Coping mechanisms, Opinion, Soft news

The More You Know…

 

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Knowledge is power – arm yourself

Mental illness is a beast. It is a disease that pollutes your mind, leaves you vulnerable and affects every single aspect of your life. Any person who has any form of mental illness will tell you that there is no escaping it; there is simply acknowledging it, dealing with it and finding the strength to keep on living.

One would hope that simply having to work that much harder to have a normal life would be as bad as it gets, but life is never that simple or accommodating. The harsh reality is that people who suffer from mental illness are more susceptible to falling into abusive relationships. In an article on Medical News Today, Catharine Paddock states that “research from the UK finds that experience of domestic violence is more common among adults with all kinds of mental health disorders than in the general population.”

This might sound overly morbid and the idea of being a vulnerable target for an abuser when you’re already a victim of your own mind feels a lot like kicking someone when they’re down, but it doesn’t stop it from being the truth. If you think about it, it’s really quite obvious. If you live with a mental illness, suffering is generally a term that comes to mind, because that’s what you do – you suffer. Tanya Roland, a 24-year old woman, commented on her experience with depression, saying: “depression is like living a waking nightmare. You suffer a darkness inside of you that other people don’t have, you suffer emotional demons that relish in your pain, and when your mind turns on you and tells you how worthless you are – you listen.” Is it really then such a stretch of the imagination to consider how being in this mindset can leave you vulnerable to abuse?

When you constantly see the worst in yourself – whether real or imagined – and put yourself down you likely will not see it when your partner does it either. In fact, it’s almost expected. Gertruida Maartens, the founder of Hagar Home for abused women and children located in Durbanville, Cape Town, says that in her experience, an abusive situation always starts with emotional and mental abuse. The truth is that it’s easier to mentally break someone down who is already a victim of mental illness and Maartens agrees. She goes on to say, “they [the abusers] start off with small negative comments, maybe on your appearance – things that you already think of yourself – and it slowly escalates and becomes worse until the threats start. By that point, they’ve already convinced you that every negative thought you had about yourself is true and that you’re worthless so when the abuse turns physical you think you deserve it. This act of thinking you deserve abuse or bad treatment at the very least, is more common than people think.”

Rechel Roode, a young woman who suffers from mental illness, stated that for a long time her mental illness defined her self-worth and dictated how she allowed the people in her life to treat her. This seems to be a common practice for young people, especially when you consider the stigma attached to mental illness in society. Roland states “people look at you differently when you say the term mental illness, it’s as though they think you’re crazy and contagious. The stigma is very real and anyone who thinks that there isn’t a stigma attached has obviously never been on the receiving end of it.” When we consider this, is it any wonder that people who are emotionally and mentally abused don’t want to admit to it? It’s bad enough being thought of as the crazy person, would you really want to add abuse victim to that list?

From Victim to Victor – Rechel Roode’s Story

It has been established that there is a link and therefore a major risk in people with mental illness falling into abusive relationships, the big question is: what can we do? Maartens advises that the best thing you can do in that situation is, “acknowledge it! Most women will choose to ignore the signs because they don’t like being a victim, but that does far more damage and gives your abuser even more power over you;” and power is the ultimate goal. In an article for the Huffington Post, Kelsey Borresen highlights signs of an emotionally abusive relationship and reminds people that emotional abuse “may take a number of forms, including but not limited to: insulting, criticizing, threatening, gaslighting, ridiculing, shaming, intimidating, swearing, name-calling, lying, belittling and ignoring.” 

Maartens adds, “if you’re ever in a situation with your partner where you feel even slightly uncomfortable – get out! You should never wait for it to get physical. Emotional and mental abuse is just as bad as someone lifting their hand to you.” For any person in an abusive situation, this is easier said than done, but the point is that it is still doable. Taking that first terrifying step might just be the step that keeps you from becoming another tragic statistic, so don’t hesitate.

The unfair reality is that despite having to battle your own mind, there is also a very real possibility of having to fight your way out of an abusive situation as well. This might paint a bleak image, but never forget that knowledge is power! Arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible regarding signs of emotionally abusive behaviour and understand that you are worthy of love and respect. Wake up every day and remind yourself of that, sing it in the shower or scream it into the wind – but do it until it sinks through the fog of mental illness and takes root. After all, knowing your self-worth is the first piece of your mental armour that may just save your life.

