On this page and in this series I intend taking a very real, very hard and often times painfully honest look at some of the things that can impact Mental Health and to offer ways in which they may be addressed with a view to reducing, or even removing the adverse effects that they can and all too often do have.
I am also painfully aware, as I start this particular page, that actually there is a whole plethora of terminology out there when it comes to psychological matters and (let’s be honest here) very often there are some cross-overs where one professional will use one definiti0n and another one uses something different. So for the sake of clarity let me explain from the get go that my personal experience and belief is that there are four main influences that affect our mental health. These being…
Genetic – pertaining to or determined by effects caused or influences by genes.
Social – pertaining to effects caused or influenced by societies or other individuals or groups of people.
Chemical – pertaining to effects caused or influenced by medicine or chemicals.
Environmental – pertaining to effects caused or influenced by our surroundings.
Circumstantial – pertaining to effects caused or influenced by current or past circumstances.
So the above having been said now for the VERY SERIOUS ADVICE warning…
PLEASE NOTE THAT: The content, comments, observations and suggestions on this page are offered purely from a personal perspective and are not guaranteed in anyway. Likewise please note that I am writing not as a Mental Health care provider nor as any kind of expert or Mental Health Care professional for I am none of these things. I write quite simply as someone who has, for some very long time now, experienced mental health issues and in the sincere hope that these ideas may in some way bring about some benefit to you the reader.
It is therefore STRONGLY advised that anyone considering implementing any suggestions offered on this page first consult their Mental Health Care workers and advisers prior to doing so.
For purpose of this posting the term “Environmental Controls” refers specifically to those controls YOU choose to put into place with regard to your environment and surroundings in order to improve your quality of mental health.
Of all the things that can influence our mental health I firmly believe that the one area that all too often goes uncovered by Mental Health Practitioners is that of our own personal environments. This is perhaps understandable since…
a) Most of our dealings with Mental Health practitioners will be carried out in their environment and not ours.
b) Mental Health Practitioners seem, in the main, to be experiencing huge demands on their time and thus tend to deal with other matters
c) Other “more pressing” matters tend to take the fore in our conversations with them.
But whilst all these things may be true, albeit to varying degrees perhaps, I truly believe that the environment(s) in which we spend our time can have a very real (albeit) often unrecognized effect on our mental health.
Your mental health is very important and both YOU and IT are worth investing in. Controlling your environment and your environmental influences are one way in which you can very definitely make a difference to your mental health.
For me personally, the cleaner, tidier and neater my environment is, the better my mental health is. Additionally, the brighter my environment is the more optimistic I am.
Likewise, when I was very open and honest with myself about the kind of pictures, posters and things that I had around me and whether these were truly healthy for me or not I decided to rid my environment of those things that were unhealthy and it really did help.
So here is what I would like you to do….
1. Make a list of the different places where you REGULARLY spend MOST of your time starting with the place you spend most time and working down to the place you spend the least.
2. If possible go to that place now and simply spend some time looking around it whilst asking yourself, “How does it make me feel?”
3. Undertake an emotional and mental audit of the place by asking yourself and listing …
Is it a peaceful place?
Is it a happy place?
Is it calm?
Is it organized or chaotic?
Does anything that make you uneasy?
Is there anything about the place or the things in it that bring back bad memories?
4) Having undertaken your mental and emotional audit look at your list and determine what, if anything, can be done to improve things and make a list of those things?
5) Having made you list of things that can be improved set yourself some realistic and tangible targets.
6) Take action and do all you can to achieve the improvements that you want to make.
7) Share your list and decision with those who love and care for you and who you trust. Enlist their help in achieving your targets. Listen to their opinions fairly and objectively but remember you are in control here.
8) Make a diary entry for three months time to review your environment again and do this each and every three months. (If you are anything like me when your mental health worsens so too will your environment so regularly keeping it in check is essential.)
9) Be proud of yourself! If you have done this YOU have taken steps to help improve your own mental health.
I sincerely hope it helps you as much as it helped me. If you would like to discuss anything suggested here or need any further clarification or help please feel free to comment below and I will do my best to respond and to help.
It’s an interesting turn of phrase, don’t you think? “Blowing smoke up your a^%&” (You can add the last word for yourself, I am sure that I don’t have to do it for you).
The whole practice didn’t last very long as people soon figured out that not only was it extremely uncomfortable and embarrassing, it was also pretty much useless. However the phrase “blowing smoke up your a^%&” entered into our language and has been with us ever since.
And actually it is a pretty good phrase and quite appropriate for our usage in respect of the next piece of advice concerning “Managing The Madness”.
