Mental Health: Jet had a ‘Bad Day’ and made a video

People who read my blog will remember Jet, who wrote a fantastic poem about their spell in hospital following a mental health break.

Jet had a Bad Day yesterday. But rather than hide away and give in to all the negativity, Jet managed to take some action, contact their GP and gain some support to get back on their feet.

And then made a video about it. Because, as they said quite rightly, they would have been open about breaking their leg so why not this?

Jet has given me permission to share the video here (and I will add their trigger warning about the references to self harm). I asked permission because people need to know that these things still matter even through Mental Health Awareness Week is over.

For the people who live with Mental Health difficulties, these issues don’t disappear off the radar once our blog posts are done. They’re there all the time and can strike with little to no warning.

Jet survived their Bad Day. The things that lead to those problems haven’t miraculously disappeared,  but they are still alive and fighting and that in and of itself is a victory that anyone with Mental Health difficulties will understand.

Bravo Jet. For fighting, surviving, keeping going and STILL being one of the best activists I know on these issues.

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

Song Of The Week for Mental Health Awareness Week: The Living Years

So this is the end of Project Shandy’s first submissions call for Mental Health Awareness Week.

I really wanted to wind things up, as is always the case with me, with a song. But my stars and garters, this has been a really difficult one to find, in terms of the right song with the right message. This week has been an emotional rollercoaster, reading and sharing the pieces which have been submitted for Mental Health Awareness Week. People from all walks of life, dealing with all kinds of challenges, waging wars inside our own heads.

This call for submissions will be opened annually from now on. I hope that it continues to grow year on year. And between those times I promise to keep highlighting these issues, talking about them, giving a platform to other people to discuss their own experiences. Because we must keep moving forward. This is plan A, because there is no plan B. We must do more than survive, we must live.

But while we keep moving forward, we must remember where we have come from. We must acknowledge the darkness that we have walked through, and in some cases that we are still walking through.

To everyone who took part in this week’s awareness raising efforts, whether you were a writer, contributor, commenter, sharer or a reader – keep going and keep doing what it is you are doing. To the people who are battling mental illness and who are supporting others in their own wars against mental health conditions –  Keep walking. Keep talking. Keep on sharing your experiences. Keep fighting.

Above all – Keep Living.

Every day that you endure this is a victory in your own battle for mental health, and a victory in the war against these illnesses. United, we are an army. And an army’s first duty is to survive.

 

The Song Of The Week to end Mental Health Awareness Week is ‘The Living Years’ by Mike and the Mechanics. It isn’t specifically about mental health, but it is about the difficulties of communication, about how hard it is to make yourself heard and get your points across. This song reminds me of the importance of listening as well as talking, and the importance of not giving up and not giving in. I hope that you enjoy listening to it as much as I do.

“So don’t yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different date
And if you don’t give up, and don’t give in
You may just be O.K.

Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye”

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

Mental Health Awareness Week: 25th – 27th February 2014

This poem was the first submission received on the theme of Mental Health; it was sent in by Jet, a friend of mine who is a writer, artist, activist and fundraiser. Jet wanted to share their experiences of being sectioned under the Mental Health Act and their subsequent stay in hospital, in February 2014:

My name is Jet. At time of writing this poem, I was 25. I’m 27 now. My mental illness diagnosis is ‘Depression with Psychotic Features.’ I have suffered from this since age 10.

This poem tells the lived experience of my first time staying in a mental ward in hospital. When asked what brought me to the situation I was in – covered in blood, (my own thankfully) and being picked up by the police – I replied “Being too tired and handling too much pain, for too long.”

My mind broke somewhere along the line, and it broke in that particular way which meant I was unable to see it even cracking until I’d been in hospital for two days. It was the biggest psychotic break of my life to date. It was terrifying, it was amazing, and it was not reality.

Whatever I was experiencing in that state is gone for good, taken away by the meds and the brightness of the hospital. The loudness and harshness of the medical setting seemed, after a while, to reset my brain. The medication and a lot of work on my own part, makes me stable.

This poem is that journey, and though the poem itself has an ending, I am still living the story.

25th – 27th February 2014

‘Help me!’ … snore… ‘Somebody help me!’

Rustling of sheets as someone turns over.

Feet running down hard corridors.

And that is how I woke up on Wednesday morning.

Not that I’d slept, more like dozed.

Half-in and half-out of various realities.

Stumble to the toilet. Found it.

Corridors, white, bright.

‘It’s like a maze in here – I got lost!’

“No, it’s a square. See? The dorms, the

Office, the Lounge, the Surgery.”

‘Oh’ and then ‘Oh. Yeah.’

 

“I’m so confused. Are you confused?”

