Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Limboland Acceptance

It's been a real struggle of late trying to define who I am and what that means; where I fit, belong and am 'myself'. My battle with mental illness has been perpetually focussed on becoming well, not being labelled as  mentally ill and not wanting to stay within that section of society because I wanted to be 'normal'. I wanted to return to the world in which I started and be accepted and welcomed back into it as having been 'fixed', 'cured' and most of all 'not a problem' to others.

'Wanted' - past tense. After a couple of weeks of reflection I've realized I no longer belong in 'Normalville', but nor do I fit in with the permanently mentally ill either (I don't think anyone does). I belong in the Limboland inbetween as sometimes I am well and sometimes I am not. Both the severity and longevity of episodes of illness seem to have diminished over the years but, hand on heart I can not say I will not have another episode or that it could not be severe.

This only partially explains why I do not belong in either camp though for when I am ill I do not want to belong there, and when I'm well I don't feel accepted as being well. It's as if once you're 'defined' as having suffered mental illness you are branded for life unless you abandon all those you've known, form new relationships and never mention it.

I've found I can not be silent and believe it to be a denial of basic a human right not to express and share experiences that I have had and having been mentally ill is one of those experiences. In fact, my psychotic breakdown was the single biggest personal experience I have ever had and it change me irrevocably for all sorts of reasons and in all sorts of ways.

Never again have I been complacent about being immune from insanity and I have since become ever watchful of not only my own well-being, but that of others too. I embarked upon a quest, unconsciously at first but latterly with full awareness, to try to find out what safeguards there are and what the essential elements are to make for a contented and happy life regardless of health.

These are things that those who have not suffered mental illness generally do not do because they largely reside in the world of blase complacency that I myself once enjoyed too. In their world they share their life-changing unfortunate experiences too; be it a major operation or illness, a divorce, a loss etc. It should therefore be no different for the mentally ill. I reserve my right to comment on experiences that have effected me but in commenting I have discovered not acceptance but stigma and prejudice along with the assumption that I must still be ill because I keep commenting on mental illness - those who are mentally well have no need to, being the assumption.

My contention is that because mental illness is such a taboo as a subject it needs to be an exception until greater awareness and acceptance is achieved although I own most of my life is not devoted to this cause either. It's an important issue that I remain passionate about but I don't believe it healthy for me to be consumed by any one thing.

In wanting to be accepted as I am I find I too have to be careful not to succumb to knee-jerk reactions myself. In order to achieve acceptance I firstly have to accept myself as I am, for if I can not do that how can I expect others to?

Secondly I have to accept others as they are which means accepting that they will not always understand things about myself as I may them wish to. This does not just mean acceptance about mental illness, but also my political views, my interest in art, pottery; my taste in clothes, food, music, books, films and all the rest. Acceptance is seldom instant and there is mileage in keeping the communication channels open as how else do we each learn about each other?

In campaigning against any stigma it becomes a complicated juggling act between voicing the difficulties in order to educate and create awareness and allowing others to voice their reservations and fears and in accepting where they are at any given point. That way we learn where we might be wrong in what we want as much as where others might be; and it's important to admit it if and when that occurs.

I believe it's a case of listening and challenging prejudice with facts and proofs one at a time as no one likes to find themselves to be a total idiot but are likely to concede errors in judgement if handled this way. They are not idiots anyway and are capable of working things out if they are given the right motivation to want to do so. It is and will remain a gradual process I fear; and one that shouting from the rooftops is not going to effect a positive change. Unlike other campaigns such as raising awareness on gay, black or women's rights, mental illness is one where actions like chaining ourselves to fencing is not going to help.

Last week I attended the Include 2011 conference at the Royal College of Art where designers work on projects to help disability and disadvantaged groups with ideas to increase their ability to function. This is a relatively easy task to embark upon when the disability or disadvantage is a clearly identifiable tangible need such as poverty, blindness or wheelchair access; but what, other than acceptance and opportunities, do the Mentally Ill need by way of assistance to feel and be fully included in society?

