Six week Nightmare (summer holidays)

Summer Holidays

I hate summer

I don’t like summer, I know this might seem strange as it’s most peoples favorite time of year, but it’s my least favorite by far. The problem being I like to keep covered up, and it’s too hot to do this (good job I don’t live in Jamaica!). Wearing short sleeved tops makes me feel uncomfortable and extremely self-conscious, as I’m forced to show off my hideous arms! There’s much more walkers about, meaning the usual countryside spots I like to visit are no longer secluded, and therefore much less appealing to me.

When I was a kid and being hassled at high school, there was nothing better than the six weeks summer holidays and a period of respite from the bullies, In fact I yearned for it to come round. Right now though, I can’t imagine anything worse! In fact my world, kind of comes to a standstill. Don’t get me wrong, I still go out with my family and friends, but not nearly as often. They have to make more allowances for me and we have to be much more selective in where we go. During these six weeks, I hardly ever venture out on my own.

supermarket hell!

This year I’ve been making some good progress, in terms of my anxiety. In the months leading up to the summer holidays, I’ve been managing a short walk around the local neighbourhood, following a set route and gradually becoming more confident in my ability to do this unsupported. It’s still a significant challenge for me but I know my capabilities and felt to be making positive steps in the right direction. However any progress I was making has now reached an abrupt halt due to, yes you guessed it, the dreaded summer holidays. Sadly this is not a new thing for me, the exact same thing happened last year and is likely to happen for years to come. The problem is, for anyone with a mental health illness, such a prolonged period of isolation is very damaging and for me it will take time to regain my confidence.

It’s frustrating that I can become so distressed over a bunch of kids and for the majority of people such an abnormality, must be difficult to understand. I mean what harm could children possibly cause me? Believe me I constantly ask myself this same question and I’m frustrated by what I can only describe as irrational behaviour.social anxiety

It all stems back to my time in high school. A painful time when I discovered some children to be extremely cruel and vindictive. The school bullies would take high delight in ridiculing me in front of as many people as possible, which lead to me hiding away from large groups of students. Back to the present time, in the summer holidays you get groups of kids hanging around everywhere. It’s ridiculous, I know, The rational side of me knows there’s absolutely no threat to me, but for some reason I’m transported back to being a child again, and unless it’s a matter of life or death, I still refuse to walk past them!

I’m an adult and supposed to be a much stronger person now. Difficult childhood memories can still have a profound effect over us, even all these years later. I know this to be true, but It doesn’t stop it being any less embarrassing, and it’s truly exasperating when I consider I’m losing six weeks out of every year like this.

A spiritual Connection

Like I alluded to earlier, before the summer holidays I’ve been doing alright and managing a short walk most days. I call this my Tom walk as I pass my best mates house on route. I also pass a bench were we scattered my dads ashes. The local bowling club was one of his favourite haunts and the bench is situated overlooking it. It’s a beautiful spot with a fantastic view of the whole valley. It’s also the halfway point of my walk and a great place for a pit stop!

About a month a go whilst on my Tom walk, I was sat on my dads bench. The sun was shining and I was having a good day. Feeling more relaxed than I had for a long while. The one thing I haven’t mentioned about this spot is that it’s only a short distance away from my old high school. This is never an issue for me as I always choose a time when every ones still in school. On this particular day I was a little later than normal but I still had at least half an hour before school finished, so had nothing to concern me. I’d just have five minutes and then be on my way.

Whilst sat taking in my surroundings, I noticed a small bird sat on a telephone wire, overlooking the hillside. I soon became preoccupied by other things and and didn’t give the bird much more thought. But 10 minutes later when I glanced up it was still there. It was at this point I decided to set myself a silly challenge. I wouldn’t allow myself to move from this bench until my new little friend flew away. I should be fine with this, after all what sort of bird stayed in the same position for so long? Evidently this sort! 10 minutes passed and it was still there. I started to panic. 5 more minutes and the road would be filled with kids and the bird still showed no sign of moving. Come on little bird, please fly away. Come on you’ve been there long enough now. Are you super-glued to the spot or something! I could just stand up and leave anyway, nobody need know about the stupid challenge. The problem is I knew, and the competitive side of me wasn’t prepared to fail! So as excruciating as it would be, I decided to sit it out.