‘More just tired, to be honest, sorry.’

Drinks machine, run on tokens.

Currently out of tokens – Credit: £0.00

Keys. Doors. People. Coffee.

Then silence, deafening.

Followed by noise, silencing.

“Would you like a cigarette?”

Four months without smoking:

‘Sure. Thanks.’

“Only one mind, only because it’s horrible baccy.”

‘Sure. Sure. Thanks.’

 

“Can I have a light please?”

Surprised looks. Cigarette from where?

Nothing said. ‘Sure.’

“I’m so confused. Are you confused?”

‘I’m a bit confused.’

“I’m confused, too!”

Walk around the small quad.

Take about three drags of a filterless

Cigarette. Go back inside.

Dash to the ashtray. Salvage what can be.

Pockets reeking of smoke.

Shirt covered in dried blood.

Bright. Bright everywhere.

Too hot inside. Too cold outside.

‘Do you want to see the doctor now?’

 

Sleep. Bruises. Red seas.

Wake. Blood on the sheets.

Cuts now open wounds again.

Unstick self from bed, beg for bandages.

“You still confused?”

‘Yes.’

“I’m confused.”

‘Yes. Confused. Yes.’

Get on the phone. Plead with family to

Visit. Bring warmth, or at least stuff.

Finally, 4.50pm, Dad arrives.

With baccy, pj’s and no time to talk.

4.55pm, meal time. Not hungry.

Empty and too full. Again.

 

Big meeting. Various meetings between.

Words, words, words meaning: Where? When?

Bruise forming on hand, where blood was taken.

Handcuff bruises vivid red and unmistakeable.

“Are you confused today?”

‘No. Not confused. They changed my medication.’

“Good.”

More confused than ever. When? Where? Who?

Phone ringing: Home.

Words, beautiful words.

Tears choking in the throat again.

Face already wet from last tears, these tears.

Crying instead of breathing.

Music. Loudness.

 

“I’ve rung your taxi to the train station.

It’ll be here soon.”

Purposeful walk to the dorms,

“You in here?”

‘I’m going now. Do you still need that hoody?’

“No, my friends brought me some clothes.”

‘Mind if I keep it? It’s bloody cold, and I’m going out…’

‘…I may be some time.’

 

Taxi. Train. Train. Taxi.

Hugs. Home cooked meals.

Coffee.

Proper coffee – not out of a machine.

Candles in the shape of cupcakes.

Bracelets made out of stripy beads.

Art projects finally coming to an end.

Music. My choice. My volume.

Dvds. Books. So many books.

Hugs, more hugs, and then more hugs.

And then sleep. And then waking.

Candlelit baths after three days of not washing.

Bliss.

Beauty.

And the taste of freedom.

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

Mental Health Awareness Week: Cocktail of Conditions

Mental Health gets even more difficult to manage when there is more than one condition to take into consideration. Anxiety, Depression and suicidal urges might all feed off each other, but they can’t be reduced to the same simplistic thing.

Today’s post comes from a young woman in her 20s called Mew, who wanted to share her ‘cocktail of conditions’ and the effect they have had upon her life since childhood. Like our previous post, this one also highlights the dangers of dismissing adolescent suffering as Teen Angst.

 


I’ve had severe mental illnesses for nearly all of my life now. Growing up was very hard, mostly due to having Asperger’s Syndrome, meaning I didn’t have many friends or have a ‘normal’ childhood. I first noticed the depression symptoms, although I didn’t know that was what they were, when I was 9. Inability to get out of bed, to face the day, to face people and moving and such. It got worse when I went to high school and the bullying was a daily experience.

I told my parents about how I felt when I was 12 but they were quick to dismiss things, punishing me for being too scared and depressed to get out of bed and to school. Things got abusive at home and I got blamed for being a ‘horrible person’ rather than an unwell teen. The focus was never on me, rather on what I was doing to their marriage and happiness.

Anyway, they finally realised at around age 16 that something *was* wrong, only after doctors got involved and I’d failed my first try at AS Levels. My Mum finally started to believe in mental illnesses, that depression was real, that it wasn’t just something that wibbiling drunks in the street got. I started counselling, but I wasn’t allowed medication.

Uni happened, I got pills of my own volition after being pressed by friends. I failed my first year 3 times before giving up.

For me, the worst thing of the illness is the failures. Seeing my friends go on and get degrees, jobs, relationships… it’s near impossible for me to get anywhere near as good as them because of my illnesses. Doctors have said that I may never be able to work.

