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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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 stigma My name is Jemma and I have a personality disorder

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I’m standing up. I’m declaring I have a personality disorder. I also have general anxiety disorder and bipolar. I have some physical health problems too, but apparently they are less likely to make me a murderer, or so the recent article by Deborah Orr would have people believe. I refuse to link to it as I think the fewer people who read her offensive, spiteful words the better.

It has taken me a while after first reading her article to write this as I needed to step away from the computer, in the meantime the fantastic Louise Pennington has written ‘Ignoring the Obvious to Perpetuate Myths about Violence’  and I thank her for doing this so quickly.

Similarly to Louise I’m not sure where to start. Even after taking over an hour away to compose myself, my feelings have been triggered so deeply that it is impossible for me to address this in a calm, logical manner, however, I know I have to otherwise I’m playing right into the hands of Orr and her cronies.

I was first diagnosed as having a mental illness and began treatment when I was 17, however, I know that I have had it for much longer. I am approaching my 29th birthday and I can say with no shadow of a doubt that I have never been violent to another being. I apologise and feel deep regret when I end up killing mosquitos who are biting me, I used force but not violence when I was being sexually assaulted, I was vegetarian for over five years as I thought the animals had more of a right to life than I did, I went fencing and was told I would be a great fencer if only I was a bit more aggressive but I was terrified of hurting my opponent. The only person I have ever attacked is myself.

So with nearly 12 years of meeting people with mental illnesses under my belt I can honestly say that I have only ever met one man who had a mental illness and was violent and have met a lot more men who aren’t mentally ill that are violent.

Yes, the averages may say that there are fewer people with mental illnesses than those without so I am bound to have met more violent men without a mental health issue but this has not been representative of my life. As it has dominated my life a lot of people I socialise with have, or have had, experience of mental illness.

I have only met one violent woman. She was violent due to acts of violence perpertrated against her. She knew it was wrong but didn’t know how else to control what she felt as this was all she knew.

I’m not even sure it’s the article that bothers me so much as her continuation to defend her words on Twitter. I will not post the screen shots of what she said as they were actually so discriminatory and triggering that all the hard work I have put in to my recovery was wiped out, I can’t even revisit her feed myself. It’s not fair to share my feelings with you as I am dealing with them but really must thank the wonderful Twitter friends that I have as well as the amazing techniques I have been taught over the years for preventing me from going one step too far.

Orr ignores all statistics.

No one is saying all men commit violent crimes but the fact that more men than women commit violent crimes cannot be denied.

No one is saying people with mental illness don’t commit crimes but the fact is people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of crime.

I’m sorry I’m not providing the stats but I am emotionally drained and can’t remember them off the top of my head, nor do I have the energy to look them up.

I understand people wanting to understand why people commit crimes, I feel the same. I really wonder why they do it, but people do not kill because they have a personality disorder.

Orr clearly shows her underlying bias as she keeps refering to TV dramas where women solve crimes. Maybe Orr needs to spend some time with the police to see that in fact there are female detectives! For too long have male detectives dominated our screens so it’s nice to see this finally being redressed. Women aren’t just the handy sidekick or used as bait for serial killers. In fact I think my godsisters who are both detectives would love to have a sit down with Orr and tell her a few home truths. Whatever Orr’s issues are with other females she really needs to address these in a more positive, productive way than victimising individuals with mental illnesses.

It is people like Orr who have made me fear telling the world about my mental health. Slowly I let people know about being depressed, then some of my anxiety issues and with the support of charities and the Twitter MH community I have shared my actual diagnosis. Today’s events made me regret all this and the temptation to just erase my life was overwhelming. But no, I don’t want anyone else to have to go through this. I am NOT a bad person. Orr, you don’t know me. You clearly don’t know anyone with a personality disorder, or if you do they have hidden it from you due to your disgusting prejudice (and you’d probably be surprised at just how lovely they are).

I am standing up saying I HAVE A PERSONALITY DISORDER and I AM NOT A BAD PERSON.

J x

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

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.

Mental Health Awareness Week pt 3 – #letsgetphysical

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Firstly thank you to those who read my post yesterday. I have never shared that depth of feeling with people outside of a doctors/therapy appointment before and I really appreciate the fact that you have read it.

Anyway, to the post for today in which I will try not to talk about my feelings!

There has been a polarisation in whether people believe the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is positive or not. Incase you didn’t know the theme is ‘Let’s Get Physical’.

