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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30 Day Self Harm Awareness Challenge: Day 16

Today’s prompt in the 30 Day Self Harm Awareness Challenge asks
What advice would you give to someone about self harm?

selfharmawareness

Four tips for someone who is about to self harm…

Distract yourself…
There are a myriad of ways that you can distract yourself when the urge to self harm arises. Simple activities, such as watching a movie or playing some songs that make you happy, may turn your attention away from whatever has triggered your urge. Other activities, such as colouring in, playing with play-dough, smelling essential oils, hugging a cuddly toy or spanking a pillow, are also excellent in distracting yourself from self harm urges. In fact, any activity that sparks the senses – sight, smell, touch, sound etc. – can work wonders when it comes to controlling your self harm desires.

Be creative…
One activity that I have used to control my self harm urges involves a red felt tip pen and your flesh. If you’re a cutter, which I am, instead of using a knife on your skin, use a red felt tip pen instead. Draw on your arm the cuts that you would otherwise have made. Perhaps instead of drawing the cuts, draw something fun and creative. I used to draw intricate patterns on my flesh, all of which distracted my mind away from my urges onto the act of creativity. This activity may work for you, it may not, but it’s worth trying all the same as anything is better than cutting.

Build a self harm safety box…
I don’t mean make a box from scratch with wood and the like, I mean take a shoe box or other cardboard container and fill it with things that you can use to distract yourself from self harm. Throw in some candy to enliven your taste buds. May I suggest popping candy, to give you a touch sensation in your mouth as you eat. How about throwing in your favourite cuddly toy, some Sudoku puzzles to get your brain working, a stress ball, bubbles or books. I have a movie or two in my safety box. I also have a notebook and colouring pens for doodling and drawing. My safety box contains all manner of items that I can turn to instead of self harming, so when the urge arises, I can turn to the box and find something to occupy myself with instead of turning to the knife to harm myself. In fact, I would highly recommend a safety box to anyone who battles with self harm urges.

>>> Read ‘How to create a self harm safety box‘…

Pamper yourself…
Instead of self harming, why not run yourself a nice soothing bath with all manner of bath salts and sweet-smelling bubbles? How about treating yourself to an epic shower – remember, the hot and cold of a shower can be a wonderful distraction – plus you have the added advantage of getting all squeaky clean at the same time. Or how about lathering yourself with scented body butter to soothe your skin and excite your senses. Instead of harming yourself, be nice to yourself, and you’ll find your self harm urges dissipating quicker than you can say “I’m awesome!”

Work out…
Exercising releases endorphins. Endorphins relieve pain. Endorphins make you happy. So instead of harming yourself, head to the local gym and do an epic work out to get your endorphins rocking into action. You’d be amazed at how quickly you feel better when your body gets moving. If you don’t fancy heading to the gym, or can’t deal with being out in public, do some exercise at home. Squats. Planks. Sit-ups. They all help to release endorphins. They all help to make you feel better when life gets too much to handle.

…and two tips for someone who already has!

Remember first aid…
My self harm kit contains first aid paraphernalia as well as knives and scissors. I have disinfectant, bandages, plasters, wipes, everything and anything that I think I might need to heal myself after the event. Personally I think this is a vital aspect of self harm. Sometimes the damage we inflict is not serious to warrant hospital intervention, sometimes it isn’t even serious enough to warrant going to a doctor, but it is always serious enough to warrant some form of self-care. So when self harming, be mindful of what you can do to help yourself after the event. Always have disinfectant, bandages and the like handy so you can clean up after the fact and limit any infection or unwanted side effects that may occur.

Keep a list of emergency numbers handy…
Sometimes things don’t go to plan. Even though I had been self harming for years, always able to control the damage I was inflicting, in 2008 I accidentally cut too deep when I was self harming. Unable to stem the flow of blood myself, I had to somehow navigate a nasty depressive and agoraphobic episode to seek medical aid. The episode was so bad that I couldn’t remember anything. Not even my name, let alone the number to call an ambulance. Now, in case of self harm emergencies, I keep a list of emergency numbers on the lid of my safety box; 000, suicide helplines, general helplines, my local GP and support worker. Anyone who may be able to help in the event of a self harm emergency. I’ve never had to use the list, but I am thankful it is there, in case I did need to use it. So consider compiling a list of important numbers of your own and keep it somewhere handy. You don’t have to limit the numbers to medical contacts, you may want to list a few friends who you can call, for you never know what you might forget whilst lost to a period of depression and self harm.

