Taking it Easy: Part II

Today marks one week since I last wrote and published an article, which is a rather long time for me as I’m sure many of you know. I am trying to avoid having any longer of a duration between articles, as a week is more than adequate in my eyes. Although I am taking it easy with the writing and running this blog, I do still need and want to write; as it is one of my life long passions.

Throughout the course of the past week there has been no change in my ability to write, in truth, my mental health is still declining. I feel apathetic towards everything, and I simply can’t seem to rid myself of this feeling. My cognitive abilities also seem to be declining, I have not been able to concentrate or focus on a single task, and my memory both short term and long term is terrible. I cannot convey my thoughts or emotions properly, or at least in a manner that others can understand. I have a complete lack of motivation and energy, all of my attempts to be productive have unfortunately been in vain. To put it simply, there is too much going on in my mind for me to function within the ‘real’ world or ‘reality’.

Over the next few weeks or months I hope to maintain the schedule of writing and publishing an article at least once a week. I do hope to be able to write and publish articles increasingly more until I get back into the swing of things, which hopefully will not be too long.

Being unable to write is truly difficult, although I believe that it is important to perform self-care when it is needed and that sometimes you need to help yourself first, before you can help others. I will fight my way through this, and this blog will be back to normal as soon as possible.

Taking it Easy

As some of you may have noticed, I have not written or published an article for the past few days; which is rather abnormal for me. Typically, I aim to publish an article at least once every day, or every other day, yet I haven’t been doing that recently. A very important aspect of running this blog, and perhaps the most significant, is to make a connection with its readers. Therefore, I only think that it is fair to let you know what is going on, and why I haven’t been writing as consistently as usual.

I have previously mentioned that my mental health has been declining once again over the past month or two. However, since having to travel ridiculous lengths to attend an appointment in London, I have spiralled downhill rapidly. Although I am relatively sure that I would have ended up in this position regardless, the trip to London certainly escalated the decline in my mental health. I have been on the verge of going downhill for quite sometime, yet I have made myself far worse than I currently should be.

Lately I have been pushing myself way too hard, in fact, I even wrote an entire article about it which you can read here. For the past week or so, I have had multiple panic attacks every single day. Any amount of stress will cause me to have a panic attack to the point of which I am physically sick and entirely debilitated for hours, therefore I have not been able to eat anything for days. I have become very withdrawn and paranoid, my thought processes are becoming more and more complex and odd, leaving my thoughts all over the place.

I honestly have been trying my best to write and publish articles, yet I simply can’t seem to do it no matter how much I try. After spending some time looking at myself introspectively, I have decided that I simply need to have a break or slow down and take things easy for a while. I need the time to focus and work on myself, so I can get myself better and put myself in the correct position to be helping others. I certainly will not be completely inactive, and this is not the end of this blog; in fact, it is still the beginning. I will be writing and publishing articles a lot less frequently, but they will keep coming, and I will keep you all updated.

Whilst I am being more infrequent and inactive on here, I will still be very active on Twitter. I have always been an avid Twitter user, and I make sure to use it regularly. You are more than welcome to join me on there, as it is the best way to get hold of me and keep yourself updated on what I am doing. My account is heavily based around mental health and my personal life, but it is not necessary to follow me on there if you do not wish to.

I hope you all stay strong and keep fighting the good fight whilst I take a step back for a while. You all have my best wishes, and I am eternally grateful to all of you for the support you have given and continue to provide, not to only me, but also to others struggling with mental health issues. You are the true saviours.

Hindsight – A Look at My Childhood

Hindsight is a very useful tool, one which I tend to use extensively. I have found that looking upon the past can reveal an awful lot, including both the good and the bad. Through looking at my childhood, and my childhood experiences, I have learned that although I always thought that I first became ill at the age of 13, that is not the case at all. What I have always believed to be normal behaviour and normal experiences were not, and through hindsight I can see clearly how, when, and why my symptoms manifested in the ways that they did. As I look back upon certain experiences, I can see that they were not a part of what most people would consider to be reality, they were indeed a part of my illness.

