Lies

When I first joined Twitter, nearly eight years ago, people encouraged me to talk about my mental health issues in an environment that felt instantly welcoming. The truth, however, was not nearly as open as was first apparent. There was that DM by one particular person which still lives bright in my brain: just want to make sure you’re not lying about these issues to gain attention. Their ‘brand’ now commands a five figure follower count.

The best thing I ever did was to block them.

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In the intervening seven years and eleven and a bit months, I’ve learnt an awful lot about how certain types of people can be massively detrimental for mental health. There’s the type that do anything to get attention, including actions that are only executed in an attempt to incite anger or fear. Then there are those who obsessively retweet or like everything you do in the vain hope you’ll notice them… and the list goes on.

As a woman, it is especially galling when, after having had what you think was a decent conversation with someone, they immediately decide this must be an overture to trying to start a relationship. Forget that you’re happily married with two children, because that would shatter the illusion of ‘that perfect internet connection’ and then, with a heavy heart, you’re blocking and ignoring another attempt at inappropriate behaviour.

Don’t get me started about telling certain people that they’re wrong about their opinions.

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Today is about making people aware that there is help in the world for their mental health issues, a drum I’m happy to keep pounding for the rest of my adult life. The problem with such days, inevitably, is ignoring negatives and only accentuating positives. There is no one thing to fix everybody. Finding individual peace can often be a long and complicated journey. Take it from someone who’s still working that out.

To assume everybody who says they are suffering really is… that’s a tricky issue. I’ve come into contact with a couple of people for whom Munchhausen via Internet could be applied, but realistically one must never take the chance people are lying for attention. Eventually, if you are being deceived, the truth becomes apparent. That’s been true in every single situation I’ve encountered over nearly a decade.

We have to believe everybody is telling the truth, regardless of our own feelings.

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My gut’s pretty sound after 50 plus years. The ability to spot a wrong’un amongst the genuine sufferers comes from taking time to listen to issues, even when others think nobody is listening. Shouting into the void is what began my path to enlightenment, and if there’s the means to continue that expansion of mind and body with other people, absolutely it is worth doing the work. It’s basic common decency.

Everybody has the potential to develop a mental health problem. It is our obligation to help anyone who does, regardless of how we might feel about their motives. However, as help is offered, be mindful of your own mental health needs. The world is as much about understanding yourself as it is helping others: for every action, inevitably, there is a consequence.

It is a delicate balancing act, but so utterly worthwhile when it works.

Talk Talk

It’s been over a decade since blogging started as therapy. Yesterday came the realisation it has become something else entirely. That revelation seems a good way to mark Time to Talk day in the UK:

DAY 4:
Sometimes, it is up to you to make the difference, FOR NO REWARD.

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I get grief in my family, from time to time, due to the enthusiasm in reminding them, and indeed anybody else who sticks around long enough, that mental health issues don’t go away just because you’re having a good day. There is sometimes an assumption that, like that niggly back injury or the persistent nuisance caller on your mobile, that just ignoring the problem means eventually you’ll forget about it or it will just vanish on its own. That’s not how this works. 

If someone gleefully informs you they’ve ‘cured’ themselves of the mental issue that was preventing them being happy, there’s a better than average chance they don’t have the first clue what they’re talking about. In time, sure, just as there will be a means by which Altzheimers and Asthma can be eliminated thanks to the exploration of human DNA, there could be a moment when scientists isolate the genes that cause depression or anxiety and choose to switch them off… but even that wouldn’t work for everybody.

Mental illnesses are incredibly difficult things to universally treat.

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There is more to this whole situation than hoping bad stuff just goes away or finding the means to eliminate your problem completely. There is CHOICE, and that’s where listening comes in. When you ask someone to talk about their issues, they don’t just sit there and say all this stuff whilst you’re on your phone or pretending to listen. YOU ACTUALLY HAVE TO LISTEN. By doing so, there’s the chance you’ll care more, begin to understand or find yourself wanting to make sense of what you’re being told, and that’s as important as helping the other person feel better.

You’re not just providing a service by listening. You’re becoming part of both treatment and solution.

