Being different is a good thing. It means you’re brave enough to be yourself. – Karen Salmansohn
When I was young I was painfully shy and shut myself away from people, lost in a world of reading, writing, and drawing. In nursery school I would head for the paint pots or book corner, or ride a tricycle around the playground. At home I’d swing as high as I could on our garden swing, listening to music on my personal stereo, as I disappeared into my own world in the clouds. I excelled in art and writing at school, but struggled with social situations. When things got too much, when I got overwhelmed or panicked, I ran away. I was trusting and naive which lead to a lot of being taken advantage of in various situations. I found I was able to fit in more as I got older, once I learned to be who people wanted me to be.
I learned to mask. Masking is a term used to describe how autistic people try to fit into a neurotypical society, by copying or mimicking behaviour to assimilate, supressing behaviour that might be considered odd, and developing methods to cope like creating scripts for situations, routines, and more. We change our natural responses to fit in.
I’d never heard of autism when I was young. I had a long standing eating disorder controlling food intake and weight, self-harmed, had panic attacks, ran away from school, office, home multiple times, couldn’t say no, suffered crippling feelings of guilt and not being enough, and had major sensory sensitivities. I was misdiagnosed time and time again from the age of 18 upwards. I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome(CFS or Post Viral Fatigue or ME – Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) at 19 when I began collapsing with exhaustion. Then I was diagnosed with chronic depression and put on a multitude of antidepressants that really didn’t work well over the next thirty years, and left to it.
I married young and had three children. As Rayn, my oldest, grew up, they struggled a lot with fitting in, with behaviour, and school was a nightmare. In Junior school I got used to phone calls asking me to come and take Rayn home, to extricate them from the toilets where they’d hidden, to catch them on the school field where a teacher hadn’t been able to, to collect them after violent behaviour. As they moved into their teens we tried to get help. There wasn’t much available, and at first we looked into bipolar as a possible reason. My younger sister had been diagnosed with hyperactivity disorder as a child, and bipolar as an adult, and later autism. In the end, Rayn was dismissed by CAMHS – Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, as just a fifteen-year-old hormonal teen.
Autism was looked at as a predominantly male condition, and girls and women were (and still are) often overlooked. Telling my child, to their face, that they were just a hormonal teen and needed to grow up was literally the worst thing they could have said. Rayn closed down, and it took another six years before they could begin to ask for help again. Rayn researched autism and after a few years finally got an assessment.
At the video assessment (during Covid) the assessor finished and immediately told Rayn that they were autistic. Usually you’d wait for the official diagnosis letter to come through before you knew, but the assessor said it was so obvious, and they were so sad that Rayn had been so badly let down before. Rayn and I cried with relief and validation. I wish we’d known when they were at school. As an adult there is no active support when you are diagnosed, but I believe as a child there are many accommodations you can ask for and get support at school. We can still ask for considerations and accommodations at work and for medical situations, but it’s more precarious.
When Rayn had begun to research autism before assessment, we’d talked a lot and Rayn said I should get assessed too. I wasn’t sure, but the more I looked at it, the more I saw myself, so I got referred.
I still struggle with any social situation, with no idea how to make small talk, and not knowing when to speak, or to stop oversharing. I can’t deal with crowds, noise, changed plans, broken routines, and I often miss jokes or sarcasm. I hate change, I panic if my favourite toothpaste, or body lotion, or food is discontinued. I hate people visiting my house unless they’re family. I have misophonia sensitivity to noises and sounds, and misokinesia sensitivity to movement or things in my eye line. I’m also sensitive to materials, smells, and touch. I hate being hugged unless I initiate it or already know and like the person. I need meticulous order, plans, and routine. I can’t bear telephones or making phone calls. I’m obsessive, I catastrophise, and my imagination is far too big! I struggle to hear people, not because I can’t hear them, but because I have to process what people say as I hear it, and that takes time. I stim, stimming is repetitive self-stimulation regulatory behaviour, usually repetitive movements or noises in aid to calm or pacify. I related to being autistic so much.
I was assessed eighteen months after Rayn, and after almost four years on the waiting list. On the second part of the assessment, my assessor wondered if my diagnosis’ of both CFS and depression was actually autistic burnout and overwhelm, that the sexual assaults I’d suffered could’ve been linked to misplaced trust, and was also the person who pointed out that my eating disorder was really ARFID Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder instead. As we talked my life suddenly made sense, and a few weeks later almost exactly on the 50th birthday I got my official autism diagnosis.
Again, so much validation, which is incredibly important, and it lead me to be able to understand myself so much more. It helped those around me to understand autism, and to see it unmasked as I began to relax and be my authentic self.
There’s a magic in being able to freely be who you are. The system is gradually catching up with autism in women, and more and more older women, who were missed when they were younger, have been receiving assessment and diagnosis.
It was recently reported that over 122,000 people are currently waiting for autism assessment in England, with long waiting lists. I don’t know the figures in Wales, but more than 2,200 children are currently waiting in my local Hywel Dda Health Authority in Wales. More needs to done and understood to improve lives.
Trying to fit into a neurotypical society is tough for a person with neurodivergent mind. Autism is not a mental health illness, our brains are just wired differently, a neurological condition. It’s estimated that 15% of the UK population are neurodivergent and 15 – 20% of world population.
And there’s a very pertinent quote from Stephen Shore, an American Autistic professor of special education,If you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism. Don’t compare one autistic person to another; every single one of us is different.
Autism is a spectrum. Think of it like a wheel with different symptoms radiating out, any autistic person could be anywhere on that circle in a number of different places. Though some autistic people will need a lot more support than others, it is not a sliding scale of most affected to least affected. It’s much more varied than that. Regardless, understanding and compassion is paramount to acceptance as a society and for us to accept ourselves. Being different is hard for anyone, but we are just as important in society as anyone else.
It’s been a revelation to accept myself for who I am, and to understand who I am. I now know I don’t need to fit in, I don’t need to belong, because, in my own way, I already do.
The potential of those of us on the autism spectrum is unlimited – just like with everyone else – Dr Stephen Shore
I’m passionate about looking after your mental and emotional health and today, October 10th 2022, is #WorldMentalHealthDay and it’s important to talk about it.
I haven’t blogged for a while, I was busy writing, editing, procrastinating – a lot – and struggling with a both new meds, and a new puppy… the puppy is gorgeous and not really a struggle, but she is hard work, lol!
So, I thought I’d break cover and share what helps me look after my mental health.