You see I firmly believe that part of the human condition is that of “kidding ourselves and indeed others” or at least trying to. Likewise I also firmly believe that this is something that can easily creep into the way that we (and indeed others cope with our mental health and indeed other aspects of our lives…
When we forget to do something – like taking our meds on time or regularly – we tell ourselves, “Oh it will be ok.” or “well they never did much anyway”
When we are feeling a little lazy and can’t be bothered to clean up as we said we would – we might say, “Oh a few more days won’t hurt any.”
When someone asks us how we are coping and we are reluctant to tell them – we might say, “I have been better, but then I have been worse also.” or “Oh I am hanging in there thanks.” (My own personal favourite or so it seems)
When someone does us an injustice or treats us unfairly. Do we tell ourselves, “Oh well it is no more than I deserve really.”
Whilst these might all be seen as coping mechanisms, the truth is that a coping mechanism that permits us to avoid things whilst at the same time encouraging or endorsing wrong or harmful thinking is NOT a coping mechanism at all really.
So the question we have to ask ourselves is, “Is this the healthiest or the best way of dealing with things?”
And the reason that we have to ask ourselves this question is I believe twofold.
Firstly because actually another part of the human condition is, in my opinion, the fact that the more we get away with something the more we will try to continue getting away with it and so we become our own worst enemy.
And Secondly because although we may think we are getting away with things or convincing ourselves that everything is “ok” or “will be ok” deep down inside we know that this is not true and that contradiction can cause us internal stress. Even if we are not fully aware of that stress.
So what then is the best approach?
Well, and this is of course only my own opinion, it has to be total honesty. But here is a golden saying that I have…
Honesty is not something that should ever be allowed out alone. It should always be accompanied by fairness, wisdom, understanding, and compassion. I truly believe that.
Because honesty for the sake of honesty can often be selfish and thoughtless and harmful. So in all our dealings with others and indeed our dealings with ourselves it is important that we do consider our motivations and indeed the possible outcome of our words, thoughts and actions.
Generally speaking when it comes to quality of life, having Mental Health issues is not a reason for opting out but is instead a reason for opting in and for fighting harder.
In all walks of life we have expectations. Expectations of ourselves, our equipment, belongings, friends, family, society, government, the list goes on and on. It is perfectly natural and understandable and indeed very often it is these expectations that motivate us.
So here are my tips in respect of “not blowing smoke up our own or anyone else’s a^%&.
Have expectations of yourself BUT make sure they are realistic, reachable and fair.
When others try to expectations on you, again make sure they are realistic, reachable and fair.
If you know or think that meeting those expectations is going to be difficult be honest about it and ask someone to help and encourage you.
In assessing those expectations and how you are or aren’t meeting those expectations make sure that YOU are realistic, reachable and fair and be honest with yourself (and others) but do so remembering that “Honesty is not something that should ever be allowed out alone. It should always be accompanied by fairness, wisdom, understanding, and compassion.”
Now I have to admit that this part of the “Managing The Madness” series is one that is particularly relevant to me. But then aren’t they all? After all, as I said in my introduction to this series, I am NOT a health Care professional and I am offering this series not by way of expert advice but simply as tips that I have found useful in dealing with my own mental health related issues.
So what’s all this about “proper ownership”?
Well one of the things about poor mental health and especially (in my personal experience) with paranoid schizophrenia is the lack of self-worth or the poor self-image or the self-deprecating attitudes that often go hand in hand with these kind of illnesses.
Sometimes, and let’s be totally honest with each other here, this negativity is “put upon us” by others, Sometimes by those who casually observe but don’t understand, often by those who are totally ignorant or uneducated concerning mental health but also (and sadly especially) sometimes by those who should know better. Likewise sometimes it is something that we “take upon ourselves”.
But just as we need to try to be realistic in respect of the validity of any negative comments or attitudes that we encounter we also need to be realistic about how frustrating our “poor mental health” can be not only to ourselves but also and possibly even more so to those who love or care for us. After all, let’s remember here that whilst we often know first hand what is going on in our heads (even if we don’t always know why) others can’t see or know that. All they get to see are the results or “fall out” of this.
So where does that leave us? Let’s summarize for a moment…
Our mental health can directly and negatively affect our OWN self-image and self-worth.
Additionally it can affect our relationships in such a way that it reinforces those negatives.
Also, others with whom we have little to no relationship other than a casual acquaintance or indeed the fact that we are in the same vicinity can make uneducated and improper remarks or observations that increase or introduce additional negativity.
With me so far?
Ok, so let me ask you something? If I came to you tomorrow morning and said to you, “Hey that guy over there just stole my car, so you have to pay for a new one.” What would your reaction be?
Would you pay for a new one? Or would you rightfully tell me, “No way. I am sorry for your loss but I didn’t steal it so I am not paying for it!”