What about you? Do you have any tips, tricks, tactics or advice that helps you deal with self harm urges? I’d love to know…


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Thirteen tips to help you survive Christmas

If you’re anything like me, Christmas is not the all-out happy family and friends fun fest that the media would have you believe. Instead, it’s a time of loneliness, emotional triggers and wishing to whoever will listen that the whole ‘holiday period’ would just bugger off and leave you alone.

Well, help is at hand. For today’s Thursday Thirteen I’m going to share some of my plan for getting through this insidious time of year relatively unscathed. Who knows, perhaps you will pick up a few ideas to help you survive this year’s silly season.

Christmas

~ in no particular order ~

1. Take steps to minimize self-harm

Because of the sheer number of emotional triggers that occur for me during this time of year (e.g. Samantha’s death, my girlfriend cheating on me on Christmas Day, not very pleasant memories of my abusive relationship) there is always the very real chance that I will resort to self-harm in order to get me through the days. However, as this is something I am trying not to do this year, I’ve taken steps to minimize the possibility.

Firstly, my random assortment of cutting implements have been given to my support worker to keep locked up in an impenetrable building during the holiday period. Secondly, I have placed on the fridge and bathroom mirror a list of distractions that I can utilize instead of self-harm. And thirdly, I have given myself permission to forgive myself should I take a misstep and actually self-harm.

Should this be a problem for you, other possible things you can do are: have a help-line number on hand in-case things become too difficult to control, make sure you have a trusted friend (or friends) that you can turn to if needs be, organize a ‘tool box’ of coping and distraction implements that you can use instead of your usual self-harm implements.

2. Seek out other people…

Most major towns and cities will have a charitable organisation that organizes a Christmas event for people in need. In my town there is a community lunch being offered, where people who don’t have anyone to spend Christmas with can enjoy a cooked meal in the company of other, like-minded souls.

Although I didn’t attend last year’s event – for reasons I shall divulge in a moment – I did head down in 2011, so this is an option that’s on the table if I can handle being around other people this Christmas.

So if you don’t fancy being alone for Christmas, why not do a little bit of local research and see what community events are planned for your towns or cities this year. Even if you do have people to spend Christmas with, you can always volunteer your time to help make Christmas a special time for those who are most in need.

3. …or spend the day on your own

The reason I didn’t attend last year’s community Christmas lunch was because my anxiety was so extreme that I couldn’t handle being around other people last year. There is also the trigger of being reminded just what I’m missing the most in my life; the company of others. However bizarre it may sound, being around others will often amplify my feelings of isolation and loneliness, thus making it more difficult when I return home alone.

As such, there is the very real possibility that, like last year, I will be spending Christmas Day alone. Although this sounds rather sad and pathetic, it really isn’t.

One of the best Christmases I ever had was spent completely on my own. I didn’t see friends, I didn’t see family, I didn’t see anyone. Instead, I chilled out watching movies, reading books, going for casual strolls in the snow and treating myself to a blissfully tasty home-cooked Christmas dinner.

Given the media make it abundantly clear that you should be spending Christmas Day with family and friends it’s all too easy to forget that there is nothing wrong with being on your own.

So if this is how you are choosing to spend Christmas, don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for it. Not even yourself!

4. Limit your alcohol consumption

Last year, I found myself turning to alcohol as a means of surviving the Christmas period. Normally I will drink alcohol on only four days of the year – my primary triggering anniversaries – so after last year I am acutely aware that this could become a problem again this year.

The plan I have in place to prevent this from happening is very similar to that of the self-harm issue above. I have resolved not to keep any alcohol in the house, I have my list of distractions to turn to in times of distress and, once again, I’ve given myself permission to forgive myself should a misstep occur.

