Category Archives: Uncategorized

Recovery: The Tightrope Theory

We could all, mental health problems or not, be seen to be treading on a metaphorical tightrope, separating stability from instability, a positive mindset from a negative. However, you could argue, that some people tread on stronger ropes than others, that something that might make one person loose their balance completely, will merely affect another. And then there’s the question of those who have fallen: how do they learn to regain their balance and stability?

It takes time, that’s for sure. Contrary to the belief that you “never forget to ride a bike”, even routines you have previously mastered are at first challenging when you have not participated in them for some time. It’s simply human nature; your brain needs to be allowed time to readjust and to regain its bearings. That is why I believe recovery from mental illness can be such a complicated process : it is literally like trying to remember something that you are convinced you have forgotten how to do. And of course, that ‘something’ is living a functional and fulfilling life.

Obviously, this is even harder to achieve if you’ve never experienced living functionally before. Although it is a rarity for an individual to have never had a period of functionality in their life, it is of course possible, and for those individuals, the journey is bound to be more challenging. Similarly, for many people wishing to enter recovery, a stable and balanced life seems like a lifetime ago, and this too makes the process difficult. Unlike the notorious bicycle theory, living functionally is not something we can pick up again quickly five, ten, twenty years down the line. It takes patience and commitment. It is often infuriatingly difficult to regain the knack of, and you find yourself tempted to give up on numerous occasions.

After how ever long it takes for us to regain our balance (it could take weeks, it could take years), we are faced with another question: Will the tightropes of those who have a history of mental illness be permanently compromised? I suppose you could look at it from either way. Like cancer, or an abscess infection, mental health problems generally become more susceptible  to those who have experienced them before (though of course, not always.) This, metaphorically speaking, can be seen to make the tightrope you walk on less stable, increasing the chance of you loosing your balance again. However, you could also argue that, due to previous falls, your body (or in the case of this theory, the mind), has an increased resistance for emotional distress, making you more equipped to deal with situations that could potentially trigger a relapse.

A lot of people are unaware of how fragile our minds can be, and this is, in some ways, fortunate. Because, once you are no longer ignorant to the tightrope below, it becomes harder and harder to maintain your balance. It’s sort of like when you think about blinking; a natural bodily function becomes a fixation, and suddenly, you find yourself unable to blink thoughtlessly anymore. Every blink is planned, every interval in between them tense and frustrating. You start to worry that you will never be able to resume the natural rhythm you once had…but then you are brought back to reality, and soon something else steals your attention.

Of course the sense of knowing will always be there, but it will not always be at the forefront, in fact, sometimes in may be buried so deep in your mind that you are barley aware of its presence at all. With time, your awareness will fade, and eventually, you will experience periods where you walk the tightrope without thinking. It may take you weeks to experience this, it may take you years, but eventually, it is inevitable. Happiness doesn’t come into it. You can still experience mental stability without feeling content; though of course, it’d be wonderful if it came as a part of the deal. But it isn’t. Because, in truth, I have learnt that recovery is not about feeling content with your life all the time; it is about being able to deal with the negative feelings you have and making the steps needed to resolve them. It is about gaining perspective. It is about having patience with yourself. It is about holding on when you get knocked from your tightrope, and, when the storm has passed, pulling yourself back on to it to start the process again.

It isn’t easy. But is anything worth fighting for?

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Depression: Stuck at Sea

Depression, when you think about it, is like being stuck at sea.

One moment, you’re sailing along perfectly content, and suddenly, you find yourself lost among the wind and the waves. I say suddenly, because often it seems that way, even when in retrospect, it might have been a long time coming. Gradually, you may begin to feel yourself losing direction, but you don’t think to much into it.

At this point, instead of sailing back to shore, where we will be able to receive the help we need to continue, we usually shrug our worries off and proceed. Slowly and perhaps even subconsciously, we sail further and further away from mainland, until one day, we find that the distant smudge of our homeland has disappeared completely. Perhaps this is the moment we realize that we are stuck.  That is certainly the case for a lot of people. Some hold on for longer, insisting that, if you squint your eyes and concentrate, the shore is still in sight.

