an intensely stressful action for me, so the thought of someone putting their hands on me, even in an unsexual manner, freaks me out so much that whatever benefits could come from massage would be immediately undone.

Acupuncture

As a result of my stranger-massage fears, I decided that the next best thing would be acupuncture. Unfortunately, even though it involved far less person-to-person contact, I experienced such a heightened state of anxiety that it made things worse, not better.

Art Therapy

Thus, the alternative therapies I have found most beneficial are those that require no human contact whatsoever. Art Therapy is something I have been doing off and on since I was a child, even before I knew what I was doing was having any therapeutic benefits. As a teenager lost to the worlds of self-harm and depression, I would draw montages of my favourite video game and Doctor Who characters, even sketching them on top of chests of drawers when I ran out of paper.

However, when I became a twenty-something, I stopped drawing after discovering the blissful feelings photography could bring me. Back in the days before digital, I would spend hours developing the photographs I’d taken in the darkroom and feeling more relaxed than I’d ever felt. There was just something so beautiful and serene in watching my photographs come to love in glorious monochrome. In fact, I’ve never been able to equal that sensation with digital, no matter how many hours have been spent in front of Photoscape.

Having been without a camera for so many years, I delved back into Art Therapy during my time on the streets, often wiling away my days sketching random images in a notebook I carried with me. Alas, this notebook was destroyed during a storm in 2010 so I’m unable to share any of the images with you today. However, I can still recall the calmness that took over me as I ran the pencil over the paper.

Another aspect of Art Therapy that I have partaken in over the years related to my self-harm. As a coping mechanism I took to drawing on my arm in red pen instead of cutting it with a knife. At first, I would just draw lines to indicate where I would otherwise have cut, but in time these lines became intricate, often abstract images that took up vast portions of my flesh.

I still utilize this method in dealing with my self-harm, and I’m sure will do so for a long time to come.

Walking/Cycling Therapy

I have always been someone who enjoys walking. Once upon a time I tried to walk from Melbourne to Sydney (in my defense I was somewhat manic at the time), I did walk from Inverness to Drumnadrochit (also whilst manic) and one of my longest held dreams is to hike the West Highland Way in Scotland. In fact, there are times that I have walked myself to physical pain just so that I can feel something other than the emotional torment bubbling within me.

The same can be said for cycling, which now I am with bike again I do on a regular basis, regardless of how tired, exhausted and pained I am.

I’ve never been entirely sure why I push myself to physical pain as much as I do. Perhaps I’m just hooked on the endorphin release that comes from heavy exercise, or perhaps it is as simple as having a healthy endeavor to fill up my time. Either way, they are therapies I will continue to practice in.

…and four alternative therapies I would like to try!

EMDR

I have only recently become aware of this therapeutic practice after it was covered in a ‘Tackling Trauma’ support group I partook in via GT House. Although I am somewhat skeptical about its ability to deal with heavy traumas, the book I read on the subject matter – Getting Past Your Past – peaked my interest enough to look into therapists who practice EMDR in my local area. So far I’ve yet to find one I can afford, but I shall keep you informed as to if/when I do.

Kinesiology

My support worker and I have been looking into this alternative therapy as a way to help me deal with my insomnia and anxiety. Numerous people who work for the MH organisation I frequent have sung its praises and believe it could be most beneficial. There is a practitioner in Wodonga who charges only $5 a session (a special rate for people who, like me, live in abject poverty) but their waiting list is extensive. Once my turn comes around, I shall let you know how it went!

The “Siberian” Approach

Granted, the line between this and self-harm is somewhat blurry, but as I wrote back in February:

If I were being completely honest – as I always strive to be on this blog – I would definitely be willing to give this course of therapy a chance. With my episodes worsening, I’ve reached a point where I’m willing to give anything a shot – even if it means sacrificing my ability to sit comfortably! Although thinking about it, I’d much prefer this to some of the more severe side effects I’ve received from medication over the years!

Unfortunately, Siberia is 2495km (1547 miles) from where I am, so the chances of me getting the opportunity to experience this treatment is slim to none.

~ from ‘Beating addiction out of you – literally

Reiki

I know very little of Reiki other than my father has been using this form of alternative therapy in his battles with stress and depression. Over the years he has reported extremely positive results after each session, leading me to put it on my list of things to try one day. If/when I do, as with all the other alternative therapies I’d like to try, I’ll let you know how they go.


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Day 23: Four therapies that have worked for me

Day twenty-three of the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge asks:
What is your opinion on therapy?Lucy Therapist

Over the last twenty years I’ve undertaken a variety of different therapies, to varying degrees of success. So, to prevent this post becoming epic in scope, I’ve decided to focus on four therapies that I’ve found most successful, beginning with…

ACT

I have only recently begun practicing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. It was introduced to me by my support worker before I began attending a support group that focused on this currently in-vogue practice. For those not in the know, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is not about ridding ourselves of our demons, but learning to accept them so we can live side-by-side with them, and I have written previously of my love of ACT here.

