Mental health over every damn thing

Do you know that ideal image of a ‘self made person’ ? How about we stop celebrating that?

We talk a lot about mental health stigma these days, but isn’t an important piece missing in those discussions? The stigma inside our heads? The voice that keeps us from reaching out for help? The voice that tells us constantly to be an adult and get over it? To try a bit harder?

One of the hardest challenges I have faced in the past seven months of organizing a support group is convincing people that it is okay to get some help. No one, not one person who showed up believed that they deserved  help. The discussions always went in the direction of ‘there are so many people in the world that have it worse, maybe I should stop complaining’. This involved a girl who wanted to die at the age of seven because her alcoholic parents threw her out of her home, not that you need such a reason to feel bad, just so you get an idea of how far the stigma goes!

mental-health
Found here

May be you are right, things aren’t so bad for you now. But does that mean you should wait until it gets worse?  If you were having a flu would you feel guilty for taking a day off?  Would you feel guilty going to a doctor if the flu doesn’t get better after a few days? Imagine that you mind had a small flu if it helps.

May be it is not that you are not trying hard enough, may be you are not getting the right kind of help.

Let me tell you a story, there was a time when self harm was my answer to pain. I found refuge in that. I didn’t know it was something other people also did. I felt ashamed, and  told myself a million times not to do it, it didn’t work, people told me not to do it, it didn’t work. Then I went to the clinic and there they asked me to try holding an ice pack, or to try drawing on my body with a red pen, or to put a cream on my skin that gives a burning sensation but doesn’t do any  real damage, and some of those things worked and they still help me when I get that urge again.Do you see what I am trying to say? There are a lot of resources out there that you might not know of.

Don’t get me wrong, we all have strengths within us to do every fucking thing, but does that mean we always have to do things alone?

I cannot think of many things that are important than your health and that involves your mental health as well. Please put it above every damn thing!

Love ,

Jo

 

 

Maybe it is okay not to be grateful all the time.

It could be worse.

There are people who go to bed hungry every night.

You are lucky, look at all the things you have.

All of the above statements are so very true. Almost all the problems pale in comparison to someone having to live day-in-day-out in hunger. Perhaps, if we were to make a priority list of all the problems humanity has to solve, eradicating hunger should be on the top of the list. Let us say we manage to provide a person living in perpetual hunger with a life where they will never have to be poor or hungry again, would gratefulness be the only thing they then feel their whole life?  Would they be able to get through all the heartbreaking instances of life with that one thought of at least I am not poor anymore? I am grateful that I never had to experience poverty, more grateful than I could ever express through writing. But am I then allowed to be discontented about certain other things?  Racism? Homophobia? Rampant mental health stigma? Sexism?

For me, when I am one hundred percent grateful about something it’s because I like the way the thing or situation is, in other words, I would not want it to change. But there are many things about me that I would like to change and it usually makes me very guilty that I am not always grateful about life.

I got an opportunity to live and study abroad about four years ago, all of my friends and family were very happy for me. A lot of people sent me messages saying they were proud of my achievements. After I finished the master’s program I was offered a PhD position in a national space agency, but then nobody was happy nor proud of me. Because I was 27 years old and marriage should have been the next logical step in my life. The messages I received told me something along the lines of, think of all the girls who did not get an opportunity to go to school at all, here you got the opportunity to study in a foreign country, now that is enough, get married. Yes, I was thankful to have had an amazing opportunity to study at one of the world’s best engineering institutions but was I then wrong to have been discontented about being forced to make a decision I did not want to?

atleastitisntworse
Found here

You know what, I was not.

This argument of always be grateful is usually made in mental health related discussions quite a lot, wherein depression is said as a lack of gratitude. Most of the times it comes from a well-meaning place. The intention might be to make someone aware that everything isn’t as bad as they think it is and there is still hope. But that one phrase dismisses a person’s right to feel bad, and nobody should have to earn their right to feel bad. Now I know how privileged I was to have had an insurance that paid my stay at a psychiatric ward and to have a group of friends who took care of me like family in a foreign country- my mental health is stable enough to appreciate those facts now but it didn’t help to hear it back then.