To cut a long story short, I kept to my side of the bargain and although I felt uncomfortable, I soon realized I had nothing to worry about. Out of the hundreds of kids that passed, only a handful even glanced in my direction. The others were far to preoccupied to even notice me. I felt huge relief, followed by foolishness that I’d made such a big deal out of it in the first place! You’d think then that I’d now be able to put my other issue, of walking past groups, into some kind of perspective. Sadly you’d think wrong! I’ve still spent the majority of the summer holidays, in the safety of my own home. However, it’s still a small step forward. On the day, the anticipation was much worse than the actual event, and I need to keep that in mind moving forward. I’m not a deeply religious person, but I do believe that the little bird was stuck to that phone wire for a reason. Maybe I was supposed to have this personal experience, to prove something to myself and help me to start overcoming some of my anxiety. Or maybe the whole thing was a coincidence, Who knows!

 

Friend or Foe

friend or foe

Alcohol has played a significant role in my life. To be honest even though I say I like a drink, I’ve never really enjoyed the taste of it that much. I do like the way it affects me though (Most of the time!). I know it’s said to be a depressant but the truth is some of my happiest and funniest memories spent with friends have involved alcohol. On the flip side of this, when I think back to my saddest, most despondent moments in life, I tend to have a drink in my hand.

Without alcohol in my life I doubt if I’d have ever had a girl friend. I can be extremely shy, especially around the opposite sex and I would never have had the confidence to approach someone and tell them that I liked them, without the help of a few drinks, or nerve settlers as I call them. I genuinely believe that when I’ve had a few drinks I’m a more interesting person, as I become more outgoing and much less self-conscious. When I look in the mirror I don’t notice all my flaws, I actually see myself as not that bad looking at all! When I’m in a group I feel much less out of place, It’s easier to contribute to the conversation and I feel like I have as much right to be there as everyone else.

When I lived on my own I drank more frequently, every night to be precise. It quickly became part of my routine. I wasn’t used to being on my own and even though it had a number of positives, I also felt vulnerable at times. Having a few drinks on an evening helped me to relax and feel safe.

At the time I had an emotionally demanding job. There’s nothing worse than bringing your work home with you, but I had great trouble switching off at the end of my shifts. Alcohol helped me to de-stress and guaranteed me getting at least a little sleep. The trouble is it was never what you’d call a satisfying sleep. Often I’d wake up in the morning feeling very groggy and even more tired than when I went to bed.

friend or foe

At what stage does this become an issue? Over time the three cans of lager that used to be sufficient was having little to no effect. So soon three became four, and then four became five. Before I knew it I was having six strong beers a night, followed by a whisky nightcap. Often I didn’t make it up to bed, I would find myself comatosed on the sofa. I never woke up feeling refreshed, I never felt at all well! During the day I’d find myself going through all the motions but I’d be like a walking zombie and would struggle to concentrate on anything. It would really affect my mood too, leaving me feeling very withdrawn and thinking about nothing other than getting home to have my next drink.

At this time I was working for a charity, running drop in sessions for people with mental health issues. One young man who was a regular to the group, worked as a hospital porter. He claimed that the only way he could switch off on an evening was to have four pints before going to bed. He said that this was his way of getting to sleep. He asked me once if I considered him to be an alcoholic. I can’t remember exactly what my response was, but how could I possibly give him any constructive advice, when I was doing the exact same thing!

The definition of alcoholism is a condition in which dependence on alcohol harms a person’s health and everyday life. I had definitely become dependent on it and it was having a detrimental effect on my life. I recognized this and worked hard to do something about it.

The trouble with having an addictive personality is it’s far too easy to fall back into bad habits. I always have to be careful and guard against this happening. It’s the same for people who enjoy an occasional bet at the bookies or on the slot machines. This, like the alcohol can quickly get out of hand, as you begin to spend money you can’t afford to lose, it becomes an unhealthy addiction as you crave that adrenaline rush of winning, that sadly rarely comes. You start to genuinely believe that that law of averages have to swing in your favor, ‘Just one more bet can’t harm’ ‘Just one more drink’  but when does just one more become one too many?

I still like a drink but have to be disciplined and enjoy it in moderation. I’m not going to lie to you, I do slip up occasionally but I mostly stick to my strict ground rules. When I’m having a drink at home I never have more than three beers and I never drink two nights consecutively. If I’m feeling sad, I accept that drinking will only make me feel worse. But rightly or wrongly if I’m nervous about something, having a few drinks the night before, does seem to help, and if I’m out in company it helps me feel good about myself and interact better with people. Anything that does this can’t be that bad, can it?