To begin, from the view of abuse or trauma, I had a perfectly normal childhood. I had loving parents who stayed together until I reached the age of 16, I was never bullied, and in general always had a good life. Statistically, there was a very small chance of me becoming ill which has always been a huge frustration of mine. I also want to point out that it is important to take into consideration that I do not remember a huge proportion of my childhood due to memory deficits caused by cognitive impairment; therefore some parts of my childhood may be left out as I simply cannot remember them, this if from the perspective of what I can remember.

I first began school at the age of 3, which is what is known as an infant school within the UK, or kindergarten if you’re from the USA. Initially, I despised school. I was used to being alone and it was what I enjoyed. The other children always seemed to be interested in the things that I wasn’t, therefore I would play by myself; which resulted in me spending a lot of time up in my own head. I could never find the connection with others that the other children did, I never understood the friendships and relationships they craved; all I knew was that I needed myself, which is something that I already had.

Since the day I was born, being an introvert has been deeply ingrained within my mind. Socialising and interacting with others was completely alien to me, which is why I initially despised school to such a degree. Due to this, the majority of my childhood was spent in some imaginary world that I had dreamt up; here I had friends, people that were like me. It was the perfect place, as it was the place that I had created, which no one else could enter or harm. I would escape to this place during both school and whilst at home, even when I was around others, I wasn’t there entirely. I have always been very withdrawn and isolated, and I highly doubt that it will ever change.

My childhood was plagued by delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia; yet it all went unnoticed. From the moment which I could think for myself, I believed that my parents were poisoning my food and drinks in a way that would kill me subtly; and although it clearly never happened, I still have this thought whenever someone else is involved in the preparation and cooking of my meals and drinks. Whenever I was around others, I firmly believed that everyone was plotting to kill or torture me in some way; or both. These thoughts have never left me, I simply see everyone and everything as a danger or potential hazard. During these experiences, I would have intrusive thoughts and imagery of these acts taking place upon myself or others, which still happens to this day.

As a child, I would regularly see what I believed to be the ghost of my deceased Godmother; when in fact these apparitions were hallucinations. I remember one particular incident in which me and my friend were exploring a woods on a family friends property, I saw what looked to be a mummified tramp wearing a yellow raincoat; this incident terrified me as I was only around the age of 7 at the time. I do remember hearing things as a child that others couldn’t, however I cannot remember exactly what they were.

Although I will always class myself as being officially ill from the age of 13, it is clear to see that I have been ill for as far back as I can remember.

Walking Amongst Nature

Once again, due to the poor weather that my town has been subjected to, as well as a decline in my mental health, I had not ventured outside for about a week or so. At the start of this year, I promised myself that I would attempt to have a good summer where I at least regularly go outside, however, it seems that I have almost done the complete opposite for roughly the past month. I also wished to take up photography as one of my hobbies again, yet I have not had the motivation or energy to accomplish such task.

However, three days ago this all changed. My girlfriend and I decided to take a walk as we simply could not bare to be inside any longer. This walk began mid-evening, by the time we decided to make our way home it was fairly dark; which was when I noticed that there was a baby toad on the path we were walking along. He was a surprisingly calm toad, and we managed to spend a good few minutes admiring him; as well as capturing a few photographs of the little guy. The following night, we came across a slightly bigger toad, who also happened to be rather calm.

After we had our moments with the toad, the night was progressing into the early hours of the morning. We took a walk down to our towns harbour at 3AM, the sound of the sea crashing against the shore and the lights which reflected off of the water were of profound beauty.

15-08-2016

The weather had improved significantly by the third day, there was not a cloud in the sky and the sun was beating heavily against the earth. Therefore I could not resist to capture the beauty of nature once again, which reminded me how much I love the Earth itself; even if I am not very fond of most of its people.

Panic Attacks

A panic attack is a sudden and overwhelming feeling of extremely intense anxiety, which is disabling to the individual. A person who experiences panic attacks in a chronic manner, may have panic disorder. Panic disorder often occurs in conjunction with other severe mental illnesses, such as substance abuse disorders, depression, bipolar and schizophrenia. However, it can occur on its own.