What about if I said to you.. “Hey a car just crashed through my front wall so you have to pay for the wall to be repaired?” What would you reaction be then? Would you pay for the repair or rightfully say, “Hang on a minute. I am sorry about your wall and the car crashing through it but I don’t own your wall and I don’t own the car so I am not going to pay for it!”
See that’s the thing isn’t it. In those two situations the circumstances were either beyond your control or you had no rightful ownership of them. So why, when it comes to negativity, do we so readily accept ownership of that which we have no right to?
Now please don’t get me wrong here. The title of this post is not “Lack of ownership”nor is it “Disowning” as I fully and freely accept and actually recommend that we DO take ownership of those thoughts, words, and deeds that our own and that we had control over. But I am convinced that it is extremely unhealthy for us to take ownership of criticisms, negativity and even responsibilities that we have NO right to or no responsibilities for.
So if our mind, or our family, or our loved ones, or our friends, or anyone else for that matter, tries to place them on us it is extremely important (for our own well-being) that we resist this as lovingly and patiently as possible.
But what happens if we just aren’t sure what we should accept and what we shouldn’t accept? I hear you ask [or is that just my voices again 🙂 ].
Well that is where having good, open and honest relationships with people we can trust and who know us, our illnesses, and our needs come into play. Because the truth is that just as our self-worth, self-image and/or self-perception can become corrupted and damaged so too can our understanding and perception of reality.
Talking things through with them can be invaluable and in so doing, my advice has to be, always be as open and honest and objective as possible and above all else try to remember “It’s all about proper ownership”!
As an artist I often see things differently to others. Sometimes this is a good thing and sometimes it is a bad thing. Often when I am looking at things I will see a pattern where others don’t see them – say in literary stanzas or even in words written or typed on a page or mathematical progressions or in items spilled over on a desk or table.
Other times I will fail to see things that other plainly see. For example those magic eye pictures are a good case in point. You know the ones, where you have a series of patterns on a page and have to squint to see the hidden item in them. Sometimes I get them very quickly other times I can stay there for hours and just not “get it”!
No big deal, I hear you offer. After all they are just patterns. It isn’t like your well-being depends on your noticing them.
But see here is the deal, when it comes to mental health recognizing the patterns is a big deal and our well-being can depend on it.
You see all too often the issues of our mental health and indeed the contributory factors to our mental health can be cyclical or can follow a pattern of sorts. So recognizing them can be an essential aid to understanding and managing our mental health.
But some are more easy to spot/recognize than others. For example (and yes I know that this is an over simplification) a person who notices that each year he or she feels depressed in the winter months but is fine for the rest of the year may very well have Seasonal Affective Disorder and if so has recognized that fact as a result of recognizing the pattern of being depressed only in the winter months each year.
Likewise someone who suffers extreme stress the same day each month and thus notices the pattern of this, can then look at what he or she does (or what happens) that day and perhaps work out from that what the “trigger” is. [I shall be looking at the whole question of “triggers” in my next posting.]
But of course patterns don’t have to be that obvious or that simple. Patterns can also be about attitudes and approaches. For example, I know that there are certain things that nearly always happen when my family and I discuss one or two specific issues. They take the same line as usual and so do I – thus it is a pattern. The end result is neither of us are happy with the outcome and I struggle even worse than usual with my voices as a result of it.
So perhaps my taking a different line or approach may result in their taking a different line or approach and a healing can come about where before it had not or at least we won’t have the same old predictable outcome and the voices won’t pounce on me.
So how do we detect the patterns?
Well perhaps one of the easiest ways of doing so is to keep a mood or emotions or symptoms diary/journal
This can be done in one of a few ways but here are just a couple as an example…
1. The Daily Diary. Keep a diary/journey that you write in each night before bed. Post mortem the day that you had that day making notes of your feelings or your mental health related symptoms and what happened to bring about each change or to induce them.
2. The Specifics Diary. Instead of making notes of your feelings or your mental health related symptoms and what happened to bring about each change or to induce them each day, you make a detailed diary entry each time something significant happens or changes.
In both of these examples the more honest and detailed you can be (without making it too much of a drudgery and thus not maintaining it) the better as the greater the information you have recorded the greater the resource you have when you come to review.
At the end of each month set aside some time to look back over the month and see if anything jumps out at you. You might well be surprised! Likewise, at the end of three months set aside some time to look back over the previous three months and see if there are any recurring patterns emerging, and again each sixth and twelve month.
Additionally, if you live with other people, a spouse or partner, family etc and you trust their judgment and can trust them to make observations in a kind, honest, compassionate and constructive way ask them to look for any patterns that are there. (Remember it is often far easier to spot mistakes made in a football match if you are stood on the sidelines looking on rather than caught up in actually playing the game.)
