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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Seven wonderful things that happened to me in 2013

Koala Bear

Koala Bear at Melbourne Zoo; my personal favourite photograph taken in 2013 | © Addy

If 2007 was the year of breakdowns and abuse; 2008 the year of false-hope; 2010 the year of forgotten memories and 2012 the year of found-hope, then 2013 was the year of achievement. Even my negative obsessed mind has had a hard time dissing the monumental leaps I’ve taken in both mental-health and personal development over the last twelve months.

So as 2013 draws to a speedy close, what better way to celebrate than bask in my glorious achievements and relay several of the most wonderful things that have happened to me over the last twelve months! :)

7. Building stronger (and healthier) relationships with my people…

This time last year I was at odds with all of my voices. When they spoke to me it was always abusive, derogatory content that made me despise myself on a level almost impossible to relate via words alone.

Twelve months on, courtesy of some ruddy hard work, we’ve managed to change this. Although Vanessa and Shay are as abusive and misogynistic as ever, Audrey has become a guiding voice of intelligence and reason; sporadically dressing up as Harley Quinn to entertain me and keeping me grounded with lengthy conversations about all things literary and artistic. Meanwhile, Meadhbh has returned to the playful, protective spirit that kept me safe during my angst-laden teenage years; eager to play with me whenever possible and never too shy to throw in her two-cents about what I should be doing with my life.

Of all the things that have happened throughout the last twelve months, creating this change in my voices is something I am eternally proud of, and proof that if you work hard enough, anything is possible!

6. Creating and co-facilitating my own peer-led social group…

In mid-2013, after weeks of solo-preparation, I began co-facilitating my own group through the psychosocial rehabilitation service I participate in. Creative Therapy was essentially my blog in the real-world, with each week focusing on a particular creative prompt designed to get people thinking about their life, strengths and values. Although I was immensely hard on myself for delivering a lackluster program, when the feedback came in it was overwhelmingly positive, so much so that it was difficult to believe.

5. Obtaining a Nintendo Wii…

To help me survive one of my bad-day anniversaries (26th February) I spontaneously purchased a second-hand Nintendo Wii that came with half a dozen games. Usually such a spontaneous purchase would turn out to be detrimental to my life, but over the last ten months my Wii has become one of my primary coping mechanisms. In fact, of my few big purchases this year, this is the one I am most thankful for, as there is nothing like using Lego Batman, Mario Kart or Zelda to beat the demons back to bay.

4. Performing my first ever public speech…

However much I’m amazed to admit it, in retrospect I thoroughly enjoyed performing my first ever public talk, so much so that I hope I have the opportunity to repeat the experience in the year ahead.

3. Re-empowering an emotional trigger…

Alongside creating better relationships with my voices, the other defining mental health related achievement of 2013 was the re-empowerment of a powerful trigger. When I realised one of the workers at the mental health organisation I use was triggering me I was tempted to quit the organisation and return to my homeless existence. However, my support worker encouraged me to face the trigger head on and, after a distressing conversation in which I admitted to the person that they triggered me, I set about the long road to re-empowerment. I attended groups that they facilitated, I had the occasional coffee with them, I learnt more about them as a person and…nine months on…they no longer trigger me. Victory!

2. Attending the World Hearing Voices Congress…

Although it was three days punctuated with severe anxiety, I am both proud of myself and ecstatic that I was able to attend this year’s World Hearing Voices Congress. Being around so many people who have had similar experiences to me was an eye-opening and revelatory experience; even though it feels impossible sometimes, recovery is not only possible but absolutely achievable!

1. Returning to Melbourne

It took nearly twelve months of planning, twelve months of psyching myself up and twelve months of wondering if it was actually going to happen, but in November I finally returned to the city that I once lived on the streets of; and had an absolute blast! Midnight Zelda openings, art gallery meanderings, Sexpo shenanigans and Melbourne Zoo explorations defined a kick-ass week of chillaxing in the State’s capitol and helped create the most wonderful thing that happened to me in 2013.

~◊~

Previous installments of the Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge:

| Day One | Day Two | Day Three |
| Day Four | Day Five | Day Six |

~◊~

Other wonderful bloggers participating in the Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge:

| Marci, Mental Health and More | Many of Us |
| Looking for Lucy |

If I’ve missed you from the above list, please let me know in the comments field below and I’ll add you as soon as humanly possibly so everyone can read your magnificent responses! :)


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Six regrets from 2013

Regret

One of the (many) erroneous life lessons my abuser tried to ‘teach me’ was that we are never – under any circumstances – allowed to have regrets. To her, they were a sign of weakness, an indicator of our fallibility; but this is the very reason I like having regrets; for they are the things that allow us to look back on our life, learn where we went wrong and grow as a result.

