How To Keep Going When You Are Mentally Unwell.

I definitely haven’t mastered my illness but I have had a lot of times in my life where I have been incredibly mentally unwell and have had to figure out how to somehow hold it together with no support. I wish there was more help out there, so if there is anything I find that works I want to share it with people.

I have had psychosis, major depression and crippling anxiety; sometimes simultaneously and you have to work out ways to stay alive or you could so easily give up. This might not apply to everyone and it doesn’t apply to every type of mental problem you might be experiencing. For example, one tip might help when you are depressed, but not when you are feeling paranoid, or when your mind is racing, but each of them has slightly helped me at some point.

  1. Write it all down. Write down every single thought you’re having, everything that you’re imagining is happening, everything that you are tormenting yourself with. The process of feverishly scribbling in itself is cathartic and helps you to release some of what is going on inside your head, to alleviate some of the building pressure.
  2. Allow a bad habit until you are in a better place. Have a thing that you focus on single-mindedly to distract yourself from your mental state. That might be smoking, or binge-eating or sleeping all the time. Ok, this isn’t healthy and doesn’t sound like good advice, but you have to do what keeps you alive, and if a bad habit gets you through a rough period, so be it.
  3. Listen to a song on repeat for days, or weeks. There is something soothing about hearing something repetitious when your mind is all over the place. You can’t control your own head so try and control things in your surroundings to the point that it is obsessive.
  4. This leads me to the next suggestion: fixed routines. Make a routine for yourself, even if you aren’t working, and try to rigidly follow it: go for a walk at the same time every day, get dressed at the same time every day, eat at the same time, etc. Or if this fails and you aren’t able to, sleep all the time until it passes.
  5. Art. Even if you aren’t artistic, draw or paint what is going on in your head. Even painting giant blobs like a small child is helpful. It makes you focus on something else so you can’t focus (as much) on your own head. I find the busier my hands are, the quieter my head is.
  6. Do whatever you have to. If this means not stepping out of your front door for a month, do that. However, if you’re going to do that, maintain some form of connection with the outside world, even if it is just online.
  7. Talk to people who get it. Talk to people you don’t have to pretend with. Don’t force yourself to be around people you have to put a face on with. The pressure of having to do this will drive you further downwards.
  8. Walk beside the sea. I don’t know why, but the sea helps my head. I don’t mean in an “I’m suddenly miraculously cured” type of way. But it feels like it airs out your mind, plus watching the waves helps because it is rhythmic and calming to watch.
  9. Don’t look up if you are walking in the street. If you are feeling overwhelmed or paranoid, don’t look at the people you are passing, look at the ground.
  10. Sit on the floor, close your eyes and cover them. This sounds stupid but it has helped me countless times.
  11. Relieve yourself of all responsibilities that you can afford to let go without it bringing additional stress.
  12. Don’t listen to unhelpful advice from people who haven’t had it. Would you listen to someone advising you on to change a nappy when they’ve never seen one before? No, so why would you take anything that isn’t useful on board from people who think mental illness is the same as having a bit of a rough day? If “chin up” snaps people out of a regular bad mood, I’d pay to experience a regular bad mood.
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How Can We Change Mental Health Services in the NHS?

Do you feel like you never get help with your mental health? Do you receive a complete lack of empathy from mental health professionals? Do you go in circles, never getting help and always feeling like your issues are minimised and that you are repeatedly fobbed off?

Are you told you are “high functioning”, ie, don’t need help, because you look presentable, speak articulately or function well in one particular area, even though it feels like everything is falling apart inside you? Do doctors deny your experiences because they don’t “see it?” Do you feel isolated and like you are constantly on the edge and don’t know how much longer you can hold the facade together?

If you can relate to any of this, please contact me by commenting on this post and tell me if you have any ideas about how we can form a pressure group or go to a politician about this. I suspect that mental health services are inundated with patients and are trying to get people off their books so it looks like they have done something productive, when actually they are just lazy/don’t care/want rid of one more patient. If these were cancer patients there is no way they would get away with it. It is like cancer: cancer of the mind. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t slowly killing you from the inside out.

