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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Tears before Christmas

Every year for the last few years I’ve had a little weep on Christmas Day. For people like myself who don’t have someone to have Christmas cuddles with, who have no-one to give presents to and who’ll be eating their dinner alone, Christmas is not a day of celebration, but survival.

It’s the one day of the year that you’re expected to spend with your friends and family. So much so that when you tell people you’ll be spending the big day alone they look at you in complete, dumfounded bewilderment. Their minds unable to process that there are people on the planet who have no-one. People who are living in poverty; people who are homeless; people struggling with mental health issues; people who society have deemed to be irrelevant, inconsequential or so badly broken that it’s dangerous to become their friend.

Tomorrow there will come a time when my inconsequentialness strikes home and I collapse on the sofa for a half-hour crying session, wishing for the one thing many people take for granted; loving companionship. It’s become such a holiday tradition that nothing I do will stop it. The tears will come…but I’ll be ready for them.

What I wasn’t ready for were the tears that started to fall this afternoon, tears that quickly descended into a full on bawling session, complete with ghost-like wails, breathing difficulties and the occasional hiccup. And the reason behind such an unmanly response? Personally I think it was a combination of the anniversary of Samantha’s death, a release of the emotional stress that Christmas brings and because the triggering greetings card had cut through my heart and challenged everything I believe about myself.

And yes, you read that right, the trigger behind such an over-the-top reaction was a simple greetings card. A home-made card that members of the Hearing Voices Support Group I attend had made and signed with a variety of challenging words of affection:

Andrew, you are so very wise and motivated ♥ 
I admire your wisdom and the joy you bring to the group
You are a very valued member of the group, wise, creative and independent
You have been so brave this year

Hours later I still can’t quite comprehend what people have written in the card. I’ve spent the better part of the last twelve months believing that my presence in the group was irrelevant, and as a result, that I am irrelevant. I’ve believed that my contributions were inconsequential, that no-one had noticed I was there and if they did notice my presence, they’d quickly come to wish I wasn’t.

But I was wrong. And I’m not sure what to do with it. I’m not used to hearing nice things about myself, I’m not used to other people giving me compliments, I’m not used to believing there are people in this world who actually notice my existence and who, for some inexplicable reason, occasionally enjoy being in my company.

It’s all a little too much for me to deal with at such an emotional and mentally challenging time of year, but it’s yet another event from the last twelve months that has me questioning how I view myself in comparison to how other people see me.

It’s yet another event that has me quietly commenting that maybe I’m not such a bad guy after all; that even though I’m spending Christmas alone, I may not be as badly broken as society would have you believe.


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Day 11: What is the worst thing about your mental illness?

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The last prompt in the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge asked what is the best thing in regard to your mental illness, so it stands to reason that today it asks what is the worst thing in regard to your mental illness?

Although there are many ‘worst’ things about having a mental illness – the stereotyping, the psychiatric system, the stigma, the violent mood swings, the suicidal urges – far and away top of the list would be that it stops me from ‘being me’, or rather, it stops the real world from seeing the real me.

It’s not that they just see my ‘label’; it’s that the illnesses I suffer from (especially the social anxiety) prevent me from being me when I’m around other people. It forces me into becoming an obscenely quiet (borderline mute) individual who’ll sit there like an imbecile until someone says something to him, at which point he’ll mumble something incoherently and return to his stoic stupor when the attention is (thankfully) off him.

When I’m around other people, I’m just the ‘overweight’, ‘fugly’ guy who has no friends and nothing intelligible to say.

No-one witnesses my passions, my complication, my intricacies. They don’t see the random awesomeness that lurks beneath the surface because – whether a result of illness or trauma – I’m too terrified to let anyone see the ‘real’ Addy.

Certainly, there are times throughout this blog where my real self has shone through, and even the odd occasion when I’ve been able to show this to the world, but they are in no way as frequent or noticeable as I would like.

Perhaps one day I’ll find a coping strategy that manages my negative self-view and lack of confidence, because this is far and away the worst thing in regard to my mental illness.


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The behaviour and symptom identification scale (BASIS-32)

Over the years I’ve always had problems with self-image. Courtesy of body-image issues/body dysmorphia I don’t view my body in the way other people do, whilst courtesy of anxiety and a myriad of other MH issues, I don’t see how I act the way other people do. Since my teenage years, since my abusive relationship, I’ve created such a negative view of myself that it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I see myself as the most repulsive piece of human excrement that has ever existed.

That no matter what I do, nothing is ever good enough.

That no matter how hard I’ve worked, nothing has changed since those dark days of breakdowns and homelessness.

Which makes this post so much harder to write, for there is now concrete proof that I have changed.

One of the first things I did upon joining GT House was to complete a BASIS-32 questionnaire. For those not in the know, this is the behaviour and symptom identification scale (BASIS); a self-reporting measure of the major symptoms and functioning difficulties experienced by people as a result of mental illness. It is a simple tool that identifies a range of symptoms that occur across the diagnostic spectrum.

The BASIS-32 is made up of a series of thirty-two questions that you rate on a 0-4 level; 0 = no difficulty, 1 = a little difficulty, 2 = moderate difficulty, 3 = quite a bit of difficulty, 4 = extreme difficulty.

BASIS-32

An example of some of the questions on the BASIS-32

These scores are then totalled across five different areas –  relation to self/others, daily living, depression/anxiety, impulsive/addiction and psychosis – to give an understanding of where you’re sitting in relation to your functioning/mental health.

This is where I was standing last November, when I completed my first BASIS-32 with GT House:

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My BASIS-32 results from November 2012

As you can see, when I first completed the questionnaire ten months ago there were lots of extreme difficulties, which sounds about right for someone who had been homeless and isolated for nearly five years, so nothing to argue with.

However, when I completed the questionnaire yesterday, things looked a little different.

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My BASIS-32 results from September 2013

When I completed this questionnaire I had no memory of what I’d written last November, so to see a substantial drop across the board has thrown my mind into a complete hissy fit; it’s so used to thinking negatively it just doesn’t seem to know what to do with this information.

Does it valiantly try to find reasons to dismiss the figures as bogus or does it perform some sort of spontaneous jig in celebration of my awesomeness?

Perhaps one day it will decide! :)

 


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Sunday Stealing: Self Image

This week, we conclude the epic 100 Question meme that began here and continued here and here.

84. Describe the routine of a normal day for you:

I wake up after a couple of hours sleep feeling exhausted, confused and blargh. I switch on the radio to catch up with the day’s news and current affairs and then read my daily websites to explore different stances and opinions on the day’s news and current affairs.

After this I write a few blog posts, only some of which get published, before catching up with antics on the fried gold blogs I follow. After this I usually mosey down the road to wander around doing very little before returning home to cook dinner, listen to the radio, write more blog posts before finally going to bed (usually around 2-3am.)

Following the odd random dream (usually sexually based) and nightmare (occasionally sexually based) I wake up after a couple of hours sleep feeling exhausted, confused and blargh. I switch on the radio to catch up with the news and current affairs and then read my…

85. What is your greatest strength as a person?

As I’ve said previously, I consider my greatest strength to be my ‘inner strength’; the only thing that has driven me through the years of nightmare. If it weren’t for this stubbornness I would have been dead a long, long time ago.

86. What is your greatest weakness?

My erratic moods coupled with social anxiety.

This combination affects my ability to be there for the people I care about (see: Grace in 2008, Kathy in 2007 amongst others), my ability to focus on what I want to do (see: NaNoWriMo 2012, any of my writing projects), keep me from writing emails (see the length of time it takes me to response to emails), prevents me from commenting on websites (see the 12 articles I want to comment on at the moment, but can’t) and generally impacts on every area of my life.

Although I abhor blaming my mental illness for things, especially the first item above, it would be wrong of me to say it wasn’t part of the cause. I hate it, I wish I was able to communicate normally, I’ve never come to terms with it, and only once came close to overcoming it.

87. Are you going to run for President in 2016?

Yes. But I’m not telling you what Presidency I’ll be running for :p

88. Are you generally self-contained?

The last time I checked all my organs were located within my body. So yes, I guess I am self-contained.

However, should I ever find a rogue kidney or spleen lurking under the sofa cushions, I’ll happily redact my answer.

89. Are you generally organized or messy?

Everything external (flat, computer files, objects, paperwork) are generally perfect.

Everything internal (mind, memories, emotions) are generally chaotic and messy.

90. Name three things you consider yourself to be very good at, and three things you consider yourself to be very bad at:

Three things I am good at:

1) Creating
2) Cunnilingus
3) Honesty

Also, amongst many others: writing, cooking omelette sandwiches, photography, giving massages (especially backs & buttocks) and empathy.

Three things I am bad at:

1) Talking to other people
2) Writing timely replies to emails.
3) Seeing myself as a decent human being (thanks for the long-term psychological damage, emotionally abusive ex-girlfriend!)

Also, amongst many others: [given I’m trying to think more positively about myself, I refuse to write any more things I’m bad at today!]

91. Do you like your neighbours? Do they like you?

One of my neighbours is an incredibly annoying. If he’s not playing the same Evanesence song incredibly loudly for six hours straight, he’s blasting the sounds of first-person shooter video games through my wall. If he’s not blasting the sounds of first-person video games through my wall, he’s slamming doors left, right and center. If he’s not slamming doors left, right and center he’s leaving his front door open whilst turning his TV up to maximum volume so I can hear every syllable of the show (usually reality TV) perfectly.

He’s not a bad guy, he just doesn’t seem to be able to understand the concept that sound travels.

As for whether they like me? Probably not. But I don’t spend much time communicating with them so they don’t know me very well.
(Note: this is social anxiety, not snobbishness!)

92. Are you different in public then you act among friends?

Given my lack of friends in the real world and my social isolation I’m unable to answer this question. Sorry.

93. What goal do you most want to accomplish in your lifetime?

To be a: friend, a husband(/defacto partner) and a father, concurrently.

94. Where do you see yourself in 4 years?

I’d be surprised if I wasn’t dead – but then I said the same thing four years ago (and I’m still amazed I’m still alive) – so who knows where I will be in four years. Hopefully in a relationship with an intelligent, gorgeous, inspiring, compassionate, (kinky), woman whilst earning money through writing and creating.

Probably doing exactly the same as in question 84 above.

95. If you could choose, how would you want to leave this world?

Given my current increase of suicidal thoughts as a result of the changes that have been occurring, bipolar mood swings and the continuing belief I’m not a very good human being, I don’t really want to answer this question today. Sorry.

96. If you had only one week to live, what three things would be bumped up on the bucket list?

Item 1, Item 36, Item 100.

Although in all honesty, if I had only one week to live I would dedicate that week to knocking as many items off the list as possible!

97. What is one thing about you that really stands out?

See my answer to (85) above. Also: my honesty, my creativity, my drive to succeed, my butt and my passion (which is immense!)

98. What three words best describe your personality?

Creative. Passionate. Eclectic.

Runner ups: Honest. Kinky. Friggin’ awesome.

99. What three words would others probably use to describe you?

Note: This answer was written, begrudgingly, after collating all comments received over the years from other people:

Worthless. Repulsive. Useless.

Runner ups: Evil. Better off dead. Friggin’ awesome.

100. What advice do you have to give?