Nearly all my relationships have broken down because of my illnesses. My boyfriends at the time couldn’t cope with the strain of dealing with me when I was ill. My current relationship feels like a miracle, but I’ve been told that I have to ‘improve’ or we just can’t continue together. He’s starting to not cope, but he’s trying hard and pulling out all the stops to keep us together. I’m very scared knowing that I might cock up everything when I’ve got so far.

One year ago to this day I was in hospital after an overdose. I’d had enough of life and wanted to take my own life. I was having troubles with debt with my energy company (which is a long story, and with the company in the wrong…), I’d had an argument with my boyfriend, I was in physical pain from long term illnesses, I despised myself beyond belief, I felt no one liked me or wanted to be my friend… It was a dark time. I just wanted to stop suffering so much. So I started swallowing pills and kept going. I’d begun adding 2 boxes onto every Asda order I made and stockpiled them for that purpose. I wrote a note. But obviously, it didn’t work.

Back to the present day, some days it feels like all that I’m living for is Jurassic World to come out. I do that, say ‘I’ll live until X event happens… I need to see that day’ and then when it happens, I have something else to look forward to. It keeps me going. I recently said online that Jurassic World was ‘giving me life’ and it’s true. It sounds silly, a film keeping me going, but it’s what works for me.

I don’t know what the future holds for me now. I’m having to re-start my Open University course after failing that due to illness, which just feels like it was always going to happen. I want to do something with my life. I have dreams, aspirations that I can work. Sometimes as a nurse, or veternairy nurse, other times just to be accepted for a part time retail job.

I want to be able to get up in the morning, go out to work and not freak out and panic.

I want to pass my degree.

I want to get married and start a family.

But these are all things that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do.

A lot of people think I’m just lazy, or don’t want to work. I’ve had harsh comments said about how I’m ‘taking their tax money’ and telling me that the money in my bank is technically their money, and that they should dictate what I spend it on. I’ve had people tell me I should never have children, for their sakes and because I’m a scrounger.

These things hurt. They hurt so much. They make my illness even worse. People I’ve considered intelligent friends have said things to me that make me want to jump of a bridge.

I haven’t even been able to touch upon the anxiety aspect much here. Even writing this is making me think ‘this article is a piece of crap. No one wants to read your self-pitying crap. You’re crap.’ So I wish I could end it on a positive note, but I’m finding it hard. Oh wait, positive! Jurassic World is coming out in less than a month. That’s cheered me up a bit.

For the record – I don’t think that you are crap and if this call for submissions has shown anything, it’s that people do care and do want to read about these issues. They want to know more and they want to help. I think you were extremely brave to share this piece and thank you for submitting to Project Shandy. You are not alone in going through this and it is not your fault that this illness is happening to you.

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

Mental Health Awareness Week – When is ‘teen angst’ not teen angst?

This entry was a late submission which I had to include, because it covers several topics which need highlighting during this awareness week.

Firstly – dismissing a teenager’s suffering as ‘teen angst’ is a potentially dangerous and even deadly thing to do. We know teenagers get angst – worry over exams, love affairs and breakups, crushes, rows with friends, get passionately obsessed with music, tv, films, literature.. that bit is normal. But self harm, eating disorders, violent relationships, sexual assault/rape and attempted/threatened suicides are NOT normal teenage rites of passage, they are not just ‘teen angst’ and should never be dismissed as such. They can be both symptoms and causes of severe mental illness. 

Secondly – this is the first entry I had which touches on the subject of bipolar disorder (a condition which has been refered to previously as Manic Depression). Not all of depression revolves around being sad. There are highs as well as lows and they can be just as dangerous and destructive to the people who experience them. 

This entry was sent in by a young woman in her 20s who wanted to share her life story with us. 

(This is the first time I have had to do this for these entries, but I feel this one deserves a trigger warning for the subject of sexual assault.)

“Have I gone mad?

I’m afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usually are.”

You know, reading what everyone else has contributed, my experiences seem like a bit of a piss in the ocean really. I don’t exactly know where to start, I guess the beginning is good, but I’m not so sure where that is…

I guess I always remember my emotions being labelled as Teenage Angst. And to some extent, I guess they were. I always had bundles of attitude to give out and an issue with being told what to do, but I always knew it wasn’t just hormones or a bit of rebellion. I fitted in with the perfect emo sterotype when that faze kicked in. I loved black, stars, strips and My Chemical Romance. This was all around the early teens and I never considered my emotions or attitude to be anything out of the norm, it’s just what teenagers do. I thought I’d grow out of it, because that’s what you’re meant to do, right?

The problem was things always kept going downwards.

I had this fantastic use of wit and sarcasm to bring up a fantastic shield of humour to avoid talking about how I felt and who I really was, and that worked for me.

I felt depressed, I played with cutting myself, I felt angry, and the cycle would continue.