When someone is going through pain might not be the best time to remind them to be grateful. There is a time to do it when they are better able to appreciate the whole picture, when they have gotten some space from their pain, when they are able to be rational and logical about it, when they can grab a yellow legal pad and make a pro and con list.

Gratitude and discontent can exist hand in hand. We can be thankful about something and discontented about something else. Maybe the magic is finding that balance and it is something we can learn and practice. It always helps to appreciate the big picture and sometimes even to write down all the things that are good in our lives so that we don’t forget them but it is okay not to be like that all the time. Last time I checked we haven’t yet turned to robots, and as long as we have a beating heart we are going to be not grateful from time to time and that is OKAY!

I will leave you with a quote that I absolutely love

gaiman-discontent

Hugs

Jo

Footnote: Madelyn left a comment and I thought it is important to share it here.

YES! “Gratitude and discontent can exist hand in hand.” Important point and great post.

Those “positivity purveyors” have missed the point of gratitude entirely, IMHO. It’s not designed to be denial’s handmaiden. It’s a technique for helping us weather our storms by encouraging us to focus on what we *can* be grateful for – *after* we’ve acknowledged the fact that sometimes things just suck (without measuring it by degrees in comparison to anyone else challenges and sorrows).

AND, it is not kind in the slightest to attempt to drag somebody over the positivity line when what s/he needs is a loving ear to listen while she pours her heart out. It’s not THEIR job to remind you to be grateful – you’ll get to that all by yourself when the time is right – if they’d only commiserate or be silent.

Would they overstep a mother’s grief after the death of a child, encouraging her to be grateful for the ones she has left because some people aren’t even able to conceive? SAME THING.
xx,
mgh
(Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
– ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
“It takes a village to educate a world!”

Is there such a thing as a blogger’s block?

writers-block

Writer’s block, that I know, been there, have set up a tent and have spent whole summers there. But this is not that. I can write easily in my journal but I simply cannot write on this blog! Saturdays nights around 3am is when I make stupid life decisions, like painting my black hair purple or counting the number of followers on this blog. It is 150, in case you were wondering and that number has been haunting me since. Probably on this blogosphere, it is a minuscule non-number, but you must know I eat lunch alone in the storage unit of our office to avoid talking to a group of people and hence 150 seems like a big-ass number

I tried going to the core of the problem  because that is what I do now and came up with the following

  • When I started blogging under a made-up name I was trying to outsmart the ‘fear of rejection’. If no one knows me, it wouldn’t matter if my writing was good or bad, right? It was going very well in the beginning primarily because literally, no one was reading hence there was no way of receiving virtual rotten eggs back. Then people started liking and following and my writing changed quite a lot. I picked up some good habits, like proofreading and using Grammarly to correct errors but it also got me worried. Instead of writing what I wanted to write, I started writing what might get more likes and traffic and views. It was writing things only when I was sure of it being received well. It is like showing only photoshopped and touched up pictures of my life on social media.
  • Also, some of the readers started having names and faces and now I have people to disappoint in this virtual world. Would so and so like my post? made me hit delete on a lot of the drafts. Whenever a post did not receive any attention, I tried staring the notification button into blinking…BLINK DAMMIT BLINK.
  • This blog started as a place to chronicle my PhD journey one day at a time and now I write about anything but that. A lot of things interest me, sketching, books, fiction, feminism, and most importantly mental health. And sometimes it feels like the blog is getting too chaotic just like my head.
  • Whenever I come across a well-written post on some other blog, I want to come back and cover my blog with a tarpaulin so no one can see it.
  • Every time I publish a post I feel as if that was the very last post idea I would ever have, a fear of running out of ideas.
  • The feeling that I am faking all this. Imposter syndrome
  • And I sound like somebody else in writing

So the intense need to please  people and a fear of running out of ideas are giving me a severe blogger’s block.

