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…


Leave a comment

Coping Skills: Fifty Things of Self-Love

Earlier this year I wrote a post called Coping Skills, which shared a coping skills worksheet that came to me via Indigo Daya’s website. One of the categories on this work-sheet was ‘self-love’, which are all the things you can do to love (or care) for yourself in times of distress.

In this section of the work-sheet I wrote:

Me? Love myself? You gotta be kidding, right? This never happens…but I know it ’should’ be happening, so I seriously need to sit down and try to work out some ways that will allow me to love myself. I just don’t know how anymore. :(

Now, six months on – and to celebrate my 550th post! – I’ve decided to take up the challenge and come up with fifty things of self-love; for how can I ever hope to experience positive emotions again (e.g. happiness, joy, contentment, relaxation, nurture etc.) if I don’t know what will bring them on?

My Self-Love List

A few notes on the above list:

(i) For the sake of clarification, I decided that ‘my’ definition of self-love is: ‘anything I can do to feel something other than shit’. Your definition may be different (and involve less/more swear words!)

(ii) In terms of the final count, instead of merely stating movies, books etc. I decided to expand these sections by listing the five most awesome candidates. It is these five things that are included in the final count of fifty, not the movies, books etc. genres themselves.

(iii) And for all of you rolling your eyes at ‘masturbation’ and ‘kissing/sex/oral sex’…What? I’m just being honest! :p

Now, over to you…what things do you do to love yourself in times of distress?
Are you willing to take the fifty things of self-love challenge?


3 Comments

Relapse: Identifying your early warning signs

Although I have been lost to the demons of depression and mental chaos over the last few months, I’ve been doing my utmost to heave my way out of the maelstrom. One of the most enjoyable activities I undertook came at me via the Mi Recovery group I partook in during May/June of this year.

The exercise was part of a week that saw us take a look at relapse (which was kind of ironic considering it was around then when I began to lose control!) and revolves around identifying warning signs of an impending mental apocalypse.

At present, only a few people have seen this (and only one of those in any degree of detail) but considering my elongated absence from this blog, I’ve decided to share it as a way to ‘make up’ for my disappearing act. For even if you don’t find any value or substance in the activity, you may enjoy having a wee giggle at my attempt at “art”!

Creating your timeline…

First of all, choose a metaphor that suits your view of the world (such as an ovulating road or a winding river) to use as a basis for your timeline and then sketch this on a big sheet of paper. Once this has been drawn, mark onto this picture all of the most significant experiences/events/incidents that have shaped you into the magnificent human being you are today.

After all of your major experiences have been documented, make a list along your timeline of all of the resources (people, places, distractions etc.) that you used to get through the difficult times and that energized you through the good times. You may also wish to mark onto this timeline any strengths and/or values you have procured along the way.

Once this has been completed, whether you realize it or not, patterns will have emerged throughout your timeline. Before any period of mental ill-health there will be an array of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that repeat throughout your timeline. These thoughts, feelings and behaviours – more often than not – will be early warning signs of an impending relapse or episode.

You will find that knowing your warning signs is a major weapon in your battle with mental illness. Now that you know what to look out for, you will know when you need to seek help in the future.

My timeline…

Notes
(i) The larger text in various colours are strengths, values and resources that I’ve procured along my journey.
(ii) Yes, there is a glaringly annoying mistake on ‘Page 5’. I was extremely tired when I coloured this page.
(iii) The two blurred words on ‘Page 5’ are names I did not want to revealed publicly.
(iii) The timeline was based on my post ‘Your Life as You Remember It‘, so should you fancy more detailed information about the various stages of my life, you’re welcome to pop over there for a quick read! :)


1 Comment

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

“The Biopsychosocial Personal Treatment Plan (aka Self-Love!)”

ME_468_AcceptingSelfLove

“A trigger is a recognisable risk that can produce or stir-up symptoms. Triggers can be preventable,”

In week one of the Mi Recovery series we built a biopsychosocial model of the causes, symptoms and treatments of our mental illness(es). Now, in week three, we look at how we can use this model to identify techniques and strategies in which we can combat our triggers.

