Moving On From A Haunted Past of Home and The Inner Caverns of Self Hatred

As a child I moved a lot. Sometimes once a year, sometimes within 6 months of settling we were moving again. We didn’t stay in the same area either. We lived all over the south half of the country. When it came to going to high school my parents decided it was time to try to stay in one place. For the duration of those eight years I didn’t live in the same house the whole time: that would be a ridiculous expectation to have from my parents. I did however stay in the same town at least. I also managed to stay at the same high school from year 7 to 13. Unfortunately it turned out that the only school I stayed at happened to be the one I hated the most. It was perhaps the most damaging school I’ve ever been to in terms of self belief, self-esteem and building yourself during your teenage years. I don’t think the role of high school is to destroy you from the inwards out, but it seems to have that impact on many teenagers.

I remember walking up the hill from the bus park and one of my friends stated, ‘these are supposed to be the best years of our lives’ as if some wisdom of hindsight and insight had been bestowed upon her from the future. I hoped she was wrong when she said it. I know she was wrong 10 years later. School was not any of the best years of my life. Not at all. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Never.

When I was in high school I started to develop my first signs and symptoms of mental illness. This quickly turned into a long battle with bulimia, and consequently eating disorders and all the shenanigans that erupted at 21. I didn’t feel supported at school. I wasn’t supported at home, although my parents did somehow get me referred to CAMHs via my GP and this is where the one constant figure of hope and support came into my life. I would see her at the outpatients department of the hospital, which I would walk to most weeks. I was very much left on my own in this journey with CAMHs but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

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During those years, mainly 2005-2009 I would haunt around the city streets and parks on my own. I spent a lot of time on my own, struggling to maintain friends and my illness in any form of harmony, such as mental illness goes. I would eat in strange places and vomit in even stranger places. The country lanes where I lived for the most part of time in my home town were haunted with my running and cycling endeavours in a constant bid to lose weight, disappear, punish myself and repeat after me, ‘nothing is more important than losing weight. Nothing is more important than losing weight’.

If I cast my mind back to this period of time it is shrouded in a mass of thick black smog. I couldn’t see my way clearly at all back then. I struggle to see through it without the inner of my emotive self construing into tangles of excruciating pain. Yes, this place is technically my home town because I spent the most time growing up here but it was never home. Where we lived was never home. I felt outcasted, strange and extremely alone in my own dark world of writing in coffee shops, puking in public toilets, hedges and woodland, and trying to muddle through school at the same time.

I did have some good times, mainly whilst drunk. Often these weren’t even good times though because drinking on an empty stomach is a bad idea any time, but drinking on a stomach that hasn’t seen any form of solid food for 3 or 5 days is just a recipe for an involuntary puking disaster. Surprisingly I remember many of these moments well, puking in the gutter outside my friend’s house, collapsing in a field as the vodka spins took over and I could move, curling up in a hay bail in a barn completely disconnected from the music or people around me. Even my year 13 prom ended with me being traipsed home from throwing up in the hotels toilets for an amount of time that no one has any idea of. No one knows how long I had been in there puking and passed out.

Making connections with people was very difficult for me. It always has been. I put this down to moving house a lot and my impending shyness that creeps into each corner of my life. There was nothing healthy about these years. There was nothing positive to come from my life other than it could only get better once I moved away. It did for a while and even during my times of being very unwell in London I wouldn’t say they were as dark as my time growing up. I lived 4 of my 8 years waiting to leave. This hope is the only thing that kept me going and things did get better in my final year. I went to art school and had one of the best years of my life. Finally there was a crowd that accepted my quirkiness and invited me out anyway. Finally I had friends who I could actually relate to and I was old enough to drink my way through all of my problems without needing to sneak around, climb over fences into clubs and get creative in my ways of obtaining alcohol. Looking back, it really is remarkable that I survived those years as in tact as I did. To this day, I don’t know how I did it.

When I left home to move to London for university it very much felt like a second chance at life. It felt like a clean slate to move away from my demons, move away from the turmoil of my home life as a teenager and make my own way. It didn’t go quite to plan but here I found a home. Since I moved to London 8 years ago I have lived here for as long as I’ve lived anywhere and I’ve been to my home town 3 times. The last time was this year. Before that I went home for one christmas in which I was reminded very much how much it didn’t feel like home to be home, and how much it never really had felt like home. I went back a few years later, then left it a few more years before going back again.