I’ve been using a number of hashtags and Twitter accounts to try and get my message out this week, and if you’re reading these blogs it should be fairly obvious that it’s not part of a drive to get my follower numbers up or ‘promote’ my brand. However, one of the people whose blog I’ve tried to rope in to distribute the message messaged me this morning with a reminder: if you don’t follow us, we won’t retweet your message. Effectively, give us your support in return for listening.

That’s absolutely not how ANY of this is supposed to work.

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Promoting other people’s attempts to improve their lives is not about what YOU get from it. This is not about suggesting that it’s a service either, and those who use this as means to further their careers are, at least in my opinion, playing with fire. I’ve learnt that to my cost in the last year, and the lesson is simple: don’t be the talker. Learn to listen. The most important thing you can ever do for someone you care about is be that person. Let them trust you enough to feel an ability to be honest. If that happens?

The entire world can change for the better, in a heartbeat.

So, as this day is all about encouraging people to share their issues, understand that as the person on the other side of the equation, you are granted a great responsibility, and with that (as the wise people say) comes great power. Don’t squander or belittle this task you are given. Make it your task to ask the right questions in response. Learn about what your friend is going through (I hear the Internet’s a great place for learning about stuff like this) and, most importantly, be understanding. 

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10 years ago I started talking about myself to random strangers. Now, these words are beginning to create a legacy of my journey, this trip and arrival as a person who is happier and healthier because of the truths such conversations revealed. It is now a new journey, to discover exactly what I am, to fill in the holes that exist in my life. Without talking, none of this would have happened. However, without listening to both myself and others, far greater truths might never have been accepted.

Every day is a school day. Whatever happens, be ready to learn.

You’re So Vain

Starting tomorrow, for a whole week, I’m going to bore you shitless about what happens in my head. My problem with all the times this happens with other people (normally sponsored by the charities who all need to promote that message or newspapers trying to cash in on Time to Talk Day) is the inevitably sanitised version of events that is presented, because you don’t want to scare normal people into being too frightened to help.

Throughout my entire life I have experienced first hand what happens when ‘normal’ gets involved in the equation, and honestly it’s like living the same day, over and again, before everybody else forgets how horrible everything was except you. You are trapped in your own Groundhog Day, except there’s no cute large ground squirrel for company or the opportunity to fall in love with Andie MacDowell.

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The choices presented therefore are often difficult, painful and ultimately hurtful. If I had to sum up the overriding emotion felt right now, undoubtedly is is sadness. Trying to get other people to understand when the world generally right now does not have a fucking clue what’s going on, mired in uncertainty and often anger. With so many other things taking up the precious free time others possess, why bother helping other people?

Mindfulness has, at least for me, opened a door to better mental places, spaces that only I inhabit away from the noise and fuss of the rest of reality’s demands, which allows the opportunity to deal with sadness, anger and resentment quite effectively. It gives the means by which obstacles can be circumnavigated, and wisdom slowly distilled from the journey thus far. What have I learnt, in all of this? Fear is what underpins everything.

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We’re not talking being afraid of spiders, or not succeeding in my new career path, because both of those are now happily rationalised. We need to treat all the world’s creatures far better than is currently the case, and I have already succeeded, and will continue to do so going forward, because these paths are not hampered by my own inability. Sure, there are days when mentally below par that they become problematic, because nobody is perfect every day. You do what you can to survive.

Fear stops my brain from pushing my body, or at least it used to. Yesterday, in the gym, all those people who can just run without the nagging fear they’ll run out of breath, that their legs will stop working, that the treadmill will dump them face first on the floor in a comedy moment. Each one of those fears has been removed, rationalised and dismissed. Yesterday, I just ran. The most difficult thing ever became the most normal thing. That’s my brain at work, and why everything makes me so fucking tired.

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In the end, of course, those people who stop listening to other people’s issues are often those with their own demons to face, with no desire or ability to start that process. Reaching into computers to tell them this is, I realised quite early on, a mug’s game. Many are here to play the martyr because it suits their agenda. If you have spent a lifetime without the means to deal with the world around you, the Internet’s a perfect platform to find like minded souls who do the same and HEY then you’re not alone any more.

