Anatomy of a System Fuck-Up

My Fight For Better Mental Health

Let me tell you a little story about the last time I went for help with my mental health issues. It’s not a happy story to be honest, but it’s not a tragic story either, thank the Gods. However, it could very well have been, Continue reading

Five Little Triumphs In My Battle For Mental Health

Micro-Managing Your Day When The Going Gets Rough

Speaking as someone who falls in and out of The Bunker mental health-wise fairly regularly, I’m pretty much a top-class expert when it comes to focusing on The Little Things to give my poor beleaguered mind a brief respite from firing on all cylinders in Crisis Mode. A crisis, I might add, which never fully materialises. The joys of Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

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Winning Little Battles

This morning I got an email reminder about something I owed a payment on, and it was was all “GRRR ARGH WHERE’S MY MONEY BITCH OR WE’LL SEND THE BAILIFFS ROUND” in its tone. Okay, it wasn’t at all like that in real life, but in my anxiety-prone brain that’s exactly what I heard and saw. I threw my phone under my duvet and got up to make tea, ignoring the horrible tension in my stomach and noise in my head.

I'm in there somewhere.

   I’m in there somewhere.

This is normally where the story would end, me being an ostrich of the highest order when it comes to being able to tackle regular adult trials and tribulations. I’d ignore everything and dread turning my phone on each day, wondering when I’d get a note under the door to let the bailiffs in, and other such catastrophic consequences, the thoughts of which would make me nauseous and say goodbye to any peaceful nights of slumber for the foreseeable future.

However, this wasn’t 2013 J-Ro. Heck, it wasn’t even 2014 J-Ro. This was ‘Straight Outta 2015 and Right Into 2016’ J-Ro; a woman who reads an email like that and thinks “I’d better sort that ASAP”. Well, about an hour after that thought I got it sorted. I’m not perfect.

Would you believe that all I had to do was call and update my card details? Would you believe that I knew that in advance of making the call? Furthermore, would you believe that despite having the card details and the finances at hand to get back up to date (my previous card had been hacked so I had to get a new one which put the brakes on my entire internet life), I STILL felt almost completely paralysed at the thought of sorting it out? If your answer to all these questions was a resounding YES, then congratulations – you’re almost fully versed in the machinations of a brain riddled with Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Either you know it personally, or know someone it affects. Some craic, innit?

goldfish

Anyway, I digress. I took a deep breath, picked up the phone, and spent a whopping two minutes with a very pleasant young man called Daniel who laughed at my ramblings as he updated my card details and basically sorted what was actually a COMPLETELY TINY INNOCUOUS VERY FIXABLE ISSUE. By the time the kettle was boiled for my self-congratulatory cup of tea, I had completed a basic adult task that would make no more difference to a regular grown-up’s day than wiping one’s arse in the loo. And I was SO PROUD of myself. For the first time in years, adulthood and I were on friendly terms.

Only I would really understand how far I’d come since what I call The Bad Time. Back then, I was completely broken. The phone ringing would have triggered a massive anxiety episode, letters arriving in the post would make me feel sick. Any appointments I had to attend sent me into spirals of terror and insomnia. To put it mildly, I was fucked.

fucked

Nowadays I’ve (mostly) settled into the driving seat of my brain, and those days are hopefully behind me. I’ve done countless regular adult-y things since then obviously; I know this because (a) I’m not homeless and (b) I smell fairly okay on a daily basis – I think. But today, I used this opportunity to take stock at how far I’ve come the last few years in terms of recovering from The Bad Time. The details of what / how / when / where / who was involved my recovery are for another time, but this post is about acknowledging victory over the little battles in life, so that by doing so, you can avoid an all-out psychological war with yourself. Again.

It’s nice to evaluate where you are in the world every once in a while. Apparently today is World Compliment Day as well, so fuck it – I may as well pat my own back as well as all the backs of all the poor souls who call me their friend and did whatever bit they could to, quite literally, keep me above ground when I could barely drag myself out of bed or up off the floor. Y’all know who you are. I’ll be coming to a hug near you very soon.

So if you’re up against the little battles, keep going. One at a time. And cheer the fuck out of yourself as you conquer each one. Don’t be looking at the status of others; if all you can handle right now is opening a bill without becoming short of breath, then that’s all you can do. Ask a friend to hang out with you while you do it. Seriously. Make a party out of it. Involve Tayto sammitches and tea if it’ll help. Whatever shit you need to do to slowly plug back into the world, DO THAT SHIT. You’ll be glad you did. In time, you’ll be writing a post just like this, with memes and all.

Fingers crossed, I’ll still be doing it too. See you there.

J-Ro

<3

Confessions of a Dermatillomaniac

I’m writing this post on the back of a very shitty sleepless night, borne by a downward spiral of anxiety from somewhere deep within the pit of my brain. I’ve had a rough couple of weeks dealing with what for me is one of the biggest, and most visible, symptoms of my anxiety disorder. My core diagnosis is Clinical Depression along with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (don’t be fooled by the innocuous nature of the word ‘generalised’; it’s anything but). While that in itself is constantly humming away in the background telling me I’m a useless waste of space & that my best years are behind me and other such joyful thoughts; at the moment I’m currently dealing with a physical manifestation of the worry and restlessness going on in my mind and body.

Raise your hand if you know what Dermatillomania is? Or Compulsive Skin Picking (CSP) as it’s more commonly known. This website (click here) gives the medical definition and a more objective explanation. As symptoms of anxiety go, it’s an utter bastard. The most vicious of circles. You’re drawn to tackle imperfections on the skin (be they the odd normal kind of spot we’re all prone to get at any age, or those teeny tiny blemishes only visible to you). Armed with a sharp tweezers and a magnifying mirror that would find an ingrown hair on the arse of an ant in the dark, you set upon said blemish with the furrowed brow and concentration of a neurosurgeon. After a half-hour, you give up. But it’s not over; not by a long shot.

