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Acceptance or Avoidance.

The last time I posted I talked about beginning to accept myself as a person. I want to expand on that today. At some point in our lives we all face a choice to accept what is or avoid the facts and stand still. I’d like to start by saying I am The Queen of avoidance and it is a serious problem in my recovery. Avoidance seems the easy route to take, it provides an immediate solution to whatever dilemma you are facing and can rapidly calm your emotions in the short term. In the long term though it’s effects are widespread and tend to be negative. What might start as avoiding one thing, thought or place can easily become another and another and another, until your whole life has become restricted and unmanageable. This is me. In every aspect of my life I avoid situations and thoughts in a desperate attempt to control my fears and eliminate my emotions.

My prime example of this is my blog here: I enjoy writing but I’ve been avoiding posting anything new for weeks because I’m scared that people will either hate it or worse (to me), appreciate it. I don’t always cope well with positive reinforcement, thoughts consume me that people will gain a false perception of me from my writing and think I’m good or strong for attempting to put my recovery online. I often can’t stand the idea that anyone could think anything positive about me and it can cause me severe distress if it does occur. So if it does, I refuse to accept it could be true and avoid doing anything that could put me in that position again. Every blog involves an internal battle of wills and more often than not, avoidance wins the fight.

Acceptance, I believe, is so much more strenuous because of the ever changing nature of life. You can’t always just accept something and move on. You have to keep making that choice to accept what is or who you are as you grow and mature. Learning to be happy with the pace you are going is a skill that I can’t quite figure out how to develop. Seriously, how do you do it?? 

I have a lot of challenges to face before I can say I have control over my mental health and I will face the choice to avoid or accept on every one of them, every day and probably for a long time. Yet people succeed in the face of this choice every day in their lives’ so I’m hoping it’s something I can learn. I think the focus should be on one thing at a time though. Just now my focus is exercise because of the double bonus in helping me get fit and improving my mental health simultaneously.

What bothers me is that I don’t seem to be strong enough to do it on my own. If Cammie didn’t push me to come to sessions at the gym I know I wouldn’t be going. Even with him there more often than not I don’t want to go. Which is frustrating because I’ve felt the effects working out have on me. I’m not always good at interpreting my own emotions but I know Cammie probably sees a considerable difference in my attitude and behaviour in the duration of a session. I always seems to leave in a much more positive, upbeat manner than I arrive in. I want to be able to achieve that on my own but I question whether that will ever be possible after the past few years. Despite that I am so grateful that I have someone willing to give me some of their time because if Cammie hadn’t then right now I’d be a heck of a lot worse off than I am. He’s given me something huge the last few months by helping me enjoy working out. Exercise should be hard work but it should be fun too and going to Victory definitely is that.

I often question whether I’m progressing quick enough in my recovery so I guess my next focus needs to be choosing to accept the pace I’m going and continuing to exercise rather than constantly choosing not to try and avoid it all together. Every time I struggle through getting to the gym I hope I’m teaching myself how to be stronger mentally and maybe one day there’ll come a time when I look forward to the thought of a work out rather than wanting to cancel.

 

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Changing my world, one day at a time.

Tonight I cried, for the first time since leaving the hospital, for myself and what I’ve come through. I cried with purpose. It was a: snotty nose; ugly bawling face; help me I can’t breathe kind of wail and it was honestly so refreshing. I mean seriously, I reckon I could have set some sort of record with that crap. I made sure all the windows were closed though…so hopefully the neighbours don’t think someone was being murdered in here. Guess I’ll find out if I see any flashing lights before I’ve finished writing this.

Crying has been a real issue for me lately. I’ve been holding back on letting a lot of emotion out because, because I think it made me feel human. Which is a pretty strange statement to make I know. What else could I think I was? I’m not exactly sure what the answer to that is but I’m not really sure that it’s as important as my realisation that I am human is anyway. And I’m not really sure I’m going to do myself justice explaining this but I’ll give it a go. I swear I’m not completely mad!

As a child, I was extremely sensitive. Often I’d become upset at the tiniest thing, often I would feel slighted at comments most others may not have even noticed and often I would take on the emotions of the people around me. That could be a good thing because it meant that if the people around me were happy then I could be too. It did also mean though, that I would soak up negative emotions as well. I observed people a lot and as kids often do, I listened in to adults talking when I probably should have been off out playing. The problem was twofold: I didn’t always catch everything and I definitely couldn’t fully wrap my young mind around half of the conversations I did catch anyway. What I could sense was the underlying emotion. I can only describe it as a feeling I could absorb and unknowingly blow out of proportion. I couldn’t comprehend the true complexity of the conversations or interactions at such a young age so I took on the simplest part I did recognise and fixated on it. I know now that things I will have been sad, confused or frustrated about will have more often than not, been fleeting, unimportant occurrences. Hindsight is truly great. I could have saved myself hours, days, even weeks of my life had I understood I was distraught for no reason. It was an exhausting yo-yo of emotions bouncing from one extreme to the other and just never quite managing to find a middle ground.

At some point in the last five or so years the negative emotions really took control in my mind. I stopped trying to fit in or to be happy because it felt like it was only causing me more pain. Instead I became addicted to making myself numb. A lifetime of self-hatred and belittlement led me to a stage where I convinced myself that nothing anyone (including myself) ever said or did to me or could possibly do to me could be bad. If I was this monster I believed myself to be- there’s the answer to my question from earlier- then I had no right to ever feel upset or wronged or depressed about anything. I’m not sure how that will sound to someone else but to me I really, truly believed there was never a reason to feel hurt anymore. Which led to an awful lot of confusion as to why I always felt so damn bad all the time. Hence the numbing. It’s been a vicious cycle of feeling horrendous, being unable to find justification for my feelings, refusing to deal with them and then shutting down completely.