Quite often, you may see the terms ‘panic attack’ and ‘anxiety attack’ being used interchangeably, however this is not necessarily the case. Anxiety attacks tend to intensify over a duration of time, usually during periods when the individual is experiencing excessive worry; whereas panic attacks tend to occur suddenly and with no reason.

The causes of panic disorder are not entirely understood, though it is believed to be cause by a combination of factors, including both environmental and biological factors. These factors include:

– family history

– abnormalities of the brain

– substance use and abuse

– traumatic events / major life transitions

Symptoms of Panic Attacks

The symptoms of a panic attack will often occur suddenly, with the duration of the panic attack typically lasting for 5 to 20 minutes; although they can be longer or shorter depending on the individual and the given circumstances. During a panic attack you may experience:

– difficult breathing / feeling short of breath (hyperventilation)

– pounding heartbeat / palpitations

– intense feeling of dread

– trembling

– sweating

– nausea

– dizziness / feeling faint

– chest pains

– choking sensation

– tingling / numbness in limbs (typically your fingers and toes)

– ringing in your ears

When experiencing a panic attack, many individuals think that they are having a heart attack or are actually going to die; others may feel that they are about to lose control or consciousness. However, these are merely the symptoms of a panic attack, and although it may feel as if there is something seriously wrong with you at the time, they should not cause you any harm and are not dangerous.

Another key symptom of panic disorder, is the constant and persistent fear of the next panic attack occurring. Which, in turn, can cause another panic attack to occur, therefore creating a vicious cycle of panic attacks.

Treatment for Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is typically treated using medication and psychotherapy, as well as with a great deal of self care such as using breathing or relaxation techniques.

Psychotherapy involves addressing the individuals emotional response to the mental illness, a trained professional will talk the individual through strategies which can be used in order to understand and cope with their illness. There are several anti-depressant medications which are used to treat panic disorder, as well as anti-anxiety medications.

Breathing and relaxation techniques are used and most beneficial when the panic attack occurs, it is possible to end a panic attack through these techniques; though this may take a lot of practise.

Friendships as a Person with Schizoaffective Disorder

Although I have previously wrote about romantic relationships on more than one occasion, I have never touched upon the subject of friendships. Since we are born, interacting with others, making friendships, and maintaining a social life is an important aspect of life; however, with a mental illness thrown into the mix, it can be quite a different story.

To begin, throughout my life I have always been rather introverted and more of a loner by choice. I have never truly understood the social aspect of life, or how others rely so heavily upon it. However, I have had a lot of friends throughout all of my life, particularly in school. I was never bullied or left out of things, in fact, I was very lucky to have the friendships and social life that I did. By the time I reached the age of 16 and finally left secondary school I experienced my first full blown psychotic episode. I was almost constantly hallucinating vividly, I was extremely paranoid and would rarely leave the safety of my bedroom; I had withdrawn myself completely from all social aspects of life.

For the next year, I was to remain this way. Once I began college in the September of 2015 at the age of 17, I was quickly reunited with old friends; as well as meeting many new friends. I did manage to somewhat successfully maintain a social life for a month; though it must be noted that I was in the midsts of a manic episode at this point. However, this all ended horrendously a mere month after college began Once the mania began to subside, I was immersed in what I believe to be the worst depressive episode that I have ever experienced, I was also moderately psychotic during this episode. Similarly to when I first left secondary school, I completely isolated myself once again. I will write about both my secondary school (high school) and college experiences another time, as they are both worthy of an entire article.

After leaving college, the remnants of my social life were to be find through my job at the time; however due to my mental illness I ended up leaving that job in the December of 2015. Therefore abolishing my social life in its entirety.

I have not changed since, nor have I ‘hung out’ with anyone since then. I do have a moderate group of acquaintances, although I rarely see them, and when I do we merely exchange a few words. I have two close friends, who are without a doubt my best friends; and although we may not be in the position to see each other as much as we’d like, I know that they are the people who would be there for them if I needed them, and vice versa. The only other friendships which I feel are worth mentioning are that of online friends, some of the best people I have ever had the privilege of talking to I have met online, and they are of as much significance as those you may meet face to face.

