Going To A Treatment Facility

Yesterday I went to a treatment facility. It’s a place which houses inpatients, day patients and has services for outpatients, like me. I met a therapist in this building which looked a lot like an old Victorian mansion where Lords and Ladies would have spent their time doing nothing but being rich and entertaining themselves. It also wasn’t particularly helpful that they were playing funeral music in the waiting area.

It was strange to be in a place purely dedicated to the treatment of mental illness. Before now I’ve only gone to hospitals and surgeries which treatment both mental and physical illnesses. There though, every patient was there for a broadly similar reason, yet still none of us would meet each other’s eyes or, if we did, it would only be for a brief self-indulgent second. Maybe that’s part of what the stigma around mental illness does to, it makes you internalise a sense of shame for being ill which not even being around other people in similar situations can heal.

I was taken up a grand staircase, trailing this woman that I knew I would have to open up my heart and soul to; a stranger with my life in her hands. The upstairs part of the building looked like a posh English boarding school with it’s cracked brown leather chairs, folders sprawled across the floor, art and books haphazardly covering every wall, a battered wooden desk and regal window frames that were not fit for purpose. It was surreal to be in this messy office and know that this would be the site where I would have to fight tooth and nail for recovery.

I answered the same questions I’ve covered with many, many people before over and over again. Initial mental health assessments all really follow the same formula and there never fails to be not enough time to cover everything you wish you could explain. I think I did the best I could though. I was scared and wanted to burst through the heavy door, run away and never return as soon as I took a seat on the sofa. There’s still a large part of my mind and body that wants to fight against and avoid treatment despite knowing that I need it. I stayed though and answered the questions. Then I accepted an appointment for next Thursday which makes it seem real to me – I really am returning to therapy.

The psychologist I saw also said that she was keen for me to see a psychiatrist and said that she would try and arrange an appointment. It’s difficult to know how to feel about that, considering I told her some things that I never told anyone else before. For now, I guess I’ll leave this here before I bore anyone reading this into having to click off this page! Thank you reading this far through, if you’ve got here.

 

If you want to hear my daily ramblings, follow me on Twitter.

Some of my other mental health posts:

Six of the Most Harmful Mental Health Narratives

Daily Physical Symptoms Of Anxiety

I’d Be Invisible

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What Am I Going To Do?

As I said in my last post, I have withdrawn from University for the time being and I’m aiming to restart my second year in September. Obviously this leaves me with a lot of free time that I was not expecting to have and have not planned for. Apart from trying to gain access to therapy, I know that I will need to occupy my mind during all of this free time. If I’m not being productive in any way my mood plummets and negative thoughts are free to take hold of my brain. So, I have decided on some (admittedly small) goals that I want to achieve during my time out.

What am I going to do?

1) I want to re-learn French

I did French at school for about 11 years. Although I got an A in the subject at GCSE my ability to speak the language was never good and, because I haven’t studied it for three years, a lot of what I learned has left my brain. I think learning a language is a really constructive pastime and I’m determined to be able to speak French fluently at some point in my life.

 

2) Grow my NBA social media accounts

This is a fact that most of you probably do not know about me but I love basketball. I have a Twitter and an Instagram account dedicated solely to basketball news and my opinions on what is happening in the NBA. Watching basketball is a relief for me, it de-stresses me and takes my mind to another place, so I want to make it an even bigger part of my life whilst I’m not at University.

 

3) Talk to you more!

Recently, I have neglected my blog quite badly but I get a lot out of writing down my thoughts and interacting with you guys. Writing a post makes me feel like I have achieved something and reassures me that I am at least capable of completing some tasks. So, I would love to get back into the swing of things and post more regularly on here!

 

4) Exercise

I am writing this goal with a certain amount of reluctance because exercise and me have not gotten on well together since I was about 10 years old. I feel very self-conscious whilst I am running or just being active generally because my self-esteem is so low. However, I cannot ignore the fact that I want to feel fit rather than panting every time I go up a flight of stairs! If you guys are interested, maybe I will document my fitness journey?