I also have a Facebook group called “Change Mental Health Services in the NHS.” Feel free to join.

Things that might help with BPD

Over the years, I have come across several things that slightly help to ease my symptoms. At times, or in some cases, all the time, your mental health team isn’t around! So it is important to find ways to keep yourself going.

1. Smoking. I know this isn’t healthy or recommended, but I’m sorry, it helps. If your choices are suicide or smoking, isn’t smoking the healthier option?

2. If you don’t have any plans, make plans, even if they are just on your own. Having a lot of empty time isn’t good for me: it leads to rumination and feelings of emptiness, so it is important to have plans, even if you don’t feel like it. You need to make a routine for yourself like you would for a toddler.

3. Go for a long, fast walk. The fast part is important: it feels like you are stamping out your symptoms and throwing them into the wind.

4. Music. Turn on ridiculously happy music to counter your mood. Don’t listen to depressing music if you are already struggling. You’ll end up wallowing in despair. I’m not sure about other people with BPD, but I am very sensitive to music and almost take on its mood.

5. Have a project: a quiet and gentle one, not something that will further stress you out. Being creative makes you feel like you are turning negative energy into something positive. Start scrapbooking, card making or colouring in. It is harder to think about the enormity of everything when you are focussed on one thing.

6. If you are ill to the point that making a piece of toast is a challenge, simplify your life. Cut out everything you can’t do. Think in minutes rather than hours. When I’m really unwell time stretches endlessly before me and I don’t know how I’m going to get through it, which sends me even deeper into crisis. If you give yourself five minute long tasks it helps slightly. For example, for the next five minutes I’m going to make a cup of tea. Or if you have kids, for five minutes I’m going to make them a sandwich. The tasks have to be small, or you’ll get too stressed. Talk yourself through the small task in your head. Talking to yourself in a calm way in your head can actually be quite soothing.

7. If you can, sleep until you get through the worst part. If you have kids, make it to bedtime. Keep bedtime in your head as something to hold onto. Buy ready meals, let your kids watch more TV than usual, take them to soft play so you can sit and deal with your own overwhelming thoughts.

8. Do something that feels meaningful for someone else. Make a photo album, paint a picture, make a box of their favourite things. It shifts the focus from your awful feelings to something positive that makes someone else feel good. Convince yourself of the importance of the task you’re doing, as if another person’s happiness depends on it. I find that if someone else needs me it pulls me together, so this might work.

9. This won’t make sense to most people, but pick one catchy line, like the hook from a song. Now repeat it inside your head in a rhythmic way. I find that it stops other thoughts, which, at times like these, is a very good thing.

I definitely don’t have all the answers when it comes to managing BPD and the difference these things makes might be so small it is almost imperceptible to you, but if you can ease the weight of the load you’re carrying even slightly, it is better than doing nothing.

Validating Yourself

I’ve been reading up on the causes of Borderline Personality Disorder a lot recently, hoping to come across something helpful. I keep seeing posts on the topic of validation and how sufferers of BPD were repeatedly invalidated, which created a pattern of problems for them.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my reactions to things. They are almost always completely out of proportion to the event that occurred. I can see it on an intellectual level but my emotions take full control. For example, someone gives what I perceive to be a mean look and I feel a surge of emotion and then out of control rage takes over. I want to try to figure out how to unwind this, because it is getting worse as I get older.

I started wondering if every time I feel hurt by a comment, or someone’s actions, or something bad happening in the day, would it help at all if I validated myself before reacting?

I realised that inside my own mind, almost inaudibly, if something happens that hurts my feelings, I instantly tell myself “Don’t react,” “That feeling you just had is wrong,” “Suppress that surge of emotion.” This all cascades into a completely exaggerated reaction that frequently feels like intense anger, but really I think it stems from being hurt and then invalidating myself.