Exposure Therapy

The one aspect of my mental health that I neglect the most is the PTSD. Although it’s true that few psychiatrists have bothered to treat this aspect of me, it’s also equally true that I’ve been too scared to venture into this potentially devastating minefield, so rarely speak up outside of this blog about how much damage trauma has inflicted on my life.

On the rare occasions that I have dared to stand up to my PTSD, exposure therapy has been my choice of weapon. For example, earlier this year you may recall that I was confronted with a new and (potentially) dangerous trigger. This person, the twin of someone I used to know, was wreaking havoc in my mind; resurfacing all manner of emotions and memories that served to drag me further into the abyss.

Given this person works for the MH organisation I frequent, I knew my usual acts of avoidance wouldn’t work, so all I could do was expose myself (for want of a better term) to my trigger in the hope it would differentiate her from the person she reminded me of.

Months later, I can safely say that this trigger no longer poses the threat it once did. Although she does still remind me of the person I once knew, I am able to be in her company without fear of panic or anxiety attacks; all because of exposure therapy.

Currently, my support worker and I are working on tackling my car anxiety through exposure therapy, and this form of therapy will also become crucial during my return to Melbourne (and the negative memories it will resurface) in a few weeks time.

Talk Therapy

This form of therapy is entirely dependent on the level of trust I have with the person I am talking to. If, for example, I despise their very existence (such as the psychiatrist I saw at the end of 2011) no amount of time spent talking to them will do any good whatsoever.

Whereas, if I trust the person (such as with my current support worker) I find talking through my various problems, histories and traumas an entirely beneficial exercise that helps me no end.

Writing Therapy

This form of therapy is, without question, the one I use the most. Over the last six years of writing this blog I have delved into almost every facet of my personality, not just to share my story in the hope of inspiring others, but to work through the issues that have plagued me.


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Day 22: My (not very high) opinion of psychiatric medication!

For anyone who is interested, my current medication regime is:

Sodium Valproate (Mood Stabiliser): 1000mg Daily
Citalopram (Anti-Depressant): 20mg Daily
Olanzapine (Anti-Psychotic): 10mg Evening, 2.5mg Morning
Oxazepam (To aid with sleep): 7.5mg Nightly
Phernergan (To aid with sleep): 25mg Nightly
and
Vitamin B12 (Supplement): 100mg Daily
Vitamin D (Supplement): 2000IU Daily

I’ve been taking this regime of medication for the last two months, and I have to say, my hatred of psychiatric medication is as strong as ever. I hate what it does to me, I hate the side-effects and I hate how it makes me feel nothing like ‘me‘.

Six reasons I hate psychiatric medication…

url

1. Weight Gain

For someone with body dysmorphic issues, even the slightest weight gain can cause chaos in their minds. Over the last two months I have gained nearly five kilograms. The fact I’ve been going to the gym three times a week, eating healthily, banning soft drinks and cycling in excess of 100km a week doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to my weight. In fact, right now, I have begun to believe I will be a blimp for the remainder of my life.

Seriously, I hate how I see my body almost as much as the social anxiety that eats away at my soul!

2. Side Effects

Since I’ve been on this medication I’ve noticed an escalation of my self-harm urges and suicidal ideation. I’ve experienced a plethora of physical symptoms (including diarrhea, nausea, dry mouth, trembling limbs and unquenchable thirst) and, as previously mentioned, the somewhat odd incidents of sleepwalking that have never happened to me before.

3. Sex

Granted, I’m not fortunate enough to have anyone in my life who wishes to take a tumble betwixt the sheets, but I am a thirty-something male who, on occasion, does enjoy partaking in some ‘private time’ to assist with stress, happiness and general nurture.

However, since I’ve been on this medication, I’ve been unable to reach or maintain an erection, thus rendering another source of pleasure obsolete.

4. They’re not “happy pills”

I hate when people refer to anti-depressants as ‘happy pills’, because they’re not. If they were, I would feel happy after taking one. I don’t. In fact…I feel nothing!

It’s one thing stabilizing moods so that I’m not oscillating between mania and depression, but it’s another thing entirely to render me so zombified I feel nothing. For the last two months I’ve felt no sadness, no happiness, no excitement, no joy. Nothing. It’s just been me, feeling nothing like “me“, every day for every week for the last two months. It’s soul-destroying.

And wholly unpleasant.

5. My people hate medication more than I do

This is a major issue for my people. They hate me being medicated as they believe I’m trying to medicate them out of existence. This causes an increase in the abusive and negative content of all of them. In fact, they would be much happier if I wasn’t taking any medication and believe I would be too.

6. Financial burden

I’m not a rich man. In fact, I’ve shared numerous times in the past that I basically live in abject poverty and, once rent and bills have been factored out of the equation, it’s a challenge to feed myself properly from week to week let alone afford anything ‘fun’. So the added burden of the cost of my medication has had a massive impact on my already frustrating life.

This has been Day twenty-two of the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge. Apologies for two ‘six of the best’ posts in a row, but I wanted to write a list of the reasons why I dislike psychiatric medication and I like things occuring in sixes! :p