Articles

Boundaries

Do you ever feel people are walking on you? If so you might have a problem with boundaries.

There are other people’s boundaries and yours. The skill is to recognise where a boundary edge might be, and then to skillfully communicate this boundary to others.

An example of a boundary might be wanting to be told if a friend is visiting your house before they arrive. As you can see people’s boundaries can differ. Some people might enjoy people just turning up at their house.

If a boundary is trounced we often feel violated or agitated. There are three main reasons why your boundaries may be in jeopardy regularly:

1. You are unaware of your boundaries
2. You are ineffective at communicating your boundaries to others
3. You have skillfully told the person in question but they don’t care

Solutions:

1. Develop awareness of your boundaries. This is mostly a case of becoming more aware of how you feel throughout each day and assessing which situations cause you particular discomfort. From here you can assess where your boundaries lie, if you struggle with this then mindfulness or therapy could increase your awareness
2. There are different reasons for ineffective communication of boundaries. It might be that you place too much value in being nice all the time so feel uncomfortable asserting your needs to others. Or it might be because your communication style needs some improvement.
3. This might be a toxic individual who needs ditching from your life, or if that’s not possible finding ways to minimise contact with them or becoming very firm and assertive with them.

Hopefully this gives you some insights in to what boundaries are and how to improve on them. People with depression can often have issues with boundaries especially those of us who are extremely nice and find it difficult to assert our own needs. I myself used to be this person and it cause me a lot of anguish.

Contact me if you’d like to find out more.

Copyright MEN HEAL 2015

Support Worker Versus Friend

I have spoken to people in the past who got support from mental health organisations. Some of this help is brilliant, but some common complaints are:

  • Huge waiting list – had to wait a long time for support
  • Support came to an end because it’s time-limited
  • I didn’t click with the person who helped me

Our support groups are completely organic with no professionals dictating how they run. For example no topic of conversation is off limits. If the group want to change venue they can, as long as they help make it happen. If they want to change the time the group runs they can. If they want to be friends outside the group they can (some counselling groups discourage meeting up outside). If people want the time to be shorter or longer, that is up to them. The whole organisation runs like this. If people wanted us to have a building, then why not? We could then look for funding or whatever strategy people wanted to use.

So our support groups are really just people meeting up who happen to have mental health issues. However if someone wanted to join who didn’t have a mental health issue, then obviously they are welcome too if they feel the need to come along. There really are no limits. Obviously our aim is to help people with mental health issues.

What I have found is that people with mental health issues have a wealth of knowledge. I believe in group intelligence, a group of people coming together have more knowledge, wisdom and resources than an individual.

People often become friends in our groups. This is not forced. It is not like having a befriender who is a trained ‘friend’. A befriender will usually be time limited, and the person isn’t a real friend… they are being paid to do it!

I often feel that to an outside observer it looks like I don’t know what I’m doing. I set up MEN HEAL and I’m not telling people what to do or structuring it into an organisation that LOOKS like a standard mental health organisation. This can at times make it look unstructured or disorganised, however over time dynamic structures are formed by all the members. The great thing is that any structure that is formed was created by the group, it is what THEY wanted.

I used to get confused early on because after about 6 months after our first group, a couple of people said ‘This isn’t a support group. I don’t like it being called that. We are just friends’. I eventually realised that that is the ultimate success story for a ‘support group’.

It IS a support group in some ways, but not in others. We are a group of people supporting each other, but we aren’t a support group in the classical sense of having a counsellor, or a particular length of time we are allowed to talk etc. People know instinctively how to support each other.

The other day somebody needed support. They didn’t need a support worker. Instead the friends they had made from the support groups helped them. I don’t think the people realised that this is exactly what I want to happen. It didn’t feel like being helped by a mental health organisation.

I have to label us as a mental health organisation so people know what we are. We attract people with mental health issues, which are the people we are wanting to help. However as soon as people arrive, from that time onwards we are just people meeting people. I also have to call the support group a mental health support group so we attract the right people, however once they’ve arrived the metaphorical neon sign entitled support group is no longer needed, and from that point on we are just people meeting each other.

I did lots of training in counselling, and I studied psychology and mental health for years, and had lots of lived experienced of mental health too. I had to go full circle to arrive at where I am now. Now I just want the organisation to be about people meeting people.

