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Living in a world between normality and insanity


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Becoming more self-aware

So for the past couple of weeks, I have just been so irritable. Then I got really bad allergies and got even more irritable (feeling sick is never a good place to operate from). What I realised though, is that because I was aware of my general irritability, I was able to not lash out as much at other people around me. I would feel the irritability rising and say to myself, “Is this person irritating me or am I more irritable than usual inside?’ The answer most of the time is that it was me, not the other person. By asking this question I was giving myself the opportunity to monitor my reactions and change them to responses instead.

Thinking this through I realised that having a greater self-awareness can really help in the way I react and respond to people around me. It can make coexisting with others more peaceful and it would definitely stop me from hurting people I care about because of my unstable moods and emotions. For example, if I am in a low mood and my housemate cheerily greets me in the morning I don’t need to grumble or ignore her I can acknowledge to myself that I am feeling low but respond appropriately with a good morning back. I don’t have to lie and put on a fake smile but by being self-aware I stop myself from snapping at her instead. I am sure she appreciates this and it helps me not push people away.

So, in theory, this sounds really simple but anyone who has tried to control their responses and actions can tell you it is not easy and becoming more self-aware is even harder. I have learned that many of my reactions and actions are very much linked to how I am feeling inside. If I am irritable my responses will be short and harsh, if I am feeling low my responses will be almost non-existent and if I am anxious my responses will be redirects and often not make sense. The trick for becoming more self-aware is to start to listen to and understand your body and emotions.

This takes time, I had to figure out what my body was telling me and try to connect it to various emotions. It took years of trial and error and talking to others, even today I don’t recognise everything perfectly and I will probably never be completely self-aware but I am better at knowing more and understanding more in my body. Being open to listening to my body and emotions opens me up to becoming more self-aware and gives me more control over my responses.

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I am by no means an expert but here are some of the things I did to help me:

  1. Learn the various emotions  – So here I made a list of emotions. I categorised them into six primary ones and then populated the list underneath each of these. My 6 primary emotions were; love; joy; anger; sadness; fear; and shame. Once I had these I put emotions like irritation and frustration under anger, hurt and depressed under sadness and anxiety and panic under fear. This gave me a list of emotions to start with.
  2. Name your emotions – If you are anything like me then you have probably struggled to put names to your emotions as well. This step took quite a bit of research. I asked other people how they knew what they were feeling, I looked up different emotions and situations that brought on those emotions for other people. I also put an hourly timer on my phone and every time it went off I would try to name the emotion I was currently feeling. This gave me information and practice to name my own emotions.
  3. Learn how your body responds – I thought this would be simple but sometimes my body’s reaction to a specific emotion is so subtly different I had to start taking numerous things into account. When I felt an intense emotion I would stop and do a quick grounding exercise. Starting at my toes I would move up my body just noticing how each part of my body felt. Was my stomach rumbling, were my fists closed, did I feel nauseous, was I clenching my teeth, did my face look redder, had my temperature increased or decreased. I would then take into consideration the circumstance that had triggered the emotion and try to connect the likely emotion to my body’s reaction
  4. Put it all together – Here is the final part, once you have made your lists and figured out how your body reacts to certain feelings you can start looking at your body even when you are unsure what you are feeling, once you can figure out what you are feeling you can work it backwards and realise maybe what bought up the emotion for you. Then you can decide if you are feeling something internally like anger because of something else that is happening or if the current situation is making you angry and respond appropriately. Now you can work up and down your information slide and become more self-aware. This helps us to respond instead of react.

ap_insideout_ff1So, the final thing I’m going to throw out there before I leave is about responding versus reacting. I never knew there was even a difference before a mentor of mine sat me down and explained. She said to me, when I react I am not thinking, I am not pausing and taking a moment, I am simply coming back with a reaction before my brain has caught up. Responding, on the other hand, is when my brain leads. It has stopped, thought about everything and decided on the most appropriate response instead of just a quick reaction. This has saved me from getting into a lot of hot water at times and has helped me become more self-aware in the moment instead of just making apologies to people later.

