“Choose thoughts that give you the emotions of being alive and excited about life”
With the start (December 1st) of Blogmas 2022 on I’m NOT Disordered getting closer and closer, I’m getting more and more excited, and so I thought I’d have a quick chat with you all about how this has proven to be a good indicator for just how stable my mental health recovery is, in the hope that this post can help you can find your own indicators. I also thought I’d take this opportunity to encourage some more Christmassy excitement, so there’ll also be a reveal of the Blogmas 2022 graphic created (using Canva) and which will feature on all my social media accounts and in all the upcoming festive content here on I’m NOT Disordered…
I think that I first learnt – or began to recognise – that behaviours and actions could be a good indicator of someone’s mental health, when the abuse started in 2006. With my abusers guarantee that no one would believe me running around in my head, and his threats on what he would do if I was believed; I had come to the conclusion that I really couldn’t tell anyone it was happening. However, as set as I was on not reporting it, there was still something inside of me that was so completely desperate to tell someone because I had the hugely scary feeling that it was never going to stop unless someone else stepped in. And so, feeling unable to tell someone what was happening, I thought up ways of showing them… I thought of things I could do that might give some sort of hint for someone to sit up and be like; “something’s different about Aimee, I wonder if something’s wrong?”
When my poor appetite resulted in me being underweight and after I made a few scratches on my arms, and that still didn’t cause much concern, I began changing my entire attitude and behaviour. I think part of that was about wanting to be a whole other person in general too. Like, when the abuse was actually happening, I can mostly only remember it as though I was up on the ceiling and watching it being done to someone else. Someone who I couldn’t help. And when the mental health professionals labelled that as dissociation and explained it to be a desperate coping method, I really appreciated that explanation because until then, I saw it as a hindrance because it limited my view to the point where I couldn’t answer all of the Police’s questions. Now, I can recognise it as a survival tool… And that also supports and explains why my idea for attracting concern became about changing my attitude and behaviours.
In all honesty, I didn’t really struggle to become rude and uncooperative because I was being that way towards the people who, I believed, should be realising – and stopping – what was happening to me. And that meant I held so much anger towards them. I was so angry that they couldn’t put the pieces together – that they just deemed me to be going through a rebellious ‘phase’ – that I genuinely didn’t care one bit whether they were offended or upset or affected in anyway by my comments and actions. I took it as ‘they don’t care what happens to me, so why should I care if I insult or frustrate them?!’
Having this mindset, is one of the many thought processes that has massively changed through my mental health recovery, and this means that when I exhibit the healthier view of it which I’ve managed to develop, it really illustrates the progress I’ve made through that recovery process. I mean, I used to think that if my abuser would fail to take responsibility by continuing to blame me for what he was doing, and if those around me weren’t going to take responsibility for failing to help me, then why should I ever have to do so?
Through therapy, however, I’ve come to recognise that to think of myself as not being responsible for anything because these terrible people didn’t do that themselves, I was really stooping down to their level. I was allowing them to set the standards and be inspirations for so many different aspects of my life. And they didn’t deserve that. They weren’t worthy of me moulding and shaping my life around them, their actions (or lack of action, in some instances), and their words. This new-found recognition and opinion, led me to view responsibility as something that shouldn’t be avoided or ignored/dismissed, and that accepting your responsibility in some sort of instance, can be beneficial not just for yourself, but for others who might also be affected by the instance.
So, since vowing to never behave like my abuser and those who didn’t help me, I’ve found that illustrating this – taking responsibility for my actions regardless of whether no one else is doing so – is a big indicator of my mental health recovery.
Just over two years after the abuse had physically ended, my stoic silence and desperate attempts (after the rudeness, I tried drinking alcohol – which proved not so useful unless I drank until I passed out!) to cope with the memories of the abuse, became so much less affective and before I knew it, I started hallucinating. The first voice I heard would repeat all of my deepest, darkest thoughts about myself and the abuse, in a way that really just validated all of them. He would assure me that it was all my fault, that I’d deserved all of it, that I shouldn’t tell anyone because everyone would either not believe me or judge me for what happened, and that what I really should be doing is killing myself.
At that time (2009) there was nothing much in the media (or at least nothing that I had access to) about mental health and I’d only ever heard horror stories about my local psychiatric hospital, so I really didn’t even have to make a decision as to whether I should tell anyone about the hallucination – it seemed like a no-brainer to me to just keep quiet.