Since my breakdown in 2007 I’ve done a lot of work in understanding, analysing and identifying my triggers. The manner in which I’ve been living (homeless, socially isolated, no support structure) has forced me to educate myself on what needs to be avoided in order to prevent catastrophic collapses of my mental health. Personally, I think it’s vital that anyone dealing with mental health issues spends some time identifying their triggers; for doing so gives you knowledge – and knowledge is power!

There is no easy way to identify a trigger; sometimes they are obvious, sometimes they sneak up on you, but with time, committment and support (I can’t express how important this latter factor is when it comes to dealing with triggers!) it is possible to produce a list of things that trigger you.

For example, the smell, taste and presence of Gin and Tonic sends me right back to the night I was assaulted in Adelaide ’07, whereas articles on emotional abuse, rape or victim blame mentality have the potential to dredge up a cavalcade of unwanted memories and emotions. There are also a plethora of songs I cannot go anywhere near, as well as people, places and movies that can send my spiralling out of control.

Whenever I am confronted with a trigger my gut reaction is to avoid at all cost! But, as I recently wrote about, 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.

My Biopsychosocial Personal Treatment Plan (aka Self-Love!)

“Enjoyable and healthy activities that I do for myself, that decrease stress and symptoms, help my moods and help me manage the things that trigger my symptoms.

Personal Treatment can affect all aspects of the person – the physical/biological, the psychological and the social. Personal treatment is a holistic approach. Research says that people who have included Personal Treatment activities in their lifestyle are more likely to recover than those who rely on medication,”
~ Pat Deegan ~

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.

This – utilising ‘The A-Z of My Emotional Triggers‘ and input from Meadhbh and Audrey – is what I ended up with:

__week3__Biopsychosocial Personal Treatment Plan-vert

Once you have identified biopsychosocial nature of your triggers, you can then use the same approach to brainstorm potential new strategies and lifestyle changes that could be implemented to help you manage them.

Again, there are no right or wrong answers as to how you approach this. In creating my list I decided to take a two-pronged approach, firstly by looking at things I could implement to help fight my triggers in general:

General Strategies

And secondly, by creating ideas specific to the more difficult triggers in my life.

Given my current situation, the most obvious trigger to tackle first was the person who has been – through no fault of their own – triggering me of late:

cats After this, I decided to take a look at the issues of songs, sleep (lack of) and the isolation/loneliness that plagues me so:cats2

And, as a final experiment, I decided to brainstorm strategies I could implement next Tuesday (being the 7th May and one of my “bad days“):

Specific Strategies 2

A few notes on the above tables:

  • All text in black is specific to me.
  • All text in purple is specific to Meadhbh.
  • All text in orange is specific to Audrey.
  • Some of the ideas in the ‘Strategies & Lifestyle Changes’ table may seem extreme to others (e.g. is self-harm really a viable treatment option? is leaving Wodonga really something that would help deal with my triggers? is it really possible for me to give myself comfort?) but, like I said, they are pertinent to me.
  • Some of the ideas overlap as I believe they fit into multiple categories (e.g. ‘tell her about the person she reminds me of’ or ‘face head-on’)

How the Biopsychosocial Personal Treatment Plan could help…

In all honesty, given my current mood, I’m still processing this approach to dealing with triggers – hence why I haven’t explained it all that clearly (sorry!) – so if you have any questions about this activity or how I’ve applied my triggers and strategies, don’t be afraid to ask.

However, I do believe it is a worthwhile activity to undertake. In creating the above lists I have identified hitherto unseen strategies that could help in my ongoing battle with triggers. The exercise has also helped me realise my current coping mechanisms (flee, run away, avoid) have done little to help but a lot to hinder my recovery.

In creating this list I have acquired knowledge over my triggers. Thus – once I’ve implemented some (or all) of these strategies – I will have power over them to.

Like I said, knowledge is power.

And power…is strength.


4 Comments

Mi Recovery: A picture of me, in a strong fame

“The importance of maintaining a sense of self,”

whatareyouworth

“Our stories and relationships change when we learn to value our whole self,”

As many who suffer from mental illnesses may attest, mental health problems do not exactly lend themselves to an over-flow of self-esteem. When a person becomes unwell with mental illness, they exert a lot of time and energy finding ways to treat their symptoms and manage their illness. So much so that it’s common for the individual – as well as family, friends and medical professionals – to focus entirely on the illness, forgetting that there is an actual, unique and whole human being beneath it.