By 15 I was a smoker and drinker but still pulling mostly A’s out of the bag for exams, so as long as I could remember what I was taught, there was no reason I couldn’t be the normal kid I was meant to be. I used to go out most evening, either down the park smoking with friends or out around parts of town getting wasted.

The only trigger I can remember is what follows.

I had already arranged to be staying at a friend’s house, so it was pretty much game on that night, let’s get drunk and have a laugh. This is what youth is for, so let’s just go with what everyone else is doing. I got hammered. Wrecked. Absolutely plastered. I can remember taking shots of vodka and that’s it. The next day, I’m awake. In a house I don’t recognise, in a bed I don’t know. And then fuck it, the rest, as they say, is apparently history.

I got out of that house as quick as I could.

Before I knew it I was getting messages about being easy. How fun I was. How drunk I was. So apparently, my deepest fears had happened. It’d had gone. And I don’t even remember saying yes. Not even a little bit. I was so drunk and so fucking naive it hurts me now to think about it.

The following… well years, really, were torture.

I got abuse at school , I hid myself away in the library reading books on Kurt Cobain and the blues movement to have a break from the shit that was given to me by others. It was relentless.

I couldn’t turn around and say “I WAS DRUNK, THERE WAS NO CONSENT” because it would have just come back that I shouldn’t have got drunk. And, to the few people I confided in, that is exactly what was said. I was a complete outcast, having slut shouted at me in lessons, girls in PE laughing at me. I couldn’t go to a teacher, what the hell could I say? Judging by what others had said, it would have made things worse. I stuck it out, taking abuse day in day out, coping by getting high and cutting myself up. I can remember going so deep I should have told someone, gone to hospital, maybe just see a doctor. But I couldn’t. It was all my fault.

I ended up hooking up with someone for a couple of years, met through mutual stoner mates. He was a totally sadist, which worked as a relationship as I was a little bundle of hate, anger and pure self loathing. I can remember him biting my arm, just to see if I would cry, I didn’t. I sat there and took it. The whole of the top of my arm was black and purple. It hurt to move, let alone touch.

From that, a teacher in PE took notice and told my head of year. I remember being dragged into his office. He looked at me and I just burst into tears. Everything came out. Although he said he could do nothing about the past, he could help with my future. Pretty much every couple of days I’d just check in. We’d talk. He’d listen. I finally had one person that I had a little respect for.

Then my mum found out. i still don’t know who told her, I presumed it was my head of year. I hit the roof the next day. The worst days, even including that dreaded night of the incident, this was the worst.

My mum was in tears. Screaming at me. Shouting at me. Fortunately it was just me and her in the house. God knows what my dad would have done. I went into school, the teacher begged and swore it wasn’t him, and I now believe that it wasn’t, but at the time, it was a case of: fuck it, you don’t care, you don’t give a damn, none of you fuckers care outside of your little offices and ofsted reports.

And that’s where I stopped caring at all. I let myself go into dangerous situations, I let my mind wander about hurting myself, walking in front of a bus, jumping into a river.

Fast forward a few years of refusing help, shitty relationships and scraping through uni, just, and hey, I’d turned 21. I haven’t got much to say about the years of 16-21 as I don’t remember the lows. I remember the highs of music festivals, seeing family and playing bass in metal bands, but the rest, blocked out. and possibly not a bad thing. I guess it keeps me going focusing on the positives of the past rather than just the negatives.

I had my first set of counselling sessions, I had new doctor, who genuinely cared about me, and wasn’t throwing pills at me to shut me up for a couple of months and then change it to suit them.

The counselling, didn’t go so well. Because I wouldn’t, or even couldn’t now.

I found a relationship that I really cared about. Surrounded myself with people as equally mad and mental and fucked up as me, and from that, I built up new foundations.  They weren’t perfect, but they were mine. I’d learn to accept the depression that came from the incident. I learnt to accept that I was a bit mad. I was a bit anxious, a bit nutty, and on my bad days, where everything was dark and scary, I could sit back and go: this is you. This is your bi-polar. You know you have survived it before, you can do it again.

I’ll admit, it’s not so easy having those words set on you. And at 18 I denied it. I wasn’t mad. I wasn’t this labelled mental girl, I didn’t have this issue. I just didn’t.

Accepting was the hardest thing I ever did. But it was the best thing I ever did. I don’t speak about anything that ever happened to me, but I could finally vocalise feelings. At 23, I’ve made myself go to counselling. I had the same councillor from the first time around. I wasn’t a shadow. I was ill, a bit unstable. I was a yo yo. We came up with three things that I implore anyone with mental house issues to try.