The town felt haunted to me. Seeing my old school as I went by on the train sent a great discomfort through my body. Seeing the old hospital I used to walk to each week, sometimes multiple times a week, swamped me with all the emotion tied up in that experience at once. Seeing the old streets upon which I would wonder alone and drunk in a bid to escape my reality filled me with sadness at how alone I really felt at home. The first time I went home I realised how much I actually hated it. I cried and although I didn’t plan to not return for so long it felt necessary.

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The next time I went home it was slightly lesser of a haunting experience but still it felt strange. It was odd and nostalgic in the most unpleasant way in which nostalgia can stir up old feelings and experiences to churn them over into a curdled mass of sour substance within your stomach. This time I went home, it was a last-minute decision. I was hypomanic and struggling with it. It had become uncomfortable for me and I spoke to my Dad. He said he’d pick me up that night and drive me down.

He has moved house a few times since I left home. He has finally settled in one home which oddly feels more like a home than any of the buildings he has occupied previously. With is having been so long since I left and started to build my own life in London, London is my home. London is the place I’ve been more able to be myself, received more intense help for my mental health problems and met people who are ‘my people’. Sometimes they come and they go but being able to come clean about my mental health illness and still be accepted as a friend to people is something I never experienced growing up. My illnesses being met with compassion and support in my education settings since I’ve started studying up here is something else that has been new. Finally, an education institution with support services and compassion and the belief that you can succeed rather than being surprised when you don’t fail is a place I can learn the thrive.

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My experience of life in London has been very different to the one I knew before. It hasn’t always been easy or good by any stretch of well wishing, it has however taught me a lot and encouraged me to grow. I haven’t been suppressed, I haven’t been dismissed in the way I was at school or home growing up, I have been encouraged out of my dark cavern of self-hatred that I had grown to call my comfort zone. I left home more comfortable hating myself and actively acting on it. I am now in a place where that cavern is becoming a place of the past – and because I’ve managed to move forwards in my life, because i’ve made and had so many new experiences that i chose, because i made a home for myself with what I had even when that meant a back shed with slugs, mice and leaky rooftops it was home. It was the first home i had really experienced. All of this nurturing i have experienced from myself, my partner and friends through these years has shuffled me along to a place where I can go back to my home town when I’m unwell and find it a helpful respite from the chaotic surroundings I create for myself when I am unwell.

Life in London hasn’t been perfect but it has eventually gotten better than where I came from. This allows me to go home and appreciate the nature and beauty of the countryside with fresh untainted eyes. It allows for me to go home and sit in a pub with an old school friend and enjoy their company, fully present rather than drinking until I can barely stand any more.

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I have grown since then. I continue to grow and within that growth there is a strength to face those past memories in a less tangled, less curdling to sourness light. I can be. I can enjoy the place for what it is, a nice seaside town, then I can come home refreshed rather than stressed about my history with the place, and finally, my home town doesn’t haunt me, taunt me or internally destroy me ever so slightly more with each day that I spend there. I am also able to remember the good times from that period of my life.

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Moving On From Hypomania

As with every episode, as it comes to an end and I regain the ability to think I start making plans to try to stay well. I reflect on what has been helpful for me in the past or in general. I look at the advice given by others with similar difficulties. I try to do what my CMHT tell me is helpful and not helpful.

It’s a lot. It’s a lot of studying yourself and others. It’s a lot of analysing what perhaps didn’t work so well, and what did.

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I’ve made a plan, which focuses mainly around reinstating a form of routine to my days. Prior to this episode I had routine due to uni and studying for my exams. I’ve lost that and feel it needs to be established in some form over the summer months until September.

My Stay Well List:

  1. Keep engaging with the Headspace app for daily mindfulness practice as well as practicing mindfulness in general such as whilst brushing my teeth, whilst travelling and checking in throughout the day with myself.
  2. Eat well. Whole nourishing food. Start with eliminating added sugar to my hot drinks. Aim for an 80/20 distribution of micronutrient rich food and food just for fun.
  3. Sleep. Try to keep to a routine of waking up at a decent time. Currently aiming for 7:30am – with the view to push it to 6:30am.
  4. Make a routine out of nothing. Busy myself enough so that there is no abundance of unfilled time.
  5. Talk to and work with my care coordinator: even if I don’t particularly want to.
  6. Exercise – follow an outline training plan, which gives routine and predictability to each week.
  7. Create purpose by signing up to volunteering roles to help with routine as well.
  8. Take vitamin supplement with particular focus on magnesium and zinc in chosen supplement. Take it every other day. Also keep taking meds.
  9. Don’t get drunk. Just the occasional 1-2 drinks.
  10. Read for pleasure to keep the mind occupied. Recognise when to reduce stimulus and do it, even as caution if unsure.