Which brings me back to the crying issue. I’ve been through a hell of lot lately- I’m pretty sure it would have made anyone cry. The times I have cried, I’ve mostly been crying because I’ve been upset about that fact that I’m upset. The rest of the time that I’ve not been numb I’ve been needing to cry and actively doing everything in my power to stop it which has led to me tearing up at the slightest thing. I thought I might have to accept that I would be living life with a permanent lump in my throat. Not exactly an ideal way to live. But this acceptance that I’ve been through a lot is a big deal for me because if I believe I’ve been through a hard time then somewhere inside me I must also believe that I’m one person as undeserving of pain as the next. But pain is part of life, it’s what makes us grow stronger. Experiencing it and learning from it is something that’s wired into our DNA. It’s part of what makes us human. I haven’t wanted to feel human because I thought I wasn’t strong enough to survive being a part of humanity. I forced myself to believe I wasn’t. No humanity means no emotion and no emotion means protection from the negativity of the world. The reality is though that I haven’t succeeded in making myself numb all the time. If I had, the past few years would have been nowhere near as challenging as they have been. And the amazing truth in it all is that despite everything that’s happened I have survived it.

I’m not sure when exactly my opinion of myself changed. Just a few weeks ago I felt my self-hatred was at an all-time high. Now that has dimmed somewhat. I’m not going to lie and say it’s gone but I have made a dent in it. All thanks to the little things I’ve been doing. Getting up and dressed every day. Forcing myself to eat. Walking the dog at lunchtime. Going to watch classes at JHM. Exercising. Sticking to a bedtime routine, even if I still don’t sleep. All things I have questioned over and over again. Things I have said there is no point in doing because they’re not helping. Only they are. The person I was three months ago and the person I am now are like night and day.

In my last post I said I was making a commitment to letting people help me because my way wasn’t working and I’m so glad I have. My GP has been absolutely brilliant since I left hospital, I can’t imagine getting through the last few weeks without her endless empathy and determination to help me. I’ve also been getting loads of support from a local gym. Cammie at Victory Bespoke Fitness has been working with me in his spare time to get me active again but the sessions have been about more than just pushing through cardio and lifting weights. His greatest achievement with me so far is getting me out the house, socialising and laughing on the days when I’m feeling at my worst. Sometimes that means we just go out for a walk instead of working in the gym but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t push me when he thinks he can. Today, for example, I’ve had to walk downstairs backwords because my legs hurt so much from yesterday, I can barely bend them!! You can never underestimate the power of exercise when it comes to your mental health, even if some of the mood boosting endorphins come from having a laugh at your own expense. Then there’s Declan who left me with the task of creating a list of things I like about myself while he was off. Which I thought was pretty harsh of him at the time but after my reflection I’ve yet again accepted that he knows what he’s doing because it seems that I’ve made real headway whilst working on it. Yay for progress!

For a while I was struggling to cobble together another piece worthy of putting online but I’m glad I waited out the bad weeks and tried again instead of just abandoning the writing because that’s what recovery is all about. Life in general I suppose as well. You have to just keep clinging on because even when you can’t possibly see what difference it’s making…it’s actually saving your life.

Why I Fought to be Labelled.

Black. White. Straight. Gay. Male. Female. Young. Old. Catholic. Muslim. A tiny selection of thousands of labels that exist in the world today. Labels that many fight to disregard on some level because no matter which can be applied to you we are all humans who deserve the same rights and the same respect without preconceived judgement. All of them have clear distinctions between them yet those distinctions should never determine our capabilities or affect our chances in life. Those words should be a celebration of what we are and what they mean to us. It is extremely saddening that this is not always the case. That too often we judge based on these words alone without truly knowing anything about that individual. They are all simply words that when used alone tell people part of the story of what we are but they do not tell the world anything about the most important part: about who we are.

I was recently diagnosed, after a difficult fight to have this confirmed by my doctors, with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder. Some people may have heard of it as Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s not something that’s generally portrayed in a positive light in the media and it’s also not something many people have an accurate understanding of either.

So why, knowing the stigma that can be attached to any sort of label, did I fight to have one attached to me that has so many negative connotations?

It was not initially a label I desired at all. When the words personality disorder were first used as a part of a description of me I knew absolutely nothing about them. Cue some very long, intensive online searches through medical websites and scholarly articles to soak up as much information as I possibly could about the different types. (Another lesson from the past few months: Do. Not. Google. Illnesses. It is never a good idea and will never give an accurate representation of the situation no matter how reliable you feel the site is). When I realised the symptoms of some of these fit perfectly into how I feel, think and perceive the world around me my response was one of total and utter panic. Why? Because my trusted friend google had painted a devastating picture of someone who was going to be incapable of ever living a normal life, who was always going to feel the same and who was never going to get any better. Google had given me the impression I will dive from one emotional crisis to another, it described me as a manipulative, impulsive and hostile person with nothing but chaotic relationships surrounding me. It was terrifying and it consumed my whole being.

The turn around came several weeks later. First, I had to come to terms with what my new diagnosis meant…without the help of google. My nurses wisely banned anymore ‘researching’ of in-depth and jargon filled papers on the subject and told me to only read what they gave me and ask them questions instead of the internet. Always a good idea to stick with the professionals. The biggest change came when, still, hung up on this new negative label my nurse felt the need to remind me that actually nothing had changed. I’m pretty sure she’d told me this 100 times already and I’d most definitely ignored her all 100 of those times. I was adamant that this did change everything, that I’d been given a life sentence of misery and pain I had to somehow want to survive through. Only she’d had enough of me refusing to listen and told me as much. This label I felt I’d been given, didn’t change anything because all it did was name something that was a part of me. It didn’t give me the illness, the illness already existed. My perception of me may have changed but I hadn’t. I had not suddenly morphed into this diagnosis with no other defining features. And more than that, being told what was ‘wrong’ with me could really only be seen as a positive because I could now move forward and focus on getting better. I could be treated for the right illness and begin seeing some progress in my health which wasn’t happening before because the help I had been receiving wasn’t the right help.