Make a collage diary – nothing pretty, or meaningful, or perfect, just a book of you and whatever the fuck you feel.

Laugh – it’s laugh or cry, so let’s go with the happier option. The amount of times I’ve sat with my girls, and we are wetting ourselves laughing about our true emotions and how awful we are and how crap everything is does make you feel better. You realise you are not alone.

And thirdly, create an operation. This for me is the most powerful one. I can say if I’m angry or happy, I can’t say if I’m down, I can’t tell anyone. So I now have Operation Beige. It’s a code word, and now also a fantastic joke, I use with my friends when I’m feeling… well, beige!  For me, it just sums up the worst parts of my life, a crippling anxious numbness.

All I can say is I have some amazing people in my life to put up with my shit, and to be fair, I’m pretty ace for putting up with theirs! Don’t just surround yourself with positive people, surround yourself with real people – they get it.

I’ve still gone through shit, losing friends, deaths and leaving a job I never though in a million years I woud leave. But I survived all of this. I’m not on the mend, as I guess I’m not broken, im just a little, well, bi-polar.

‘It’s rather splendid to think of all those great men and women who appear to have presented symptoms that allow us to describe them as bipolar. Whether it’s Hemingway, Van Gogh… Robert Schumann has been mentioned… Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath…’ – Stephen Fry (Apparently)

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

Mental Health Awareness Week: Voices In My Head

I’ve known Martin for many years and have seen him at both his best and his worst in terms of Mental Health. I met him through my husband, when we were friends and just starting out dating in the mid 2000s. After he read the pieces by my husband and Tree, Martin contacted me to offer this piece about his road to recovery from psychotic depression.

Martin was formally diagnosed with depression at 15, but suffered substantially before that point. In his mid 20s he was re-diagnosed with psychotic depression and unstable personality disorder (borderline). Between 2000 and 2010 he suffered a great deal, struggling with several aspects of his mental health. He spent five years in active therapy and for the past four years he has been rebuilding his life and is now classed as being ‘in remission’.

Copying with demons – the voices in my head.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I found a way to manage my mental health, and look to the future, actually dare to think I have a future. I’ve been thinking of this a lot recently, and I count myself lucky that I survived my crucible and came out the other side.

Admittedly I have my scars, and I have gaps in my memory, but I’m now on the first steps to my future that I would have been taking in my early twenties if not for my illness. Ten years of my life was spent in the darkness.

I have psycotic depression. The depression part is well spoken about; paranoia, low moods or volatile mood swings, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. The psycotic part, that’s less well spoken about in the media when mental health is brought up. But like the term ‘depression’ it covers a whole spectrum of symptoms, generally in a theme of hallucinations.

I want to detail some of my memories and experiences when dealing with this illness.

I hear voices, in my head. A menagerie of whispers, each with their own will. They are not something I am in control of, not like the internal monologue that friends of mine describe, and that I have and identify as me.

I still find it difficult to talk to about them. Even to my girlfriend.

“What are they like? What do they say about me? How many are there? Are they talking now?”

All I can do is smile weakly and say I’d rather not talk about it, mainly because I don’t know how to answer; also because I don’t want to invoke them.

I started self harming when I was 13/14. I’ve been on various medications since I was 15. I’ve bounced through life swinging from ecstatic highs to crushing lows. Each time a disinterested doctor would prescribe me the latest anti-depressant and send me on my way, I’d feel better, stop taking them and the cycle would start all over.

It wasn’t until my twenties that the voices made themselves known. I can’t recall the exact moment they became independent; there was no snapping point, no single event. I just became less and less able to cope with the emotions churning within me. I was more prone to bouts of anger, reacting extremely to the slightest provocation. Each time there was a voice goading me on, pushing me to attempt acts of ultra-violence. Luckily I’m not the strongest of people and more often than not I’d turn those acts upon myself.

I did find something to cope with the inability to control my emotions. Drink and drugs. Now I was by no means an alcoholic, or drug dependant. I could go days without a drink or drugs. It was when my mood crashed and the hopelessness set in, that’s when I’d be at the pub drowning myself in alcohol and at clubs trying to score something so I couldn’t feel anymore. This state of affairs continued for years, and the one voice became many. It was so subtle that I didn’t think there was anything wrong in that sense. I just thought I was a bad person, playing at being nice.

Then things got worse. The voices became louder, and flashes of images superimposed themselves on me. The urges became impulses, the best way I could describe it was when you’re waiting to cross a road, you think it’s clear so you go to cross, but then you see afar and stop and for a moment your body awkwardly jerks as the command is over ridden. It was the mental equivalent of that. I felt I couldn’t tell anyone.

“So Martin, how was your night?”

“Oh it was okay, I had the urge to rape a woman walking in front of me in the way home.”