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The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer – just one of many young adult novels that romanticises abusive behaviour

 

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Coping mechanisms, Feel good feelings, Funny stuff, Opinion, Soft news

Laugh Your Depressive Ass Off

Laughter is the best medicine. Don’t you just love that expression? I love the simplicity of thinking that a good laugh could cure my troubles or at least distract me from them for a little bit. It’s an especially wonderful idea when your mind is at its worst and just won’t behave.

One thing I’ve learned when coping with my own anxiety was that laughing really did help me. It helped me to find some joy when I’m spiralling into depression. I’ve decided to help out my fellow depressives and throw out my top three books that have always made me laugh no matter how hopeless the situation seemed. Hopefully, they’ll work for you too.

5 Very Good Reasons To Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth By The Oatmeal

If you’re unfamiliar with The Oatmeal please go and check out his website, get some snacks and get comfortable. After reading one post that a friend sent me I spent the next week actively avoiding work and laughing myself silly at comics that perfectly mirrored the ridiculousness of life.

Taking compliments
Hands up if you’ve ever felt like this

His comics are honestly brilliant, gorgeously illustrated and tremendously funny. Look, guys, we all know that life is kind of terrible and we’ve all come close to that moment when we’re about to lose it and just slap a bitch. When that happens to me I know I need a break from the stupidity of humanity and I’m telling you that The Oatmeal has become my first stop when I need a pick-me-up. If you think you’re not a fan of comics I seriously suggest you give these ones a go. Unless you’ve got something against joy and pure, unadulterated happiness, I dare you to try them and not become hooked.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened By Jenny Lawson

It’s not every day you come across a book about fisting real live-action squirrel sock-puppets or accidentally stabbing yourself with chicken, but that’s what Let’s Pretend This Never Happened has got up its sleeve plus so much more.

Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) has a strangely unique way of experiencing life that makes you realise that yes, life is indeed shit – but it’s all the better to laugh at yourself. To be honest, I can’t even describe how much I adore this book except to say that it is indescribable and incomparable in the best possible way!

The Internet Is a Playground By David Thorne

A word of advice – do not, I repeat, DO NOT read this book in public unless you’re comfortable being looked at like a fucking lunatic for laughing uncontrollably. I’ll keep it honest – that’s putting it lightly. In reality, I looked like a morbidly-obese seal clapping for fish while gasping for breath. Believe it or not, but I’ve looked sexier.

The first time I came across David Thorne was when my (occasionally smarter) brother sent me a link to a blog post entitled Missing Missy about a series of emails between Thorne and one of his co-workers regarding her missing cat. I shriek-laughed so hard and loud I caught the unwanted attention of literally everyone around me, and yes – it was just as awkward as you’d imagine.

This incredible book is basically a series of correspondence between Thorne and everyone from various co-workers, to his doctor to a blockbuster employee and pushing basic, everyday situations to the point of absolute hilarity and ridiculousness.

If you’re ever in need of a good, clench-your-legs-together-so-you-don’t-pee-your-pants kind of laugh then do yourself a solid and grab one of these books. You won’t regret it.

Happy reading, nerds!

Coping mechanisms, Feel good feelings, Opinion, Soft news

Run From Your Demons

In Get Moving, I said exercise has been clinically proven to help you if you’re spiralling down a depressive and anxiety-riddled rabbit hole. It’s easy to say these things and I hated that I had become the annoying person who tells people to exercise while my ass was glued to the couch. I decided to dust off my running shoes and give this mythical exercise thing a go!

In the interest of full disclosure, for the last four months, I’ve been struggling through one of the worst bouts of depression I’ve had in a long time and it’s kicking me square in the lady-balls. What started out as feeling a little off has now evolved into panic attacks so bad I’m blacking out. I tried my usual behavioural techniques and tricks, but nothing seemed to be working as well as they usually did. It was at this point of desperation that I decided to take my own advice and finally turned to exercise.

As I’ve said before, I have avoided exercise like a goddamn champion, but I realised it was time to pack in my stubbornness and get my ass into gear. As someone who is unfit at the best of times and far too broke to afford a personal trainer, I was seriously lost about how to get started. I realise going for walks is a simple and obvious solution, but I’m the kind of person who gets bored too easily to stick to something like walking. I wanted a workout where I could really feel like I was doing something. I wanted my body to hurt like I was physically kicking my depression squatter out of my body!

