My Week From Hell & The Antidote


 Photo credit: aussiegall / Foter / CC BY

One of the most dreadful things about being mentally unwell is the sense of isolation it causes.

Sadly this is also mirrored in my living conditions. I live on my own in a little village about two miles from the nearest town centre – as my depression has progressed and my OCD rituals around my skin worsened I have become almost house-bound. And lonely. Very very lonely.

Last week was marked by a growing sense of agitation and paranoid thoughts:

  • My reaction to my employers kindly offering to support me by outsourcing an occupational therapist (I work from home currently but even that has become problematic at times) is to assume that they think I’ve made all this up. That I’m a fake.
  • Similarly a flood of thoughts around my multiple problems led to a concern that this wasn’t real. That really I was “okay” that I was a bad bad person. That really I was just lazy and “attention-seeking”.
  • There was an increased sense of nervousness around my Asperger’s assessment day. “Fake, fake, fake Rose. You’re normal. Stop trying to make sh*t up and waste people’s time. You have friends, you have a job. Stop with this now!” And then I had to remember recurrent difficulties and some of the issues one of my exes drew attention to and suddenly I felt different again.
  • Extreme sensitivity. I’m not good with unsolicited sexual advances, particular from males. I don’t know why exactly. However, I had one and I “flipped”. The intrusive thoughts and paranoia multiplied out of control. I panicked.

What actually helped to calm me was spending time with a friend.

I don’t normally accept last minute invites but I did so after much coaxing. I distrusted the idea of being alone with horrid thoughts and therefore chose to spend time being fed (important when often I am too tired to cook anything nutritious) and importantly being listened to.

Just talking about the urges to rip at my skin and the intrusive thoughts which accompany them was scary. But I was met with a listening ear. Even if there wasn’t perfect understanding (and I’m not sure there ever can be without access to the content of another’s mind) there was acceptance and no judgement.

Acceptance and no judgement.

What a balm these things are! A perfect antidote to the sense of dread and isolation that I experience on almost a daily basis.

Too often in these cases people try to leap in and “fix” and “advise”. To give a “good talking to”. To hope that people like me have the sense to “snap out of it”. To be “educate” and “inform” as our suffering surely means complete ignorance of how to live any better.

No, please. Just listen and hear me as I am. The feeling of acceptance is a great medicine and I’m definitely feeling the benefits from it this week.

Falling Down – How Did Depression Happen to Me?

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains references to disordered eating practices which may be triggering to some readers. Please proceed with care only if you are comfortable with the subject matter.

It’s been a massive effort even to get as far as typing the first sentence to this blog post.

I’ve been having feelings of guilt and shame about not keeping my blog going. I had even thought of giving it up entirely at certain points over the last few weeks.

In the process I wondered why, yet again, things had been able to slide back down to this point – if you read most of the popular advice on living a healthy lifestyle, I was almost the epitome of it:

  • I used to work out six days a week, yoga, weights, running, dance practice and regular countryside walks. I used to do regular guided meditation.
  • Did I fuel myself properly? I sure did! One of my particular interests was home cooking. Almost all my daily meals were from scratch, delicious as well as nutritionally balanced. I drank plenty of water and drank alcohol on an infrequent basis (it interfered with my training).
  • Despite my social awkwardness I was involved in my local community, I did charity work, I’m on first name terms with most of my neighbours. I have a good day-job with a supportive organisation and I had just started up a personal training company in my spare time.

Okay my “romantic” life was less than successful but relative to the other areas of life that’s not something that you can have all that much control over (other than trying not to be a complete a**hole).

So I looked after myself far more than most people would but I still became ill.

These days I’m a clusterf**k of a number of different diagnoses – anxiety, OCD, body dysmophia and depression coupled with disordered eating behaviours.

The result being that I am mostly housebound.

When I get up in the morning I get that now familiar knot in my stomach – yet another “Groundhog Day”. The same dreaded routine of feeling extremely tired and taking about an hour to extract myself from under the dirty unwashed duvet.

