‘Manipulative’????? And now she is dead… (Suicide trigger warning)

I feel the need to write this blog post, although I’m not sure why. I think on some level I feel the need to try to make sense of something,  which I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make sense of.

From a literary point of view, I don’t think that’s even phrased the way that makes the most sense, but I don’t think I’m in the best mind frame to be thinking about that.

I’ve had a lot of experience in mental health – in many aspects. Mental health patient, supporter of friends with mental health problems,mental health support group faciliator, mental health trainer…

Similarly, a lot of experience with suicide – I’ve been suicidal, attempted suicide, supported people who’ve been suicidal, known people who’ve attempted suicide, others who’ve died by suicide, and I also deliver suicide awareness and prevention training.

Just 3 days ago, I underwent ‘Training for trainers’ to deliver my latest suicide prevention training course. I’m very passionate about educating people about mental health and suicide.

Yet, something happened recently that I’m having such difficulty processing on so many levels, and is just so wrong.

Some mental health professionals appear to have gotten their response to a person in distress very, very wrong and now somebody is dead.

That someone is K, a girl I knew through the mental health community on twitter.

I knew K and she was a really lovely person. I didn’t know her well though and never had the pleasure of meeting her, although she did also live in Scotland.

K struggled with mental health issues – although from what I saw she seemed to have come a long way over the years. Beyond that, it’s not my place to tell her story.

But on Friday - less than two days ago – she was suicidal. Here is a tweet she tweeted on Friday night:

“Been detained for assessment by police twice today, twice the hospital have said I’m being manipulative and send me home”.

Hours later she was dead, had taken her own life.

After that tweet, she did reply to a friend to say ‘tried to jump off bridge then when I went back after hospital police were patrolling it’….

So the result being that:

  • a lady in distress tried to jump off a bridge on Friday;
  • she was brought to the hospital by the police to be assessed – twice;
  • Twice she was sent home from the hospital, where staff had said she was being manipulative;
  • Later that night, she took her own life.

Those tweets were in her own words. Now she is no longer here to tell us more and that is so wrong.

Although that is only a limited amount of information relating to one individual case, it is enough to absolutely shock me. I’ve lots of experience with the subject of suicide, but this death I have found to be devastating and heartbreaking in many ways.

As a friend of K:

I would say that I was a friend of K’s, although not a close friend. Twitter is a big community, and I know that many others were closer to K than I was. But I knew K as a friend, and she was a truly lovely person.

She had survived a lot. She had a son who meant the world to her. She was a really caring person, who I witnessed do lovely things for other people. She supported others through rough times.

She was a fighter. But now she has lost that fight. She should be here now. It feels so wrong that she’s gone. That she was only here 2 days ago, and now she’s gone forever. And it shouldn’t be that way.

As part of an online community which has lost a friend:

It’s hard to watch so many others struggling with K’s death. Many others who struggle with suicidal thoughts themselves, now having lost a friend through suicide. It’s heartbreaking. There are almost no words to describe it. I just don’t know.

As a person who experienced similar treatment to K:

I’ve been in a similar place to where K was. I was long-term suicidal. I attempted suicide. But even more so, I was being discharged from psychiatric hospital, and extremely distressed, I planned to take my own life that night. (Many reasons, including the fact that I thought I was beyond help because I was being discharged from hospital more unwell than when I was admitted).

In my distressed state, I was open with a nurse about the fact that I planned to kill myself that night. She didn’t actually call me a manipulator (like K was called), but I can see how she thought that, as she was convinced I was just saying it to get to stay in hospital. She did say ‘if it means that much to you, you can stay another night’, when I said that no, I would be killing myself that night, so had to leave she told me that that was my choice, and that I had been discharged so there was nothing she could do about that .

Rationally, she must have presumed that I was attention-seeking, manipulating, as if I was serious about it why would I be telling her? But I wasn’t thinking rationally, and suicide isn’t as black and white as that… Yes, I didn’t end my own life that night… but only because I exhausted myself crying, and the next morning my CPN gave me back some of my fight, telling me that it wasn’t right that I had been treated like that…

That type of treatment by professionals gave me a fight to keep going, although I was very unwell for a long period after that…

It also gave me the desire to make a difference in the world of mental health – and two years later I set up a mental health training business… wanting to educate people, and to have a positive impact….

That night when I was treated that way by that nurse, I remember wondering how many others had been let leave hospital while saying they intended to take their own life…

I realise that if I had taken my own life that night nobody may have ever known the way I’d been treated… in Scotland each year there are almost 800 recorded deaths by suicide. How many of those were people who had been turned away from mental health services, presumed to be attention seeking, manipulating, whatever….?

I was almost one… I lived to tell the tale… K sadly didn’t….

As a person who hates the terms manipulator / attention seeker:

When delivering training I always try to dedicate a section to these terms. Considering what we mean by these terms…. How we use them…

It saddens me so much the way they are used… in such a wrong way… in a way that looks at a person’s external actions and judges them, instead of seeing beyond their actions and looking at the reasons, seeing the pain and distress that lie behind those actions…

People see actions, judge them as attention seeking / manipulating.. when the reality is that, yeah, maybe they’re attention seeking, maybe that’s because they need attention…

There’s always some reason behind everything, and the question always needs to be asked: ‘what reason lies behind these actions?’

