Choices. Just; choices!

I came across this meme on Facebook earlier and thought it was very apt. At the time, I had just been having a conversation about my recent changes in attitude. The fact that I’m striving to improve myself, be healthier, look after myself more. And that all this work I’m doing is “for” me; nobody else is asking these things of me; they are things that I am hoping will improve my overall health and general wellbeing. And I have realised, nobody can do it “with” or “for” me. People can encourage me, support me and give me feedback but ultimately it is only me who can do it. Because I am the one who is making these choices, with choices being the operative word.

Everything we do, we choose to do. We “choose” to eat to survive or to enjoy the taste etc. We choose to go out, stay in, drink alcohol, smoke; basically everything. I know some people may argue this, some people have said they don’t “choose” to work and they “have” to work to earn money to survive. That’s a fair point, however you’re still choosing from those 2 potentials; do you choose to work to survive, or do you choose not to work and risk the consequences of that whatever they may be. You choose the lesser of the evils, but that doesn’t mean the lesser evil will be a great alternative.

In moments of desperation, when my world had crashed down around me and almost buried me alive, I ‘chose’ to hurt myself. The only options or choices I could see at that very moment were: I hurt myself right now to relieve the feelings or I kill myself to permanently stop the feelings. I could never see other options in those situations, where I can now (for example, an alternative option could have been I could have tried to tolerate those feelings a little longer, reminding myself that they were thoughts and feelings and they could not hurt me). So I’ve realised (just now by writing this very random post), that problem solving is quite important, in order to try to see the other choices you have. Opening up your mind, slowing down your thoughts, reassuring yourself. Maybe then try to take a step back from it for a few seconds and consider your options. That 10 or 20 seconds when you take a step back and assess the situation properly, could potentially distract you enough to really reduce your urges or feelings. That is not easy, but try just by reminding yourself every day to use that 10 or more second step back from things so you can gather yourself.

Well now you have a choice to make. Try the above or don’t try the above. Further choices along the way, if you do try, do you give up after 1 failed attempt or do you keep practising until it gets easier? If you ignore the above, is there anything else you can try that might help? Or would you choose not to end the cycle at all?

All choices that come with their own consequences; positive & negative. Which is the lesser alternative? Is that a lesser alternative for the short-term? Or is it the lesser alternative for the long-term? Sometimes we have to choose harder options in order to improve things for the long-term. That means pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones, making choices we might not usually make and trying things that might fear us to death.

Choices choices choices 🙂

The power of music in mental health!

Music has always been a big part of my life. I have always loved having music on in the background and find it easier to concentrate more when I’m listening to music, strangely. I realised how powerful music is in mental health when I was in the deepest depths of depression. More specifically, it was when I was practising mindfulness. I used to work with an online counsellor, who once tried to ‘ground’ me (bring my level of emotions down to a manageable level) by using music. She asked me to try sitting or lying in a comfortable place, with my favourite music on. I then had to try and focus on one instrument only throughout one of the tracks. I tried and tried and tried; it was bloody impossible at first to get through a whole song just focusing on one thing and drowning all the others out. I presumed I’d be drawn to piano sounds as I love listening to it. But oddly, the more I did it, I started to notice the voice was the most captivating to me. Once I’d got the hang of it I would do it every day with different songs to ‘train’ my brain and get used to being mindful; which is basically, focusing on something in the here and now, forgetting about past or future thoughts/feelings etc. Eventually the practise paid off and I’m pro at it now, with the singer’s voice being the one thing I focus on.

I then started to focus on what the words were in each song; questioning what each artist was trying to say, and noticing the feelings each song evoked in me. Sometimes, once I’d really understood the song through the lyrics, I really felt like somebody else out there knew how I felt. Other times they helped me to pass through emotive times without self-harming. Artists I really related to most included: Birdy, Ed Sheeran, Jessie J, Ellie Goulding, The Script and Professor Green. It still makes me laugh to myself that all those artists sing similar styles, then there’s Professor Green who raps!