MEN HEAL becomes a fully transparent framework that is so non-directive and non-forceful that the organisation almost doesn’t exist. We have to have a sign over the door just to get the right people in, but once you’re arrive that’s where mental health ends and being human begins.

Knock on our door and talk to us… if that’s what you feel you want to do.

Take care

Mike

Copyright MEN HEAL 2015

Heart. No Heart. (NHS Mental Health)

Circa 2003 I found myself with a very fast heart palpitations. The sort that can lead to heart failure and death if your heart doesn’t settle down. I was told I had a 50/50 chance of surviving. This story is not about that particular type of heart, but instead the heartlessness of NHS staff at Addenbrooke’s A&E in Cambridge, UK.

I was in A&E in a bed for about five hours. After a couple of hours a man was wheeled into one of the bays in his bed. Obviously it’s not always easy to know what is wrong with people in A&E, internal injuries or other emergencies aren’t always as obvious as an external injury. Also confidentiality stops us knowing what is wrong with each other.

I could hear the man suffering. After an hour or so it was time for the nurses to change shifts. This is where the current set of nurses hand over their shift to the others by telling the new nurses what has happened. Part of this is to tell the new nurses who has got what condition. As you know some people can’t whisper well! I could easily overhear these nurses. It was along the lines of:

So patient X has… his kidneys… etc etc

Patient Y has been given … milligrams of …. etc

They then came to the other patient

Nurse 1: He’s taken lots of vodka and other drink, and has also taken lots of paracetamol.

Nurse 2: So basically he’s fucked

Nurse 1: Yeah

Later on I heard them talking to him.

Man: I’m scared. Will I be ok.

Nurse: You’re in here again are you? You’re wasting our time AGAIN!

Man: Am I going to be ok?

Nurse: You’ve done it again, and it’s all your fault, this could well be it this time.

Anyway as far as I could work out he died, and the empathy just wasn’t there.

Today the Care Quality Commisions results came out based on a survey of people with mental health issues. The results show that A&E is diabolical at dealing with mental health patients:

Care Quality Commission Mental Health Survey Results

Care Quality Commission Mental Health Survey Results

See: http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2015/06/12/mental-health-crisis-care-system-unsafe-finds-watchdog/

Let’s hope some changes start happening. We’ve heard excuses too many times. It isn’t lack of funding, it isn’t compassion fatigue, this is downright ignorance and stigma, with a total lack of compassion and professionalism. Unfortunately making professionals often make out that people with mental health issues who complain are awkward or problematic. In this way complaints aren’t taken seriously and no changes are made. The highly damaging status quo that remains keeps costing lives. Let’s hope the ignorant wake up soon.

Copyright MEN HEAL 2015

The Samaritans provide confidential emotional support: http://www.samaritans.org/

Toxic People

The term toxic as applied to a friend, relative or colleague is relatively new to myself. Where have I been you may ask. Have I had a blissfully sheltered life? Definitely not, yet in all honesty I had never heard the term or pondered it’s true meaning until recently.

Being a trusting sort of person, I erroneously assumed others were similar to me. If I liked a person and became friendly with them, it was simply that. I liked them, trusted them and in return assumed it was reciprocal. The idea of fakery or having a hidden agenda never occurred to me. As a straight-talking direct sort of person, I took people on face value. I wouldn’t want to waste my time and energy pretending to like someone, what would be the point?

I would be open, honest and kind to that person as a matter of course, because that is the way I like people to behave towards me. It never occurred to me that my so called best friend was a devious, draining, two-faced individual who would willingly betray me to further their own ends.

Was I naive? Perhaps, yet growing up there were no courses on toxic people, or narcissists. Bad people were obviously bad; nasty, angry, violent, they displayed their true colours to the world for all to see. This does not mean I was unaware of so called sharks in the working environment; ambitious types who would stab you in the back to climb their dubious ladder to success. I was aware, yet having the kind of nature I have, I often didn’t spot their type and unfortunately I paid the price.

As someone recently said, a decent barometer for knowing if a friend / neighbour / relative is toxic is simply this:

After any dealings with such a person, you are often left feeling drained, depleted, exhausted or are left with an uneasy feeling of having been used. Despite their grateful thanks for your time / kind words / listening ear.