I know it’s hard when you have a mental illness that makes your moods swing from one side of the spectrum to the other but everything I wrote is something that has helped me keep the peace in my friendships and not push people away as quickly. In the end, it comes down to thinking before we speak and sometimes that is really hard. Good luck and please share any other tips you might have in the comments.

 

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Managing day to day

Over the last four weeks, I have been taking part in a process group looking at depression. This group came to an end on Monday night and the last part of processing that we did was write a letter from a ‘future self’ to our ‘present self’. I went about writing my letter in my usual ‘have to get it perfect’ way and ended up writing some actual (what I think) are useful tips to deal with my mental illnesses on a daily basis. I thought I would share all of these with you. Before laying them out I do need to state that knowing them and applying them are two different things and so while in my head I know all of these tricks are useful, I also completely understand and relate to when we are unable to put them into action.

Anyway, here are my top five useful hints in dealing with mental illness on a day-to-day basis:

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1. Believe in something bigger – This is probably one of the most helpful things in going about long term management of my mental health. Believing in something bigger than myself (whatever you may want to call that) allows me to have some kind of hope in life. Too many times I lose hope and often life is not worth living. When I started believing in a higher power I found that even though times often got dark I didn’t always become hopeless as much. I found an ability to persevere in the blackest of moments. Hope has become such an integral part of never giving up for me. I seem to struggle the worst when my spirituality is at it’s lowest.

2. Be grateful – Whenever I start to feel low or find myself slipping down the depression hole I try to be grateful. Gratitude reminds me of the things I have in life, what I have achieved, the people who love me, etc. This is important because so often I really do want to give up and say goodbye or fall into the mindset of life is not worth living. Writing a gratitude list when I feel my mood spiral sometimes provides an instant shift. I have found that just writing a list doesn’t always work though and the next thing to do is take action. Gratitude doesn’t just have to be a thought, it can also be behaviour. When I act on my gratitude, the darkness just doesn’t seem as dark and the hole not as deep.

3. Keep talking – My first instinct when the world becomes overwhelming or my anxiety takes over is to shut up and shut out. What I mean is I stop interacting on any deep level with people around me. When these feelings rise up I remind myself to keep talking. Get an appointment with my therapist, phone my sponsor or a good friend, find a support group to attend. Keep reaching out, because I have realised that the more I keep talking the quicker the feelings pass and my world semi returns to normal again. Don’t ever stop talking as this is often the only lifeline we have for people to support us.

4. Hit the reset button when needed  – Once I am in my head it is almost impossible to break free unless I reset. This is actually easier than it sounds and the best part is you can reset as many times as you need to. Sometimes, I will come home from work or from being out completely overwhelmed and on the verge of panic. I stop thinking clearly and begin slipping into depression or, I feel myself getting more hyper, I stop eating properly, don’t want to sleep and my brain is racing. Whatever it is, the moment I realise my brain is overworking I hit the reset button. Sometimes, it’s getting into bed early and sleeping until the next day. Sometimes, it’s hanging out with close friends who will distract me and sometimes it’s just reading a book or watching a series but I have to reset so that I can start thinking clearly again.

5. NEVER GIVE UP – this is the hardest thing to do and I don’t blame anybody who has but in this battle against mental illness it is also the most important. We all deserve to live, we all deserve to find peace and healing, we all deserve to be loved. Live for the moments where things are fine, where your emotions are not running wild and you feel content, even if it is only for 5 minutes. We are in this together and cannot give up on ourselves or each other.

These are just my thoughts and some basics that help me live with the different mental health issues that I have. It’s not easy and it’s not simple but we can fight mental illness together. Let’s share our tips with each other, let’s encourage each other and build each other up. So few people understand what we are going through but I want you all to know that I understand, I see and I feel what so many of us experience. Know that we are strong enough, brave enough, worth enough to win this daily battle.

Let’s do this together, just for today.

 


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A look into the past … Part 2

Please read the intro of part 1 to see the history here.

This piece of writing describes 1 of the many battles I have had in my head while struggling to overcome mental illness, addiction and self harm.

I post it with the hope that it will help people to understand what their loved ones might be going though or if you are the one struggling to remind you that you are not alone.

WARNING: Slightly graphic and may be triggering.