Anyhow, what I learned is that I leaned towards songs that matched the feelings I had at that time. Sometimes the songs kept me feeling depressed, but I wouldn’t change that if I could do it again. They may have kept me there a little longer, but I didn’t feel alone because somebody else out there completely understood. I would allow myself, through the music, to sit and ‘be’. I could tolerate certain emotions based on what music I had on. One example of what might have ‘kept’ me feeling gloomy would be Birdy and her music. It’s a lot about having been hurt, which most songs are I guess, but her lyrics really represented my feelings.

A verse from Birdy’s song “Wings” really touched me and I’d spend ages listening to this song over and over again. That verse said:

Under a trillion stars
We danced on top of cars
Took pictures of the stage
So far from where we are
They made me think of you

The song, how I’d interpreted it, was about loss and missing somebody. Wishing so hard you could have them back and the pain you feel when you know you’ll never see them again. But there was one Birdy song that just blew me away. At the time I found this song, I was working on my inner-child. A lot of my problems stemmed (in my opinion) from the hate I had towards the “little Kerri”. And when I became unwell, I would feel like the little me was trapped inside my body, fighting to get out, but I wouldn’t let her. So internally I had this battle going on. And i don’t know if it was the intensity of the emotions or if it was something else, but I physically felt that battle inside. I was in pain physically, I could feel movement inside me and I was genuinely convinced she was running round inside my body. Looking back, I realise I did actually experience those physical sensations, but I interpreted them differently because of how intense they were. Like, my stomach would churn, but it would churn so much it felt like something was actually in there. My chest would pound so much, it felt like something was trying to punch its way out. My body would tremble so much all over that it felt like there was something in my veins, getting around to every single inch of my body. To try to explain the ferocity of it, the physical feelings were such that I actually felt like I ‘needed’ to stab myself in the stomach to get this ‘thing’ out of me. Safe to say, I was admitted to hospital on this occasion, and it’s great to say I didn’t harm myself too seriously. Well, I was on about songs. The following lyrics helped me to connect with my inner-child. The song was like a conversation between me and her; two separate people as I saw them then. The first paragraph of the lyrics are me talking to ‘little Kerri’. Her response is the last paragraph.

Remember once the things you told me
And how the tears ran from my eyes
They didn’t fall because it hurt me
I just hate to see you cry
Sometimes I wish we could be strangers
So I didn’t have to know your pain
But if I kept myself from danger
This emptiness would feel the same

I want to tell you that I’m sorry
But that’s not for me to say
You can have my heart, my soul, my body
If you can promise not to go away
I ain’t no angel
I never was
But I never hurt you
It’s not my fault
You see those egg shells, they’re broken up
A million pieces, strung out across the ground

So, the power of this song helped me have that conversation internally. I realised that the little me had done nothing wrong. She was bad, evil or spiteful like I’d always thought of her. She wasn’t a monster. She was a young child trying to survive. And all she needed now was for me to look after her. After listening to this song a million times, I wrote to my inner-child and expressed how I felt. I then wrote as my inner-child to myself, and let her express her feelings. They then began to understand one another, and realise that they were safe with each other. And slowly, little Kerri became part of me. “She” is no longer a person in herself; she is a part of who I am. And I have accepted her thanks to this song.

There’s a lot more I could give you on this, so let me know if you wanna read more about this stuff. I have loads of examples of how music has made a difference for me like above. Music is something a lot of us take for granted, but if you use it wisely, it can become really helpful in your own life!

The consequences of impulsivity

Yesterday, myself and some friends had a discussion about impulsive behaviour, and it made me see just how difficult it can be for people to understand those with borderline traits or PD. When I was more impulsive in a way that was damaging to me (taking overdoses, self-harming, spending too much money, wreckless behaviour etc.), I just didn’t seem to care about the consequenses of my actions. There were times when one minute I felt brilliant, and the next minute I felt dreadful and believed I wanted to die. My emotions would literally rocket from nowhere and I’d feel sudden, extreme and overwhelming emotions. Looking back on it, I realise it was because I bottled everything up. Then I’d get to a point where I was literally full inside from head to toe of emotions and feelings I didn’t like and they’d spill out. It felt so hard to control; in fact when this happened, I’d self-harm to release the emotions a little (this was where I was impulsive). I realise now though, that I did always have some element of control, because I could always hold it until I was alone. I never self-harmed in front of anyone else, and it was very rare for me to do it if somebody was in the house with me.