But eventually, our fate has to be accepted. You realize that, somehow, you are lost and all alone in this vast, empty blue. There is nothing around you to see but angry waves and grey sky, and, confused and helpless, you curse yourself for venturing so far out, for not seeking help when you still had the chance. For a while, part of us still believes that this is just a blip, a mere setback in our voyage that will soon sort itself out. We frantically search for a way out of this situation, but despite how hard we hope, how thoroughly we search,  we often come up with nothing. Hope is drained from us, in a way that seems both gradual and sudden, and it is then we know that we must terms with our new reality.

Adapting to our circumstance usually involves feelings of helplessness, disbelief and despair. How could this have happened to you? It seems like just five minutes ago that you were sailing soundly, heading from point A to B with perfect confidence. And now you are stuck. If you don’t get back on the right track soon, you’re supplies will be gone before you know it, and then how are you supposed to survive? For a while you will be able to function, but just barley. Then what will you do?

This initial panic and despair leads to the ‘functioning stage’ of depression,  because, although you are feeling great levels of desolation, you continue to do what you have always done. You eat, sleep, fix the sails. But a fire has gone out in you, it’s burning glow replaced with a sense of dread and regret. You have failed your mission to get to A to B. A mission you had the honor of being trusted with, the privilege of being a part of. You begin to despise yourself, and everything that surrounds you. The salted smell of sea water makes you want to throw up and the sounds of waves crashing causes your head to hurt. As the days drag on, it is though all motivation drained from you, leaving you unable to enjoy the things that once brought you such pleasure. Wishful thinking becomes a distant memory, in fact, you try not to think to much at all if you can help it. You are simply existing the best you can, using every piece of internal strength you possess to simply get through a single day.

But there comes a point when there’s nothing left to drain, nothing left to hang onto. Before, you may have had a molecule of hope to keep you going, but now? Nothing. Nothing is worth such misery. You’re so lonely out here. But even if you had a companion, you’re not sure if you could muster the effort to have a conversation with them. At this point, sleep is all you feel you can manage. That long stretch of unconsciousness, temporarily taking you away from everything. Since this happened, sleep has been your only friend. Everything else has come to feel unnatural and exhausting.  If a sailor can sleep well whilst stuck at sea, he is likely to hold on for longer. Insomniac sailors, kept awake by the ocean sounds or the anxiety of their imminent fates, tend to be worn down faster. How are you supposed to go on, without anything to numb the pain?  Maybe you get creative. Finding sharps in the way of glass shards or fishing equipment, cutting yourself open, savoring the presence of those long-forgotten endorphin’s. Maybe you have intoxication’s on board for one reason or another, and you consume them in hope that they will take the edge off of your suffering. When peace becomes almost impossible to find, you will often find people searching for it in the most unthinkable of places.

These are only temporary fixes though. Like an addict, in the long term, your respites mean nothing. Compared to the anguish and the misery living now brings to you, any aid seems insignificant, as it always must end. You start contemplating a permanent fix. You begin to fantasize about throwing yourself off the edge of the ship, into the raging waves that have spent so long taunting you. You imagine destroying all your food and resources, bleeding yourself dry as a punishment for your carelessness. You do not deserve to keep living; nor do you want to. Not like this.

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It may take years to stop feeling this way. For some of us, it takes a matter of weeks. There is no right or wrong way to experience depression. Some sufferers do not reach the point of suicidal ideation, but this in no way should degrade their suffering. Depression, and it’s stages, are personal to the individual experience. There are different levels of severity, but the groundwork remains the same. Just because one shadows larger than another, it doesn’t mean the smaller shadow isn’t relevant. The shadow is still present, and, in this case where the shadow is depression, it still has a negative effect on our day to day lives.