In training, most trainees seem to have a similar thinking to that. We agree that attention-seeker and manipulator are not helpful terms. ‘Why is the person seeking your attention?’ ‘Why is a person acting in a way that you think is manipulative?’ are the questions that need to be asked.

Less judgement. More compassion and understanding.

But what saddens me most of all is the fact that while I’ve trained hundreds who’ve gotten this quite easily, in this case, health professionals got it so, so wrong, and now a person has died as a result of it.

As a person supporting others who are / have been suicidal:

I’ve supported many who are or have been suicidal. Partially through some networks I’m involved in. Partially through the fact that in my personal life, because I’m open about my own current and past issues,it’s seemed that friends are more likely, as a result, to tell me of their own struggles.

There’s one person in particular who’s been quite unwell the past couple of years. A good friend. Let’s call them S.

S has been in and out of hospital – mainly the same hospital where I received very poor treatment, and unfortunately he received a similar lack of care.

It’s always hard supporting someone who’s considering suicide, who can see no other way to escape their pain. I try to focus on the small progress I see the person making, the hope that is there, the belief that things can get better.

While supporting others who are suicidal, it is hard to witness someone else die by suicide. To see first hand the impact of a person’s suicide. To feel that. To see the loss. The devastation. The despair.

As a person who desperately wants mental health to be treated in the same way as physical health is treated.

Because I support others who are suicidal, I tried to give some pre-thought to how I would feel if one did take their own life. Obviously I hoped it would never come to that, and of course it’s hard to even think about. But I figured it may be better to give this some thought to when I’m more rational i.e. before it ever happens…

I have one way that I look at it, that may be different from how others view it, but it is one outlook that I hoped that would help me if I was ever faced with that situation…

I thought:

Not every case where a person takes their own life is because they are mentally ill. But often it is. 

Sometimes when a person is physically ill, they die as a result of it. 

It’s the same with mental health. Sometimes when a person is mentally ill, they die as a result of it.’

But this is a painful reminder that, although that is an outlook that I hope would help me a little if faced with that situation, mental health is very far from being treated like physical health. Suicide is very far from being treated similarly to a person dying by a physical illness.

For starters, if a person is dying as a result of a physical illness, and come into contact with health professionals, professionals will almost certainly fight to try to save that person from dying as a result of their physical illness.

Whereas, telling a health professional you’re suicidal… you may get a compassionate, caring response from a health professional who tries to help… But it is not almost as certain as that response had you been dying from a physical illness.

Being mentally ill and telling a health professional you are suicidal and therefore your life is at risk, is no different really, for me, from a professional becoming aware that a person may be dying from a physical illness.

They can see the physical illness. They can’t  psychically see the mental illness. But they can ask about it, listen, care, empathise… see it through listening to it, hearing the person’s pain.

Yet we seem to have so far to go before we get anywhere near this point.

And yes, because the health professional can’t physically see the mental pain, they may say that a person is attention-seeking or manipulative… maybe that their life isn’t really at risk…

But we go back here to the importance of asking ourselves what reason lies behind this behaviour… but hey, if a person is indicating they are suicidal there is clearly some level of distress… and another thing… if they’re not serious, if they are attention-seeking / manipulating in the sense that people all too commonly seem to mean it… can we ever really take that chance with a person’s life?

As a mental health trainer

There’s so much I could say on this note.

But the most saddening thing is that I’m putting a lot of emphasis on training the general public in the skills to help a person with a mental health problem, and in suicide prevention… yet here the mental health professionals themselves get it so wrong….

Health professionals will have had a lot of training. The training that I give would likely be considered too basic for many… yet it is the basic stuff that makes a difference most often. Empathy. Listening. Compassion. True care…

And I’m left with an alarming feeling that I am training so many more people with the skills to make a difference… but in many cases they may then need to signpost to professional help, yet that professional help may practice skills which are the exact opposite of what I teach… and may get it so wrong.

And while I know that the work I do does make a difference, that is so disheartening. and quite concerning…

As a person who’s glad to still be here today. 

Today I feel low. I feel disheartened. I feel so sad by the loss of life. I feel angry. I feel confused. I feel so many other negative emotions.

But given that I could have so easily lost my life 3 years ago in a similar way to K did on Friday, on some level deep down I realise I’m still glad to be living my life today.

I’m glad that I didn’t take my own life.

I’m grateful to my CPN who helped give me back some of my fight the next day, who believed in me, and held on to hope when I didn’t have any, and played a big part in me still being here today. Who didn’t just see me as attention seeking or manipulative – when quite frankly that was exactly what I was at times… because I needed attention, I needed help… I can remember exact times I could have easily been called attention seeking or maniulative, but even more vividly I can remember the distress and pain that lay behind that.

K’s death has been a reminder, on many levels, of just how precious life is. And I’m glad that I didn’t die.

As a person who works in mental health in Scotland

I have worked full-time in the Scottish mental health sector for 13 months now.

Overall, I’m proud to be part of the Scottish mental health sector. There is a lot that is good about it. There is a lot of great work being done. There are many dedicated, truly life-changing individuals working in mental health in Scotland.

But there is a lot that is not so good about it too.

There may be many reasons behind these not so good things – lack of resources, lack of funding, professionals who get bogged down by workload, procedures, policy, etc… and lose sight of the person, what this is truly about…

Yes there many be reasons, but they’re never good enough… not when people like I, K, my friend S and others receive such appalling treatment, and not when people like K die as a result of it…. that is never good enough.

