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 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 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!


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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 01: What are your mental illness(es)?

To commemorate Mental Health Month, I have decided to undertake the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Blog Challenge, as conceived by Marci on her blog Marci, Mental Health & More. Although headway has most certainly been made in mental health awareness over the last six years, we still have an awful long way to go before mental illness is accepted as freely as physical illness. So feel free to join in with the challenge and help raise awareness of mental illness! :)

Day 1: What is/are your mental illness(es)? Explain it a little.

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Image (c) Toby Allen | Source: zestydoesthings

One of the most frustrating things a psychiatrist ever said to me was that “it wasn’t possible to suffer from multiple diagnoses” because “how [was he] supposed to know what to treat?”

I vehemently disagree with this opinion, not just because my diagnosis is three-fold, but because you can suffer from (and be treated for) multiple physical illnesses at the same time (e.g. bronchitis, diabetes, asthma) so why not mental illnesses?

My diagnoses are Bipolar Affective Disorder (Type 1), PTSD and Social Anxiety Disorder.

From reading that list, many people would assume that Bipolar (given its one of the ‘big mental illnesses’) would be the one that causes me the most distress. It isn’t a pleasant experience having your moods oscillate from the highs of mania to the crippling lows of suicidal depression, nor is it pleasant being discriminated against because people have lesser understanding of this condition than other mental illnesses, such as depression. But for me, the one that causes the most problems, the one I would happily take a ‘magic pill’ to eradicate, is social anxiety disorder.

This condition has destroyed my life in ways even I struggle to comprehend, and yet, because of opinions similar to those of the psychiatrist I quoted above, it is the mental illness I’ve received the least amount of help to manage.

Most see the words bipolar affective disorder and decide this is the only issue that needs treating. They don’t see the damage that social anxiety has caused; the inability to connect to people, the frequent (and debilitating) panic attacks, the frustration of self-imposed isolation because I cannot venture outside in fear of what people may say (or think) about me.

Couple this with my PTSD, and the inherent distrust of humanity that has resulted from the traumatic incidents that caused this condition, it makes ‘living’ feel almost impossible to achieve. Instead, the combination of my three illnesses forces me to ‘survive’ or, at best, ‘exist’.

This is why opinions such as the one dictated to me by that psychiatrist frustrate me so. Is it so difficult to understand that someone can and does suffer from multiple mental illnesses? That these illnesses interact with each other; feeding into each other to double or triple the pain that someone is in?

And is it so difficult to just treat the person rather than focus on the label(s) that have been branded onto his or her head?

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