World Mental Health Day 2016

Bonus post today! Today is WMHD and the theme this year is psychological first aid and support that people can provide to those in distress. I of course, am no expert on psychological first aid so I’m not even going to attempt to advise on that.

If you do know someone who requires help, you can find information or someone to talk to at these places.

http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/

http://www.samaritans.org/

http://www.mind.org.uk/

For me, I’m going to talk about that feeling you get when you feel like you aren’t doing enough. I’ve spoken to a few people about it over the last few weeks and it’s been playing on my mind.

A lot of the most ambitious people I know are doing a whole shit load of things. Setting up businesses, creating amazing things for people, looking after their families and friends and challenging stereotypes and making the world a better place.

Lots of people however, not just my friends, feel like they’re not achieving enough. They don’t fit into the normal boxes that society has created for us. They might not be getting the “stable” job or going a traditional route through education. What they are doing though, is carving a new path for themselves.

One thing that a lot of people from generations past just don’t understand is that it’s a lot harder for people these days to find one job, one career and stick to it. The days of long term contracts is gone and we have to live life a little bit different. This is exemplified in the place that I work. It’s a great job but due to funding, our contracts don’t go for more than a year. Our roles no longer consist of one singular task. We have to be photographers and videographers, youth workers, video editors, social media experts, tech gurus, social action moguls, event planners, workshop deliverers and more. It makes for a much less secure role, but it allows us to learn and develop skills that will surely help us to find other employment and/or start our own projects or businesses. You can’t just do one thing anymore so don’t have a go at us for splitting our attention. It was previous generations that have led us to this point in society where we’re forced to chase dreams differently.

There’s a lot of pressure put on young people to find a job that we’ll have forever and to have kids and a nice house in the suburbs. Lots of people these days are unlikely to ever own a house. Lots of people don’t want kids. Lots of people don’t want to do a 9-5. If any of those are you, then that’s fine. You don’t have to do what society tells you to do. You can be the creator of a whole new way of working and living. We’re the future of this planet and so we need to implement the changes we want.

It’s really easy to compare ourselves to each other, to successful people you know and admire and feel like you’re not doing enough. You are, though. Everyone has a different path to get to where they’re happy and healthy and successful and some are straight and simple, while others are meandering and complex. Either is fine. If anyone tells you otherwise, smile, nod and then go achieve what you want to achieve and show them how wrong they are.

Don’t beat yourselves up. You’re doing fine. I still don’t know if the career I’m in is what I want to do forever. I don’t think I’ll ever know. You don’t have to either. I just make sure that I’m doing something. Make sure you’re doing SOMETHING and you’ll be learning and growing.

To finish, I’ll leave you with a video. It’s a TED talk about having more than one passion. It’s one of my favourite talks and I watch it regularly to remind myself that being passionate about everything is a good thing. 🙂

A

Resilience: No Pain, No Gain

So as mentioned in my last post and on my Instagram I’ve recently started trying to learn how to skateboard. I’m not going to lie. It has not been pretty. I have fallen off the board and fallen, injured my arms, legs and butt. However, I have been getting back on again and again to try to get better.

My body hates me right now and I’ve done the splits about four times today because the board slipped me. I have managed to pull about 90% of my leg muscles. 20160924_1545561

However, no matter how much I fall, humiliate myself, no matter how many bruises and cuts and scrapes I get I’m going to keep on going. Of course, this isn’t just a post about skateboarding. It’s about resilience.

Resilience is all about how we keep going when something goes wrong. It is not always easy to stay resilient. Life will knock you down over and over and it’s going to suck, but how you respond to those knock backs is what shows your true character. The easy option is to give up and to just accept things as they are but sometimes that’s just not feasible.

As regular readers know, I’ve suffered from breakdowns, panic attacks and all the physical manifestations of poor mental health but in my mind, and in what people tell me, I’m trying my absolute hardest to be a better version of me every day. As of today (29th September) I’m 9157 days old which means I’m Alex v. 9157.

You will never be perfect but that doesn’t mean you won’t be incredible. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure you’re a pretty special person now but you can be better too. You just need to believe that you can be incredible. Right this second, I’m feeling pretty chuffed about myself and life but I know it can and still will get even better. My mind will too.

So keep building up resilience. Your muscles get stronger by exercise. Work out your brain. Think things through logically. Keep believing in yourself and the fact that you can be better every day.

Here’s a little message from Rocky Balboa himself. It summarises everything I’ve been talking about in this post.

Right now, I’m actively trying to learn more. Skating, science, music. Everything. That’s how I’m trying to be a better version of myself. Life hit me hard recently but I got back up and am moving forward. I hope you can too.

A

My New Endeavours

So this is my 60th post on Success In Selflessness. And there are some exciting things happening. Okay, no I’m not cured, I still avoid social situations as best I can and I’m still spending 70% of my time at home in bed, resting but I’m determined to get better slowly.

To continue my never ending battle of recovery, I’ve decided to do some new things. I’m setting myself a few challenges to aid in that quest.