 

5) Tackle my to-read list

I have a lot of books in my room, many of which lie neglected and unopened and I want to change this. I firmly believe that reading, whether it be fiction or non-fiction, can teach you a great deal. Also, I love the escapism which engaging in a good book gives you. If any of you have some good book recommendations, please leave them in the comments below so I can check them out!

 

This is the end of the list of things I am going to do whilst I am taking time out from University. I know many of these things will see small and insignificant to some but I am going have to be patient with myself and take baby steps to try and get to a healthier state of mind and being. Thank you for reading this post and if you have any suggestions for future blog posts I should do please comment them below!

 

If you want to hear my daily ramblings, follow me on Twitter – @RyanBInNature

January Recap/The Worst Month Of My Life

TRIGGER WARNING: REFERENCES TO SUICIDAL THOUGHTS, SELF-HARM AND ALCOHOL MISUSE.

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted on this blog in quite a while. In all honesty I have not been mentally well enough to build-up the energy required to write a blog post. January has been a whirlwind of anxiety, depression, intrusive thoughts, confusion and excessive amounts of alcohol. I had four assessments (two exams and two essays) to complete during January in order to finish my first semester’s classes. However, I did not turn-up to either exam and I did not write the essays, let alone submit any. During the week I was supposed to do my assessments, I spiralled out of control and eventually had to tell an advisor at my University’s Student Life Centre that I no longer felt I could keep myself safe. So, the day culminated in my trip to Accident & Emergency where at least I felt I was in a safe and protected environment.

For context, over a two week period, I had been getting black-out drunk everyday, self-harming, unable to eat properly so I was faint and found it difficult to walk and having brutal panic attacks. So, I became suicidal. I felt like life was not worth living if I was going to have to struggle miserably through everyday of my life. I was shocked by how low I had become so quickly, I had never once come close to skipping exams and abandoning deadlines or felt in such a depth of crisis. So, I abused my body; hoping to die of alcohol poisoning due to the amount I was drinking, cutting became a refuge in which I could express my self-hatred. Intrusive thoughts filled my mind everyday, graphic images of committing suicide and hurting myself. I was hopeless.

I returned home from University and realised that only option was to temporarily withdraw from University and restart my second year in September. I knew that if I went back in February when my next semester was to start I would be putting myself in a very vulnerable place because, honestly, there was no way I could cope with being at University and pretending all was well with my as I continued my studies. So, I have now withdrawn from University until September. It’s hard not to feel like a failure at the moment, like I have disappointed myself and those around me greatly. However, I know that this is what I needed to do for my health’s sake.

Since being at home, I’ve had to have difficult, honest conversations with people. I have felt guilty burdening my family with my daily presence considering how low and anxious I have been, I know I am dragging the mood down everyday. I feel helpless. I have spent a lot of my time trying to find a psychotherapist, even considering committing to day hospital. For now, I’m not sure what I will do.

 

If you want to hear my daily ramblings, follow me on Twitter – @RyanBInNature

Night Guard and Onto 40mg?

Today was the day I had been waiting for in fearful trepidation. The thought of going to the dentist and the hygienist is truly nerve-wracking for me, so I spend the week-or-so leading up to the appointments worrying about what might happen and agonising over everything that could possibly go wrong. I am relieved to say that both the dentist and the hygienist were very happy with my teeth and gums. However, I did have to be fitted for a night guard to wear over my teeth at night to prevent me damaging my teeth and jaw through grinding and clenching them. I already knew that, due anxiety and stress, I clench my jaw in my sleep but the dentist wanted to prevent long-term damage coming from it, so wearing a mouth guard in my sleep is going to be an experience!

I went to my GP again last week and was told to double my antidepressant dose from 20mg to 40mg. To me, this is nerve-wracking, as this particular antidepressant caused me side-effects when I went on it initially (after trialling Sertraline unsuccessfully for a year), so I am worried that these side-effects will return. However, I do see the logic in doubling my dose because I have been particularly low recently; having suicidal ideation and engaging in destructive behaviour. It feels slightly like I am in a catch-22; if I don’t double my dose I risk carrying-on feeling this way, however if I do make the increase then I face having all of the side-effects return which will possibly make me more depressed because they may leave me unable to do much.