I’m autistic and, along with many other physical health issues, I’ve suffered with anxiety and panic disorder, suicidal ideation, self-harm, ARFID, and intrusive thoughts. It feels vulnerable to list them like that, but removing the stigma of mental health issues and being able to talk about them is imperative.
I was misdiagnosed for decades, but also received some excellent counselling by some lovely counsellors, along with the odd iffy one.
I’ve gone through many medications, some that worked some that didn’t. Antidepressants were a first option for many GP’s, but most just masked my autistic burnout, which wasn’t diagnosed until I was fifty.
Two that have and are working for me are Propranolol, a beta blocker, which helped prevent panic attacks and anxiety.
And Venlafaxine, an antidepressant which is geared towards anxiety. Venlafaxine has finally given me ease in my life and makes me feel more ‘normal’ than I have done in decades.
It’s important to accept that meds can really help mental health and can become a very effective treatment in your life, and there should be no shame in that. I’m happy to remain on Venlafaxine for the long term if I can.
Other things that help me are in the photos… I carry acorn cups with me everywhere, they are in all my pockets and bags! I smooth my thumb inside them to keep me grounded and to help prevent overwhelm. I need the sensory interaction. I use lots of sensory aids, soft toys to hug and stroke, a wooden carved acorn, conkers, palm stones, and more to hold and smooth in my hands.
I wear a sunflower lanyard if I feel overwhelmed or panicky, on that lanyard I have a soft squirrel, my wooden acorn, a description of my issues, and my Loop ear plugs. Ear plugs are a huge help in public places where it’s too noisy and they help to prevent meltdowns.
Nature is a big help to me, getting outside into the forest or down by the sea can calm and ground me. Searching for acorns, conkers, leaves, shells, sea glass, and pebbles will always make me happy. Dog walking is a life saver!
Pets are a great influence, stroking an animal is known to reduce mental health issues and to help us feel happy. Looking into a dog’s eyes can give you the same feeling as falling in love!
I also use writing, reading, painting, making crystal grids and other creative pursuits for time to escape reality, to meditate, and be mindful.
And lastly, treat yourself… my go to treats are chocolate and hot chocolate… even when you don’t feel worth anything, a bar of chocolate, a box of chocolates, or a hot chocolate topped with cream can make you feel much better!
If you’re struggling, and many of us are right now, see your GP. I know how difficult it is. I know how it feels to not feel worthy to take up space on a waiting list for counselling, but do it. Mental health help is getting better, slowly, but it is. Understanding and compassion is getting better, and more people are accepting and working to understand how those with mental health issues feel. There may be a wait for help, but take that first step, you truly are worth it.
At first, I called this post Rediscoveringmy Authenticity, but that quickly switched to Recoveringmy Authenticity. To learn how to be myself and to be able to live authentically I had to recovermyself. I had to recover what had been lost.
When I was a young child I knew who I was. I delighted in bluebells, fairies, snapping pea pods, dragonflies, curling up with a book, climbing trees, drawing, swinging as high as I could on the garden swing, but very quickly those simple pleasures faded as I concentrated on fitting in, being conformed, and moulded into what other people wanted me to be.
As an already world and trauma weary seventeen-year-old, I once wrote: ‘I’ll open my heart and show you inside, but don’t let me know what you’ve seen. I want to be everything everyone wants me to be, but I’m not sure I know how. I don’t even know how to be me…’ (Sept 1989)
I spent my childhood being groomed into an overly conscientious teen, bombarded with responsibility and emotional pressure, with a built-in inability to rebel. I spent my twenties trying to be perfect in a world where perfection is unattainable. In my thirties I broke down, but that didn’t stop the internalised and external burdens, and in my forties I began to say no, to question blind obedience, and to realise just how important it is to be exactly who I am. To be who I was born to be.
Now, thirty-two years later, I know exactly how to be me.
It takes great courage to be who you are, to stop masking in a society that wants you to behave in their chosen acceptable ways, to reject conditioning – both social and in a faith setting, to step away from that narrow path and live life, to embrace who you intrinsically always were, are, and want to be.
I could lament many things, and some I will, but, as half a century creeps up on me, I’m learning that life is too short to waste. Life really is about bluebells, dragons, good food, curling up with a book, climbing trees, painting, losing myself in the other worlds that I write, and swinging as high as I can on a park swing! It’s also about stars and the moon, acorns and acorn cups, and dreams. It’s about gems and crystals, mindfulness and crystal grids, magic, and dusky roses. It’s about Coldbackie beach and Greenwich Park, animals, and running with wolves. It’s about walking through forests, splashing through oceans, and standing on mountains. It’s about fighting for equality, for mental health, for loving those you love. And it’s about knowing who you are and being exactly that person, with no apologies, no resentment, and never needing anyone’s permission to be you.
I’ve recovered the little girl who believed in magic, who thought dragonflies were really baby dragons, and who wandered through bluebell woods looking for fairies. Irescued the child who didn’t need to be perfect, who didn’t even think about her flaws, and loved who she was. That child no longer needs perfection; she doesn’t want to conform, she wants to rebel, and she can! She can see the world as it is and be sad, but also hopeful. She can walk through mossy forests and see Mother Nature smiling back at her. She can gaze at the stars and know that she can reach them in so many ways. I can be exactly who I want to be, because I know how to be me.
Life is not easy, and even with all the support and love in the world sometimes you need extra help. Counselling can be a great place to start, and this is my journey.
I was a shy child, but the word shy was a misnomer for severe anxiety, panic, trauma, and low self-confidence. By fourteen, I also had an eating disorder and was self-harming. At eighteen, undergoing a breakdown, I finally asked for help, approaching the first female GP I’d had and sharing historic information which my mother hadn’t been able to cope with. My doctor was compassionate and sent me to a psychiatrist. He failed to ask or listen to anything, prescribed the antidepressant, Fluvoxamine, and sent me to a group counselling program.
Group counselling for an eighteen-year-old with huge social anxiety was a bad move. I sat among drug addicts and people with serious mental illnesses and made myself as small as I could. I did not say a word and didn’t return after two sessions. Nine months of antidepressants numbed me through the breakdown. I limped through my twenties, married and raised children, had a bout of post-natal depression, and pushed through with little recognition and without any attempt to ask for help.
I was thirty-three (2004) when I was sexually assaulted and the earlier undealtwithassault resurfaced. During this breakdown my husband, desperate to help, intervened and I saw another psychiatrist, but this one was a family friend and he listened. I took Escitalopram, and was referred to a private sexual health and abuse counsellor. She was amazing and took me back through my childhood and relationships. Through talking we worked through the assaults and I began to see myself differently, and to take back control of my life and who I was. She showed me that I was more than the sum of what had happened to me, that I deserved more, and that I was safe. I began to learn my own worth and how to overcome my demons. She helped me to conquer them by turning the perpetrators into sad pathetic creatures. After six months of counselling I felt much more in control and much happier. I wish I’d been able to find counselling on the NHS but it had taken private counselling and financial aid through my church to help.
