Friday, 28 August 2015

The Mental Health Toolbox

I recently (well not so recently) did a video on the refeeding process and things that could make it easier.  I call this my  'toolbox'.  Whether or not anyone actually found it helpful I've no idea, but I liked to think someone did so I decided to film a video of a similar nature in regards to mental health in general, specifically to help people with anxiety, OCD and depression.  However, this is one of the videos that when it came to edit sent me slapping my face and banging my head against the wall...Maybe I should have been thinking about the things in my toolbox..... Like a first aid box for mental illness hopefully  you can use one some of the tools to protect you from the things that no one else can see attacking you from the inside. Making you feel like you're in the middle of the storm.  Hey look I did say I didn't know if this was actually going to be of any use, my mind makes sense mostly to me and me alone.

In my first aid kit/toolbox/  I've included solutions for acute and chronic problems as well as comforts. Acute solutions are for problems that may rise and fall very suddenly and need a short rapid response to a problem that if not sorted out quickly can escalate in time and although not serious provide comfort in times of distress.
Chronic solutions are more long term, They tend to be more preventative so to stop the problems arising in the first place (ie with anxiety or obsessive/suicidal thoughts) than cure,

Comforts, well it's all in the name really...
Obviously these are ideas that I use and no of course they don't work all the time.  For months on end sometimes nothing will work, but even if these give you some ideas of your own to build your own toolbox then at least that's the start.  Most people would call them coping strategies,  I hate that it sounds generic and patronising.
I'm not necessarily saying these are things that everyone should try, these are specific to me and may work for other people but what's important is to look at the reason behind them and see where I was coming from to try and see if they will work for you and see if you can come up with your own idea along the same lines  but for your own specific needs.
Some of the things I might write about might sound really simplistic and you might think “Charlotte we know this, this is an obvious thing to talk about it sounds really patronising” but when explaining my reasoning behind  it, you might look at it in a different way.
So please bear with my at first seemingly patronising points and the words before dismissing them.
The other reason I'm making a point to write about these?  I've always hated it when people say to me or I've read  
“If I can you can”
No there's no magic cure here. Obviously. But whilst you may think absolutely nothing will help you get through those moments of darkness, anxiety , obsessive thoughts and if you're like me stubbornness tells you nothing will. I'm here to remind you of the small things and how to build on them. You've tried everything anyone has to offer, but I'm telling you this from experience. I'm saying this with the knowledge that no words I can hear, no words you can read off a screen can fully encapsulate the despair I've been and am in and I know a lot of you feel the same. But you can get through those darkest times, you're dealing with an illness and sadly coming out of the darkest of storms doesn't leave you in a better place, you're not left in oz after a tornado, you're just in a slightly smaller tornado. But it's about finding ways of making the tornado smaller that I'm hoping to share with you.
One of the main things that is always recommended to help mental illness is mindfulness.  With eating disorders and depression with OCD time and time again, people will bring it up as a supposed cure all. But for me it's the worst thing anyone could possibly recommend.  Getting into why it's so triggering for me would take up this whole blog post.  I'll just leave it at it makes things a whole lot worse

Over Ear Headphones
I have a problem with noise, it makes me anxious. I'd go so far as to say it's a fear. The slightest bit of noise, even if I'm doing OK (or not really anxious) can get me in an anxious state. If I'm already in an anxious state?

I turn from this into this in the blink of a (squashy little faced) eye
Once, when my parents were on holiday, I borrowed my dads expensive looking noise cancelling over ear headphones. The whole time they were away they didn't leave my ears. If I went to a shop in town, which triggered huge anxiety for me, I plugged them into my phone and could tune myself out of the world and into my music. Specifically my anxiety playlist (see below). I bought some for myself as obviously these were my dads, i think they were only 15 pounds on amazon and later got some bluetooth ones for around the sameprice. These have been and were a life saver. You'll have to forgive me as I talk in past tense for the situations I used to be in, but no longer am in or go into due to my feet situation and not being able to drive or go out anywhere. Its currently august and I've been out of the house/my bed less than I can count on one hand since Christmas.