It’s a painful reminder that while there is a lot good about mental health in Scotland, there is a lot that does need to improve, and we do have a long way to go…

As all of the above and as simply as a human being

So many thoughts as a result of K’s death. So much for so many people to think about, following a tragic loss of a young life.

But one thing I do know that, no matter what happens, we need to make sure that K’s death is not in vain. Lessons need to be learned. Changes need to happen. Things need to change.

Nobody who presents as suicidal should ever be told that they are manipulating and sent home. Nobody should be dismissed in that way. K should not have been treated like that, put in that position… and neither should anyone else.

This is about K. But not just about K. There’s such a bigger picture, and we have to do everything we can to reduce the chances of this happening again.

And to any Scottish mental health colleagues, so many who I know are do amazing life-changing work, please work with me on this, please let’s do all we can together to ensure that K’s death has not been in vain.

Authors note to all affected by K’s death:

The above are all my own thoughts following a tragic event. They are varied thoughts, but there is not meant to be anything insensitive in them… and I hope that nothing in them will be taken that way.

I know that many will be struggling as a result of K’s death.

If you knew K online, but no in person, your grief is a real as had you known her in person – she was still a friend, whether online or otherwise.

If you are struggling, please take care of you.

Remember, these services and reach out if necessary:

  • Samaritans provide confidential non-judgemental emotional support, 24 hours a day, for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair. You can contact them on 08457 90 90 90 or text 077 25 90 90 90. You can find more information about Samaritans at http://www.samaritans.org.
  • Breathing Space offers free and confidential advice for people experiencing low mood, depression or anxiety, whatever the cause. This service can be contacted on 0800 83 85 87, 6pm to 2am Monday to Thursday; and 6pm Friday through the weekend to am Monday. Calls to Breathing Space are free from landlines and from most mobile networks. http://www.breathingspacescotland.co.uk provides a wide range of useful information and advice about coping with low mood, depression and anxiety.

And to K herself:

You deserved so, so much better.

We’ll do what we can to make sure that your death isn’t in vain.

But it’ll never be good enough. You shouldn’t have died. But I’m hanging on to the thought that you are not suffering now like you had been.

This is for you. Rest in peace:

The question of whether I still have BPD…

For a while now I’ve had a thought at the back of my mind wondering if my diagnosis of BPD (Borderline personality disorder) still fits.

Knowing that there are 9 diagnostic criteria, of which those diagnosed need to meet at least 5 over a long period of time. Knowing that some of these criteria I had definitely met in the past, but no longer do, and haven’t done for a while.

Thinking about this, yet not really spending any real time thinking about it.

After all, does it really matter?

Does it really matter whether I tick certain boxes?

I am not a thing to tick boxes, meet criteria and be labelled. I am a person with certain issues, which have an impact on my life, at some times more so than others.

Don’t get me wrong, a diagnosis for me is and has been useful.

A long while before I got full-blown mentally unwell, I had read about BPD and thought ‘that’s me’. I identified so much with the diagnosis.

When I got quite unwell I knew it was more than depression. Although I knew this, I never suggested any diagnosis to any mental health professionals – I didn’t consider it my job to tell them their job.

My Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) did indicate a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. She was the one person in the world who knew me best, so it was reassuring to have her see what I could see. It was further reassuring later to have a psychiatrist give me that diagnosis.

It was validation for me… but I’m not really sure that it changed much.

I didn’t find my treatment to be specifically tailored to someone with BPD, and that was clearly not the case since I moved to a new town (and therefore mental health team) last year.

But… the benefits of my diagnosis were not external benefits. They were benefits in my head. It helped me make sense of things. Make sense of me.

That was all a few years back. It’s 3 years next month since I got that diagnosis. Since people saw what I saw.

And lately, yes, there’s been that niggling voice lately wondering if I still fit that diagnosis. Probably because I’ve been seeing more and more of the me that other people see. And because the affects of the condition have less than they have been in the past.

And low and behold, since then, there’s been a number of things which have shown me that yes, I do have BPD. Clearly not as badly as I did a few years ago. But, yes, I do have borderline personality disorder

And the affects may be less than they have been in the past. But when I’m caught up in how BPD makes me feel that is irrelevant. It doesn’t make it feel any less hellish, any less confusing, any less complicated or any less despairing.

I’m still me though. I’m still all that I am apart from the condition

But the condition is still there, and I still have a long way to go before I can really be where I need to be. Where I deserve to be.

The more I realise that, the more I’ve had that feeling again lately of it being ‘too hard’.

It doesn’t help that although I do a lot of work on myself, I do need some professional help and obtaining that help has lately been harder than it ever has been.

But despite how hard it has been, how hard it feels, I’m pushing forward… not giving up.

Because, no matter what my mind may tell me, I am actually worth it.

————

You may find the following helpful as additional reading:

#TimeToTalk? Well, here I’m talking, and being as open as I can be

Today is Time to Talk day in England. “24 hours in which to start conversations about mental health, raise awareness and share the message that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, neither is talking about it.”

I’ve had mixed feelings about this. It’s good. It gets people talking about mental health. And openness is one of the best things we can ever due to challenge stigma and to increase the numbers of people who reach out and get help.

But at the same time it somehow doesn’t quite sit right with me. We shouldn’t need a day to talk about mental health. We should be talking about it as often as it is needed, and I for one sure do.

But I recognise that Time to Talk is ultimately a good thing.