Being as dramatic as I am, I signed up for Buzzfeed’s 4 weeks to 5K challenge. Running might seem like an overly ambitious start for someone who had to unpack three closets just to find their old running shoes, but I was optimistic because according to Buzzfeed’s site they “worked with Jason Fitzgerald, a USATF-certified coach and the founder of Strength Running, to put together a workout plan that anyone can do.” Truthfully, I was terrified of starting this, but I was more terrified of continually feeling like I was emotionally drowning; running seemed like the lesser evil.

Week 1

The challenge guide started off with a 10-minute walk/run for two days and a 20-minute run on the third day. Easy, right? Yeah, not so much. On my first morning, I got winded power-walking and sweated way more than necessary. This was not the Wonder Woman gloriousness I had initially envisioned. By my third workout, I wasn’t doing much better and spent my time cursing Jason Fitzgerald and his ridiculous running challenge that was clearly created for Olympic-level runners.

Week 2

By the end of this week, I should’ve been running for 25-minutes, but I was finally huffing and jiggling my through 10-minutes so 25 seemed laughably unachievable. However, I was not about to let this challenge beat me and I started running twice a day instead of once. By the end of the week, I was already sleeping better and could get out of bed in the morning without a struggle. Running had already helped me mentally and physically.

Week 3

The goal this week was 30-minutes and in a desperate attempt to make it to that mark, I kicked it into overdrive and along with running twice a day, I also started running on my rest days. And you know what? It felt awesome. I couldn’t run for 30-minutes, but I could make it to 18-minutes and run for 4-minutes at a time without needing to slow down to a walk. Caster Semenya better watch her back!

Week 4

I made it through the final week and I’m definitely nowhere near 5K, but for the first time in months, I feel emotionally lighter and physically I have more energy than I’ve had in months. Working out for a bit every day truly helped me; running down the street and possibly leaving a trail of sweat behind me like the world’s grossest breadcrumbs allowed me to escape my mind when I needed it most.

Roxy Mitchell agreed to try the challenge too and stated that “after just 4 weeks, I’m not as overwhelmed and I’m waking up actually feeling excited to run. I’m definitely going to keep going!”

As for me, I might not have made it to 5K, but it doesn’t matter; I feel as though the grip of my depression is finally loosening enough for me to pull myself out of it, which was always my goal. Running gave me the tool I needed to feel better and I’m not going to lie – I am definitely enjoying the smugness that comes with being able to say I work out, it’s awesome!

 

A View Worth Running For
A view worth running for

 

Coping mechanisms, Feel good feelings, Opinion, Soft news

Introducing Allie Brosh – My New Hero

Do you want to know what sucks? Having anxiety. Do you know what makes it a little easier to cope? Finding books that openly discusses the struggles that many of us work so hard to overcome. I don’t mean the overly-stocked shelves of self-help books that offer advice on breathing techniques or my personal favourite – believing your symptoms away and everything in between. I’m talking about books from amazing authors who talk about the little things and the funny moments that other books overlook that make up our anxiety-filled lives.

One of these books is Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh.

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Go ahead and add this to your wishlist. You won’t regret it.

Brosh is an American author who began documenting her ups and downs in dealing with depression in her blog Hyperbole and a Half. Even if you’ve never heard of her or read her blog, there is a chance you’ve come across her work – or a plagiarised copy of it – out on the interwebs. You know the weird drawing of the girl in the pink dress and sharkfin-looking ponytail? That’s Allie Brosh! 

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This is the original drawing. Art by Allie Brosh

Brosh is one of the few authors out right now who has the ability to articulate what those of us who suffer from mental illness go through and feel, which anyone who has anxiety or depression will tell you is a fucking nightmare. Even if you are one of the gifted who is able to express your feelings in words, you’re often told it’s just a mental thing (like, tell us something we don’t know, amiright?!) and that the sadness will go away if you will it away. I’ve heard that ridiculous statement more times than I care to remember and every time it happens, I sigh so long and loud it sounds like I’m deflating. So imagine my utter delight when I picked up Brosh’s book and found this spectacular response to the statement universally favoured by useless idiots:

“Trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back. A fundamental component of the plan is missing and it isn’t going to work.”

YAAAAAASSS QUEEN! Say it! That right there is the statement we all need to memorise and scream into the faces of smug people every time they open their mouths and one of those goddamn bumper sticker quotes flies out. Brosh’s book is filled with glorious nuggets of awesomeness like that one along with some artwork that I can only describe as awful and deceptively cute. To be fair, I feel like awful and cute sums up the entirety of Brosh’s work quite nicely.

