Last night when I had my final feed for the day the nurse who was with me helped me to use imagery to get through it. We both did ballet and both love ballet so she got me to close my eyes and imagine I was in ballet class. In my mind I walked to the corner, watched the four dancers before me then did my preparation and off I went with my arms in second position spinning and spotting, spinning and spotting until I reached the end of the room. Then I watched the three other dancers that were after me before walking to the corner and repeating. I repeated this over and over again in my mind until my feed was finished and that’s how I got through it. Total imagery taking me away from a reality that feels unbearable.
Living with a mental illness is horrible, it comes with really tough times, a lot of emotions and nasty side effects from both medication and talking therapies. By this I mean the pain of opening up your whole life to a therapist or the nausea and sedation from your new pills. Throughout my battle with mental illness my dog, Candy, has eased my distress no end.
When I was well enough to live at home being greeted by Candy’s wagging tail means the world. I am someone and I am wanted. When she cuddles into me whilst I cry it makes me feel less alone. Those difficult, dark hours through the night were made better by the dog I had sleeping beside me on my bed. I have stroked her under the chin and told her that I’m sorry when I’ve attempted to take my life and seeing her with her tail tucked in tells me she understands. Pets get it, perhaps more than humans do.
I have really missed being around animals since coming into hospital in 2015. It’s a real shame that animals aren’t allowed on the ward and therapy dogs don’t visit. I think it’d really help anyone in hospital regardless of whether they are there for a physical or mental health condition.
The other night my mental health team allowed me to do something special. I was allowed down to the entrance in a wheelchair to meet my parents and Candy. She was so excited to see me and she cuddled into me in my wheelchair and I instantly felt relaxed. My stresses and worries from the day disappeared slightly. I became mindful. All I was thinking about was the beautiful animal on my lap. I was 100% focused on stroking her coarse fur and running my fingers over her smooth ears. For me animals are magic. Pets bring humour, happiness, unconditional love and companionship and I dread to think of my life without Candy in it.
Radical acceptance is a DBT skill and it’s all about accepting the situation you are in and making the best of it. It’s a skill to use when the situation can’t be changed, for example after someone binge eats they cannot change that they have binged and the best thing to do is to radically accept you have binged and to use skills to cope with the binge rather than using more negative behaviours to cope such as purging or self harm.
Right now I am in a situation I do not like. I am frustrated that my choices have been taken away from me now that I am sectioned and it gets to me that I can’t do what I want to do like going for a walk or going to bed when I want to instead of having to wait for the medication round to get to me. It’s frustrating that I don’t have freedom and I find it suffocating that I have two staff members within arms reach of me at all times. I long to have five minutes alone, to use the toilet in peace, for some privacy when visitors arrive. It gets a bit much sometimes but I can’t change this. This is the situation I am in and I will be in until I go to a specialist unit in May. I have to radically accept that this is my life right now and make the best of the situation that I can. None of this is going to go away. I wish I had choices, freedom, privacy and alone time but I don’t so I’m radically accepting that this is how it is. When my visitors come we can still have a nice time without privacy. When they feed me I have to accept that this is how it is and I have no choice in it. Whilst this situation feels suffocating I have two people next to me that I can talk to about anything and everything and I should embrace that and use them. Things aren’t great right now, I hate the situation I am in but right now I cannot change it, I just have to make the most of it.
Three years ago my family and I packed our bags and moved from Northamptonshire to Wales. It was terrifying. I was dreading the move because it meant leaving everything that was familiar behind. Whilst my care had been rather rubbish back home, it was what I knew and leaving that scared me. Knowing I’d never see that receptionist’s face again upset me. I had my special place, the middle of a field where I’d often be the only person for miles and leaving that was hard. Everything was going to be new and whilst new can be exciting, it can also be stressful and lonely.
I remember trying to find the GP surgery for an emergency appointment, we walked up and down the same streets several times, walking complete circles of the block just to end up where we began and all alone time was ticking. We were going to be late, and being late sends my anxiety soaring.