You might consider my reliance on it to be a concern, but there’s a lot more people than me, that use alcohol as a crutch like this. How is having a glass of wine with your evening meal any different?

As for the question of Friend or Foe? I think the jury’s still out on that one. One thing I do accept is it can quickly get out of hand and I have to remain extremely careful.

Strength In Numbers

People with depression often push others away, I did for a long time. The reason being, I didn’t feel worthy of the support and didn’t want to inflict my current self onto people who I cared for. I was also confused and struggling to get my head round how I was feeling, so how could I possibly expect anyone else to understand? Including others, felt like too much of an effort, I was already exhausted, it felt like I was trudging through mud whilst lost in a deep fog, why would I ever inflict this onto somebody else. You feel unworthy of the help and they feel hopeless for not being able to provide it! You might believe that accepting the help is putting an unnecessary burden on them, but for them not being able to help is much more damaging. Why not have strength in numbers and battle it together. Opening up was far from easy for me but every time I felt a huge sense of relief and I was left pleasantly surprised by their reactions.

It’s easy to pre-empt how you think others view you and your illness, but I have to admit, most of the time I was completely wrong with each of my presumptions.

A MOTHERS PERSPECTIVE

strength in numbers

My mum wrote the following passage and I thank her for her honesty.

When a newborn baby is put into your arms there’s a special bond that can’t be broken and as they grow it doesn’t wane at all.

A maternal instinct is an extremely powerful thing, as most mothers would confirm.

From the very first moment of their lives your protection instinct kicks in and you’re lost in admiration of the tiny infant in your care.

All you want to do is protect them from harm, in any way that you can but life is sadly not like that and there are times when there is nothing you can do to take their pain away.

As they grow your concerns are always there as you want the very best for them and when they go to school you leave them at the gates with feelings of trepidation.

Letting go has always been a difficult thing for me and both of my sons would probably tell you that I wear my heart on my sleeve and whenever one of my siblings hurt, I hurt too.

It has therefore been a very difficult time to see one of them struggling with health issues without understanding or being able to help. Broken bones can be easily fixed and although traumatic at the time can soon be forgotten by all concerned. Other childhood illnesses often cause a certain amount of sleepless nights but generally don’t take to long to get over.

An illness that cannot be categorised in a straightforward way seems much more frightening and difficult to comprehend for all concerned. The only way to help I find is to be there for them, when they need you. There’s a fine line between helping and hindering and I have to admit that there are times when I feel that I get it slightly wrong but I try to learn from my mistakes. Sometime having a stranger in your midst is not easy to accept as your son is hidden from view quite a bit due to the illness, which envelops him.

When I see glimpses of him returning, be it a smile that isn’t forced or a mischievous glint in his eyes, I know that he’s going to be all right.

strength in numbers

 

Sometimes you can be so wrapped up in your own personal battles that you forget how your health issues are affecting your loved ones. Living with depression, is not only hard for you but also really difficult for those most close to you. I get questions posted to me all the time, from people desperate for advice on how to help someone they love, who has a mental health illness. Yes it’s hard for them but believe me it would be even harder and more painful if you excluded them all together.

It troubles me when I read my mother describing it as, sometimes like living with a stranger, but I guess that’s the reality at the moment. I can be quite distant at times and when I’m feeling down, I don’t always manage to hide it.

Desperately wanting to help someone but not knowing how to go about it must be extremely frustrating. What’s Important to remember is, often just being there for us can be hugely beneficial.

Brotherly Love?

The first time my brother witnessed me having a panic attack, we were in a busy farm shop. Previous to this I’d felt my anxiety rising. In truth I just wanted to get the hell out as quickly as possible. Unfortunately there were factors that prevented this. Firstly there appeared to be queues everywhere and I wasn’t sure which one we should be in. Secondly my brother was in slow chilled out mode and wanted to browse the store! Of course he had no idea of my urgency to escape and the pending doom that was now suffocating me. Instead he said ‘calm down, whats up with you!’ and even began to laugh. He presumed I was playing some practical joke on him. It wasn’t until I was bent over hyperventilating that he realized it was no joke.   I didn’t blame him for his reaction, you can’t expect someone to immediately understand if they’ve never seen you like this. Later, outside in the car park he was extremely apologetic and needed plenty of reassurance that I was alright.