First, I’m going to try to learn to skateboard. I’m neither graceful nor athletic. So that’s going to be really interesting.

Second, I really really want to learn to scuba dive. I’ve been looking for scuba diving courses near where I live and I think I’ve found a place. I always used to find the sea and the water really relaxing and even though I’d be learning in a pool, it would hopefully one day lead me to the sea to swim with sharks. That’s the dream. My new endeavours.png

Thirdly, I’m going to be diversifying the content that I create on this blog. First up, you may have noticed some new pages on the site. I’m going to be posting music related content as well as things about politics, identity, culture, and lots of other social issues. The most exciting bit that I’m planning is to create some videos to go alongside the content that I’m creating. So I’m learning how to edit video as I write this. Who knows, by the time this comes out we might even have our first video up!

This post is primarily a way for me to announce the new ways I’m going to be providing content but it’s also a reminder to never stop growing. Whenever I learn something new or achieve something I didn’t think I would, I feel great. I feel a rare sense of pride in who I am and what I do.

So my message to you this time, no matter how, when or where, learn something new and do something you didn’t think you could. Even if it’s leave the house to go to the shop. Or to read a new book, or start learning a new language or instrument. You’ll thank  yourself for it.

UPDATE: I’ve bought myself a skateboard so keep your eyes peeled for some shocking bails and bruises… 20160924_154556[1].jpg

A

 

The Power of a Smile

I talk a lot about how the little things in life can really help people get through a day, a week, a year. It could be something as simple as a good song or bumping into an old friend or even something silly like tidying up the mini zen garden on your desk. All of these little things can make the tough days just that little bit easier and even though sometimes you don’t acknowledge them, they’re there if you look for them.

I made a new friend recently. For those of you who know me you know I’m not a huge fan of meeting new people. It often makes me feel physically sick. People often tell me that they’d never guess that I’m not a fan of meeting people because I seem so friendly and confident. Truth is, I’m just a very good actor. Meeting people, as I mentioned, makes me feel very sick. It makes me brain function at 1000mph and leaves me considering every single possible social interaction that we’d have in the next few seconds, minutes, hours and days.

However!

This particular person walked up to me with her friend (who I already knew and who all of this also applies to when I first met her) and came over beaming. Smiling like there wasn’t a thing wrong with the world and that made me feel significantly more at ease than when I saw her coming over.

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A simple smile made me feel significantly more comfortable with this new person. She came across as friendly and accepting. Luckily, she was actually friendly and accepting. She’s absolutely not the only person with a winning smile though. Most of the people I know and love greeted me with a smile. Whether it was at the first ever volunteering residential I went to (where I was unable to bring myself to approach anyone), at work or through other ways I’ve always had wonderful smiles around me to calm my nerves.

So I’d always encourage you to smile at that stranger you see on the train every morning, smile at your partners, your friends, your families. Whether it’s a polite smile, a toothy grin or a good ol’ hearty cackle it could be a huge thing. You never know when someone might need that small gesture of kindness.

If you’re in need of a smile, my glorious friends from all over the place have sent me photos (or let me trawl through their Facebook photos) and are here to provide a smile for you as they did for me.

 

Thank you to Jacqui, Deepan, Taz, Sarah, Zahrah, Amira, Jenny, Shaun, Emma, Rob, Victoria, Kate, Scarlett, Kishan, Cat, Zahra, Monet, Emmeline, Jack, John, Naomi, Amy, Katie, Louise, Reema, Sarah and Rosie and many many more for sending in photos, helping me to spread a little joy and for bringing so much joy into my life. I ended up receiving more photos than I could fit but here are just a small fraction of them!

Keep smiling, all.

A

A little more Serotonin

So earlier this year, I got my serotonin tattoo and I loved it. You can find my previous post about it here. Primarily it was a tattoo for me to enjoy and to remind myself that I have survived my depression and anxiety for years. A secondary objective was that it would help open up a dialogue between people about mental health and would eventually, alongside this blog, allow me to encourage people to talk about their mental health as though it was their physical health.

The tattoo was certainly not something that I’d be writing a follow up blog about, but here we are! It’s been as amazing for myself as expected but it’s certainly helped a lot of people learn about mental health and has got a lot of people talking to me about their mental health which has resulted in me referring them to various services and quite a few have even ended up seeking help from their doctors.

20160502_190830

Back when it was fresh

The greatest experience I’ve had though was at work one day. I was running a session for a group in Shrewsbury and lots of them asked me about it so we paused the session and had a great open discussion about the tattoo and why I got it. My session was completely derailed but I had the opportunity to be really open about my mental health and they were able to have a really open discussion.

After I got home, I’d received a message from the people who organised it telling me that the discussion had gone on long after my session had ended. This was literally the best news I’d heard.

To me, my tattoo is art. And to think that a simple bit of art done by a random guy in Southgate (who talked a lot about smoking weed which was a little concerning while he was sticking a needle into my arm) has had such an impact on people.

As always, I’m not trying to blow smoke up my own arse, it’s just amazing how something so small and seemingly insignificant can help to tackle stigma, open discussions and challenge perceptions on a topic.