“What are you thinking?”

“Oh, just how easy it would be to knock you unconscious and peel your eyes like grapes.”

Now these were not my thoughts, it was a whispering in my ear.

“Look how dark it is, no one walks through here at this time of night…”

Then some images of the deed.

Only a truly evil person would think like that, and so my negative self image was reinforced.

As I had done before, I turned to drink to drown it out. I went in and out of A & E for multiple suicide attempts. Each time the onsite psychiatrist would say I was drunk, I’d get a visit from the crisis team and I’d say I was fine, it was just the drink, and off I’d go on my downward spiral. I was ashamed of what I’d done and how I thought, and so I hid it from the professionals.

This all came to head one night, when drink and drugs were both involved. I got into an argument, and I listened to the voices, and I acted on it. I almost killed someone that night. I am lucky those charges were not pressed, and I am lucky that 2 very close friends came to my aid, one behind the scenes, and the other by my side.

He spent the whole night with me, argued with the A & E psychiatrist and crisis team member that turned up. Talked me out of running off and trying to take my life again. Listened as I talked about, what was in my head, for the first time, and, without judgment, told me that what I was thinking wasn’t healthy. He came with me to the doctors and made sure I told them everything instead of hiding it. And I was referred to the mental health service. I was given pills to stabilise me, and then after meetings with a psychiatrist, pills to treat me. Finally I saw a community mental health nurse.

 

That was the start of the road to recovery. It took 4 years. It wasn’t easy, but I was able to have long discussions with my CMHN and start to make changes. With this there was one big turning point, a flash that changed the whole paradigm of not just my treatment but of my whole self. A common theme in my discussions and how I viewed myself was that I was a bad person, pretending to be nice to hide the vileness in me.

I mean, how could someone who dreams of murder and rape be nice?

My CMHN broke that with one question: “you do realise you’re ill?”

It was almost like the final scene between Matt Damon and Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, but without the epic beard. Not once had I considered that the vileness was a symptom of my illness, rather than a core aspect of myself. That shattered me, I stayed in the rest of the week to wrestle with the concept. Once I’d begun to accept that I was ill, I was able to set off on my road to remission.

My friends ask me how I recovered. Put simply: a lot of thought and a lot of discussion to challenge myself and change myself. I can’t describe it with any great detail, but because the explanation is simple does not mean the process was easy. Something I have realised though is that mental health treatment is, by the nature of humans, byzantine. The process that has worked for me won’t work for another person with psycotic depression. Each treatment has to be seen as individual and tailored.

I have come to a light in the tunnel.

Not the end, because two fundamental truths of my condition stay with me.

I am ill, and it will be with me the rest of my life.

As long as I can keep perspective and insight, I have a good chance of living a fulfilling life.

I have a strong set of coping strategies and mechanisms to aid me. Thanks to the previously mentioned coping strategies and anti-psycotic medication my mental landscape has become much more calm and tranquil. It has been almost five years since I have had suicidal thoughts.

To go from the darkness and violence of the depths of my illness to this place I am in now seems almost impossible when I think about it. I am somewhere stable, I’ve been in a loving relationship for 4 years, and we are building a future. It’s not all been roses, sunshine and bunnies. There have been testing times. Redundancy at work and other tough things, and before where I would of crumbled, I have held the line. I feel content, and for that I feel lucky.

I feel lucky because I’ve gained respite and have overcome the challenges thrown at me so far. I’m lucky because I know there are people who do not overcome those challenges, and choose a different way out, or they are still in the grips of their own demons.

To those people, I just want to say that it is possible to get to a place of respite, where the world is not so forbidding, where you can look beyond the end of the day, hour or minute and hope for your own contentment and prosperous future.

Here are some things that helped me greatly, and I still use these to this day.

Set a goal for the day: it doesn’t need to be big, I started with get out of bed and have a cup of tea, or have a shower. Then I built up to today I will reach level 70 in WoW. Then upwards again, over years. If I failed a goal, I tried again the next day and did not chastise myself.

Be selfish: selfishness is seen as a dirty word. And it can be bad, especially when it is to get yourself ahead at the cost of others. But there is nothing wrong with shutting out the world to look after yourself. You are the most important person to you, and you need to look after yourself first before you can look after others

When you’re feeling good, do something awesome: so when you’re in the depths of the darkness you have that awesomeness to hold onto

My name is Martin Rathbone, and I hear voices. I know the battle isn’t over, I still have moments, where I can burst into an uncontrolled rage. But I’m still working on it, and making each of my days a little brighter.