This renders the person with a mental illness almost unable to see themselves as someone worthy of love or attention. In fact, in some extreme circumstances (and I speak from personal experience) the focus solely on the illness(es) can lead to someone completely losing their sense of self, their worth as an individual and their necessity as a member of the human race. They can see none of the skills, talents or values they possess as their illness (and/or trauma) causes them to focus solely on the negative aspects of their personality; aspects which are often unfavourably exaggerated out of all proportion.

A good example of this was a post I wrote yesterday in which I questioned whether or not I actually had any positive skills or values. A statement that immediately returned the comment:

You are a very caring person and very aware of other people’s needs. You have very good computer skills, you are a good artist, you are a talented photographer (if you had a camera that is), You have great taste in music with a wide variety of styles, You are also a very skilled writer when your illness allows you to be.

You seem to have got yourself in a rut of running yourself down and not seeing what is good about yourself, I know this is due to your past experiences but somehow you must break through this and see yourself for how good you are, not how useless you are.

This rut is something many who suffer from mental illness fall into, especially those who have had their sense-of-self destroyed by an abusive relationship.

Stephanie, for example, was a talented artist and photographer, someone who could work in a myriad of styles and produce work that was both multi-layered and truly inspiring. Whenever I would tell her this, however I would tell her this, she would instantly disregard my comments as a “complete lie” or that I was just saying that because I “had to” as her friend. The years of abuse she’d suffered (in combination with her mental illness) had made it impossible for her to see what everyone else could.

My thinking follows the same pattern of negative reinforcement that the exercise we undertook in the Mi Recovery group seeks to change.

A picture of me, in a strong frame

“I respect my limitations. I know my strengths. I compare myself with myself,
not with others who have different challenges and attributes to mine,”

The premise behind this exercise is to build a picture of who we are; the things we value, the things we like to do, our strengths and skills, how someone who knows us well would describe our abilities and successes, what aspects of our illness fit into the picture and what knowledge, resources and strategies strengthen this picture.

Once this picture has been formed, we then need to ask ourselves what internal and external resources we need to draw on to maintain this picture. For example, support groups, counselling, asking for help (external) or resilience, determination, insight (internal). This I could do easily…it was the actual strengths that I struggled with.

However – partly because I had to, partly because I needed to – I did (finally) create a portrait of myself:

A Picture of Me in a Strong Frame (2)

~ Key ~
BROWN TEXT (HAT) are three things I value in a relationship
RED TEXT (HEAD) are things I value in life
ORANGE TEXT (ARMS) are aspects of my illness I believe fit into the picture of me
PURPLE TEXT (BODY I) are things I am skillful in
BLUE TEXT (BODY II) are some of my strengths
GREEN TEXT (RIGHT LEG) are external resources I need to maintain the picture
PALE GREEN TEXT (LEFT LEG) are internal resources I need to maintain the picture
YELLOW TEXT (GROUND) is something I really (really) need to learn how to do to maintain this picture!
GREY TEXT (ANNOTATIONS) are things I like about my body (I chose to add these due to my body image issues)

Given the negative view I hold of myself it’s safe to say I do not yet believe everything I’ve included in the picture of myself. Some of them are things other people have recognised in me (e.g. Samantha saw my kinkiness as a strength, my family see my compassion as a strength and many people have noted my intense survival instinct and determination) whilst others are things only I believe (Zelda games are a skill? Really?)

But I believe it’s important to include these things in my picture, purely because they are all things I need to start believing rather than dismissing about myself.

It may be a long time before I do believe in this portrait, but for now I shall just celebrate the fact I’ve created one!

Why not make one of your own…you may be surprised by what you come up with! :)

 


3 Comments

Reclaiming ownership of your emotional triggers

The word ‘trigger’ has become synonymous with mental health. Almost every day an article is published in the mainstream media that warns people with a history of self-harm, suicidal ideation, depression and/or abuse that the words that follow may be upsetting or provoke unwanted emotional re-actions.

The recent Oscar-winning film Silver Linings Playbook featured a prominent storyline concerning a song which sends Bradley Cooper‘s character spiralling into an emotional episode whilst counsellors the world over work closely with their patients to identify everything from smells, tastes, people, places and objects that can cause similar reactions in their clients.

