Mental Health Education (TW sh & sui)

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This morning on Twitter the fabulous TraceyPallett (who tweets as @ehohsaysyes) raised the topic of when, and how mental health or well-being should be taught. [Update: Tracey has since written a post collating the information from this morning, the importance of education and what it could mean to the future].

Having been doing quite a lot of regression work in therapy the thoughts of school days have been in my mind recently and I feel it is important to share a particularly triggering incident within a class. There of course were many but this one relates directly to mental health education.

The school had PSHE lessons each term in each year, however, mental health/well-being, to my recollection, was never covered. I went to an independent girls’ school so it was a highly pressurised environment. When I was in my first year of senior school a friend’s sister killed herself whilst my friend and her parents were at parents’ evening. Although this tragic event was mentioned in assembly there were no follow up classes or discussions about it.

The first and only time there was any mention of mental illness was during an optional general studies class in sixth form. I can’t remember how but the discussion turned to suicide and self harm.

By this point I had been self harming for about a year and had tried to kill myself once. The school had been made aware of this via my parents, my teachers were all informed.

The class was being led by one of the psychology teachers who was fairly new to the school. She spoke about “committing suicide” and used all the other incredibly negative terminology associated with it. The class as a whole spoke   of people who had ‘tried hanging themselves but when found looked as if they’d tried to stop themselves’, how they ‘couldn’t understand self harm’, ‘why anyone would do it’, how ‘they were selfish and stupid for not knowing things would be better tomorrow’. I was lost for words, disturbed that the whole class bar myself and my friend (who by this point was holding me to stop my shaking and scratching at my cuts) could be so ignorant especially after what had happened earlier in our school life. The fact that the teacher just agreed with the class made me feel more worthless and stupid than I already did.

I wasn’t brave enough back then to stand up and face those people (a lot of whom had bullied me through the years) and say what it really felt like to be in that situation where life is just empty and the only thing tomorrow brings is more despair.

The only other education offered about mental health or well being was what EDs did to your body, basically it was a biology lesson. This of course was not practical help either. I was just one of many in the school with an ED. This was mentioned in Year 11 so by that point the psychological factors behind our EDs were well formed. However, none of this was explained, nor was there any advice on recovery. The whole hour felt like a shaming exercise and to me just something else I failed at.

In general the teachers were ill equipped to handle mental health issues. The school had a psychologist and the teachers who didn’t understand kept trying to refer me to her, however, as my mother had taught her daughter and I knew things about the psychologist which did not sit right with me I felt I could not trust her. I explained this to the teachers who told me I was paranoid, she was impartial and to just forget the previous knowledge of her.

I was lucky to one teacher and the school nurse who both seemed to understand mental health who I could turn to and tell them how I felt.

My experience with school makes me believe that mental well being should be taught from infant school as this is where a lot of experiences can begin with bullying for example. I know that in a lot of PSHE (or equivalent) classes children are already taught that bullying is wrong, about family relationships (for example divorcing parents) and exam pressures. However, to link these to keeping mentally well would be far more beneficial. For example children learning that being bullied is not their fault rather than just being told not to do it.

As the children progress through school more in depth mental health education can be introduced to cover aspects such as low self esteem, abandonment, defectiveness, failure to achieve, abuse. The list is endless.

To have teachers trained in mental health and well being would also be helpful in giving them understanding of what their students are going through and in this way offer more support to them. I found my lecturers at Uni to be far more accommodating and understanding.

I feel like I may have let future generations at the school down by not voicing my opinion on that day and hope no one else suffered through that awkward lesson as I did.

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TW self harm Schema: Punitiveness

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I’m really struggling not to go back and update my Unrelenting Standards posts but I still haven’t despite realising things I wanted to add to it, so I will mark that as a small victory before I talk about the punitiveness schema.

I have decided to write about this schema as I am feeling particularly low and have a desperate urge to self harm. I have not been left alone all day as my boyfriend and parents are well aware of how I feel.