If you are honest with yourself, you are glad when they leave. Happy the evening / phone call / holiday is over. A simplistic definition of a toxic person could be selfishness; whether overtly demonstrating Me, Me, Me syndrome, or the harder to spot passive aggressive.

Examples:
Parents’ needs come first, and woe betide anyone who doesn’t turn up with card and flowers on Mother’s Day. No angry words are spoken, just aggressive vibes transmitted across the room, comparisons of gifts are given, how soon the other sibling’s toed the line, how many lovely words were spoken etc. You are left in no doubt that you are being punished, compared and found wanting, despite explaining your reasons for being unable to attend at the expected time / event.

Your needs are not taken into account. Your mother’s needs / wants are paramount and you had bette not forget it. You can’t wait to escape, yet are left with a hurt / guilty feeling, for not quite making the grade. No mutual agreement, respect or consideration is reached.

The above is simply an example of a passive aggressive level of toxicity.
Moving on, to so called friends is an entirely different matter. There will be many amongst us who have suffered the misfortune of being betrayed when it comes to matrimony. The husband who disappears with your best friend and vice versa. The pain of such a betrayal is difficult to put into words. Knowing that the friend was acting a part, whilst deceiving you and telling your other half all your innermost personal thoughts is very difficult to come to terms with.

Anger is often not a good enough word to describe the emotional turmoil one feels after such deceit. We may blame ourselves, go down the ‘if only’ route. Yet, if we were more aware of toxic people, we would probably forgive ourselves far sooner and perhaps would have spotted the red flags and had we been more on our guard.

A toxic person will always be toxic. The why’s and wherefores of this state of mind is not mine to explain. They will have a myriad of reasons for being this way. Blaming oneself or trying to understand such a person only leads to misery. I am simply thankful I am not like them. When you are in their company. They will ask about you briefly, then the conversation always, without exception, centres on themselves. If you do want to talk about yourself they pretend to listen, briefly, then switch back to them as soon as possible. If however you have something they want – wife / job/ promotion then they will often fake interest in you as a person in order to gain your trust and wheedle their way into your life.

A healthy relationship whether business, friendship, family, romantic, is naturally reciprocal. Boundaries are not over-stepped, discussions and appreciations of each others needs are frequent. There should be no one-upmanship. Each person’s needs / ideas / wants are of equal value. Openness and honesty is vital.

Quick Tips

  • If you spend time in anyone’s company and find after they have left (almost every time) that you are glad to see the back of them, then ask yourself – Why do I engage with this person? What do they bring into my life? Is it usually one-sided?
  • We cannot disengage from toxicity in the workplace but, when choosing close friends we definitely have a choice and exercising such choice and ridding ourselves of such people is often truly liberating.
  • Remember not to blame yourself for getting caught up in such a toxic relationship. These toxic people or narcissists are often well-versed in manipulating people, and it takes a lot of courage and awareness to realise what has been happening.

As I have mentioned previously, the above notes are simply the musings of myself. I am not a professional, yet, have suffered from mental health problems and have experience of toxicity and it’s severely damaging effects.
Copyright JP 2015

Permission is granted for MEN HEAL to use this article.

Five Coping Strategies for Mental Health

I have often found many lauded coping strategies, to be non-beneficial for myself and sometimes, forced techniques having totally the opposite effect.

These strategies often ignore the underlying personality, preferences and talents of the sufferer, some examples are: ‘Exercise for all’ ‘Painting classes’ ‘Relaxation’ etc.

I am not decrying all of these strategies, however to be forced and coerced into making artificial paper flowers as a ‘relaxation’ therapy, when ‘climbing the walls’ was certainly very unhelpful. I also found tweety birds and whale music totally irritating and boring in various degrees,  much to the chagrin of said professionals.

When a much lauded therapy does not appeal or work for one client, said client is often ridiculed or outcast, yet again, as ‘failing to engage’.  Never helpful and often totally untrue. [ed: I also think the term treatment-resistant denies blame on the professional in question]

I enjoy the countryside, music of various kinds, reading, intelligent conversation, badminton, drawing, baking etc. From this list, you may ascertain that I have more of an artistic leaning in my pleasurable pursuits.