That’s a lot! Unfortunately it all feels necessary. Mood swings seem to be accompanied by a lapse in my self-care regime and routine of activities. It can be hard to get the balance of busy enough but not too busy. Engaged enough but not in excess.

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Balance is something that I’ve been working on trying to achieve more of since the beginning of the year. I’m still working on it. I suppose this is going to be quite the journey.

 

The Getting a Fuck-Ton Done Phase

: The Phases and Faces of Hypomania

Imagine that every obstacle that comes your way is minimised. You’re a giant Super Mario, the obstacles are the same size essentially but feel more like minute lumps in the road. What was once a 3ft wall is now merely a texture difference in the tarmac.

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Problem solving is not a challenge. Everything is obvious. You just do this or that and you don’t just do it, you do it at the speed of light. You have To-Do lists longer than your arm and they still can’t keep up with you rather than the other way around.  Ideas come in an abundance.

The best bit isn’t the constant flow of ideas. The best bit is that they all feel entirely achievable, realistic and exciting; they range from becoming a world-renowned musician, setting up an empire of a business and cracking the comedy circuit because let’s face it, I’m hilarious. I’m going to achieve it all whilst I’m a student so I’m prepared to work even harder to earn the masses of money I’m going to bring in. You call it bringing back the bacon. I’m bringing back the pig farm and you better believe it. The cherry on the top? It’s going to be effortless.

 

giphy-4.gifThere aren’t enough hours in the day for all the master plans you’ve conjured but you’re maxing the absolute potential out of every single day. It’s brilliant. All those days when just having a shower seemed like a massive achievement: done. They’re gone and this is just the best news because now you can finally live the life you were supposed to. This is how the future is created. This is how my future is created and I’m moving on. I knew I was an incredibly smart and able. The only difference is that now I’m proving that not just to myself, but to the world also.
I never want help during this phase. I never think I need help during this phase. I’m just being brilliant, and something has finally clicked with how it is supposed to be. I never realise. I don’t stop to think like I do with masses of energetically charged and unproductive over joyousness, because I’m so busy maxing the potential out of every day and that doesn’t include self-reflection because I’m already perfect.

I do genuinely get a lot done – and if I could work at this pace all the time, I would probably manage to follow some of those project ideas through quite well. Like everything that’s too good to be true however, it comes to an end far too quickly for any of these projects to barely take off. It’s a level of genius that I can’t quite follow through on or keep up with.

That Tough Mudder for MIND

In the pub one December evening in 2014 a friend and I decided it would be a really good idea to sign up for Tough Mudder. We decided it would be fun, it would be a real laugh and a challenge that was totally do-able. We 100% had it in the bag already, after a pint or two I was convinced I could run it right now and with nine months to train. We were gonna smash it. We teamed up and began to raise money for Mind in the process.

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I was originally signed up for Tough Mudder in September 2015. However, in early September I found myself stuck in hospital in the middle of nowhere. On section, I wasn’t allowed to leave and there was no leeway for negotiation. I deferred my entry until May 2016 with the assumption that I would be better and have had enough recovery time to focus on training again.

Some new meds, some disruptions and some turbulence later I was admitted on section in April 2015. This meant that again, I couldn’t go. This time, ashamed and disappointed I retreated into the distance. I went quiet. Overcoming that admission took a very long time; it had a profound effect on me and when I came home I struggled to even go to the shop on my own. My social worker described what I went through with that admission as a trauma, and no wonder I was overwhelmed. I guess it’s hard to know when everything is so confusing and you don’t understand why you’re stuck on the inside, and everything is a whirlwind of screaming, fighting, restraints and tears.

As a result, I went quiet about all the races I missed during that admission and the money I raised was donated over to Mind regardless. I was upset and felt guilty for having accepted donations and money and having not actually done the challenge I was sponsored for. I also felt guilty asking for a Mind charity place for a third time. So I didn’t. I let it go.