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Mental Health Awareness Week: Supporting a PTSD sufferer

This poem was sent in by @mister_goldfish, who  co-ordinates the excellent Blogging Against Disablism Day. This poem brilliantly captures what happens during a PTSD flashback, but gives a glimpse into that phenomenon from the point of view of a supporter rather than a sufferer. I was so pleased to receive this piece, as this can be a difficult topic to broach. My husband endures episodes like this. There is nothing in this world that would take me from his side at the times when he needs me most, but that does not mean that the experience is easy for me, or easy to process once it is over.

PTSD (Palimpsest)

 

I know your face so well;

the first photograph was studied

as if for an exam.

Your still, harbour grey eyes,

the lift of cheekbones

caught in the current

of your wit and wonder.

I know your face so well.

 

I am under your spell;

tangled deep in the warm

bonds of your soul.

Willingly and happily held.

Our bodies are weak,

but we share our strength

and become something great.

I am under your spell

 

But then the tide changes.

The wind’s direction shifts

and the eyes and face

are lost in time and space.

You are struck, flying,

and I stumble to catch.

I was a great duality,

but then the tide changes.

 

I can see it in your eyes;

The pain over distance,

the terror flooding your face,

more than mere memory.

And far worse than that;

I am become trigger

and violator both.

I can see it in your eyes

 

How can I possibly help you

when you are lost in double vision?

(a ‘palimpsest’ – we laugh

at my love of the word)

But no laughter.

I cannot hold you.

I am desperate.

How can I possibly help you?

 

How fragile is a scar.

Paper fine flesh stretched

taut and clear over purple pains.

But the dog bite is hidden

deep in that beautiful brain

of which I am a part.

Delicate, sensitive.

How fragile is a scar.

 

So we talk and learn and love,

working together to exorcise

and find a stable ground

on which to grow ourselves.

The scars are buried deep

under the weight of the new.

Your smile never changes,

So we talk and learn and love.

 

But when my own scars itch,

I catch the infection reek,

remembering the look you gave

when I was no longer me.

 

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

Mental Health Awareness Week: Leaving Impressions

This piece, which I have titled ‘Leaving Impressions’, is made up of both a poem and series of reflections, which were sent to me by a friend, who got in touch after reading my first post about my husband’s experiences. The reflections were written during one of her periods of ‘Mental Health Crisis’ in 2009. She wishes to remain anonymous.

I asked if she wanted to provide any context for her writing and she had this to say:

As regards context, this was written as a refutation of the toxic thoughts engendered by the verse. Someone had quoted that to me a while before, suggesting that no one is indispensable. I was at that point of dissociation so dangerous in the Depressed. The Sick Mind wanted oblivion and was seeking permission; the Compassionate Mind was still fighting a rearguard action to preserve itself. It is strange at these moments how Logic is is twisted against itself. It is utterly, utterly exhausting. Anyone understanding this, will have more sympathy with person who takes an overdose, self harms or implodes in some other way. It is when the wrong head wins, or possibly where the right head loses. It can, honestly, be touch and go. The ability to recognise these warning signs and articulate the need for help is critical at this point. The failure to advert to these thoughts can be fatal.

The Indispensable Man (by Saxon White Kessinger)
“Sometime when you’re feeling important;
Sometime when your ego ‘s in bloom;
Sometime when you take it for granted,
You’re the best qualified in the room:
Sometime when you feel that your going,
Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow these simple instructions,
And see how they humble your soul.
Take a bucket and fill it with water,
Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining,
Is a measure of how much you’ll be missed.
You can splash all you wish when you enter,
You may stir up the water galore,
But stop, and you’ll find that in no time,
It looks quite the same as before.
The moral of this quaint example,
Is to do just the best that you can,
Be proud of yourself but remember,
There’s no indispensable man.”
An exploration triggered by these verses during a time of MH Crisis (2009)
There are some recurring images in my head that I need to set down and explore.
Buckets: 1) Put your hand in a bucket of water. Withdraw it and observe what kind of hole it leaves.
2) Put your hand in a bucket of Plaster of Paris. When it has set, try to withdraw your hand. How is it possible? Only by chipping away; by cutting off the hand; or carrying the weight around forever.
3) Put your hand in a bucket of manure. Withdraw it slowly. What is left on the hand? What hole has it left in the bucket? Return to the bucket later. What has happened? Possibly something has grown there, even though the hand has gone.
The first two scenarios are harmful and negative. They seem inviting and benign initially, but either leave no impression or a catastrophic one in the end. The third presents as unsavoury but, through perseverance and belief, leaves a lasting legacy, and the hand can be washed and left clean in the final analysis. The Plaster of Paris is destructive. It harms the hand and the bucket and leaves nothing but devastation. There are no positive aspects in this example. The water proves to take the ego out of the equation, but without self there is nothing left to work with. At which point it is important to recognise whether it is the hand or the hole that is left unremembered. If it is the hand, then there is no point in anything; it might as well have never existed to penetrate the calm of the water. Has the water changed during the hand’s emersion? It can be argued that it has, even if it is only its contamination by microbes. Has the hand been changed by the exercise? Well, it is now wet, or cleaner, or temperature altered. Even though these effects are transitory, they cannot be simply said not to have happened. History fades, but remains fact. And who writes the history? The victor. And who here is the victor: the bucket; the water; or the hand? That depends entirely on the viewpoint and the owner of the bucket and the hand. Only the water remains unbiased. And the strongest, sweetest-smelling roses grow from a bucket of shit.
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Mental Health Awareness Week: The War Within