I didn’t know anyone other than my mum and dad. I find it hard to put myself out there but I went to a local young people’s centre in the hope of finding friendship and I did but that doesn’t take away how utterly terrifying it was to walk into that centre for the first time. Definitely going to a local group or class helps when moving to a new area. It is so important not to become isolated as this often is not good for mental health. Volunteering is also another way to get to know people and the area you have moved too. Social media was so important to me in the first days, weeks and even months after my move. I was able to keep in touch with friends and family back home as well as emailing and phoning my old counsellor who’s support was pure gold dust. She probably didn’t realise just how much I needed her voice and reassurance then. Mind also run an online community called Elefriends and this could be a good way to connect to people and feel supported.
Panic attacks are a frightening experience and involve feeling faint, heart palpitations, nausea and breathlessness. These symptoms can become so strong that a person feels like they are going to lose control or even that they are having a heart attack and are going to die.
Panic attacks can be triggered by stressful situations, such as taking an exam or a packed tube train but they can happen for no apparent reason at all.
Talking about them can help, there are breathing exercises that can help calm a person down or using distractions like ‘I Spy’ on a busy commute or listening to music. Talking therapies and medication can also be very effective in managing panic attacks.
As cliche as this sounds, I can honestly say that I would not be alive if it weren’t for music. Music has got me through the good times, the bad times and everything in between. I will never forget getting up in my hotel room and listening to ‘I’m on top of the world’ by imagine dragons whilst getting dressed before my appearance on BBC Breakfast. I will never forget listening to Meatloaf in the car on the way to the airport before we flew to Rome. That’s the funny thing about songs they hold memories and that can be a double edged sword. Whenever I hear ‘moves like Jagger’ I am plunged head first into the memory of sitting in the lounge in a psychiatric hospital whilst a patient dances around the room. Hearing ‘cake by the ocean’ will always remind me of the cold,hard days spent in utter boredom in the secure unit. There are Ed Sheeran songs that remind me of ex partners and no matter how much I like Ed Sheeran, I cannot hear these songs without feeling like complete rubbish. Music can be therapy but there is also a danger of music being harmful to the mind so be careful.
So, music and recovery. I use music at the moment to get me through my feeds as I’m currently being treated for anorexia nervosa and am being fed through an NG tube. I have a specific playlist named ‘Feed’ which consists of:
- I’m yours-Alyssa Bernal
- Boom clap-Charli XCX
- Learn to live-Darius Rucker
- Starman-David Bowie
- Survivor-Destiny’s Child
- On top of the world-Imagine Dragons
- Cold in Ohio-Jamie Lawson
- Living in the moment-Jason Mraz
- Breathe in, breathe out, move on-Jimmy Buffet
- Little me-Little Mix
- Scare away the dark-Passenger
- Superheroes-The Script
- Let it go-Demi Lovato
- Heroes-David Bowie
- Chocolate-The 1975
- Love my life-Robbie Williams
All of these songs I either find relaxing, recovery focused, feel good or they hold positive memories. I find feeds really distressing and I know a lot of recovery can be distressing, that’s why in DBT there’s a whole module called ‘distress tolerance’. For me, music is my distress tolerance. ‘Cold in Ohio’ always relaxes me whilst ‘living in the moment’ reminds me of mindfulness. ‘On top of the world’ is a proper feel good song and also reminds me of the positive memory when I went on BBC Breakfast. ‘Little me’ gives me the reminder that I want to make 4 year old me proud. Maybe I won’t be able to listen to these songs again once all of this is over but for now they are getting me through and that’s what recovery is about, getting through.
I thought I would share this because we learnt this skill in DBT and I have found it incredibly helpful. It is all about delaying an urge when it strikes. Urges such as self harm, binging, purging, using alcohol or drugs and so on.
- Rate the intensity of the urges from 0-10 (0 being no urge and 10 being intense urges)
- Set a timer for 15 minutes.
- In the meantime use mindful distractions so that you move your attention from the urge to something else. Choose a pleasant activity that is opposite to the intention of the urge. For example. watch something funny. And/or write out the pros and cons of engaging in the urge. When writing pros and cons it can be helpful to then highlight which are long term and which are short term, often engaging in the behaviour is helpful in the short term but not in the long term.
- Check your urge intensity after 15 minutes, if they are the same or higher then repeat. If they are lower then carry on with your day.