In essence, they are what make us human.

Every year, around this time, my mind begins searching back through the previous twelve months for all the mistakes and regrets I’ve made. Not because I’m a masochist who wants to dwell on such failures, but because it allows me the opportunity to grow and become someone better in the year ahead.

So, at the half way point in the Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge, here are my six biggest regrets of 2013:

6. Not pushing myself harder when it came to exercising…

In the middle of 2013 I joined a gym for the first time in over seven years, and for the first couple of months that I was a member, I was a regular sight on the treadmills, weight machines and exercise bikes. However, as time pushed on, and I became more and more aware of my grotesque physical appearance, I allowed the body dysmorphia to win and refused to attend the gym. But as the year draws to an end – and I realise the monumental mistake that I made – I am hopeful that the New Year will see me able to push these negative thoughts from my mind and return to the gym on a regular basis.

5. Not putting myself out there in emails, social networking sites and blog comments…

As I have written extensively of in the past – including in a post specifically about it – my social anxiety extends beyond the real world into the cyber realm. When it comes to making myself heard in emails, blog comments or social networking sites, the gremlins spark up and inform me, in no uncertain terms, that I’m an effing failure that no-one in their right mind would want to have any contact with. Unfortunately, given their persistence, they usually win and I remain silent. However, as we approach a New Year, I am determined to give these pesky critters the spanking they deserve; I will not remain silent for another twelve months. I won’t!

4. Not going to the beach during my holiday to Melbourne…

Living, as I do, in the middle of the Australian bush, getting to the ocean is a little difficult for me. So when I travelled to Melbourne in November I fully intended to take some time to head down to the beach and bask on the glorious soft sand with my feet in the cool, Southern ocean. Alas, both time and energy impeded the realization of this goal. So, if I find myself back in Melbourne this year, I will definitely be seeking to make amends for this regret.

3. Not seizing the opportunities I had to cross item (1) from my bucket list…

Looking back, and with all honesty, I had three very good chances throughout 2013 to eliminate this item from my list. And on all three occasions the only thing that prevented me from doing so was money. Not mental health, not anxiety, not lack of confidence…money. As we progress into the New Year, I am more determined than ever to not let anything get between me and the achievement of this goal!

2. Not talking to anyone at the World Hearing Voices Congress…

Okay, so I did talk to some people, namely the rest of the Gateway Community Health contingent. But I didn’t talk to anyone new, despite their being several people I would have loved to talk to in more detail about their voice hearing experiences. With the congress taking place in Greece next year, it’s highly unlikely I will have the opportunity to attend, so I’m at a loss as to how to make up for this mistake; but I’m hoping to find a way, even if it means sending random emails to some of the speakers!

1. Not asking the woman I fancied out on a date…

Every year there is always one woman who steals my heart, one woman who takes control of my mind, one woman whom I lust after with scant regard to personal humility…and 2013 was no exception. I won’t give any names, I won’t even give clues to their identity, but being in her presence filled me with the sort of happiness that wouldn’t look out-of-place in chick-lit. She was intelligent, funny, engaging and compassionate on a level that is rare in today’s fast paced society. She was also completely and utterly out of my league; the sort of woman who would only be interested in a guy like me if I were the last human being on Earth.So, as with every year, I didn’t act on my feelings…and I’m getting tired of it! Next year I hope to at least ask if they’d like to have coffee and/or dinner with me, even if it means a completely humiliating shoot-down!

~◊~

Previous installments of the Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge:

| Day One | Day Two | Day Three |
| Day Four | Day Five |

~◊~

Other wonderful bloggers participating in the Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge:

| Marci, Mental Health and More | Many of Us |
| Looking for Lucy |

If I’ve missed you from the above list, please let me know in the comments field below and I’ll add you as soon as humanly possibly so everyone can read your magnificent responses! :)


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Five life lessons I learnt in 2013

Life

1. We don’t plan to fail, we fail to plan.

Throughout every year there are four days that have the power to reduce me to a quivering, self-harming, self-medicating mess; the 26th February, 7th May, an undisclosed date in July and the 11th October. These are my key anniversaries; each one replete with memories of breakdowns, suicide attempts, the deaths of loved ones and painful, traumatizing abuse.