But leaving that aside – here’s me talking. Not about mental health in general. But in me. My main challenge perhaps will be to keep it from just being a rant / moan, but if it is then so be it.

One of the things that pisses me off is how external appearances can be so fucking deceiving. I had a lovely friend to stay a couple of weeks ago. It felt like she never stopped telling me how amazing my life was. I had ‘a lovely flat in a lovely city and had a career I loved, and oh Amanda, your life is so amazing, it is so wonderful, it is just brilliant, I’m so happy for you, because you have this wonderful life, and it’s so amazing’.’

And now I’m starting to think ‘Oops, I gave her this blog link, and she may read that’, but hey it’s #TimeToTalk day. That friend is a lovely person, and this is not about her. It’s about how people see external things and judge what your life is like, and how much better or worse you do or don’t have it based on those external factors. When all I want to do is shout out ‘Do you have any fucking clue what it actually feels like in my head?’

Because mental health isn’t about the external things in a person’s life. It’s about how it feels in a person’s head.

And I feel ok and good but shit and happy but sad and tired and motivated and exhausted and worthless and confident and ambitious and shite and defeated and hopeful and hopeless and worthless and determined.

I can feel good feelings while feeling a million bad feelings too.

I can use my determination to achieve things with my life yet still feel as shit as I did when I was most unwell.

I can function well yet be falling apart inside.

Please don’t judge me by the external things I let you see and please don’t make assumptions about my life if you can’t feel what it feels like in my head.

We talk about mental health. Great. Talking about mental health has made so much difference in my life. Not just in terms of training people about mental health. But talking myself.

When I first started talking about my mental health problems what surprised me most of all was how it appeared to make people comfortable enough to disclose issues in return. Which seemed to let me – and them – know that I wasn’t alone .

And that’s a good thing.

On paper I’m doing better than I was a few years back. But in many, many ways I’m not. I want to get the right help to help me be as well as I can be. I recognise that I am the one who needs to do most of the work to get myself as well as I can be. But I still need help. And to be fucking honest the battle to get any actual helpful help right now feels bigger than the issues that I’m trying to deal with.

And if it’s time to talk I’ll be honest and say that while I still feels suicidal sometimes the one thing that has most often resulted in me having suicidal thoughts is the difficulties of trying to get any actually helpful professional help. The poor communication from them. The lack of care. The frustrations. The nothingness.

And it’s dealing with that shit that makes me most often think ‘this is too fucking hard’. And then I tell myself ‘well, who needs them anyway. I can keep myself well’.

But it’s not about keeping myself well. It’s about me trying to be all I can be, and needing help with it. An actually good psychiatrist who I had last year, (who turned out to be a locum) got it right when he said ‘yes, you’re doing better than you used to be, but there’s still so much that is stopping you reach your full potential’.

So when I have the thoughts that the fact that it seems impossible to get any actually helpful professional help is just way too fucking hard, and they just make me worse, well when the thoughts of ‘I can do it without them’ start… I think, yes, I can live a good life… but there’s things in life I want… a family of my own being just one example… that I feel I have a long way to go before I get to that point… I have a lot of work to do… and I can’t do it on my own… but I can’t seem to get any help… and while I enjoy my career and the things in life I love… I want to have the life that I should have… I want to be ok… and I need help… but I can’t get it.

And it’s not just about needing help to be all I can be – life is so fucking hard – a million times harder than I could actually describe. I am better than I was when I was more unwell, but that’s mostly down to me. But in my mind it feels almost as hard as ever. I just want things to be easier. I just want a little support.

I feel lucky that I can go into professional mode and do a pretty fucking amazing job and can still achieve great things in my career. If I didn’t have that I honestly don’t even know where I’d be right now.

I am taking control of my mental health. I have things I’m going to do. But I’m still managing a serious mental illness that I have plenty of symptoms of, and it’s fucking hard, and feeling like I’m doing it all on my own without professional support makes it so much worse. Oh they say that I can ring up and talk to a stranger if I’m really struggling. Well, talking to a stranger generally is something which is unhelpful for me… never mind the fact that there’s no support unless I get to the point where I am practically critically unwell. Fuck that.

And I’m pissed off by how hard everything is. How much I’m trying and I know I’m getting somewhere very, very slowly… but I’m pissed off by how hard the seemingly smallest things still feel, and fuck it, by a few dozen other symptoms too, but I don’t need to go into all the symptoms.

What I want to know is when do things stop being so fucking hard… and how?

Oh and another thing what I fucking hate is when I try to get help when I need it, and I’m practically told ‘there’s people who are much more unwell’. Ok thanks for telling me that, good to know.

And they’ve no fucking idea how much effort i put in to managing my mental wellbeing. Well, the result is that I end up with no helpful help. Yeah, great.

But it’s not just about professional help. Or lack of it .

It’s about me. Nothing else but me. And I so wish that it wasn’t still all so hard.

Not proofreading this. So if it’s a mess, please don’t judge me as being a bad writer. I’m just offloading and putting it out there, don’t really want to read anything back.

 

It’s time to make MY beauty from pain

Back in July 2011 when I was very mentally unwell I remember sitting down with my CPN and writing out some goals. Short term, medium term and long term.

On the long-term goals I stated ‘I want to make something good come out of what I’ve experienced. I don’t know how or when I will do this, but I will’. 