So, I started trying something small. If someone says something to me and I feel that awful feeling of hurt, that I can only compare to being emotionally stabbed; I stop. I wait a second and I tell myself, inside my head “It’s OK you are upset about that. That is a valid reaction.” This might sound stupid and it is only a small step, but I have found that it has helped, at least slightly, a few times.

I think the problem is that often people with Borderline Personality Disorder are so sensitive that they are badly wounded by things that might go over someone else’s head. That isn’t wrong and I don’t know why we are taught that it is wrong to be like that. I guess I am trying to gradually inch forwards towards some form of self-help and learning about my own condition.

NHS = No Hope, Sorry

This week I reached breaking point. I have been so unwell for so long, every single day and it feels like there is no help available. The strain of trying to appear “normal” all the time is exhausting me beyond description. I had a break with reality, started hallucinating and thought I was dead.

I have Borderline Personality Disorder. Both fortunately and unfortunately, I’m good at acting; to the point that no one seems to believe I have it.

I was walking down the street, trees were merging together and lifting upwards into what resembled an image of what I imagine to be the heavens opening. I felt like reality was melting away. I felt like I had died. I can’t feel my own body as I type; it is like I am looking down at someone else’s hands. Even when I’m this unwell, there is no one to call. Even when I’m this unwell, from the outside I probably look normal: like I’m wondering if it’s going to rain or if I should head to Burger King.

Here’s the problem: I have kids that are well cared for. They are always clean, fed, dressed nicely, happy, unaffected by my illness. Obviously, I realise that this is a good thing. But it also stops me getting help when I really need it. No doctor seems to understand that it is possible to take good care of your kids and be horribly unwell at the same time. Maybe they are just underfunded and have nothing to offer. I rang my CPN a week ago. He still hasn’t rung me back. My tablets aren’t working and no one will change them. I don’t even know who my psychiatrist is.

All of this leads me back to the same point: something has to change. Just because someone appears normal, it doesn’t mean they are OK. How many people are sitting in their houses, in absolute despair, being batted back and forth between various agencies. How many parents are suffering profoundly but are too scared to speak up because they are fearful that they will automatically be labelled bad parents when they are good with their kids but just struggling with their own health? This is so wrong and thinking about it and the number of people who are suffering alone sickens me.

 

When mental illness is masked, it’s bypassed.

I think that I have finally, completely lost faith in mental health services. I was verging on condemning them all as poor listeners, dismissive and uncaring a couple of years ago but held onto hope that I might come across one kind soul. That was swiftly extinguished today.

I had an appointment with my new CPN. I had only met him once before. He gave the appearance of listening to what I was saying at the previous appointment, whilst feverishly writing notes, as if he was afraid of missing a single point I shared.

I have Borderline Personality Disorder (Emotional Instability) and possibly Bipolar Disorder Type 2 (I was diagnosed with it for 4 years before my doctor removed the diagnosis. I still suspect I may have it.)

I had been hopeful that someone would finally hear what I was saying and would diagnose me correctly and offer new medication, since my current one is far from perfect.

It quickly became apparent that he didn’t remember a thing I had told him last time. He didn’t even read over his notes to see what I said last time. In fact, now I think of it, he didn’t even show up for our last appointment. He turned from perfectly pleasant to perfectly patronising.

I have symptoms every day. The problem is they aren’t really visible from the outside. I don’t know why this is so, but it is like I am trapped in my own internal hell, unable to show anyone what it is like on the inside and unable to adequately express it in words. This is compounded by the fact that I have kids. If you have kids and have a mental illness, you are either considered to be so unwell that your kids are removed, or there is nothing wrong with you and you are “high functioning”, aka “piss off home and deal with it yourself.”