Trust me this really can be a very effective tool and can really bring about some amazing revelations. Let me share something with you.
Many years ago I knew of one particular lass who suffered from extreme bouts of depression, combined with extremely poor self-worth and very bad agoraphobia. She was a single parent and a recluse – seldom leaving her flat unless she really had to and even then only on certain conditions. Her relationship with her family had broken down and her relationship with her young child was very strained because she could not do what “other moms” did.
During a routine visit a student nurse made the suggestion that this lass started keeping a diary similar to the ones I have detailed above.
After only a few months patterns were easily recognized and as well as certain stress factors and triggers being identified, the close relationship between her monthly cycle (which was extremely erratic by nature) and her bouts of depression has been identified and Hormone Replacement Treatment started.
By the end of the year she was so very much better. Able to come and go out of her house as she pleased, she soon became an art teacher in a local community project, active in her child’s schooling and extra curriculum activities and had repaired her relationship with her family.
So there you have it. Just one example of how recognizing patterns and responding accordingly can be a real help.
For the purpose of clarification as to the meaning of “trigger” in respect of this posting please be advised that a “trigger” in this context is anything – (for example an item, thought, word, sound, smell, location, circumstance or situation)- which invokes or sets off a specific individual or chain of associations, thoughts, emotions, or memories
Take it from me, they can be the most insignificant things to one person and yet the most feared thing to another. I can personally assure you that PTSD sufferers and folk with MPD know that these can have the most embarrassing results.
For me personally I can tell you that the triggers I have experienced are numerous in both quantity and type and include –
Anti child abuse or cruelty adverts,
Graphic Child or Sexual Abuse imagery either on television in movies or in books,
The combined smell of sweat and old spice aftershave,
Hearing David Bowie’s – Spiders From Mars,
Hearing “Wishing You were somehow here again”,
The sound of leather being cracked against itself.
Circumstances where there are extreme stress or confrontation,
Repetitive and/or aggressive noise.
Sudden and severe drops in my physical health.
But there are of course others and in fact some of the above I have managed to work against and to learn to generally cope with. And I mention them in order to give you an example of some of the types of triggers than can exist.
So what do we do about triggers?
Firstly, we need to identify them – either in ourselves or in others.
This can be done a number of ways including the diaries/journals that I mentioned in part four of this series.
Likewise immediately after an episode (and when able) we can make an effort to analyze what it was that “set us off” and to make a note to watch out for it happening again.
Additionally we can ask those around us whom we trust to keep an eye out for any changes and to make a note of what happened immediate prior to the change.
Secondly, we need to understand them.
Carefully take some time to reflect on the triggers that you (or those you trust) have identified. Try to understand…
a) where they came from?
b) why they are a trigger to you?
c) what it is specifically about them that causes the reaction in you that it does?
d) what is the potential for that trigger to be repeated?
e) what reaction does it cause?
f) why does it cause that reaction?
Thirdly we need to prepare for them.
Taking all of the factors listed in a) through to f) above into consideration, what can you (or those you trust) do to reduce either a) their potential or b) their effect?
It is I think worth noting here that for many folk who experience mental health related issues that are subject to triggers and that do instigate or set off a certain resultant behavior or reaction there can also be things can be done to end or reduce that behavior or reaction or at very least to reduce the effect that it an have.
Again I am speaking personally here but do so in the hope that my sharing may help others, one of the things that we observed and concluded over a long period of time is that many of my nightmares seemed to be induced by violent films or situations in television programs that were playing on the television that was on whilst I slept.
I found having the television on whilst I fell asleep actually helped me fall asleep but had not thought of it’s possible effect once I was asleep.
So in response to this I personally a) watch only relaxing and low-key programs immediately prior to going to bed, b) set the sleep/timer function on my TV so that it goes off very soon after I go to sleep, and c) program the sky (Satellite or Cable TV) to only play comedy or casual programs whilst I am asleep [just in case I forget to set the sleep/timer function].
It is also certainly true that it is sometimes possible for us to completely remove the potential for us to come across those triggers.
Fourthly, we need to address them,
If these triggers are present in your life it means the thing that they relate to are still (albeit mostly dormant) issues that are present in your mental health.
Taking time to carefully reflect on and address the issues that those triggers are related to can remove the threat of those triggers. PLEASE UNDERSTAND here that I truly believe that doing this can be essential BUT SHOULD ONLY be done with great caution and with people who are either very trustworthy and experienced or indeed a trained professional. “You wouldn’t send an elephant to defuse a bomb, so be careful who you let near your triggers when they have the potential to be explosive in your life.”
Desensitizing yourself to the is another possibility, and a technique that can sometimes work BUT I would again have to recommend exercising the same caution here as I have just mentioned above.