In a way we already have acceptance - people accept us as ill but often not as those who can achieve or be well. I am saddened when I hear of people accepting they are permanently mentally ill and that they need support; I don't like it one bit when I have to acknowledge that I do at times. It indicates to me a victim mentality and by accepting the classification of being permanently mentally ill we are all in danger seeing ourselves as helpless victims and playing into the conditioning of the broader society. There are a few exceptions as some people are permanently severely ill, but therein lies the problem - we are all tarred with that brush and it simply isn't the case.

I've found I don't want to be pampered, protected, nursed or 'looked after' by anyone, nor do I wish to perpetually do so for anyone else. Instead my desire is to be empowered to manage things myself as much as I can, and that is the only way in which I want to support others too. The less independent we are the more we run the risk of others controlling our lives, dictating what we can achieve and negating our own potential for doing so. If John Nash (the mathematician in the film 'A Beautiful Mind') had succumbed to just being looked after he would never have returned to lecturing nor won the accolades he merited. He merited them due to his skill in maths, not because of his illness.

I find I am ok with predominantly living in the Limboland between 'Normalville' and 'Madville', visiting both worlds every now and then. I do not reside there alone even though at times I sometimes feel that I do, but that feeling is due to my knowing my own identity and experiences to be unique - everyone's are.

An Exercise and Test
To conclude here's a simple exercise for all fellow sufferer's of mental illness to prove you live in Limboland too: List all the things you are 'normal' at. Capitalizing on what we are 'well' in helps us to become well and stay there longer.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Survivor Guilt

Within 24 hour of my last posting I burst into a flood of tears because I felt such a traitor, because the people who have been with me through my darkest hours have all been mentally ill or been a mental health care professionals, and I realised that if I was happy I wouldn't need or want to be mixing with them anymore. Suddenly I felt very lost and desperately alone and when that happens what is my rule... go back into care. It seems a vicious and perpetual cycle that has no escape.

I simply haven't got to the bottom of it to find a solution yet but I am determined to find one and share it with you when I do. In the meantime this song is helping me at the moment.

I have realized that part of my journey has been learning to accept joy into my life at all and it occurred to me that perhaps that's something we, who have suffered the tsunamis of despair all find difficult. So, once I've found the words again I will be sharing a few exercises that have helped me to explore this erstwhile alien concept called 'happiness'. The first of which immediately sprang to mind though so here it is. I don't recall it being taught me, but that's not to say it wasn't.

Your Thank You Card
1. Design the most beautiful card you can - use images that you love... cut them out from magazines, copy and paste them from the web (so long as you don't infringe copyright), draw, paint, scribble or just doodle the emotions in the most beautiful colours you adore. This is a card of self-acknowledgement for all your best qualities - a celebration of you.

2. Write a message inside. Imagine you are receiving the card from someone who sees all your good points, your positive qualities only.

3. Address and sign it to yourself.

Meanwhile I await a further referral for more support from the professionals, who unlike us always have colleagues on board to help them immediately they lose someone or hit on something they find hard to handle. Would our government would invest more in preventative therapies and who knows demand might not exceed supply on emergency, intensive or long-term support measures.

It does help to know that those I love, and those who care about me do want me to suffer and want me to be happy and that even applies to those I have lost and those still suffering. Would I could be the magic wand to help everyone to find their own path to happiness. As ever though, all I can do is share my own journey in the hope it encourages others to set about theirs and to just keep holding on for those times when they need a break from fighting. It does feel woefully pathetic and inadequate at times in respect of what little I can do, but never in spirit. If my will power alone could eradicate suffering then this world would have been free of it decades ago.

Friday, 8 April 2011


Yes I'm still here, alive and kicking. What follows is following due to having a break; time to reflect, time to review all that has been happening in my life recently. It follows because I sought support, medication and all the rest. It follows because I have learnt the warning signs; the triggers, the symptoms and have acting on them early.

I've discovered I am a positive person fighting to get out.
I've discovered I've been hampered in that ambition by circumstance, situations and events but also by my own failure to communicate clearly about what it is I need at times.

I've discovered that I've already learnt many things from the counselling I've had thus far and that all those soul-searching sessions over the decades had added up and are making sense. I've learnt that I can be in control of my own illness even though it will probably throw up set backs, slip ups and glitches. But they are just that.

I've discovered that I'm right not to assume anything (one of the very first lessons I took from counselling); that I can gain and maintain control of my moods if I take the right precautions (like getting medication if they drop for more than 3 days at a time for no reason).