Recently, my focus has moved away from criticising myself for the things I do and the ways I feel towards accepting these negative aspects of myself and trying to protect myself as best I can from them. Constantly fighting against the dark parts of me has been making me feel lost and hopeless, so until I get the therapy I require to attempt to undermine these negative thoughts and behaviours, I will instead just try to prioritise protecting myself from long-term damage. Hopefully, when I eventually do get more treatment, I will be able to rebuild my habits in a healthier form with the help of a mental health professional, right now trying to do this on my own seems an insurmountable and possibly dangerous task.

 

If you want to hear my daily ramblings, follow me on Twitter – @RyanBInNature

 

Find some of my other mental health related life-updates here:

My Relationship With Alcohol

Antidepressants and Nightmares

A Mental Health Update

Daily Physical Symptoms Of Anxiety

Anxiety manifests itself in a huge variety of ways and the massive presence it has in mine and others’ lives means that it inevitably takes a toll on our bodies and physical health. So, below I have listed just five examples of how anxiety translates into physical symptoms on a daily basis.

1. Headaches 

When I’m feeling stressed for extended periods of time, I usually end-up getting what I call ‘stress headaches’. When I am anxious and worrying about things, my whole body becomes tense; my shoulders rise, I curl-in on myself and I don’t let any of my muscles relax. The result of all this pent-up tension in my body is that I will get a headache which, in turn, makes me feel worse because I am unable to be productive during this time and I have to wait for painkillers to kick-in.

2. Grinding and gritting teeth

I have been told-off numerous times by the dentist for the toll which grinding my teeth all night has on the condition of my teeth. Despite wearing retainers, I still manage to cause myself damage by the extent that I grind my teeth together due to the anxiety I feel even whilst I’m sleeping. This habit also makes my jaw-ache a lot which then contributes to me getting more headaches; so it is easy to see that the physical symptoms I have from anxiety interlink and worsen when they combine with each other.

3. Exhaustion

The amount of energy I use-up and expend on a daily basis because of the anxiety which courses through me means that I tire myself-out. My fatigue is very frustrating because my mood becomes worse and worse when I am not being productive and exhaustion really slows me down throughout the day. It is like my body is constantly existing in conflict with what I need and want it to do. Whilst I feel exhausted a lot, I am also on-edge for most of every day because I am anxious – so the conflicting symptoms I experience leaves me feeling uncomfortable and unsure what to do with myself.

4. Weight loss and fluctuation

For me personally, when my anxiety took a turn for the worse a lot of weight simply dropped-off me. I am now underweight and people frequently comment on how small I have become. Some people find that the opposite happens for them when they go through a bad-patch of anxiety because they use food as a way to comfort themselves, however when I am anxious the thought of eating makes me feel nauseous and I cannot manage to tackle having a full meal. 

5. Skin problems

Anxiety causes both my acne to flare-up and rashes to appear across my body. I have had acne since I was 12ish but there is a definite combination between the state of my mental health and the state of my acne, which is furthered by the fact that I do not eat and drink properly when my anxiety is at it’s worst. My skin becomes painful, red and irritated during these times; almost like it is a physical representation of what I am feeling on the inside! 

 

If you want to hear my daily ramblings, follow me on Twitter – @RyanBInNature

 

Here are a few of my other mental health posts:

Anxiety At Christmas

Mental Health, Medication & Stigma

Protecting Factors – What Saves You?

5 Things Not To Say This Christmas

Here are just five examples of things that people say around Christmas which really grate on me and deserve to be called-out:

1) ‘Come on, crack a smile, you can’t be miserable at Christmas’

It doesn’t make sense that people could just will their mental illness away for one day or part of the year. People with mental illnesses do not chose to be miserable or any other type of way at Christmas so don’t put your energy into shaming or stigmatising them. Instead, try to engage some empathy this festive period and respect that not everyone has the same experience of Christmas as you do.

2) ‘Are you vegan over Christmas as well?’

The look of disbelief on people’s faces as you admit that you do not have Christmas dinner is startling and hilarious in equal measure! I don’t know if people expect me to pick-up a bacon roll in the name of Christmas and joining in with the people around me but, let me tell you now, that is NOT going to happen! How about you let me do what I want at Christmas and you do you?