But back before I was in this situation and I was independent, going out ANYWHERE I was always plugged in. I'm not ashamed to admit that I probably looked like a freak. That if my anxiety was reaching levels beyond which I could cope,I would literally start singing/rapping under my breath along to whatever I was listening to. Now I use them in the car mainly if I've got to go hospital appointments, although they're few and far between now (they've apparently given up on me, insert eye roll emoji) and when the house is too noisy it sends my anxiety and OCD through the roof.I don't know why, I hate it I wishi could control it but noise is a huge thing for me and the slightest noise makes me feel nauseous at best, flat out headbanging at worst.
Do I recommend looking sectionable walking round the shops with headphones on singing along to Eminem? Actually yes, yes I would. if it helps you and it's not hurting anyone then what's the harm. if anyone looks at you funny it's probably because they're just jealous of your rapping skeelz. innit. I spent an entire summer managing to contain myself for the entire song but blurting out every 30 seconds or so "talk dirty to me" Trumpet miming optional

Anxiety playlist
Music has always played an intrinsic part to affecting my mood, as I'm sure it does to most people.  It can be incredibly evocative and there are some songs that I only need to hear one note of the intro to start crying or to be taken back to a place of incredible darkness, even if that's not the head space I'm in.  I have a suicide Playlist that I listen to everytime, THAT happens, as each of the songs on it had a lyric or meaning as to why I can no longer be alive. Listening to any of them by accident can take me to a very dark place.
Having a short playlist of songs I only listened to when going into a situation I knew I might find anxiety provoking.  This only worked if I put it on before getting anxious as otherwise I started to associate the music with being anxious.  My Playlist was called simply anxiety and it was mainly used for when I was going to be out in public shopping always in the car being driven or driving somewhere.  I had a longer Playlist and a shorter version depending on what I was doing but there were about four or five songs that were on both which for some reason I found really helped me to direct the part of my brain that would be panicking and freaking out at the task in hand onto the song I was listening to another said and may have looked like an idiot walking round Tesco singing at full volume miming along to 'play that funky music white boy' or Snoop Dogg Dr Dre the next episode. I think it's partly because I knew these songs held no emotional connection for me so I was creating an emotional connection, the emotion being fake it till you make it (out this situation.)

Fan/Sound machine
Continuing on the noise/sound theme.  Being plugged into headphones 24/7 is not practical.  I feel anxious when have absolute silence in my room as I start to pick up on 'outside' noise.  Ergo my fan.   My mum bought it home for me one time when I was ill and had a temperature, it's the tall tower fan that you see here.  I find the constant hum always on, helps reduce my anxiety or keeps it in check.  As well as helps my tinnitus. Although as it's quite cumbersome I decided to buy a sound machine as I thought it would be more practical and I liked the idea of having relaxing sounds such as rain, thunder, the ocean and a creepy heartbeat.....  it Is small and compact which is great but I didn't get on with the sounds, they sounded too canned and tinny.  But they may work for some people..  So for now I stick with my fan...
Bear with me this one comes on many levels so I've broken it down
-if you're lucky enough to have friends and family to keep in contact with then do. Mental illness can be a dark, lonely and isolating place and sometimes you don't really want to or feel able to reach out to people or want interactions with people.   People aren't mind readers, they don't know  the reason  you're not around so much is not because you don't want to be the round that person there because you just don't want to be around at all.  It can be hard to reach out to other people it can be hard to make an effort.  Relationships are two-way things and sadly people with busy lives just don't make as much of an effort sometimes, not because they don't care but because they've  other things on their minds and busier lives.
Some people don't have anyone to talk to anyone to reach out to.  If you do have people to talk to, if you do have people that you can rely on and can trust, make sure you make the effort to maintain those relationships, no matter how hard it is because you're the effort for not feeling alone.
-Tetris.  You can take all your angry bird candy crush farmville penguin saga stuff....  You cannot beat  the original and best.  I love this because it panders to my OCD but not necessarily in a bad way you can pick it up and put it down, its simple, the only score you need to pay attention to is when the bastards start coming down at a supersonic rate.  I find it soothing  (it's ironic really as I discovered it on my first admission  and it's the only thing that we used to play all day, every day.  We couldn't really do much else, apart from cause trouble).  Obviously if you were rather play angry candy penguin crush farm saga ville, its what works for you, having a game you can associate with tuning your brain out focusing on the task at hand and feeling just a few minutes a bit of light relief, find what works for you
With smart phones chances are they always with us.  So in our pocket or bag we have the ability to reach out to people in times of crisis, reduce our anxiety in the middle of a crisis situation through the medium of music, and distract ourselves by organising falling coloured blocks.  Oh and I know pugs aren't everyones cup of tea but I cannot recommend the pug licking app  enough.  This app may not have stopped my tears, but if you don't at least smile at his squashy little face then I will personally reimburse you with hugs