A while later, you come back to it, noticing that now it has a tiny scab resulting from your previous effort. Lord knows, we can’t have a scab on our face, better pick it and get a smooth face once more. Ah shit, a little bit of blood. Tiny dab of tea tree oil on the now slightly bigger mark, you swear you’ll leave it alone now to heal. You didn’t need the magnifying side of your mirror that time.

Next morning before you’ve even fully woken up your nervous hands are right up to your face checking for any lumps or bumps. You think you find one, so you scratch and dig. While you’re at it, you attack the self-inflicted wound you gave yourself, which is now quite sore and bruised. By the end of the day, it will look like someone stubbed a cigarette out on your face.

Click on the pic to read a fantastic & honest piece from a teenager suffering with the same condition. (pic courtesy of Teen Vogue)

Click on the pic to read a fantastic & honest piece from a teenager suffering with the same condition.
                    (pic courtesy of Teen Vogue)

After an evening of constant scratching, pulling, digging (either with your nails or a tweezer), your face is raw, scabby and weeping at various points, smothered in small patches of pure white soothing Sudocrem like some sort of reverse Dalmation pattern. Your hands and nail beds are tender and sore as hell from working non-stop to sort out those pesky ugly blemishes. You caused these all by yourself, ironically enough, in an attempt to not have any marks or imperfections on your face in the first place. Good luck making any sense of that. But there you go.

It doesn’t stop there. My chest, shoulders and back are scarred to fuckery from at least twenty years of me clawing desperately at my body looking for something to dig at. It’s a sick form of occupational therapy, I guess. But it’s no fun. I remember being in sixth class sitting at my desk trying to concentrate on what was going on, but on my forehead was a great big scab from my efforts the night before, so all focus turned on to getting rid of this unsightly wound. Unfortunately, I picked a bit of a gusher, and before long, the two cuffs of my school shirt were dotted all round with dried blood, and my forehead was so sore and becoming infected from being got at in the open, surrounded by germ-ridden pre-adolescents at every corner.

Because my anxiety and compulsive nature clearly don’t do things by halves, and I’m clearly hell-bent on self-destruction and defacing myself for others to see and judge, about 90% of all my skin-picking is done on exposed parts of my body. Has been since it all started. I know if there’s something in that, but frankly I’m at an age where I really don’t have time to spend dwelling on what went on in my past or whatever or forgiving my inner child – I just want to know what I can do to retrain my brain into not wanting to literally flay myself every time my idle hands summon the devil.

Nothing sets you up for the day like lying in your bed for two hours, pretty much rendered immobile while your anxiety and dread rages on. Your fingers begin excavating your face, back, and shoulders until you eventually emerge from your bedroom almost in tears, stopping only to wash the blood off your hands and the skin and gore from under your nails. Any makeup you wear stings like a bitch, but if you don’t want people staring at your cigarette-burned face (because they’re long past looking like normal spots) it’s got to be done. As you can imagine, it only works for a limited time, because when you’re sitting quietly alone, you’ll do it all again, attacking yourself layer by layer, whether you’re in public or not.

Before I found out this carry-on had a name. I had been familiar with people tearing their hair out as a compulsive habit, and the torment it caused people who suffered from it. I saw pictures of poor souls with entirely bald patches of scalp dotted throughout their once crowning glory, and completely understood where they were coming from. My doctor started remarking on the marks a few years ago, so I knew I was probably becoming worse. I was told it was almost like a passive version of self-harm, which made sense as I’ve been down that road at quite a few points on my journey through mental health issues.  At my most mentally unwell, my upper body and face would provide a bloodied, scabby illustration to accompany the chaos inside. At the very least, it’s Minus Craic. At it’s worst, I’m in danger of permanent scarring, painful skin infections, and a return to more active forms of self-harm.

Treatments vary depending on what the root cause may be. Skin-picking is quite common in chronic drug addicts who, while in a psychotic state or in the midst of hallucinating, believe that there are creepy crawlies or microchips under their skin and they desperately feel the need to cut them out, but that isn’t classed as Compulsive Skin Picking, more the consequence of a serious addiction. It’s those of use who do it constantly every single day while functioning and sober in our regular lives – be it from nervous energy, boredom, anxiety disorders, or possibly from Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

As a result, the treatment can be fairly flexible. Medication such as anti-anxiety or antidepressants may be prescribed to help in extreme situations, but speaking as someone who has been on regular antidepressant medication for a number of years and is still dealing with CSP on a regular basis, I’m starting to do some research into Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as a viable option. Having done an introductory course with the fantastic (and life-saving) organisation Aware (click here for their website), I’ve experienced fantastic results in other areas of my life when I apply what I’ve learned to various triggering situations which in the past may have sent me into a downward depressive spiral. So one of my goals for this year (not a resolution, that word just screams ‘FAIL’ to me) is to make a wee plan for myself on how to retrain my brain and somehow break the habit of a lifetime. I’ve got high hopes for this; because as dodgy as my mental health state can get at times, I’m really quite fond of my brain. It’s just a bit poorly, so it needs a bit of help re-setting some parameters so it can function better. This whole ‘wellness’ thing is a lifelong process, so constant upkeep is required. This is just one of those parts of my life that needs a bit of tender loving care at the moment. We’re all in this together. BE GRAND.

<3

Helpful Links:

Aware: http://www.aware.ie/

Help for Hair Pulling and Skin Picking : http://www.trich.org/about/skin-picking.html

How I’m Living With A Skin Picking Disorder: Click here to read a brave & painfully honest account from a teenage perspective..