For Mum

my child, I knew you well
each time you fell
I was there
showing you care
– scraped knees
became my expertise.

but as you grew
you withdrew.
and I knew
something was wrong
– not what was going on
because you didn’t tell.
but it was that smell
antiseptic in your room
which had become a tomb.
and I realised,
though you tried to hide
you took care
not to lay bare
the hurts you were making
punishments for him taking
something from you.
not that I knew
that then
how could I, when
you didn’t tell me?

so I pretended not to see
I gave you space,
let you take things at your own pace
and you sought help
but said it felt
not right
the fight
was leaving you
and you were leaving too.

you moved
as if you had something to prove.
I thought a fresh start would be good
but as soon as you could
you set out to destroy yourself
and I felt powerless to help.
nights of drinks and hurts
and more long sleeved shirts.

I often think
that maybe if I’d seen the link,
if I’d been the one
pushing for things to be done
life would have been different
not all bent
out of shape
and stuck together with sticky tape.

but, as you say, you weren’t ready
– needed to be steady
to be braver
not to waver
over whether you could accept
the help that was kept
just out of reach
until each
little thing fell into place.

now, when I see your face
I see hope there.
and I’m showing you care
once more
as you mend your core.

Scotland’s Mental Health First Aid week 2

For last week’s post, click here.

So. Another week of SMHFA training. This week we covered some mental illnesses: depression, anxiety, and psychosis.

Again, I have experience of all three of these things, so was able to contribute to the discussion. Again, I was thanked for my contributions at the end.

However, in the Australian video material, there was a massive focus on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which I found difficult. CBT seems to be the ‘first line’ in talking therapies here in the UK (and you’re hugely lucky if there’s a ‘second line’ at all).

I had CBT when I was 20. I had six one hour sessions, and was then sent away to get on with ‘putting the theory into practice’, with no follow-up. Needless to say, I failed to do so. I was great at the cognitive (thinking) part of it, could come up with the ‘right’ solutions to all of my problems by imagining what I would say to another person in my position, but because I didn’t believe it to be true for myself, I was rubbish at the behaviour bit. And that’s the bit that really matters.

I am lucky, in that I now see a psychologist who uses aspects of different types of therapies with me (yes, including  (limited) CBT at appropriate times), but not everyone is so lucky. For some people, CBT is it. It either works for you, or it doesn’t, but that’s all there is on offer. And to see it being held up as some sort of ‘answer to all mental illnesses’ was hard to watch.

That aside, I really enjoyed the SMHFA course. Although I didn’t learn as much as some others may have, due to my lived experience of mental ill health, I still think it was a worthwhile thing to do, and would recommend it to others.

So, what next? I’m thinking of signing up for the Scotland’s Mental Health First Aid – Young People (SMHFA-YP) course some time soon, as I think it would be really useful in my voluntary work with young people. Watch this space!

Cold

it’s cold outside,
she opens the windows wide,
letting in the bitter wind
– it helps her to feel something.

these days, she doesn’t feel much,
so out of touch
with reality.
numbness has crept into every corner,
so she feels like a foreigner
in her increasingly small body.

there was a time when she felt everything,
emotions crashing like waves upon a shore
until she couldn’t take it anymore.
it was terrible, and beautiful
all at once.

she hated it at the time
– though she pretended she was fine.
it pummelled her small fluttery-bird heart
until it was ready to fly away.
found it increasingly impossible to stay.
it was painful, raw
she would have given anything
to make it stop
(and she nearly did).

but now, feelings hid
from her,
she sees the beauty in emotion
– longs to feel it again
but how is beyond her ken.

so she opens the windows wide,
hoping the cold will penetrate inside.

Mental pain

“That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.”
John Green

Everyone, at some point in their lives, experiences mental pain – whether it be as a young child, or as an adult. This could be due to mental illness, abuse, bereavement, relationship breakdowns or any number of other factors. But we all have it in common, eventually. I’d even say that it’s an important part of life. And I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, as I go on a journey of exploring my own pain with my psychologist.

I think, as a society, we generally try to minimise our pain. Someone has always suffered something worse than you, so you should just be able to get on with life. But pain is not a competition. Someone else’s experiences do not invalidate your own pain.

And this is important. For years, I thought about those people worse off than myself. I pushed my pain down, plodded on, coping as best as I could. I didn’t allow myself to fully feel it. But what I didn’t know, is that pain means something is wrong. And when something is wrong, it is important to deal with it. Whether that be by talking to a friend, or by seeking more professional help.

The pain we experience in our lives is, in my experience, unlikely to ever go away completely. But by giving yourself permission to fully feel the pain you’re experiencing, and by talking about it with someone you trust, you can take some of the power away from it.

I’m not saying it’s easy to deal with. Talking brings up all sorts of unpleasant emotions. But it also allows you to let those emotions out, in a safe environment. And that, I think is a very good thing.

Scotland’s Mental Health First Aid week 1

On Saturday, I started a course in Scotland’s Mental Health First Aid (SMHFA). It was a course that had been requested by a local food bank, and there were extra places, so I was asked by the people running it if I wanted to attend.

The concept of the Mental Health First Aid course was first developed in Australia, and as such, much of the material is Australian.

It’s delivered in two sessions, the second being next week. This week, we covered: attitudes to mental health, listening skills, suicide, self harm, alcohol and drugs and ‘recovery’.

The premise of SMHFA is ALGEE – Ask about suicide, Listen non-judgementally, Give reassurance and information, Encourage the person to get appropriate help, Encourage self-help strategies.

You are not a professional, and no one is expecting you to have all the answers (but through the training, we got some of them!). It is exactly like physical first aid – you are just the first person to respond. The person may just need to talk things through, or may need more immediate professional help.

I tend to live in a ‘mental health bubble’. Most of my friends online and in real life have personal experience of mental ill health. So some of the things people didn’t know really surprised me, and that felt odd. They were all aware of anti-stigma campaigns, but had taken away a message about anxiety and depression (what I call the more ‘palatable’ mental illnesses – because anxiety seems like an extension of worry and depression an extension of sadness, which is patently untrue – these are life threatening illnesses, which are far more complex!), and none of the ‘nitty gritty’ stuff we covered.

We talked about how some people think self harm is ‘attention seeking’ (and the stigma surrounding that phrase – needing attention doesn’t make you a bad person, it makes you human). And I told them how I hid my self harm (with varying degrees of success) for years. But that the last thing I wanted was attention. And about how it saved my life.

We also spoke about how most people who go on to attempt/complete suicide have mentioned it to someone beforehand, even just in a joking way. That talking about suicide doesn’t mean that you won’t do it, as some people (even mental health professionals) seem to think.

We talked about the link between alcohol and drugs and mental health. I don’t drink now, but when I was younger, I definitely used alcohol to self medicate. We talked about how illegal drugs can induce mental illness. Something I have some experience of from my time in hospital.

And, lastly, we looked at the idea of ‘recovery’, a word that usually makes me shudder. Very often recovery is seen as getting back to ‘your old self’. But, just as all of our experiences in life inevitably change us, so does mental illness. It’s just not realistic. And very often mental illnesses are chronic. So, instead, we thought about the idea of being ‘in recovery’, of it being a journey, not a destination.

Going into a situation for the first time in a long while where I didn’t know anyone was both terrifying and oddly liberating. Having had personal or second hand experience of all of these issues, I was able to contribute fully. I was especially open about my own struggles with self harm and suicidal ideation. And people appreciated it – I was thanked by multiple people at the end of the day. Was told that I had enhanced their understanding of the issues. I can’t say that I learned too much myself, except that people really don’t know about this stuff!

Trigger Warnings

I want to preface this with saying that although I wrote this, I use trigger warnings for common triggers online, and respect other people’s triggers when they tell me. What I’m trying to say is that often triggers can’t be predicted, and in real life, we have no such warnings. I hope that comes across.

life doesn’t come with trigger warnings

Alan Kurdi
a wee Syrian boy lying dead on the beach.
the photo went viral online
was on newspaper covers across the world.
it was a distressing image
enough to trigger
but yet, there were no trigger warnings.
– just his tiny, bloated body
for all to see.

life doesn’t come with trigger warnings

tiny things can trigger
– seemingly innocuous things
a song, a smell, a colour, a taste
a touch on the shoulder.
even ‘soothing’ things can trigger
– baths, beds, hugging and being held.
when everything is a possible trigger,
how can we possibly know what our words or actions will do?

life doesn’t come with trigger warnings

so why should art?
some things are obvious
– graphic violence, sexual abuse, suicide.
things which upset most people
and trigger many.
warning for these things is only right.
but where do we stop?
when do we go from being sensitive
to ‘overcautious’, ‘overprotective’?

because still, life doesn’t come with trigger warnings.

BPD and me

I want to preface this post with sending out some love to anyone who’s reading this who has a Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) (also called Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder) diagnosis.

I know that many people (including mental health professionals) will treat you differently because of this diagnosis. I have witnessed people with BPD being called manipulative for how they cope/ask for help, abusive for lashing out while overwhelmed by emotions which often stem from abuse they suffered in childhood, being told that they can’t be treated – that they will just have to learn to live with their illness (which, by the way, is totally untrue!), and just generally being treated like crap, both online, and by professionals in real life.

This is unfair in the extreme. Your illness is not somehow ‘your fault’ because it was caused by how you developed from childhood. In fact, that just means that it definitely is not your fault.

As for the stereotypes, I have never found my friends with BPD to be manipulative, or abusive. In fact, they have been completely the opposite, picking me up when I’m down, because they can relate.

I have to say, it’s not all doom and gloom. Some people feel like BPD is a good diagnosis for them. They feel they meet the criteria, and are happy to have something to explain how they feel/behave. But even if the diagnosis has felt positive, I’m not sure I know of anyone who hasn’t had a bad experience due to how they’re perceived because they have BPD.

So, this is the part where I say that one of the reasons I know how badly people with BPD are treated (especially by professionals) is that this diagnosis has been following me around for a while.

Despite only meeting two of the criteria for a diagnosis (you have to meet five, and most people I know would meet at least one), and not meeting the criteria for BPD treatment (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT)), I have had professionals tell me I have BPD repeatedly for the past couple of years.

This has changed their attitudes towards me. I have been treated with suspicion, I have had my crises minimised, and on one occasion, I was told that a member of the Crisis Team couldn’t do anything to help me, because I ‘just had unstable emotions and that was just how it was’.

The fact is, my emotions are very stable. Very stably low. That’s what depression is. I have flashbacks and nightmares which cause me distress, avoid things that might remind me of the trauma, and feel constantly on alert. That’s what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is.

Unfortunately, because of my need to avoid things that remind me of the trauma, it’s only recently that I’ve been able to start talking about it, giving professionals a fuller picture of what’s wrong.

Still though, because of my propensity for self harm/suicidal ideation (one of the two criteria I meet), the ’emotionally unstable’ label has stuck around, like chewing gum on my shoe. (As an aside, if you are a young woman who has issues with self harm, you are much more likely to be diagnosed with BPD than men with similar issues).

Not wanting to rock the boat, I haven’t really said much when people have said I have BPD. But it…just didn’t fit.

So, at my last appointment with my (new) consultant, I ‘put on my big girl pants’, and asked him about it. He said that it was on my records, but that he had it as ‘under review’. We had a chat about it, and in the end he said that he was very clear that I had a ‘complex mood disorder’. Mood disorder because of the depression, and complex because of the trauma. So not a personality disorder, after all.

I finally feel understood, and like we can make some progress.

Marriage

they say:
marriage is the joining of
one man
and
one woman.

they say:
it’s been like this forever
why change things now?

they say:
the Bible tells me so.

they say:
gay people have rights anyway
just in a different way
(though if I had my way
we’d go back to how things used to be
before all this fuss).

and then I look at her
and think of us, in church, before God
then as old ladies
children grown.

and wonder:
how can love like this be wrong?

Seeing life through a lens

she saw life through a lens
photos were taken at random
making memories.

the lens had a life of its own
zooming in on awful things
and ‘click’
a photo taken
a memory made.

if she was patient
the lens would retract
giving her much needed respite
until next time.

the lens also had filters:

one made everything look perfect
her friends liked that one.
but she knew it was false, plastic
she hated it.

another made things look unreal
almost like a cartoon.
sometimes she liked this one
a break from reality
for a while.

her favourite filter though
was the one
that turned the photo to a negative.
that, at least, was truthful.

Church

In the beginning, church was community.

It was sharing
– a meal,
stories,
journeys,
lives.

But I think that sometimes we forget

Because, somewhere along the line,
church has become a building
(falling apart, and
filled with committees).

And we’ve missed the point

You see, I believe that God
will not be put in a box,
to be brought out on Sunday.
That praying before a meeting
isn’t the reason God’s there
…She just is.

And I believe that Jesus
Loves us.
– not some of us
– not part of us
But all of us.

So, I’m sick and tired of being told that I don’t belong
– of people quoting scripture at me,
hoping to convince me that I’ve
got it all wrong.

Faith is not certain
it is not safe
after all
it’s not called a leap for nothing.