I think that is pretty much all I want to say about “triggers” at this point. Except that it is worth noting that not all triggers are rational or easily identified or understood.
Don’t rush into this and don’t enter into it expecting an overnight victory. Respect both yourself and the pain and emotions that caused these triggers for you. Some of them may have been built up over years and may take a very long time to heal and conquer. BUT both you and the work needed to achieve this goal are worth it!
“Managing The Madness”- Part Six – “Anchoring!”
Many moons back now one of my adopted sons suffered from recurring nightmares related to abuse that he had suffered in the past. Whilst the nightmares were recurring they took several different forms and related to several different issues.
So I needed a way of managing the nightmare issue whilst we worked through the issues that were causing them.
So I came up with a technique that I called the anchor technique.
Based on the idea of how and anchor can be used during a storm the idea was to establish a thought or conviction or auto-response in the mind that would divert the mind away from the nightmare the minute it began.
What we did was to create a story or scenario, a mental picture if you will, that was both happy, fond, warm and safe and one that was easily identifiable and that could easily be related to.
So for example we told a story of my son and I going off for a picnic and we established anchor details within the story. It went something like this…
“I come to my son and lifting him in my arms giver him a big hug and suggest that we go on an adventure.
He excitedly agrees and so hand in hand off we go.
We walk off together and pretty soon are walking through fields with wild flowers all around the edges and bunny rabbits and dear running and playing in the distance.
As we walk together we chat and laugh and I tell him all about the rabbits and dear that we can see.
Coming to the edge of the field we come to a small sandy path which leads down to the beach.
Together we sit on the sad and have a picnic and watch dolphins playing and jumping in and out of the water.
Once we have eaten he sits in my arms in the warmth and gently falls asleep and stays there having happy dreams until he wakes. Still safe and warm in my arms.”
We told that story repeatedly each night before bedtime and if I wasn’t there he was asked to tell it too himself in his own head each night just before sleeping.
Then together we agreed that from now on if ever he started having a nightmare when asleep, the minute it started, instead of having that nightmare what would happen is that I would come to him in his dream and we would have our adventure together. And again each night just before bed we assured each other that this would happen and even if I wasn’t able to physically be there at bedtime he would tell himself what would happen in his dreams.
And so the anchor was placed. It took a few nights and every now and then he would slip but mostly the minute anything happened in his sleep that would remind him of the beginning of one of his nightmares he would automatically picture me turning up in his dream and leading him off to that warm, safe, fond adventure.
This allowed us time to deal with the issues behind the thoughts without his suffering those terrible nightmares.
So if you suffer from recurring nightmares, why not try giving it a go using someone you know and trust and feel safe with and using a storyline that is fond and appealing to you?
Remember it is the repeating reassurances – that establishes the anchor.
And this anchor technique doesn’t only apply to nightmares.
It can also be used to combat anxiety or negative thought processes. So if you know that there are situations that always cause you anxiety why not put a mental anchor in place that gives you courage or helps you know that you are not alone or that diverts you from your anxious focuses and that reinforces or which emphasizes your strengths and abilities?
Likewise if have recognized that certain situations encourage or accommodate negative or harmful thought processes place a mental anchor in your mind that you will NOT allow yourself to go down those roads and instead with use the time in positive ways or thinking about positive things, remembering happy memories or making positive plans.
I hope that all makes sense and helps.
Ever been stuck looking for a parking space in a really busy large or multi-storey car park?
You know the kind of scenario I am describing here. You are out and in a hurry and you drive into a large or multi-storey car park only to join a whole series of cars riding round and round for what seems like ages looking for a vacant space in which to park.
You spot one up ahead and make a dash for it only to be beaten to it by another car?
Frustrating isn’t it?
Let’s alter that scenario, that picture if you will.
How about instead of the car park being a large or multi storey car park it is your mind. And instead of all those cars driving round and round looking for a space each one is a thought instead?
Getting the idea?
Our minds can be like that sometimes can’t they? Lots and lots of different levels with lots and lots of thoughts going round and round looking for a place to sit and be dealt with? Sometimes so many going so fast that they are all just seem to become a blur?
“Thought parking” is a technique that I use when I can’t sleep and I have lots of things on my mind.
Holding onto the concept that each thought is like a car going round and round that multi storey car park that is my brain I take a series of slow deep relaxing breaths and then deliberately picture all the thoughts (all the cars) slowing down.
Then once they have slowed down I start identifying each of the thoughts (the cars) that have been going round and round and I make a list (either on paper or mentally) of each one of them.
Having made my list I recognize and accept that, “Hey, this car park is actually my mind and so how many levels and how many vacant spaces there are in this my “car park” (my mind) is entirely up to me. So, if I need a space, I can just imagine one and pop – there it is.”