Obviously now it’s different. He doesn’t make a big deal of it but also knows that me having a panic attack whilst we’re out, is always a possibility. The same goes for my friends who are all aware of my illness. At the time I chose to suffer it in silence and not include people. My panic attacks have become less frequent of late, as I have learnt several coping methods and know what situations to try and avoid. People now being aware alleviates some of my anxieties as they’re no longer shocked by me, instead they know how to respond in a helpful manner. This can include keeping calm and getting me to fresh air or a quieter environment. Using mirroring techniques to help me control my breathing. Most importantly they’re able to offer copious amounts of reassurance, which is precisely what I need in these terrifying moments.

Battling your mental health is hard but made easier with strength in numbers

strength in numbers

 

 

 

 

Hidden Truths

Hidden Truths

Imagine the scene. A young adult on crutches staggers into a department store. It’s clear for all to see that he’s struggling and getting around the store is going to be a challenge. The majority of people will show empathy and kindness to him, if given the opportunity they might even offer him support. The staff are more likely to bend over backwards to help and make his shopping experience as comfortable as possible. Now it’s possible I’m being a tad naïve in this case but I do have experience of pushing people around shops in wheelchairs. All of a sudden you find people queuing up to be helpful, opening doors, moving objects out of the way, even offering to carry your shopping for you! You’re given all the time and space you need.

Getting around a department store would be extremely daunting for me and likely be even more challenging than for the person on crutches. My mental health illness is equally restrictive but unlike the people with physical ailments, my illness goes unrecognised. On first appearance I seem to be in perfectly good health and able to cope. In a busy environment people are not likely to give me space, even though I desperately need it. My anxiety levels, sometimes make leaving the house an impossibility. Though people are becoming more educated and perceptions are changing for the better, it’s still hard for them to understand what they can’t see, so sadly there is no immediate solution.

Maybe it’s time we started challenging the way things have always been. If we lived in a world where we felt comfortable enough to talk openly about our mental health. In such a world it wouldn’t be unusual for someone with anxiety issues to phone up a venue, prior to their visit, to request some help. This could result in a member of staff meeting you at the front of a shop and escorting you around or even meeting you at the entrance to the train station and taking you exactly where you need to go. The possibilities are endless if you just have the confidence to ask for help in the first place. I know I have no right to preach to you when I haven’t even tried this myself yet, but it’s certainly an option I’m going to explore in the future.

Hidden Truths

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, You have as much right to it as anyone else and you might be surprised by the response you get

What can society do?

Media and television have a huge influence over how people view mental health. Now, before I get on my band wagon, Its not all bad! There’s plenty of expert phone ins on day time tele, which are informative and offer good advice and links to support groups. There’s actors who portray mental health very accurately in some of the soaps and dramas. In Coronation street I thought Steve Mcdonalds story of living with depression was a particularly good one and in Emerdale Ashley’s dementia storyline was extremely well written. Both of which brought much needed awareness to the public. But as well as this on the same programs you get so many of the derogatory terms used when referring to someone with a mental health illness.

Brain dead, Insane, Nutjob, Fruitcake, Retarded, Not all there, Nothing up stairs! These are just some of the terms I’ve heard used flippantly in the last couple of weeks, and there normally said in a humorous manner, not intended as an insult! Fair enough, I can take a joke as much as the next person, but you wouldn’t expect a joke to be made about someone with cancer or a brain tumour would you? so why accept it with mental health? and why should we be so surprised that people have trouble opening up when this is how they’re perceived?

Then you get the news stories, regularly including violent attacks by someone with a mental health illness. Of course not everyone with mental health issues is violent, most of us know this, I hope! But what about the younger audience, what must they think?

I think the media need to include more positive stories relating to mental health and I strongly believe that at school, just as much emphasis should be put on the subject, as is already put on physical education. If we can get people talking about it from a young age then hopefully perceptions will change and more people will get the help they need.

asking for help

 

 

 

Keeping Things simple

Today I’m going to talk about keeping things simple. For all you smart arses out there, when I use the word simple I’m not describing myself! I’m actually referring to the way we live our every day lives. Time moves quickly and that’s why its important not to waste a single moment. All the small day to day experiences are much more significant than you think. The majority of us rush from one task to the next and sadly the simple pleasures end up passing us by.