  • I fill up on at least a litre of very strong coffee with a dash of milk. I need this so that my mind is able to string together coherent thoughts.
  • The thoughts remind me that the day ahead is likely to be the same drudgery as the previous day and instead of reaching for something nutritious – I open the fridge and binge on cakes until this feeling goes away.
  • I try to reach out to others in the mental health community on Twitter (you can find me there as @RoseWiltshire). Sometimes it alleviates the sense of guilt and shame I have for being ill – but increasingly it does not.
  • OCD exposure practice – this is the one thing I have been focussing on most days. As my health has worsened the intrusive thoughts accompanying the OCD and skin-picking have worsened and multiplied. However I must get used to being able to face myself in the mirror and touch my skin without the need to perfect it or “investigate” it to prevent cysts and other things that I dread. The exposure practice is never something I look forward to. I have had to deal with a lot of troubling thoughts which I had managed to previously suppress.
  • Dealing with waves of paranoia – chief among the new thoughts that have been troubling me. That somehow this is all “fake” and made up. I have written, on a couple of pieces of card, key evidence for why this is not the case, however an irrational part of my mind insists on telling me “fake, fake, fake”.
  • I cry even though I try not to. The freezer/fridge or cupboard is opened. More bingeing. Ice-cream, Pringles, and cake until the feelings deaden once more.
  • If its a work day, I try to get some reports done in between the alternate waves of fatigue and agitation, but it takes me so much longer to write reports when I am feeling rotten so often I am still writing at eight or nine pm at night.
  • If its not a work day, I try and think of something fun to do but the fatigue eats in to my enjoyment and I end up napping half the afternoon.
  • I finish around 10pm, take one look at the mountain pile of unwashed dishes and untidiness around the flat and feel more depressed.
  • I collapse into bed, sometimes not having even washed or brushed my teeth.
  • The whole miserable cycle begins again the next morning.

So there you have it. That’s the kind of pickle I’m in.

I’ve not yet given up hope of finding my way out again but life is a dreadful struggle right now.

I will try, as much as I can, to keep this blog going. The part of me that is still hopeful would like to keep this as some kind of roadmap for future reference.

Right now its not even a case of one day at a time, not even an hour at a time – I’m taking it down to trying to get through each and every minute so that I can get to a place where once again I manage to find some light.

Mental Health on the Internet 26/10/2014 – Emotional Eating

Sorry about the break in this series for a few weeks  – I have been extremely unwell and have not had time to read any articles on mental health until today. Hopefully this will once again become a regular blog feature.

Today’s post focusses on Emotional Eating.

I have not been diagnosed with any eating disorder, however it will be apparent for most people who have been following my blog for a while that I do have some unhealthy issues using over-eating as a way to cope with unhappy emotional states.

I have been doing some research on the internet for useful advice on dealing with this aspect of my ill health and in doing so have come across some interesting articles:

Blog of the Week

An excellent blog which doesn’t shy from the realities of living with binge eating disorder, moreover the advice to let go of perfectionist diet tendencies seems a sensible one to me to help avoid other types of eating issues in future.

This blog should also appeal to those who fancy giving running a go as a method to help with mental and physical health:

http://www.runsforcookies.com/2013/03/how-ive-stayed-binge-free-for-six.html

Links I Love

  • Another link I could relate to on quite a personal level was a post by Nia Shanks. Like myself, Nia is a qualified personal trainer and the post explores that sense of guilt over being a fitness professional struggling with her own physical and mental health.
  • A useful article by Psychology Today explores five reasons why we can struggle with emotional eating.
  • The following article in the Huffington Post explores how this time of year (Halloween through to New Year) is considered by some to be quite a scary time of year for eating problems.

Video of the Week

A really informative overview of Binge Eating Disorder courtesy of Open Forum. It also looks at the particular type of stigma suffered by many people living with Binge Eating Disorder which is attributed to the craze for extreme thinness/low body fat:

Starting Afresh

8627472057_e3b2d292fc_qPhoto credit: marco monetti / Foter / CC BY-ND

It has been a few weeks since I last did a regular blog post – unfortunately my condition has been such that I had been unable to complete any blog posts.

I spent the last few weeks in an unhappy mixture of extreme agitation and depression. My thoughts were extremely muddled and I suddenly found that my confidence in my blogging voice had failed me.