Then I check my list and work out how many thoughts (cars) I still have to park and thus how many spaces I will need. And having worked this out I simply imagine that number of vacant spaces all lined up neatly in a row.
The I look at each one of the thoughts (or cars) that I have listed in turn and ask myself the following questions.
1. “Do I really need to deal with this tonight?”
2. “Is it really so urgent that it can’t wait until tomorrow?”
3. “Is anything really going to change for the worse with it between now and when I wake up if I don’t deal with it now?
If the answer to each of those questions is “NO” then I know that it is safe to simply park that thought (that car), turn off the engine, lock it and hang up the keys and return to it in the morning once I have rested.
I repeat this process for each of the cars (thoughts) that have been going round and round in my mind and stopping me from sleeping. And having done so I generally find that this allows me to sleep or at least removes that reason for not sleeping 🙂
Of course I do understand that to some this may seem a very simplistic perhaps even a slightly daft idea. But I share it with you because I personally have found that it really can work.
So if you have trouble sleeping why not give it a try?
Yesterday I received a wonderful email from one of my relatives. This particular relative is in fact a second cousin and one whom I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting. We became acquainted as a result of our both being interested in tracing our respective and linked family trees and as a result of this have kept in touch via Facebook and emails.
Not wishing to hid my mental health any longer when I started this blog I decided to enable a link between this site and my Facebook and Twitter accounts so that whenever I publish a post on here it automatically appears on both of those accounts also. To be totally honest I pretty much forgot about it after that and paid little to no thought that any of my relatives would actually take time to view, let alone read, these postings.
But yesterday Rose, my cousin wrote me a wonderful email letting me know that she had indeed been reading this blog and at the same time being extremely kind and understanding. Something for which I am very grateful. The reason I am sharing this information with you however is that also contained within the email was the sentence and sentiment, “I think you are incredibly brave opening up in your blog and hope in some way you find it cathartic.”
As for the first part of that statement I can only respond with thanks and the honest admission that I have never considered my openness through blogging in this way to be brave. I do it in the hope that others may know that they are not alone and are not the only ones who think or act the way they do as a result of mental health related issues. Also. I blog openly in the hope that others who do not struggle with poor mental health may gain some sort of insight into the issues and indeed what kind of things sufferers of poor mental health have to contend with.
But there is also a third reason that I blog as much as I do and this very much relates to the latter part of my cousin’s statement that of it being in someway cathartic and affording me a vehicle through which I can find a voice, a release, a vent if you will.
It is an interesting word and concept isn’t it? One that has several direct and indirect uses within our language, social and religious history and indeed medicine itself.
In terms of language it finds its origin in the Greek “κάθαρσις” (Katharsis) and is derived from the verb “καθαίρω”, kathairein meaning “to purge or purify. It is also directly related to the adjective “καθαρός”, katharos, meaning “clean” or “pure”.” And in own modern usage it is often used in reference to something that is deemed to afford a purging, or a cleansing, or a purifying, or a release. Additional (often by implication) but not unrelated, modern usage is in respect of something that removes discomfort or distress.
In terms of social history cathartic treatments could arguably include the use of enemas or their modern day relative colonic irrigation. Likewise, in terms of social history within England, enemas were at one time often administered to naughty children as it was believed that their naughtiness stemmed from some form of inner discomfort or even constipation.
In terms of religious history, and I include this purely as a result of my knowing that some readers share an interest with me in church history and in such things as the Knight Templars, Opus Dei, and the Cathars etc. The Cathars themselves got their name from the “Purity” aspect of words origin.
Medically speaking, and I must admit that I have always found this fairly interesting, especially when it comes to our general usage of the word, it refers to a substance that accelerates defecation. Not a laxative you understand, which eases defecation, but one that actually accelerates it.
Which brings me neatly, if indeed one can gain a picture of neatness when discussing accelerated defecation, to the core subject of this eighth part of the “Managing The Madness” series – A Healthy Release.
I think most folk would readily accept how unhealthy it is to keep things bottled up inside. Certainly in terms of psychiatry, psychology and psychotherapy safely and carefully releasing or giving voice to that which is inside is in the main very much encouraged. Of course this is a very basic and somewhat over simplified statement and I accept fully the fact that said release should also be used as a building block or starting point for further analysis, reflection, assessment, adjustment and so forth.
But when we strip it all back to the basics we can at least agree that the “releasing” aspect is something that holds merit.
A baby who is distressed will instinctively cry out. Partly, I would suggest, in order to elicit a response and partly to instinctively gain a release.
People who are angry or frustrated often scream and shout or disrupt things even when they are alone. The person getting out of the bath who stub his or her toe on the chair leg with yell and cuss/swear again in order to release.