As with many things in life – but especially with anything related to mental health – keeping quiet and not seeking help, meant that things just built up inside of me… I ended up doing all that I could so that no one would realise or even be suspicious. And so, after ten days of the hallucination becoming louder and louder and so much more persuasive, I made my first suicide attempt. The fact that I didn’t tell anyone or get help any sooner, has made me always wonder whether things would have gotten as bad as they did if I’d seen a Doctor or mental health professional a lot quicker.
After my attempt and once I had completed the medical treatment, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and on realising firstly, that things couldn’t possibly get any worse; and secondly, that there were other inpatients who could also hear voices; I finally told a member of staff what I was experiencing. In all honesty, it did genuinely feel like a weight had lifted; kind of like that saying: ‘a problem shared is a problem halved.’ And although this was a huge benefit, I did, however, still struggle with the very common fear that asking for help made me weak in some way. Almost like if I couldn’t do it all by myself then I must be pretty useless and that would make me a huge burden on someone else.
For the three years following that first attempt (2009 – 2012), I was completely overwhelmed by the sensation of a never-ending, constant, lack of consistency in the response to my mental health crises from a variety of different professionals (not just psychiatric ones)… The response that is most relevant for this indication, however, was that I was regularly told to seek help – with the most frequently used comment being to ring the Crisis Team as soon as I’m considering self-harming. But the thing with this was, that if I did reach out – if I did ring them and say “I’m about to do something” I’d be deemed as an attention-seeker with the reason behind that being that I couldn’t genuinely mean that I was going to do something because why would I tell them? I mean, they’d actually say “if you really wanted to die then you wouldn’t be calling us; you’d just do it!”
Another element as to why I was reluctant to ask for help or tell anyone I was struggling or planning to self-harm or make a suicide attempt or something; was that more often than not, the professional advising that I seek help, are referring me to another organisation, professional, etc. And this genuinely – and I’d like to think understandably – gave the impression that they were just packing the buck and wanting someone else to take responsibility over whether I made it safely through the crisis. Then, this meant that if, say, the Crisis Team was recommending I go to A&E, it would leave me questioning the point in ringing the Team. Like, if they didn’t want to – or were unable to – help me, why would I ever call them if I were to have another crisis?
Surely, knowing that these contradictions, the nature of the comments were being made, and the thoughts and impressions I was left with, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear that in 2012, I ended up making a suicide attempt that left me on life support in Intensive Care. Ironically, this became the ultimate instance of contradiction between mental health professionals. One team within the hospital gave the instruction to send me home once I was medically fit, but the Community Mental Health Team (and my Mum!), were of the completely opposite thinking and wanted to plan for me to be sectioned and admitted to a private psychiatric hospital that specialised in my diagnosis. Fortunately, the Community team and my Mum won the battle/disagreement, and I was transferred to the hospital over 100 miles away from home and which was deemed to be ‘long term’ because the average length of admission for their patients was listed as 12 – 18 months.
Unfortunately – but sort of understandably – I was an inpatient for over two years and during that time, I was really encouraged by staff to speak to one of them if I was struggling. They would reassure me that they would usually work with me to create some sort of plan together as to what we (myself and the staff) should do to get me through the crisis safely. However, they were also really honest in explaining that there might be occasions where I’m just too mentally unwell to know what’s best, and that in those instances, they might have to be a little bit more authoritative. This concept left me with the notion that we (the staff and I) were a team and that I wasn’t alone in trying to get through all of these horrible, challenging, unbearable moments.
When I was finally discharged in 2014, I was given my own home in the community and felt amazed and blessed to discover that not only were the Police accepting mental health training sessions, but also the actual mental health professionals, had made some huge improvements in their attitudes and behaviours, especially around Personality Disorders. Seeing this change, left me so much more willing to reach out to them if I was struggling again; and I really think that this highlights how it’s important to not just focus on the person not asking for help, but also on the response they’d receive if they did!
On my first suicide attempt in 2009, I had run away and when the Police found me, I was immediately detained under section 136 of the 1983 Mental Health Act. Under this section, you have to have an assessment with two Psychiatrists and an Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) who will decide whether you can go home or need to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital. I was put under section 2 of the Act which meant I was detained against my will to a psychiatric hospital and could be kept there for up to twenty-eight days. Fortunately, though, as I said earlier, I told the staff about the hallucinations, and this was seen as progress towards a recovery in that they thought it meant I was confiding in professionals and would therefore start cooperating with their advice or treatments.