Every year I tell myself that this is the year that will see me survive each day relatively intact, and each year I find myself struggling harder and harder to make it through.

At the beginning of this year I decided to try something different. Instead of winging it through each of my anniversaries on a hope and a prayer, I decided to plan a series of  coping strategies into each day in the hope that this year would be the year that would see me survive them intact.

In February, I purchased a second-hand Wii; in May, I acquired an oversized cheesecake to celebrate, rather than mourn, Stephanie’s death; in July, I left my self-harming tools with my support worker and spent the day watching Pixar animated classics; whilst in October I spent the evening watching The Amazing Spider-Man.

Although there were still depressive thoughts, moments of self-harm and other mental health related chicanery, in retrospect, I’ve realised that the plans I made to survive each day succeeded.

Next year, I will be repeating this planning and hope to eliminate all self-harm and self-medication from these anniversaries. After all, we don’t plan to fail, we fail to plan…and next year I fully intend to take planning to a whole new (and successful) level!

2. Give yourself permission to do what feels right.

At the tail end of 2012 I began working with a mental health organisation that offers a range of psychosocial rehabilitation opportunities; from one-on-one work with a support worker through to social and support groups. During those few months in 2012 I attended only a couple of groups in order to ease myself into a new way of life. This year, with each successive term, I pushed myself harder and harder, attending ever more groups as the year went on.

As with most people who suffer from mental health issues, there were times I began feeling overwhelmed with my actions, days that I just wanted – nay, needed – to just chill out on my own for fear of pushing myself into a catastrophic depressive episode. But each time these moments occurred, I swatted them away and pushed forward, inevitably causing the depression that I knew would happen.

But since returning from Melbourne in late November I realised I had overdone things. My energy levels were shot, and with them, my concentration and ability to focus. So I did what I should have done all alone – gave myself permission to not attend the groups. Although I felt bad about not going, I realised pretty soon that it was the right decision, as it has given me the opportunity to not only prepare for (and survive) the insidious Christmas/New Year period, but put achievable goals in place for the year ahead.

So remember, if you’re not feeling up to something, you don’t have to do it. Let your heart, body and mind tell you what it needs…and have the courage to listen to it!

3. Public speaking isn’t anywhere near as traumatizing as your mind would have you believe!

On the 7th October, I performed the first piece of public speaking that I’ve done since the heady days of primary school plays. Before the event I was nervous as hell, fully believing that I wouldn’t be able to go through with it. I even managed to convince myself that if I did go through with it I would be either laughed off the stage or someone in the audience would magically summon a giant slime monster to consume me for the entertainment of the gathered masses.

Fortunately, neither of these worst case scenarios happened, and as the minutes of my speech ticked away I realised that it wasn’t as traumatizing as I had first imagined it to be. In fact, nearly three months later, I look back on that moment as one of the highlights of my year; one I fully hope to repeat in 2014.

4. You can never go home again.

Twenty-thirteen was the year that saw me return to the city of Melbourne and in the two years that had passed I realised pretty darned quickly how both I, and the city, had changed. I was no longer the dissociating, homeless blob that I’d been during my last time in the city; and the city itself was no longer the livable utopia that it had been during my Melbournian heyday of 2002-2006.

In the intervening years, Melbourne has become a city choked with congestion, pollution and a serious attitude problem. Within hours of being there I was shocked by the sheer level of self-absorbed arrogance on display, with everyone and their dog seemingly out for only one person; themselves.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Melbourne, but my holiday there has made me realise that I’m no longer in love with the city. Perhaps if I’d never left my love for those congested alleyways would be intact and I wouldn’t notice the selfishness as much as I did, but I did leave…and I no longer regret doing so.

5. If at first you don’t succeed…keep working your arse off ‘cause one day you will!

At the commencement of 2013 I set myself thirteen goals for the year ahead. At the time I fully believed that by years end I would have completed every single one of them. I didn’t. I completed five of them.

By my usual reckoning this is a catastrophic failure. Despite months of bloody hard I wasn’t even able to cross 50% of the items from my pretty reasonable list. In fact, I wasn’t even able to complete things as simple as ‘see six films at the cinema’ or ‘write one blog post in every month of the year’!

However, in spite of this failure and the barrage of self-criticism I’ve leveled at myself, deep down I know how hard I’ve worked this year. In fact, even though I didn’t complete all my goals, I did achieve several things that at the beginning of the year I didn’t even think possible; things such as facilitating my own psychosocial rehabilitation group, publically telling my story in front of 130 people and attending the World Hearing Voices Congress alongside 750 other people!