Of course, she was right. My nurse that is. And I knew, as I had from the first discussion on the subject, that the doctors were right in their diagnosis of me. It made complete sense and gave me the answers to so many unknowns that had been haunting me from my past. It was challenging accepting it but I did.

Then…my psychiatrist changed his mind. Perhaps I didn’t have a personality disorder after all. Perhaps…perhaps, I didn’t have anything wrong with me at all. Maybe this was all just a case of poor coping skills leading to some emotional distress.

I can’t even begin to explain how confusing this all was. How overwhelmingly difficult it was to hear that after a lifetime of knowing there was something wrong, after experiencing a truly horrendous few years and facing challenges many never will to feel completely dismissed by the system in this way; to have had my longstanding beliefs about myself and the way I have learned to think to be acknowledged as a pretty serious issue; to have started to overcome my fear of receiving help; to have allowed hope for the future to settle inside me and then to have it all ripped away. That’s how it felt. It felt as though they were tearing away any confidence and acceptance I’d gained in myself. I had made leaps forward and in one conversation I allowed that all to disappear. My entire life has revolved around this fear that there is nothing wrong with me, that I’m making up my troubles and shouldn’t need any help or support to get over them because they don’t really exist. When they changed their minds on my diagnosis that fear became my reality.

That new reality almost cost me my life. Not because it was a true reality but because I do very much have poor coping skills and this new revelation was beyond my capability to manage. Luckily my family stepped in and demanded another opinion. And once I had calmed enough to be rational again I too fought for an answer. I spent almost four months living on a hospital ward working through genuine problems and difficulties. It was not acceptable to me to go home not having a definitive answer. I didn’t care what the label was, as long as it was the right one, because without that label I wouldn’t get the help I need. Labels only have control over us if we allow them too and the negativity surrounding them only has to exist if we choose to be close-minded and refuse to look past them. Suddenly being labelled didn’t need to be a negative.

So this label that I have attached to me in my medical file is a pretty big deal. But not in the way I originally thought it would be. It’s big because it determines what my treatment plan is. It determines what support I need to be able to live life as fully as possible. That’s the only reason it’s so important. I’m not that list of adjectives I found on websites that ‘fit the criteria’ of someone who is emotionally unstable. I’m still me. I’m still the girl that loves to read books about the universe. That loves to laugh with the people closest to me. That loves working with kids and seeing them grow. That loves helping others. That loves playing with my dog. I’m still Ashleigh or Ash or Ash Bash or whatever other nickname you know me as. I hope that if anyone who does know me personally, who has any preconceived notions about what someone with a personality disorder is like, can look past the label to see me and realise their opinion doesn’t need to change as a result of this illness. This will only be a barrier to me in life if I allow it to be one.

I refuse to let four words define me.

I may have another label but I am NOT that label.

Hello from the other side. (Literally/figuratively-take it how you want after reading this post).

Before I start this post, I want to first say a massive thank you to everyone who shared my last post and who messaged me with such kindness. My letter may not have reached Nicola Sturgeon but it did reach Maureen Watt- the Minister for Mental Health- who kindly replied and wished me well in my recovery. More importantly however, is the sheer volume of people you all helped me reach by reading and sharing my message. I truly cannot express my gratitude for that gift to me…if it helps one person in any way then I’m beyond happy with that!

Now for this post. I’ve been avoiding it for a while. It won’t be my best written piece because it’s so very hard to write. I wondered whether I could possibly share so much of myself online, whether being so brutally honest was crossing some line into the unacceptable. That fear is exactly why I should do this though, we need to talk about the realities of these illnesses. About the impact they have on our lives. I swore when I started my blog I would be nothing but honest- whether it makes me uncomfortable or not- because the truths I utter here are too often hidden from the world.

11 days ago I was discharged from hospital. 11 days ago, I attempted to kill myself. 9 days ago I tried again. 8 days ago I was discharged from the medical ward at the hospital to back home. And 6 days ago I was readmitted to the psychiatric ward.

3, maybe 4 days, ago I smiled and laughed genuinely again for the first time in those 11 days. Not a random giggling fit for no reason that sort of morphed into desperate sadness but a laugh that brought me some happiness and light back inside.

Last night, I went to watch part of the annual dance show for the school I’ve been part of for years. It was both amazing and heartbreaking and I cried for hours after I left. After everything that’s happened, losing hope and giving up, to see people excited to see me was so so hard. To witness something I have been a part of for such a long time and thought I’d never have back hit me as another patient described ‘right in the feels’. To be surrounded by happiness, love, excitement for just that small time was overwhelming. That’s what’s I could have lost if I hadn’t been saved. Thrown away in a moment of desperation and impulsiveness.

When you try take your life you hear the mutterings (not from those you love or really matter at all but that’s not the point). Attention seeking? No. Playing a game? Definitely not. A cry for help? Perhaps. In my case, an unbearable sadness at what I saw as fact: that I could not continue living the way I have for the past 21 years but a sinking realisation that nothing would change for me because no matter how much I wanted it, I was not capable of being ‘fixed’.

There’s no point arguing the merit of that statement now, it was true at the time and I can’t change what I’ve done or how I reacted because of it. Right now, I’ve convinced myself that’s not true. My inner voice is so critical though that I am terrified that grabbing onto hope and moving forward with life is the worst possible move I can make. Rationally, I know that is not true. Will the next few weeks, months, years be difficult? Horrendously so. Will I have to work harder and face realities so painful I’ll want to give up again? Sadly, yes. But that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice to face it all. It’s the only choice. As much as I want to hide from the world, refuse to leave me bed, refuse to eat or sleep, I cannot do that. The fact that at this moment I can even think in terms of years is a massive leap forward after this week.