However, I also enjoy hockey, some board games, cryptic crosswords and any sport that is quite quick which keeps my interest. Cricket? Football? Snooker? F1? One big noisy bore, for myself.

For another mental health sufferer, mathematical puzzles, astronomy,  loud F1, Football, Chess etc may prove to be great coping strategies.

Personality and interests are of paramount importance when choosing an individual coping strategy. 

When I hit a low point, I speak to few people. I trust a few close friends who know me well enough to understand my withdrawal l. Need for peace is another of my coping strategies, rather than a gaggle of well meaning mates, discussing said problem and offering many of their well intentioned solutions.

I prefer time by myself, time to be kind to me, to heal, when my batteries are low. I will often take myself off into the countryside with few people around, simply to partake in the surrounding beauty, the fewer people the better.

This suits myself,  it will not suit all. I believe there is no ‘one size fits all remedy’.

Here are my top five coping strategies:

1. Withdrawal from too many people, with too many demands.
2.  Peaceful countryside situations, even if only for an hour. No telephone or company.
3.  Music, whichever suits my mood at the time.
4. Positive self-talk, must be realistic.
5. Re-training myself to understand, yet again, that I have expended too much energy on people or things that have exhausted me, taking time to do things that please me.

As a well trained people-pleaser, the habit of putting myself last is well ingrained. It’s easy to fall back into bad habits and leave myself feeling drained.

The above list is tailored for to me. No-one should be chastised for their individual coping strategies. Some people find meditation, yoga, relaxation tapes, energetic sports helpful which is great. Whatever suits the individual and is not harmful to themselves or others should be encouraged. We are all individuals after all.

What are your coping strategies?

Copyright JP & MEN HEAL 2015

Power of Words: Writing As Therapy

Different people deal with managing stress or other feelings by writing down their thoughts and feelings. I myself keep a personal journal about what I feel and have done through each day. It’s nothing fancy, and I’ll write something whether I’ve had a busy day or a quiet one.

The main reason for this is that I find writing relaxing. It’s very similar to speaking with someone in the sense of expressing your thoughts. The obvious difference in writing is that the pages won’t respond with words! No advice is given back but you can keep it as a reflection that will remain written down unless you dispose it. It is a personal action and can be very healthy for you no matter how small your problem or issue is.

If I have felt in low mood or been anxious, jotting things down has made me feel a lot better. It makes my head feel lighter as if some irritating anchor has been removed. Last night I felt really anxious in a club in Cardiff. It was hot and rammed with people, all of which were having a blast. I found myself looking around all the time as if everyone was watching me. I found it very difficult to let go and dance. After all this is what the social setting is about right? Well I practiced mindfulness at the time and asked myself to look at the situation and evaluate what I felt. Again I felt really conscious of how I looked which I knew at the time was daft. I didn’t break out of it however, but my friends and I eventually left and as soon as we did I felt better as if nothing had happened. It’s a strange thing to happen to yourself.

Now as I write this, I feel piece of mind knowing I can express myself through the power of my words which don’t lie. I hope others who read this can relate and take something positive away. I believe we learn more about ourselves through self-reflective entries. We realise how we managed an event in our lives and what we took away. In my case, I realise I felt very uncomfortable in the club. It’s still a tough battle in these instances. I think I have a long way to go to conquer these illogical thoughts and fears. However I will continue to put myself back in similar situations like this because it is the only way I will see real progress being made.

If I didn’t write about this I wouldn’t have been as aware. Sometimes you need to take a step back and really think about your situation. That way it will get unravelled and become much simpler to dissect the obstacles.

Here’s to moving forward folks…

Robert Jones.

Message from Mike: Check out The Spotlight Effect. A cognitive bias where we feel we feel others are paying us lots of attention, when they probably aren’t. I myself have fallen for this many times. It’s a very normal occurrence.

Copyright MEN HEAL 2015

Why aren’t we true to ourselves, who are we pleasing?!

Wow, what a question!  What a minefield?  How many people actually ask themselves this question or even consider whether they’re ‘acting the part’?  Not many. Unless illness, tragedy, or family disputes force such a conflict within us.