After being discharged from that first admission for a matter of three or four months, I made another suicide attempt and through a lot of confusion and lack of proper, efficient communication, the Crisis Team convened a Mental Health Act Assessment in my Mum’s home (I was living there at the time though). When the required professionals had finally congregated and asked me a handful of questions that left me running to my bedroom, crying; I was sectioned again.
When I continued to refuse to go to hospital for the medical treatment I needed though, before I knew there were all these black, shiny, heavy boots marching into the house (I later found out there were 6 Police) and I was put in handcuffs and leg restraints to be carried out, put in a van, and taken to hospital where they had found psychiatric staff waiting to forcibly keep me there for the length of time (around 24 hours) it took for the life-saving antidote to be administered. I remember getting to the ward from A&E and I offered to get off the A&E trolley and walk to the ward’s bed, but a Nurse said “your feet are not going to touch the floor!”
Then, everything changed. It changed on that admission when I finally told the psychiatric hospital staff about the rape and abuse. And the way this change was explained to me by the staff was exactly the way I has assumed. They said that they had thought I was ‘genuinely poorly’ but if I’d ‘been through that’ then it was ‘more likely’ that I was ‘making it up.’ And with that change, came the numerous instances of professionals referring to me as ‘an attention seeker’ or of being a ‘waste of time.’
Then, before I knew it, there was the mention of ‘Personality Disorder’ on a discharge summary that I had just happened to see, and with no one explaining it to me, I ended up Googling the diagnosis – not always a reliable or sensible thing to do (especially in mental health!). But, in my case, it was actually helpful because reading the ‘symptoms’ and finding that I experienced all of them (though be aware that the diagnosis name and diagnostic criteria have completely changed now!), made me feeling somewhat reassured that there was an explanation for it. I think that the accusations of lying or being manipulative etc meant that having a diagnosis made me feel as though my mental health symptoms were completely valid and genuine, because a diagnosis meant other people experienced the same thing. I wasn’t alone.
Ironically – I mean, it’s usually the other way around! – my Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) was the one reluctant to start using the diagnosis. I had told her when I’d seen it on the discharge summary and I said; “is that it now? Is that what’s wrong?” and she said, “no, I don’t want to give you that officially yet because no one gets better from it, so no services will want to even try to help or treat you.” I recognised that this might be a fair comment if you only consider the majority of people with a diagnosis of Personality Disorder, but the fact that I found positives in it, should count for something too!
I think that this, the CPN considering the experiences of some people rather than everyone, is the first piece of evidence I have which illustrates that a lot of the time (but particularly in mental health), an individual can be boxed. Professionals can look at statistics and research studies of a certain subject or topic and deem them to be applicable and suitable for absolutely everyone it might pertain to or be relevant for. And I think it is partly because of this mindset and behaviour that it was three years of me self-harming and being in and out of hospital before I was finally admitted to a specialist psychiatric hospital and started Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) – the recommended ‘treatment’ for someone with a Personality Diagnosis.
The other reason why it took so long to be offered the Therapy that is deemed to be the most helpful, I think, is because there were no Personality Disorder teams or hospitals, specialist professionals, or DBT programmes in my locality (Northumberland, UK). So, it was kind of like ‘why would they consider something that they couldn’t supply or have readily available?’ And because of that lack of help and support, it wasn’t until I had just come off life support after a third suicide attempt, that the professionals in my area were more understanding and finally put in a huge amount of time, money, and effort to have me taken to the private psychiatric hospital.
In doing DBT for the over two-year period I was an inpatient, I learnt that I had been wrong about a number of things when it came to recognising what will benefit my mental health… Firstly, I realised that I did actually deserve to do nice things and that I should be entitled to feel a whole lot better than I was. And this came to me in the especially life-changing lesson that I wasn’t to blame, responsible, nor deserving, of the abuse. Secondly, I also found that I was wrong to believe that any short-term benefits of self-harming made it completely ok. I had thought that I was struggling so much that even just one second of adrenaline, or the feeling that the pain deserving, or some other sort of relief, was worth all the terrible consequences.