Films/TV-Netflix is my BAE
I can't believe I just used the B word.  I will never forgive myself.  although when I started writing I hadn't subscribe to Netflix so I will talk about that more at the end.  I'm not gonna patronise you by talking about what a great distraction TV and films can be.  No fucking shit Charlotte.  I'm not somebody who sits and watches eastenders every day, there aren't any shows that are on apart from casualty  I struggle to sit and watch film all the way through, partly due to my concentration issues.  I've spoken before about how open to a point where things trigger me that shouldn't.  So I can't read beyond some books that I used to like as they upset me too much.  
It's about having had something that you can go back to but you know that when trigger or accept you.  In times when maybe you don't have refrained you don't have therapy or you don't have a support system in place you have something that you know you can rely on.  OK is not going to fix your problems and is definitely not as good as real friends are having something there that you can guarantee isn't going to make things worse, a fail safe.  Something you know if you can stick any episode on the are no matter what episode you know that for that time you'll be OK.  And sometimes that's what counts.  Just getting you through those moments.  Those moments that really don't feel OK.  I'm not saying you'll feel on top of the world afterwards.  but you will have made it through.  And whatever it takes to help you get there, no matter how inconsequential.  That's what counts.
Some of my recommendations?

 Failing real life ones, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, Rachel and Joey are the other next best thing.  I watched it all through my teenage years we have every VHS DVD and it's something you can watch any episode no matter what series and immediately feel the same connection.  So even if you didn't watch friends a long running series that you hold no associations with I would highly recommend.
got me through two hospital admissions I sat and watched it back to back, refusing to even look up if the Dr. came to see me because Jack Bauer was saving the world, DAMMIT.  Watching similar things would trigger me as I find it upsetting as even just seeing people having so much love in their life, and seeing what people will do for people they love upsets me as i dont have that. But theres something about Kiefer Sutherland
House- probably my favourite TV show ever and the only TV show that I've watched over and over.  In fact when I first got Netflix I had this huge library in front of me to choose from and what did I watch?  House.  Not only have I seen the episodes before, but I'm fairly sure I bought them for my mum on DVD.  Fact- House is my homeboy.  He's sarcastic, he doesn't really like people, and he has a walking up stick.  We were made for each other. Needless to say I've watched THIS countless times

Once upon a time
I only started watching this a few months ago and I binge watched every episode all in one go. OMG  I cannot recommend it highly enough.  If you love Disney, fairy tales and and twists and really fucking well written TV shows and hot guys in eyeliner you will LOVE this show.  It'll make you rethink everything you ever thought you knew about Disney characters and fairy tales and your entire childhood. watch it. It allows you to indulge in your disney fetishness but in an adult and slightly darker way.
The mentalist

Again I'm late to this party. I started watching this about three weeks ago and i completely binge watched it. I watched the final episode yesterday but the fact i was able to watch it all back to back is tantamount to what an incredible show this is. Its not too gory, but if you're little squeamish I'd say watch with caution. I loved how they didnt just kill off the regular cast members for the shock factor which is the one thing 24 and Homeland did which annoyed me, but it still managed to keep you gripped. Little bit in love with Patrick Jane.... This came up as a 'recommended watch' whilst I was watching 'lie to me' which is also fantastic.
So you don't need me to tell you that watching a TV show can help be a distraction. If I tell you why and how I use it to help me, even if you don't find watching a programme helpful to you then you can use my meaning behind it to find something that does help you.  
To me its not just about the distraction, there's also a nostalgia (friends), knowing that I'm protecting myself from being a further upset.  I do that a lot even if it means being over cautious.  I have to protect myself.  It's important that I know that I can rely on something that isn't going to send me into a further downward spiral.
You can get 30 day free trial of Netflix which is what I did, but it is only 5.99 a month and you can make a Playlist of programmes and films and all you have to do is go online click play and they're there.  Or you can search if you fancy in finding something you.  I have a few Disney films, 'house', some new films to try, some films I've seen and I know I have liked musicals mainly (although as I've mentioned before i'm not the biggest film lover) and the series I mentioned above.  It's kind of like the anxiety Playlist for TV I know I can rely on it.
Face masks
Most females (and some Males) have used a face mask at some point.  The therapeutic benefits for their skin printed in capitals across the front of the pack.  But have you ever read the invisible small print about the mental therapeutic properties?  Yes they're messy, thick, gloopy and make you look like you've been custard pied or been rolling around in shit, but for me this was the appeal, or at least one of them.
The days when I struggled to get out of bed and then make your bed but then had to deal with my face?  Holy crap that mess of a face staring back at me, everytime I pass a mirror my anxiety rising picking out every flaw, literally picking hacking at every flaw.  How am I supposed to try and make THAT look presentable.  Only a paper bag would do.
"But a paper bag for someone with the spatial awareness of a blind baby giraffe, is just not practical"