There is no support or love in this world- and I am completely surrounded by it- that can take this away, or make it better for me. Make it easier to cope with, for sure. Ultimately though, I am the only one who can change my life. It has to come from in me, I have to let my desire to live a good life consume me and I have to let the people that want to help in to make this job slightly easier.

One of my best and worst traits is my stubbornness and determination. For years I’ve tried to squash it down, refusal to try means less pain if there’s no success but on my journey, becoming stronger as I have done, it has become increasingly difficult to repress it. The problem at the moment is that my refusal to reconsider my stance on certain issues is not necessarily a positive thing. I think I’ve found a solution and make a decision and that’s it made, no changing it. It’s lead to some extremely poor choices on my part. On the other hand, there’s something inside me that just knows that if I commit to my recovery 100%..I will get better. I might not be ‘fixed’ or ‘cured’ or ‘normal’ but that doesn’t mean I can’t still be great, that I can’t meet my potential and push myself to achieve anything. In fact, I know deep down that if I conquer this battle there will be nothing in this world that can stop me.

I have faced hurdles and roadblocks along the way and I’m sure I have many more unexpected ones I’ll have to manoeuvre in the future but I’d like to hope that my two biggest ones for a while are dealt with. Of all the changes I’ve made in myself the past year, after all the personal growth these past 11 days have taught me more about myself than any of it. There are some things in life that evoke an immediate change in self and this has been one of those times.

My way wasn’t working, it’s time I took a step back and let the people that love me in to help. It’s time I truly accepted the help I’m being offered instead of trying to convince everyone why they shouldn’t be helping. I survived something lots of people don’t, I’m immensely fortunate. I believe everything happens for a reason so there must be a reason my time isn’t over.

I didn’t expect last night to affect me the way it did but I’m extremely thankful that it has. A more precious gift than many will comprehend but no less valuable to me because of it. So here’s to my journey from today on. It’s time to let go of the past and move on from what’s happened. It’s time to push myself on my journey of self discovery. It’s time to learn to live

An Open Letter to Nicola Sturgeon.

What will your legacy be? 2016 was a tumultuous year for politics. It was a year of desperate campaigns by opposing sides that’s shaken our nation to the core. 2016 was a year that thrust us, somewhat unwilling into the unknown. It was a year of confusion, of questions unanswered, of fear at what lies ahead. Ultimately, it was a year of change. Here in Scotland, you are fighting for our voices to be heard both in the U.K. and in Europe. You are fighting to protect our rights internationally. You are fighting to give us the opportunity to not only survive the changes we face but to thrive. You are fighting to keep our nation’s voice heard amongst the rabble of noise that is international politics.

Today, I ask you to press pause on all of that; I am asking you to let my voice drown out all the others for a moment and hear the plea I must make. I am writing this letter alone but I write on the behalf of many whom I know will have an innate understanding of my experiences, and I write on behalf of those you have a duty to protect but who’s voices are going unheard.

My name is Ashleigh Gorman and I am a young woman struggling to survive in Scotland today. I write to you from a bed in St John’s Hospital where I’ve spent the past three weeks as a patient on one of the psychiatric wards. I’m 21 years old, with the potential to choose any life I please, I should be a shining example of our health and education systems raising strong independent individuals but I’m not. Instead, since leaving school I have been on a crash course of self-destruction that’s led me to this moment. I cannot hold back on an issue of such paramount importance so I beg of you to hear these harsh words and truly consider whether you could be doing more, right now, to save people.

I can without any doubt say that I was failed by Scotland’s education system. I would go as far as to say my stay in hospital has been inevitable because I have suffered from a mental illness for years without treatment. I attended an amazing high school, one which prides itself on celebrating student success and helping each pupil attain their potential but I left that school woefully unprepared for life. I left school having desperately reached out for help because I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t understand what mental illness is and that I could get better. I was just a young, lost girl and I was scared. The help I needed wasn’t there and I learned to hide it away instead of facing it. Only life doesn’t work like that. Our schools are not teaching young people how to survive past those colourful classroom walls and rows of desks. I have used barely any of the academic knowledge I gained whilst at school the past three years because my mental health has continued to plummet to a place I almost would never have come back from. I along with so many others have been too busy trying not to live, only to survive.

Mental health. I didn’t put it in the first paragraph because I question whether this would then have been read. People are starting to talk about it more now but the truth is that most still want to ignore the elephant in the room. It astounds me that we live in a time where we know that prevention is always better than cure; where we know the impact our mental health has on our development; where we know that 75% of mental health problems start in the teenage years and yet we are still responsible for people dying from these problems because we are not teaching them how to combat these particular challenges. How many children would still be alive today if they had known to look after their mental health? How many children would be saved from crying, broken and alone had they known what to do when they felt like they wanted to die? How many more would never have to experience the devastating pain of watching their world crumble because of mental health problems? How many people is it going to take before you start to tackle this head on?

We teach lessons in schools in physical education, we serve healthy meals to meet nutritional standards, we teach children about drug and alcohol abuse and have zero tolerance policies to bullying. When are we going to teach them what it means to be mentally healthy? When are we going to teach them that sometimes the pain we can cause to our own minds can be more vastly more devastating than pain inflicted by others if our thoughts go unchallenged? When are we going to realise that we are raising a generation of children who have learnt that whilst it’s okay to talk about these things no one seems to know what to do about them if they do occur? Mental health is a priority, without it life is meaningless but we are still failing to dedicate time solely on the subject at the times when it is needed most. We are failing to prepare these children and instead of changing the approach we continue to put a sticking plaster over it. Only by tackling the root of the problem will we truly make steps forward in reducing it and thereby reducing the strain on our health services- which currently face the terrible burden of being unable to support everyone who needs it at referral.

