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 :)

About Amanda

Mental Health blogger at beautyfrompainblog.com Mental health trainer. My lived experience gives me the drive and passion to make a difference to others. Determined to make as much good as possible come out of my own illness.
This entry was posted in mental health awareness. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Acting as my own Mental Health First Aider

  1. Paul Winkler says:

    Amanda, this is your best blog yet. I’m sorry it arose from such difficult circumstances, but in my opinion it is classic. You have become a virtual Mental Health first Aid provider to every reader who sees this. And I’ll bet every single person who does read this can relate to some or all of the issues you are facing right now.

    So: thanks!

    • Amanda says:

      Paul, thank you!

      That felt like a load of random nonsense, that was way too long… feelings of which probably came from me publishing un-edited.

      So to have first response say ‘ this is your best blog yet.’ means a lot.

      Because of what I do professionally, there is a part of me that is a little wary of how honest I should be publicly about my own stuff… but bringing mental health first aid into it feels even more risky… but I went with my gut instinct, and published as it could help someone…. so thank you for letting me know, that by the sounds of it I did the right thing :)

      Hope you are ok, Paul.

  2. Sam says:

    Hi Amanda, thank you so much for sharing :)
    I had never heard of ‘mental health first aid’ before, so I found this really interesting & helpful on a personal & professional level. I think writing down these thought processes can be really helpful, as we often have so many thoughts racing around in our heads, it’s hard to really listen to them and try to understand where they are coming from (without over analysing them!!!). It’s incredibly brave of you to share your struggles so publicly. It will help a lot of people (myself included) to acknowledge that they are not alone with their struggles. Ultimately we are all seeking to adopt better coping strategies to enable us to manage better and help us to enjoy life. Each of our journeys is very personal, but we can still learn a lot from each other.
    I often find that things become chaotic and overwhelming for me when I stop listening to what I instinctively know I need. When I feel myself starting to shut down, I know it’s time to go right back to basics. It’s at this point I have to break things down into very small baby steps, so that once I start to tackle each step or goal, I start to experience small achievements. Often when I’m chaotic and full of negative chatter, I am so overwhelmed by it all, that I end up achieving nothing and almost become stuck and unable to move. By tackling each tiny goal, I find I begin to see things a little bit clearer which helps to move me forwards slowly but surely :)
    Actually, between reading your blog and just writing this response, it has helped me Immensely :D So thank you for sharing. You will find your way forward soon, just take a nice deep breath and focus on one thing at a time :) xx

  3. MHIST - Mental Health Intervention Support Training says:

    Great post. I use ALGEE regularly on others usually late at night when the catastrophizing occurs. Also apply it on myself (mainly encourage other supports).
    Hope you’re feeling better!

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