When we are angry, happy, excited, distressed, elated, we seek to release it and share it. It is, can we agree, a basic human response even a basic human need.
But what happens when that which you need to release is in part or in some way abhorrent or distasteful or repugnant to you or to others? What if there is some deserved or even implied shame of stigma attached to it and thus to you for having any part of it?
For years, and I am so very sad to say even today, mental health has had a stigma attached to it. Mental health patients and sufferers experienced and still experience misunderstanding, injustice, patronization, ridicule, distrust, isolation, bullying, mistreatment and ostracism.
And here’s the deal and one that I can’t stress enough or too clearly. Not only can and do we experience some or all of these things from others towards us BUT we can also experience them from ourselves towards ourselves.
And the saddest result of all that is the silence that it creates and that not only hinders, harms and hurts the sufferers themselves but that robs society of greater understanding and such a wealth of experience and creativity that so very often accompanies this type of illness.
In nearly all of human experience – sociological, political, economical, biological, chemical, physical, natural, spiritual, that which is locked up, suppressed, buried away but that needs release will somehow find that release.
Likewise the more it is suppressed, the longer it takes to find that release, the more damage it does to its immediate environment and the greater and often more harmful the impact it has when finally that release is realized.
Which is why I truly believe that finding a healthy release can be such a benefit and is such an important a part of “Managing The Madness” so to speak.
Whether you find that release through acting/drama, comedy, poetry, music, painting, drawing, sculpting, writing, dancing, sports, blogging, or whatever healthy vehicle you choose and that appeals to you, finding that voice, the expressionism, that release is so very beneficial if not essential to improved mental health.
The use of pen names, pseudonyms, monograms and aliases coupled with the anonymity that the internet affords, offers a wide variety of mediums and audiences through which and to which you can communicate. Likewise, it allows for free exchange of opinions without fear of humiliation or attributed stigma, or indeed too much ridicule or rejection. As well as affording non-threatening and time accommodating opportunities to process responses, reactions and opinions and to filter out, discount and block unhealthy ones.
So there you have it. Part eight in the Managing The Madness series. – Finding a Healthy Release. As I said before, I am so very convinced that finding that voice, the expressionism, that release, is so very beneficial if not essential to improved mental health and I actively encourage you to find yours and to do so in such a way that it not only benefits you but that also benefits others.
I started this section making reference to enemas and accelerated defecation and I would just like to end it on much the same note…
Being an avid blogger, internet user and “twitter” I have visited and read a great many blogs, websites, articles and “tweets” and been blessed by so many of them. But there are alas, a great many out there that are clearly just venting for venting’s sake or deliberately designed to spread muck and hurt. This is, in my opinion, never a good thing and I hope and pray neither I nor you ever find release in this way.
Some time back now I read a letter that Stephen Fry had written to his 16 yer old self. Hm perhaps I should explain that a little.
Actually Stephen now aged 54 (I think) had at the age of 16 written a letter to his future self. Many years later (I think a couple of years back now) Stephen decided to write back to his 16 year old self.
Yes I know it sounds a little peculiar. After all, whilst I fully accept that writing a letter to your “future self” does stand some chance of it actually getting to you and being read by you. Writing to your “former self ” has little to no chance of actually getting to you and being read by you at that age. Unless of course there is some sort of time traveling postal service out there that no-one has told me about.
But it did get me to thinking. Yes I know a great many things get me to thinking and not all of what I think needs to be shared, but stay with me if you will.
For so many of us, our experience of struggling with poor mental health, has been a lengthy process and indeed for some of us a life-long battle.
Subsequently, since we know that our mental health can have a direct or indirect effect on our perceptions, decisions or actions, it is fairly safe to assume that had we known or understood then what we know or understand now we may not have done some of the things that we did in our past or indeed may not have allowed some of the things to happen to us that did.
Additionally, if indeed this is the case, there may be things in our past for which we have held long-seated guilt or hurts that we could have addressed or dealt with had we but understood things differently.
In Part Eight of this “Managing The Madness” series I proposed the idea of finding “A Healthy Release” and so bearing that in mind and taking into consideration what I have just said about our current understandings and how they could so easily of benefited us in our pasts, I ask myself, “What would happen if I were able to write to my former younger me?” Could there be some kind of release, some form of benefit, some element of healing or forgiveness, some kind of catharsis that I could afford myself or allow myself from this process?
Yes I know it may sound a little silly, odd-ball and unorthodox (have I eve claimed to not be these things) but trust me I really do think it could help.
In bereavement counseling I have heard of a technique whereby folk who have lost a loved one and for whom there are unresolved issues or a lack of closure experienced they are advised to write that person a letter saying all the things that they wish they could have said but never got the chance to say. Of course, the person writing the letter never get’s the chance to actually send it or give it to the person for whom it is intended but that is not important. What is important is that the person writing the letter got the chance to write it and to say the things that they needed to say.