Little would I imagine that 2.5 years later I’d have set up a successful mental health training business, having trained in hundreds in the skills to help someone with a mental health problem. That I’d also have set up two peer support groups which have helped dozens, and helped people through writing this blog.

I feel like I’ve done nothing more than follow my heart, so when I step back and think about what I’ve achieved it it actually surprises me.

I had a desire to make good come from my experiences – to make beauty from pain - and that’s what I’ve done.

But lately I’ve been thinking – what about my beauty from pain?

Most of the things I’ve done are focused on helping other people. What about me?

Now don’t get me wrong – all of these things that help other people also help me more than I could ever even begin to describe.

But… now is the time to focus on me.

The last year in particular – since I set up my business – I know there has not been nearly enough time for me. I’ve told myself that that’s natural with any new business in its first year. But I’ve seen it become a successful business, and I now need to step back and focus more on me.

Beauty from pain is about making good things come out of my experiences. But I need good things to come out of it for me too. Not just in terms of a great career, doing things I love – but I want to use those experiences to help me really achieve the things I deserve in life.

There are many different definitions of mental health recovery. Every individual ultimately needs to define for themselves what recovery means to them.

For me: recovery means living the life I’m meant to live, regardless of the presence or absence of the symptoms of any mental illness.

The life I’m meant to live – what does that mean? For me, it’s simply a case of ‘What life does Amanda O’Connell want to have?’ Can I achieve that? Whether or not I can, I am not going to let my mental illness hold me back from doing so.

Every day is still so much fucking harder than I could ever even begin to describe to anyone. I’m not sure anyone really truly gets that, given what I achieve, and what I choose to others.

But, hard or not, I’m going to give it my my best shot.

Career wise I know I’m doing what I was born to do. I have so much more to come career wise, but I’m very much on the right path.

But my life is so much more than a career. There are many things I want in life. My own family, children, a nice home, good friends… I want do achieve these things.

My mental illness is holding me back with some of these at the moment. Very much so. But now is my time to work on these issues. To make my beauty from pain.

2013 was new business. 2014 is continuing and expanding that business but focusing on me also. Helping me be all I can be. 

I don’t completely know how I will do this.

I know that despite my mental illness very much still affecting my life there is basically no support from mental health services right now. Or at least nothing which doesn’t just cause me more problems.

So right now I’m reminding myself that I am my own best mental health worker, and always will be.

I could let the fact that there is no helpful help hold me back. Or I can choose to become all I can be, despite that lack of help. And that is what I am doing.

I will also speak out and aim to get the right help for me.

I will look beyond the traditional support services and determine what else other services can help me be all I can be.

I will remember that just because I am very functional professionally does not mean I am ok personally.

I need to do most of the work myself, but I am not naive enough to think I can do it all on my own.

Right here, right now, I am making a commitment to myself. I am choosing to put me first. After all, if I don’t… who will?

I am choosing to make my own beauty from pain.

I almost called this ‘finding my own beauty from pain’. But it’s not something out there that I can go out and ‘find’. It’s something within me. It’s something that is a work in progress. It’s something that I – and only I – can make happen. I not only can but I also will. 

Here’s to the next stage of beauty from pain.

 

My pledge to myself for 2014

Trigger – talk of suicide

So, I mentioned in some recent blog posts that I’ve been struggling mentally lately. Hey, I always struggle mentally to some degree. But I seem to be struggling more recently than I have in a long time.

There will have been several contributing factors to this, but the main outcome was that I felt (and still, to some degree feel) like I am getting as unwell as I was a few years back.

I’m not but it doesn’t stop me feeling like I am, and it’s not nice.

One of the things I noticed was my feelings regarding suicide changing. Back in July 2011 I made a concrete decision that ‘I will never die by suicide’. I still stand by that 100%. Yet I noticed thoughts creeping in of ‘if I were to get as unwell as I was a few years back, I just don’t think I could take it’. Leading to suicidal thoughts, which lead to thoughts of plans… and it’s strange how the thought patterns can change so easily. But in a way, those thoughts can be like a comfort blanket sometimes.

The last two nights – 30th December and 31st December – I had two really good night outs with friends. Those two nights have lifted me a little. Despite the fact that both evenings motivating myself to go was shit hard. My mind wanted to isolate, to curl up, to just hide away. But I made myself go. And I’m glad I did.

I don’t really believe in New Years resolutions. I believe that New Year is just a change of date, and doesn’t need to mean any more than that. I believe that if we want to do make a resolution to do something or change something, we should do that at any moment of the year. What difference does that number at the end of the date really make to us making resolutions about our life?

I do make ‘resolutions’ all the time. I’m continually working on my life, on me, on my mental health and my business. I, and my life, are a work in progress, and I’m constantly changing and developing.

So the new year means little for me in terms of new year resolutions. But I realised last night that it did mean something more to me.

As the clock struck midnight my friends and I did a countdown. Then we cheered Happy New Year to each other, hugged each other, etc.

At that moment, I was filled with a lovely, lovely feeling. A feeling of ‘Fuck, I did it. I made it another year, and it feels wonderful.’ 

It may not seem like a big deal. But it was an emotional moment for me. It’s another upside of what I’ve experienced. I attempted suicide three times in 2011. I didn’t think I would be alive here today. Being alive is really, really tough sometimes. Sometimes I don’t want to have to do it anymore. But I’m glad I’m alive. And those moments of ‘I didn’t think I’d be here today, but I am, and it feels bloody great’ are truly wonderful.

