Looking for and being aware of ‘triggers’ and ‘patterns’ which may effect our mental illnesses or mental health can, in my experience and opinion, be essential in trying to manage it. Or at least doing our best to limit some of the fall out resulting from it.
For me personally, whilst I am very much aware of certain ‘triggers’ which may (and usually do) bring on either ‘episodes’ or a more general sustained decline in my mental health. When it comes to ‘patterns’ I have to be honest here and admit that I seem to be far more aware of ‘patterns’ as a result of a decline in my mental health rather than any patterns leading up to a decline in my mental health.
And whilst it somehow feels counter-intuitive (like superman announcing to the world how ‘Kryptonite’ effects him) openly sharing just what those ‘patterns’ and especially those ‘triggers’ are. In the hope that it might help folk avoid those triggers themselves and other folk understand a little. I am willing to do it.
‘Triggers’ can, in my experience, come in many different shapes and sizes and the list of possible triggers includes (but not exclusively):- sounds, smells, sights, tastes, and/or a combination of any of these. Likewise, they can also include – a circumstance or set of circumstances, a topic of conversation or a specific subject matter.
Being mindful of my own triggers and very much aware that others also experience triggers, I came up with the following symbol and display it on any blog posts which I feel could possibly trigger someone when reading that post. And I am delighted that many other bloggers have adopted the symbol and do the same thing. And please be warned that I am displaying it here for just that reason.
There are for me certain triggers which will usually, but not always, bring on immediate ‘episodes’ and others which will usually (but not always) bring on longer more sustained declines in my mental health.
The combined smells of sweat and Old Spice Aftershave especially with the sound of leather cracking against itself.
Any sudden or unexpected reference to or appearance of (in films and television programs) any form of rape or abuse.
Any sudden or unexpected reference to or appearance of (in films and television programs) any form of self-harming.
Repetitive noises, especially shouting or screaming.
‘Triggers’ which, for me, will usually (but not always) bring on longer more sustained declines in my mental health (and thus my ability to cope) include…
Arguments and disagreements.
Any time when I feel I have hurt someone, failed to understand them or caused them any form of offense.
Sudden and potentially strenuous changes to routines or expected events.
Stupid mistakes which I may (and often do) make
Any time I find that I am failing to explain myself or communicate well.
Situations where I suddenly find myself unable to do something which I can usually do without really even thinking about it. (I recognize and freely accept that with this one it is entirely possible and even likely that my mental health has already started to decline but when this happens I tend to fixate on it and speed up that decline I think.)
Disorder, untidiness or chaos.
A serious decline in my physical health and subsequently a reduction in what I am able to do and thus an increase in my frustration with myself.
Patterns can be very important in both the diagnosis and the management of mental illness. For example the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder will often consider the patterns of manic episodes verses depressed episodes.
But, since I live alone and since very often when my mental health declines I am often one of the last people to realize it (until I am at least coming out of that decline) recognizing patterns has been very difficult for me.
And so, as I said above, when it comes to ‘patterns’ I have to be honest here and admit that I seem to be far more aware of ‘patterns’ as a result of a decline in my mental health rather than any patterns leading up to a decline in my mental health.
I think that this is because the way my mental illness presents itself can (and often does) vary. Just as the speed in which it presents itself and thus at which my mental health can declines can vary.
Patterns resulting from a general or more sustained decline in my mental health include..
A reduction in creativity (motivation, focus and comprehension all suffer)
An increase in disorder or untidiness. (Again, motivation and focus go)
A reduction in self-care (Bathing, eating, shaving, taking medications etc)
An increased tendency to isolate. (A need to hide and for fear of worrying or offending anyone)
A reduction in communication with others. (Same as above)
An inability to focus.
Increased memory loss.
Fixation on minor details and often my own inadequacies.
And additionally the filter which can (and normally does) prevent me from actually saying out loud some of the things which the voices or thoughts are saying in my head can often fail.
I am very much aware that the above list could be read as a list of symptoms rather than as patterns (and certainly I would understand anyone being confused by this list). But, as I mentioned before, I don’t see or recognize any patterns leading up to a decline in my mental health only patterns during and after one.
In fact the only pattern I recognize in respect of leading up to a decline in my mental health is that once a decline has started it nearly always happens!
When I was a boy my family used to play a popular board game called Mouse Trap. In this game you would (at certain times) turn the crank which would in turn set off a series of events which would inevitably (providing you had set it up properly) end in the release of the trap.
That game is (in my mind and experience at least) so very true of my mental health.
And so very often I am not aware that my mental health has declined until the above pattern of symptoms presents itself. And by then, of course, very often damage has already been done and the focus then becomes trying to a) prevent a further crash, b) to regain a better level of mental health and c) the inevitable needing to repair any damage done in the process.
And I think that is a very important point which is worth sharing and indeed highlighting.
One very real pattern which I have noticed is in respect of the damage that often happens as a result of a long period of poor mental health. And indeed in respect of it’s impact on any recovery from that period of poor mental health.
All too often, my mental health seems to get back to a state where I am able to realize something has gone wrong and where I am able to understand or recognize that as a result of it other things – eating patterns, communication, relationships, the paying of bills – have also suffered.
Depending on a) at what stage in my recovery I make this realization and b) the level of fall-out or damage that has been done, I will then either continue my recovery as usual, experience a longer recovery process or indeed plummet back into a further decline in my mental health.
I hope and pray that what I have shared will help someone and does in fact make sense. To be honest – since we are talking about patterns and triggers, I have to be honest with you and admit that I have over the past few days/couple of weeks ( I really can’t be sure which) noticed the all too familiar pattern of my mental health declining.
Actually this post itself – which would normally not take me very long, I started at 8am this morning and it is now 12.30pm and I can’t for the life of me work out if what I wanted to say I have been able to say or if what I have said makes as much sense as I would want it to.
Recognizing ‘patterns’ and ‘triggers’ within our mental illness or mental health is, in my opinion, essential ad so having people in your life who will watch for said patterns and triggers can also be essential.
There can be, I think, (and certainly I confess to this being present in myself) a tendency – when we feel our mental health slipping – to isolate or to hide this from others. This is probably as a result of such things as…
the desire not to worry folk
or to be judged
or do anything stupid.
As much as I recognize this in myself and am guilty of it, I think this is ultimately a harmful thing to do. And o with that in mind and whilst discussing patterns and triggers (and since my brain seems completely unable of shutting down and letting me rest at the moment) I have created a Mental Illness Process Chart in respect of my own mental health/illness. This (for those who are interested) can be found here.