Except it’s all a big, fat lie. Dealing with your issues will vastly improve quality of life not just for you, but those around you. That’s the key: this isn’t just about taking care of yourself. It is the benefits your new outlook will grant in the wider world of work, social interaction and all places in between. Most crucially, at least for me, it grants you the means to communicate to others like yourself that yes, this is worth the pain.

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Trying to work out who is listening can be a fairly hit or miss affair, of course, and wading into people’s lives as some kind of white knight bringing salvation is not the kind of thing to be recommended, especially in the current political climate. So, start small. Cake .GIFs, the occasional hug. Ask a question in your timeline that might promote some discussion, but don’t think that because nobody answers, this doesn’t work. Helping people is not a means by which you gain followers or increase reach.

Genuinely helping others is not a clever Tweet with an inspirational photo sent at 5pm because that’s when the most people will see it. That’s opportunism, appealing to the widest audience and although it might work for some, its now unlikely to be even noticed by the people who need it most. True support is learning to listen, understanding the land and then presenting people with the tools they need to grow, encouraging whilst they do so. The true heroes are the ones who never get the accolades.

You have to ask for help and mean it to move forward, staring past the rhetoric of others and the belief that nobody understands except you.

Amazingly, you really are not alone.

I’m Your Man

After due consideration, Chocolate-Free January is cancelled. This is due to an unexpected change in mental fortunes, an obdurate receptionist and Elon Musk [*]. What it does mean is that the second cuppa has a far more enjoyable accompaniment, and it is high time to break down what’s changed inside me over the last three months.

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Once I was told Autism was part of my problem, I’ve regretted not pushing for a more specific diagnosis: the spectrum is wide, plus it is entirely possible that some of my mental issues are not tied to the disorder. Having encouraged a number of other people to go seek diagnosis in the last year, it was time to do the same for myself. My initial attempts to find any help through the NHS were woeful: bypassing that system has already provided a measure of relief. But where does that leave me in relation to everything else?

Yesterday’s issue, trying to deal with my daughter’s ongoing allergy problems, came as a real surprise. This will be (probably) the first time in about a decade that kind of panic has resulted from a random confrontation with people. With care and thought, all the issues are easily rationalised and avoided, but undoubtedly come moments where you can’t plan everything. Was that what played out yesterday morning? I don’t think so. It is actually becoming easier to deal with conflict at home, in places where previously that ability did not exist.

I think this is me, putting down markers for other people’s behaviour.

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My PT suggested yesterday that perhaps her absence was part of the problem, but that’s certainly not the case. Yes, I’ll admit there is often annoyance and frustration when other people change plans last minute or (as was the case on Friday with the Doctors) one receptionist’s suggestion was fairly robustly contradicted by another. Right now, sitting here, none of my normal rules or reactions appear to adequately cover the hole in my head that absolutely exists. I have no idea what it is, only that it needs to be uncovered.

Is it my inner child frustrated with her lot? Nope, that’s reconciled. Is it an impending Empty Nest where there’s no kids to lavish unconditional love on me? Nope. Is it personal relationships generally? Despite knowing I need more real people in my life, this isn’t causing as much issue as it did before the fact registered. In fact, looking at all of the potential stones in my road, nothing is a genuine surprise. I got emotional at the Doctors because someone who should have been understanding, wasn’t.

Yesterday I got upset at someone being mean.

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The automatic assumption when you are the unreliable narrator in every story is simple: that has to be your fault, not someone else’s. When it turns out that actually, that’s not the case, it can be quite a shock to the system. I’m not to blame for everything: some stuff sure, absolutely my problem, 100% me. Not this time, and that is why I lost the plot. That’s the first genuinely emotional reaction I’ve had to anything negative in quite some time. I still feel, am able to enjoy so much: the other side has been so well bottled up over the years…

The consequences of this are still percolating through my brain today. Maybe it is time to stop taking the blame for everything that appears to go wrong, and instead work out what is truth within the emotion. By doing so, I’ve been granted a clarity of vision that simply did not exist before.

This is something that needs far more thought.


[*] I crushed a dream this morning, expressed my opinion, and was met with stony silence in the car. Yeah, he makes great memes, but I don’t think he’s a particularly nice person.

Hot Stuff

I need a weights-themed header. I’ll get on that.