So if the holiday period is a depressive one for you, and you feel you may be turning to alcohol to ease your pain, remember that alcohol is a depressive, so all you’re doing is making it harder for yourself!

5. Distractions I: Watch an uplifting movie

One of my primary methods of distraction is film and television. In preparation of the Christmas period I have made a list of films and television series that I want to watch; all of them being titles I can utilize to help me survive; all of them being ‘uplifting’ or ‘comic’ in nature.

So this year, in times of distress, I will (hopefully) be entertained by Monsters University, Due South, The To Do List, 30 Rock (S7) and The Lone Ranger.

Perhaps you too could benefit from preparing an emergency movie list! :)

6. Distractions II: Play an engrossing video game

Last year, I saved Hyrule twice and prevented Lego Middle Earth from total annihilation. This year, I plan to save Hyrule again (courtesy of a replay of Skyward Sword) and will no doubt play in Lego heaven once more courtesy of Audrey’s favourite game, Lego Batman. All the while reminding myself that there is nothing wrong with having a bit of playful fun over this time of year.

So if video games are your thing, perhaps you could plan to play through a particular title, or have a few old favourites up your sleeve in case of distressing times.

7. Distractions III: Write…Write…Write

As everyone is rushing around cooking Turkeys, tripping over presents and trying not to look silly in flimsy paper hats, blogs the world over will be desolate wastelands. But if you’re on your own, there’s nothing to stop you posting whatever meaningful thought that comes to mind. Writing is, after all, one of the most therapeutic practices there is and there will always be people like me waiting to read your words.

So if things are getting too much, remember that not everyone is with their family and friends, some will be sitting in front of their computer looking for things to read and people to spend Christmas with.

So get writing!

PS…if you’re stuck for things to write about, I will be undertaking a blog challenge of my own creation during the twelve days of Christmas, so you’re more than welcome to play along with me! :)

8. Treat yourself I: Gift for you

Christmas is a time for giving…so why not give something to yourself?

As I know Christmas is going to be a vicious period for me, I always try to buy myself a wee present to reward myself for all the good work I’ve done throughout the year. In the past these presents have ranged from a cherished music CD, items of clothing, a much wanted book or watchalicious DVD box set.

As yet I haven’t decided what my present will be this year, so if you’re not sure either, get your thinking caps on as Christmas is only six days away!

9. Treat yourself II: Food for you

As with item 8 above, one of my other personal traditions for Christmas, especially since my homelessness ended, is to treat myself to a particular foodstuff that I wouldn’t normally buy throughout the year. This foodstuff is something that always makes me happy, that I think is the most delicious thing in the world and something that I actually look forward to eating; namely, Yorkshire Puddings! :p

So why not reward all your hard work this year with a delicacy you wouldn’t normally buy, a foodstuff that will put a smile on your most worthy of faces.

10. Treat yourself III: Shower yourself with self-love

This is hard for me to do at the best of times, let alone during the most insidious and unpleasant times of the year! But this year I am going to do my level best to love myself as much as humanly possible.

Whether this is allowing myself an extra-long shower with sweet-smelling body lotion, indulging in half a dozen candles that are just as odorlicious as the body lotion or other, somewhat naughtier delights, this year I am going to try to make Christmas all about loving Addy.

So why don’t you do to? Love yourself, I mean, not me! Single out a few things you love to do but rarely get the chance – candlelit baths, massages, other, somewhat naughtier delights – and relish in the act of showering yourself with the love you rightly deserve.

11. Sleep!

With all the stressors and triggers ravaging your body, you may not be getting as much sleep as your body needs to function properly, so do your level best to get at least a few hours sleep each night.

Your body (and mind) will thank you for it if you do! :)

12. Remember that you’re not alone!

When the demons of isolation and loneliness consume you, remember that you are never alone. Even if you don’t have family or friends to turn to, most help-lines are operational throughout the Christmas and New Year period so don’t feel embarrassed to call them if you need to talk to someone.

But if you’re anything like me, when things become too overwhelming you completely forget your own name, let alone mental health help-lines. So one way you can remind yourself of this option is to create a helpful list of numbers – such as, Lifeline, Suicide Prevention Helplines, the Salvation Army, your local hospital or mental health service – that you can call if things get too overwhelming. Once you’ve created your list place it on the fridge, next to the TV, on a prominent mirror, so that you always know where it is should you need it.