If only there was something I could use to cover my face for a little while until my anxiety has calmed down enough for me to forget about what a beast I am.  Hence the face mask.  I have been known to sit with them on for five or 6 hours, now I wouldn't recommend this for anyone with sensitive skin and I used to have the skin of an ox.  I've had to cut down on facemasks recently as my skin is suffering due to a side effect my medication.
Nail varnish
One of the aspects of my ocd was around my nails.  As a teenager I used to sit there for hours on end repeatedly touching each finger just under my nail, in turn pulling it back from under the nail until both hands felt the same, everything was even.  So nail varnish has always been difficult for me to get into as wearing it means drawing my attention to my nails and feeling aware of something on them which could potentially trigger a relapse into a behaviour that I have worked so hard to stop.  But then just before Christmas one year when nail art started getting really popular I went completely the other way.  I had just attempted suicide and was in a pretty bad way and some reason I became fixated on it.  I spent hours and hours (and hours) jumping  in at the deep end and attempting to do intricate nail art, by intricate nail art I of course mean Disney characters and tweety pie.  I obviously couldn't keep the nail varnish on so took off straight away and then repainted them I was literally going through a bottle of nail varnish remover and completely destroyed my nails.  Now I don't recommend this as a strategy as I managed to develop a healthy relationship with my nails, well somewhat healthy.  I'm still obsessed they, have to feel right, I paint them probably every day.  Theyre so weak now if they don't have nail varnish on then they just flake and split.  But there's something incredibly therapeutic about sitting and is painting even if it all gets scrubbed off.  As someone who loves the idea of being arty and painting and drawing but when given a pencil the only object they can draw is either a cube or a pig with a curly tail
"This is what I like to call art therapy"

You might have seen in my room tour video the stamping plates that I use which are amazing for creating beautiful  designs.  I  tried bad plates which are hard to use, but as soon as I tried moyou plates I fell in love.  They're simple, easy to use, have a range of beautiful designs and are the a reasonable price.  All you need is a stamper and a scraper and you're good to go.  Contrary to what you might think you don't need any special polish, so long as it's the polish that will go on your nails in one easy coat, so fairly pigmented (metallic or chrome colours are good) then there's no need to buy any special polish.  Trust me it's addictive.  I'd suggest starting off with a simple plate but one which you'll use often, I have this one which is the polka dots and spots.
Even if you're crap at painting your nails get some acetone as it makes clean up so much easier than normal nail varnish remover

Hot water bottle/heat pads
Again this was mentioned  in my refeeding video.  Obviously the benefits of a hot water bottle heat pads in refeeding are obvious, providing relief for the pain from digestion etc... but maybe not quite so in times of mental distress. Heat and warmth signifies safety and comfort. If you think about one of the things they recommend when you get a new puppy to leave a hot water bottle or have their bed by a radiator to help mimic the warmth from their mums. Yes Charlotte we're just like puppies. Unless youre in the throes of a full on panic attack I tend to go from burning up to freezing cold, but if youre not at that full on panic stage, heat pads tend to warm up slower and are not quite as full on burning hot as hot water bottles, I put them directly on my skin even if you're not supposed to (not saying i'd recommend, this you can get both direct to skin and some you put onto clothes im just impatient and prefer direct to skin) and these are obviously more practical than a hot water bottle

This is a last minute addition. I've been having a slight hairmare recently. Long story short, put semi permanent purple that should have been lilac and washed off on my hair. It was not only a dark purple but DID.NOT.WASH.OFF. Tried bleaching it out. Hair green. tried dying over it, bleach in dye turned it MORE green. I've sorted it and its now a nice minty green chocolate brown. I've always loved french plaits but never been able to do them myself. But having time to kill and hands that i desperately need to keep occupied to stop from doing bad stuff I've started looking at tutorials on different braids and I've found this to be a great technique at keeping my hands occupied, similar to painting my nails. It stops my picking at my skin, allowing it time to heal, and I've mastered a few braids! They look SHIT but i can do them. Rope braids are my favourite as they actually look decent and are so simple to do!

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