Life moved easily with the heaviness lifted for several years then overwhelm and anxiety kicked in again, and in 2010 and 2011 I took six month courses of antidepressants, Cipralex and Citalopram, and in 2014, Amitriptyline, which was to combat anxiety and panic rather than depression, and I was sent on an Anxiety/Depression CBT course by my GP, who told me I’d need to do that before any one-to-one counselling could be offered on the NHS.
It turned out to be a group course, six or eight sessions, watching two hours of slides teaching about depression and anxiety. The two mental health nurses lecturing were lovely, and I can’t fault the information, but for me, someone who’d intensively researched both subjects, it was information I was already fully aware of. I used it as a reminder and tried to put it into action, but without one-to-one mentoring let’s say, I found it difficult. I knew all about anxiety and depression but was unable to put basics into action on my own. It was over ten years since my successful counselling and I now struggled to be able to put ideas and theories into action without dealing again with core issues and triggers.
In 2016, after a lovely day but a brutal year, I found myself at 2am standing on a local bridge wanting to finish everything. I’d been battling suicidal ideation for years and years, along with self-harm, panic, and anxiety. I was prescribed Sertraline, yet another antidepressant, by my GP and put on a counselling waiting list.
I was full of tears, panic, and overwhelm, unable to vocalise or help myself. I paid and saw a private counsellor (through my church) who listened to what I’d been going through over many years. She showed a desire to help and validated the pain and overwhelm that I felt. I’d tried asking my church for financial aid to get counselling, but been turned down, however the attempt on my life changed that, and we got financial aid to see another private counsellor closer to home through church social services.
Seeing a counsellor whilst on antidepressants is always weird for me. It feels difficult to be authentic because medication balances and numbs, so I was worried she wouldn’t see the real me through the deception of meds. I felt I would look too normal, undeserving of counselling, and she wouldn’t see my inner turmoil. However, I felt really comfortable with her, she made me feel understood and validated, and it felt like spending time with a friend. I looked forward to my weekly sessions.
We talked about my trauma, family, the difficulties life threw at us, and I learned ways to ground myself, to cope with my sensory issues, and ways to try and deal with my self-harm. I talked a lot about my family and how deeply my emotions were interwoven with their needs, more so than my own. We looked at anxiety and how to deal with it, we used mindfulness, meditation, ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and she helped me talk about my fears, concerns, and anxieties. After six months I felt much more secure within myself and we stopped counselling, but have become friends.
This period had been positive and taught me a lot. I used grounding and sensorytools to help cope with anxiety and had an ACT textbook which I could work through. This began a much happier time in my life.
I was offered counselling through the NHS whilst receiving private counselling, but I had to turn it down due to a conflict of interest, it would be unethical to see two therapists at the same time, and I felt I was doing well with my counsellor.
Two years later, and due to a resurfacing of trauma, I was struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, self-harm, and intrusive thoughts again. My doctor prescribed Duloxetine, trying a SNRI antidepressant rather than the usual SRRI, as I wanted to avoid feeling like a zombie. Duloxetine wasn’t for me after I’d spent two days vomiting. I tried Propranolol, a beta-blocker, to deal with anxiety attacks, which worked in the moment. I turned down antidepressants, this time I didn’t want to stop feeling, I didn’t want to be numb anymore, I wanted counselling, something concrete, something to continue to teach me how to deal with my anxiety and issues. I wanted to learn rather than just cope or mask. I was offered another self-referral to my local NHS counselling service.
As I tried to cope with huge anxieties and panic, overwhelm and sensory issues, my daughter who was on the ASD waiting list (She was later diagnosed with ASD) asked whether I thought I might have Autism too. Another visit to my GP and he placed me on the assessment waiting list after agreeing that it was a likely possibility.
Whilst waiting for referrals I began going to a local pottery class for carers and those with mental and emotional health problems. Art therapy offered relief that inspired, calmed me, and spoke to my inner creative. It was a huge release each week, somewhere I could go and not be disturbed, and lose myself in creativity.
Finally, after nine months of numerous panic attacks and anxiety, at the end of 2018, I got six weeks of counselling through the NHS. My counsellor was nice, quiet, calm, relaxed, and friendly, but the weekly sessions held in a hospital room were clinical and one way. I talked and shared, but the counsellor didn’t respond much. It was ambiguous. She asked about me, what I’d done in the week, and how I felt, but didn’t offer much in the way of advice – or counsel. I felt very frustrated that again the answers were things I already knew, but didn’t know how to initiate in my life. I left feeling more frustrated than before counselling.
I got more help from friends online who shared their experiences with me, and I learned that I was catastrophising, and their encouragement pushed me to ask for further help. I knew from my counsellor that I needed to reprogram my brain, to create new neural pathways, but I had no idea how to do it, and she wasn’t forthcoming.
I asked my GP to refer me for CBT, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, because I had no idea how to change my problems with sensory issues, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and catastrophising. Three months later I saw a Primary Mental Health Care Worker/Assessor who listened intently and agreed that CBT might be a good fit for me. She referred me on.
October, four months later, I had an assessment at Psychological Integrated Therapies Services and saw a Mental Health Provider. He listened but kept correcting me, telling me I wasn’t having realpanic attacks, I was only having anxiety attacks, and downplayed my intrusive thoughts and suicidal ideation saying it was perfectly normal… a part of life for the average person. He told me I had Generalised Anxiety Disorder, something I’d been painfully aware of for about thirty years. I felt embarrassed and small after the assessment, but none of that measured how bad I felt when one week later I got a letter informing me Psychological Therapies couldn’t offer me anything because I did not have a diagnosed mental health illness. It felt like a kick in the teeth from somewhere that I’d felt was my last port of call. I actually phoned the department and they apologised, but told me I’d be fine, and that they had no funding to treat anyone without a mental health diagnosis. I wondered if depression, generalised anxiety disorder, self-harm, etc were just not counted as mental health disorders? I felt invalidated and despairing.
At the tail end of 2019 I wept with my doctor and she agreed to refer me again for counselling after seeing if there were options beyond the NHS six week sessions. I waited. Then in 2020Covid19 hit us and we all went into lockdown. It was October, almost a year after referral, that I got an assessment for New Pathways, a charity run counselling service, via the NHS, and they offered me three options: one-to-one counselling, a support worker, or group therapy. I chose one-to-one counselling and asked for it to include help dealing with sexual assault, anxiety, and methods to cope. Two weeks later I began counselling via Zoom.