13. Be prepared

If, like me, you know that the Christmas period is going to be a challenging, stressful and unpleasant time, channel your inner-boy scout and be prepared.

Hopefully this list will have given you a few ideas you can put in place to ease the stress over the holiday period, but if not, perhaps sit down and try to come up with a few ideas that could ease the loneliness, anxiety and depressive thoughts; and once done, perhaps consider sharing your ideas in the comments field below.

With all the media hubbub and consumerist shenanigans that occur over this time of year, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the hurricane and swept away. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

Remember, we don’t plan to fail, we fail to plan; and this year I am planning for a healthy, safe and relatively stress-free Christmas. How about you?


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Day 21: Six of the best ways to reduce stress…

Day twenty-one of the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge asks
Many people say stress triggers symptoms, do you agree or disagree?

Stress

My breakdown occurred as a result of stress; the stress of an emotionally abusive relationship, the stress of returning to college as a mature age student, the stress of physical illness, the stress of being so far from home, the stress of not being able to open up about my history of mental illnesses.

When I am stressed, my anxiety explodes to levels that impair day-to-day functioning, the nightmares that haunt my sleep-time increase to unbearable levels and I am reduced (on an emotional level) to that of a scared, trembling child desperate for nurture and safety.

Stress and symptoms go hand in hand.

As do symptoms and stress.

When I am experiencing heavy symptoms – the volatile mood swings, the anxiety or panic attacks, the aforementioned nightmares, the urge to self-harm – my stress levels escalate, thus feeding the vicious cycle that has been my burden for the last twenty years of my life.

I’ve never found something that eases the stress completely. At times I’ve been able to control it, to reduce it to a ‘manageable’ level, but it is always there, bubbling beneath the surface, waiting to strike.

If I ever find a way to beat it, I’ll let you know. Until then, here are six of the best ways I’ve found to reduce stress:

1. Muscle relaxation

There are many different ways one can relax the various muscles in the human body, but the one that works best for me involves beginning at the feet and working all the way up through your muscle groups until you reach your head.

You begin by slowing your breathing and then, after breathing in, squeeze all the muscles in your feet for five seconds, and then breathe out. Whilst keeping regular breathing, you then repeat squeezing the muscles of your feet two more times before slowly working up your body – legs, buttocks, stomach, hands, arms, shoulders, neck, face – working each group of muscles three times each.

By the time you’ve finished your face, you should hopefully be a lot more relaxed than you were at the start!

2. Movie night!

We all have a favourite ‘comfort film’ (mine’s Tremors, by the way), so if you’re starting to feel your stress levels rise, why not curl up on the sofa and treat yourself to a movie night? Watching a treasured movie (or two, or three) can work wonders to reduce your stress levels!

3. Sex

The rush of endorphins that are released upon orgasm are a potent stress-buster, they aren’t called the body’s natural painkillers for no reason! So why not give your mattress (or carpet, kitchen table, whatever) a workout to help beat stress?

But if you – like me – are not lucky enough to have someone to enjoy this wonderful act with, you can always do it alone! After all, there is absolutely nothing wrong with bringing pleasure to yourself! :p

4. Exercise

If masturbation is not for you (!?) you can always head out and get some exercise. Whether it be a session down the gym, a jog along the beach or a bike ride through the mountains, exercise will release those very same endorphins that are released during sex. It’s just not quite as much fun!

5. Chocolate

And keeping on the endorphins theme…eating chocolate can also cause those happy little endorphins to rush around your beautiful body, it just might take an unholy amount of chocolate to cause the same amount that exercise or sex will release!

6. Colouring in

It doesn’t matter if you’re a twenty-something Uni student or a fifty-something CEO, there is something immensely relaxing in cracking out the crayons and channeling your inner child. Don’t believe me? Why not go grab yourself a colouring book (or print out the image(s) below) and give it a try…I guarantee it will help de-stress you! :)

Do you have any tips or tactics that help de-stress you? Feel free to share them below… :)