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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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…

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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


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Day 21: Six of the best ways to reduce stress…

Day twenty-one of the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge asks
Many people say stress triggers symptoms, do you agree or disagree?

Stress

My breakdown occurred as a result of stress; the stress of an emotionally abusive relationship, the stress of returning to college as a mature age student, the stress of physical illness, the stress of being so far from home, the stress of not being able to open up about my history of mental illnesses.

When I am stressed, my anxiety explodes to levels that impair day-to-day functioning, the nightmares that haunt my sleep-time increase to unbearable levels and I am reduced (on an emotional level) to that of a scared, trembling child desperate for nurture and safety.

Stress and symptoms go hand in hand.

As do symptoms and stress.

When I am experiencing heavy symptoms – the volatile mood swings, the anxiety or panic attacks, the aforementioned nightmares, the urge to self-harm – my stress levels escalate, thus feeding the vicious cycle that has been my burden for the last twenty years of my life.

I’ve never found something that eases the stress completely. At times I’ve been able to control it, to reduce it to a ‘manageable’ level, but it is always there, bubbling beneath the surface, waiting to strike.

If I ever find a way to beat it, I’ll let you know. Until then, here are six of the best ways I’ve found to reduce stress:

1. Muscle relaxation

There are many different ways one can relax the various muscles in the human body, but the one that works best for me involves beginning at the feet and working all the way up through your muscle groups until you reach your head.

You begin by slowing your breathing and then, after breathing in, squeeze all the muscles in your feet for five seconds, and then breathe out. Whilst keeping regular breathing, you then repeat squeezing the muscles of your feet two more times before slowly working up your body – legs, buttocks, stomach, hands, arms, shoulders, neck, face – working each group of muscles three times each.

By the time you’ve finished your face, you should hopefully be a lot more relaxed than you were at the start!

2. Movie night!

We all have a favourite ‘comfort film’ (mine’s Tremors, by the way), so if you’re starting to feel your stress levels rise, why not curl up on the sofa and treat yourself to a movie night? Watching a treasured movie (or two, or three) can work wonders to reduce your stress levels!

3. Sex

The rush of endorphins that are released upon orgasm are a potent stress-buster, they aren’t called the body’s natural painkillers for no reason! So why not give your mattress (or carpet, kitchen table, whatever) a workout to help beat stress?

But if you – like me – are not lucky enough to have someone to enjoy this wonderful act with, you can always do it alone! After all, there is absolutely nothing wrong with bringing pleasure to yourself! :p

4. Exercise

If masturbation is not for you (!?) you can always head out and get some exercise. Whether it be a session down the gym, a jog along the beach or a bike ride through the mountains, exercise will release those very same endorphins that are released during sex. It’s just not quite as much fun!

5. Chocolate

And keeping on the endorphins theme…eating chocolate can also cause those happy little endorphins to rush around your beautiful body, it just might take an unholy amount of chocolate to cause the same amount that exercise or sex will release!

6. Colouring in

It doesn’t matter if you’re a twenty-something Uni student or a fifty-something CEO, there is something immensely relaxing in cracking out the crayons and channeling your inner child. Don’t believe me? Why not go grab yourself a colouring book (or print out the image(s) below) and give it a try…I guarantee it will help de-stress you! :)

Do you have any tips or tactics that help de-stress you? Feel free to share them below… :)


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Day 20: Where do you get your support?

The 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge continues, with:
Day 20: Where do you get your support?

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The support I receive for my mental health issues comes from four different fronts:

#1: Gateway Community Health

Gateway Community Health is a local community health hub, containing GPs, pathology, counseling (for drug, alcohol and/or gambling problems) and youth and indigenous services.

The mental health aspect of Gateway Community Health is called GT House, a psychosocial rehabilitation day program that provides group and individual psychosocial rehabilitation and recovery services.

Through GT House I undertake a number of social and support groups as well as receive one-to-one support through my keyworker, one of the few human beings that I trust. The fact they operate using a recovery-orientated approach – meaning they view me as a whole person rather than individual labels – has been a massive help to me, given my dislike of the psychiatric approach to mental illness.

In the seven years since my breakdown, Gateway (and GT House) are the only organisation that have offered me any support with my mental health and trauma, and without them I’d probably be dead.

#2: My parents

Although they live on the other side of the world, my parents have done their absolute best to support me over the last seven years. It hasn’t been easy – especially when I’ve been trapped in manic, hypomanic and depressive episodes – but they’ve always done all they can, despite the problems they face in their own lives.

#3: My people

Some may consider my people part of the problems I face, and certainly this is the case in respect to Vanessa and Shay, but since February of this year Meadhbh has become one of my primary supports.; she soothes me when I’m upset, distracts me when I’m overwhelmed with self-harm urges, rewards me when I do something awesome and chastises me when I’m pushing myself too hard. Audrey, also, has become a friendly voice in my ear over the last few months.

I also count the Hearing Voices Support Group I attend as part of this front, as my collaboration with them has not only enabled me to understand my voices better, but helped me forge the relationships mentioned above.