After striving to express this at the appointment, my CPN told me that I’m not that bad because I can take care of my kids. I got this deep feeling of disappointment, like again I had been completely misunderstood. That has nothing to do with anything. That has nothing to do with how my symptoms affect me. It’s a bit someone saying “You must be a good singer because you went to the toilet five minutes ago.” Only, if someone said that to you, you’re allowed to disagree with them, or at least look confused. At these appointments, you’re expected to nod along subserviently as if every pronouncement they make is so life-altering it should be added to one of those miniature books of wisdom you find in Bible shops. Speaking of which, he told me that the answer to my problems is “Don’t think, do.” I was blown away by how insightful that was. It’s like someone who knows the letters a, b and c trying to tell someone who knows the alphabet that they should forget the rest of the letters and just stick with good old a, b, c.

Anyway, these are a few of my symptoms: I constantly feel like I am having a nervous breakdown and it physically feels like I am suffocating inside my own brain,  I ruminate over everything until I make myself sick, I struggle to sustain relationships, I can’t hold down a job, I get dissociation that is so bad that I feel like I am dead and watching the world from another , I can’t feel my body most of the time and feel like I am on the other side of a room watching myself, I can’t really relate to people unless it is one on one, I get episodes of severe depression, I get highs where all I want to do is create and create and create compulsively until I send myself into crisis, I have black and white thinking: something is either all good or all bad, I can’t make the most basic of decisions, get paranoia and sometimes visual hallucinations, I make impulsive, damaging decisions. I get frequent suicidal thoughts.  I live in extremes, going from feeling invincible, happy and confident to being in such despair I want to die in hours, or sometimes minutes, for no reason. Basically, I don’t know which end of me is up. However, I am repeatedly told that I appear calm, but this is partly because I am dealing with so much inside that I’m so preoccupied that is all I am able to do. Guess that’s not so bad, according to the experts’ measuring stick. (Sorry, that was long and boring but I wanted to make a point.)

The only reason I’m writing this, apart from it being cathartic, is because I want to highlight how damaging the dismissive attitudes of mental health professionals are. Just because you can’t see the effects externally, it doesn’t mean someone isn’t being ravaged by it beneath the surface. Just because you wash regularly, put on make-up and tend to your kids doesn’t mean you aren’t struggling beyond description. Mental illness affects everyone in different ways. The number of people that are receiving this type of “treatment” worries me. Every time I exit one of these appointments I am in hysterics about it for the rest of the day. How is that helping people? How many other people are left in that state? Why does no one listen? And why does no one care?

Mentally ill mums don’t matter (in Northern Ireland anyway.)

A discussion I had this morning prompted me to start writing about this topic. Mental health services in Northern Ireland are appalling in general but I can see a clear distinction between how I was treated as a mentally ill person and how I have been treated as a mentally ill mum (ie, no longer a person, just a mum.)

Prior to having children when I became extremely unwell very little may have been done to remedy the situation, but people at least gave the appearance of having a listening ear. They gave a look of concern whilst I described my hellish symptoms. Now I may as well get an eye roll, in fact I have literally received eye rolls in response to my suffering.

This is the formula in Northern Ireland for when a mum is mentally unwell:

Make threats about making a referral to social services because she has kids, even if there is no maltreatment whatsoever.

Tell her that she better not use the word “suicidal” or you will report her to social services, even if the kids aren’t at risk at all.

Make all of the symptoms she personally suffers from about the kids, even if the kids are completely unaware of them, never mind affected by them. Don’t show her any sympathy at all.

Don’t help her.

Make her jump through hoops to prove that she is a fit mother. Pile on extra stress and add to the insurmountable stack of problems she already has until she reaches breaking point and actually does commit suicide.

Get her to shut up and not complain about symptoms out of fear of losing her children.

Tell her to ring her GP or social worker if things worsen, so that you can repeat the above steps every time until driving her to suicide.

Leave her in a worse state than she was in before seeking help.

I am beyond disgusted by the mental health “services” provided by this country and I want to broadcast the way things are because I believe if it was public knowledge it couldn’t be allowed to happen anymore. If only the mentally unwell mothers are aware of this it can continue to be swept under the rug.  Please spread this far and wide.