I've discovered I really can choose how I react to others and that relationships that seemed to be broken can be mended; those that seemed hard work can be improved upon and those that are damaging can be ditched and moved on from.

I've discovered that people do sometimes take note, notice and care about me more than I realized or have given them credit for. I've learnt those who care will accept when I need to stop, do nothing, hibernate, go soul-searching and that if I explain to them those needs they reach a better level of understanding of me (albeit eventually in some cases). I've learnt that those who are not interested in accepting me as I am should not be afforded the honour of being accepted or time to be understood themselves.

I've learnt that even loss is not the end of things. One of my followers on here is now no longer with us (I'll not say who), but their picture remains for all time unless relatives change it. That picture is, like they are - ever with me at their best for whenever I need them. None of us wish to be remembered, perceived, judge or defined for our worst moments (times of illness, selfishness, inconsideration or bad temper), so it would be unfair to only remember their struggles when they were not at their best. Instead I've stored up and concentrated on their good moments, their strengths, the things that made them happy.

I've learnt that even the threat of death need not be a precursor to the end of hope. A relative of mine remains seriously ill, but they too have done the wise thing and sought help and have set about making the most of what is possible. Initially they avoided seeking medical help because they were frightened of what the diagnosis would be (denial they call it in counselling terms) - that's no way to go when by seeking the right form of help you can turn things around and still have the chance to cram in pleasurable things to do and see before you go. Isn't that what life should always be about? We will all die at some point, so it makes sense to focus and aim for as much enjoyment as possible beforehand doesn't it?

For a long time now, I've known that work has not been the be all and end all of what life's about. Not working though can lead to a miserable existence of anxiety and stress about how to pay bills, keep a roof over your head and eat, let alone spend money on things you enjoy doing. But, I've learnt that the best things in life really are free - a sunny day always lifts my moods, as does a walk or watching and playing with my cat or having a lovely conversation with anyone. Joking with a stranger in a shop is something that doesn't have a price.

And even when things have seemed incredibly bleak, for it seemed that nothing but trouble and misery was heading my way in every form, from every direction I've discovered that just by holding on things can change for the better.

When I started this blog I did it primarily to put down all I'd learnt that has helped me, so that in times of trouble I had something to cling onto that would always to be there by way of support. I did it publicly because I knew there are millions of people who have had similar problems and I thought it might help them too. There have been times when I've felt so defeated I didn't want to write another word; times when I felt that half the world has been abandoned and forgotten just because they happen to get ill in a particular way; times of rage over the unfairness and cruelty that still exist regardless. But folks, it's no good noticing and wallowing. It is a battleground both internally and externally but that doesn't mean we can't or won't win so long as we keep fighting.

I've also felt (as close friends will testify) a hypocrite and a fraud at times. How easy it is to spout fine words but not live by them yourself. Examples include not having eaten or slept regularly aside from many other signs of self-neglect. I'm still not out of the woods yet on many of them, but at least I'm aware of them and trying to do something about them. I am still fighting.

What I need to do now is go back over everything I've written so far on here and use this blog site as the tool I had originally intended it to be... to help me. I hope it helps others too but as I've realized I need to look after me first and not be a hypocrite.

I've discovered I've learned to recognise when and what help I need and in what form I need it. I've grown and am no longer afraid of admitting to my weaknesses, bad habits and illness which actually makes me a stronger person.

Most of all I've discovered that it's ok to need help as all people do at times and rarely does anyone need help at all times or with all things so there's no need to feel ashamed or guilty anymore. I've learned too that sometimes I am lazy and full of self-pity and that I can respond to people challenging and pushing me to do better when it's in the right form. I'm far more receptive to that one than ever before. And finally I've learned I don't and shouldn't feel guilty or as if I am a traitor on those days (like this one) when I am feeling good and enjoying life. I do still care and always will for those who are suffering, but merit a break from it as much as anyone else. I've put in the work to be able to enjoy days like this too.

When and what I will post next I have no idea. I set out at the start to include fun things to do, so maybe I'll go back to that but only after I've re-read all I've written so far. I used to be afraid of the unknown, now I'm like an explorer - curious and fascinated.