It just so happened, for no particular reason I can discern, a few rays on sunlight have made their way in through the gloom and despite a patch of disturbed sleep I am starting to feel more positive again.

I’d like to start the blog challenges up again – I may well pick a few of these old habits up again over the coming days. For now I am being cautiously optimistic before making any firm commitments and am content to just dip my toe back in the water of daily blogging.

Looking forward once again to sharing my journey

R x

Mental Health on the Internet 5/10/2014 – BFRB Edition

For those of you who do not know BFRB stands for “Body Focussed Repetitive Behaviours” it is “an umbrella term for any chronic behavior that causes a person to consistently cause physical damage to oneself unintentionally through a compulsive act in order to relieve anxiety.” (http://www.skinpickingsupport.com)

BFRB includes:

  • Hair-pulling (Trichotillomania)
  • Skin-picking (Dermatillomania
  • Nail-biting and picking at the skin around the nails

There are also other behaviours included in this as well which are said to share a similar characteristics.

BFRB Awareness Week is on October 1-7 – Find out more about it here

I thought I’d post a few helpful sites, blogs, videos and news articles on this. There is isn’t enough out there in terms of quality information on these conditions – lets hope this is changing for the better.

Blog of the Week

I’ve found Tumblr to be a rich source of quality blogging on BFRB but one of them that I find myself going back to time and time again is this one:

http://diaryofaskinpicker.tumblr.com/

I love how the author takes the time to write beautiful sensitive replies to the many people contacting him for advice. There’s also art and personal reflections on the impact of the illness.

Links I Love

  • The Trichotillomania Learning Centre is an excellent resource not just for people who hair-pull but also has excellent advice on skin-picking as well. I also found their booklet providing evidence-based guidelines (as in scientific evidence) on the treatment of BFRBs here (first PDF). It may be useful to have with you if you are dealing with therapists or GPs who have limited knowledge of the condition.
  • Check out Beckie0’s blog – honest and raw account of her experiences with hair-pulling. I recommend her YouTube channel as well.
  • Dr Grossbart has written the following article on skin-picking. You can also read his book “Skin Deep” for free via his website covering the mind-body connection and skin health. I haven’t read it all yet, although just to warn you in case you are inclined to obsessions or compulsions around medical disorders, there are some chapters that look potentially triggering from that point of view. It looks to be a worthwhile read so far.

Video of the Week

I went to see Black Swan in part due to my love of ballet but also in appreciation of Natalie Portman as an actress. I didn’t expect to see a frightening and complex drama being played out on the big screen.

Moreover, I didn’t expect the file to resonate with me psychologically in the way it did, reflecting back at me my own troubled relationship with my mother and some of the psychological issues that I suffer.

One of the recurring themes in the film was the main character’s compulsive skin-picking. Angela Hartlin does an excellent commentary on her site via the following video. I urge caution before watching it as many of the scenes highlighted are not for the faint of heart and could potentially be triggering. It is a very insightful analysis and I plan to write my own blog post on this at some point.

Mental Health on the Internet 21/9/2014

Blog of the Week

A new one I have come across is Douglas Cootey’s “A Splintered Mind” – combines both an entertaining and engaging style of writing with poignant insights into depression and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

Links I Love

  • One thing I have been really struggling with recently is motivation. Clare Foster shares some of her ideas in this interesting article on how to get moving during a depressive episode.
  • So, you’ve read up on everything to do with anxiety but still feeling anxious? What’s going on here? Paul Dooley a.k.a. Anxiety Guru explores.
  • Many people with mental health problems who belong to a faith community find themselves faced with stigma from that community when being open about their challenges. Rachel Held Evans (writing from a Christian perspective) interviews Amy Simpson and discusses how their communities can provide better support in this article.

Video of the Week

Instead of the usual video this week I’m posting a link to a pod-cast from the Anxiety United website:

Alice Rose explores just how debilitating anxiety can be:

Mental Health on the Internet 14/9/2014

Blog of the Week

Thoughtcatalogue is not an ED (Eating Disorders) blog or even a mental health blog as such but an interesting hotch-potch of articles submitted by all sorts of bloggers. However I have found it to be a good source of writing on ED.