I began this new course with trepidation caused mainly by having to use Zoom, but my new counsellor was proactive and friendly, beginning by getting to know me and finding out what my worries were. I was agitated, tearful, nervous, shaky, and scared to be myself, but I was also keen to make the most of whatever I was offered. You don’t wait for years and years and then sit back and expect counselling to work without putting in the effort.
It was emotionally overwhelming to talk about my feelings of trauma, responsibility, feeling neglected and consequently overcompensating with my own family. We discussed my avoidance tactic, something I’d never recognised before, and I realised that when she asked me pointed questions I always deflected. I suddenly started to see myself differently as my counsellor gently coaxed me into talking about myself and not everyone but myself. It was uncomfortable to talk about me, and slowly I opened up. It was a symptom of putting myself last for almost my entire life while I checked that everyone else was okay.
This was emotional and frightening. Pushing myself forward was something I wasn’t used to and talking about what I felt was overwhelming. Instead of talking about how I thought everyone else felt, I talked about how I felt. Then we dug into my past. I’d dealt with these issues way back when I was thirty-three and I thought I’d put them in a box and sealed it up, now at forty-nine these demons had risen again. We worked with art and word association, talked about grounding and techniques for my anxiety toolbox.
We concentrated more on my overcompensating with my children, and how feeling that my needs hadn’t been met as a child meant I felt an urge to fulfil every need and whim to an unhealthy extent. We also talked about how mine and my children’s emotional and mental health needs had been let down by the health service and schools, and how that had framed my anxiety and panic responses. I realised that the trauma and neglect had become an anchor to me, a metaphor I understood and was able to work with. I felt constantly burdened with responsibility to take care of everyone’s emotional state and an inability to let go, care for myself, and do my own thing. My counsellor asked me to go away and make a piece of art representing the anchor, to be as free as I wanted with the idea and see what happened.
Art is my thing and I don’t go into it lightly… It had been a difficult week and I shut myself away with my watercolours. I sketched and used masking fluid (experimenting for the first time) and allowed myself to disappear into the ocean, creating a wash of sea blue, and pooling and flicking blues, indigo, green, pink, and purple across the wet paper. The next day after it dried, I rubbed off the masking fluid and painted the anchor and its chain. I coated it with peridot algae and flicked white bubbles.
Using art is a way to break through barriers and walls, and it showed me much about myself. I’ve been anchored in trauma and anxiety and the weight is heavy, and that weight has held me back. I have a tendency toward the aesthetic and beauty, even if it’s painful to bear, maybe that’s a martyr response? I’ve tried to lift the anchor in the painting to give a sense of movement, which could be a positive step, but the chains are still heavy and oversized for the anchor they carry. I called it Let It Go, and I hope I can.
I emailed the painting to my counsellor and I think she was surprised at the piece, the work that had gone into it, the new technique I’d used when I hate change, and the free flow and movement, and the colours that echoed hope and positivity. I shared it online with my friends and got a mass of interpretations, all of which were insightful and emotional to me. Art is very therapeutic and can translate what you feel so well, allowing you not only a catharsis but a way to try and analyse your feelings.
I concentrated hard on trying to channel what I’d learned in therapy, I couldn’t bear the thought of wasting the very resources I’d waited so long to use. New Pathways relies on charity and government grants. I’d waited a year for my twelve sessions and I was going to do damn near everything I could to appreciate and respect the time and words shared with me by my counsellor, and to transfer what I learned to my life.
My counsellor noticed the change in me as we met each week, and my family have too. My confidence and happiness have grown. My understanding of myself, my trauma, and my life became clearer to me, and my desire to change and embrace it got stronger every week. After a two week break at Christmas I worried I felt reliant on my sessions, but I quickly realised that changes I hadn’t noticed in myself, had actually happened. I knew that I could finally give myself permission to be myself. The blog posts I’ve written in the past show the importance I place on being yourself, being authentically you, but giving myself permission to practise what I preached had never been easy. It will still be a work in progress, but it’s one I’m now actively living.
I have a healthier outlook, more coping strategies and tools, I am overcoming my insecurities and learned behaviours to be able to see my own worth. I am leaving the unconscious behind and moving forward with conscious decisions for the future.
My message is this. Keep on. Don’t give up. Sometimes you won’t be offered what you need, and you’ll plough through help that doesn’t help, but sometimes you’ll find what you need and it can change your life. I have had three amazing counsellors in my life, who have been there when I needed them and they’ve each helped me change my life for the better.
I am under no illusion, I know I will continue to suffer anxiety and many issues, but I am better equipped to deal with it now, and for that I am grateful to my family (who learn with me) and to every professional counsellor who has given me their valuable time and expertise.
October 10th is World Mental Health Day, and 2020 needs one. Twenty-twenty has been a year like no other, and with years since 2016 getting progressively more difficult, this one really took the proverbial biscuit. Our state of mind and mental health is paramount, and sometimes all you can do is look after yourself.
Mindpoints out: According to our research, with over 16,000 people, we know that more than half of adults (60%) and over two thirds of young people (68%) said their mental health got worse during lockdown. We know that many have developed new mental health problems as a result of the pandemic and, for some of us, existing mental health problems have gotten worse.
Personally, lockdown was a relief, a moment out of time when my mental health thrived. Staying at home, going out only for necessities and spending time in natureworked wonders on my emotional state. It’s the mixture of chaotic messages, ideas, rules, hypocrisy, and out of control official governmental plans since lockdown ended that have wrecked my mental health.
I suffer with severe anxiety and panic, depression, self-harm and self-destructive behaviour including dermatillomania and eating disorder, and I’m waiting ASD assessment. I live for routine, so any changes are difficult to deal with. When supermarkets introduced one-way systems, masks, social distancing, queues to get in, I took my daughter with me for support. Panic rose every time I went for the first few weeks, with panic attacks inside the shop, and even outside when I was asked why there was more than one person shopping for my household. I will add that Tesco was very supportive when I explained my daughter helping, plus I was also shopping for my elderly father who was shielding. Once I’d got used to it, I then struggled when restrictions were lessened.
I had problems wearing a mask to begin with. Sensory issues meant that anything covering my mouth created an unbearable urge to panic. I had to retrain my mind to accept that wearing a mask was a protection for me, and when I added that to my fear of contracting Covid19, and practising wearing a mask, bit-by-bit at home, I was able to wear one.
