13 Reasons Why

I understand there has been a lot of criticism about 13 Reasons Why, much of it valid in dealing with such a sensitive topic as suicide. I wouldn’t recommend the show to anyone who is suffering or has suffered from suicidal thoughts and feelings. Netflix have now added a warning before the first episode, which really should have been there already.

Yet I have to admit that I was drawn into the story that was based on the book by Jay Asher, which I have not read. I was gripped by the narrative, and although it may be questionable to use such a subject matter in this way, I got a lot from watching it. Whilst it was a story of suicide, it was also about love and friendship. And although messages about suicide can be problematic, the basic idea of openly communicating with others and reaching out to those who may be in need, is a positive one.

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Being a teen drama, it brought me back to my own teenage years, and I related to Hannah’s character, who we know from the onset has killed herself. I didn’t just relate to Hannah because of her long, dark, curly hair. When I look back over those years of adolescence, I would now say I was depressed, though I had no clinical diagnosis. I feel a sadness for my younger self and my mum at the memory of screaming that I want to kill myself. I associate a lot of negative feelings with those years, despite there being some positive elements. I went from someone who loved going to primary school, to struggling to make it through each day, just trying to exist.

There’s a video of me as a child saying ‘I’m not weird, I’m Carmina.’ I’ve received a text from a friend meant for another saying I’m weird, received a light-hearted card from a friend about being so strange I make them feel normal, and the head-teacher of a school I worked at once joked that the teachers had had a meeting and concluded that I was strange. For the most part, this isn’t something serious, but throughout my life I have often felt like an outsider. And my closest friends would probably admit they are a little strange too.

Then again, I remember going for counselling once, and the man told me I was okay and didn’t need to come back. It is something that I often feel therapists think about me. Sometimes I think my ability to articulate myself to them means I manipulate them into thinking I’m “normal” and everyone else is “crazy”. Since then, a doctor has nonchalantly told me I’ve got cyclothymia (a very mild form of bipolar disorder), and I’ve been treated for anxiety disorder. Being told I’m okay or normal doesn’t exactly help, because although I’m high-functioning and my mental health doesn’t generally have a big impact on my life, being told such things doesn’t match up to my life experiences – how I am treated, or viewed, by others, or the feelings inside me that may not been obvious to others, but are very much real.

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So, when I was a teenager, my mental health was much worse (as I think it can be for a lot of people during this time). It can be damaging to think of this as simply a phase, when support is very much needed whatever age. I think being a teenager can be the most difficult time in your life, but then I’m only 28, so we will see. I had issues at home, and I had a difficult time getting on with everyone at school, and, although I had friends, I often felt like a target for a lot of different groups. Our school had a hostile environment, from the pushing up and down stairs, to the power games in the cafeteria.

I was also desperate for male attention, being at a girls school, but was also terrified of boys. I was like Raj in The Big Bang Theory, only able to talk to the opposite sex when fueled with alcohol (as a slightly older teenager). This naturally led to slut-shaming from boys (and some girls too). Boys who called me a beast, who slapped me round the face, who knocked me with their bike, who rated me out of 10. Boys who cheated on their girlfriends with me, without my knowledge, who said I was fucked up, who called me chewbacca, who said they’d like to rape me, who circled me at the bus stop aggressively saying things I couldn’t hear over my headphones (okay, that was all one boy). Plus, so-called friends revealing things told in confidence.

So, long story short, when I could see these issues reflected in Hannah’s story, it did trigger me, but not in a way that was negative. It brought back these memories, and it allowed me to progress them. I cried a lot, but in a way that was very healing. Whilst I agree with the criticism of the show, and can see it is not something that is suitable for everyone, for me, it helped to see my own life reflected in the story and helped process these feelings that I find difficult to let go.

Wellbeing: World Bipolar Day

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I’ve never been properly diagnosed, because I’m sure it would be more official, but a doctor once told me I have cyclothymia. It’s a mild form of bipolar disorder, and means that my functioning isn’t as impaired as those who have bipolar type I or II because it consists of mild depression and hypomania. Interestingly, I have had a diagnosis of GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder), and below it states that 62.9& of those on the bipolar spectrum also have an anxiety disorder. I feel like a lot of the time my mood is an internal thing that fluctuates, just as anyone’s does, but it means the extremities aren’t always visible. It can then get to a stage where, not necessarily feeling like I bottle things up, but, it can feel like things have built up to boiling point.