I am a very socially inept being. I remain isolated and withdrawn from the social aspect of life, for numerous reasons. I cannot handle face to face / physical interaction, as my mental illness makes it almost impossible for me. I have severe communicational problems, and all of my symptoms collectively contribute towards my lack of a social life and my ability to maintain one. However, I do not have a problem with this. I do not like people in general, and much prefer to be alone; I have no desire to establish and maintain friendships, though I do value the ones that I have very highly, and I am open to making new friendships.

Overall, as a person with schizoaffective disorder, establishing and maintaining a social life is not my forte.

Caring for Someone with Schizoaffective Disorder

Throughout the duration of your life you may find that a member of your family, friends or even your significant other has fallen victim to schizoaffective disorder. Anyone could fall victim to this illness at any time, if you do happen to find yourself in this situation knowing how to care for someone with schizoaffective disorder is extremely important and useful; not only will it improve the quality of their life, but also yours. Seeing someone you care about suffer from schizoaffective disorder can be very distressing, though I think it is important to remember that it is more distressing for the individual suffering from the disorder.

In order to be able to care for another person under any given circumstances, you must be able to look after yourself first, and ensure that you are well enough to be looking after a person. This is incredibly important when it comes to caring for someone with a mental illness, as it can be very stressful and tiring to look after the said individual. However, retaining the necessary knowledge that is needed to care for a person with schizoaffective disorder can minimise the amount of stress and fatigue that it may cause. It is also helpful to remember to focus on how the individual is feeling, rather than focusing on what they are experiencing; accepting that the hallucinations they experience are real to them is also of great significance.

If you are caring for someone with schizoaffective disorder, you should understand the illness and it’s symptoms, therefore it is important to educate yourself about the illness and how it affects the individual; otherwise you will not know how to care for them. This way you will know how to handle setbacks and how to move towards recovery, which is the aim after all. However, you need to be realistic about how quick the recovery process will be, as well as how they cope and deal with their symptoms. You must be patient with the process of recovery, there is no short cut or quick fix available for those who are mentally ill. As the symptoms of the illness and episodes it entails can be triggered by stress or stressful situations, this factor needs to be reduced. You should create a supportive and stable environment for the individual in order to aid the recovery process. Although you are caring for the person, you also need to allow for and encourage that person to have independence, otherwise they are not truly recovering.

When caring for a person with schizoaffective disorder or any other mental illness, you need to learn their warning signs and triggers; this way you can either avoid episodes, or at least be aware that they are occurring. Quite often the best way to achieve this is done by simply talking to them, most of the people who are mentally ill will know what their warning signs and triggers are. If they are unaware of what their warning signs and triggers could be, encourage them to try and work them out with or without your assistance. Supporting and encouraging the individual to get professional treatment is perhaps one of the biggest steps towards recovery, as although you may be caring for them, you cannot provide them with the treatments that they require. When the individual is attending appointments or similar events and is not comfortable with going to that location, be sure to accompany them as this can be of great comfort. Encourage the individual to look after themselves if you have noticed a decline in their well being or physical appearance. The decisions made by the individual are to be respected, and you should not be forcing any decisions or opinions upon them, even if you believe that is what’s best for the individual.

It is important that you do not make any assumptions when it comes to the said persons health, experiences, opinions, or anything for that matter. A change in mood is not always representative of an oncoming episode, and it is very possible to experience a range of emotions whilst remaining relatively stable.

Caring for a person with schizoaffective disorder can be difficult, yet you are making a great difference to that persons life. If you do care for someone with schizoaffective disorder, or are going to care for someone who suffers from the disorder, you are doing a wonderful and amazing thing; which that person will never be thankful enough for, as I have been there myself.

Delusions: Contamination

Although I have previously stated that I was not ready to talk about some of my ‘delusions’, I feel that I want to talk about this one. Although I refer to this matter as a delusion, I obviously do not believe that it is, and I do not believe that I am being paranoid, yet I can still see that it is wrong to think this way and believe such things.