If you think about impulsivity being something you just ‘do’ without thinking about; we’ve all done it at times, and in positive ways too. It’s something that happens so fast, with me it happened so fast at times (or most of the time) that I didn’t realise what I was doing until I’d actually done it.

My emotions would go through the roof, lead to some kind of impulsive behaviour (usually self-damaging) and then as quick as they came on, once I’d acted impulsively, I felt OK again. I say OK, but what I really mean is I felt more in control of my emotions. I didn’t feel like I was going to ‘lose it’ when I was around other people. On the outside I could be with somebody and look like I was feeling fine, then 2 minutes after leaving them, I’ve hurt myself; that would mess with people’s minds. “Why didn’t you tell me you felt like that?” people would ask me. I never knew the answer, and would always reply with “I don’t know”. There have been times where I’ve took overdoses thinking that I wanted to die; when in fact, I just wanted somebody to help me, so desperately. I could never see that until now. I never wanted to die, but acting impulsively, I never thought of the consequences. I never actually thought beforehand that I could have accidentally killed myself. It would be half way through overdosing I’d think; “Shit what am I doing?”, panic and would ask someone for help or take myself to hospital. People question your motives and so many times I’ve heard “if you really wanted to die, you wouldn’t have come for help”. Well you know what, that’s actually very true, but to say that to somebody when they’re feeling so shit gives them the impression that you don’t give a damn. It’s invalidating. It’s not acknowledging the pain that person is in at that time, or was in at the time of harming themselves.

Impulsive behaviours have commonly already happened by the time I’ve known about them. I never ‘wanted’ to hurt myself, but I didn’t feel in control of it. I was stuck in a vicious circle of feeling bad, self-harming, feeling bad, self-harming. BPD has so many negative associations. I’ve often heard the words ‘manipulative’ and ‘attention-seeking’. Once again comes the spectrum; we can all be manipulative, and all are to some degree. The same goes for seeking ‘attention’; we all have done or do this, to varying degrees, using different behaviours. Perhaps using the word ‘attention’ isn’t very accurate, or is a little bit of a broad term. If you look closer, there is a need in that person that is not being met, and they don’t know how to ask for somebody to meet that need. It could be approval-seeking, seeking reassurance from others, seeking emotional support, seeking comfort, seeking company – there are a million and one things it could be. One thing is for sure, whenever I did things that others saw as attention-seeking (self-harmed) I saw as my way of releasing my inner pain. For me, and for most who self-harm, it was very private and the only people who ever saw my fresh wounds were medical staff (GP, walk-in centre nurses, A&E staff). The only times those people might have seen a wound, was if I’d gone too far and needed stitches, or if I had an infected wound. Probably 90% of the times I’ve harmed myself, I’ve dealt with it alone and not need to tell anyone about it. So really, if I was attention-seeking, I was doing it so wrong!

People who regularly behave in a way that’s harmful to themselves are actually struggling emotionally. But, because of the way(s) they handle their emotions, they can be viewed in a very negative light; manipulative and attention-seeker. Those are harsh words to use for anyone, let alone somebody who is in turmoil and doesn’t know how to ask for help.

I really don’t know if I’m making any sense so I’m sorry if I’v rambled on a little!

I graduated from therapy

Well, strictly speaking, I’ve got 1 last 1-2-1 session next week, but I had my last group session today and although it was hard knowing I won’t be going back into that kind of supportive environment, it was exciting too. The prospect of a lie-in on a Thursday got the better of me!