There are other problems, this year has been especially generous with complications and troubles, but I won’t dwell on them. This year has left many with heightened anxiety, depression, stresses and much more.
So, how do you deal with it?How do you deal with emotional exhaustion, both mental health related and in normal life – because nothing has been normal this year.
This is what I posted yesterday:
Autistic shutdown is often caused by emotional and/or physical overload, meltdown, overwhelm, change, and other situations that become too much. It’s like having a dead battery. Many people, neurodivergent and neurotypical, can experience the sensation of being utterly spent, a lack of spoons(Spoon TheorybyChristine Miserandino), and emotional exhaustion. Sometimes you have to give in to it. You can watch circumstances overtake you, your battery runs on emergency, and you desperatelyclaw at the edges of the cliff you’re clinging to. Sometimes, if you’re not careful, you fall.
What can you do?
Take it easy. Take it one step at a time. Rest, Sleep, and allow yourself to recharge. You might bounce back quickly – a nap might be all you need – but you might need time to readjust, reassess your position, and small steps are fine.
I washed my hair and felt stronger, but aside from eating chocolate, yes, that counts, I didn’t do much until my brain had quietened and I’d been able to shut out some of the things that were shouting at me.
Words of encouragement help, and here I will link an article I read the other day which made me cry because it was so true. This is How You Love Someone With Anxietyby Kirsten Corely. You can’t ever say “It’s okay,” too much, we answer texts immediately and panic if our texts go unanswered, we read too much into everything, and if it all gets too much, and it often does, we need to be held and be told “It’s okay.” Being hugged by someone who loves you can cure or help the worst things you fear. Real life hugs and virtual hugs are important. Your family can be your biggest support.
Nature is my saviour. When things get too much I get out. I have a dog, Kira, who has severe panic and anxiety, and cannot be walked near people or other dogs, so we go to the forest. I am blessed to live close to Brechfa Forest and there are multiple trails through woods and forest that we can take Kira without seeing anyone. This is a life saver, both for me and for Kira. When Kira’s walked locally by the road on pavement, she’s hyper-alert, aggressive, and full of panic – it’s not fun for anyone. Even a local dog trainer who trains guard dogs, admitted defeat with Kira, she’s a damaged rescue, who has only known real love from a few people in her life. In us, she’s found trust and unconditional love and her mental health thrives in our home. In the forests she is in her element and becomes a soft-natured, fun-loving, relaxed and adventurous pup. And that’s how nature works for me too.
This year, with its trials, has taught us some of the most importantthings that life has to offer, and family and nature seem to top that for me. My friend Jessica Maybury wrote this piece The Greatest Travel Adventure Of 2020 and it resonates with me. Get out and see where you are. Since first having a dog, twelve years ago now, we’ve explored locally, and it’s a revelation. I haven’t discovered many new places this year, but it’s been a relief to know my locality and where I can go for peace. Go explore!
Sometimes medication can be the best help. Go and see your GP and get professional advice, there’s a place for medication, and there should be no stigma around taking meds that help you. No one blinks an eyelid when someone takes medication for diabetes or heart disease, or medication for thyroid issues because your thyroid is not producing what it should. Mental health issues arise because your brain isn’t doing or producing what it should and sometimes medication can put that right. I have taken antidepressants for periods on and off throughout my life, and I currently take medication for my anxiety attacks.
The same goes for getting diagnosed with any mental health or other condition you might have. It’s tough to get a mental health diagnosis these days, the NHS is severely underfunded and many resources are difficult to get, but please fight for them. I’m about to begin counselling and hope it’ll give me some relief. My adult daughter received her Autism diagnosis just two months ago, after a 30 month waiting list and many years being let down by child and adolescent mental health services in her teens. The resulting diagnosis was definite and a huge relief. Validation can go a long way to finding peace or at least coming to terms with who you are.
And, perhaps, that’s the most important thing, coming to terms with who you are and what your needs are. You are you, and you’re enough whether you are in perfect health, or whether you have physical or mental health issues. Find what works for you, find support, and I hope you find what you need.
What helps you when life gets too much? How do you recharge? I wish you all peace of mind in these tough years.
I can only connect deeply or not at all – Anaïs Nin
Sometimes you notice how intensely you feel everything,
you notice the small things: dust motes dancing in the light cast across your path,
a smile on the lips of a passing stranger,
or the depth of emotion that overwhelms you in the heat of a moment.
These are things the average person embraces momentarily,
but what if your brain records all of this all of the time, what if you feel too much?
I feel everything, all of the time.
I’ve always felt too much, engulfed by the emotions I experience.
My heart has loved with depth unknown, and has before shattered into pieces of glass that pierce to the centre of my being, and then been gently mended again. I have wept for the world in the midnight hour as pain, fear, and trauma has consumed me. When I see suffering and injustice I have carried the world in my hands. I have almost drowned when confronted with my own innocence and naivety. I’ve hugged so hard I could feel hearts beating.
I’ve had to galvanise my heart, armouring it against those who show indifference and ignorance, and burning hot rage has raced through my blood when people hurt each other. I have been sick to my stomach with turmoil and anxiety. I’ve discovered magic in my soul, shimmering like stars, and the power to rise when emptiness threatened to finish me. And I have felt passion and triumph and love for every atom dancing about my universe.
Imagine being immersed so deep within your emotions all the time. Whatever you feel is always heightened by the chemicals swirling within your brain and through your system, and there’s nothing you can do to quiet it.
I’ve tried meditation, but despite every trick people offer, I cannot empty my mind. Perhaps the closest I’ve ever come to being able to quiet my mind is simply to stare at clouds, and watch the shapes they make as they sail across the sky, but even then my mind will wander and trail into something new. I try to deal with overwhelm by writing or painting. Writing lets me escape into another world, one that exists solely in my own head and one that I have relative control over. I think that’s one reason why fantasy and fiction live so easily in my head. My imagination can soar and those emotions can be put to good use.
Art is another therapy, lending itself to engaging my mind in media that is malleable and flexible. Sculpting in clay, painting with brushstrokes, and pencil marks on the page soak up emotion and create an outlet. I’ve been making crystal grids lately, both to harness the energy of stones and to create something beautiful in the moment. I find mindfulness very difficult, so when I have creative moments I like to turn my creativity to things that soothe or reignite me.
I’ve written before about HSP, the Highly Sensitive Person. Those who are highly sensitive can feel moods and emotions easily, and can read people well. They’re conscious to the needs of others and this sensitivity encompasses being an Empath, a Light-worker, someone who feels so deeply they can’t escape the emotions swirling about in the ether. Being an Empath can be incredibly rewarding, but also extremely draining. Feeling everything is as problematic as it is amazing.