Vivid Images, written 29 June 2016

Spent lots of time up in my head today, both spacing out and thinking about what was said in my session and later with my sponsor. Wondering why I was craving so much last night, not just craving but the vivid images that filled my head. Feeling the blade press through the skin and watching the blood seep through the gap. Playing with it as it spirals and leaves tracks of red down my arm. Even now in the late afternoon the image is so real and tangible. I find myself leaving reality and fantasizing about it. Fantasy is all I have though, I can never go back down that road but oh how I want to right now. This morning I spoke of being disconnected, out of sorts.

I realize as I look through the day that yes, I could say disconnected which is a truth in a way, it is more dissociated than anything else. I sit in conversations and feel unreal as though everything is happening around me but not to me. I spend moments just staring off into the distance when I should be focusing on the conversations around me but I don’t feel a part of it. I don’t feel a part of anything at the moment. I think back to the images in my head and wonder why they remain more real than the life around me. Release stands out, pain stands out but denial stands out above everything. Avoidance of what might really be going on, fear of what I maybe don’t want to face. I can’t touch it though and through the day it feels like reality is slipping further and further away. I don’t feel negative and thoughts like being unworthy or not good enough nip at the edges of consciousness but haven’t seemed to have broken through yet.

I still feel generally satisfied with my life and where I am placed in it but I can’t seem to merge the emptiness with being satisfied and I am left confused. I do all the right things, work a solid program but still I am reaching for something and I can’t seem to grasp what it is. As I write this all I have eaten is a small cinnabon which is not nearly enough for the day. I realise that I have not been taking care of myself, not nurturing myself and if I’m honest I don’t care.

So at the end of the day I can no longer deny that I am not in a low space but where does it come from. I immediately want to blame a circumstance but off the top of my head, I tell myself that I am happy, that there is nothing wrong with my life. Is it true, I want it to be but I have just stepped out of financial security, leaving a job. Can this affect so much though? It sounds weird but I don’t want it to be my mood, that means looking at medication and puts me out of control but the more I think about all the symptoms the more I come to think that it might just be my mood.

Living with BiPolar sucks, being Borderline sucks even more. I call myself stupid because by now I should know healthy coping mechanisms yet still I slip into melancholy and dreams of slicing my arms up. The dreams have expanded now. I sit and have a smoke and hold the cigarette as close to my hand as I can without burning it. Playing with temptation but I can’t seem to stop myself. What if I go to far, what would happen if I let the cigarette touch the skin, kept it there until a blister forms? I can’t though, I would shatter so much, I can’t. Is it sad that the thing stopping me is not that it’s unhealthy but rather what others would say, what I would lose. It’s insane and once again I find myself not caring.

Writing this rambling is the first thing that I’ve connected to all day, the first thing I have felt involved in. I don’t want to stop in case I start to feel empty inside again, in case I slip off into the nothingness that has been hovering all day.


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A look into the past … part 1

Things have been really good for me for awhile now. My moods have stabilized and the emotions are no longer so raw. I don’t fear life anymore and live mindfully from one day to the next not letting obsessions take over.

For the first time in my life I am living, I am real and I feel like I have value but it wasn’t always like that. Recently I found some of my ramblings from 2 years ago that reminded me I have so much to be grateful for.

Here is the first one. I post in hope that someone else can connect with what was going through my head and not feel so alone. In hope that those reading will find hope as well, that if I can make it out on the other side then so can you.

Written June 2016 – not good enough

I close my eyes and I see swirls of grey, black and white spinning around in my vision. A visual representation of what is going on in my mind. The black represents the depression that seems to be sinking in. Bringing with it thoughts of failure and unworthiness. A voice screaming in my head “YOU ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH”. Against all rationality and knowledge that this is untrue, I still lean towards believing it. The grey for the confusion that seems to be swirling around my mind. Thoughts flying around interrupting each other and not letting anything make sense. Lastly white as the recovery I have built up in my life. The positive and sane reactions I need to survive.