Do you know the phrase, Dance like nobody is watching? A few years ago I used to dance with a group, we did shows in many German cities. The choreographer said to me after a show, “your moves are okay but you have to express more on your face and smile”. The mantra dance like nobody is watching worked well when dancing in front of a mirror but when people were watching me for real, it was hard imagining they weren’t there. So he gave me a piece of advice that seemed counterintuitive then, What if you imagine that people are watching you even when you rehearse alone and try to smile as well? So while rehearsing I started imagining an audience. It was terrifying at first, but doing it over and over made that situation less foreign when I went on stage.

So maybe that is all I need, sharing fake sounding pieces until I have the guts to sound like myself even when somebody else is reading.

Have you ever had a blogger’s block?

How do you deal with it?

Love

Jo

4 years of life abroad

*also the fourth year of fake laughing at the Rajesh koothrapally references

“I knew you would get away from here the first chance you got”, said my mom. She was trying really hard to push in a bag of dried grated coconut into my already full baggage.

I looked at her as if asking why?

“You know you always had this distant look in your eyes, I noticed it the moment I laid eyes on you. And with all the time you spend watching the rain and day dreaming it was kind of obvious that you were not so happy here”, she replied

She was absolutely right. If somebody were to write my biography one day, it would go something like this, between the ages of ten and twenty this girl was very proficient in endlessly watching TV and daydreaming. I was just unhappy, perhaps discontented is a better wordIt was not that life was bad, circumstances were actually pretty good, my family was closely knit, we always had enough money and I was never bullied, ever.  But it always was as if I was waiting for something to happen, you know, like I have to get somewhere far away for my life to actually begin.  Whatever was happening until then was only a prologue before the actual story began. So four years ago when an opportunity to study abroad turned up I was READY.

In retrospect, I can see why I was unhappy. I was a liberal caught in a conservative society, also the closely knit communal ways of life in our society was too much for my BPD and social phobia to handle. Mental  illness was an invention of the West and it had no place in our household.

Simply put, I couldn’t be myself without being made to feel guilty about it.

Last four years were probably the most challenging time of my life so far, but also the best. This city is where I broke down but this is also where I learned to stand up on my own again. After years of looking afar and dreaming, I have found a corner on this planet that I call home ❤

foggy_munich_01-940x626
Munich at night ❤

Yesterday night I was going through my old journals and found what I wrote on my first day here. The situation was too good to be true that I was certain something bad was going to happen on the way.


01.10.2012

I was waiting for the man with the clipboard to walk in on me any minute then. For the long twelve hours of flight, I was sitting on the edge of the seat clutching my passport as tightly as I could. I was certain that a stewardess would come midflight and tell me  that I won’t be allowed to enter the country because something was obviously wrong with my visa.

But nothing happened, there was nothing wrong with the ‘philanges’ even. The flight landed on time.

I was afraid to look outside. If they were going to deport me, it was better if I didn’t know what the city looked like, it might be harder to go back then.

I managed to get through the pleasantries at the passport control with my broken German.

I see you are from India. What are you going to study here? asked the officer

“Space sciences” I replied

“Cool, just like Rajesh Kutrapally! Welcome to Germany. Alles Gute” he stamped my passport and extended it to me

I lingered around half clutching the passport.  Is that it? Isn’t there something wrong with my documents? or perhaps a misplaced y or i somewhere in my passport? I wanted to ask, but obviously, I didn’t ask any of that, just stood there staring at him with a quizzical look.

“Nächste bitte “, the officer yelled at the person standing behind me. It was my cue to get the hell away from the counter.

So the impossible has finally happened. I am in my dream city now.

What now?

Fuck!

Survivor’s arrogance

Let me put it out there, there is no shame in getting help for a psychiatric illness. NONE!

Mental health is fluid, it can change for a myriad of reasons. A shitty childhood, genetics, trauma, biology, circumstances, sometimes all of it but most importantly  sometimes without any recognizable reason whatsoever. So when you say things like ‘What do you have to be depressed about?’ or ‘Get your shit together’ or ‘I have it worse than you, but I am handling it’, you aren’t helping. If you are handling whatever it is that you are handling, then good for you, but everybody has different sensitivities and past experiences, it could also be that someone is tired of having had to handle themselves over and over again.