Whilst DBT taught me that my unsafe coping mechanisms were so unhealthy and just completely not ‘the answer’ when I was looking to cope with difficult thoughts, feelings, and experiences; it also provided me with alternatives! I learnt all about healthier, more productive coping mechanisms which I was able to test and find that the ones which worked best for me, were self-soothing and distraction (both of which, are from DBT’s Distress Tolerance module). With self-soothing, I typically use it to do beauty bits and pieces like doing my nails, dying my hair, and to utilise material things too e.g., stroking my bunny; Luna, having reed diffusers nearby, wearing my pjs and getting snuggled in a blanket. For distraction, I tend to watch Netflix, Prime, or Disney+ or play Sims Freeplay, and – the most obvious one – I use it when I’m blogging!
Developing the knowledge of the things which help my mental health and contribute to my recovery, is only part of the challenge though. Once you’ve established the most beneficial elements for you, you then have to make sure you use them (the ones you can do by yourself, obviously!). I mean, it – sadly and unfortunately, takes an incredibly small amount of effort to go back to doing something that you used to do on a regular basis; and sometimes, this is still true no matter how long it has been since you’d last done it.
When I was at my most poorly with my mental health, a huge belief that stood in promotion of my illness was that I wasn’t going to make it too far into adulthood. It was an intense conviction that really motivated my actions when it came so far as self-harm and suicide attempts. I mean, firstly, the notion that I wasn’t going to be ‘here’ for much longer, left me wondering why I shouldn’t just go ahead and hurt myself when I thought that I wanted to. But, the largest reason for this thought on my life span enhancing how suicidal I felt, was that I believed that me dying at a young age didn’t have to necessarily be my own ‘fault.’ And with the matter of control in absolutely any situation, being something very sacred and important to me; meant that I really hated the idea of not having control over the actual end of my entire life.
When I created I’m NOT Disordered in January 2013 (after being in the psychiatric hospital for almost one year) I genuinely and completely had no intention or expectation of it to become all that it is today. Seriously! I mean, blogging was only just becoming a ‘thing’ back then so it was very much a learn-as-you-go kind of industry that was – at that point – nothing hugely special or defining. And with my original intention purely being to use my blog as an opportunity to communicate better and in more detail with my friends and family who were all over 100 miles away from the hospital I was in; it meant that I really had no enormous expectations. These days, a lot of people just starting out in the blogging world are expecting monetary benefits, a post mailbox full of freebies, and an email inbox overwhelmed by gifted opportunities and collaboration requests from huge companies and brands etc. I’d like to thank that a blogger’s intentions in starting to blog reflect through their content and that readers can see when a person is doing something with bad or ingenuine intentions.
I hope that the fact that in starting to blog I never – not even for one minute – thought that all of it would end up feeling like some sort of purpose for my entire life, is another example of my true motivations for blogging. I mean, before I created I’m NOT Disordered, I was so sure that I was only put ‘here’ to commit suicide in a way that would raise the awareness of the failings and poor quality of response from so many mental health services and other professionals. And in fairness, thought that I felt kind of ‘ok’ with that because I looked at it as helping others by enforcing different sorts of improvement and initiatives amongst services. But you know that thing you can do where you think you’re satisfied or willing to do something, but then something happens, and you realise that you actually weren’t ok with it? So, I think that when I started to receive comments etc from various readers saying things that led me to recognise I was trying – and maybe achieving in some instances – to do that same job through my blogging; it wasn’t completely surprising to find myself feeling somewhat relieved. Like ‘oh! Thanks for that; now I don’t have to die!’
With that recognition, the notion that I had found my purpose in blogging, and all the other amazing benefits that have come over I’m NOT Disordered’s lifetime, I’ve found myself becoming increasingly comfortable and happy with making plans – not just personally, but actually more so for my blog too – for the future. I mean, aside from not believing I had much of a future, I also didn’t plan for one before blogging because my life was so unpredictable that I couldn’t even tell a friend; “I’ll meet you at the stops next week at 1pm” because I literally had no idea whether I’d end up being in hospital or in the middle of self-harming or something! So, it’s very rewarding and refreshing to be able to make plans with my loved ones, to be able to commit to having a pet (my lop-eared, Lionhead bunny; Luna), and to create an entire Blogmas series in the months preceding it being published!
So, I really hope this post has inspired you to think up indicators that are helpful for managing your mental health and how stable it is… But, more importantly(!) I hope that this post has you excited to see Blogmas commence on December 1st.
So, without further ado I present to you, the Blogmas 2022 graphic: