Self Care 101 – Coping Strategies

4 08 2016

Today I wanted to continue thinking about self care and how we can cope with acute moments of stress, anxiety or distress.

I’ve always been good in a crisis, coping with things in a calm and collected fashion. When things hit the fan, I was the one who would think of practical solutions and get things done when everyone else was flapping around.

Then a couple of years ago things changed. One day I became very distressed and self harmed for the very first time. It calmed me instantly, I felt the stress drain from my body and it quickly became my first line coping technique. At first it was relatively superficial, small scratches or bruises, but it soon progressed to cutting myself and needing stitches.

When I was admitted to the hospital, one of the first things they wanted to work on was finding other coping strategies. Together with the nurses I created a list of different ways that I could face the distress – from hot showers and long walks to mindful cups of tea and drawing on my thighs instead of cutting them.

I’ve also found ways of coping with hallucinations – paradoxically I find listening to spoken word on my iPod when in a crowd (especially the supermarket which is a real trigger) helpful, whereas although I used to go to sleep listening to podcasts, I found that they made the voices worse at night. I’ve found that listening to quiet music is better (I’m currently obsessed with the album Diamond Mine by King Creosote and John Hopkins).

Touch has been a big help too – at the hospital I have learnt to self-massage, and even just holding someone’s hand can be enough to calm me. Then there’s more practical things – colouring was a lifesaver when stuck in hospital, watching an episode of your favourite sitcom or baking cookies for hungry brothers… there are a myriad of ways to cope that don’t involve hurting yourself.

There are lots of lists of practical coping strategies out there but I particularly like this one.

Obsessively compulsively yours

Bellsie





Self Care 101 – Sleep

24 06 2016

Our need for sleep falls on a bell curve – most people need between seven and eight hours a night, although some manage on four and others need twelve.

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I have always fallen on the right hand tail… I am neither a night owl nor a morning lark but a permanently exhausted pigeon. As a child I never had a bedtime, I would happily put myself to bed when I was tired. My mum and one of my brothers are the same whilst my other siblings and dad can manage on just a few hours.

Since I started dealing with this mood disorder, it became very obvious that sleep was a very accurate symptom of going too high or too low. When I am too high I manage on just a couple of hours a night, getting up full of energy to start my next project. When I am too low, I wake early and yet find it impossible to get up.

It is a good sign and one that can be quantified. Keeping an eye on my sleeping pattern means that I can catch myself slipping before it becomes an issue.

Then you add the drugs into the mixture… medication that totally exhausts me, that sedates me and means that I end up spending more afternoons than I like to admit asleep on the sofa.

I know that I need sleep. I know that I cannot last long without it and that if I want to stay well then I have to my sleep-wake rhythm in check. A late night or a lie aren’t the end of the world but keeping on an even keel is important. It might mean my clubbing days are over (all two of them), but I can live with that if it means that I stay out of hospital and on top of the illness.

Obsessively compulsively yours

Bellsie





Birthdays

5 06 2016

In ten days time I will turn 27. When I was younger I absolutely loved birthdays and my family has always celebrated in style. Being born in June meant strawberries in the sunshine or sandwiches on the beach. Perfectly chosen presents (mainly books…) and a meal of our own choice (bread and butter pudding instead of birthday cake any day).

The last few years have been difficult. Instead of a celebration it’s felt like a reminder that time was slipping through my fingers, a show of how little I’ve achieved. Last year my birthday fell the week that I was admitted to hospital and nobody was feeling much like celebrating.

Twenty seven years. Not much to show for it. A degree, a master’s, a month of a PhD. A handful of friends, fewer than last year and even fewer than the year before that.

I hate mental illness. I hate that OCD ruined years of my life and that my current illness has taken on that role. I hate that I feel so useless, so scared of the future and afraid of what might happen next. I hate the criss cross of scars that show my inability to cope, the rattling pill boxes that I can’t do without.

At Christmas I was sectioned, and it’s fair to say that it was a pretty miserable time for us all, so it’s only natural to want to make my birthday a celebration of how far I’ve come, but for some reason all I can see is how much further I have to go.

I know that at the moment it’s the inchstones not the milestones that count, but sometimes I just wish it would all hurry up and go away.

Obsessively compulsively yours

Bellsie





Mother’s Day

29 05 2016

Today it is Mother’s Day in France.

