Sunday, 22 May 2011

Response Aware

Much as I would love to, I know I can not change somethings about myself, nor change everything I want to with a wave of a magic wand. Among the 'don't wants' are not wishing to become an automated machine of routine which is quite ironic when one considers how habitual we are all are in our reactions and responses to the world, circumstances and events that affect us.

As we become more conscious of our responses so we start to gain the power of choice over how and what we react to.

It may well be 'natural' to find it aggravating to have someone push in front of you in a queue, when you too are in a hurry, but do you need to spend the day fuming about the incident afterwards? Do you need or want a confrontation with that person when it happens?

The answer sometimes seems to be 'yes' because that person has inadvertently provided you with a vehicle to vent frustration. But the magnitude of that frustration can be routed in something totally unrelated so the poor sod could well find themselves confronted with an angry tirade simply for doing the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong place when you're in the wrong mood to put up with it. In that split second, the last straw snaps and so too do you.

By becoming more aware of how we react and why; how we sell, share, represent and introduce ourselves we take the first step toward learning how we can affect the changes we want to to become that 'dream' person we may have always wanted to be and get closer to reaching our full potential. By recognizing the misplacement of our reactions, or why they may have reached intense levels we take the first step toward finding better coping strategies, better outlets and thereby gain more control of our own futures.

Leaving the Victim Mindset
In counselling this week I confessed to having used the fact that I've been mentally ill for sympathy in the past. I also used it as an excuse in my own mind for not having done something well and have fallen foul of feeling hard done by and that the world owed me some form of compensation for the troubles I've had.

Why should it though? The rest of the world is made up of people who have troubles too, some greater than mine, some lesser. It's natural to have feelings of hurt, disappointment and even betrayal but it does not follow that the world is either to blame or that it should make amends in any way.

If a person is diagnosed with cancer it would be unreasonable to blame the world for it, and the same is true of mental illness. Sure there are factors that don't help. Smoking for puts a person at greater risk of cancer and likewise bullying and abuse can be a factor toward becoming mentally ill, but it's not the whole story. There is a susceptiblity, a genetic factor too because if there wasn't there wouldn't be examples of people who do not let these misfortunes take over their lives.

I know of a case of a rape victim who, instead of allowing that event to prevent her from living her life to the full, became more determined than ever to push herself to embrace it. She did so by diminishing the rape to a one off unpleasant physical experience of no greater impact to her than having a tooth out at the dentist. Such can be the power of our own thought processes. Admittedly it is rare for people to be that strong and that determined but we can all help ourselves by becoming defiant about not letting misfortune interrupting what we were doing.

Just as this rape victim turned her anger over her abuse did, so can a cancer sufferer become angry with the illness instead of the world and so too can we over mental illness become angry with the illness for holding us back.

That said, I still believe much could be done to reduce the risk of suffering of any kind through increased awareness. I advocate only looking at causes of suffering as a means toward developing better strategies to deal with it, both for those who suffer in learning how to cope and for the rest of the world to work toward an ethos of prevention and better levels of recovery. I hope and believe psychology will continue to play a bigger and more proactive part to that end.

As for myself, by admitting out loud that I have unwittingly slipped into 'victim mentality' I have taken the first step toward breaking free of it. When I balls up now, I intend to take ownership of it for just being human and fallible and not attributing it to my having been mentally ill. Sure it would be nice to have a lucky break instead of bad luck but the world doesn't owe me one. I could bemoan how unlucky I've been but by looking at it from a different perspective; that of counting my blessings, I soon realize I am lucky.

What has become apparent to me to make my own circumstances less favourable is how I have dwelt on my own mental illness. I have always sought to be respected for my qualities and character on their own merits but by attributing all my shortcomings so frequently to mental illness I have ended up making a rod for my own back. This has resulted in my being seen as a person of vulnerability, weakness and as a person of perpetual illness which is quite the opposite effect to my original intent.

I had got it into my head that my shortcomings could all be down to my having been ill. I thought that being open about my illness I would earn respect. I thought that by advertising the fact that I have learnt coping strategies for my illness that I would be regarded as a strong person, not a weak one.

When I started this blogsite it was very much to fight the stigma over mental health; to come out in the open and not be ashamed of that history. I don't regret doing that at all, indeed I am proud of myself for having the courage to do it given the level of ignorance and prejudice that still exist over mental illness. However I find I have inadvertently ended up being seen and promoting myself as a person of mental illness rather than a person who has been ill and on occasion sometimes still is.

I find now that I have nothing more to add about my own experiences of mental illness and nothing more to add about mental illness in general. So my change of focus is now to promote and display, the larger part of my existence - that of being well. By concentrating on that I not only hope to get recognition and respect for my character in it's own right on it's own merits, but I will also be increasing the probability of maintaining my mental wellbeing.

From hereon in therefore I will take ownership of my faults without mention of mental illness. Those faults are part of my character; no doubt as much a source of endearment to some as a source of irritation to others. To give an example of how I intend to share who I am in the future, instead of saying "Sorry, I forgot because I'm a bit scatty, because I've got a mental health history." I shall simply say "Sorry, I forgot." The reason for my forgetfulness might be simply because I can be scatty, more commonly it is usually down to being busy with other things like so many others are.

The point is I no longer believe it's right to attribute every reaction, response, emotion, thought or opinion I have to mental illness. Nor do I believe the medical professionals or others should. Some behavioural patterns get established when we are ill but in recovery they are put straight. We must guard against using mental ill health an excuse for everything we feel we are lacking in, thinking, feeling or doing when we are well or how can we claim to have an identity beyond the illness or be well?