As l have previously said, this again refers to labelling, which as humans we learn from our parents. We learn to make order of the world around us by attaching these labels to everything and everyone around us. Mum, Dad, Brother, Sister, Nan, Grandad are but a few of the definitions we learn. In this way we learn to perceive the ‘self’ and label to match. Firstly what it means to be a male or female and the learned perceptions attached to understand the definition. Examples include;
Female acceptable behaviour/Male acceptable behaviour, play things, dress code, hair styles, colours, educational leanings, careers etc.  ‘Social conditioning’

Obviously, speech, manners, respect, rules and consequences are necessary tools in this process, however ‘socially acceptable’ dress/fashion/education/careers should ideally not be a part of this process. How many times do we hear ‘boys don’t cry’?  ‘Girls don’t play rough games’. ‘Girls don’t swear/fight/sweat/show anger’? To be a ‘real man’ you have to be tough, don’t show your feelings, and be strong.  The lists of defining behaviours appropriate to either sex are endless.

By the time we have survived puberty, we emerge from our chrysalis, hopefully a young adult. Our sense of self may be ‘at war’ with the outdated acceptable norms imbedded by our parents, yet in order to succeed in society many of their teachings need to be adhered to. If as a female or male, we feel we do not ‘fit’ the stereotypical norms of our allotted sex, we often do our very best to conceal that fact in order to fit in, avoid ridicule, shame, rejection from ‘the crowds’.  Our fledgling selves are trying to find our way in the world but our brain is washed into needing to blend in with the crowd. This is done to not draw attention to ourselves or bring shame on our families.

So being untrue to ourselves and our individual nature is not, on the whole to our benefit. We hide our lights under a bushel and ‘keep the faith’ for the benefit of our peer group/family/superiors etc. (To avoid rejection and isolation) However everyone has felt the total isolation within a crowded room.

Who are we trying to please? Whose displeasure are we trying to avoid?  Who or what will abandon us if we reveal our true colours?! Some will and some won’t. Learning that being a ‘people pleaser’ whilst putting your true self last only leads to misery. It is often a very scary yet liberating moment.
Those of us who dare to say no. Dare to be ‘me’ and be true to our selves, not false, not a sheep, pay a price.  This price is often losing fake/toxic people from our lives, being alone at times, yet this opens up the opportunity to find more ‘like minded’ people.

Yes, it is a risk. The very risk is what holds many back.  It is a risk worth taking, in my opinion for the freedom to be ‘Me’.

JP

Copyright JP 2015

Pros and Cons of Labels

I gave our latest guest writer, JP,  a question to muse over. Her reply is below. I think this debate is important. (It’s also worth checking out Stephen Pinker’s concept of the Euphemism Treadmill, and possibly looking in to non-duality). Over to JP:

Pros and Cons of labels???  Mmmm? Where do I start??