I have spoken with people in the education system who know that they desperately need help preventing mental health problems developing and worsening. You only need look at the statistics to see how prevalent these problems are. It seems that, as with most things in life, lack of funding makes the decision for them. When I recover I will fight with all I have to change the way we approach mental health in Scotland. I will campaign tirelessly and work with every school I have to if it means that I can make a difference to our young people. They are Scotland’s future and we are condemning so many of them to unnecessary suffering that will live with them forever. It breaks my heart to know there is so much that could be done to help them. The frustrating part is that no one should have to fight so hard for something so essential.

What makes me reach out to you is the fact that you can change this. This is bigger than party politics. This is bigger than working out how to gain the best advantage or the most votes. It’s an intrinsic part of the country you want to create. Every leader leaves behind a legacy and I’m sure you’ve considered what yours will be. Every decision you make contributes to it. You want to make Scotland great and to achieve that you need a country of strong resilient individuals able to weather challenges that undoubtedly will crash over them in life. I am challenging you to make the changes needed to teach our young ones how to ride out the waves because right now too many are having to fight against the current to survive.

There are endless possibilities when it comes to the teaching of this subject. From integrating into the classroom on a subject by subject basis to allocating dedicated time each week for it. Interactive workshops or talks from those who have experienced problems. This challenge is only as big as you make it and by tackling it lives will be saved. Illnesses will be prevented and where they can’t be prevented they will be managed. Knowledge gives us the power and freedom to achieve anything. We owe it to everyone to pass on the knowledge that will allow them to
thrive. By holding back and accepting slow progress as enough we are committing a great injustice.

This year, 2017, is a year where I continue my fight for life. Every day I choose to be here and face my troubles I will grow stronger and come closer to achieving my dreams. My question to you is, what will 2017 be your year of? Will you allow this to stay on the back burner, concealed under a layer of dust? Will you sit back and continue watching young adults entering the world knowing you could have done more to prepare them? Or, will you step up to the gauntlet and make changes for the better? I know what I could do to make a difference but I must first find reason to try. My battle is hard and I have found that my attempts to help face opposition,
I do not have the influence you have. So now I am looking to you as my leader for help and I am desperately wondering if you are just another politician willing to let this slide away under the carpet…out of sight, out of mind.

I’m not that girl.

So I’ve had a momentary blip in my journey and right now it feels like the biggest deal in the world. I know though, that in years to come it will just be a small part of the process I was in to recover. My journey isn’t one big step, it’s hundreds of little ones combining together to create the Ashleigh I’m already discovering.

I’ve been sitting this morning feeling so utterly despondent at my situation. It comes after a being admitted as an inpatient on the mental health ward last week. 11 days ago to be exact. The first few days were such a blur of emotions. I’m here voluntarily so being the naturally decisive person I am, I unpacked and repacked roughly three times a day until the weekend. I was so caught up in the fact that I was staying in hospital and the idea that this removes all the progress I’ve made this year that I didn’t make proper use of the support here.

The time alone here is starting to pay off though. I’ve lay in bed all morning hating myself for being weak, for watching everything crumbling around me, for not even managing to get out of bed. And if you read my last post and are wondering what it is that happened that’s caused this..then the answer is nothing. No event or trauma whatsoever. There’s only been one single change since that post and me being here. My attitude. Some people will say it’s a simple problem to fix others won’t. The truth is that we are all capable of experiencing such a complex array of emotions, vastly different responses to so many individual situations running simultaneously in life and you would be forgiven for letting it get you down. But what really matters in life is what you choose to focus on. My brain is overwhelmed by a million things right now and I did lose hope but that’s something I caused myself. I can’t blame anyone or anything, I’m the only one who can choose which of the emotional whirlpools to focus on.

There are obviously different factors that make that choice easier to make, one of which being sleep. Recently my sleeping has deteriorated more and my energy to fight has diminished with it. However, in hindsight, it’s clear that while I was so busy despairing about my lack of sleep I was also getting far too comfortable in old habits. Those new ones are the ones that make me feel better and bit by bit, choice by choice I started to slip up. So being here doesn’t mean I’ve taken a huge fall backwards, it doesn’t remove the lessons I have learnt this year. It does push them to the forefront of my mind though, and that is most definitely a good thing.

It’s been incredibly tough being here, and I’m facing fears faster than I would at my weekly counselling sessions (God, I miss them. Some of the people here really aren’t as helpful as others) but I need to do this. I’m not that girl that spends months or years in and out of hospital, never quite reaching that goal of managing their condition. I’m not that girl that dreads the future because I’m unhappy now. I’m not that girl that is convinced I’m unfixable. I’m not going sit here any longer, feeling crap and focusing on the negatives. I’m not that girl.

Old Habits Die Hard.

I’ve read that you can form a new habit by consistently focusing on it for 21 consecutive days. I want to immediately say it’s not true because if it was, surely I should have aced my recovery months ago? Maybe it is, or maybe it can only be applied to small changes not the big life altering ones. In a way, I wish it was possible to overcome my challenges in 21 days and yet, at the same time, I don’t.

Recovery is about so much more than forming new habits. It’s about creating a lifestyle that promotes long term happiness instead of forming habits which are much more likely to be of passing interest. It’s about growing day by day, month by month and year by year. I’m like a child, I learned to crawl before I could stand and I’m learning to walk before I can run. Kids learn those things in the first 12-24 months of their life and I’m on a similar developmental timeline as them just on a completely different scale. If I shortened my recovery to 21 days I would miss out on a whole world of pain, emptiness and terror and get rid of my yo-yo of emotions. Which sounds great, actually it sounds wonderful, but how much knowledge would I lose by doing that too? Everyday I’m learning more about myself, the world, how to manage difficulties, how to interact with people, how to fight when I’m exhausted, how to pursue my goals, how to love myself. I learn from reading, from talking and from actively doing. Imagine how much I’d lose out on if I didn’t have the time to learn it. How much could I cram into 21 days that would have a lasting effect on my entire life? Knowledge is power and some of the most important lessons come from experiences that are hardest to deal with.