Most people won’t get to experience that feeling, which is what I mean about it being an upside of what I’ve experienced.

In that moment, at midnight last night, I made a realisation: I want to feel that feeling again. I want to start 2015 thinking ‘Yes, I did it. I made another year!’

So I’m making a pledge to myself for 2014. My pledge for 2014 is that:

I will not take my own life in 2014. 

That may not seem like a big deal. After all, I made a decision in July 2011 to never die by suicide. But given how I have been feeling lately, that pledge to myself for 2014 is a big deal for me.

And how will I achieve this?

Using the same old strategies that have always worked for me.

  • Taking each day as it comes, and each day taking a ‘I will not do it today’ approach and
  • Continuing to be ‘My own best mental health worker‘.  Regardless of how much professional support I have – or don’t have – I will always be the one who is most able to help myself. I will continually work at being my own best mental health worker, and managing my mental health as best I can.

So here’s to 2014, and to feeling that wonderful feeling as I ring in 2015!

KEEP CALM AND CHOOSE LIFE

2013 in review

Just got emailed the 2013 Beauty from Pain Blog annual report.

It’s been a much quieter year for the blog – probably something to do with investing most of my energies into setting up and running a new business, while looking after my own mental health too.

But all in all, it’s not been a bad wee year for the blog. To me, it’s not about statistics, number of views, number of countries it was read in… or any of that shite. That’s not why I’m in it.

I’m in it to make a difference, and have always taken the stance that if what I do makes a difference to even one person, that’s what matters.

While it was ultimately a twitter initiative, #DearMentalHealthProfessionals was my personal highlight of my social media year, as it was something that did make a difference to many.

Thanks for being part of Beauty from Pain Blog in 2013. Looking forward to lots more great things in 2014!

Happy New Year :)

The report:

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 25,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 9 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Acting as my own Mental Health First Aider

My head hasn’t been in a particularly good way lately. I’m not sure how much I want to say about this.

I’m not sure of why it’s not been in a great way. But I know several possible reasons, which will have a combined impact. An obvious reason is Christmas, yet I didn’t react so badly to Christmas last year. It’s several other things.

And I don’t really want to write about it. Not publicly anyhow. The reasons aren’t all that relevant. It’s how I manage it that is.

For me, feeling alone with it is quite a contributing factor. Because ultimately I do feel I am coping with this alone. There is no real actual helpful professional support, and there’s no one offline who I feel really gets it, and there is of course the part of me that wouldn’t want to bother anyone else anyway.

My head gets so clouded. It happened Friday night late. Thoughts spinning non-stop. Me catastrophising to the point where, in my mind, I am as unwell as I ever was at my worst point. And I try to figure out how to manage it. What will help. But the more I tried to figure it out, the more the thoughts spinned round. Negative thoughts. Over analysing. And so on… And it happened tonight again. A mind in chaos – much greater chaos than it is in reality, but my mind spinning into chaos just makes it more chaotic.

Ok, I’m rambling…

I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it’s scary and worse that it probably actually sounds. And I couldn’t make sense of how to just stop it. How to just calm. How to just get through it so things didn’t keep escalating further in my mind.

And then it hit me…

Mental health first aid - I’m a trained mental health first aider. Why not use those skills on myself? Mental health first aid isn’t about being a mental health professional – but about providing some initial help until professional help is provided (if required).

I know enough about mental health first aid to do this for myself. And that’s what I’m going to do here.

Aside: I probably know a little more than the average mental health first aider, since I’m also an instructor, having trained over 300 in mental health first aid this year. I need to point out that you don’t become a mental health first aider by reading about the five steps – there’s much more to it than that. That’s definitely not me plugging the course or me as an instructor – I’m actually professionally bound to point out that you don’t learn MHFA from reading about the five steps. I invest a lot of time in advertising, but writing a blog post applying the steps of mental health first aid to myself is not quite a sensible form of advertising :)

Yes, mental health training is my profession. But it’s like another side of me that does that. The professional me. A completely different side from the side of me that struggles. And the side of me that struggles doesn’t make the other side of me any less able to be a good mental health trainer and business manager. 

I needed to put that out there, as people who don’t know me, may assume otherwise. I’ve lived my life for long enough to know me and know that that is definitely the case. I know that, for me, my mental health stuggles make me more able to do those other things. Then again, there’s a part of me that things – hey this is business, and there are competitors… so is this level of openness a good idea. But my work speaks for itself, so I’m giving myself some reassurance, and letting that go…

Ok, way too much rambling, I could’ve just said ‘strictly professional blog post, seperate from anything professional’ but typical me using a thousand words when ten will do :D

————-

The give steps of Mental Health First Aid are:

1. Ask about suicide 

2. Listen non-judgementally 

3. Give reassurance and information

4. Encourage professional help

5. Encourage self-help strategies

So… Dear Amanda, from your Mental Health First Aider….

Mental health first aid is not usually done in any specific order. Although in reality listening is really usually the first step. After all, you need to be listening to signs in order to spot that something is wrong. I’ve been listening which is why I’m applying the steps of mental health first aid… why I am trying to help you (myself).

But for simplicity I am going to talk through those steps in that order.

1. Ask about suicide

In this case, Amanda, I don’t need to ask if you are having thoughts of suicide. I am you. I am in your mind. I know your thoughts.