I accepted that I had been too unwell to be able to go to Tough Mudder twice in a row, and for as unfortunate as that was I accepted that it wasn’t my fault. I had to accept that these circumstances had been beyond my control and even though it didn’t feel ok, it was ok. That’s the nature of mental illness right? I put it behind me and focused on getting better, yet it still felt like unfinished business. In my mind, I was going to revisit it and tie the loose end for myself when I was more stable and more well, whenever that may be.

Then December 2016 happened. I had a rocky time with starting uni but during a particularly ambitious patch of behaviour I signed up. I had a touch of realism about me still, thank goodness, and I opted for the half distance. I kept it quiet and only told a close few incase I didn’t do it again.

The date crept up on me and fortunately I had managed to start running regularly again. It became harder to keep it quiet; a tad of excitement, a touch of self realisation that I could do it, and a growing sense of self belief spread the secret out a bit more than I had initially intended.

On the day, Wifey and I travelled to the venue together. She wasn’t running however, said she may consider running one next year? *nudge nudge – that would be a really great idea – hint*. She sat with me during the pre-race nerves and put up with my excessive neediness for affection and reassurance. in the run up to the race. Like the boss of a Wifey that she is, she stood by me right until it was time to go into the warm up pen. At the start line, she waved me off.

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This was it. This was the moment that had taken be 1 1/2 years to get to. This was the event that had hung over me for the past 2 1/2 years and I had finally crossed the start line. It seems to be a theme that getting to the start line is the hardest part for me. I was on my own. The tough Mudder mantra is that no one is on their own. The challenge is about comradery and teaming up with people you don’t know. You’re all in this together, you start together and you finish together. However, running a race that most people sign up with for in a group can make running it feel a little bit lonely at times.

I’m no stranger of doing things on my own. I am an only child after all. I’ve been wanting to start running trails lately, so running the off-road terrain was something I really enjoyed, even without music. The constant challenge and excitement of the terrain was enough to keep my mind occupied: the scenery and the challenge of the hills, of which there were plenty was enough. Sometimes the course led us up a hill just for the fun of it to come back down. It’s like a reminder of a lot of what we do in life. Why do we run in big circuits, and climb walls to just come back down again? For the fun of it of course, and the feeling of accomplishment that you can’t get from not climbing the wall or running in a big circuit just for the fun of it.

The obstacles around the course were a good challenge and totally do-able. My favourite was block ness monster; I love water obstacles. It always takes some nerves to dive into a cold pool of muddy stinking water, but afterwards, despite stinking of sewage, you feel great. The other obstacles on the half course included: mud mile, the pyramid scheme, inverted walls, high walls, and the grand finale, Everest 2.0.

Everest 2.0 is one of those obstacles wherein which you have to break down barriers and put your trust in a stranger to haul you over the ledge all after you’ve run up a quarter pipe upon which it is highly likely to end in a royal motherfucker of a face plant. It took a number of attempts and to my surprise, I didn’t land on my face.

Also surprisingly, hanging from someone’s hands whilst straggling legs in all directions in an attempt to get over the ledge is really exhausting. Eventually when I was hauled over I had no strength left in me to help drag anyone over. In fact, i felt positively nauseous. Slowly I climbed down the ladder on the other side to be greeted by Wifey taking my photo and an upheaval of vomit into my mouth.

She ran to the hydration station and got me some water to drink to one of her infamous pep-talks. I could do it. It wasn’t far until the finish line now. I had already covered most of it. I recollected myself.  Picked my sorry arse up off the floor and using her words of encouragement began to run again. I wasn’t far now. I was nearly done. I soon saw the finish line, with Wifey running up beside me to take my picture crossing the line.

There’s nothing quite like crossing the finish line of a race or challenge and seeing Wifey’s face beaming at me. I collected my treasured headband that certified I had indeed done a Tough Mudder challenge. I had done it. Two and a half years after I was originally signed up to line up at the start I made it. I crossed it.

Crossing that finish line was more than just a Tough Mudder challenge. It wasn’t just for fun anymore. It was unfinished business as a result of my mental health difficulties. Crossing that finish line signified finishing something I signed up to for myself years ago, and making it to the event and crossing that start line signified a new era of mental health better than I was for a long time. That’s very wordy, I don’t know how to say that in a less wordy or awkward way – I’m not great or at my best, but I am better, and that’s a big fucking deal.