Recovery is also about breaking old habits and we all know it’s harder to relearn something properly than it is to fix something you think you already know. It’s not possible to relearn a lifetime of thinking in 21 days. For me, I didn’t even know I had bad habits at first. Then I didn’t know how many I had. Then I didn’t realise how engrained they were. That on its own has taken months to recognise and start to change. And boy do I have a lot to change. Sometimes when I realise something else I just want to scream ‘are you kidding me?!‘ because my list is so long. How can I not have realised how detrimental my lifestyle was- that whole you can’t see the wood for the tress scenario is all too apparent when you’re analysing your life. It’s all worth it when I start to make those little breakthroughs though. My favourite moment ever in recovery has also been what I think is my biggest breakthrough (although I’ve no idea if it is actually a big deal) and, surprisingly, it was a moment where I was rendered speechless. No epiphany or sinking realisation, just a moment of peaceful bliss in my mind. A tiny piece of clarity. A calm before a storm. That I managed to hold onto for all of 30 seconds mind you.

-An aside to help you understand that moment. I am a person who gets by in life by considering the worst possible scenario of every situation or moment and fixating on it. I worry about it, cry about it, get the shakes, sweat, don’t sleep, have nightmares. You name it I do it. Maybe I’ll break my neck or end up paralysed. Whatever it is, it’s the least ever probable outcome that’s realistically not going to happen. (So if you’re ever doing a risk assessment and run out of ideas of things that could happen I’m your person). In counselling when I’m worked up Declan will ask me, calm as you like, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ At first I’d give him a barrage of things, I wouldn’t be able to stop listing them. He would make one irrelevant and another would pop up. Eventually I started holding back a little, I would pause because I knew he was waiting for me to decide which things on my list I’d name and I didn’t know whether to say them or just let them go. But genuine fears come out so I would always go on. Then one session Declan asked again ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’… I didn’t know. My mind was completely blank and I have never been so shocked or speechless in my life. I’m pretty sure I was gaping like a fish trying to process it. Then I started looking for something, frantically thinking there must be, must be, something awful that can happen. I came up with nothing and eventually when I admitted ‘I don’t know’ I couldn’t stop laughing. That moment represented my first true taste of freedom from the prison I’d created and it was amazing! Now, I can’t remember what I was worked up about but that moment when I had no fears, that 30 second response to a simple question, that has fuelled me since. I crave it. I can’t explain the pure joy that moment gave me. I have permanently stored that wonderful feeling and it has never failed to make me smile or laugh whenever I remember it.-

The post hasn’t gone the way I’d intended but I’m glad I just went with it because when I started writing I felt the complete opposite to how I do right now. I was exhausted and struggling to see the bright side after a troubling few days. I didn’t want to keep pushing forward and had lost my momentum. I was feeling extremely confused and lost about what to do next and what to focus on. Now I’m feeling happy again. Not a euphoric ready to go, you can’t stop me, I’m bouncing off the walls feeling that I sometimes get when I have energy but a genuine warms you from the inside out happiness. That’s what’s this is about, that’s what recovery is about and that’s why it makes all the trials 100% worth it. That moment is a tiny snapshot of my life but I appreciate it more than I ever would have had I not experienced the same lead up to it. It shows how tiny changes can make massive differences. It shows why getting rid of all those old habits is crucial to successfully overcoming my mental health challenges. And this post has made me aware of something else…that when I’m having bad days I’m still falling back onto those bad habits and making it harder for myself. Damn you brain. It’s time I ninja kicked these old habits to the curb and left them there, to whither and die…because old habits die hard.

I’m Ashamed of Accepting Myself.

I wasn’t sure whether to write this post but the subject has been increasingly plaguing me the past couple of weeks. It’s something I’ve touched on numerous times on my journey and have been continually working on yet there’s some worries surrounding it that have stopped me facing it head on.

At the beginning of this year I couldn’t even begin to imagine not hating myself. It’s how I’ve lived my entire life and I truly believed that at my core I was a completely worthless person who deserved every bit of pain I felt. I thought the ‘me’ that people saw was just a facade. One I’d honed to perfection to hide my awful self behind. The self-deprecating thoughts were so engrained and so constant I wasn’t even aware of how often I was kicking myself down.

The irony is, all the vicious thoughts I was feeding myself controlled me to the point that most of what I was saying became true, in a way. It reached its worst in high school when I had no idea how to talk to new people in such a big environment. I came from a primary school of around 50-60 pupils and going from that to a high school of over 1000 broke me because I didn’t know how to deal with it. At first, the excitement of somewhere new where it would be different to before was great but then I began to notice how everyone else had formed groups and friendships that I hadn’t. I already believed that I was a just a piece of rubbish, a nobody, so I would second guess everything anyone said to me and pretty quickly I accepted I wasn’t meant to fit it.

The trouble with schools is they can be hell for kids if they are feeling similar to how I felt. Snide comments stick in your brain forever, ‘jokes’ made in class isn’t just banter and people looking at you and whispering is definitely them hating on you. And all that stuff whirling around your mind- it becomes your identity. It didn’t occur to me to try to object to them because they were true. It didn’t matter if anyone did say anything nice, they were just saying that because they felt sorry for me. And that was my ultimate downfall.