In all seriousness this is a huge deal for me. I never thought I’d be able to say that I’ve reached the end of therapy, after 9 full years in services, and feel excited about it. If you read my post about attachments, you’ll hopefully understand a little more about how strong my attachments were with mental health professionals (in particular) who were working closely with me. To finally completely let go of those safe attachments, and that safety harness, is the scariest thing to think of, and admit to. For some strange reason, up until recently, I found it so difficult to just tell it how it is. It just wouldn’t happen for me, until I’d started to develop personally, in my recovery. I was talking to my CPN in my 1-2-1 about 3-4 months ago. I said something (but have no idea what it was) and I realised at that moment that there was a change in me. Literally, out of nowhere, came reels and reels of complete honesty about my life. I admitted to things I’d never even be able to admit to myself, and from that point I felt completely amazing. It is so hard to describe what happened that day, in that 50 minutes, because it’s something that’s never happened to me before. Nothing has ever made me feel as good as I did, and have, from that day. Simply because I stopped pushing the true thoughts/feelings away, and I said them out loud which acknowledged them for the first time, comfirming they were in fact very real. I explained my attachment issues with professionals and admitted that I was terrified of being discharged; instead of persistently repeating “I’m not worried about being discharged at all” (whilst secretly shitting my pants). I admitted that, for some reason, I found it hard to give the professionals all the information they needed, in order to be able to support me better. Instead, I would drip-feed them information, try and hold it all together, until a ‘crisis’ would occur which would usually end up in a hospital admission. I was aware at the time that I drip-fed, and I couldn’t help it. It was my way of keeping myself safe I suppose, and I think now that it’s something we all do to a degree. Not a lot of people go around being 100% honest every second of every day about how they were feeling, we have to build up trust with people and learn when it’s ‘safe’ and appropriate to express our thoughts/feelings. It just takes different amounts of time for others to start trusting people, and I guess the more you’ve been let down by people in the past, the longer it’s going to take you to build up that trust with somebody in the future. It’s a really ‘simple’ psychological defence mechanism that keeps us safe from other people.

While it may take somebody a long time to trust if they’ve been hurt previously, it can sometimes be the opposite too. For me, I’d sit there wanting to honestly answer their questions, (are you having urges to self-harm? Are you safe? Are you feeling suicidal?) and the real answer would come into my head, but they heard the complete opposite to whatever that was. The answers to those questions at that time, by the way, would have been no, yes & no; but the real truth at that time would have been yes, no, yes. Is that confusing to you? I’m chuckling now at the thought of you going to and from the questions to match the answers. To sum up where I’m at now, if I was having urges to self-harm, wasn’t safe and felt suicidal, and I was asked those questions, I wouldn’t lie. I’d be able to express my true feelings in a way where other people could understand them better. Rather than, saying I was fine and then an hour later taking an overdose or hurting myself in some way. It really sounds so simple to me now, but you know what, when you’re in that ‘place’ you feel completely and utterly paralysed by your emotions.

Tolerating the intolerable feelings; what is the worst that could happen?

Tolerating feelings and emotions is something I’m still trying to get to grips with. This is a mammoth task for anyone at times, but is something people with borderline PD often struggle with. The inability to tolerate certain powerful and overwhelming emotions can cause a number of problems, such as anger management issues, self-harm (as it can alleviate overpowering emotions) and impulsive behaviours (sometimes behaviours that can put people at risk) such as wreckless driving, binge eating, over-spending, promiscuity. The reason behind these problems usually stems from a persons inability or unwillingness to tolerate how they feel. The behaviour usually leads to a dramatic change or shift in their feelings. Some of the feelings that can come from these unhelpful behaviours could be numbness, feeling free, feeling more in control or a feeling that you deserve to suffer (these are just a few examples and everyone is different).

For me, I avoided sitting with those overwhelming emotions usually by self-harming. Self-harm was the only way I knew how to change or reduce the intensity of my feelings.

For example, if I felt angry it was usually very intense and I had a strong feeling that I would completely lose control of myself. So once I’d harmed myself, the intensity of the anger reduced (like it was releasing my emotions) and I then felt in control again. This was a vicious circle I was stuck in, and it was only when I started trying to tolerate those emotions that things started to change: i broke that cycle. I remember lying in bed one night feeling extremely angry over something. I was so angry I wanted to punch something or scream and shout. Then came the self-harm urges, but I talked myself through it. If I lay there and kept myself as still and calm as possible I could focus on reminding myself that feelings come and go. That the way I felt at that moment would not last forever. And even though I felt like my whole body was about to explode, I could reassure myself that it was just a feeling and it could not harm me. Eventually I must have calmed down, because I fell asleep. Of course when I woke up, those intense feelings had subsided and the situation felt less overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really difficult thing to do, to sit with these horrible emotions and not act on them, but they do pass off eventually.

