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 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?

heart

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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Try Looking At It Through My Eyes – Day 06: The Support Group

This is the sixth day in my sporadic interpretation of the “Try Looking At It Through My Eyes” challenge devised by Bold Kevin over on Voices of Glass.

Today, the prompt asks us “If you could start a support group specific to your mental illness what would it do, what activities, what purpose etc and what would you call it?”

So, my response was to create a fictional newsletter (and I stress the word fictional) for a support group aimed at people who suffer from social anxiety disorder.

Who are we-page-001 Who are we-page-002(1)

– Click either image to enlarge –

~◊~

If you’ve missed any of the previous posts in this challenge, you can read them here:

| Day 01 | Day 02 | Day 03 | Day 04 |
| Day 05 |


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Acting Up (Week 02: Addy vs His Insecurity)

Previously, in Acting Up
~ Week 01: Addy vs His Triggers ~

Tangled-Concept-Art-disney-princess-13234355-719-498

This week we looked into Character Development. Fortunately it was a Princess free zone! :p

A polite request…

Under normal circumstances I’m not a fan of the ‘read more’ button. Normally, I reserve its use only for posts of epic length and/or boredom inducing whiney tediousness. However, it’s use in this series is for neither of these reasons but something entirely different.

I am aware that some of the staff at GT House (and Gateway) read this blog from time to time, so it is to them I politely request to read no further in this post. This is not because I’m about to insult the organisation (quite the opposite) but because it reveals something I’m not comfortable with the workers knowing at this point in time. It’s nothing bad, saucy or intimate, just something mental health related that I’m sure I’ll share somewhere down the track.

So, as you’re workers in the mental health field (ahhh, isn’t emotional blackmail fun!) I would be most grateful if you could respect my privacy on this occasion.

Thank you kindly :)

Everyone else may continue (if you wish to) :)

Continue reading


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It’s OK to say no to something you don’t want to do (I’m just not very good at it!)

boathaven2

The swimming pool at the campground I’m going to. However, I WILL NOT be doing any swimming courtesy of my extreme body image issues. I’ll just be watching…but not in a ‘creepy’ way! :p

As mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the organisation I use for social groups and inclusion have organised a group camp to mark the end of term. Today, a dozen or so people are headed to a nearby caravan park to spend three days ‘chilling out’, ‘having fun’ and ‘enjoying themselves’. Given my current extreme state of exhaustion I spent the weekend mulling over whether or not I should attend.

On the one hand, attending the camp would be a big challenge to my anxiety and allow me to have a (brief) respite from the cabin fever I’ve been experiencing for several months given that I’ve been trapped in this quiet, uninspiring, monotonous town for nearly two years now!

On the other hand, attending the camp is sure to resurface memories of my time homeless (as I will be living in the same tent that was my ‘home’ for a while) and have a serious impact on my current morose suicidal exhaustion. It could also have a massive detrimental effect on my anxiety, as I would be away from all of my distraction and safety nets (such as my home, the internet, DVD, Wii etc.) and spending three days in the constant company of other people. Then there is the omnipresent, undeniable, proven by many incidents of my life fact that when I take on too much I tend to crash and burn. And when I crash and burn…I really crash and burn!

Whereas, on the original hand, also attending the camp is a rather cute support worker who I could surreptitiously admire from afar! What? I didn’t say perve, I said ‘admire‘, there’s a difference! :p

Last night, after days of constantly thinking about it, I decided it would be best for me to remain at home – chilling out, having fun and enjoying myself with blogging, radio quizzes and Conversation articles – rather than risk the (currently very real) outcome of complete mind and body shutdown if I were to attend.

However, this morning, in a moment of masterful emotional manipulation that I will forever hold against her, one of the camp’s organisers got me to agree to attend. Mainly because, as many people know, it is impossible for me to assert myself and say ‘no’ to something I really don’t want to do. Hence why I’ve spent the majority of my life doing things for everyone else whilst neglecting my own needs, desires and safety.

So, with extreme apologies, my HVSG update, the Try Looking At It Through My Eyes challenge and responding to my backlog of comments/emails etc. will have to wait until I return from three days of ‘heightened anxiety’, ‘homeless fuelled PTSD flashbacks’ and ‘why can’t I just say no’ frustration.