These last few weeks, and currently, I’m both full of emotion and utterly spent at the same time.
When I walk into a room, emotions overwhelm me from every corner. I can feel heartbreak, joy, happiness, anger, resentment, love, friendship, and insincerity simmering. It literally swamps me like suffocating hot air does when you walk into a greenhouse on a summer’s day, or like drowning in a humid creek. It can be difficult when you talk with someone who doesn’t like you, and you can feel it intrinsically, but also so beautiful when someone’s genuine love for you blazes from their very being like fire.
Emotions cut to the soul which is why many of us who feel too much are natural empaths. I remember standing behind a woman in a supermarket queue and her emotions brought me to tears. I could literally feel her sadness engulf me and the impotence of being unable to help was paralysing. Sometimes I’ve spoken to people and helped, but sometimes the empath can also feel barriers and the inability to help can be painful. Overwhelming doesn’t even cover it.
To counter the sheer depth of feeling so much, I often retreat. I walk through the forest and I feel the trees, their ancient wisdom pulsing through my pores as the breeze swishes through the canopy. I feel the electricity in the air as gales pick up on mountainsides, and on the beach I feel the breath of the sea and the sonorous pounding of the waves crashing right over my soul. Nature is my solace.
We must open up to the emotion and intuition we feel, and let them teach us. After all, Emotions are the language of the soul (Karla Mclaren) and when we can truly express our souls then we are on the right path. We don’t have to understand all our emotions, but we do need to embrace them, as someone* once said – Not every feeling has to have a label. Not every relationship has to be named. Some emotions aren’t meant to be understood, they’re just meant to be felt.
I feel too much, but that’s okay. I’d rather feel too much than not feel at all. My reactions, emotions, intuition, and instinct might hurt at times, but they also give deeper meaning to life, better perceptions and awareness, more sensitivity, and more compassionate insight. I know myself clearly and fully, and can put myself in the place of others to better understand them. Our feelings are who we are and when we embrace them, we become better people.
Emotion is more powerful than reason.
Emotion is the driving force behind thinking and reasoning.
Emotional intelligence increases the mind’s ability
to make positive, brilliant decisions – Dr T. P. Chia
*this quote has several names attributed to it, and I currently cannot find a reliable source to attribute accurately.
‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass’
summarised from a letter Anton Chekhov wrote to his brother,
this quote has resonated with not only my writing style,
but also with my love of the Moon.
The moon is paramount in The Seren Stone Chronicles and appears in different phases and forms within all three books. It’s been an inspiration to me since I was small and used to gaze up at the sky and imagine reaching for the silver globe… La Luna has been the muse for many a poet and writer and will continue to stir the soul while she sits and guards our night sky.
The full moon occurs every twenty-nine and a half days, so every few years there are thirteen full moons, this extra full moon – the second in one month – is known as a blue moon, hence the phrase once in a blue moon. As the moon’s cycle is over twenty-eight days, every nineteenyears we’ll have a February with no full moon, known as a black moon.
I’m rather fascinated by the names of moons, and each month has a name given by the ancients to describe the manner of plants, animals, and weather during that phase.
I am equally inspired by the names given to moons that orbit our planets… All my Amaranthdragons are named after moons or myths associated with the moon. It left me with a bit of a problem when I finished rewriting my final novel in the series. A dragon named Sedna had to be renamed, because Sedna in the early 2000’s was thought to be a moon connected to the planet *Pluto, but Pluto’s demotion to a dwarf planet in 2006 meant Sedna then became a dwarf planet too instead of a moon. *Note: Pluto will always be a planet to me…
Did you know that Mercury and Venus have no moons? Earth has just one: Luna. Mars has two called Deimos and Phobos. Jupiter, on the other hand, has seventy-nine moons; her biggest are named Io,Callisto, Europa, and Ganymede. Ganymede is the largest moon in our solar system, larger than the planet Mercury. Europa also appears to be the best suited to finding an environment which could support life within our solar system beyond our earth. These four moons are spherical, but Jupiter’s other moons are generally rough shaped pieces of rock.
Titan is Saturn’s largest moon, she has sixty-two moons, and Titan even has its own atmosphere. Titan is huge in comparison with Saturn’s other moons, and a theory believes there may have only been two moons but one broke up possibly creating Saturn’s rings and inner moons. Saturn’s moon Mimas is its most cratered and the Herschel crater gives it a Death Star look!
Uranus has twenty-seven moons which are named after Shakespearian characters: Titania, Oberon, Umbriel, Ariel, Miranda…and more. Neptune has fourteen moons and its moon Triton is as big as Pluto.
I love how Shakespeare has influenced the naming of moons! So many names are associated with our own moon. The Roman’s know Luna as Diana and Juno. Artemis, Aphrodite, Selene, and Hera are Greek Goddesses, Egyptian association with Isis, Hathor, and Seshat. She is known as Sedna by the Inuits, and Shing Moon by the Chinese, and the Celts named her Morgana.
I have a gorgeous teeny tiny book on the moon, which sheds light on this celestial object. This quote from the little book echoes my own romanticism of the moon: The sun pours the light of consciousness over the world; the moon reflects the opposite: the dark of the unconscious. Such a beautiful and evocative proclamation which completely echoes my own sentiments.
Countless myths and legends are associated with the moon giving it an enigmatic and mystical aura, which draws us to moon gaze and contemplate. I love standing beneath it, watching and leaving the world behind.
Recently I had my first chance to watch a lunar eclipse in a clear sky. I’d researched eclipses just the day before, for the close of my trilogy, and on 21st January I set my alarm. At 11.30pm when I‘d retired for the night, the wolf moon had glistened large, a super moon close to the earth, in glorious light, and now at 4.30am it shone as a sliver, a bright crescent as the shadow of the earth moved across its surface. Within minutes the shard disappeared and the moon shone as a whole as totality swathed it deep rust red. It wasn’t long before it disappeared behind trees, but the sight of the lunar eclipse will remain with me as one of the wonders of nature.
The moon is vital to the health of our planet – it rules the tides, and due to its gravitational power must have a subliminal affect over our lives too. We are made up of a high percentage of water ourselves, and where the moon influences the earth’s oceans, it’s scientifically likely it influences us and our moods too. It is said it influences poetry, emotions, intuition, energy, rain, reflections, meditations, memory, healing, plant life, farming, weather, and time.
The moon, waxing and waning, evokes reverence and wonderment.
How does the moon affect or inspire you?
What do you love about the moon?