I love my mum. She and I are incredibly close and always have been (I was a mummy’s girl) and I want to take a couple of minutes to thank her.

You see, being the parent of someone with mental health problems isn’t easy. In fact sometimes I think it’s harder for her than me.

Last December we had a traumatic time – she signed the papers to have me sectioned. I was so angry with her and I felt betrayed and abandoned. I honestly thought I would never trust her again. The truth is that six months later I can see that it was an act of love. She did everything she could to keep me safe. If I am here today, it’s because she took that terrifying decision.

No, she doesn’t always get it right because a) she’s human and b) these things don’t come with a manual. But I can promise you that she does her best. She is my best friend, my confidante, the person I run to when I need a shoulder to cry on and the person I laugh with the most. She’s the person who makes me milky drinks when my head won’t shut down and sleep, massage my hands to ground me when I want to cut myself and cuddle me when I just need to know I’m not alone.

Merci maman et bonne fête des mères,

Your Bellsie





Who Owns my Mental Health?

16 05 2016

As I have previously mentioned, in December my mum signed a piece of paper that had me sectioned. It was not an easy undertaking – there was a lot of screaming (from me), tears (from both of us) and feelings of anger and betrayal (me again). I was furious and couldn’t believe that she would have me locked away.

Just to reassure you… I now know that she did the right thing. If I had not been sectioned that day then I would be dead. Simple as.

However, now that I am slowly emerging into the real world, a new question has come up… who does my mental health story belong to? A few weeks ago the security guard at the local supermarket asked my dad how I was doing… someone I have never had a conversation with. It turns out that I know his wife well (she attends our church) and she had looked after my mum when she broke down during a service when things were at their worst.

Today I took my brother to scout camp and a friend of my mum’s (and a neighbour of ours, although where I live a neighbour generally lives about 5km away) rushed over to ask how I was doing. Again, I was slightly taken aback, but it turns out that my mum had asked her for advice (she is a nurse) and support (her own daughter has had mental health problems) back when things were difficult.

You see, mental illness doesn’t occur in a vacuum. I’m not the only one who is affected when I’m unwell. It has a monumental effect on the whole family, and surely they have a right to ask for help. I know that my brothers have told their friends that I have been unwell and I can’t stop them from getting support when they need it.

But… I feel caught on the back foot. I haven’t gone public on Facebook about the last year’s events and many of my friends don’t know the details. I can’t help but feel that I should have some sort of control over who does and doesn’t know. And yet I know that is selfish and unrealistic. I should be pleased that they aren’t afraid to share my story without fearing stigma.

It’s a tough one and something that I know I have to be understanding about. It isn’t my mental illness. It’s ours.

Obsessively compulsively yours,

Bellsie





After the Storm

14 05 2016

Two years ago this month, I had my first experience of paranoia and delusional thinking. I was revising in the library when I realised that people were reading my thoughts and that I was being followed for a crime that I had not committed. A couple of weeks after that, I cut myself for the first time.

Over the last two years I have swung from crisis to crisis, from frightening highs to desperate lows and everything in between. I have had psychotic episodes where I believed I was being held hostage by the devil, too many trips to Accident and Emergency and a really tough time.

A year ago things got to a real crisis point and I was admitted to hospital the day after I defended my Masters thesis. I had only made it that far thanks to a very patient psychiatrist and daily appointments with the nurses at the university health centre who would dress my wounds, take out stiches, keep me calm and give me somewhere to go when I was literally lost.

I have spent five of the last twelve months as an inpatient and another four as a day patient. I have been living in crisis, but that is starting to change. I have not self harmed in four months, I haven’t felt actively suicidal for a while and although I still hear voices, I can cope with them and the devil is no longer omnipresent.

I feel lost. I feel angry about the time that I have wasted, the time that I could have spent getting on with life. I feel a failure for everything that has happened, but most of all, I feel in limbo. I am not recovered. I still have times (like this very week) where the urge to self harm is strong and thoughts of giving in are more present. I am not independent – just this week I cancelled a visit to a friend as I didn’t feel I could trust myself not to do something stupid on the journey there or back. I still lean heavily on my family and need their reassurance and support.