It’s a mess though all blotted together like paint on paint in oil. I’ve been in denial for a while, avoidance more appropriate. “I’ve handed it over so it must be fine” and I realize the absolutes are back. The black and white thinking that flitters in and out of my life. All or nothing, it is or it isn’t. Who said that just because I’ve handed it over that it will be alright? But for me right now that’s how I’m thinking. I’m either fine or I’m not. Why can’t I be both? Don’t I fail and succeed like everyone else? In truth I am no different to any other person in the world yet I feel so alone in my head.

I sit here out in the open with a coffee to gather and sort out my thoughts. Heavy metal music playing in my ears because it calms me and right now I need to be calmed. My emotions are overwhelming me and I need to center myself. Realizing that the last month has affected me more than I have acknowledged or allowed. So honestly, I feel like a failure. Like I’m never going to get my shit together. Reality tells a different story though I struggle to see the truth. I am struggling to find any identity within myself that doesn’t have a title attached and I have no titles attached to me now. I move from day to day in a haze pretending that I’m okay when the truth is I’m not. But if I’m not then what am I? I try to tell myself that it’s okay to not be fine, to not be on top of the world but all my heads reminds me is that I have failed at yet another thing. Another disappointment on top of the many disappointments before. If I am dishonest I don’t have to acknowledge how deeply this hurts me. How sad and empty I feel inside.

“I will be okay” I tell myself. “I’ve worked hard to be okay” “please don’t take this away from me now” I plead with God. For naught though because God doesn’t work to this way. Is it okay to feel let down? To feel angry? I trust in God and believe in him, that he cares for and loves me but why does he let the negativity and bad thoughts return time after time? Why does he let the depression take over? What more must I do? I don’t know anymore so I plod on the best I can. Bit of a pity party right there though and I don’t like that so I lie to myself and stay positive. No matter how hard I try though I can’t deny that right now I am not fine, I am broken once again. If I was ever fixed in the first place.

I know I’ll leave my solitary spot here and go home to my amazing house mates, who when I share with them will tell me how beautiful I am and what an amazing person I am. How much they love me and how much I mean to them. And I know in my heart it’s true, that’s how they feel but I don’t feel the same. I’m sad, hurt, disappointed and through everything I still haven’t learnt not to listen to the voices in my head. I’ll smile though and tell them I love them too but go to bed empty inside because I feel so lost. How do I find myself? How did I lose myself to begin with? What am I? Who am I? Where do I look to? What do others see that I can’t and how do I learn to believe them instead of the voices from the past?


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The War

The deepest parts of my mind have come out to play. The segment that rarely get airtime raises its voice. The dangerous darkness begins to sing its song once again. But I am not the same person anymore and the Blackness cannot just engulf me without a war. The armies gather on either side. On the right is Recovery, tools I’ve gained armed with suggestions and good intentions, love and serenity. On the left is the Blackness, buried inside of me, wearing the known, the comfortable, spears of negative thoughts and beliefs of shame and unworthiness. The Blackness is putrid, rotten to the core. Old belief systems that are no longer true yet remain just as believable come back to the surface. I struggle to push them back and remind myself that I am loved, I am valued, I am cherished. I have won but the battle still remains. 

I have hope yet death intrigues me. I know reality yet believe the lies. I am torn between the darkness and recovery. On the one side I have everything to live for and on the other there is only suffering. But the darkness pulls, it lies but it comforts. It is known, it is safe. Lies, lies, lies but I believe even when everything and everyone screams otherwise. I fear that one day the darkness will overwhelm me, that I will give in to the nothingness and be surrounded, but not today. Today I fight with everything I have learnt. Today I let the light shine a little brighter. Today I live, even just for a moment longer. Today recovery has won. Tomorrow will be tomorrow and in that day I will fight another battle. In that day hopefully the war will not be lost. For now I relish in the victory that today has brought. I lay my head down and surrender to God that tomorrow another victory will be won and that one day the war will be over for good. 