But who knows, maybe this is all just anxiety fuelled by my belief that I don’t deserve to be happy and if I permit myself to, I’ll find myself having a wonderful time!

We’ll find out in a few days! :p

Until then, stay safe, happy and well…and remember, you are allowed to say no to something! :p

boathaven1

There appears to be lots of palm trees where I’m going. Or perhaps they’re the same palm trees, just taken from a different angle than in the pool photo! :p


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Hearing Voices Support Group: Week 06

PREVIOUS ‘HEARING VOICES SUPPORT GROUP’ ENTRIES
| WEEK 01 | WEEK 02 | WEEK 03 | WEEK 04 | WEEK 05 |

eyecontact

One of the big aspects of my social anxiety is my inability to make eye contact, with anyone; including this photograph!

Getting there…

Combatting my anxiety requires preparation. A trip to the supermarket needs at least one hour of build-up. In order to attend a social group I need at least three hours to ready myself. A munch, or non MH related social outing, requires at least a week for me to build the confidence and resolve to attend. My HVSG needs approximately five hours, thus, as is usual for me on a Friday morning, I set my alarm for 4am so I would leave myself enough time to ‘prepare’ for the assault on my self-worth and anxiety.

It turns out I didn’t need to set the alarm – what with the paltry amount of sleep I received that night – but even if I had needed to, it would all have been in vain anyway, for by the time I left my unit I was a raging battleground of anxiety, confusion and WTF feelings.

Ever since the second week of my HVSG journey, Meadhbh has been accompanying me to the group. She appears out of the ether at least half an hour before I’m due to leave, takes her place on my handlebars when it’s time, and natters incessantly to me along the way. Only this week she didn’t appear; not half an hour before, not mid-way through the cycle ride, nor at any point in the morning.

Truth be told, having a conversation free cycle ride was somewhat of a relief as it allowed me to focus on cycling safely rather than combatting the distraction (and frustration) her personality exudes. But through it all I was left wondering where she was; a question I’ve been asking about all of my voices over the last week.

The two extremes…

Last week, when I walked late into the group, there were fifteen odd deathly silent people staring at me. This week, as I walked late into the group, there were four not-so-deathly silent people staring at me. Over the following fifteen minutes two more people would appear, then, a few minutes later, a seventh.

The eighth – and final – person would appear forty minutes late, missing one of the most random (and monumental moments) of 2013.

Good God man, what the hell do you think you’re doing?

After the usual introduction welcoming us and our voices to the group we turned to the always anxiety producing ‘how was your week’ segment of the group. Regular readers of these posts will know that my reaction ranges from saying absolutely nothing at all to babbling a few incoherent sentences before quickly scampering out the door.

Following the group leader’s question so, who wants to go first? all seven of us sat in deathly silence hoping the spotlight wouldn’t fall on us. After she was forced to ask it a second and then third time, I breathed deeply and threw myself into the deep end. For the very first time in this – or any other group situation – I spoke first! :)

I explained how exhausted I was. How distracted I was. How shitty I’d been feeling. And how I hadn’t been sleeping in fear of nightmare and trauma triggering.

I explained how none of my voices had been around since the weekend. How confusing this was. How much of a relief it was. How unsettling it was.

I explained how my voices usually leap on me when I’m emotionally exhausted. How this state gives them more power. How I don’t understand what’s going on.

I explained how I’m terrified my voices are planning something big for it’s very unusual for them to be this silent for this long.

Then I answered questions: do I miss my voices? (yes to Meadhbh and Audrey, absolute no to Vanessa);  why do I think they haven’t spoken to me this week? (it has to be some sort of trap!); do I discuss the events of the groups with them? (yup, especially Meadhbh and Audrey); what do you think will happen when they show themselves? (who knows, but based on past experience, it won’t be pretty!)

All up, I spoke for approximately twenty-five minutes. Anxiety was definitely present, but no-where near as all-consuming as it has been in the past!

Woohoo! :D

Smoko…

So by the time the mid-way break came around, I was feeling pretty good about myself! I did a couple of circuits of the park beside where we meet, smoked a few cigarettes, had a cat-nap because of my exhaustion and spent fifteen minutes analysing why I’d been able to speak so much so early in the group.

