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I wasn’t sure on the title for this post… I didn’t know whether to call it ‘commands’ or ‘urges’ but then I had a conversation with my Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) about how the night times are getting tough again. Unbelievably, it seems, that I’m still surprised to hear that not everyone can hear the voices that I do. When I talked to my CPN about the feelings of self-harming or overdosing I kind of assumed that she knew those feelings were because of the hallucinations. And it wasn’t about the fact that before two weeks ago I hadn’t seen her for over a year.
I think that this post might come as a surprise to some people… That maybe you’re surprised to hear that I am still struggling this badly. I mean, I feel like I’m the poster child for mental health recovery so it’s hard for me to talk about when I’m struggling. I worry that it’ll take hope away from some of you; that those of you who have thought ‘if she can get better then so can I’ will now think ‘if her recovery hasn’t lasted then why would mine?’ So it’s important to me that you know that I’m still in recovery – countless amounts of mental health professionals have told me so! Recovery isn’t about not experiencing in mental distress; it’s about managing the times of distress a lot more safely and healthily (is that a word?).
So, I figured that if I was finally going to tell you all that I’ve been struggling a lot recently then a good way to do it would be in telling you the ways that I’m coping now…
1. Give myself time.
This is something that I sort of… accidentally learnt through Dialectical BehaviourTherapy (DBT). And by that, I mean that we were taught about radical acceptance and mindfulness – which is all about being in the moment. So I developed a coping strategy where I was using both of these skills. I’d radically accept that I was being told to self-harm and therefore allow myself to be in that moment but to stop it from becoming overwhelming I’d tell myself that if I still felt the exact same way in half an hour then I would act on it. I’d spend that half an hour counting down until it was up and would find myself doing something else by the time thirty minutes was up. I’d distracted myself without even realising. On really bad days, the voices would still be loud, and they’d still be telling me to do the same things but it wasn’t giving me as much of a headache. And it wasn’t hurting me to resist doing it. It wasn’t tiring me out. These days I tell myself that I’ll go to sleep and see how I feel in the morning. It’s a skill that can be adapted to an individual and to the extent of that person’s struggling and the nature of it.
2. Distract. Distract. Distract.
I used to think that there had to be some straight forward activities that would be named as the official distraction techniques. Like, painting, or writing… Just, doing a hobby in general! I soon learnt that simple, little things can be distractions too; like painting your nails, having a bath, washing your hair, doing the hoovering, feeding your pet, making a meal… I think that sometimes it comes down to anything that isn’t self-harm is a positive thing to be doing! At the moment, I've been going on trips every week to different English Heritage and National Trust sites - hence the photos from my most recent trip: Belsay Hall.
3. Remember the fallout.
When you’re hallucinating it’s very difficult to keep in mind the consequences of your actions. In fact, it’s hard to keep anything in mind. Because your mind is occupied by something else. The rabbits… The voices… So remembering the disastrous ways that self-harming has ended in – the restraints, the flashing blue lights, the injections, the wait for Doctors, the physical impact… It’s incredibly easy to get lost in hallucinations and to be unable to see anything except them. Anything but them. And sometimes all you can think about are the hallucinations; it’s like they occupy your entire mind and not just one of your senses. Hallucinations are different for everyone; but with mine, I’ve found that once I self-harm as the voices command me to, they’ll quieten down but as soon as I get help for it they’re back, shouting as loud as ever. When I was at my most poorly, I was self-harming (mainly by overdosing) every two to three days. I would just get over one and the voices would be back and I’d find myself in another crisis. So, these days, I remind myself that nothing is good enough for the voices.