#4: Myself

I’m not sure how contentious this front will be, but having spent the better part of the last seven years completely on my own, I’ve learnt that sometimes the only person you can rely on is yourself.

Over the years, I’ve developed a number of strict coping strategies (both healthy and unhealthy) that help me manage my sometimes distressing and uncomfortable mood swings, anxiety and PTSD.

Without this determination (and self-compassion), it is doubtful I would be writing this today.

And as I type these words, it occurs to me that if I had answered this post last October, it would include only items #2 and #4; which is an indication of just how much things have changed (and how hard I’ve worked) over the last twelve months! :)


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Day 19: My (not very high) opinion of self-help books

The 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge continues:
Day 19: Have you ever read a self-help book or a book related to psychology?
What is your opinion on them?  If you have read them do you have a favorite?

selfhelpbooks

Following my breakdown in 2007, my abuser decided that all I needed to do to ‘get better’ was to read any of the hundreds of self-help books she had decided were the saviors of humankind.

Whether it be Roads Less Travelled or the endless Chicken Soup series, she believed that my entire life – that my entire soul – would have been fixed by simply reading one of these books.

I didn’t believe such nonsense.

In fact, the only self-help book I’ve ever loved is called Happiness (Will Ferguson); a fictional satire on the self-help book industry. For that is what it is, an industry established to make people feel bad about themselves for not being able to fix their lives with a single platitude or simple belief.

The “self-help” books I like are those grounded in reality. They are those that come with substantiated evidence from the medical field and are written by professionals who have practiced what they have preached with quantifiable results.

Books such as: The Happiness Trap (Russ Harris), 8 Keys to Safe Trauma Recovery (Babette Rothschild), Getting Past Your Past (Francine Shapiro) or Living with Voices: Fifty Stories of Recovery (Marius Romme/Sandra Escher); all of which look at areas of recovery without resorting to the level of emotional manipulation that many self-help books do.

Many self-help books (and the ones my abuser believed held the key to my salvation) teach you that all you have to do to change your life is to believe your life will change and it will magically do so.

This is bollocks!

The only thing that will change your life is a hell of a lot of goddamned hard work, so if I do turn to the written word to help me, I will always turn to books that will assist me in my battle, rather than those that manipulate my fragile sense of mind with hope, faerie dust and bullshit.


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Day 18: What do you wish people would understand in regards to mental illness?

The 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge continues, with
Day 18:  What do you wish people would understand in regards to mental illness?

For many years I was too scared to speak out of my mental illness. I hid it from family, from friends and from partners. I believed people would treat me differently; that they would label me ‘crazy’, ‘a nutcase’ or worse. I believed people would be scared of me; that they would only see the darkness lurking inside me; that they would not see the hidden strengths I knew were there.

When the full extent of my mental illness was revealed – without my consent – people were scared; they didn’t know how to act around me, they didn’t understand what was happening to me, and they did treat me differently; I was no longer ‘Andrew’, I was ‘the weak guy who’d had a breakdown’.

I was defined by my mental illness in the same way that some people are defined by their sexuality, skin colour or gender.

By the time I came to understand what was happening to me, it was too late to do anything. All I knew was that my illnesses – my breakdown – were not the sum total of who I was; I was so much more.

The one thing I wish people would understand in regards to mental illness is the same as one of my primary reasons for establishing this blog nearly six years ago: a mental illness does not define who a person is, they are so much more than the labels that have been applied to them.


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Day 17: If you could get rid of your mental illness(es)…would you?

The 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge continues, with:
Day 17: If you could get rid of your mental illness(es), would you?

If I could rid myself of the scourge of Social Anxiety Disorder, I would. I despise the ever-present feelings of worthlessness, the constant feelings of inadequacy and the omnipresent hopelessness. I am tired of experiencing anxiety attacks from merely walking down the street or being crippled by panic attacks because a shop assistant looks in my direction and says ‘hello’. I abhor everything about this illness and the damage it has caused to my life.

I dream of being confident, of showing the world who I am, of being able to banter and enjoy conversations without fearing that the person before me is judging every minute detail of my life, physical appearance and mental state. I hate that this illness prevents me from showcasing my awesomeness to the world and abhor the loneliness that has filled my life because of it.

Yes, without question, I would rid myself of Social Anxiety Disorder if I could.

The same would go for PTSD and the ever-present nightmares, flashbacks and re-visitations that this illness causes.

But my Bipolar…well, that’s a different story that has already been told:

Regardless of the pain, devastation, confusion and chaos that bipolar has inflicted on my life, it is still a part of who I am, and I part of it. We are one, my bipolar and I. Removing it would be like removing my eyes, my hands, my fingers or toes. It would be like erasing memories from my mind, eradicating my passions or expunging my innate playful kinkiness. I would still be breathing, still be walking and roaming the earth a living human being, but I wouldn’t be me.

~ from ‘Try Looking At It Through My Eyes: A Great Big Magical Button!