Most of you will know by now I spend far too much time analysing every facet of my life. Where do these dreams come from? Why do I want to experience something that most people (erroneously) consider to be weird? What reason is there for me liking Honey Baked Ham Kettle chips so much when I despise the taste of actual ham?

As I returned to the group I came to two conclusions, both of which were insanely obvious:

(i) The group was small; and as I have all-too-frequently said, the smaller the group, the more I talk. Hell, you put me one-on-one and I’ll lead the conversation!
(ii) There was no trigger present (at that point); and in all the other groups, there has been!

Unfortunately, I have no way to control these two factors, so if I want to talk more in the group I need to re-empower myself to be able to share more frequently.

Shame it didn’t continue…

Unfortunately, talkative Addy didn’t last. By the time the second half of the group rolled around there was a trigger present so I reverted to the silent, stoic Addy most people know and hate. For half an hour the five other people in the room (the others had left) had a long and amusing discussion on everything from triggers to voice history to God to coping skills and strategies for dealing with mental health to how a woman would slap a man if he walked up to her and said ‘show me your tits’!

And yet even though I’m opinionated in all areas of the above, I said nothing. I merely sat there like a moron, sipping on my water, pondering how everyone in the room must think I was a twat for being the only person not saying anything.

The most interesting aspect of this discussion was about re-empowering yourself from triggers; something that immediately perked me up considering what I’d been thinking during the smoko. One of the other members of the group shared their experience of re-empowering themselves from serious triggers, in which they took the trigger and found a way to take ownership of it, leaving me realising I have an awful long way to go toward achieving this considering I am the King of Avoidance!

Given the explanation they gave of their re-empowerment journey involved support from friends and support workers, I also realised that doing it alone will be almost impossible. But hey, isn’t that the story of my life?

Eye contact…

One of the big aspects of my social anxiety is my inability to make eye contact, with anyone.

When I’m purchasing things from shop assistants, no eye contact. When I’m walking down the street, no eye contact. When I’m at my munches, no eye contact. When I’m talking to my people, no eye contact (this seriously annoys Meadhbh and Audrey, who think that my refusal to look them in the eye means they have ugly eyes or that I’m just not interested in them). When I’m talking to my counselor or support worker, no eye contact.

The rule is: no eye contact with anyone ever, otherwise chaos and armageddon will ensue!

As the (quite inspirational) member of the group continued their advice on re-empowering, she advised me of a way I could try to communicate with my voices and bring a semblance of control to my relationship with them. This involved making eye contact with them, which meant I had to make eye contact with her so I could properly understand what she was talking about.

Cue a sudden surge in my anxiety that refused to dissipate for at least thirty-six hours!

Back to normal…

This surge in anxiety ended the group as all the others did; with me a barrel of nerves, sweaty palms and self-criticism. Thus, because of my solo cycling, I had to stop several times on the way home in order to combat the ever-increasing panic overflowing within me. Fortunately, extending my trip home by nearly three hours enabled me to keep the panic-volcano from erupting until about five minutes after I got home; an explosion of nerves and stress that has been fed by my exhaustion and caused me to do nothing all weekend.

As usual, I haven’t left the house once.

Not even for a minute.

One of these days I hope I’ll be able to just cycle to the group, talk when I want to, cycle home unphased and be able to function over the weekend. But from the quick deterioration of my mood from awesome-Addy to panicked-Addy on Friday, I feel this is a long way off!

~|~

Things I learned from the group this week:

  • I need to research more on how to re-empower myself from my triggers.
  • I need to find someone I feel comfortable enough around to help me with re-empowering myself from my triggers, for I fear this is something I am not going to be able to do alone (due to the – well – triggering aspect of my triggers!)
  • Eye-contact still freaks the shit out of me for no good reason!
  • Absolute proof: the less people around me, the more I talk.
  • Absolute proof: the more triggers around me, the less I talk.
  • I become a useless, pointless, incoherent wreck around one of my primary triggers!
  • I fucking hate triggers!
  • If you walk up to a woman you don’t know on the street and ask her to ‘show me your tits’, chances are you’ll get slapped. Good thing too! :p
  • I still haven’t died as a result of attending the group.