 

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Running Tough Mudder Half, for this reason, was a massive moment for me. It’s a year since I last signed up, and also a year since I was last roaming the corridors of a hospital ward. I’m not always well and I’m not unwell like I was back then. I’m bigger than I was due to medication. I’m slower than I was when I signed up and felt like I had the running world at my feet. I’m not as confident about my strength and abilities, yet I’m more confident than I was a month ago. Finally, thank you to everyone who sponsored me and yes, I finally ran it. I did it. I crossed the line. Loose end tied. I think this story is less about Tough Mudder and more about keeping on keeping on. When life throws you a royal shit storm, grab the hand of your right hand (wo)man and damn well dance, because together you’ve got this. We’ve got this.

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She said ‘strike a pose’ – This is what comes to mind whenever anyone says strike a pose, right?

The University Lessons in Getting Better

People go to university for a number of different reasons. Some go to get a qualification that will help them get the job they want. Some go because they don’t know what else to do for the time being, and university seems like a convenient way to decide what to do over the course of three years. Some forget about the qualification all together and just go to party and get ‘life experiences’.

For me, there was a number of motivations that brought me onto the path of studying at university. The topic I chose rose from my life experiences outside of education – my real life struggles and what I learned about the world changed my values, which ultimately changed my life goals too. I also see going to university as a recovery and rehabilitation project for me. As someone recovering from a complete disruption in my life due to mental health, going to university is teaching me more than the lecture content.

I am learning to be busy again. I have had to adjust to actually doing things, and there being consequences if I don’t do them. This is a valuable life lesson because when you are off work due to mental health, and there is no expectation of yourself – it is easy to not commit to anything. Sometimes, we need to step back and sometimes this was necessary, however, after a while however, it became increasingly difficult to commit or get going again.

I am learning to regain structure in my life, and to use this structure to help myself regain and re-build my life. Whereas a year ago, the thought of this was overwhelming for me.

I am learning to go outside of my comfort zone quite literally. I regularly leave my home borough now, compared to years ago when I wouldn’t go much further than an hour walking radius. I regularly get the train to Central London, out to Surrey and out and across to my university campus. I have learned and gained confidence in myself to travel to new places. Sometimes, I would even go as far as to day that I can quit enjoy going to new places.

I am learning how to problem solve around my mental health difficulties and anxieties. With the help of support, I am learning how to overcome the hurdles that I would have previously been barriers. Attending lectures in the big lecture hall at the start of the year was a really awful experience for me – now though, with exposure and support, and being told about a nifty side door that means I can avoid the crowds has really helped.

As a part-time student I have the luxury of time to utilize my university experience to help me continue growing as a person and rehabilitating myself ready for a life beyond being unwell with my mental health.

I spent my first year learning to go to uni, gain a routine, use a routine, and re-learn how to focus my mind. It hasn’t been plain sailing by any stretch of the imagination – and a medication adjustment alongside my mental health treatment has really helped as well. It is important that I don’t downplay the role these factors have played in my progression throughout the year because it is not a matter of will-power. It is not a matter of ‘just overcoming’ barrier and hurdles. It is not a matter of going to uni part-time is the solution.

It is a combination of factors and learning opportunities. It is the start of a journey – and judging by how much I have learned in this last year, and how much I have changed I have a feeling that this path is going to lead to good places in the long run. I feel as if I am on a path moving forward with my life, and learning to live in partnership with my mental health rather than being ruled by it. Here’s to starting to see the beginnings of rehabilitation within myself.

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What is Supported Accommodation?

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For some people living independently is too much of a challenge. Especially those with mental health difficulties, as in looking after ourselves alone we can face challenges with daily functioning. Managing to wash, dress, take meds, fulfil our potential and live our lives to the full can be difficult when facing mental health challenges every day such as depression, mania, psychosis or anxiety for example.

Therefore, there is the option of something called supported accommodation. This is where I live now. I used to live on my own but I kept becoming too unwell to stay home, therefore I moved into supported accommodation in order to help me stay out of hospital and offer more support on a day to day basis.

The kind of help i received includes:

  • Help with managing and taking medications
  • Activities and occupational support
  • Someone to talk to in a crisis 24/7
  • Help with managing appointments
  • Liaison with my mental health team regularly

It also means that we’re provided with a decent standard of accommodation and have contact with staff on a daily basis, including room checks to make sure we’re OK.

There are different levels of support and at different support levels people require more or less supervision and support. There is high supper, medium support, low support and floating support.

The difference between low support and floating support is the daily contact. Often, these services are offered by charity and private companies outside of the NHS although they liaise with NHS services.