A friend asked me a good question the other day. He asked ‘If someone told you that you only had a week to live, what would you want to do in terms of enjoyment? Here’s what I came up with :

  • Obviously I’d want to spend quality time with my family and friends
  • Maybe a countryside walk with my brother
  • A milkshake with my friend in our favorite café
  • A couple of ice cold beers in my best mates garden
  • A picnic with my mum at our favorite lake
  • One last game of table tennis with my team mates
  • One last round of golf at my favorite course
  • Watching a classic film, like Goodfellas, whilst indulging in some Ben and Jerrys ice cream

Hang on a minute, I did all this last week and I’m still here! You might question why I haven’t got anything more elaborate on my list, but would you really want to cram as much things in as you can, or like me, would you prefer to keep it simple and stick to what makes you happy?

Rather than just a week,when I planned to kill myself I gave myself a full month to savor my last moments. Once I’d sorted all the practical stuff, making sure my debts were paid and I left my family enough money aside for the funeral. Once I’d sorted all this, all that was left to do, was to keep things simple and enjoy the time I had left. This was not a solemn time, it actually turned out to be a great time and a very honest one, I no longer had to pretend to be something I’m not. I found I was able to reflect on all the positive and completely live in the moment. No more worries about the future, what future Ha!

More than just a feeling of relief, all my senses were suddenly heightened. I remember thinking, this might be the last time I see this, So I’m going to make sure I really see it! This could be the last time I feel this and so I’m going to make sure I truly feel it! I was noticing and appreciating more than I ever had before.

Have you ever quit a job which you really hated? you hand your resignation letter in and straight away it feels like a huge weight has been lifted. Whilst your working your notice period, all of a sudden things don’t seem so bad, you might even start to wonder whether you’ve made the right decision to leave. I’d decided to make the ultimate quit, quitting on life, and all though I still thought I’d made the right decision I was far from certain.

I’m not going to go into details again about the day I almost went through with my suicide plan. If your interested in reading about this, its in my ‘There’s Always Hope‘ post. But this day was again about my senses being heightened, and arguably about a stronger spiritual connection. In the build up to the day and after it my whole outlook and approach to life changed. Now I’m satisfied with just being me and not having to prove myself to anyone. Still being here, alive and well should be, and is more than enough. I’m not going to pretend the journeys been an easy one, living with depression is extremely difficult. On my bad days I still hurt, and I still feel lost, like there’s no way out. But by learning to live in the here and now and  keep things simple, I’m putting much less pressure on myself and I no longer want to die (which has got to be a good thing!) I’m now able to enjoy some of the simple pleasures of life, like a beautiful sunrise or a clear starry night. Things that in the past have somehow passed me by. I feel lucky to be able to witness these things and thank god everyday for giving me the strength to carry on.

Keeping Things simple

 

I don’t have to go far to feel close to nature. This is what I can see whilst sat on my garden swing

 

 

Nicer reality- Minature Paradise

A nicer reality    A nicer reality

Sometimes we all need to escape to a nicer reality

 Sat on a bench at the far side of the park, far away from the noise of the children’s play area; I am enjoying the stillness surrounding me. What can I see? A perfect blue sky with the occasional white cotton cloud. If I look closely I can make out different shapes, its fun to do so. This one looks just like a puppy jumping for its ball. Golden leaves are beginning to form on the trees. Birds are tweeting their afternoon songs. Butterflies are flying side by side on the delicate breeze, performing a hypnotic dance just for me. A fluffy dandelion seed floats up inches away from my face and disappears into the distance.

I shut my eyes and feel the warm autumn sunshine against my forehead. I’m concentrating on slowing down now and relaxing. Starting with my breathing, I take deep breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth, I allow myself to be consumed by the serene beauty all around me. I can feel myself totally shutting down, leaving all my troubles behind me and being one with nature, nothing to prove, no expectations, a perfect moment. It’s ok to feel small in its presence and I do feel small in this tranquil solitude.

I have a few special places I like to visit, which I call my thinking spots. Although I guess they shouldn’t be called this, as I go with the intention of completely switching off and escaping from the day-to-day pressures of life.

The places I choose tend to be out of the way, often high up at the top of a hill where there are few people around and I have the benefit of some stunning views. Your special place could be totally different to mine, a lot of people find sitting by a river bank and listening to flowing water, a calming experience, unfortunately all this does for me is makes me desperate for the loo! The important thing is you view the place as an escape, a nicer reality.

So anywhere that you can sit peacefully and be mindful of your surroundings will do just fine. Allow yourself to take notice of every little moment, almost as if the world and time has gone into slow motion and you’re suddenly aware of everything around you. Every detail from the humming insects scurrying on the ground, to the individual leaves rustling in the trees. All the small things that you wouldn’t normally notice when you’re rushing your way through life. I say take time to see the beauty of the world; it’s easy to take it for granted.

