Perspective, Appreciate your life

I’m fascinated by the wonders of nature. Like the waves crashing against the rocks, spellbinding and magnificent in all their beauty and raw power.

Perspective

Nature reminds me that we’re all just a tiny part of something much greater. Much greater in fact than we can ever fully comprehend. This really helps me to put my issues into perspective.

I don’t mean to sound morbid, but the one thing we can all guarantee is that some day we’re not going to be here anymore. I’m not afraid of this prospect but due to recent events and having come close to the edge, I’ve become more appreciative of life and I take less for granted. I now understand that life is less about success and more about personal experiences. After all when we do die, we can’t take anything with us.

When you’re battling your mental health it’s hard to see the positive side to anything. Even though your friends might see big improvements, it’s hard for you to notice any progress what so ever. Its easier to believe that everyone’s superior to you. But try to remember, other people have their issues too. Others also struggle with the everyday pressures of life. Nobody’s perfect!

Perspective Allow yourself to become lost in the vastness of nature. You are very significant but for once just enjoy being small and pressure free.

Look on the positive side

Last week I took a trip in to the town centre for the first time in about 18 months, the last time resulted in a panic attack. I did this with the intention of challenging myself. I was accompanied by my mother. Although I was uncomfortable to say the least, all was going surprisingly well. We’d parked in a multi-storey car park which was very busy, and I’d managed to get out of the car! Once at the piazza among the shops I was surrounded by people, some walking towards me, some coming at me from behind. A terrifying prospect for me, but one that I was coping with, although admittedly I did considerably tighten my grip on my mums arm! The next challenge was to go into a shop and buy something (some deodorant I think but that’s not important). This was to prove more problematic. I was doing Ok until the queuing stage but sadly this was all too much for me with far too many people in such a small space. I ended up hurrying out of the shop without purchasing anything.

Perspective

At the time it was all about looking after myself, as I went into survival mode. But then came the feelings of foolishness and failure. I was so disappointed with myself. I’d soon gone from feeling elated, ‘look at me, look how well I’m doing’ to feeling overwhelmed and out of my depth. Later that day once I’d had time to calm down and reflect, I actually felt extremely proud of what I’d achieved. Its all about perspective. Yes I’d had to leave the shop, but I’d managed to get into town in the first place, which was a major feat in its self. I’d also managed my anxiety well and avoided having a panic attack. All positive steps in the right direction.

I recently played in my local league championships at table tennis. I got to the semi final stage before losing to the player who went on to win the event. Frustratingly, as good a player as he is, I had beaten him both times we’d played in the league and I really fancied my chances. There were people watching, not many but enough to make me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. On the day I didn’t perform and let nerves get the better of me. But wait a minute!, twelve months prier to this I’d had to pull out of playing in the league all together and I wasn’t even well enough to come and watch the tournament, let alone play in it. Just being able to stay in this kind of environment and actually feel ok for most of the day, was and is a huge testament to how far I’ve come. Again it’s just about putting things in perspective. I actually managed to get all the way to the semi final stage which is a huge thing to be proud of!

For other people suffering with their mental health its really important that you try to put situations into perspective. Try to focus on what you’re doing well as apposed to what you’re not. You might struggle to see it at the moment but there’ll be more positives than you think.

 

 

Self-Worth, Be Proud

My Self-worth was at an all time low “I hate myself and want to die! there’s nothing you can say or do to stop me killing myself, so don’t bother trying!” This I repeatedly said to my counsellor and at the time I genuinely believed it. Thankfully I no longer feel this way, in fact every single day I thank God that I’m still here, that I found the strength to battle my mental health and that I’m finally beginning to feel better in myself. As crazy as it sounds, I’m actually grateful for my illness. I’ve discovered a whole new side to me and believe I’m a better person now, due to my recent experiences.

My journey battling depression has also been a journey of self-discovery and I quite like what I’ve discovered! I’m so much more open minded and  compassionate towards others. Sure I can be over-emotional at times. Vulnerable and fragile I certainly am, but I’m also a much stronger person than I ever gave myself credit for and I no longer view my sensitivity as a weakness. I feel I have a lot to offer and crucially that I’m worth fighting for.

Take a closer look

Building confidence and self esteem. Self-worth Several months a go my counsellor asked me what I saw when I looked in the mirror and this is what I came up with.