I was so unhappy and so desperately wanted to fit it, I wonder now how obvious it was to people who knew me then. The trouble is when you’re trying to do that you do become what you fear. You become that annoying person standing on the sidelines trying to get a look in (in fairness I don’t know if that’s true because of my skewed view of the past). The worst days of the week were always Fridays-Mondays and that’s still the same to this day. I would feel so despondent sitting next to a group of people, hearing about their plans and all the fun they were going to have. All the while wondering why I couldn’t have that and why I was the only one not invited. I’d spend the weekend wishing I was a part of it and then dreading hearing everyone talk about all the weekend gossip on Mondays.

As I got older I would hear my name whispered or notice a pointed look in my direction during hushed conversations. I would catch snippets of things said about me and have to pretend I couldn’t hear. Why would I say anything? How could I when it was true. Instead of trying to fight my thoughts I gave in. I would float around different groups of people, never attaching to anyone but allowing each failed attempt at friendship to chip further away myself.

Looking back I’ve spent a fair while feeling bitter about so much. I was upset that I had missed out on experiences of ‘a normal teen’. Not all big things, small things that you do with friends on a typical day off or experiences as you’re given more freedom to look after yourself and go out without supervision. I hate when people say ‘how can you not have done this?!?! Or how have you not tried this?!?! Or how have you not seen this?!?! It makes me feel awkward, and sad, when they then say ‘oh my god, you haven’t lived!!’ because my first thought is that I haven’t. I haven’t done them because I didn’t have someone to experience that with and didn’t have the inclination to try it alone. I haven’t stopped to enjoy the moment and find beauty in the little things.

Nowadays I hold myself back from everything and everyone but I am working on it. I’m so uncomfortable talking to anyone because I feel so out my depth. I struggle to keep up with the ebb and flow of conversations, to keep up with the laughing and joking. I struggle to contribute to so many topics because I don’t have any ideas about it or experiences to add to it. I struggle to talk to even family because I’m often asked questions about your life and what I get up to and I don’t want to have to reveal that I don’t have anything to say. It’s much easier to say ‘I don’t like doing this or that’ than it is to say ‘I don’t have anyone to do that with’ or ‘I’m too scared to go somewhere like that on my own’.

I’ve become so much stronger this year and overcome a whole bunch of hurdles I thought I never would but my biggest fear right now is that I’ll live my life always separated from those around me. It’s something on my journey so far I haven’t been able to figure out. It all seems so complicated, is it really a case of just saying what you think? Just messaging someone when you need to talk? I’m scared, actually I’m terrified, that I’ll never stop holding myself back. That I’ll always keep a barrier up and never let anyone in. That I’ll run at the first sign I’m getting close to someone. That I’ll never trust anyone enough to explain how complicated I make even the smallest things. I feel like they’re valid fears because, honestly, who wants complicated? Life is hard enough as it is without have to be friends with or in a relationship with someone broken.

I’m the only person that can stop my fears being reality. Maybe one day I’ll reach a stage where all this doesn’t matter because I believe in myself regardless. Maybe that’s where I’m headed right now. I’m already better than I’ve ever been. I’m making the most of every day and loving the beauty and wonder and any single moment, place or word can bring. I don’t hate myself anymore. I don’t particularly like myself either but the good things I think and say to myself…I’m starting to think they maybe could be true. The other week I made a commitment to live my life doing what I wanted and not letting other people’s view affect me because chances are, I’m completely wrong about what they’re thinking. I’m not a mind reader so I need to stop inventing negatives they could be saying about me in their head. Maybe I’ll look back on this as one of my biggest learning experiences. It’s a whole bunch of maybes. It’s the single biggest thing I don’t know if I’ll overcome in my recovery. Partly becuse I’m scared and partly because I feel irrationally ashamed that I’m starting to think positively about myself. Maybe I will succeed in this particular challenge but one thing I can say for sure is that I’m not there just now.

Choosing to Recover.

Choose to Recover.

I used to hate that statement. I would see it written in articles, part of motivational quotes or on messages from people who were fighting mental illness and I would feel such anger. It would bubble up inside me and burst out in a what I thought was a righteous tirade ending in a big dose of self-loathing, as if someone saying that made it necessary for me to justify why I wasn’t getting better. How dare they suggest that I’m not choosing to get better? How dare they assume I want to feel like this? How dare they say that when they don’t even know my story? They’re different from me, they’re obviously stronger than me. They must be a better person than I am. Why can’t I do that? I’m such a failure.

Months into my recovery and now I feel myself repeating the words I used to hate and trying to justify why this statement is, in fact, true.
Why the change of tune? Because I have learned it’s true. You do have to choose to recover. The problem is so many people say this statement and leave it at that which is no use to anyone who is lost, struggling and doesn’t have anyone there to explain it. It’s not a simple black and white choice that you make and suddenly you start getting better. There’s no switch you can flick in your brain to reverse the damage you’ve experienced and stop more from happening. It is a constant, never ending list of choices you have to make every single minute of the day.

It’s like when you have something big or important that you know you need to do which makes you want to put it off for as long as possible. You know in the end you’ll still have to do it and that leaving it to the last minute will cause even more bother but you do it anyway. That feeling when everything in you is screaming, trying to drag you away from this mammoth task because it’s so hard and will take so long and use so much energy that you just…can’t. The battle is draining and eventually one side will win out, either you’ll do it or you won’t. That’s how it feels to some of those living with a mental illness. That battle you faced for the mammoth task? Someone had to face that to open their eyes to the day after waking up. They faced it again trying to get out of bed, or even just sit up for a few hours instead of just lying there. They faced it again trying to convince themselves to go downstairs AND have to eat. And again to go shower. Try picture having to face that struggle every moment of the day.