Happiness is a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, if you sit down quietly, may alight upon you (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

One thing you can guarantee living in England is the unpredictable nature of the weather. Now I for one like the rain (probably because there’s not as many folks around and possibly because I’m slightly odd!) but I appreciate that not everyone does. Therefore it’s a good idea to have a few spots in your memory bank. One of my favourite is in Jamaica, a place that I’ve been fortunate to visit twice in my lifetime, but somewhere I can easily go back too, just by being in a quiet room and closing my eyes.

A nicer reality A nicer reality

 

I imagine myself sat on a wall outside my beech hut, looking out to sea. It’s the end of the evening and I’m having a rum and coke before I retire to bed. Just below me on the beech, dozens of baby crabs are burrowing holes in the sand and then popping their heads up somewhere else. Like a big game of hide and seek, it’s fascinating to watch them at play.

Looking out to the stillness of the sea, a cruise ship appears as a small dot on the horizon. A distant lightening storm lights up the whole scene creating an incredible spectacle. Breath-taking and beautiful, like my own miniature paradise. I remember never wanting to leave this perfect moment.

All these places-the ones in my memory and the ones I’m able to visit regular, all help remind me that life’s not that bad. I use them as a way to de-stress and put my problems into perspective or sometimes simply as a method of cheering myself up when I’m having a down day. However busy and hectic your life gets I recommend that you occasionally find yourself some time to escape to a nicer reality.

 

Great Expectations, Staying in the present

Societies great expectations are too much for me to handle. great expectationsLooking too far into the future fills me with dread, it really doesn’t work for me. My two greatest fears are fear of the unknown- which I link with  not knowing what I’m doing, potentially making a complete idiot of myself and risking humiliation on a grand scale! This immediately transports me back to being a little boy cowering in the corner of the school play ground whilst everybody points and laughs.

The only thing that has an even bigger impact on me than this, is the thought of not meeting peoples great expectations. I think that most people who know me accept that I’m not fit to work at the moment, although some probably still struggle with the concept of me being on benefits, due to an illness/condition they can’t even see. The truth is I’m doing ok at the moment, even showing a few signs of improvement, but these slight signs of improvement result in more pressure.

Society expects me to get back into work eventually, some expect sooner rather than later. I imagine they probably think Shaun’s been given the expert help he needs now, so its about time he was getting better. I really wish it was that simple, I really wish the doubters could be in my head for just one day! Then they might begin to understand.

Getting up in a morning, going to your place of work, doing your shift and then returning back home. sounds pretty simple and lets face it millions of people do it every day. For several years I did it myself. If I could magically click my fingers and go back to being that self-assured person, believe me I would.

Whatever kind of employment you’re in involves a certain amount of responsibility, people having to rely on you. Right now you couldn’t rely on me to go to the corner shop for some tea bags! Some days it wouldn’t be a problem but on bad days I’m still too anxious to leave the house. Even at my best I try to avoid groups of people and can only manage short distances on my own. I have amazing friends and family, who always allow for the unpredictable nature of my illness. They don’t have any great expectations of me. Somehow I doubt an employer could afford m the same luxury.

So here’s what happens when I start looking too far ahead, and I warn you its not the rosiest of pictures! I have the best part of 30 years before I reach retirement age, the way I feel now, I don’t believe I’ll ever be capable of working a standard job again. These thoughts aside, I don’t see the DWP seeing it this way, they will continue to have great expectations of me. I fully expect to fail my next medical and be deemed fit for work. I have a few savings I can live off for a little while but when their gone I can’t bare the thought of having to rely on my family for financial support. Its at this point that suicidal thoughts start to enter my head again, as I slip into a negative unhealthy mind-set.

I’m sorry for seeming so negative but this is what I see when I look to the future, which is why staying in the present and concentrating on one day at a time is so important for me and the only way I can function. For people like me who become depressed when looking too far ahead, my obvious advice is to try not to, even though this is easier said than done! Nobody can predict the future, the only thing we can control is the here and now. Its pointless obsessing over things you can’t control. Its about trying to be the best version of yourself right here, right now and feeling comfortable in your own skin. Your mental health is not a quick fix and your own expectations need to be realistic. Keep challenging yourself but don’t rush it. By taking one small step at a time you might be surprised by what you can achieve.

great 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.

 

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