I’ve suffered panic attacks since I was very young
and it’s taken society a long time to understand them.
How do you deal with panic and acute anxiety?
I wrote a status the other day, on FB, which described a burgeoning panic attack . Sometimes someone’s description can be an ideal opportunity to learn about panic and how it affects our lives.
Panic attacks are violent, and often out of character, reactions to stress and anxiety, sometimes they’re triggered and sometimes they appear out of the blue and for no reason at all. It’s a fear response that our bodies exaggerate when it’s unnecessary.
The physical symptoms can be so bad people can believe they’re having a heart attack. Your heart races, your breathing becomes shallow, you feel faint, shaky, sweaty, fearful, anxious, dizzy, light-headed, sick and nauseous. You can get cramps, abdominal pain, chest pain, and you can become totally dissociative or disconnected. Things around you become unreal.
Your flight, fight, or freeze response kicks in and – boom – you’re in the middle of a panic attack. They can last anywhere from five minutes to up to an hour. The residue from the attack can last all day, or all week, and it can trigger further attacks. You might only have one every now and then or they can be regular.
Learning to live with them or with someone who suffers from them can be difficult, but as always with mental health issues – education, understanding, and compassion are crucial. Once you have discovered the best way to deal with them life can return to something similar to normal.
In Beneath the Old OakI cover anxiety, depression, and panic. Meg suffers chronic anxiety and at only fourteen she has to deal with the erratic behaviour of her mother – which includes panic attacks and disturbing moods.
In this excerpt Meg is reluctantly out shoe shopping with her mother and a brewing panic attack (you’ll notice cues for her rising panic like shredding the receipt in her fingers as she waits, how hot she feels, her impatience, and tears):
““Excuse me?” Meg’s mum waved the black trainer at the sales-boy over the child’s head. “Could we please try these in a four?”
He nodded, adding the trainer to his teetering pile of boxes. As he disappeared Mum glared at the whining child as his mother tried to prise the football boot from his grasp. Mum glanced at her watch and pulled an old receipt out of her pocket. She stared in the direction of the stockroom and began tearing the receipt into thin strips.
Meg sidled up to her mother as the boy’s mum finally wrested the boot from him, returned it to the shelf and dragged him away, his complaints still echoing. Mum ignored her daughter’s grin. “He’s going to be a real brat one day. Ah, here are yours.”
Meg noted the single trainer in the sale-boy’s hand. “I’m sorry,” he said, “only got these in a three and then a seven, sold out.”
“That’s a vast difference in sizes, no others in stock? This is a shoe shop isn’t it?” The receipt in Mum’s hand turned into confetti.
“It’s okay Mum. I like these too…” Meg grabbed two random trainers off the wall. “Can I try these instead? Size four.”
He nodded and disappeared.
“It’s hot in here.” Mum unbuttoned her coat.
“Mum…” Meg gently tugged her elbow.
“What?” Mum sounded annoyed then realised two lads were trying to get past. She stepped back and knocked into a tall pile of shoe-boxes. Meg just managed to grab the top one as it toppled and stopped the rest from slipping. “And there’s no space!”
“Mum, why don’t you sit down?”
“That’s for people trying on shoes. How long is he going to be? I told you it would be busy.”
Meg hoped he would be quick.
He returned with two boxes. “These are a five, haven’t got a four, but these are fours.”
Meg took the boxes. “I’ll try them, thanks.”
Another customer grabbed the sales-boy as Meg tried the trainers.
“So?” asked her mother.
“Too big, they’re slipping.” Meg handed her the trainers.
“Stupid boxes…” Mum groaned as she tried to fit the bulky shoes into the tight box.
“Here, like this.” Meg replaced them and slipped her feet into the other pair.
“The right size?”
“Try walking in them.”
“I am.” Meg walked up and down the narrow path through mountains of boxes and footwear. Meg frowned, deciding whether to choose a pair she didn’t like just to get Mum out of the shop. “No, they’re pinching my little toes.” She was the one who’d be stuck wearing them.
Mum sighed. “Okay.”
“Let’s leave it, come back another day?” suggested Meg.
“No, you need trainers, we’re getting trainers.”
Meg’s sigh matched her mother’s as she pulled off the shoes. She left her mum to pack them away and moved, in her socked feet, back to the display. Not a moment later she heard a frustrated grunt and a trainer flew past her ear. It rebounded on the wall and knocked three shoes to the ground. Meg ducked and twirled round. Her mother stood, red-faced and furious.
“Damn shoe boxes!” she cried. “Nothing fits in them!”
Shocked, Meg picked up the offending shoe, moved back to her mum and put her hand on her arm. Her mother flipped her hand away. “Just leave them and I’ll do it. It’s fine!” Meg knelt and put the shoes in the box. She glanced up at Mum. Fire flashed and irritation simmered and she was oblivious to the stares from other customers.
“And it’s too hot! We come in wearing coats, because it’s winter, why do they make it so hot?” Mum trembled, her fists clenching and unclenching at her side.
Meg barely zipped up her own boots before ushering her mother out of the store.
“But you need shoes!”
“Not this much!” Meg shook her head. “Dad can drop me down later.”
She took her mum’s arm and led her to the car.
“I’ve let you down! I’m useless. I promised I’d never let you down…” wailed Mum.
“It doesn’t matter,” insisted Meg.
“It does! I promised I’d never let you down, because my mum always let me down!” Within moments Mum’s aggressive stance switched to the frustration of a child, and tears streamed down her cheeks. Meg, on the other hand, turned the tables to comfort her mother, something she was becoming far too familiar with.”
Panic attacks can often be misconstrued for aggression, shyness, anxiety, arrogance, and much more. Meg learns to deal with her mother’s panic as her behaviour becomes increasingly erratic. It’s difficult to live with panic and with someone else who suffers from a panic disorder.
I know I’ve often felt guilty for having a panic disorder as it’s not something you want your children to have to deal with. The above scenario at the shoe shop is one my children can relate to. I can easily tell you that shopping for shoes is one of my least favourite activities I ever had to do with my children. Shoes are expensive, they wear out fast, feet grow too fast, and children are both indecisive and picky. My youngest, in particular, would um and ah, and be unable to choose a suitable shoe. It’s a stressful enough activity for a parent with social inhibitions let alone with three children in tow.
We arrived at Clarks, the final shoe shop in town, as a last resort, due to their expensive shoes and how busy they always were. The ‘take a ticket’ queue system in a stuffy, upstairs shop was challenging enough, as were the price tickets. Finally, after waiting for what seemed like forever we were trying on shoes. I had an on sale shoe in mind, my child did not… and I felt my body prickle and electricity charged the air. I knew what was happening and my priority was to make a sale and get out of the shop as soon as possible.