So here is what to do….
Try not to pre-think too much of what you are going to say in your letter, just think about how you are going to write your letter…
1. Decide on what age you think that your receiving a letter from your future self (ie the you that is now) would have the most effect, importance or impact?
2. Try to think what name or greeting you should use to address yourself that would have the most significance to you at that age?
3. Only start writing this letter when you can be fairly confident that you have enough time to write it and finish it without interruption or disturbance. And
4. Using the medium in which you find writing the most easiest and most personal, ie. either a pen and paper or a computer or ipad etc., write a letter to yourself, starting with that personal salutation or greeting or name you thought of earlier.
In the letter try to be as open and honest as you can be and try to remember, whilst remembering that what you say and how you say it should be appropriate for someone of the age of the former you that you are writing to.
Try not to over-think or over analyze what you are writing and simply write what is on your heart or what automatically come to mind.
If you have a personal faith, why not pray asking for help and guidance in your writing and that you may be given the words that you should write?
Write as much or as little as you feel you want to or are able to and do so knowing that you can always write again or even change or re-write what you have written.
Once you have written what you wanted to say, end the letter in a way that is as personal and intimate as how you started it and then date the letter next to your signature.
In the meantime I would strongly suggest that having put it somewhere safe and private until you have decided what you want to do with it you consider the following options..
The Follow Up:
What you do with your letter now is entirely up to you and indeed there are several ways in which your letter can be used.
Just For Me:
If you are concerned about someone else finding and reading your letter and feel that just the process of having written it has served its purpose, you can burn or destroy the letter. (Please remember to do this very safely and please be very sure that you will not want to refer to it again another time before choosing this course of action.
Just For Me and Future Me:
If you feel that you are the only one you want reading this letter but that you might want to read it again later, keep it hidden somewhere safe and private and go back to it as and when you want to or feel the need to.
When rereading the letter try to consider-
What age is the you that you are writing to?
Why did you choose that age in particular? Did something happen at this age or immediately afterwards ?
What are the key points that come across to you now having read what you have written?
How do you feel those key points have affected your life to date?
Are they still affecting your life?
What pieces of advice or warnings or encouragements did you offer your former self?
Do they still apply to you now?
Have you really, truthfully accepted them now and are you acting upon them?
What changes would you wish that your former self would have made as a result of receiving your letter AND what changes can you still make now in response to them?
What healing do you now see as a result of that letter that needs to take place in your life and what are you going to do about them?
Just For Me, Future Me and my loved one(s):
Choosing your moment carefully and remembering the importance of not having interruptions or being disturbed, why not show your loved one this post and then explain to him/her or them how you followed this idea and would now like to share your letter with them.
Remember, all of the questions that I have offered in the “Just for me and future me” are just as relevant when considering your letter with a loved one as they were when considering them alone. Additionally…
Ask your loved one(s)..
How they responded to the letter?
If they have any questions as a result of reading your letter?
If they have any observations?
If they have any suggestions?
A word of warning to both you and your loved one(s) however! Please remember that what you are dealing with here are hopefully very real, very deeply felt and very important and potentially raw issues. Please handle with caution, sensitivity, love and where possible a good deal of prayer.
For Me, Future Me and My Therapist Only:
One other way in which your letter (or letters) can be used is with your therapist if you have one and trust him or her. Sharing this whole process with them and asking their advice can afford you with a great source of advice and help and a healthy perspective on what you are doing.
So perhaps this idea of writing to our former, younger self is not such a hair-brained idea after all? And indeed why stop there? Why not expand on this and also write to your future self expressing all of the things that deeply effect us at this time, our deep seated fears, emotions, worries, guilts, hopes, dreams, etc. You could even write words of warning or words of inspiration for the future?
Trust me, as I said before I do realize that this seems a little out there as an idea and I realize that this can seem to be a very scary thing to do. But I am convinced that there is something to gain from it. In fact I am so convinced that this can be of benefit that half way through writing this post I myself sat and wrote a letter to my former self.
Thankfully I am now in a position where I most of the people I know, are fully aware of my mental health issues and where I am no longer able to work and don’t go out much and thus I do not have to worry too much about what others know about or think of me.
So with this in mind, and by way of encouragement to you, as soon as I have published this the ninth part of the Managing The Madness series I am going to copy and paste my letter to my former self on the front page of this blog.
What responses this will bring, I do not know. But if it encourages and helps even one other person then no matter what responses it may bring I think it will be worth it. See – who says that talking to yourself is a sign of madness?
[Editors Note: Ok. So true to my word I did publish my letter. In case you are reading this at a later date and would like to see that letter please click here ]