Given some of the issues I’ve been having with food over the last few weeks the following article was a timely reminder to me that my issues with food are mostly issues with my emotions:

http://thoughtcatalog.com/ella-ceron/2013/12/17-reasons-why-food-is-not-the-enemy/

Links I Love

  • Kristina Wong shares her mission to fight stigma in the Asian community about depression in the following article.
  • Jenna Lahori bravely shares her experience about binge eating in the following video which also explores why disordered eating is under-reported in the black community. I felt sad for Jenna that she was unable to access treatment due to cost.
  • The way depression has affected me means it is hard for me to think that there are any positives to having that condition. The following article asks if depression has any positives and comes up with some intriguing theories.

Video of the Week

I’m a sucker for these types of educational videos. An interesting way to get across the latest in scientific research on depression:

Body Dysmorphia – A Moment of Clarity


Photo credit: ❤ ResinMuse ❤ / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains frank discussion of negative body imagery and thoughts about weight – as such it may be triggering for anyone struggling with body dysmorphia and eating disorders. Please proceed with care only if you are comfortable with the subject matter.

One thing that is really striking about body dysmorphia is quite how distorted your thinking can become. As someone who likes to pride myself on logic and rationality it is particularly puzzling to me why part of my brain wants to resist these things as much as possible.

The OCD means that I am unable to assess and be comfortable with reasonable probabilities in certain situations. Body dysmorphia means that I almost always see something completely different in the mirror than what is reflected back at me.

I was struck by this the other day.

My ex-partner stopped by to drop off some of my old photo albums that he had found at his house. I didn’t really want to accept them as there had photos reminding of times when we were together and happy. However I didn’t feel I could throw them away either.

Against my better judgement I started looking through them. The tears flowed liberally.

The Mirror Lies

I was struck by one photo, taken one summer at a friend’s wedding. My face I will probably always detest as an abomination but I suddenly thought about just how thin I was.

I have a proportionally large head and big thick hair (now thinning slightly due to stress) so this made the slightness of my frame look more apparent.

I was slightly heavier on the scale than I am now (despite the fact that I have slightly more muscle mass these days having taken up weight-training) but I looked frail and my legs looked so spindly it looked like they would snap from the weight of having such a large head.

You see I’ve been having a lot of negative thoughts about my body. Worries that my stomach is fat, back fat, thigh fat, fat fat fat. In the mirror, I see myself as being short and squat.  Seems to be very far from the truth.

The photo showed me that if anything I could do with putting on a few pounds, even if that’s slightly more  in body fat. Of course this does not justify my bingeing on extremely unhealthy foods (there are healthier ways to add weight).

It is also not true that I am short.

A Moment of Mindfulness

I went out to catch a train for the first time in ages at the weekend. When I got off at my destination, I had become unaccustomed to my senses being assaulted by walking by walking through a major city station.

I noticed details.

Highlights in people’s hair, the condition of their shoes. I also noticed despite me being in one inch healed ankle boots, that I was at least half a head taller than the majority of the female travellers who were wearing shoes of various heel heights.

That shouldn’t be surprising as I stand at just under five foot seven. Not astoundingly tall but probably just about tall enough to be considered so in this country.

But my dysmorphic brain sees fat. Short and fat.

The Need for Body Acceptance

What I really want to happen is not only for me to start having more of these moments where I see things as they really are (I don’t know how I would do that but if there is a way I will try it), but also for my rational, compassionate brain’s attitude to my body and other people’s bodies to stick.

If I can truly believe and not doubt my belief in the power of body acceptance I will be able to release much of the binds of my condition.

It is not right to judge anybody on the size and shape of their body. This whole business of using someone’s weight and fat percentage to determine someone’s moral worth. It disgusts me.

It’s often done under the banner of “health”. Yes, probabilities have it that someone who is five foot and thirty stone will likely have some health problems caused by being that size, but still this ignores the fact that health has multiple factors and that size is but one of many metrics we can use to assess health.

The biggest metric for me is being able to experience happiness.