The last couple of days I’ve gone from mild depression to hypomania. I would say that today has been close to “normal”, but it can be hard to define what that is, and I’m currently writing this past 11pm, knowing that this will mean a late night, but also feeling anxious about how it will impact on my day tomorrow. I want to exercise in the morning and have time to fit in washing my hair in time for me to be able to go out later with dry hair. I have a CBT appointment and I have no idea whether I’ve been doing what I was meant to be doing.

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So, yesterday my mood was sent spiralling after feeling upset about a conversation and that relationship, and had a stressful time after I booked a train ticket to arrive at home when I’ll already be in another city. I had expected to do a whole load of things that afternoon and ended up only just getting through my emails. I was meant to cook for my mum, but after falling into a deep sadness, combined with incredible rage and sense of hopelessness, I had lost my appetite. Anyone who knows me will know that I very rarely lose my appetite. I felt guilty about what little I’d done, and the hassle with trainline.com had me feeling pessimistic about recovering any positive feelings that night. So, what helped? The cooking I eventually did helped, talking to my mum helped, and so did accepting things the way they were. I had a bath, ate chocolate, watched a film and a reasonably good night’s sleep, though disrupted by waking early. I did also write some poetry for pleasure before I went to sleep, and it was a really important, cathartic experience.

Today I was lucky to have a main focus for my attention, which was a poetry commission I’m working on. I had a doctor’s appointment, and I have to walked through a field of horses to get there, which always seems bizarre to me. I felt really irritable throughout the walk – towards dogs, towards children, towards everyone – but I also felt empowered by taking ownership of the day, and I think the walking helped. The sun was shining, I had shades on, and I was listening to Destiny’s Child. I returned to my poems when I was home and combined research and writing. I didn’t finish, and I didn’t get to write any of the novel, but I was glad at my focus and what I had achieved. I was also able to fit in a couple hundred words of that novel in between getting injections and getting some soup at EAT before attending a poetry workshop. My focus on these creative pursuits enabled me to move on from how I was feeling the day before, and also to take the focus away from the relationship, personalising the conversation I’d had, so that when I talked to that person again, the conversation was good for both of us.

So, other than the parts highlighted in bold in both of these passages, I thought I’d write a list of things that have helped me in my own wellbeing. I thought it was interesting to describe about it in terms of these two days, but it’s also worth noting that it can be outwardly more extreme from cartwheeling in public spaces to crying lots and self-harming (although anxiety might have a bit to do with this too). So, some things:

-Meditation
-Relaxing baths
-Massages
-Playing sad songs/watching sad films (or uplifting ones)
-Singing
-Exercise
-Good support system – talking to friends and family, or online forums
-Being creative in a cathartic way (as opposed to professional/work stuff)
-Cooking (cleaning and gardening may be similar for others)
-Reminding yourself of positive qualities and who you are
-Making fun plans to look forward to
-Chocolate/treating yourself

Things to avoid:
-Long internet sessions without purpose, especially when comparing self with others
-Not doing anything or wanting to do too much – focus on one goal at a time
-Pushing away loved ones
-Drinking alcohol excessively

So, these things are just touching the surface, but for me it was important to make a list, to remind myself that all these things are as worthwhile as ticking things off my to-do list. It’s really hard to listen to what you need in the moment, and I don’t really know what my own patterns are in terms of cyclothymia, but that’ll be something I figure out. With or without such labels, these things are important for everyone to remember.

Oh, and for poetry, play the video on here – Emily Harrison, open about her own bipolar disorder, and also an excellent poet.She also has a book out.

Wellbeing: Feeling Good – The New Mood Therapy

Before this turns into a rant about the state of mental health care in the UK, I’m going to give a brief overview of my experiences and where I am at the moment, as well as looking at one of the books that started my journey into looking seriously at my wellbeing.

I see my mental health issues as being quite situational, so most of my problems stem from how I react to things rather than feelings that come out of nowhere. I don’t feel like I’ve had any formal diagnosis and a lot of the help I’ve been offered seems to be more to do with what is fashionable and cheap. At the moment that has meant a recent movement from CBT to Mindfulness. In terms of managing my mental health, both of these seem like good options for me.