We all use and need labels, you may think – no, we don’t,  but with inanimate objects it is a must.  Imagine clothing, shoes, functional items without them! Imagine having a young child asking you “What is that?”, A cow / pig / sheep / horse? No name / label, no definition between the two. Yes, tis a simplistic view, however, it is still accurate.
I fully understand the animosity towards labelling human beings when this system is used to ostracise and define that person.  Conveniently putting them in a ‘box’ to fit a labeller’s ideology.
The problem arises, for us all, when we are ‘seen’ judged and related to as ‘the label’ yet, it happens all the time.  We are all brought up to believe and understand an item / animal / human by the label we attach to it. A cow moos, a sheep baas, we eat beef, lamb, chicken, we use cows for leather etc etc.  The list is endless.
This label also applies to our expectations of the sexes. As per our recent telephone conversation – define ‘feminine’???? Define ‘masculine’?? Both these labels immediately conjure up in our minds a learned, pre conceived notion as to which criteria fits each label, and, most of us are incorrect.
We may protest!! I don’t label people, yet, in fact, all of us are guilty of it.
With any health problem, the correct diagnosis is vital, otherwise, incorrect treatment ensues, sometimes with fatal consequences.  However, the label diabetic / heart problem / Crohn’s disease / cancer etc very rarely scares people or leads to avoidance of said person, judgement and ridicule. Most people with a physical health problem, who choose to share their label, receive some compassion and empathy, not the case with MH problems.
Why? You may ask? The unpalatable truth is ignorance and fear, it really is that simple.  The notion that the sufferer is weak, has asked to be ill, is not only ludicrous but proves the point that acceptance of MH problems as an illness, with a myriad of physical and social  causes, still has a very long way to go.
Too often with MH problems, the persons personality is totally ignored. One sufferer will not display the same symptoms as another, despite the convenient ‘label’, yet it is vital to attain a correct diagnosis.  The treatments for depression/schizophrenia/phsychosis/anxiety/paranoia/delusions are all completely different and a label is necessary to enable patient to access correct medication and support.
The above, is where a label is helpful, as , long as it is  correct label.  Problems arise after treatment when sufferers are defined by said label. We do not introduce someone to a group of people as ‘Peter the diabetic/epileptic/minus his gall bladder’ etc.  So, we ask ourselves why do we introduce others as ‘Peter the schizophrenic/depressive/  bipolar’ ?????
The effect of doing this is often catastrophic.  Immediately most lay people are ‘on their guard’  scared even, they have heard all the scare stories about ‘People like that’ and ostracization and embarrassed mutterings, rapidly ensue.
Nobody gets to know the real ‘Peter’ expectations of being stupid/dangerous/crazy abound,  the friendship is not offered, the job refused, with various dubious reasons as to why you were re butted. Times are slowly changing, yet education is the key.  As sufferers we can do a lot, I feel no shame with my MH diagnosis, that shame belongs to others, my family members (some)  the media and some of the ‘older generation’ who were happy to send their offspring and suffering relatives off to the asylum ( all hush hush) and never visit, or speak about them again.
No longer are children with ‘Down’s syndrome’ sent to asylums, same with epileptics, yes, progress is slow,  but, we must remember this when fighting the stigma of so  called ‘unseen’ MH problems.  We cannot hope to educate and inform people who do not wish to learn.  Those who are happy in their ignorance, which is based on fear and prejudice, yet we can hopefully stop being forced to be ‘ashamed’ of our MH diagnosis and be more open about it and willing to discuss its origins and treatments.
I have blue eyes, my personality,  capabilities, behaviour are not judged on that fact.  I also have a MH diagnosis.  I asked for neither and I had no control over each event. Am I judged on my MH diagnosis?? Sometimes, however, I have learned that such ignorance will take time and effort to dissipate, also, those sort of people are ‘not for me’.  I ‘shun’ their kind .  Their label does not sit well with me.
JP
The above are simply my personal observations and thoughts,  on said topics.  I have given my permission to Mike from @MenHealUk to use and publish such ruminations as long as my initials are attached to said documentation. I am not a professional! Just an ordinary lady, who has encountered MH problems and the many stigmas attached to us.
Cheers  JP
Copyright JP 2015

Total Honesty as a Learning Path!

Taking responsibility is usually quite easy, but on occasion we act out of turn and do something totally out of character  This might be saying something hurtful and totally unreasonable, or acting in an unacceptable way. Luckily this is fairly rare for me, however I do feel it happens often enough (maybe once every 2 months) that I need to do something about it.

After such an event, the ego can start a protective game of itself, that can block genuine growth, and also the corrective actions needed to rectify the issue.

I am usually polite to people, and I’m usually a naturally kind person. Not kind in a rescuing way, or a needy way (those days have past).

[My self-compassion is saying, forgive yourself but still take full responsibility.]

The latest example is this: I spoke to someone from a local organisation some months ago. At this time they had promised me some support for our organisation. I left about one voicemail every couple of weeks, and even phoned their reception a couple of times. However nothing happened. Flash back to now. The other background info is that this previous week I’ve been racing about and I have forgotten to take my Citalopram (SSRI) for quite a few days. I’ve maybe taken it twice in one week.

I also seem to be in a manic phase. My mind is highly focused, very enthusiastic, and I feel unstoppable with my ideas, and my ability to complete tasks. My body is very tired, but my mind is overriding the signals. With physical exhaustion comes emotional sensitivity. So add that to the lack of medication and racing mind and we have a recipe for disaster. I’ve been helping a friend with the death of one of their parents. That has been very emotional. In a good way, as it’s good to miss someone. However this has also added to my emotional sensitivity.