When a person had been living with a psychiatric illness for a long time, they also develop a kind of bullshit sensor, simple definition- we will know bullshit when we hear it! That comes from having to listen to the plethora of ‘advice’ that come our way on a daily basis. And, hence the above-mentioned sort of statements are only going to keep people from coming to you for help.

 

stop_the_bullshit_by_amateurexpert92-d2t5199
Credit: roommatediaries.com

 

There are a group of people out there who have decided to make a race out of who has had the most fucked up life. They want to tell you that they had been through a lot and survived, not with the intention of letting you know that there is hope for you too, instead,they just want you to know that your problems do not measure up to theirs. When the language of survivors go from ” If I could get through it, so can you ” to ” If I could get through it, so SHOULD you ” then we have survivor’s arrogance. And, that should stop!!

So be very clear on one thing folks, you don’t have to earn any right to feel the way you are feeling. You don’t owe the world any explanation for your demons. And, don’t feel smaller for having to take your meds. We all need help at times.

There is a great chance that you cannot fix somebody using just your words, think of it as trying to put a band-aid on an internal wound. But you might be able to make them feel a bit better in that moment by listening without judgments. And, ask questions to know things, don’t just make assumptions. Here are are some statements/ questions my  friends and family used that has helped me in the past – ‘What can I do to help?, ‘I am here for you’ ‘I am sorry you feel this way’ and finally one of the simplest and  powerful, ‘How are you today?’

Let’s all be kind with our words today.

Good day everyone

–Jo

PS: A person on the verge of suicide can looking absolutely fine on the outside.

 

My support systems

These are the things that I told Dorothee that day. The list could grow by the day .

 

-Love

Jo

Working with BPD and AVPD (Tips)

Here are some of the things that have helped me at work

  • Have a routine- try to start and finish at the same time every day. If the mood swings are very frequent this would bring a semblance of normalcy to your days.
  • Talk to your boss- It has helped me greatly that my boss knows about my BPD. It does not mean he will tolerate if I slack off at work but, he has been asking questions to understand my triggers and symptoms and has generally tried to make the office environment more inclusive. Share only if you are comfortable
  • eg: If you are uncomfortable bringing out your ideas in a group discussion format try to think of an alternative that would work for you and tell your boss about it, chances are, you are not the only person with that problem.
  • Take each day as it comes- let us face some days are going to be shitty, it is okay. Let it be
  • Make a safe space- If you have an office room, try to put up some pictures on the wall or spruce it up with some DIY decor that appeals to you, if your work space is a desk maybe you can keep some framed pictures of your loved ones.
  • Leave some distress tolerance tools- Keep some things around that could help you in overwhelming situations. I keep an ice pack in the office refrigerator, a small vial of lavender oil (the strong smell gives me a distraction), a red marker and white paper because, see picture below.
  • 2016-08-23 10.47.55

Suggestions: Stress relief balls, rubberbands

  • Taking walks- If you think it is inappropriate to go outside, just a 5-minute stroll in the corridor?
  • Take time to have a proper lunch- It is better not to eat at your work table. If going with colleagues for lunch is too overwhelming, try looking for a place where you can relax and eat in peace
  • Find what works for you- Concentration is hard to come by sometimes. So I try to  break down working hours into small chunks of 1.5 hours. After every 1.5 hours, I read a WordPress post or read few pages of a book or journal a bit or just get up and stretch.
  • It takes an average person about 23 minutes to focus again once distracted, so try to leave your phone away and all the mail notifications off while working. They will only make work more difficult
  • Tackling the open office- I honestly hope you don’t have to work in one but if you are then it is essential to have a space (worst case scenario, bathroom?) where you can sit and unwind.
  • Don’t be intimidated by others work routine. They don’t know your struggle and you don’t know theirs (most probably).
  • Keep a journal, track your distraction triggers.

 

What are the things that help you at work?

–Jo