I went to my first counselling appointment as a teenager, in reaction to a difficult period where I felt there was something wrong with me, but left with the therapist telling me that I was “okay” and didn’t need to come. This was at a point where I actually was a lot better, but looking back, my teenage years at secondary school are probably the most likely time I would label as having suffered from clinical depression, though I never got that label.

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The next time I looked for counselling was at university. They offered person-centred therapy and I finished it, but didn’t find it any more helpful than talking to a friend. I realised that it was the constant going out and binge drinking that is accepted as such a normal rites of passage at university, which was causing me problems. Again, this was a situational thing, but also chemical. Alcohol is obviously a depressant. But more than that, as an introvert, going out so much was exhausting and unnatural for me, and it resulted in a physical illness so bad it could have developed into what the doctor termed “leukaemia and other nasties”. For me, my mental and physical health are intrinsically linked.

Anyway, I don’t think the way we drink in the UK is normal, and although my behaviour was much like any other university student, I wanted to reach a position where I felt I didn’t need to binge drink. Lying in bed all day was something I should do (and still should do more), but without the horrible feelings that come with being hungover. I decided to go to alcohol counselling. The sessions were helpful and interesting, but it is still something I struggle with if given the chance to drink into the early hours. More helpful has been getting a job and focusing more on my career. I do like the odd night of dancing, but generally I prefer pubs and restaurants.

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It was this focus on my career though, that has meant for the last three-four years since graduating from my MA I have been working so hard that I’m risking burn-out again. People have different tolerance levels, but for me working 35 hours a week, travelling 3 hours a day to and from work (often standing in rush hour), and on top of that trying to work a second job that encompasses many roles within it – writer, performer, event organiser, workshop facilitator, editor – is impossible to keep up for much longer. For the last couple of years I have been trying to find a way to make this work better, and although I feel I’ve have anxiety from a very early age, I’m now at a stage where assessments have shown that I have GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder). It feels slightly more official than a doctor at university saying it sounds like I have cyclothymia, but in both cases I’m highly functional with it, so the only problem is how I feel inside rather than anything else.

I was recommended the book ‘Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy’ by David D. Burns. What I found most eye-opening and helpful about this book was the list of cognitive distortions. I was guilty of so many. There are many different techniques and suggestions that are in-line with CBT. I’m not always very good at actively doing these things, but I do find it useful to have these exercises at hand. Burns also makes the point that having therapy alongside medication is much better than just using medication alone. Its guide to anti-depressants made me feel lucky that my problems are mostly mild-moderate, as there are so many side-effects and so many different types, the trial-and-error you have to go through to get the right medication is a battle in itself.

During the time of reading this, I also got some CBT phone-calls, because the journey to my “local” psychological service was too difficult and stressful to get to. Sometimes with CBT it feels like you understand the logic of what you’re doing, but it has very little impact on the very real feelings associated with these thoughts. Maybe this is because the cognitive distortions are so embedded, but at times I felt like I was lying to myself and the therapist when the percentage I gave linked to a particular thought. Initially they had offered me to join a group Mindfulness session, which provoked lots of negative emotions, feeling like I wasn’t getting what I asked for, and just being offered it because it was cheap and fashionable. That said, I have come to see how Mindfulness is what I need, but it’s actually setting aside the time to do it that I find difficult.

My partner is a visual artist, so over Christmas, and beyond, I’ve been able to take some time to colour-in, which I’ve found to be a good exercise. I’m into all that return-to-childhood type stuff, so though I know it’s become a bit of a cliché, I think it’s good for people like me who like to be constantly doing things, as it’s an activity that keeps you occupied, but means you can relax your mind and zone-out a bit too. Meanwhile, I’ve also started some CBT sessions as part of a research project comparing CBT to a particular drug. I’ve found this quite interesting, and more useful than the phone calls. This isn’t just because it’s face-to-face, but because there is more of the B (behavioural). I’ve been set small steps to try to deal with uncertainties better – a massive problem for me, being quite the control-freak! Some of the stuff that has come out of it has been really eye-opening and I feel like I’m discovering things about myself, like how I actually have a lot of positive associations with worrying, such as it being a sign for care (inherited that one from my parents).