This step isn’t necessarily asking about suicide. It’s often just a reminder to watch out for indicators of suicidal thoughts.

I know you’ve had suicidal thoughts lately. But they’ve been almost like a comfort blanket, yeah?

I know you blogged before about how you still feel suicidal sometimes. But that’s just part of how you are. And it’s managing those thoughts that’s important.

But… in that blog post you wrote that you had made a clear decision in July 2011 that you would never die by suicide. I’ve noticed your thought processes have changed lately. Somewhere deep down you still stand by that decision. Yet quite often lately you’ve felt at risk of getting as unwell as you were a few years ago. It’s a big fear right now. And I’ve noticed your thoughts changing from ‘I won’t ever die by suicide’, to ‘I decided I won’t ever die by suicide, yet thinking back to when I was that unwell, I really don’t think I have it in me to go through that again’. And that naturally leads to suicidal thoughts. I’ve noticed other thoughts along that line creeping in.

I would really like you to pay attention to those thoughts, Amanda. They’re early warning signs for you. Act now, before they escalate. I’d like you to tell a professional about those thoughts, and I’d really like you to take note of what else I say in this post.

And please also take note of any other thoughts related to suicide creeping in. Write them down.Because a thought will slip in and you might not even notice it.And then later you’ll remember and think further about it… and on past experience that can easily escalate to plans… because it’s a form of escapaism… but it’s a slippery path.

So watch for thoughts…note them, and get help before they become more than thoughts.

Listen non-judgementally 

Ah, listening non-judgmentally.

Listening? Not a problem. (ish).

Non-judgmentally? A whole other kettle of fish. It’s hard being non-judgmental towards yourself, isn’t it? Something a lot of people would probably identify with, but I suspect I am my own worst enemy.

I’m here applying the skills I teach to myself, yet I give myself a harder time than I would ever even think about giving any other person.

Judging myself, my thoughts, situations, my behaviours, my relationships… everything. I suspect we all do it to some degree, but I seem to be quite a fan of it!

So I’m not going to tell you (me) to just stop doing it. If only it could be that easy, yeah?

I may give you suggestions. But they’re only that – suggestions. Which you can only just try. Don’t give yourself a hard time if they don’t have an impact. That will only result in you giving yourself a hard time for not succeeding at some work you were doing that had the aim of reducing how much of a hard time you give yourself! Ok, even I’ve confused myself a little there. :P

Non-judgmental? You’re generally good at being non-judgmental towards other people. So, apply a little of that to yourself. I would like you to work at catching yourself when you do the judging – whatever it might be. And ask yourself, ‘what would I say to another person in this situation?’ Write down the answer, and try to apply this to yourself.

Also, a lot of reassurance (next step),will be really crucial in developing a less judgmental approach towards yourself. And some positive self-talk – but we’ll come to that later.

Also, remember this booklet on self-compassion? I know you did some work on it and found it helpful. When you’re ready, and if you think you would find it helpful, it might be worth having a look over again? I’m not sure if the opposite of self-judgmental is self-compassion, but it would have to be pretty close. I know having compassion towards yourself if hard, so for that reason, it is maybe something you need to go back to actively working on.

The listening bit? Just thinking. When your mind feels so chaotic, writing could be really helpful. Listening to those thoughts – listening to your mind – is important. But it’s hard to listen – really listen – when it feels so chaotic, so writing would be helpful. To help you really make sense of what’s going on in your mind.

And remember, although you like to share your writing, in the hope it can help others, your writing can be personal to you too.

Giving reassurance and information

This is a tough one. Because I know that so, so often what you most need is to get reassurance from others. But not just anybody. People who know you well enough to give that reassurance (otherwise it feels like empty words). Yet it  never really seems to be there.

I’m not sure people generally realise quite how helpful reassurance can be. And it’s not quite like you can just walk up to them and say ‘hey, please give me some reassurance’.

So, I, am giving you some reassurance.

The first reassurance that I want to give you, Amanda, is that reassurance from me is as meaningful as any reassurance that anyone else could give. Yes, I know, external reassurance feels different, more real. But, remember, you know yourself better than anyone else could ever know you. You’re there for yourself 24 / 7. Reassurance from yourself means a lot.

I want to reassure you that I know how hard you try each and every day. When talking about listening non-judgmentally I mentioned something about ‘not succeeding’. But then I remembered the advice you give to others: ‘If you try, and you do your best, you can’t fail. Because all you can ever do is your best. No-one can ever do any more than their best, so how can doing the best you can do equal failing’?

Yeah, it might like a failure sometimes if what you are doing doesn’t have the desired results. But life isn’t that simple. Emotions aren’t that simple. Mental health isn’t that simple. Just keep trying your best every day. It’s all anyone could ask of you.

There is so, so much I could give you reassurance of.

The most important one I can think of is that no matter how it feels, you are not getting really unwell like you were a couple of years back. I’m not going to spend a lot of time reassuring you. Because, in the moment, it still feels that way. But let me just say one thing. The fact that you’re sitting here writing this to yourself? That in itself is a sign, isn’t it, that things are quite different from how they were a few years back. You have so many skills you didn’t have then. So much knowledge. You might feel like things are going that way again. But trust me, you aren’t.

Encouraging professional help 

Ok, I know this is a tricky one. I know this is something that has contributed to how you are mentally right now. The lack of helpful professional help.