We are so used to making decisions in our daily lives that we forget how often we make choices. Did you get up this morning? Did you brush your teeth? Make your bed? Put shoes on? Leave the house? How many of you consciously argued to yourself whether you should do those things? For some, it’s a simple ‘I either do this or I don’t’ choice that is made fairly easily. For others it’s choice after choice after choice. Or more accurately, it’s a fight against your illness over and over and over again.

So ultimately, to overcome mental illness you do have to choose to recover. You do have to choose to get better- you just have to make that choice a hundred times a day. Every time you try to do something you have to choose to win the battle and keep going on. If you haven’t experienced a mental illness can you see now why so many people struggle to fight it? Having to go through life like that is impossible, when the ‘simple’ daily tasks reduce you to exhaustion adding on anything else requires an inner strength stronger than you can possibly imagine. And that’s before any other factors such as depressions’ lies, anorexias’ punishments or anxieties’ panic are piled on top of this.

If you want to recover you need more than the statement you have to choose to get better. You need to be given the tools to overcome it, just like anyone with an illness is given the tools to recover. That might be medications to get rid of an infection, physiotherapy exercises to heal an injury, stitches to hold a wound together or a plate inside your body to help hold a broken bone together. In this case what you need is knowledge. Only by being taught how to manage the tough days, how to make the constant battles easier, how to look past the moment to keep going can you then make the choice to recover. Medications can make a difference and for some that is all they will need but for more severe cases it’s not enough. It’s about going to the root causes of your illness, identifying the behaviours that contribute to or worsen it and coming up with techniques personal to you that will help.

If you’re suffering and have had a bad day then this is for you: well done! Read it again. Seriously, if you’re thinking ‘all I done today was get out of bed’ then you should still be proud that you made the choice to get out of bed. If you lay and slept or cried all day then that’s fine too. Some days, you can’t keep pushing any longer and that’s okay. I’ve come so far in my journey but I still have days where I can’t beat my mind and can’t make the choice to get up or get dressed or even eat. That’s perfectly fine! It’s okay to stop, rest and regain your strength for another day. If you have a bad day, it doesn’t take away any of the good days or good choices you have made. It’s simply you taking care of yourself. For me, the best way I have found is to break everything down into small goals. Months ago my only focus was getting out of bed, getting dressed, and eating. That was a huge achievement for me when I managed that and now I face challenges by adding more each day or week.

I’m planning to dedicate a few posts to things I have learned in my recovery that changed my mind about having to choose to recover. There’s way too many things I’ve tried to post just one. If you have any ideas or things you know have worked for you, please feel free to comment or message me about them and I can include your suggestions. You never know what may help someone!

Don’t Stop Believing.

Hi, I’m Ashleigh and I’m here to tell you about life with a mental illness. This is such a nerve wracking post to write. Over the past few months I’ve become quite open to talking about my struggles, I’ve even posted a few times on my Facebook about it, but I’ve never done something like this. Right now I’m sitting with my laptop bouncing on my leg as I type, my hands are clammy with fear and my heart..well it’s beating so hard I feel like I can I can hear it. Despite that I know that the time is right for me to reveal my life. It’s time I told my story because there are so many people that need to hear it.

When I was diagnosed with depression I surprisingly felt relieved. There was no sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach or fear about the implications this illness could have on my life because I was too preoccupied by a sudden understanding of my emotional state. I had always thought that it was normal to feel like I did. God, that makes me so sad now. Imagine being eight years old, staring around a room full of kids playing, knowing you’d never be accepted by them. Imagine the sorrow in your little heart, so small it can’t even comprehend what you’re feeling. Imagine reaching ten and writing on hidden walls about how much you hate yourself and what an awful person you are. You’re ten years old and when you think of yourself a pool of disgust races through your body until it overtakes every other thought. It consumes you with its’ fire burning away any hope that it will get better. Twelve years old. Imagine going to high school, excited for a second chance. This will be where it all changes for you. Except..it’s not. It’s the place where you realise that you will always be alone. The place you come home and cry about more often than not. The place that causes you so much pain you pretend you’re sick just so you don’t have to face anyone today.

There is nothing normal about that.

That’s how I felt growing up and I didn’t know any different because no one told me there was such a thing as a mental illness. By the time I reached senior school I was an empty shell of a person desperately crying out for help that no one knew how to give. I wasn’t ready to to leave school and face the world. I dropped out of university within the first year and eventually couldn’t even manage to work. I thought after I was diagnosed that I had to learn to accept that my life would always be this way and when I couldn’t do that I accepted that there was nothing in my life worth living for.

Do you know how hard it is to come back from that point? Can you imagine waking up and crying, distraught, purely because you are alive? I hope you never know. I hope you never have to live through any moment like that. But know reader, that if you don’t, someone else will. It’s not a case of maybe they might- they will. If that’s you then I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for what you’re going through but I promise you it doesn’t have to be that way. I promise you there are people who care, who can help and who can change your life and help to make it better. If you can’t think of anyone then read this again and think of me. The past few months I’ve been helped by amazing people who have given me the tools and the knowledge to overcome the darkness inside. My cloud is shifting and you’rs can too. I’m lucky to have a such a great family by my side to help me because if there’s one thing I can’t truly imagine it has to be how difficult this has been for them.

My recovery isn’t over but I’m ready to document it now. I’m ready to tell everyone about my ups and downs, my achievements and my learning curves and my goals for the future. If I can do it then you can too. That’s what this blog is about! It’s about facing the challenges with me, doing it together and giving the world an insight into our lives. It all starts with small steps and celebrating every success. I’m going to achieve my dreams. I’m going to give back to this world in tenfold the love that has been giving to me. And I’m going to reach a stage where no matters what happens I can say that I’m loving every minute of it. 

P.S please comment and share with as many people as possible to give it every chance of reaching someone who needs support. So many mental illnesses are invisible you never know who is on your page that may find this useful. Thank you!