I've come to realize I have been living in fear for what has already happened. I was most seriously ill back in 1998 and since that time I have spent an enormous amount of time and effort trying to find ways to guard against being so again. The fact is that I spent more time on monitoring my own health than I spent on just living my life. I think it enough to know the signs, to have the coping strategies to hand and noted - why dwell on them unless or until they are needed?

I think it still a wise precaution to run for an assessment anytime I feel I am at risk, a wise precaution to stick to my medication and have it regularly reviewed but that being sorted I don't need to dwell further. I once had a spate of serious kidney infections and yet I don't spend my energies fretting about another, researching all renal functions and monitoring it everyday. So why should I over my mental wellbeing? My life should consist of just living it shouldn't it?

I'm looking forward to the day when I am just 'being' without feeling any need to justify or explain who or what I am to anyone. I am looking forward to a day when I won't be analyzing everything but know it will take practice to reach that point.

It's an irony that in order to recover and gain a new way of thinking, seeing and responding to the world, we need to analyse what we do and how we have been going about things to be able to affect any change at all. It's not surprising that I have got into analytical habits given how passionately and tirelessly I wanted to ensure no recurrence of illness. I hope that with practice I'll be ditching unhelpful habits and will reach a day when such things rarely need raking over to any great extent again.

I confess to feeling scared of a world in which mental illness isn't ever present in my life as it has been. What am I to do with it? Will I fit in? Will I be able to stop or at least reduce being so analytical having been trained to do so (healthcare professionals take note).

I will never forget what it's like to be mentally ill, but if there is such a thing as compensation for it, then surely it lies in embracing and celebrating life whenever and wherever illness, pain and suffering isn't present; be it a minute, an hour, day, month, year or longer. For however long it lasts it is to be treasured, remembered and built upon. If not being analytical is a ridiculous aspiration, then surely it is of at least equal value to focus on what makes us well and happy.

Learning what the ingredients are involved in making us enjoy life has surely got to be a better way forward.

That then is what I intend to do next, confused and shaky as I am for attempting to let go of my intensive self monitoring for signs of illness. Perhaps being well has something to do with just going with the flow and accepting the ups and downs along the way but never letting either take over our lives to inhibit our ability and need to encounter more in order to learn, grow and develop; ever tweaking the definition of what it is to be ourselves at any given moment.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Changing Focus

Finally got some counselling going and now it's begun it made me realize once more that for some things a counsellor is the only person to help. Bad news though as apparently psychotherapy (i.e. more involved types of therapy) are no longer available on the NHS now. I've tried not to get political on here and am not about to but it strikes me this is a backward step for those in more need than I.

A couple of things that have already come out of my first counselling session are my neglect of looking after myself in that I will make the effort when others are involved and for others but allow things to slide when it's just for me. Things like cleaning, eating, sleeping, paying bills and even at times washing are all mundane chores that do not feed my soul so therefore mean little to me. What I'm doing is behaving as a child when in fact I am an adult. One change of focus then is to get the adult side of me to take better care of the child within me. It's not as if I am incapable of looking after myself better, nor that I don't believe in myself for when I'm upbeat all these chores are done without even thinking about them.

Why do they get reduced to 'unimportant' status when depressed then? Quite simply because they seem less vital to me than working through emotions and thoughts that are behind the depression. But such things can become habits that fuel depression itself. I'm reminded of caged birds that pull out their feathers because they are trapped, have no company or interest in life but like the bird, it's not a case of not having an interest, more a case of not having the outlet, the opportunity. And without company why should I bother is often my reasoning during the lows. The answer here is to remember that no one is likely to be interested in me if I am not interested enough to look after myself. It's one thing for them to be interested in what I do, quite another to be interested in me as a person.

As there is no way on this earth that I will ever want someone to come in to pamper me, take charge, set routines for me etc to sort these lapses of mine out, it follows that I must do it. It's still a chore but I have wit enough to turn it into a game to enjoy thereby uniting the adult self with the child.

The other thing that came out in that first session was my continual habit of devoting my time and energies to the wrong people. This is trickier to overcome for me and a bigger knot to unravel. It's not that they are nasty people, quite the reverse but they are not good for me. They do not reciprocate support, contact or interest. They are takers, not givers. The solution seems simple - ditch them, but I've included them in my life for a multitude of reasons including gleaning skills, information and studying behaviour. None of these things though rate as highly to me as emotional support which is what I don't get from them but is what they more often than not get from me.

It's therefore a question of setting my own boundaries better and a question of not having the exceptation of that support in the first place. To put it another way I haven't been heeding my own words in a previous blog as it's not as fair an exchange as I need. But I can be be in control of that to avoid the pitfall of disappointment; feeling let down and hurt.

By doing this I can free up my time to concentrate on things that are important to me, devoting more time to those who are close and do give me emotional support and reserving my energies to devote them to things that matter such as finding regular work, which again I'm going to attempt to turn into a fun game - how many jobs can I apply for in a week that would be fun to do.

I feel I ought to have learnt all these things by now and had them in place and am annoyed that I haven't, or rather haven't properly. I know the answers I need but struggle to adhere to the solutions I've found. Far easier to do so when working and socially 'out there'. All the more important to do when one isn't.

My new focus then is on me, not on others, not on helping others other than by steering them in the direction of sources of support. I hope I don't become uncaring or selfish to the point of ignoring or trampling over others, but for a time at least it needs to be on me to hopefully, once and for all, firmly establish the mindset and habits of a person who has a fullfilling and rewarding life instead of one that dips in and out of it.

I'm starting my listing all my likes and dislikes; all my wants and don't wants, all my dreams, all my good points, all my talents and skills. The rest of the world can focus on my faults if it likes, for myself I've spent more than enough time dwelling on them and besides I've discovered the faults they list are usually mirrors of their own. In short, my intention is to start to value and look after the one person who will always be there for me no matter what - me.