I know there is the argument that the system is shit and we have to make do with what we can get. I know you don’t agree with that necessarily. I know that, for you, it’s a case of identifying whether the ‘help’ offered is actually really helpful.

There is so much I could write on this one. It would probably all fall more under the ‘give reassurance and information’ category, and I think you already know it already.

But what professional help do I want to encourage.

  • Remember that professional who was going to get in touch with information before Christmas? Your mind is telling you that because she didn’t get back in touch before Christmas, like she said she would, this means she doesn’t give a shit. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t. Your mind also tells you you were just another name on a list she didn’t get to. Maybe. But it still doesn’t mean, she doesn’t give a shit. I was going to suggest giving her a few days to see if she gets in touch, and then contacting her. But that will be 1st and 2nd January, and they will be closed. Thinking about it – are you actually urgently needing that information? Can it wait till week of 6th January?
  • But I know you also do feel the need to make a GP appointment. You wanted to write down some stuff that you felt they needed to know, and give it in to GP. GP not the ideal person, but you want to hand it in to someone in person, and you’ve identified that you can’t see the mental health team in person… so the idea of writing that and giving it in to GP to ask them to pass it on is a good idea. Please make that appointment tomorrow morning. I think you know it will help, and at least you will feel like you are doing something.
  • I know it’s frustrating that they just want you to ring up and speak to a stranger in the mental health team, and that is ‘unhelpful help’, that you can’t quite do at the moment. I know you think they’ll be critical of your approach. So if you do write down what you want them to know, then please head it up by explaining why. And remember, you are doing the best you can with what you’ve got.
  • And remember, that’s the NHS stuff. There are other ‘professional helps’. Samaritans text helps you a lot. I know you have found their responses somewhat frustrating lately. But that may be more to do with where you are at, and how you are feeling. Remember, how much you found them to help in the past. And if they help even a little that’s something that is worth keeping doing.
  • You wanted to try Breathing Space, and I know that based on how you were feeling the night you rang you couldn’t quite speak and hung up. That’s ok. Remember, you tried, and that’s great. But remember, that was one time. The fact that you tried at all shows that you did think it could be helpful. So no harm in trying again? If you don’t quite manage it, that’s ok. It’s all in the trying!
  • There are other professional supports I can think of – but that’s probably plenty to keep you busy for now :)

Encourage self-help strategies

Oh, the good old-self help strategies. Taking a moment, Amanda, to remind you that no matter what supports you have, or don’t have, you are your own best mental health worker. You are best able to help yourself. Remembering that is crucial.

I feel like you do continual work every day to manage your mental health using self-help strategies… but to me, it all seems a bit hap-hazard. I’d never say that to anyone else in a mental health first aid situation, but since I am you, I’ll let it go this time :P

You wrote a long time ago about the importance of planning. You do love a good old spreadsheet. A bit of organisation goes a long way :)

I remember also in the past, when you had little professional support, you wrote about making appointments with yourself. This is a good thing to do, no matter how much professional support you have.

You are the one managing your own mental health – nobody else. So appointments with yourself can be really beneficial.

Based on where your mind is at at the moment, I’m going to recommend 3 appointments with yourself this week. But they don’t have to be long appointments. Checking in and planning, they’re the key bits.

So make appointments now with yourself. Put them in your diary now.

In your first appointment, tomorrow, read back over this, and decide which bits you are going to focus on (you can’t do everything), and when you are going to do them.

I know there is a conflict in your mind at the moment. You know interacting and going out and doing fun stuff is important and could be helpful. But at the moment you mostly want to isolate. Because you know that the way your mind is interpreting things at the moment, some situations may make your mind worse. But… if you go out you may just have a good time, and feel better. If you stay in, and cancel these plans, that’s unlikely to happen.

Be nice to you this week. That’s another thing to maybe do in tomorrow’s appointment with yourself – identify how you could be nice to yourself this week. (by the way, being nice to yourself does not equal spending all week doing the accounts!). 

I also know that your mind is itching to get back to work. As a focus. I’m not going to say don’t go back to work this week. But if you do, I want you to plan out a maximum of 2 – 3 hours each day, and stick to those.

One thing I think may be worth practicing is some positive self-talk. If we hear something often enough we start to believe it. Just like if we hear something negative often enough we can start to believe it. The same can work for positive self-talk. Have a think about that. It does work :D

Again, so many self-help strategies. And it’s late. If this was a mental health first aid situation for another person I would definitely not be going through all the five steps like this and giving the person this mountain of information. I am you and this is a different situation. But that’s why I’m thinking I’m going to stop at this point.

The idea is not to give you (me) a mountain of information. But to apply the five steps of mental health first aid to myself – ‘what would I say to myself using the five steps?’ But now I’ve got to actually follow my own advice.

The important bit is to print this out . Highlight relevant bits to work on. What is going to help the most right now? On the other hand, some bits will sound like complete nonsense because it’s so late. :P (Not really, remember you wrote this yourself – and you know best!) :)

It’s getting late now and I’m going to leave it at that. But remember, you are actually doing great, even if you can’t see it.

I would normally read back over my posts. Proofread etc. Check it all makes sense. I’m letting it go tonight. This one is for me. I’m sharing in case there’s anything in it that helps anyone else. But it’s primarily for me.

Time for some sleep and tomorrow it’s about implementing this and following my own advice. If you did read on this far, I hope there might be something here that is helpful for you… and of course, that there is something in my own advice that is helpful for me :)

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