More information on the theme, including the benefits that physical activity can have, can be found here: http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/mentalhealthawarenessweek 

Obviously there are people with conditions that prevent them from getting physical in the traditional sense, eating disorders being just one example where physical exercise can be a trigger. My POTS prevents me from doing as much as I would like to do, therefore last week, as the theme was feeding through and I had some positivity in me, I thought I would look at what I could do, not what I couldn’t (positive sounding I know but looking at what I can do when it benefits others is easy, as opposed to looking at what I can do in general). So I thought I’d dig out some of my old physio exercises and shake up my stretches.

This hasn’t happened.

I am determined not to let it pass by though and so I am twisting ‘Let’s Get Physical’ to fit in with me.

In my case my physical and mental health are so closely entwined it’s hard to see where one begins and the other ends. Depression and anxiety are symptoms of POTS. The POTS makes me depressed and anxious. The BPD stops me from always taking care of my physical health. My physical health stops me from taking care of my BPD.

My appointments today have been a great example of this.

I had physio. This is amazing for my mental health as it keeps my aches and pains under control which means I can physically do things. Not being able to drive due to the pain in my left arm was incredibly distressing. I don’t like going out but not being able to escape if necessary scared me just as much. Oh how I love the way my brain works.

Secondly I went to see a new cardiologist! Finally nearly 19 years after my first symptoms became problematic and 7 years since they became unbearable I may be getting somewhere! I’ve obviously had lots of treatments, medications and tests but these ones actually seem to know about POTS and what they’re doing. I came away with some new meds (even if they aren’t licensed for use in the UK), the promise he will get my notes from my last cardiologist, some further tests going to be booked in and he will talk to his colleagues about anything else I can do (he was pleased with the extra salt, fluids, etc I already do).

So whatever let’s get physical means to you, whether it is just making sure you take your meds or donning lycra and jumping around – do it. It’s important for your mental health.

 

 

TW Sui/SH Mental Health Awareness Week pt 2 or “Hello darkness my old friend”

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Day 2 of Mental Health Awareness Week and with it came a greater intensity to the dark, empty feeling that I hadn’t felt in quite a while until yesterday aka The Darkness.

It turns out the anxiety of Atos had been filling my being and no matter how suicidal I felt it was an edgy, heart racing suicide that was calling me, one that was really driven and dispersed with periods where the only way to get the anxiety out of me was to make cuts in my skin.

The emptiness crept in sometime yesterday when I wasn’t paying attention. I was aware of it when I wrote my blog but at the time it was a nice change to feel something different to wanting to scratch at all the walls. I woke this morning at about 5am with the apathy that I remember first had hit me nearly 13 years ago.

I couldn’t move. I saw no point. I didn’t want to sleep. I didn’t want to get up. I really felt nothing at all. So there I lay for two hours until I felt the pain in my back gnawing away so I got up and then sat, again doing not much of anything at all apart from letting the thoughts in my head have their say.

I knew I had therapy today and despite all the fear and unworthy feelings (not to mention the migraine) that I thought would prevent me in the past 2 weeks I had been driven by this energy coursing through me. Having spent the previous 4 hours with an inner dialogue debating as to whether I should go (Rationale stating, “You’ll never get better if you don’t go” and “You’ll let people down”. The Darkness saying, “meh” and “erm…meh” respectively) I finally threw some clothes and trudged out the door.

To be honest therapy was beneficial as it really kicks in my need to take care of people and this is the only thing that generally keeps The Darkness from whispering sweet nothings to me. Instead for the briefest of times I was driven by: I want to protect these people. I want to erase all these bad things that have happened to them. I need them to know it’s not their fault.

Once the session was over though and I spent time reflecting on what had gone on in the 2 hours the feelings from the first session I had been to returned but this time they are goverend by The Darkness. They come from deep within me and are long and thoughtful rather than the short snappy jumpy thoughts I’d grown used to the past few weeks. Sure I have flitted between anxiety, buzzy feelings and The Darkness a lot, all part of the old bpd but this last period was so long it felt like it was here to stay. I can’t honestly decide which is worse, the grass always seems greener. The Darkness does seem to put an emphasis on suicide and how beneficial it will be to everyone who is unlucky enough to have had me barge my way into their lives. The self harm is more from a base of needing to feel. The contrast of the sharp scratch from the blade, the heat from the wound, the blood cooling as it reaches the skin surface, then the repeat as the scab is scratched off. All in all The Darkness does what it says on the tin and leaves a vacuum inside.

Hmm, I haven’t really talked much about my day but to be honest the day has passed by quite emptily. I have been wound up by the usual things on Twitter and felt solidarity with those being wound up on Twitter but not with the same passion.

I need to move from the chair. I need to get a shower. I can’t.

Eheu.

 

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