When I look in the mirror I see lots of things, surprisingly! It’s hard to get past the initial thought of hating the way I look, big bags under my eyes, dry flaky skin, spots everywhere, bald on top making me look at least ten years older! But when I look a bit deeper, the main thing I see is sadness. I try to mask it with a smile but it looks awkward and forced. In the end my haunted looking eyes give me away. One minute I look like a frightened little boy with all the troubles of the world on my shoulders. The next time I look I see nothing, emptiness, a distant blank expression. Maybe my defence mechanism is to completely switch off, or maybe I’m seeing someone whose lost all hope and is slowly giving up on life. Either way this vulnerable person staring back at me both scares and disappoints me.

 

I’m pleased to say that at present my perception of myself has somewhat changed. I’m not about to insult your intelligence by saying I’ve miraculously gone from hating my appearance, to suddenly liking it, because that’s simply not true. I have noticed some subtle changes though, that have made observing myself a little more bearable. Where as before, I saw emptiness, fear and confusion in my eyes, now I see more understanding and even glimpses of hope and optimism.

It’s perfectly normal to see all your flaws, especially when you’re studying yourself so intently. Even the most beautiful people will still find things they’re not happy with if they look hard enough. We are our own worse critics after all.

How easy is it to stand in front of a full-length mirror working your way from head to toe, highlighting all the things you’re not happy with. Tiny blemishes can soon get magnified into hideous deformities. Of course these are only visible to you and not to others around you. In fact some of the time, what you view as an imperfection, someone else might find to be an attractive feature.

Give Yourself a break

Building confidence and self esteemMental health is hard to live with. One of the hardest parts for me is the unpredictable nature of it.  sometimes just as you think your doing ok and moving in the right direction, something happens that completely floors you. Its like having a giant elastic band attached to you which never lets you get to your destination. When You’re climbing up the hill, you can feel it pulling you back, you can almost reach out and touch where you need to be and then suddenly your tugged  backwards and you end up right back where you started! It’s hard. It’s frustrating, I know  but you need to dust yourself off and start again. Make the most of your good days and don’t put too much emphasis on the bad ones.

I have anxiety and depression, but I refuse to let it define me, there’s much more to me than that. Don’t let your illness define you. Life is hard enough for anyone. If you suffer with mental health issues it’s even more important that your kind to yourself and manage your expectations.

 

 

Panic Attacks

Although its fair to say I’ve always been an anxious person I only began suffering with panic attacks about five years a go.

Around this time I had just started a new job, looking after people with learning disabilities and challenging behaviours, at the time I had no idea how severe these behaviours were or how I was likely to respond to them. For the first two weeks I was away from the home taking part in mandatory training days. Ninety-five percent of which involved learning how to defend yourself and how to safely restrain people who were trying to cause you harm. By the end of the fortnight my body was already battered and bruised, just from the staff role-play and I was feeling decidedly uneasy about my first shift.  I lasted less than two more weeks and during this time I had some truly horrendous shifts, which have stuck, in my mind.

On my very first day I was locked in the kitchen by the staff for my own protection! Whilst in there what seemed like world war three was breaking out in the rest of the home. People were shouting and screaming, furniture and chairs were being thrown around. At one point I heard a big crash, which turned out to be the television smashing against the wall. I remember thinking what the hell am I doing here.

Later that day one of the residents was kind enough to spit in my face and tell me he wished I were dead. This was totally new for me, I’d worked in care for a long time and never had anyone take such an instant dislike to me.

One thing that was repeated several times in training was that if your ever alone in a room with a resident, always make sure you position yourself closest to the exit. Towards the end of the first week I made the cardinal mistake of forgetting this advice. In a desperate attempt to build some report with one of the residents, I went to look at his video collection at the far end of his bedroom. At the time I was just really pleased that I’d finally found a way to relate to him but in doing this I stupidly put myself in a vulnerable position. Before I could react he had his arm across my chest and was slamming me into his bookshelf, it took two members of staff to prize him off me. I came out of it quite lucky, with just a small graze to my back but as you can imagine, such a violent incident did shake me up. As bad as it felt I recognised that it was my own fault though and I could have avoided it happening. This made it easier for me to accept, I would just have to be more careful in the future.

The final incident upset me more than anything had so far and turned out to be the final straw. Even though all the residents were in the home due to their challenging behaviour, the youngest called Damien really stood out to me. He was autistic and had more severe learning disabilities than the other residents. He lived in his own little fantasy world where his favourite cartoon characters were his best friends. He was much like the people I had previously cared for. We immediately hit it off and he responded really well to me. I felt sorry for him though, he appeared very young and vulnerable in this environment. That is why I found the incident most unsettling. It all started when somebody broke the glass that sets the fire alarm off, which apparently was a regular occurrence. At the time I was sat in the dining room with Damien, having helped him to make himself a sandwich. On hearing the alarm he became extremely agitated. Before I knew it he had thrown and smashed his plate against the wall and was storming out of the room. I hurried after him but didn’t catch him in time, as he went into the lounge and slapped one of the girls hard across the face. She was just sat on a couch minding her own business at the time and I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing, it was like someone had flipped a switch in his head.