3) ‘Well at least have one drink’

People do not realise how hard Christmas is for people who have complex and difficult relationships with alcohol. The pressure to ‘get in the spirit’ and ‘be merry’ is ever-present and telling someone to ‘at least have one’ can do a lot of harm to people’s recovery processes. Don’t assume that the drinking culture around Christmas is enjoyable for everyone or even healthy for some people to be around for that matter.

4) ‘She gets very OCD at Christmas, you know, when she’s decorating and party planning and all that…’

Enough with using OCD as an adjective! OCD is an illness that people have to live with on a daily basis, so stop using it as a throw away comment to describe people’s habits which you find annoying. It is belittling and demeaning for people who have OCD to hear you laugh and joke about it in such a dismissive way when you do not appreciate the reality of how the illness manifests itself in the daily lives of others’.

5) ‘What’s the point of buying presents for pets?’

I call my dogs my babies and so they are treated like any other member of the family and given presents on Christmas Day. They deserve the treats they get for the joy they give me all year round and, if you saw the excitement on their faces when presents get placed before them, you would not even need to question why they are given presents. Genuinely, I think seeing them sniff-out their new toys and rip away wrapping paper is my favourite part of Christmas!

 

If you want to hear my daily ramblings, follow me on Twitter: @RyanBInNature

 

 

Anxiety At Christmas

The festive season comes with all sorts of pressures and expectations which is a shame because these details detract from what should be a relaxing time in the company of loved ones. The ideal Christmas image leads us to think that we have to achieve perfection in everything we do; in how we decorate our homes, buying expensive ornaments and gifts, maintaining completely harmonious family ties, being a social butterfly and flitting from one Christmas party to another and immersing ourselves in an environment centred around food, alcohol and indulgence. Whilst all of these things are part of the Christmas image we are sold and look good in the Instagram pictures we are inundated with, they can also produce a lot of anxiety in the many people who worry that they cannot achieve or keep-up with this level of so-called perfection.

Christmas isn’t supposed to be about competition; who’s got the best Christmas tree or how many designer gifts someone has received but the airbrushed images we are presented with lead us to believe that there is a certain standard we have to live-up to, no matter how unattainable it really is. For many, anxiety can be produced as a result of fearing failure or worrying about external expectations. When it is expected for people to attend their big work Christmas parties, for example, fear of being overwhelmed by the hectic environment and the unnecessary pressure to do everything in excess are not a part of the conversation. So, each person who struggles with anxiety at this time of year feels isolated and alone, like no-one else is going through the same things as them.

The following can be sources of anxiety during the festive period:

  • Christmas shopping in busy areas
  • Seeing relatives you do not meet with often
  • Christmas parties
  • The expectation to be festive and merry in all of your interactions
  • Buying gifts and worrying if they are adequate
  • Receiving gifts and stressing about opening them in front of the giver
  • The expectation to indulge in food and alcohol when, for many, our relationships with these things are complex

And so many, many more situations, which others may view as tiny details in the bigger picture of their Christmas, can be anxiety-provoking.

Christmas is meant to be a time we feel the opposite of isolated and fearful of judgement. So, let’s make mental health and inclusion a part of the discussion within the bigger picture of Christmas this year and make sure that no-one feels iced-out of the celebrations.

 

If you want to hear my daily ramblings, follow me on Twitter: @RyanBInNature

 

Here are some more of my Christmas-related posts:

The Christmas Tag

Unpopular Opinions – Christmas Edition

 

Don’t feel alone this Christmas (resources about the festive period and mental health):

Support at Christmas – Mind, the mental health charity

Coping at Christmas – The Priory Group

Real Christmas – Samaritans

Finding Comfort In A Bottle – Part Two

I love the seizing ache
As it spreads across my chest,
Powerful and raw like wildfire;
It blazes a trail down my body
Resting in my stomach where it burns
As my whole body yearns towards it.

The longing to seize this power
And draw it down me never ends –
It’s a part of me –
The portion of my whole which craves
More destruction, the release
Coming from such sickly, manipulative liquid.