It was 5.30am or so when I woke up, after having worked on MEN HEAL and funeral type tasks all day until 1.30am. I was feeling quite low, and very tired. My mind was racing. I was wanting success as I was too ill after a breakdown some months ago to achieve what I wanted to achieve. It’s almost like I overcompensate for my down times, after said down times. I was thinking how someone from the local organisation I mentioned had let me down. I really thought that this was intentional, and they and their organisation were against me. I also felt another couple of people had been letting me down and thinking badly of me.

The problem is that I’ve done CBT and mindfulness quite extensively. These normally work brilliantly when I’m in a better state. Normally I can catch a negative or irrational thought, and either let it wash over me and refocus on the present (mindfulness) or challenge the thought and look for evidence of it being true (CBT). When I’m far too irrational and my mind is racing, CBT doesn’t work, because if I challenge the thought, my brain just KNOWS it’s true, and it can’t find any evidence to successfully challenge the thought. The thought starts building and feeding on itself. All my trusty coping strategies fall by the wayside. All the ingredients are their for a situation where I snowball out of control.

This bit sounds petty, and my ego would rather justify what I did, or somehow ‘forget’ what happened and quickly move on. However this is where the title of this article comes in: Total Honesty as a Learning Path! It’s times like this where if we can stop our ego skipping over the problem, we can learn a lot. Anyway, I tweeted a couple of really negative comments about the local organisation and the person who works there. I was feeling totally rejected and slighted, and it felt justified to challenge them. It even felt reasonable to do so publicly. My usual good judgement and kindness had gone! In this moment it felt justified. My ego was protecting itself. ‘I’ was protecting my self-worth. This person was an enemy according to my ego.

Lesson Learned?

The person challenged me in a message, and I soon realised I was in the wrong. The ‘facts’ about being intentionally slighted came crashing down! Instead of feeling like a white knight defending what was right, I was now the enemy who was attacking the white knight. How quickly we had been switched! The ego doesn’t like this truth. It panics. Luckily I’m at least at a stage where if someone calls me out, I can drop my ego’s tantrum and apologise pretty sharpish and try to undo my bad words (in this case with a public apology on both Twitter and Facebook).

My concern is whether this is related to my mental health or not. If it is a mental health issue, then I’m worried it’s something that is frowned upon like Borderline Personality Disorder or something like that. It is hard to diagnose oneself of course, so I don’t know. The stigma surrounding some mental health conditions makes me want to run even further away from the metaphorical scene of the crime. Indeed this brings up another topic, when is something I say or do, that is negative, ‘me’ doing it, and when is it my mental health issue? If it was ‘me’ then it feels like it would be easier to fix the problem. I should have more freewill to control the behaviour or fix it. Currently it feels like I can’t stop it. I’ve tried for so many decades, so in this way I could consider it a mental health condition.

I’ve tried slowing down during my manic episodes, and it is immensely hard. Well to be fair, I’ve never managed to slow them down. My concern is if I do have bipolar disorder then SSRIs are supposed to make the manic episodes worse. It’s at times like this where it would be amazing to have the world’s top psychiatrist / psychologist helping me out. Even though I know a lot about mental health, it’s hard to diagnose myself. I have done a lot of work on myself and got a lot ironed out, and I’ve improved a lot as a person. However these times where I become super-sensitive and feel victimised do still occur, even with all the work I’ve done. I just haven’t been able to get a handle on these states, even with all the mindfulness, and CBT, and other coping strategies.

This is where I feel deflated further. One of these episodes has occurred again! A minor one, yes, but I feel foolish. I lashed out with poisoned words. I wonder if it’s down to trust, as I rarely do this with people I know very well. If I trust someone with my heart 100%, the negative thoughts don’t occur as there is no doubt that that person genuinely cares. The negative thoughts, and the tornado that follows, is usually with people I don’t know that well or don’t trust with my heart 100%. A seed of doubt is what grows in to something bigger. In a stabilised state, I can catch these thoughts, like I already mentioned, and all is ok. However at times like early this morning, the tornado of irrationality feeds on itself, growing ever larger, until I am certainly not in Kansas any more, and I’m under the spell of the Wicked Witch of the West / East.

