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 ūüôā

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!

DEARMAN GIVE FAST: How to be assertive without being aggressive

One big lesson I’ve learned over the last 12 months is the importance of considering others’ perspectives. The thing I’ve heard a lot during the SCM group I’m due to finish this week, is the “third eye” perspective. For example, if you and somebody else are having a disagreement and you feel like you want to lash out, give yourself 10 seconds to take a step back and imagine you are a 3rd person in the room who is looking in on the situation. The third eye perspective gives us the opportunity to see all views/angles; by taking a step back and seeing things from an outside perspective you can then be more considerate of others’ feelings.

I always ask myself one important question, especially when I’m feeling angry and want to scream and shout at somebody. I ask myself “how would I feel if somebody said/did that to me?”.¬†There are ways of saying things, and sometimes it’s how you say it that matters. You have to consider you body language, tone of voice, eye contact, choice of words and consider whether you’re being fair or are your expectations too high?

The way we remember (in group) how to interact in a more effective way is using the acronym ‘DEARMAN GIVE FAST’. To assert yourself, ask a favour etc, you would use DEARMAN. Which stands for: Describe (describe the facts of the situation), Express (how you feel – “I feel”, without saying “you make me feel” – nobody can make you feel anything, it’s about how you react to other people), Assert (clearly state what you would like to happen), Reinforce (positive reinforcement works well when asserting yourself; showing appreciation etc), Mindful (always be mindful of how you are coming across and of how the other person is feeling), Appear confident (this is difficult but important when asserting yourself), Negotiate (be prepared to negotiate and come up with a plan together).

GIVE¬†is all about how you want the other person to feel after your interaction. You would use GIVE¬†if you want to say something (for example) to somebody but you don’t want to destroy or damage your relationship with this person. GIVE¬†makes you consider how you are coming across to the other person, and stands for: Gentle (gentle manner, regardless of how you feel. Treat people with respect), (appear) Interested (show interest in what the other person has to say; their perspective is just as important as yours. Show interest by using eye contact, nodding etc), Validate (validate others thoughts/feelings/opinions. Check you have understood what they are saying by repeating back what they have said and asking if this is correct, for example), Easy manner (relates to body language, posture, eye contact, smiling etc).

FAST is all about your own self-respect. If you want to maintain your self-respect during and after an interaction, follow FAST. Fair (always consider others’ views and try to reach a mutual conclusion), (no) Apologies (you do not need to apologise for disagreeing with somebody), Stick to your values (know what your values are and stick to them instead of giving in to please other people), Truthful (communicate¬†honestly with the other person and be genuine).

After practicing these skills my assertiveness is at an all time high, even though it’s nowhere near where I’d like it to be yet. It helps me to prepare for situations that I know of in advance (for example, if I’m planning on speaking to somebody about how I felt when they said something to me). It’s good for everyday use with whoever you come across throughout your days.

It is possible to know your own mind, be confident enough to express your own mind, and do it in a way that doesn’t damage and/or completely destroy relationships. Well I never thought I’d say that.