It’s the same with recovery. It comes easier to some than it does to others. To people who have been suffering with depression for a long period of time, the concept of recovering seems impossible, and from that comes an unwillingness to engage in therapy. Long-term sufferers are resigned to a life tainted by misery, and find it difficult to accept that this may not be the only way they can live. This is understandable. It is hard to believe that there is a world beyond the one you are living in. Stuck at sea, your vision compromised by the fog, it is hard to make out anything but your initial surroundings. But, with time and patience, things can change. Maybe the fog begins to fade, or perhaps something illuminates the mainland so that it becomes visible, and suddenly, you find yourself becoming hopeful once more. The trip home will not be easy, but at least you have the motivation now to endure this difficulty. Along the way back you may find yourself lost again, but at least you know now that hope exists. That there is a life beyond being stuck at sea. That there is a life beyond depression.

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(This is just my take on the illness. The metaphor my mind latched onto for some reason.I would just like to make clear that being stuck at sea is a situation that is likley to cause distress and despair to anyone, and such dramatic events are not needed to provoke an episode of depression. You could have the so called perfect life, and one day, simply find yourself lost in the darkness, with no idea how to escape. Depression is often circimstancial, and is almost always exaberated by negative events and trauma’s, however, sometimes the exsplanation for it isn’t logical, sometimes  not to the sufferer themselves. Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Although events may cause this imbalance, an depressive reaction towards a negative situation does not mean that you are suffering from depression, as this illness is a long-term and persistent reaction to life in general. If you feel that you might be suffering from depression, i urge you to seek help before things worsen. You can do this by talking to your GP or a local councelling service, who will hopefully be able to support you and make the links that will help you recieve the help you need and deserve. If your depression is making you feel like a danger to yourself, I suggest taking yourself to accident and emergency, or, if you do not feel this is warranted, to call one of the numbers listed below.)

Samaritans-08457 90 90 90 (every day, 24 hours a day)

NHS Direct-0845 46 47 (every day, 24 hours a day) <!–(lo-call rate)–>

Sane- 0845 767 8000 (every day-1:00pm-11:00pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Social Anxiety: The Bubble Theory

Bitches Bitches 

Everywhere

Nobody likes me

Nobody cares

Bitches Bitches

All around 

Mocking me

Insulting me

Shooting me down 

Heart in my throat, I repeat this mantra to myself as I re-enter my own personal bitch pit: my second year college class. I’m not really one for poetry, but, with my self-esteem wounded, I felt the need to self express. Printing the words into the back of my notebook, and later into my journal, I found myself feeling increasingly less frantic about what had happened that afternoon. The words felt lucid and true and this calmed me. But, of course, in the long run it wouldn’t change anything. The whole class, including my teacher, would still despise me.

I don’t mean to be difficult, but I am well aware that I can be. Ever since early adolescence I have had an argumentative streak, a probable result of spending the first twelve years of my life as a doormat. Soon after I began secondary school, I became fed up with feeling invisible and unimportant within my friendship group, so I started to stick up for myself more. However, the new-found ability to self-defend quickly spun out of control, leaving me constantly enraged with the world. This left me feeling even more isolated from my peers, and marked the beginning of what I like to call “my social struggle”.

Fast-forward four years. Despite two years of intensive therapy, the social struggle is harder than ever before. I have just started college. It has been over a year since my last admission to the psychiatric unit. I had completed school, started afresh with an old friend and even attended the prom. Yet, in this unfamiliar surrounding, a place where a new beginning was well within my reach, I found myself feeling more socially incompetent than ever before. The prospect of starting from scratch scared the hell out of me, resulting in me becoming more involuntarily introverted than ever. At least at school when I walked the corridors alone, people knew who I was, and I knew who they were. At least when I was at school I had a private room assigned to me for lunch and break times, as not to be reminded of my solitude. At least there, some of the nicer students would smile and sympathise. But who could do that here? Nobody had any idea who I was or where I had come from. I made small talk with a few of the other students at first, and even threw some hints about my past to them, but as the days turned to weeks, socialisation became more and more emotionally draining, to the point that I came to dread it. In my eyes, I always said the wrong thing, or in the wrong way. Or I always gave away to much, to fast, in an desperate attempt for someone to get to know me. I spent most of my free periods writing or reading outside or in the canteen, observing my socially acceptable peers. It was was during one of these times, whilst scribbling melancholy thoughts into my journal, that I came up with the bubble theory.

Remember Violet?  The Incredible’s teenage daughter, who possessed the power of invisibility? She acts as an visualisation for this theory. As Disney fans may remember, Violet was able to seclude herself in a bubble, sealing herself off from her family and the rest of the world. For some reason that afternoon, I began to indulge in the idea that we all, no matter how socially active/confident we were, had our own personal bubbles that acted as an invisible wall between ourselves and everyone else. For most people, individual bubbles could link and merge with other bubbles for long periods of time, the walls paper thin and easy to break. But for me, the walls seem to be thicker for some reason, and whenever I found myself merging with another bubble, my original bubble would soon detach itself once more. Most of the time, socialising felt like an uncomfortable mask that made my face itch. Even when I found myself disclosing personal information, or even having a coherent conversation with someone, this social satisfaction would never last for long. It worked both ways; sometimes I’d be over-eager to merge bubbles, leading to frequent disappointment and feelings of rejection. Other times I’d find myself reluctant, feeling more comfortable and safe in my lonely enclosure. (Another social struggle was the overwhelming rumination that came with it. Even after having a relatively successful conversation, I’d find myself scrutinising the things I had, and hadn’t said. Things I should and shouldn’t have said. Whether I made sense. How I came across to my fellow conversationalist. Did I seem shallow? Was a giving off an unrealistic impression of myself? Was I stay true to my beliefs and my nature? Did I seem rude? Or did I seem to keen? Questions rushed through my mind like a dog chasing its own tail, endless and persistent. How could I invite others into my bubble if our communication filled me with such anxiety and self-doubt? If it caused such a degree of emotional exhaustion?)

A lot of people find it hard to believe that I suffer from social anxiety. I am not particularly shy, in fact, with individuals who don’t intimidate me, I can be confident as hell. Even with those who do, I try my best to make an effort. Nowadays it’s more about the aftermath of conversation than anything. Often my anxiety takes the form of paranoia, or focuses on a comment/behaviour I deem inappropriate or stupid, sending my brain into critical analysis mode. Most of it takes place internally, making it only identifiable to those who know me well. But it is there, printed in black and white on the abundance of letters from my psychiatrist. Contrary to what many of us assume, mental anguish is not always black and white. People who suffer from anxiety may not always come across as painfully shy, just as OCD patients are not always constantly cleaning or tidying. There are no boxes for these conditions, just a set of unimaginably broad guidelines we must be able to fit into. (Its simple, really. We all experience fear and anxiety in our lives, and the way we react to this anxiety is relative to our personality’s and life experiences. This doesn’t make our distress any less real or significant, it reinforces the point that nothing is as straightforward as it seems.)

Today, my bubble hovers a little higher from the ground. Potentially challenging social situations have become easier for me to conquer, and the blow of the after-effects has softened slightly. I still find myself paranoid on a regular basis, dissecting spontaneous conversations and comments until it seems like the only thing in the world that bares any relevance, but it no longer dictates my life. Sure, it still affects me. But no where near to the degree it used to. I still struggle to build and maintain consistent and healthy friendships, but I have come to terms with the fact, that, to a point, I will always suffer with a social awkwardness. And as long as I feel connected and socially comfortable with those who matter, this is good enough for me.

If you’re struggling to expand your bubble in social situations, resulting in you feeling stressed, anxious or unhappy, there are many ways you can seek help. Primarily, I advise you to contact your local mental health service, however the below numbers are also available for immediate and short-term support: 

Samaritans116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)

Anxiety UK08444 775 774 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5.30pm)

Sane– 0845 767 8000 (daily, 6pm-11pm)

Mind0300 123 3393 (Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm)

Rethink Mental Illness0300 5000 927 (Mon-Fri, 10am-2pm)

(UK only, if you know of any other hotlines available in different countries, please write them in the comments so I can add them to this list!)