I’m not in crisis anymore, but when that is all that I have known for the last two years, it’s evident that it will take a while to adapt to it. I need to learn to trust myself, to live with the fear of what happens next (I live in terror of relapse and of being hospitalised in the same unit that nearly broke me earlier this year). I need to find breathing space, get to the point where things get on an even keel and accept that it will stay that way.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I can’t live in fear that it will return. I have a routine with the day hospital and feel that I have a safety net in place. Next week I meet my new psychiatrist (the sixth in the space of a year) following the retirement of the last one who I didn’t get on with. I am hoping that I will be able to be honest with her in a way that I couldn’t before through fear of ending up back in hospital.

So that’s it really – adapting to the new normal. A normal where I take far too much medication but can wake up in the morning without wanting to die, a normal where I attend a day hospital but am not being told to kill myself by the devil. The plan is to return to my PhD in September albeit from home, still attending the hospital at least once a week and having my parents around to support me as I try to reconcile this new normal with the real world.

I’m not there yet. Baby steps, and not beating myself up for the slip ups that will evidently happen along the way. Time will tell…

Obsessively compulsively yours,

Bellsie





The Real Deal or Where I’ve Been

26 01 2016

Some of you may have noticed that my blogging (which has always been irregular at the best of times) has been even less often than usual. This is for a number of reasons but mainly one, one that I have debated blogging about for a while now.

You see, this blog was originally about OCD. I was diagnosed, I had excellent treatment and I made a good recovery. It was a fairy story, albeit with ups and downs, highs and lows. Occasionally I would stray off onto more general posts about OCD or my life in general but it has mainly stayed on the topic of obsessive compulsive disorder.

The thing is, I have other demons. In the last couple of years I have slowly developed other symptoms, fallen into moments of utter crisis  and experienced things that I can’t put down to OCD.

I don’t know where to start the story because like most stories it doesn’t have a clear beginning. Over the last two years I have had periods where I felt so low and full of self-loathing that I have cut myself and needed stitches, stayed in bed all day and been invaded by suicidal thoughts. I have also had periods where I have felt so high and wonderful that I have churned out pages of work whilst getting no sleep, like I can follow every conversation in a crowded room full of hundreds of brilliant ideas. Unfortunately these periods tend to end badly, the euphoria making way for paranoid thoughts and invasive voices.

In April of this year, my mental health started to deteriorate significantly. My psychiatrist was concerned and started talking about hospitalisation but I was determined to finish my Masters degree. Somehow I did and once my exams were over I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. I stayed there until September, moving from the young persons’ unit to a general ward after it became apparent that there were significant problems hiding behind the depression that I was admitted for.

In September, four days after being discharged, not on stable medication and against the advice of my medical team and my family, I moved to the UK to start my PhD. Two months later I had once again slipped into a deep depression and my parents took the decision for me – I returned to France and was admitted to the unit I had been in during the summer. Whilst I was there things deteriorated further and the decision was made to section me. It was traumatic, involved being physically manhandled onto a closed unit when I refused to go myself and was incredibly hard both for myself and my family.

The unit I was on was closed for good just before Christmas and I was moved to a hospital closer to home. I have since been discharged and am attending as a day patient. I have taken a temporary withdrawal from my PhD (until at least April) and to be honest, things are so much better than they have been for a long time. I feel that the medication that I am currently on is working well and my head feels clearer than it has done for a very long time. This week I also start CBT with the same psychiatrist who treated me for my OCD. I don’t know if it will help or not but I figure it is worth a try.

Different diagnoses have been given over the last year but whilst having a label can be reassuring, it is just that, a label. It is a description of my symptoms, nothing more and nothing less. I don’t feel the need to share it at the moment, it is still fresh and I think it will take me a little longer to comfortably wear it as I did with OCD.

My friends and family have been brilliant. My mum has been especially fantastic, handling hysterical phone calls to release me whilst I was under section and generally calming me down, my dad has been Mr Rational throughout and my brothers have been stars, driving me to appointments and coming to see me in hospital. My friends have been remarkably patient with me as I have progressively withdrawn over the last few months. I still find it hard to be sociable, to reply to messages or make that phone call but they have remained stoic and consistently offered support and love. The university has also been fantastic and hopefully will help to coordinate a gentle and adapted return to my studies in a couple of months time. My supervisor has been more than helpful and has regularly emailed to ask for news and updates. I am a very lucky girl.

So that is it really. Not the whole story (I am not ready to tell that yet and may never be) but enough. I share it in the hope that it will help others and as an apology for my lack of presence on social media recently.

Obsessively compulsively yours,

Bellsie

 








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