So even though I failed to complete all of my goals, I know that there is always next year. And I know that no matter what anyone says, I will never stop trying. I shall just keep picking myself up, dusting myself off and finding new, alternate ways to achieve all that I want to achieve.

However long that may take!


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The Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge

We all know the song, especially the undeniably contagious “Five gold rings!” line, but how many people know that the Twelve Days of Christmas are also known as Christmastide (or Twelvetide) and begin on Christmas Day, not (as the commercial calendar would have you believe) on the 14th December?

The Twelve Days of Christmas are celebrated in different fashions the world over. In Eastern Christianity, the Great Feast of Theophany (Epiphany) on 6 January is considered a higher-ranked feast than the Nativity (Christmas), and commemorates the Baptism of Jesus rather than the arrival of the Magi. Whereas in Western Christianity, each day following Christmas Day is a feast in memory of a Saint or event associated with the Christmas season.

In contemporary times, many in the UK still celebrate aspects of the Twelve Days of Christmas, whereas in the US, the traditions have been largely forgotten, replaced by more secular traditions and the ever-popular New Years Eve celebrations.

To celebrate this auspicious time, I’ve decided to begin something which I hope will become an annual tradition; the Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge! A challenge that will see reflections on the year just gone and anticipations of the (no doubt) glorious year ahead!

This year marks the inaugural appearance of this challenge and it will commence on the 25th December. As with all blog challenges, it would be magnificent if other people played along (unless you’re all too busy munching on mince pies) so feel free to do so at your leisure! :)

The prompts, should you wish to play along, are outlined below and can be interpreted however you wish:

-♦-

The Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge

Twelve Days of Christmas Blog Challenge_Large

Day 01 – 25th December – 1 Thing you got for Christmas
It might be something you got this year, last year or perhaps a favourite present from Christmases past!

Day 02 – 26th December – 2 Foods you can’t get through Christmas without
Are you a stickler for a traditional roast or do you favour a more eclectic array of food?

Day 03 – 27th December – 3 Favourite songs of 2013
I don’t know the actual figures but surely there have been tens of thousands of songs released over the last twelve months…so picking a mere three of them should be pretty simple. Or at least you’d think it would be!

Day 04 – 28th December – 4 Favourite movies (or TV Shows) of 2013
Are you a Game of Thrones fiend or an Iron Man aficionado? Now’s the time to share your pick of the entertainment industry’s output of the last twelve months.

Day 05 – 29th December – 5 Life lessons you learnt in 2013
Whether we realise it or not, we all learn something new every single day of our lives. So what have you learned in the year just gone?

Day 06 – 30th December – 6 Regrets from 2013
Today’s prompt is not about looking back with negativity, it is about identifying where we went wrong so we can take a more positive route in the future.

Day 07 – 31st December – 7 Wonderful things that happened in 2013
How many awesome things happened to you during the last twelve months? Surely picking just seven should be a piece of cake! :)

Day 08 – 1st January – 8 Minutes to share your opinion on New Year’s Resolutions
Some people swear by New Year’s Resolutions, others think they’re somewhat pointless…you have eight minutes of writing to outline what your thoughts on this annual tradition may be. And if you do make resolutions, why not share them?

Day 09 – 2nd January – 9 Places you’d like to visit in 2014
Take a moment in this hectic period to forget about your credit card statement and financial situation. If money were no object – where would you like to visit during the oncoming year?

Day 10 – 3rd January – 10 Books you’d like to read in 2014
Maybe you’re itching to read an upcoming release or catch up on some literary classics, whatever books you’re looking forward to reading, why not share them so others can add them to their list of books to read next year?

Day 11 – 4th January – 11 Memories from Christmastide throughout your life
This time of year is often seen as one of reflection, so why not spend a few moments reflecting on your life so far and share eleven memories that occurred at some point during the various twelve days of Christmas you’ve lived through so far.

Day 12 – 5th January – 12 Goals for 2014
And for the finale, the biggie: what do you want to achieve throughout the year ahead?

-♦-

So there we have it, twelve (relatively) simple prompts to keep yourself (and others) entertained throughout the Christmas and New Year period. If you do decide to play along, please remember to link up via the comments field so I can keep people abreast of all the magnificent answers that are floating around in cyber-space.

I for one am looking forward to embarking on this challenge…probably more so than the big day itself!