The last time, up until this time last week, that I’d done an organised exercise class was shortly after the birth of the eldest. That was eighteen years ago. My local health emporium has recently trashed the two squash courts adjacent to their Gym facilities and built a room in which, I now discover, a peculiar form of torture takes place. Blaze, as the lovely promotional video indicates, is a particularly viscous combination of running, weights and hitting stuff. All this is done with an element of theatre and some quite loud dance music accompaniment.

To support my current PT (whose job going forward will be to run a weekly class) there was a promise to at least try a session. It was, without a doubt, one of the most frightening things I’ve ever done. After thirty three minutes came the first total sensory overload experienced since the ASD diagnosis in June, and I almost ran out of the room. Only then did I realise that you’re locked in, presumably as a means of protecting the rather expensive range of equipment enclosed within.

So, why am I now booked in for my second class tomorrow, you may ask?

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Part of that decision was to do with the support I was given by the secondary trainer who’ll be taking tomorrow’s class (as my PT’s on annual leave) after my unscheduled exit from the room. Not only was she receptive to my issues when told, she suggested breaking the sequences down into stages. Each ’round’ in a full class of 24 includes a section running, lifting and punching (with a TRX Suspension kit presumably used in tandem.) Learning the sequence of exercises is tough when you have so little time, especially for the woman with deficiency in learning abilities who struggles when presented with an excess of sensory input.

My PT has also reinforced this commitment to making the process work by helping introduce me to basic skills required in future weeks, especially in the field of mixed martial arts. Without both of these ladies’ care and commitment, I’d not be going back. To make sure they get the correct amount of thanks at the right level, after this blog is done (and it’s taken almost a week to pull thoughts together) I’ll be e-mailing the Club to extend my gratitude personally. I’ve bought my own gloves, pulled out my ANT-compatible Heart Rate monitor, and tomorrow we aim to complete one round of the process well.

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It is very easy to place obstacles in your path when trying to change long-term habits. For some time now finding the means to push mind out of comfort zones has been a challenge: Blaze presents me with two unique problems to overcome. Firstly, there is the physical intensity of a class that demands a great deal in terms of effort to ensure long-term benefit. More importantly, there is the mental challenges of taking instructions, acting on them, and doing what needs to be done well. Only by being able to combine both of these successfully will there be any meaningful progress.

It was also quite amusing, the morning after my first class, to be sent an e-mail by the club congratulating me on ‘smashing’ the session. I appreciate the elements of theatre and self-congratulation that marketing clearly thinks will make me feel better about myself, but it’s completely pointless. You don’t know how awful I felt not finishing. You don’t understand how hard this is to rationalise. A generic e-mail is not the way to make me feel good about my progress. That revelation came from real people. Perhaps there could be more focus on the people training and less bells and whistles going forward.

I don’t need exercise as distraction: to embrace it as a lifestyle choice there will always need to be a personal connection.

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I’ve changed beyond recognition in the last three years, thanks in part to the people who have offered advice and training along the way. However, in the end, I know it is my effort and hard work which keeps the goals shifting. When asked yesterday what kind of weight I’d dream of lifting going forward, I was honest with my PT. I just want to keep lifting. I want to keep pushing boundaries and overcoming fears and move forwards. This isn’t about maintenance and complacency. Every day should be a school day. Each session should give a sense of progress.

Fitness has to become a part of individual evolution.

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You know I mentioned my e-mail address stopped working a while back? Well, yesterday I discovered a quite important e-mail that had gone astray.

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I made it into the Ride London 46 Ballot. Fortunately I’ve not missed anything vital and the participation’s confirmed, though not gonna lie, I’m terrified. It’s exactly seven weeks on Sunday, which is also the day before we go on holiday, and suddenly everything’s become a panicked, anxiety filled mess. This is not how it was hoped such a thing would initially be prepared for and so, as a result, it’s time to take a fucking huge step back at the weekend and quietly consider what is needed.

However, before anything else, it is time to start selling the reason why I initially signed up to do this.

I grow tired of the pontificating on Social media by people who talk a good ‘let’s all change the World’ speech but don’t ever push their own boundaries to do just that. So, I’ve set myself a £500 target, and have already contacted Mind, who will provide me with a jersey and encouragement along the way. This seems to me a far better means of making sure that the people who really need help are getting it, because I’m giving money to an organisation who’s sole task is to do just that. Rather than just sitting on my arse saying I care, this is a constructive means of making things better.