Despite the warnings, the stop signs,
Before it reaches my mouth,
The liquid release settles inside me anyway,
Leaving it’s mark burnt into my being
And caressing the lost parts of me
Which it makes a point to find and seek.

 

The first instalment of this poem can be found here: Finding Comfort In A Bottle

 

 

Flawed Hope

I might suck the vitamins from my tongue
Lame as a tamed, feral animal,
However, their colourful bottle fools me;
When promise comes in a capsule
Your ground has already slipped away.

How Mental Health Stigma Has Hurt Me

TRIGGER WARNING: REFERENCES TO SELF-HARM.

When I was 15, I was told by a family member that I was ‘over-sensitive’ because I had completely shut down whilst suffering with depression. My memory of that depressive period are incredibly hazy. When I try to think back to that point in my life all that really springs to mind is a cold, heavy feeling in my chest which takes me back to the days on end I spent sitting on my bed in a grey, miserable bubble. I remember glimpses of conversations I had with people at the time, such as when I was labelled ‘over-sensitive’, other than that it is a chunk of my life which remains shrouded in a cloud of fear I’m not really ready to make my way through just yet. However, the phrase ‘over-sensitive’ still hurts me to this day. It is an obvious example of someone buying into the stigma around mental health and trying to tell me that it was a character weakness of mine which was causing me to suffer, erasing the fact that depression is a serious illness.

I remember the first time I went to see a counsellor. I was scared stiff and my anxiety was the only thing my mind and body had space to feel. She asked me what I was worried about and I told her that I was scared she would think I was ‘pathetic’. I was 16 at the time and my self-esteem had been completely decimated by the narrative that suffering with your mental health makes you less of a person. I carried that weight around with me everyday as I avoided people’s eye contact at school and went to elaborate lengths to hide the fact that I was having to leave lessons early to go to counselling sessions. Stigma had taught me that my mental health was something to be ashamed about and a part of me to be hidden at all costs.

How many other people in the world have felt that way too?

Stigma around anxiety led me to skip school rather than tell my teacher that trying to make me do a presentation in front of the class was unacceptable when he knew that I was suffering at the time and could barely vocalise my thoughts in front of one person let alone a whole class. I thought that he would laugh it off or tell me that I would have to grow-up one day and make me do the presentation anyway. So, I missed a whole day of school because I knew how widespread the stigma around anxiety was (and still is).

I waited for years to tell anyone about my OCD because I thought that they would call me ‘crazy’ once I explained my rituals and intrusive thoughts. Stigma around OCD means that it is not talked about much in society other than in regards to people who clean obsessively when, in reality, the disorder is a lot more complex than that. So, I purposely did not mention these symptoms throughout all of the counselling, therapy and assessment sessions I had. If I had not been so worried about the labels which I thought people who attach to me due to my experiences, I could have gotten my OCD diagnosis so much earlier.

The stigma around mental health led me to suffer with self-harm alone. I was petrified about what people would think of me if they found out and I imagined scenarios in which people would call me an ‘attention seeker’ for what I was doing. So, quickly my habitual self-harming thrived in my silence as keeping it a secret meant that there was no way for anybody to intervene or convince me to stop. Reaching out for help seemed like an insurmountable task because of the judgements I knew people held about self-harm, such as that it is ‘a trend’ or ‘a cry for help’. When I finally did tell a family member, I got shouted out and had angry, accusatory words thrown at me which felt like a slap in the face when it had taken me so long to open-up.

The stigma around mental health is dangerous. These experiences I have documented above affect millions of people in varying ways across the world. The stigma ingrains in us a shame around talking about our mental health and makes us feel weak for struggling. People die every year because they cannot face telling people about what they are feeling – these are the real effects of stigma. It’s time that we all break down these barriers, no matter who you are or where you come from. Normalise conversations about mental health, make it a topic that you talk about often so that others will hear and begin to think that, if they needed to, they could talk about it too. Don’t let people suffer in silence, reach out and offer an understanding shoulder to cry on. Start the conversation and others will follow.

 

Resources for help with mental health:

Information & Support – Mind, the mental health charity

Samaritans

Contact – Childline (for under 18s)