In short, this contamination matter is born from my paranoia of everything to do with orally consuming something being contaminated. This also includes utensils and objects which are used during the process of preparing and consuming something, it could be anything from forks, knives and plates to counters and tables. These things could be contaminated by dirt, bacteria from the surrounding environment, or from people. Obviously, fixating over something like this is completely absurd, yet I cannot believe that it is indeed a delusion as to me the whole thing is very real.

Although having this constant obsession can be distressing, the biggest problem is how it presents itself externally and in the way it causes me to act. When I go to prepare food I must thoroughly clean the surroundings and utensils that I will be using, anything that will come into contact with the food is sterilised. I will examine the sterilised environment and utensils to ensure that it is to my satisfaction. I ensure that no one is present in the kitchen or area that I am cooking throughout the entire duration of the preparing and cooking process. If something or someone was to come near the food or cooking area during this time, I would have to start over again from scratch.

Any form of what I would consider to be dirt, which is pretty much anything that is not supposed to be on the objects surface, absolutely disgusts me and bothers me even when I am not around it; if I know that it is there, the thought will not leave my mind and will manifest itself until I do clean it, only then will the thoughts stop. I simply feel as if everything and anything could be contaminated, not only does this matter affect me mentally, but also physically as it can cause nausea and manifest itself into physical symptoms. Although I consider the official start of my illness to have occurred when I was 13, I have always experienced certain symptoms of my disorder since childhood, and this is one of them. Living your life in constant fear of contamination is no way to live, yet I find it impossible to avoid.

My first full blown psychotic episode was heavily based around contamination, amongst a multitude of other things. As it causes me to act and behave in a rather peculiar way, it can and has caused a lot of problems for my immediate family, and myself. Although certain ‘delusions’ that I have experienced can change, disappear completely, or be replaced by a different delusion; yet this one has been consistent throughout the entirety of my life.

This contamination matter has resurfaced with more power than I have ever witnessed once again, and I am going to extreme lengths to ensure that I will not be contaminated by what I choose to consume. This is why I have decided to write this article at this time, as I see that there is no better time to write about something than when you are experiencing or witnessing it. I am in constant fear of contamination, I cannot stop cleaning my living environment, yet it never seem to be clean enough. This ‘delusion’ has the ability to take over most parts of my life, it is horrendous to live with. I just hope it begins to subside soon.

Transition of Care: At a Loss

I have been detailing my transition of care for a while now, in fact, this is the 4th article about this experience since it began at the very start of June. My aim was to detail everything that has happened, as it’s happening, in order to achieve my aim I feel that writing this article is necessary. This is my aim as I wish to provide insight into the experiences patients may have at the hands of a mental health service, including the problems they may encounter.

To begin, I have not been seen by a psychiatrist for almost 3 months now; yet my mental health care team promised that I would not be left to my own accord without being seen by a psychiatrist for that amount of time. During the previous weeks prior to the beginning of my transition of care, it was clear to both me and my psychiatrist that I was well on my way to experiencing full blown mania. I was manic during both June and July; although a lot of incredibly crazy and dangerous events occurred, I managed to escape this episode with only moderate damage, which is significantly better than typically ruining my life during the process. However, as I have previously mentioned, once the manic episode began to subside, I felt as if I was on the verge of a psychotic episode. Over the past two weeks or so, what I have been experiencing has escalated significantly. Though, there is not much I can achieve in this situation, as I am completely against medication when it comes to myself; for many reasons.

I finally received a letter for the first appointment with my new psychiatrist a couple of days ago, however, I really do not want to attend this appointment as I have many problems with this psychiatrist. Similarly to most psychiatrists, all he will talk about it medication when he is very aware of my stance on the matter. I had made my requirements clear in what I would need to maintain a good / stable psychiatrist and patient relationship with him, yet he has not abided to them whatsoever. I feel that almost everything that I have said has been completely disregarded, and that he is interested in my illness as a ‘case’ and from a work perspective only. He was also the one who wanted me to be under the care of the Early Psychosis Intervention team, which was a disaster in its entirety.