Aside from the brilliant writing, what I love about Brosh’s work is the simplicity – not to say that it’s simpleminded. What I mean, is that Brosh doesn’t overcomplicate her stories. Sure there’s a bit of exaggeration, but it’s simply relatable, dark, honest and still funny. We’ve all heard the saying: “Death is easy. Comedy is hard,” and that is the damn truth, and for accomplishing something very few authors have been able to do, Allie Brosh deserves a medal and a very large victory cocktail.

 

 

Coping mechanisms, Feel good feelings, Opinion, Soft news

Have Yourself A Merry Literary Adventure

Easter has come and gone and has probably taken all of your healthy teeth with it, but those who suffer from anxiety will likely be left after the holiday with something far worse than a new set of cavities.

Many people assume that people with anxiety don’t enjoy family holidays; that’s not entirely true. While there are some who avoid family holidays like the plague there are tons of people who don’t have any form of mental illness who do this too. The difference is that those who suffer from anxiety don’t always have the tools necessary to enjoy being in what is often a high-stress environment. By the end of the holidays, they’re often so mentally exhausted from not breaking down that it triggers a breakdown. It’s like their mind is punishing them for being social.

If you’re a little uncomfortable relying on drugs to help you through these situations, a rather easy solution to staying somewhat sane is to read. This simple but brilliant exercise is called bibliotherapy.

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Lose yourself in a literary adventure

Cindy Johnson, a woman who suffers from clinical depression and a general anxiety disorder, stated that reading a good book is one of the few ways she knows will always help her calm down after a particularly stressful time. “Life is generally stressful for me and it only gets worse around the holidays, but being able to lose myself in a good story – even if it’s only for an hour – helps me get a grip on my anxiety. Some ‘me time’ with my books works wonders.”

According to Good Therapy, one of the reasons reading helps with anxiety is because it helps people understand the issues they are experiencing – this is not exclusive to bookworms. Reading a story where the protagonist overcomes impossible odds might give you the strength you need to carry on or at the very least will take your mind off of your own problems for a little while. Tracy Shawn from Psyche Central states that “the simple act of reading a novel, can give us a psychological shot of courage, encouraging personal growth while reducing anxiety.”

Personally, I have always turned to books for relief long before I knew what bibliotherapy was. All I knew was that I found tremendous comfort in losing myself in a good adventure with my literary friends when I needed an escape from the terrors of my own mind. Whether I was fighting Voldemort in Harry Potter or escaping the Red Queen’s axe in Wonderland, I knew that I could triumph in my fantasy world in ways that I couldn’t in my real life. Eventually, I would close the book, feel an overwhelming sense of calm and actually feel like I was able to breathe again; like I could function again.

Just a quick note – it doesn’t matter what you read, as long as you’re reading something that is able to give you a break when your head is being a giant asshole and hopefully bring you a little bit of joy. It doesn’t matter if you’re a grown man who loves Twilight or a young woman whose down with some seriously freaky erotica. You do you, Boo! Let’s keep it real, friends life can be less than awesome, so I say do whatever and read whatever is going to bring you the joy you deserve.

Let’s not forget that reading as a way to escape your problems is by no means an ideal or permanent solution, but as Voltaire once said, “Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.”

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A little gift from me to you – one tiny book recommendation to get you going on your literary adventure!

 

Coping mechanisms, Feel good feelings, Opinion, Soft news

Get Moving

 

Get Moving
Sometimes a little walk and fresh air is all you need

Oh God, I hate exercising. This is typically my first thought when someone suggests anything remotely close to exercising or even a distance cousin thereof, and I take comfort in the fact that I’m not alone in this. It’s almost everyone’s way of justifying their laziness and it works; until it doesn’t.

Whenever the topic of depression or anxiety comes up in conversation inevitably someone will bring up how exercising can stop depression. If you suffer from depression or anxiety and have been confronted with this irritating statement, try not to slap this person. I can imagine how satisfying it might be to slap them so hard that their teeth rattle but don’t do it. Number one – violence is not always the answer – never say never, you know? Number two – they’re only regurgitating that annoying line because they read it somewhere and they’re trying to be helpful. Number three – they’re not entirely wrong on the exercising thing so maybe cool it with the slap-happy hands.