One of my tasks for this weekend is to leave some time for “unstructured activities”. I always set myself too many things to do, so even when I intend to do this, or to do more relaxing activities, the time gets eaten up and I always end up sacrificing it. As it’s homework, it should hopefully push me to actually do it. I’m also doing something extreme to help with the pattern I’ve got into with over-stretching myself with work etc. I’ve handed in my notice at work! But this post is quite long enough, so I’ll save that for another time…

Know Yourself: Your Inner Core

The past few days can be explained by something that happened to me yesterday morning.    I had bought two travel-cards for that day and today.  As I stepped off the train at Waterloo and my ticket for the day somehow flew out of my hand.  Everything turned to slow motion as it slipped between the train and the platform’s edge and on to the tracks.  In a panic, I rushed to someone who worked there at the barrier’s and explained what had happened.  He said I would have to buy another ticket if I couldn’t find it, and so he followed me as I sped along the tracks trying to find where I dropped it.  Thankfully, I found it and I stopped my shaky panic as another worker lent down with a litter picker and fished it out.

It was a microcosm of the emotions I had been through the past few days.  For personal reasons, I had been on an emotional roller-coaster (excuse the cliché) and felt a switch between unlucky and lucky.  I’d cried myself to sleep for the first time ever, and learnt that the only way you can combat that is to take some sleeping pills to send you off.  The next day I tried to keep my tears at bay whilst doing yoga, being told I was ‘strong’ and to remember my ‘inner core’ (actually something my mum always says, but at this point coming from the dulcet tones of Leah Bracknell).  I made my way through the work day at Sainsbury’s and was nearly about to break when during my review session, my manager said ‘you always come in with a smile on your face,’ due to the irony of how utterly rubbish I felt at the time.  The review was great and made me feel a lot better about myself and I even managed to get my Saturdays back by asking to change my shift pattern in April.

So, on to more positive and self-affirming things.  On 12th January, my eBook was officially released on iTunes.  It appears one person has bought a copy from California, so whoever you are, please let me know what you think!   I think it’s important to get excited about these little things and to remember the words of Leah Bracknell in day-to-day life.  Sometimes I read over my school reports and even things like my Facebook page, just to remind myself of who I am and that I like who I am.  My dad has always taught me it’s very important to like yourself.  And despite being labeled “shy” by others, my mum has always said I have an inner confidence about myself.

Some other things I wanted to share are related to the poetry of others.  At my Aunt and Uncle’s house, which is a lot more like mine will be than the spotless house I live in with my parents, they have a poem on the fridge by Rosie Milligan:

Dust if you must.

But wouldn’t it be better,
To paint a picture, or write a letter,
Bake a cake, or plant a seed?
Ponder the difference between want and need.

Dust if you must.
But there is not much time
With rivers to swim and mountains to climb!
Music to hear, and books to read,
Friends to cherish and life to lead.

Dust if you must.
But the world’s out there
With the sun in your eyes,
the wind in your hair,
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain.
This day will not come round again.

Dust if you must.
But bear in mind,
Old age will come and it’s not kind.
And when you go, and go you must,
You, yourself, will make more dust.

There’s a band that I saw at Bestival, that I really want to see again, called Los Campesinos.  I just wanted to share a spoken word section of their song This is how you spell ‘HAHAHA, We Destroyed the Hopes and Dreams of a Generation of Faux-Romantics.’  I find the combination of music, song and spoken word inspiring but, not only that, I find the words very poetic and yet witty and contemporary.  Have a read:

You walk in from your mother’s balcony
Panda-eyed and freezing cold
You bury yourself in my chest to warm
I notice the goosebumps on your arms, millions
And whether it’s because of the numbers of hours spent laid facedown on my bed listening to white noise, or, well, obviously it’s not, I somehow manage to translate them from braille

The trails on your skin spoke more to me than the reams and reams of half finished novels you’d leave lying all over the place
And every quotation that’d dribble from your mouth like a final, fatal livejournal entry
I know
I am wrong
I am sorry

With that, I am going to wrap up.  One last thought; if you picked up a copy of The Times today, there was an article by Francis Beckett titled ‘Take the penury out of the penmanship’ which is about my MA course in Creative Entrepreneurship.  I’m feeling quite organised and excited, though still a little scared in a Metric-Help-I’m-Alive kind of way.’

Also, I’ve found there’s a Canadian woman who is also an entrepreneurial writer who’s stolen my name!  Well, she’s called herself La Carmina, and her real name is Carmen Yuen. I think we’re different enough for it not be annoying or add confusion, but as I like the uniqueness of my name and she’s more well-known than me, it disheartens me a little.  But to end, it is important to know yourself and remember your inner core.

xxx