Young’s definition of the punitiveness schema is:

The belief that people should be harshly punished for making mistakes.  Involves the tendency to be angry, intolerant,  punitive, and impatient with those people (including oneself) who do not meet one’s expectations or standards.  Usually includes difficulty forgiving mistakes in oneself or others, because of a reluctance to consider extenuating circumstances, allow for human imperfection, or empathize with feelings.”
The above purely applies to me, not to anyone else making mistakes. I have only ever taken any anger I have out on myself. As you can probably tell this schema closely relates to the two schemas I have already discussed (defectiveness and unrelenting standards) as I feel that if I cannot meet the standards I set myself I must be punished and also punished for being defective in general. It is often confusing as I feel that I deserve this horrible feeling and the symptoms of POTS because I am not perfect and cannot be the perfect daughter, girlfriend, friend. I deserve the pain and if I’m not feeling enough pain I need to cause myself more.
I would say I have a higher level of patience for others than most do, I am incredibly forgiving and tolerant of others and always look for the positive in people, no matter what they have done. As mentioned in my unrelenting standards post I do not give anyone else the high standards I set myself and will focus purely on the positive aspects of their personality or successes.
I can never forgive myself for any mistakes I have made in my life. I am haunted by all my mistakes, I can remember each and every one in detail and it replays and replays. If I lose something or something breaks or a voucher expires without me using it it never leaves me. It adds to my feelings as a failure, a let down, stupid. I can’t forgive myself. I shouldn’t forgive myself. If I think how I’d feel if another person had done any of that I’d of course forgive them, they are completely trivial matters, but to me I feel as if I truly betrayed people. I am not allowed to make mistakes. I am so imperfect, I am so flawed, I am so defective.
This weekend I have felt a dreadful sense of guilt as I am fortunate to have a wonderful father when a lot of people don’t. I have done nothing to deserve such a good father when others are incredibly wonderful people but have missed out on the love, care, humour, intelligence and support a good father provides. I therefore sensed the need to punish myself as it brought home the realisation that I was getting something good when others weren’t and I had done nothing to be entitled to this. I was also feeling incredibly low, my POTS was bad and I had menstrual cramps so generally felt rough. I therefore couldn’t help with organising Father’s Day to the extent that I wanted to. This needed to be punished. I couldn’t afford a decent present for my dad so my mum gave me some chocolates to give him. This also needed to be punished.
There have been other factors this week where things have gone wrong when I have had good intentions and this has become something that has kept ticking over in my brain, as I cannot fix it I need to be punished for it. I feel that by keeping myself thinking of it is a form of punishment as I feel the pain of it, however, the pain I feel does not make up for the pain others feel so I am at a loss of how to punish myself further.
I know it’s not a new feeling I began self harming as a teenager, even before that I recall walking through the city in heels on my way to meet friends and the balls of my feet were burning and thinking “I deserve this pain”.
Today, I want to self harm, however, doing this, if my boyfriend or mum found out would hurt them so I am stuck.
For now I will just keep thinking the fact I feel the pain that I feel and these thoughts in my head are a form of punishment along with the symptoms and pain from POTS and EDS. It certainly explains things to me that can’t otherwise be explained.
I’m sorry that this post doesn’t flow well, I didn’t realise how strong this schema was for me until I began writing. Hopefully I’ll be able to work through all the schemas on here soon and a pattern will develop that shows how they are all intrinsically linked.

Schema: Unrelenting Standards

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I bring you my post on unrelenting standards after an incredibly draining therapy session, which included regression to an issue that helped form some of my schemas and a couple of mind boggling hours on Twitter so am tired, confused, sad and have a stinker of a headache.

I feel this blog is appropriate and needs to be written though as more and more frequently I have noticed other people with the unrelenting standards schema. Young defines unrelenting standards as:

“The underlying belief that one must strive to meet very high internalized standards of behavior and performance, usually to avoid criticism. Typically results in feelings of pressure or difficulty slowing down; and in hypercriticalness toward oneself and others.  Must involve significant impairment in:  pleasure, relaxation, health, self-esteem, sense of accomplishment, or satisfying relationships.