This submission takes the form of a poem, The War Within, by Bella Noble.

The War Within

To the outside world I’m just a normal woman having a busy day
No-one knows I’ve woken with fear, I feel it coming my way
But role on kids to school, packed lunches and snack
Finding their P.E. kits under the stairs, you’ve forgotten to pack
But inside I’m being consumed by a strong, creeping force
Panic rises in my chest, pulse speeding up course
The voices they start, quiet and slow
But they soon gain vigor, a silent, deadly foe

‘Nothing you do is good enough, you’re worthless’ it cries
‘Who would want you around?’,  ‘You’re a sight for sore eyes’
‘People would be better off without you, you’re a waste of space’
Then they seem to gather speed and pick up the pace
‘You’re no good at anything, a lousy human being’
In order to cope you turn yourself numb, cold, no feeling
The thoughts, strong, tell you to run away from the world and hide
It’s like your deeper fears it’s found, dug up and spied
‘Retreat from the world’, ‘Bury yourself in a hole’
Your physical body gets drained…fighting yourself takes its toll
‘What’s the point of you trying anything, you’re bound to fail’
The voices shout louder and start to wail
Yet you struggle to put that fake smile on your face
You don’t even recognise yourself, the real you has no space
The feelings are growing, spreading, taking over control
While you go about your day feeling like you’ve lost your own soul

You question that others can see your terror inside
Can they see in your eyes the thoughts your trying desperately to hide?
But if anyone asked you’d reply “Just fine”
Like an award winning actor you get away with it every time
If I opened up the floodgates, what would people do?
Would I lose my lovely family? Be committed to an asylum zoo?
So I tell no-one for the fear and live with the pain
Rather than have others think that I’m slightly, mildly or severely insane!
Then a positive thought struggles to fight its way through
You have people around you who love you too
That you actually, truly, love your home and your life
A wonderful daughter, great mother, adored wife
And just as these bright rays try and pierce the gloom
The dark clouds gather thicker, surrounding doom

Just when you feel you can take it no more
A way to end life seems a much easier door
You can’t do it this time, you’ve really lost you’re way
You realise its night outside, you’ve made it, it’s the end of the day
You can finally go to sleep and crawl into bed
And for a few blissful hours enjoy an unconscious head
A time to rest and regain your strength
To start again this nightmare you’ve fought at length
Because tomorrow you will wake and start the internal battle again
Maybe that will be the day my true soul will shine through…the me with no shame
What keeps me going is that loves wings help you soar
And the hope that one day I will win my own war

*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*

Mental Health Awareness Week: Living With Depression

 

Tree has been a friend of mine and my husband’s for many years now. He battles some of the worst depressive episodes I have ever seen, and like my husband he also struggles with suicidal thoughts. He is one of the most creative people I have ever met, with interests in art, music, roleplay system design and character creation, as well as being a passionate advocate of environmental issues and animal welfare. Many of the people I have met who battle depression have big ideas, massive inspirations, huge reservoirs of creativity – but when depression takes hold of you, all of that can fade to grey in your own head. And even those who have experienced huge popular and financial success still get plagued by these attacks.

Tree sent in this piece to be shared as part of the Mental Health Awareness Week series.

Every day is a struggle, not just with my own horrible persistent moods, my self loathing and violent anger and grinding despair, but also a struggle not to push my friends away, a struggle not to hide indoors, a struggle to not isolate myself further from the things that make life worth living.

I have doctors prescribing me different medications as and when each previous one has been deemed to fail.

I have therapists giving me new strategies to try to help, social inclusion schemes to make me feel less alone.

I have relatives who offer me unconditional love, and patient friends who try to be there for me when it all gets too much, but who I know are busy with their own lives so I seldom ask for their help.

And always, day in, day out, I am struggling to live a life that makes any sense to me, when all I feel, on the days when I feel at all, is bleak and unremitting despair.

 

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