I myself have written extensively of my triggers (from an A-Z of my primary emotional triggers to the potential reactions such triggers can cause) for I believe it’s important to know what triggers us so we know what we need to face along the long road to recovery.

But how do we turn such potentially damaging triggers into something we can approach safely and securely?

One technique involves reclaiming ownership of our triggers and changing their ending.

images

Step 01: Say how you feel

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.

For example, the song ‘Unexpected Song‘ is a powerful trigger not only for my PTSD and anxiety but also Vanessa (one of my voices). When I am triggered by this song I may say that “I feel guilty” or “this song has made me feel worthless, useless and a pointless waste of space”. Other things I could say may include “I feel like I’m about a throw up” or “This song picks me up and deposits me back in my abusive relationship. I can’t stop thinking about how insignificant I felt during that period”.

Step 02: Validate

The second stage in the process is to validate your emotions. It is perfectly acceptable to feel how you feeling. Feeling scared, isolated, guilty (or whatever emotion the trigger has made you feel) is perfectly normal and human. Allow yourself some compassion, understanding and self-love.

In the above example, I could validate my emotions by allowing myself to believe that the abuse was not my fault and, because I did nothing to deserve it, there is nothing I should feel guilty over. I could also give myself permission to show myself compassion for the abuse I experienced, that although I may think these feelings and that there’s nothing wrong with thinking them, they are untruthful descriptions of who I am.

Step 03: Grounding

The third stage in the process is the grounding stage. This is where you bring yourself back into your body, mind and present from a heightened emotional state. Ways in which you could ground yourself include; focussing on five things you can see/feel/touch/smell (focussing on your primary senses), tapping a tune on a body part that you find comforting (perhaps a song from childhood or happy memory) or partaking in a muscle relaxation exercise (such as progressive muscle relaxation.)

For example, to ground myself after validating my feelings following hearing ‘Unexpected Song’ I could sit someone safe and speak aloud five things I can see (carpet, table, radio, voices workbook and tobacco) following by five things I can hear (neighbours talking, the news on the radio, a jack hammer, someone shouting at his partner, rumbling stomach) followed by five things I can feel (my bottom on the chair, my foot tapping the floor, my back against the chair, sweaty palms, my jeans on my legs) and then return to things I could see, only this time stating four before repeating each step until I have reduced it to only one thing I can see/hear/feel; the idea being focusing only on my senses will remove me from the heightened state, grounding me back in the present.

Step 04: Re-Empower

The final stage in the process is to find a way to re-claim the trigger; to change the ending, so to speak. This stage is going to require commitment, patience and some trial-and-error, as finding a way to successfully re-empower the trigger may take some time. The idea is to take your trigger and do something that changes it’s ending; so that when you encounter the trigger in the future it is this ending you recall instead of the painful memories that were once associated with it.

For example, a possible way I could reclaim ‘Unexpected Song’ would be to inhale helium gas and then sing the song as if I were a chipmunk. The hope being that I would replace the painful associations of the song with that of laughter, fun and merriment.

Obviously, this stage is going to be unique to the individual. It may take several different ideas before you can re-claim the trigger, hence trialing different ideas until you have found something that works. It is also recommended this stage be undertaken in the presence of a support person due to the painful memories it may evoke.

Due to my isolated nature I’ve yet to implement this technique myself, but hope to deploy it as I head into battle against my most recent trigger. How I shall re-empower that particular trigger I’ve yet to work out but, if successful, I hope to tackle some of my other triggers (such as the example above or my intolerance of a certain boy wizard) using this approach.

Rest assured, should I ever sing random musical numbers after inhaling helium I’ll do my utmost to post an audio! :p


1 Comment

The weak that was and the week that will be

Peanuts

I’m not sure why I’ve decided to write weekly updates about the mind-numbingly boring shenanigans I get up to each week, but decide it I have. Perhaps it’s because I hope it will help process emotions, identify achievements and allow me the opportunity to feel (a little) positive about the work I’ve been doing.

Last week, however screwed up my panic attack/book-fort building/capsaicin incidents were, they did provide me with both an epiphany (I need more happiness in my life) and an opportunity (to tackle a trigger in a way I’ve never had the confidence to do!)