I feel I’ve learned to apologise sooner, and also learned to take full responsibility. However I still haven’t learned how to overcome these issues. I have tried so many techniques. I think this is when it’s easy to feel like a failure. I also fear people giving me more advice on how to deal with it. Just… do this, or just do that. This makes me feel even more stupid. Partly because I might have already tried their suggestion and it failed, or I haven’t tried their suggestion so feel I didn’t try hard enough to solve the problem.

So I’m left feeling I still have this problem. Another thing I’ve learned from a great one year mindfulness course I did, was to utilise compassion, for everyone including myself. So I was as kind as I could be to the person concerned with my apology, and but I was also compassionate to myself. Or at least I need to start doing so.

Self-compassion isn’t about excusing myself. Although I do feel these behaviours are beyond my control. Self-compassion is about stopping the self-persecution after the event. It’s good to feel some guilt and to feel a bit down about a negative action, as it’s our brains way of saying we need to apologise or make good. However with some of us, our minds can go too far with these feelings of guilt, and instead it turns in to high levels of self-persecution.

My self-compassion is saying, forgive yourself but still take full responsibility.

I’ve tried to be totally honest with this article because I think it’s important for people to see what I’m going through. It will hopefully break down stigma and educate people that it’s ok to talk about mental health issues and the human condition and all that comes with it.

Transcending our ego enough so we can learn from our mistakes is also key.

It has felt raw to expose my foolishness. I’m supposed to be running a mental health organisation. People might criticise my ability to do so if I occasionally have problems. However I am trying to set an example that people with mental health issues CAN run organisations, and they can be at fault and make mistakes. As long as people take full responsibility for their actions and try and rectify any problems I feel it’s ok. Some people will say I shouldn’t be running an organisation like this at all.

However our ethos is that we are a mental health organisation run by people with mental health issues for people with mental health issues. The negatives might be apparent, but we all have to work together as a team so that we are greater than the sum our our parts, or indeed our mental health conditions! I want this organisation to be led by a group of us, that way we will all play to our strengths.

Mike Y

Copyright MEN HEAL 2015

Just Read a Self-Help Book (or other quick fix)

Let’s get this bit out of the way. I am a fan of (decent) self-help books. At some stage I should create a list of one’s I have found useful, although as ever it’s probably down to personal preference.

Books like this can be great for minor mental health issues, and some people might even swear that a certain book fixed their more serious condition, and that is all good. However I would suggest that almost all serious mental health issues can’t be fixed by a self-help book. It might sound obvious, however I have spoken to people who think that a book is all you need. When I hear this I am also hearing messages like:

  • “All you need to do is…”
  • “Surely you could just…”

If a self-help book fixes your mental health issues, I would go as far to say that it couldn’t have been all that serious. Which highlights another misconception about mental health issues, that mental health issues are all the same level of severity. Depression and other mental health conditions are on a continuum.

Feeling sad <——– mild depression ——— severe (clinical) depression ——–> need to be hospitalised

This is no different to physical wounds:

Minor cut <—- more serious cut (use a plaster) —– severe bleeding (tourniquet) —-> need to be hospitalised

Why is this so difficult to understand?

A self-help book could possibly cure or mostly cure ‘feeling sad’ or ‘mild depression’, but unlikely to help beyond that, just as a plaster could help a minor cut. Indeed self-help books are like plasters, they can help minor problems that you can fix YOURSELF (The clue is in the title: ‘self-help’). If the condition, mental or physical, is minor enough that you can help yourself, then well… it is minor! If you need medical intervention then it’s obviously far more serious, so you need help beyond ‘self-help’ (because you are needing the help of others).

It’s really painful to have to spell this out to people. It is so obvious, and let the ignorance surrounding mental health is so immense, that it seems that it does need spelling out to quite a few people!

In conclusion please don’t tell people that they JUST need to read a self-help book (or other easy fix) for a serious medical condition. Just as you wouldn’t tell someone to read a first aid book if they had just been involved in a serious accident that needed hospital intervention.

Note: I misunderstood one of the people I initially spoke to about self-help books. She was suggesting that they are a good addition to lots of other forms of support. I totally agree with that.

Mike Youell

Copyright MEN HEAL 2015