The shoe we wanted was not the exact shoe size for which the assistant had measured my child, half a size bigger, but cheap and on sale. When I said we’d buy them anyway she gave me one of those patronising looks that stoke the fires of hell in those it’s aimed at. Panic surged, I shook, I sweated, my vision blurred, and I knew tears were stinging. At the cash desk she primly told me that unless I bought insoles too then if I got home and decided to return the wrong size shoes they’d be unable to take them back.
I had no intention of either buying insoles or taking them back. But that statement to someone in the throes of a panic attack was too much. I burst into tears. Not just one or two, but floods – and noisy too. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t speak, and I couldn’t move. I knew the whole shop was staring at me. I knew my children were scared and probably embarrassed, but nothing would stop. I threw money at the till and ran with the shoes, my children hurrying after me in shock.
Symptoms of panic attacks are sometimes difficult to hide. My family all know if one is brewing. I get agitated, lost, I shake, and I attack myself – biting my nails or pulling at my skin, scratching, or digging fingernails in deep. When you’ve experienced them you recognise them. I know them in my daughters too.
There are ways to stave off a panic attack, but you have to learn what works for you, and you have to be in a situation to do what you need to. I have to remove myself physically and fast. I also use Calm Harm a phone app with a breathing exercise on it that helps to bring my breathing back down and in time. I carry a stim to hold and ground myself with – an acorn cup. You can meditate, or use Mindfulness. I can be held close, but only by family, if anyone else tries that they’ll be physically attacked. I can be talked down, again usually only by family.
I also take medication. Propranolol, a beta blocker, works for me. It slows down my heart rate and biologically removes the panic from my system.
What works for you?
My Facebook status described a panic attack as it rose and it helped people to understand what happens when an attack hits. I took a tablet and this one faded away.
If you suffer, know that there are many of us who deal with this on a daily basis,
you are not alone.
Do you live with someone who suffers from a Panic Disorder,
how do you and they cope?
What works best for you?
These pages from the Mental Health charity Mindare very insightful if you need help with understanding and coping with Panic Attacks. Please go and visit your GP if you need help. Counselling and medication are available.
Meg’s mother is having a breakdown, and Meg can’t cope. Seeking to escape bullies and overwhelming anxiety, she discovers an old oak tree whose revelations begin to change her life.
“I was awake until about 1am reading this one. I could have put it down anytime, just didn’t want to.
This story leans heavily to the subject of depression. There are many of those on the kindle, few quite as believable, even less as credible. The family with a single child are wonderfully developed as they are deeply troubled. A father who goes to work and his involvement limited in their troubled life, a mother slowly slipping away from all of them, and a young girl with too much weight on her shoulders left to clean up the mess.
…the oak tree becomes symbolic of the escape from harsh reality for both mother and child when there are so many issues that should be confronted, so many secrets that should be out in the open.
This is the kind of book I recommend people read regardless of what kind of genre you prefer. It’s one for everybody. Just read it.” —Mr D. on Amazon
Beneath the Old Oak is the second book in the Surviving Hope novels, following Beneath the Rainbow already available, and once you’ve been charmed by Beneath the Old Oak you’ll be excited to read Beneath the Distant Star which releases on 11th December – and my publisher has offered a number of ARC copies of Beneath the Distant Star through LibraryThing. In exchange for an honest review you can read a prepublication copy of Beneath the Distant Star. Pop over, scroll down and request your copy now.
Living with Self-harm is tough,
but knowing that you’re not alone is vital to helping you cope.
Watching the brilliant Sharp Objects with Amy Adams showed that self-harm is something people are now more willing totalk about, to show, and people are becoming more aware and hopefully understanding.
Sharp Objects is an HBO show (Sky Atlantic in the UK), an eight-parter, with Amy Adams starring as emotionally traumatised Camille Preaker and was originally a book written by Gillian Flynn who wrote Gone Girl. The series concentrates a little more on her trouble with drinking (maybe more socially acceptable?) than Camille’s self-harm as the book does, but with women at the helm as producers and Amy Adams on board as executive producer too, this show is highlighting womens’ trauma in a way I haven’t seen before.
It was validating to see a character that I instantly related to.
I don’t cut like Camille does, if you watch the show you’ll see just how much her addiction with self-harm has affected her, but I cut and I understand. Camille’s cutting is vast, serious, and deep, but it’s important. When was the last time self-harm was portrayed honestly in general film or television?
I’ve watched the first four episodes and though a self-harmer is likely to be triggered – I was – I felt relieved that something so central to my life is not being dumbed down and is being shown as it is for many.
I recently read Louise Gornall’s Under Rose Tainted Skies about an agoraphobic and Norah also cuts herself. I read one paragraph in tears because it described my relationship with self-harm so well: It works like a shake, a slap, an injection of anaesthetic. I picture it like a never-ending tug-of-war between panic and calm. Self-harm is an impartial observer that steps up with something sharp to sever the rope. The minute the cut is made, both teams fly back, collapse to the ground on top of one another, exhausted.
For me, this is why.
My brain is often stuck in that pre-panic attack moment… bewilderment, anxiety, and bubbles of emotion in the back of my throat – those bubbles that stop you from falling apart but are keeping you at the edge…
My self-harm often erupts alongside a panic attack, or when I feel deeply hurt, or just when I am disassociated, angry, or lost and need grounding. In Sharp Objects when Camille bought a small sewing kit I knew exactly why. Sharp objects, I love this title – it covers so much ground – can be the emotions that accompany you, the words people speak, and the objects you cut with.
Try to understand, coping mechanisms are different for all of us. When you ask me about my cuts, I’m likely to say it was the cat, but when I do, know that it probably wasn’t.We need to be open, to explore, and understand with compassion, so that those who self-harm feel comfortable to talk, to share, and perhaps to stop.
If you are dealing with your own self-harming issues please see your GP, if you can. I am currently taking propranolol to help control panic attacks. It’s a 50/50 thing, but if you can find help, whether it be medication, therapy, counselling, or something else, please do.
I also recommend Calm Harm an app designed to help you through a self-harm urge. It helps me with panic attacks too and has been invaluable.
Lastly, please know that you are not alone. Awareness is growing and more people are appreciating the need to have coping mechanisms and tools to deal with the lives we are living. There is no shame or guilt with self-harm, but with support and help you may be able to overcome it.
My scars are me.
They are my battlefield, my personal road map to where I’ve been.
They are who I am.