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Fine but not fine?

maxresdefaultSpent lots of time up in my head today, both spacing out and thinking about what was said in my session and later with my sponsor. Wondering why I was craving so much last night, not just craving but the vivid images that filled my head. Feeling the blade press through the skin and watching the blood seep through the gap. Playing with it as it spirals and leaves tracks of red down my arm. Even now in the late afternoon the image is so real and tangible. I find myself leaving reality and fantasizing about it. Fantasy is all I have though, I can never go back down that road but oh how I want to right now.
This morning I spoke of being disconnected, out of sorts. I realize as I look through the day that yes, I could say disconnected which is a truth in a way, it is more dissociated than anything else. I sit in conversations and feel unreal as though everything is happening around me but not to me. I spend moments just staring off into the distance when I should be focusing on the conversations around me but I don’t feel a part of it. I don’t feel a part of anything at the moment. I think back to the images in my head and wonder why they remain more real than the life around me. Release stands out, pain stands out but denial stands out above everything. Avoidance of what might really be going on, fear of what I maybe don’t want to face. I can’t touch it though and through the day it feels like reality is slipping further and further away.
I don’t feel negative and thoughts like being unworthy or not good enough nip at the edges of consciousness but haven’t seemed to have broken through yet. I still feel generally satisfied with my life and where I am placed in it but I can’t seem to merge the emptiness with being satisfied and I am left confused. I do all the right things, work a solid program but still I am reaching for something and I can’t seem to grasp what it is. As I write this all I have eaten is a small cinnabon which is not nearly enough for the day. I realise that I have not been taking care of myself, not nurturing myself and if I’m honest I don’t care. So at the end of the day I can no longer deny that I am not in a low space but where does it come from.
I immediately want to blame a circumstance but off the top of my head, I tell myself that I am happy, that there is nothing wrong with my life. Is it true, I want it to be but I have just stepped out of financial security, leaving a job. Can this affect so much though? It sounds weird but I don’t want it to be my mood, that means looking at medication and puts me out of control but the more I think about all the symptoms the more I come to think that it might just be my mood. Living with BiPolar sucks, being Borderline sucks even more. I call myself stupid because by now I should know healthy coping mechanisms yet still I slip into melancholy and dreams of slicing my arms up.
The dreams have expanded now. I sit and have a smoke and hold the cigarette as close to my hand as I can without burning it. Playing with temptation but I can’t seem to stop myself. What if I go to far, what would happen if I let the cigarette touch the skin, kept it there until a blister forms? I can’t though, I would shatter so much, I can’t. Is it sad that the thing stopping me is not that it’s unhealthy but rather what others would say, what I would lose. It’s insane and once again I find myself not caring.
Writing this rambling is the first thing that I’ve connected to all day, the first thing I have felt involved in. I don’t want to stop in case I start to feel empty inside again, in case I slip off into the nothingness that has been hovering all day.


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Touch of the country

The rain runs down dust streaked windows as I sit in the bus, eyes closed, classic rock songs blaring through my headphones. I open my eyes briefly to watch the countryside pass as the bus slowly moves along.


My friend sits beside me head in a book. See we are connected enough to not even have to talk, companionship more than enough to keep us happy. We have just enjoyed a few days away. As I close my eyes again and drift into my conscious I reflect back on the past week. The laughs we had with each other, the trips down memory lane and the stories told I have never heard from my past.

Spending time with my grandparents is always a blessing. I don’t visit often, maybe twice a year but growing up they were one of the stable settings of love I had. I sit for a moment and draw on that love once again and feel warmth spread through my body.

While I am writing the bus takes a detour and my friend makes conversation with the people behind us and I think back to a different time when this was normal and people were happy to talk to strangers. This bus coming from the country, a place were you are greeted on the streets and every day waves to you with a smile on their face. It has been nice getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city. I have a silent laugh to myself as I remember sitting with our cups of coffee telling stories to one another across the generations.

I feel calm and content. Happy with my place in the world, a place my grandparents helped raise me to be in. Again the word blessed flits into my mind. Blessed to have friends that provide companionship, connection that is made with more than just words but actions and feelings. Blessed to have been raised by 3 sets of grandparents filling my childhood with memories of love. Blessed to have God on my side, to have stood by me as I’ve walked through each of my challenges in life. Blessed indeed, blessed to truly be alive.

My journey draws to a close now as the bus pulls onto the N1 highway, water streaming down the window next to me. Soon we will be in the city again and the quietness of the country will be overturned with noises from the city. That’s okay though because the contentedness stays with me. So thanks gran and gramps for that wonderful break and we’ll be back soon for another touch of the country.