Inevitably the situation escalated as the other residents began to lose their temper. The boss had me take Damien to his room and lock the door for our own safety. But the truth is I didn’t feel safe, this young man who I had earlier felt sorry for, was not that innocent after all. During the whole event I felt totally powerless and I’m ashamed to say I completely froze. I handed my notice in at the end of the shift and didn’t return.

 

Shortly after this I got another job in care, working in a day centre, very similar to what I’d done before, I even knew some of the service users. This should have been a comfortable job for me but in the end I didn’t even last the morning. All of a sudden I couldn’t be a carer anymore. I had lost all my trust in people, everyone seemed like a potential threat to me and I was convinced I was going to get attacked. The fact that there was a door code for the safety of the members was also a big issue. Suddenly I was back to being locked in again, trapped. I felt like the walls were coming in on me and suddenly there were far too many people for such a small space. My chest began to tighten and I couldn’t breath. It was very strange, I could see staff members were talking to me but I wasn’t able to hear a word they were saying. By now my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest and I was gasping for air. All that was important to me was that I got out, I didn’t care how ridiculous I looked, I was just desperate to escape. I frantically tried to open the door but I hadn’t been given the code yet. I’ve never felt so small in all my life; I’ve never felt so afraid, I was certain I was going to die. This was the first time I had a panic attack.

 

Gradually over the last five years my anxiety levels have worsened, the attacks have become more frequent and much more random. Taking place in shops and supermarkets, on public transport and in many other social situations.

My home became my cage, as I was too scared to face the world!

 

Even in my home I would panic about having to answer the telephone, not knowing who was on the other end of the line. I even became fearful of opening my mail.

Having a panic attack is a terrifying experience and one that I now try to avoid at any cost. This can quickly result in not wanting to leave the house, feelings of inadequacy, severe confidence problems and lead to a deep depression. Eventually I got to the stage where I couldn’t function properly and all these irrational fears were becoming disruptive to my life.

The experts will tell you that nobody has ever died from a panic attack. This is true but doesn’t offer much comfort when you’re having one! Things that can help are being with someone who understands and will try to get you to a quieter environment. Trying to use mindfulness to return yourself to the present and focus on slowing your breathing down( see the looking after yourself post). Use of pressure points (something I’m not an expert on but it might be worth looking up). Once you’ve been able to breath easier, repeating a positive mantra in your head may also reassure you that you’re going to be all right. Breathing into a paper bag is a tried and tested method which will stop you from hyperventilating. I believe it’s something to do with getting some of the carbon dioxide back in, but don’t quote me on that!

In my next post I’m going to talk about more ways of managing your anxiety.

 

There’s always hope

Two years ago I came perilously close to taking my life. Its hard to explain the pain and mental anguish I was experiencing at this time but lets just say I was in an extremely dark place.                                                               I didn’t fully understand why I was feeling this way, which made it all so much worse. Even though I’d been seeing a counsellor for some time Asking for help on this was not an option, I was far to ashamed and didn’t feel deserving of it. I felt like I’d become a burden to everyone important in my life. I genuinely believed that killing myself was the only option left. And so I began putting plans in place for after I’d gone. I wrote personal letters to each of my loved ones, cleared my debts and left enough in the bank to pay for my funeral. I even put a list together of telephone numbers my family would need to contact after my death. I really gave it a lot of thought and attempted to cover all angles.                                 shortly after this I took myself to the spot I intended to do the deed, a nearby quarry with a big drop, easily deep enough to do the job. I wasn’t sure if today would be the day or if it was just to be a practice run (as ridiculous as this must sound!). Anyway it was a cloudy but fine day, I cant remember much of the walk up but I found myself stood on the edge. I closed my eyes and thought about how easy it would be. One simple step forward and my problems would be over, the pain would finally stop. I had just about convinced myself that today was going to be the day when a strange sensation came over me. I was suddenly greeted by a warm breeze against my forehead. It felt good and strangely comforting. I opened my eyes to see the sun breaking through the cloud and lighting up the whole valley. What a stunning view, I cant believe I hadn’t noticed it before! I broke down, overwhelmed with emotion. Today wasn’t to be the day after all.