So rather than looking back with my usual self-loathing, perhaps I should start looking back with a little self-love.

After all, last week was dominated with me dealing with things as I always have (avoid, avoid, disassociate, avoid, avoid, isolate, RUNAWAY!) whilst this week has seen me firmly venturing out of my comfort zone by seeking advice from multiple people about my most recent trigger; my support worker, a counsellor…

Was thinking about the trigger and just wanting to reiterate that this looks like a very useful opportunity to strategically deal with a trigger in a new way with (hopefully) immediate positive feedback.  Of course the process will provoke some anxiety but it can be done in a safe, structured and supportive environment.  You can plan preparation time beforehand and wind down time afterwards..  And you can decide if and when it happens at all.

~From an email my counsellor sent me after our appointment

and my hearing voices support group…

Sensing my anxiety (and not wishing to see me make an ass of my self) Meadhbh began to whisper the words she thought I should say. Genuinely thankful for her help, I began to share my current state of exasperation over how mental health is my whole life (the phrase “mental health shenanigans” drew some laughs) before Meadhbh tricked me into talking about the trigger that is currently dominating my life.

I tried to explain how tired I am of avoidance being my primary coping mechanism and that I will never change if I keep isolating myself from the triggers.

This somewhat personal revelation (quite possibly my first in the group) drew several comments about how awesome this was and what a huge step it would be if I could succeed in facing my trigger. Which, truth be told, made me feel rather warm and fuzzy; a sensation that felt oddly wrong given how rarely I feel anything other than shame, guilt and worthlessness.

~From ‘Hearing Voices Support Group: Week 10’ (on Imaginary Menagerie)

…all being advances I should be proud of given my (usual) complete inability to share anything with anyone!

This week, if I can share a blog post with my Acting Up group and, as I hope to do, formulate a plan of attack for dealing with my trigger and successfully attend a new group that begins this week (A.C.T for Anxiety) perhaps I will finally allow myself to see my current actions (and life) with the pride (and happiness) other people allegedly see.

Chances are I won’t…damn you, pesky self-loathing…but it’s a start! :)

~◊~

Six things I’ve learned this week:

  • Realisation #1: My entire life revolves around mental health. My support groups, social groups, blogging, thinking, reading and writing are all mental health focussed. Even the TV show I’ve watched most this week (Frasier) is about psychiatry and 99% of the articles I’ve read on blogs and websites have been about MH issues. This needs to change…and pronto…as it is an incredibly unhealthy way to live.
  • I was the only person in my Mi Recovery group that couldn’t come up with any positive skills or attributes about myself.  Do I even have any?
  • A walrus’ gestation period is 15-16 months.
  • Danny Wallace has written a novel! :D (Damn you abject poverty for preventing me from purchasing it!)
  • My methods of distraction are not too dissimilar to other peoples.
  • (Re)Realisation #2: I’m braver than I believe, stronger than I seem and smarter than I think. Cheers, Pooh bear! :)

Six things I wanted to do last week: (crossed off items are things I actually did!)

  • To give myself permission to do something I enjoy and enjoy it! (i.e. to not allow my negative self-talk and fear of being perceived as lazy prevent me from doing it!)
  • Share my trigger with my support worker, regardless of my insecurity over how insane, pathetic and weird this will make me look.
  • Stop scaring people away from my blog with talk about voices, pain and badly written blog posts. It’s starting to look like a ghost town around here! :/
  • Complete my Mi Recovery homework assignments; what are my beliefs about mental illness and how did I learn those beliefs?
  • Catch-up on my favourite blogs as I’ve been incredibly slack of late, sorry! :)
  • Brainstorm ideas of what I could do to bring some happiness, joy and relaxation back into my life.

Six things I want to do next week:

Being the two incomplete tasks from last week, and…

  • Develop a plan with my support worker on how to manage dealing with my trigger.
  • Find a way to pull myself back into my body and tackle my depersonalisation that doesn’t involve self-harm.
  • Write a fictional short story (of any length, genre or style)
  • Read Unsent Letter #7: A letter to my thirteen year old self during the Acting Up group on Monday.

Hope everyone has had a fantastic week and gearing up a magnificent weekend! :)