I know that exercising might be the worst thing for those of us who pride ourselves on avoiding it and it’s also the last goddamn thing you want to hear when you’re struggling just to get through basic daily functions. When my depression gets bad I really struggle just getting out of bed and the idea of having to get up and workout actually makes me more anxious about getting up because it’s just one more thing I now have to add to the list of stuff I’m struggling to do that day. Damien Nichols, a clinical depression survivor, agrees, adding “when you can’t even get through basic tasks it’s too easy to hate on yourself even more”. The fact that this is common amongst people with mental illness reminds me that I’m definitely not alone and that at some point we’ve all been there, but the simple truth is that working out can and will help you cope with depression and anxiety.

According to the Mayo Clinic, regular exercise helps in many ways such as releasing endorphins, temporarily taking your mind off of your worries, and most importantly it teaches you to cope with your struggles in a healthy way. As I said before, none of this is new information, we’ve all heard or read about this, but how many of you actually believe it? Roxy Mitchell, a Capetonian, believes that even a light workout, such as going for a walk in the evenings, is enough to help with the effects of anxiety. “Just getting off the couch and physically moving helped a little. Going for a short walk helped me feel like I had accomplished something good and that feeling kept me motivated to continue doing it. Even when I felt like I couldn’t handle or cope with the rest of the world, going for a twenty-minute walk really helped calm me down.” Just like many of us, Roxy admits that the hardest part for her was actually starting. She states, “I had someone practically drag me off the couch and push me out of the door, but it was what I needed to get going. I was lucky that way, but if you don’t have someone to kick your ass out the door at some point you just need to get up and do it!”

She makes an excellent point. I think we often forget that we don’t need to turn into Olympic sprinters to have a workout; sometimes a basic walk is enough. So who’s ready to get off the couch? At least for a little bit in between Netflix binges.

Feel good feelings, Opinion, Soft news

Cracked – Not Broken

If you’re like me and have to live with mental illness it’s unfairly easy to hate that part of you. Sometimes it’s just too easy to hate every part of yourself. I’ve been there too and it sucks. The worst part is that when you’re sucked into the mental hell that is depression most of us feel as though we need to hide it.

Why?

Because at some point every person who has any form of depression or anxiety has undoubtedly dealt with an insensitive asshole who loves to tell you, “stop wallowing and just buck up already! We’ve all had bad days!” *insert eye roll here*

That right there is possibly one of the most hated sentences and it makes you want to punch that person in the throat; an action I feel is definitely justifiable and probably medicinal. Let’s just get one thing straight – there is a distinct difference between wallowing and trying to make it through a time when it feels like your brain is out to kill you. The difference is that the one’s struggling usually can’t talk about their depression or anxiety because – honestly – everyone has problems and nobody wants to hear how broken you are. So what do you do? You suffer silently, you hide your cracks and cover it up with smiles that never reach your eyes and that hatred you have for that cracked part of you grows more and more. Rinse and repeat. *deep breathe*

It’s such an ugly, pointless cycle that many of us keep going round and round in. What makes it worse is that we’re constantly told to fix that part of us. God, I hate the word fix. It’s definitively negative, isn’t it? It’s just one more way of reminding you that you’re broken; that you don’t work the same way as everyone else. Here’s the thing though – I don’t think I’m broken. Not anymore at least. It took me a really long time to get here and there are days when I still have doubts, but who doesn’t?

#1 New York Times bestseller Jenny Lawson (AKA The Bloggess) started a brilliant campaign on her blog years ago with a profoundly open and honest post about her own struggles with coping with mental illness. Lawson calls it the silver ribbon campaign. The campaign serves to remind all of us that we are not broken, depression lies and you are worth so much more than what your mind says. It serves as a healthy reminder that you will be okay again – your brain is just being an asshole right now.

I think Lawson said what we all needed to hear when she stated “I hope to one day see a sea of people all wearing silver ribbons as a sign that they understand the secret battle and that they celebrate the victories made each day as we individually pull ourselves up out of our foxholes… I hope one day to be better and I’m pretty sure I will be.  I hope one day I live in a world where the personal fight for mental stability is viewed with pride and public cheers instead of shame.  I hope it for you too.”

You might not be the perfect, smooth masterpiece of normality that other people are. You might have a giant crack running down the middle of you, but you’re still pretty awesome. We all are!

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Just some good life advice from Jenny Lawson. Art by Jenny Lawson