Yesterday I had to take an ridiculously long trip to London for a specialist psychiatric appointment which should be accessible to me within the country of which I reside, however it is not. I also believe that as a mentally ill person, I should not be forced to travel such a distance upon public transport and be in a place of which I am unfamiliar with. As a result, my mind is a complete mess. I am still yet to wrap my head around the whole ordeal, therefore I am going to insert the following excerpt from my personal journal which currently details the experience to my best ability:

“Yesterday was the day that I had to travel all the way to London, merely for a psychiatric appointment; which is absurd. This day was without a doubt one of the worst days of my life. I have been on the verge of a psychotic episode for a while, and this event has exaggerated my symptoms dramatically. I was extremely paranoid, experienced multiple panic attacks,and almost dissociated completely a good few times. It has also increased the severity and vividness of my hallucinations, as well as invoking some delusional thinking. This has made me realise how dysfunctional I truly am.”

This excerpt clearly shows that it was far from a pleasant experience, which I thankfully will not have to experience until next May; although now it is a constant worry at the back of my mind. I hope to forget about it until next year, as I simply do not need an addition to my current problems.

Coping with Mental Illness: Reading

Throughout the younger years of my life, I have always loved reading. It has been a tool that I have previously used as a way to cope with my mental illness, however, over the past few years I have not read at all. I have only started reading again recently, and I cannot believe that I forgot how wonderful reading can be, as well as how much it can make it easier to deal with your mental illness.

The main reason I go to reading as a way to cope with my mental illness is the fact that it is most likely the least harmful form of escapism. The typical forms of escapism that I use are often somewhat harmful, such as using substances or taking obvious risks; but this time, I am using something that is beneficial to me and my well-being in more ways than one.

I have found that nothing gets me going quite like a good story. The satisfaction and happiness I feel whilst reading is something that I rarely get to experience, yet reading allows me to do just that. Reading can be a very introspective activity, it can provide a great understanding of emotions whilst teaching empathy and compassion. It allows you to observe the emotions and emotional behaviours of those within your story, with in turn, also teaches you how to observe your own emotions and behaviours, whilst making it easier to understand why you felt or behaved in such way. Reading allows you to think differently, whilst providing you with the ability to look at things from various perspectives; books are truly wonderful things.

The imagination and creativity that are involved with reading, almost brings your mind back to a childlike state; where it is completely receptive and open to everything going on around you, therefore teaching awareness in an extremely subtle manner. Not only are imagination and creativity involved in the activity of reading, but your ability to use them are also manifested and improved; therefore making you a more imaginative and creative person.

I have previously wrote about how music can be a great way to cope with and manage a mental illness, however, it is scientifically proven that reading can reduce stress even more so than music. Reading can reduce your levels of stress by up to 68%, which is incredible. It has also been scientifically proven that reading fiction improves our ethical and empathetic skills. Reading poetry specifically has the potential to boost your memory, and any form of reading also has the potential to make you more intelligent.

Now that we know that there is every reason we should be reading, it’s time to get some books. One of my favourite things about reading, is that you can read and become in possession of books fairly easily, and with little to no cost. Libraries are full of books that you can read at no cost, however, if you live somewhere where going to a library is not applicable, there are a few more options that you can consider. At some point in a persons life, they will most likely be in possession of at least one or more books, and most of them end up on a shelf never to be read again; and that’s why gaining books from friends and family is so great. You could either borrow a book from your friends or family, or perhaps they would even be willing to give you that book permanently; and it will not cost you a thing. Another option would be to read the books that are available for free online. There are many great books by talented authors that are available on the internet, so as long as you have an internet connection, you also have the opportunity to read thousands of books. If none of the previously mentioned options have taken your fancy, then you could always go to a book store, or an online book store, and buy some books. Nowadays, a lot of books are relatively cheap, and with the internet being so widely available you can make sure that you get the best price for your purchase. As there are now electronic devices that are dedicated to books and reading such as the Amazon Kindle, the books available for these devices are often a lot cheaper because they require no physical material and are obtained through downloading the book over the internet.

I hope this article has inspired at least one of you to pick up a book and start reading again, you’ll be very surprised by all the benefits of which it could bring.