During times where your emotions are overwhelmingly strong, try to tolerate them, and ask yourself ‘what’s the worst that could happen right now’ – most of your answers may be irrational fears (ie when I felt I was going to explode it was important to reassure myself that this was a feeling that couldn’t harm me and my body was not going to explode).

The truth is, you have to be prepared to try new things and to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Nobody likes that, but if you don’t challenge your thoughts/feelings/behaviours they won’t change or improve. You also won’t learn about your strength, but we can all be very strong when we need to be. We, as humans, tend to push through things and move forward. But the only way you can start to move forward is by clearing your path of any barriers or by finding or creating a new/different path for yourself.

Give it a go. What’s the worst that could happen?

The unexpected welcome post

Well this really is going to be fun… a blog full of the randomness of my mind; the stuff you shouldn’t say out loud. It won’t all be like that though. I’m just going to talk randomly about whatever pops into my head, so if I’m honest the topic could be absolutely anything.

For those who know me, you’ll know I’ve done a lot of work around mental health and self-harm in particular. Next month it’ll be 9 years exactly that I first came into contact with mental health health services. As it so happens, next month will also be the first time in 9 years that I’ve ever been discharged and completely out of secondary mental health services.

In 2013 my CPN (community psychiatric nurse) went on maternity leave. The team gave me my options: to try a 12 month programme specifically for people with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, or be discharged from services. At that time I was absolutely distraught just to hear the dreaded “D” word. How could they even consider discharging me when I felt so low?

Living with a personality disorder is a very scary, lonely and confusing thing. Having first been diagnosed years ago, I refused to believe that my diagnosis was correct. However, if it meant I had to do group work and 1-2-1 work every week rather than being discharged, I would. At that moment I would have agreed to anything to avoid discharge because I was so terrified of not having that support to fall back on. Now as I see it, I was afraid of being abandoned and rejected. I was afraid that people would no longer care about me. My needs were somehow being met by the professionals who worked with me, and for as long as I had a professional to work with, I felt somebody cared. I felt I always had at least 1 person to turn to in times of crisis.

Anyhow, I agreed to do this 12 month programme that the team were piloting. It took about 12 months for them to set it all up and prepare people for the group work. During this time I had regular 1-2-1 sessions with a new CPN. She, and others in the team had been trained in Structured Clinical Management (SCM) which is what the 12 month programme was based around. I was dreading doing the group work, but the group was only small and we all got on. I have 2 group sessions left and I will have completed it.

I have to say, at the beginning I was only going along with it to stop them discharging me. I am so glad I did agree to it. Every week we’d discuss different things, learn new skills and then be given optional homework to practice what we’d learned. I gave things a try, I liked the theory of things and remember saying “in theory it sounds brill, but doing it is a completely different thing”. I started with little things, practicing talking more openly with loved ones, being honest with people about how their behaviour sometimes affected me, and moved on to start being more assertive. First I started saying no to things I really didn’t want to do. I was riddled with guilt every time I did it, but I had to tolerate it. I had to mentally remind myself that I had the right to refuse to do something I didn’t want to do, that if other people were unhappy with it that was their problem, not mine. And to my surprise, it became apparent quite quickly that this shit was working. People seemed to stop relying so heavily on me for things and stopped assuming that I would agree to do something they asked of me. Behaving in this way eventually led me to start believing that I was as worthy as anyone else of asserting myself and my own needs. The skills they taught us in group helped me to assert myself in a way that wasn’t offensive to others. I learned to be honest with people. I learned to sit people down and tell them if something they had said/done had upset me. That way, I stopped bottling every little annoyance up, and my overwhelming feelings slowly started to reduce. I became more aware of my emotions; how to name what I was feeling and what to do to change it if I needed to, or how to tolerate certain feelings until they passed.

I feel a little like I’m waffling. I didn’t want my first post to be so long and babbly but you know me, I get on one and can’t stop myself.

I’ll carry on with this in my second entry. So, if you wanna know what’s so different for me now, how I’ve managed with my self-harm and how I feel about the looming discharge then keep checking back for post 2!