     Unrelenting standards typically present as:  (a) perfectionism, inordinate attention to detail, or an underestimate of how good one’s own performance is relative to the norm;  (b) rigid rules and “shoulds” in many areas of life, including unrealistically high moral, ethical, cultural, or religious precepts; or (c) preoccupation with time and efficiency, so that more can be accomplished.”
A lot of people thrive on this perfectionism and it keeps them going. Up until I broke down I put 100% of my attention and ability into everything I did, this obviously wore me out and made my POTS worse, I’d envitably have to cancel engagements or take time off work, which then activated my failure to achieve schema.
Constantly comparing everything about myself to the best in those situations (the most intelligent, the most beautiful, the most successful, etc) left me feeling like a failure, yet I still had these unrelenting standards driving me to make myself the best at everything. What I refused to recognise was that nobody is the best at everything, some people may seem to be perfect but I’m now trying to convince myself that there may be one thing they might not be able to do so well.
Please don’t misinterpret me, I don’t want others to question their own abilities and I definitely don’t want to knock anyone down or hunt for flaws, I just need to recognise that just because I’m not as pretty/clever/funny/settled/rich/happy as “Ann” doesn’t mean that I have not achieved good things in my life.
As part of my CBT my therapist surveyed people on my behalf to ask if it is possible to work at 100% all the time in every aspect of your life. The answer was a resounding ‘no’. Some understood where I was coming from, others just didn’t see it as necessary but they all had the same answer in common that it just plain isn’t reasonable. I know I wouldn’t ask it from others, so why is it fair to ask it of myself?
This is where the rigid rules of “I should…” guided my life, and still do to some extent, however, I am more aware of it now and get people I love to question me when I say these things. Sometimes in a response to a question asking why I have to do something perfectly, all I would be able to say is “I should”, because that is the rule I had given myself and it had become automatic rather than a reasoned thought.
I may add to this at a later date when I am feeling more with it, but in an attempt to break my behaviour associated with my unrelenting standards I’m going to post this without proof reading it ten times (yes, I would really do this, work would take forever), without being 100% happy with it and knowing that I have missed out some important parts (which are currently swimming about just out of reach in the mess that is my brain).

TW Defectiveness Schema

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Following on from my “Reinventing Your Life” post I thought I should begin my analysis of what the schemas mean to me by talking about the schema that affects me the most. Although it doesn’t score the highest of the schemas when I rate them according to the tests in Young and Klosko I know it underpins all the ones I have, even the ones that score higher. It was one of the higher ratings amongst the tests I did with my therapist and we came to the mutual agreement that it was the one that had the most profound influence over my life.

Please remember this is only what the schemas mean to me and how they affect me. I hope you don’t identify with it as I hate to think of anyone thinking this about themselves as I’m sure I can list 100 good things about you.

I know some people will read this and think why is she depressed? She has had all the priviledges afforded to her but that’s my point, I don’t deserve the good life I have been given and do feel ashamed every week going to group knowing that other people have had worse situations to deal with but they assure me that my depression is just as valid.

My underlying schema is defectiveness. It is the foundation, not only to all my other schemas, but to who I am. This is why, as much as I want, no need, to be better I am terrified that by stopping this part of me I’ll essentially rip out who I am and be left with nothing. This became more apparent to me as I was talking through my schema flashcard in the group this week.

Using the definition that Young uses (see the defectiveness link above) I identify with the majority so I will initially talk about what I don’t identify with.

I am unlovable, however, it’s not that I would feel unlovable if aspects of my personality were exposed, in fact it’s quite the opposite that I am so keen for people to see the good in me that I overcompensate by thinking I need to do things for people in order for them to like me. Having spoken about this with the group this seems to come from a thought that people will automatically dislike me and I have to do things to win them over.

The flaws in myself are both private and public, although I wouldn’t use the examples used by Young;  I’d probably be the opposite of these and be passive and subjugated. I do have an overwhelming fear that people will think I am selfish, so overcompensate, sometimes at the expense of my own needs and definitely at the expense of my health.

So back to the parts of the definition that do apply. Yes, I feel defective, both in my personality and physically. Having POTS and EDS makes not feeling defective near impossible, as does the Vitamin K deficiency I had as a baby and how close I was to death as if I was born with something fundamentally wrong with me and I wasn’t meant to be alive. I feel like I’m failing at living and that’s without adding my mental health conditions. Feeling bad, unwanted, inferior and invalid are all more than familiar to me. I could list more but don’t want to bore you.

I am hypersensitive to other people in general. I have always felt like I’ve fed off other people’s emotions. If they’re happy, I’m happy. If they’re sad, angry, stressed it worries me and I feel like it is somehow my fault. I have already accepted criticism, rejection and blame before they are dished out (even if they weren’t going to be aimed at me, I have somehow worked it out in my head how it could be my fault). I will explain some of my background that has had an influence on where these thoughts have come from later.

I am incredibly self-conscious, this led to me developing agoraphobia and still makes me avoid situations where I may be judged whenever possible (especially if I can see or hear the other person so telephones in particular are no go). My self-consciousness also links to the eating disorder I developed and have thankfully now beaten. My self-consciousness is a self fulfilling prophecy as I start to panic in social situations, my throat goes dry, I get hot and flustered and this in turn makes me justified in being self-conscious, especially if it affects my POTS and I pass out.

I have been constantly compared, either directly or indirectly, for over 20 years. As a young child I don’t really remember it, however, once I went to the school I went to aged eight there was constant comparison. I was compared to my highly academic older sibling and had high achieving, competitive friends who were driven by any form of comparison. The teachers also held the misguided belief that by comparing me and telling me I wasn’t good enough would drive me to do better. It didn’t. I had been taught to believe adults and have respect for teachers and what they said so in the 10 years at the school my self belief was gradually worn away until I was a shell. It is with this in mind, along with the usual bullying one finds at an independent girls’ school that helped lead to me being so insecure and incredibly ashamed of myself as all I see is a thing made up of flaws.

I wasn’t tall (I grew my last 5″ during my first year at Uni), I was flat chested (again it was after I beat my ED and I began to put on weight at Uni that my chest developed), I had frizzy hair, glasses, spotty skin, didn’t wearing make up, had my own dress style (comfortable not dressing to please others) and had (and still have until I know someone well enough) a quiet demeanour which all in all gave people a field day of physical attributes to target me for.

Then the teachers made me feel stupid about my work. Little did I know, until I got to Uni and talked to other people that I actually got awesome GCSEs and that, if I hadn’t been made to feel like no matter what I wouldn’t achieve, I may have done even better in my A levels (even these weren’t that bad it turns out). I got a degree in Latin whilst battling depression the first time around and a post graduate diploma in Human Resource Management. By the end of my PGDip I had regained the confidence I had at seven and actually got a merit in my exams and distinctions in my course work. Who’d have thought I’d ever do well in exams? But despite this I still feel stupid and flawed. I should have done even better given the chances I was given.

There were a few issues within the family too where I was the one who felt like I had to sort things out or do whatever I was told to do. I hasten to add it wasn’t an abusive household, my parents were always great, they were just dealing with things in their lives and I didn’t speak up about what was going on in mine. My sister was also a lot more domineering than I was so for a quiet life I went along with her plans, which have translated into my every day life now.

There have been more things in my life that have reaffirmed my reason to think I’m defective. Suffering physical and emotional abuse in a relationship and being the victim of a sexual attack gave me evidence that there was something wrong with me.

So with all my history in mind I know why I feel the way I feel about myself and with the help of the group I identified some positive thoughts I need to focus on (I won’t bother listing the negatives as I am trying not to give these any more validity):

  • I am kind, loyal, caring, friendly, a good listener & can bake/cook.
  • I haven’t done anything bad, there isn’t anything about me not to like.
  • Other people had the problems.
  • People don’t dislike me by default.
  • It’s not my responsibility to fix everything.
  • People are responsible for their own moods.
  • My parents are proud of me.
  • My family & friends want me in their lives.
  • I don’t need to do things to be liked, they like me not what I do.
  • My boyfriend loves me and wants to be with me and do things for me, he is not choosing the easy option.

So this is what defectiveness means to me. It affects my behaviour in a lot of ways, but having had CBT I have learnt how to force myself to get through some of the behaviour, like tackling my agoraphobia. However, as I have stated previously I feel like a lot of my behaviours are part of my personality. Letting other people always decide, taking on too many things, saying yes and constantly thinking about others wouldn’t be such an issue if they didn’t come at the expense of me neglecting my own physical health, self harming and making myself uncomfortable. The group are going to come up with specific tasks for me to do to help break the thoughts and behaviours, however, in the meantime we have come up with:

  • Looking after my physical health.
  • Saying no.
  • Doing things for myself.
  • Making decisions.
  • Not mind reading.
  • Concentrating on what I’m doing not others.
  • Doing what I want and what I need to do.
  • Suggesting options.
  • Letting others know my thoughts.

I know I can do some of these with certain people, however, I am very apprehensive as to how others will react as they always know me as the person who says yes to them and who lets them do what they want. Even if I speak to them about it first I know that they will find adjusting hard but I guess if they care about me they will have to put up with it! I’m really putting myself to the test.

Wish me luck and I’ll let you know how changing my thoughts and behaviours works!

Do you identify with anything I’ve said or does defectiveness mean something else to you?

J x

I want the things that I had before Like a Star Wars poster on my bedroom door

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The lyrics of the post title come from Everclear’s Wonderful and one of the songs that I use to create my safe space. The idea of making things go back to how they were, the feeling of safety, being home has appealed to me for as long as I can remember but right now it is needed more than ever as nothing and nowhere seems safe.

I know being physically unwell and The Darkness being here have a huge bearing on my judgement but it’s clear that other people are being targeted in areas they once felt safe. The increasing number of protected accounts on Twitter, people being scared to voice their very valid (and polite) opinion and changes being made to blogs are all evidence that I am not alone.  The scary part is I don’t feel safe in myself either.

It is with this in mind that I am taking a Twittercation. I have to find another safe place for me to be. Somewhere I can trust people. Somewhere where I can share my opinion without the fear of people jumping down my neck. I’m lucky that I haven’t had anything said to me but seeing it happen to other people, people I care about, people trying to do good things is incredibly disturbing. I was writing a post earlier about my POTS but then deleted what I had written as I was scared that my illness was in somehow going to offend someone.

People will always have different views. If you don’t like their views, don’t follow them. Would you follow someone around in real life listening to a conversation you don’t like? No? Ok, I think we have your answer. On the same vein I understand when people are saying offensive things that it does upset people (I’ve been upset myself), if these people don’t wish to engage in a civil conversation about why something is offensive  then there is a little button called “block” that people may feel useful. Don’t call people in to pile on or troll. We are not children.

Anyway, fair enough, I’m off Twitter for now but that’s just a computer place and as a real life friend has just said “Waiting for the internet to grow up is like a broken pencil…”. I’m trying to visualise my other safe spaces. I use them daily in my mindfulness but nowhere I am or can visualise feels safe.

Being in water at the moment feels like I’m drowning. I can’t stand in the shower without syncope, the warm water just sitting in the bath lowers my blood pressure substantially enough to make me vomit (then of course there is the fun of trying to get out), swimming is a no go while I’m in pain. My bed feels like a prison, somewhere that is causing me more pain that it is currently solving. The kitchen is restricted for my own safety whilst I am having moments of dissociation and unpredictable syncope. I can’t spend long periods writing. I don’t trust myself. Despite being afraid of outdoors I’m loathing having no possible escape.

I’m trapped with me and I don’t really like me.

Mental Health Awareness Week pt 5 – A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul.

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A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul. Franz Kafka

My friend sent me the link to a thought provoking post on For Book’s Sake‘s website, I had somehow missed the post myself so am very grateful I was pointed in its direction. Not only is the article in itself a worthwhile read but it got me thinking about firstly my own writing, which, other than my occasional oversharing blog post, is still firmly kept for my eyes only (having shared it with some souls who have since moved out of my life – not because of my writing I hasten to add) but more than this it got me thinking about the writers who not only inspire me but save me from myself. The fiction, the poetry, the non fiction, the cookbooks; the Kafka quote above applies to all. There is a book for whatever mood and a good book can completely change that mood.

A book really can get right in there and chip away to get the seas within the soul moving, when reading you feel the warmth growing within and the occasional shiver as a block of the icy soul breaks off in one. Every book I have read has contributed to my life; some just to make me aware of what I don’t like from a book, some have shaped my wholebeing. A few of these are listed below.

I read am homes’ This Book Will Save Your Life sometime ago but the plot stays with me and gives me hope about my life changing, no matter how bleak or lost things seem that I can turn things around and no matter what I can always have a doughnut.

I love finding an author whose writings I want to just absorb completely, the work of Neil Gaiman draws me in so deeply and wraps me so tightly in its words that I fall into whatever world his brain has dreamt up. I totally lose my own thoughts and sense of self, which is not a bad thing.

I trawled the internet looking for recommendations of books that cheer people up and found a few good reads this way; Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle are two stellar examples, however, as much as I enjoyed these books and do recommend them it made it clear to me that you have to find your own books that touch your soul. I feel like I’m an ever changing jigsaw piece and I can try different books through my life and although I can appreciate the picture it doesn’t quite fit, then one book comes along and matches me exactly so that I feel whole and can see everything clearly.

Sometimes I can do this with a simple cookbook and be inspired to create a meal for my friends or family, which I know will make them happy and in turn me. Sometimes my soul is searching for more and I recall the first time I read Plato’s Symposium and the idea of two souls being united and feel the need to gain this from literature.

There are just too many good books out there and as I have found with UKBookTwits there are always so many more to read. I’m going to aim to add more to my mental health reading list so if you have any recommendations please let me know.

If you feel inclined you can have a look at some of the books I’ve already read on Shelfari.

Thank you for sticking with me during Mental Health Awareness Week. I know we all have developed our own ways to deal with what life has thrown at us and I have found this week incredibly helpful even if it is just because I have been pouring my heart out. The fact that some wonderful people have been reading it is remarkable.

Jx

 

Mental Health Awareness Week pt 4 – Self Care

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Sorry this is late! I did start it yesterday before my friends arrived with their baby then as anyone with a baby will know all plans go out of the window!

Practising self care is important for everybody but especially if you have a mental health condition. It wasn’t until last July when I broke down that I realised just how much I took self care for granted. I am thankful to the women of Twitter who always remind me of how important it is, especially one who recently brough it up as a topic for discussion in The Women’s Room.

Self care is different to each individual. When I first started with depression I made a book of positive affirmations and random sayings, pictures, song lyrics and quotes that made me smile. Over the years I’ve made a few of these for people I care about who I know are having a rough time. I’ve made another one for myself more recently and turn to this when I’m struggling to see the good in the world.

I also made a playlist called “Songs for the Bad Days” which I listen to when I’m having the worst of days. There are songs on there that make me smile and songs that make me cry and songs that make me feel strong so that I get all my emotions out and maybe have a mad dance around, hopefully I’ll wear myself out too much to think.

Water has always been an amazing safe place for me. I’ve spoken earlier about my experience with a bad exam and getting in the shower and how I love to swim but there is nothing quite like being in warm water to make me feel safe.

I also practise mindfulness to keep myself calm, my breathing regulated and stop my brain racing. I have always had an interest in yoga and relaxation and found the Buddhist Meditation Group when I went to Uni and have been practising things I learnt there ever since. On the days when my thoughts run away with me I also have some recording to guide me.

If you struggle to give yourself the time you deserve it might be worth looking through the tweets from The Women’s Room on 10th May.

Tips can also be found on websites such as:

Mind

Rethink

NHS

Remember you need to look after yourself, do things that make you happy and proud of who you are.

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