If the anxiety ridden depressive can do this, then maybe that will act as an incentive to others.

The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul

Bear with me on this one, it will be worth it.


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Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure SKYFALL.

This week, a video went viral of how badly James Bond has treated his women in five decades. It is, I suppose, like that moment in The Emperor’s New Clothes when the young boy says what he sees, and only then does everybody else grasp that they’ve been had. Bond has NEVER been above conventional outrage, even during the 1960’s. For a woman like me, who fell in love with Roger Moore and then came to understand that these movies were a fiction, the allure of Bond isn’t the casual means by which he deals with the emotional. It is the fact that he so beautifully typifies how I feel about the World. It always needs saving, the pleasure gained by doing so is ultimately short-lived and nobody really cares about your commitment as long as they’re happy in the end. It is escapism, pure and simple… except now, you can’t even do that in reality.

All that matters right now is truth and honesty, which is great… but to a point.

Bond doesn’t do emotional, or at least he didn’t until Daniel Craig came along and made 007 something more than the misogynist, sexist Dinosaur that Judi Dench accuses Piers Brosnan of being in Goldeneye. Bond since Casino Royale isn’t the same fellow as his predecessors, but that’s not what the evangelising liberators will see. All men are evil when they dominate and subjugate women, and although I agree 100% with this statement, there comes a point where you don’t need to be told. Please continue to hang spurious toerags who do this in reality out to dry, but be careful when you start impinging on other people’s fantasies because this is a dangerous game to even contemplate playing.

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Today is Time to Talk Day and instead of talking about my own mental health, I want to talk about Bond’s. Yup, if you can attack a fictional character in mainstream media for being too brutish, I’m going to ask how many people will have considered the long-term psychological effects of being a 00 agent. In my own fictional version of this world, I decided that Bond is probably encouraged to be bad boyfriend material for a reason: emotional attachments in his job, let’s face it, are hardly conducive, and the one time he did fall in love, the woman ends up dead in a canal in Venice. It is a simple and damning reminder that emotions have consequences, but more significantly it isn’t just the woman’s feelings that can be destroyed. Bond is damaged for a reason. If the plan now is to cast him aside as an outdated trope, what the hell will that do long term to stop this kind of behaviour from taking place?

How will we change this kind of thinking without treating the root causes of the problem?

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Learning to end discrimination also involves the understanding that people with mental health issues can often be violent and unpredictable. They can also be highly intelligent, controlling and flat out lie in order to maintain their notions of safety. In case you think I’m generalising here, I’m not, this is me speaking from extremely personal experience. In my life, I have been all of these things, and have had others do the same to me in order to deal with what they saw were my ‘issues.’ If you’ve never had a mental health problem, it can be impossible to understand the motivations behind actions. Talking to each other isn’t just about making your illness the discussion: it is only part of a complex equation that involves emotional support and understanding.

Many people are violent because of mental health issues that have gone undiagnosed for decades. It is not ‘brutish’ behaviour, and most certainly not unconsciously meted. The world we live in now seems happy to condemn everyone without nearly enough thought and consideration, and media right now is in danger of causing more harm than good with ill-conceived pronouncements. The real trick, ultimately, is to teach people how to deal with their version of reality (that which they experience and that which surrounds them) when it comes into contact with everybody else’s. If others are not capable of accurately understanding their behaviour, it must be up to us to not only be able to objectively do that for them, and ourselves.

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The key here is objectivity: being able not to tar everybody with the same brush, to step back from stereotyping, being able to accurately separate fiction from fact. Please don’t start condemning my entire life history, modern feminists. If you reacted badly to Friends and you think Bond’s had his day, most of my childhood’s now on time and you’ll be petitioning soon to pretend that most of the 1970’s never happened. History is there to teach us, not to condemn everything as bad, wrong, and worth ignoring. On this #TimeToTalk day, why not stop making posts as you somehow feel as if that’s the right thing to do. Why not start looking for answers: not other people’s, but your own.

Stop sitting and waiting for the answers to come to you, or be dictated by the latest media outrage. Go and find solutions for yourself.