Later I confided in my counsellor, sharing my entire plan with her. At this point She made me get the extra help I needed. I was still adamant I was going to end my life and put it down to cowardice that I hadn’t done it already. She also helped me to see that not taking my life was actually the bravest thing I’ve ever done. The help that I’ve received since that day has been invaluable.                                                                                                The reality is I’m nowhere near recovered, I may never be. But I have learnt to manage my illness much better. Some days I find myself very down and too anxious to leave the house on my own, it feels like I’m surviving at best! But all this aside I no longer wake up in the morning dreading the day, instead I find myself looking forward to things to come. In fact every day feels like a bonus and this alone is a huge step for me.

 

 

FEELING USELESS

One of the main characteristics of having depression is constantly putting yourself down and I am a great exponent of this! You can soon become fixated on everybody seeming better than you. You think of yourself as totally useless with very little to offer. Your self-esteem is very low and suddenly even the simplest of tasks becomes a challenge, as self-doubt starts to take over.

‘Everybody’s an expert, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking its stupid’

Above is one of my favourite quotes by Albert Einstein. To me it highlights that everyone has things they excel at and equally things that they’re not so good at. If your taken out of your comfort zone anyone can look foolish. A good analogy is that of a penguin. when on land penguins can appear extremely clumsy, waddling along, tripping and sliding on their bellies in the most undignified of manner. But then all at once a magnificent transformation takes place. Suddenly they’re gliding through the water with elegance and grace as they show off their skills.                                     I can honestly say I’ve never met anyone who’s not good at something, It’s just easy to forget this when your battling with your mental health.

Take a leap of faith Adelie Penguin
Pygoscelis adeliae
Jumping off iceberg
Paulet Island, Antarctica

 

 

Acceptance of Mental health

mental health awareness A smile hides our true emotions

Depression is a serious illness that affects millions of people and that’s why there’s so much help out there. Accepting your mental health is the first stage and was the hardest part for me. For those of you who are fellow sufferers you may be in a dark, scary place at the moment but I assure you that what your feeling is not abnormal. It might not feel like it but all the symptoms such as low self-esteem, panic and anxiety, extreme changes in your emotional state and generally feeling like crap! They’re all part of the illness and like any major illness it needs treating. You deserve the help, please ask for it! You’ll be amazed how much having someone to talk to will be of benefit. Unlike the picture above you no longer need to hide behind your smile. I was extremely pessimistic about going to see a counsellor but now I can see, it quite literally saved my life. It took me a long time to open up but counsellors are used to this and will be patient and empathic towards you. Once I did begin to unload all my bottled up emotions and talk about my mental health I felt a huge sense of relief.

Many people make the presumption that if your depressed you’re bound to fall into a certain category. Maybe your alone and isolated with no family or friends to turn to. Maybe you’ve experienced a life changing traumatic event. You might be financially unstable, facing bankruptcy, the bills are mounting up and you cant see an easy way out. You have no outgoings, no reason to get up in a morning, nothing to be proud of and no purpose in life. A disability might be preventing you from living the life you want to lead. Or you might just be one of those people whose glass is always half empty, you some how manage to find the negative side of every given situation and have a miserable outlook on life!

What if none of these things apply to you. I can honestly say I have the best bunch of friends in the world and I’ve been brought up in a loving family, which are still to this day amazingly supportive of me. I have numerous hobbies and interests and I enjoy many aspects of life. I’d like to think of myself as cheerful and my friends would tell you that I’m good company most of the time. So bearing all this in mind, do I still have the right to be depressed? Should I feel guilty for feeling the way I do, when I have such fantastic support all around me?  Well the truth is I did feel extremely guilty and at times even disgusted with myself. Useless and inadequate are also words that spring to mind and I certainly felt undeserving of any help with my mental health. As well as being confused and frustrated by the way I was feeling I remember also feeling an unbearable shame. On the news I’d see children being born into poverty or war zones and it would remind me how lucky I was. I kept going back to the same question of what right or reason did I have to be depressed?

Mental Health Acceptance

Accepting my mental health has been extremely difficult for me and I’m not certain I’ve even got there yet. The fact that its such a difficult illness to fully understand makes it even harder to live with. But it is an illness and a serious one at that, weather you believe yourself worthy of it or not. If you’ve got it that’s completely out of your control. As much as you put yourself down, you do need the help and more to the point your entitled to it. If your like me and you have good friends then ask yourself why? maybe it’s because you to are a good friend to them too. If you have a supportive family the reason could be due to you being equally supportive of them. Its time to start looking after yourself. I had visited the doctors twice in five years and one of those time was for some holiday vaccinations! It took me some time to come to terms with the idea of having a fortnightly slot but I finally accepted that having spent most of my life caring for others and putting there needs first it was now my time to get a little help.

mental health awareness Escape To A Nicer Reality