Still here, still awesome

The little things matter. I’m not saying you have to get a tattoo to open up discussions about mental health. I’m just challenging you all to find a small thing that you can do in your day to day life that will help people to be more open about the issues that affect them. It could be something as simple as challenging questionable view about racial stereotypes (which we should all be doing) or telling a story of how an issue has affected you or someone you know.

It could be anything. Just don’t do nothing.

A

 

The Recovery: Depression is all in your head

So over the last few days I’ve not really been able to do… well, anything.

On Tuesday evening, on the way home, I felt very very faint, started sweating, hyperventilating and shaking quite violently. This was, you guessed it, the beginnings of a panic attack.

By the time the train pulled into my station I’d had to call my mum to come pick me up from the station. When I got into the car I burst into tears (I know right, a guy crying. /s) and didn’t stop for a full five hours. After that, I passed out. I didn’t wake up until the morning. I’ve had loads of panic attacks over the years but this was a panic attack followed by a physical and mental breakdown and it was the worst I’ve ever had.

Over the years I’ve heard lots of people talk about how mental illness is all in your head. I beg to differ. So the main thing in this post is going to be a list of all the things I experienced over the last few days. Here we go:

  • Constant muscle pain

  • Constant joint pain

  • Extremely sensitive eyes and ears

  • Extremely low energy

  • Inability to walk, talk or even lift my arms

  • Complete loss of appetite and the feeling of being sick whenever eating

  • Extreme pain when swallowing

  • Swollen eyes

  • Blocked nose

  • Hot and cold flushes

  • Migraines

  • Erratic sleep patterns

  • So SO sweaty…

These are just some of the ones I want to list today. The most crushing thing that I’ve had to do over the last few days though, is cancel plans with some wonderful people who I’ve not seen in ages.

Today has been the first day I’ve been able to walk around the house with no support or leaning on things. It’s also the first time in a few days I’ve been able to open the blinds, listen to music, sing (it was about four bars of humming). I’ve yet been able to leave the house though.

So to anyone who thinks that mental illness is all in your head and doesn’t actually affect your body at all, you’re so so wrong.

A

P.S. Thank you to my mother who picked me up, looked after me, literally supported me to get to the doctors, shopped for me and cooked for me.

Also a huge thank you to all my friends who sent me get well soon messages and also those who I had to cancel on for understanding but a special thank you to Kate (and her boyfriend Carlos) who sent me a box of nerdy things. 20160813_213325[1]

Also also, when you’re barely able to move and spend almost 24 hours a day in your room with no windows open, blinds closed and lights off, your room ends up smelling quite bad…

The Recovery: Panic Attacks and Breakdowns

So first thing to address, I’m getting rid of the numbers. By the time I get better completely, we’ll be at a silly number. So from now on this little series of blogs will be just known as “The Recovery”.

Now, onto the juicy bit. Panic attacks. They take on many different forms and can be caused by loads of different things. Some of the more serious causes of panic attacks and breakdowns can include (but are not limited to):

  • Severe stress
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Relationship breakdown
  • Problems at work
  • Exhaustion

Sometimes, though, the causes of panic attacks and breakdowns can be the most ridiculous things. The last two days have been like that for me. I’m feeling somewhat better at the moment but have had some rather silly breakdowns over the last couple days.

I’m writing this particular piece to hopefully give you all a bit of a chuckle and also hopefully show you all that anything at any time can cause a panic attack or breakdown and that’s okay. It’s not your fault. It’s  normal. It’ll pass. I promise. I’ve had 2 breakdowns and about 5 panic attacks.

Here are some of the things that have caused me some distress the last two days.

  • Not having the right berries in my local Tesco
  • Running out of Bonjela
  • Getting below 60 frames per second on a game
  • Dying in a game
  • Not being able to decide how I wanted to build my house on the Sims
  • The thought of seeing people in a social setting despite them being friends
  • Sleeping too late
  • Not sleeping enough

All of these things gave me reactions of varying severity. All of these things may seem like minor things to people. And even to me, on a good day, these things are pretty minor. But in the moment, at that exact time, it’s a huge problem and causes me to not function properly.

One thing that’s hard to do though, is remember that it’s not your fault. I constantly question whether or not I’m being pathetic. I regularly think that it’s my own fault and that I deserve to not find the right berries or to have an ulcer or to die in a game or anything more serious.

I have to tell myself over and over, “it’s not my fault” just as I want you to say it’s not yours. Panic attacks and breakdowns are unpredictable, horrible and so tough to prevent. I’m not going to tell anyone how to prevent panic attacks in this post but I will tell you how I prevent my own panic attacks eventually. I just wanted to remind everyone that if you have a panic attack, it’s okay.

A

The Recovery Part 8: Success In Selflessness

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why the f*** is this guy sauntering back onto the web to tell us things when he ditched us for so long. Well that’s totally fair. I’ve been pretty shitty when it comes to blogging the last few months (not that I was particularly consistent before).

Well the short version is that I was taking a break from blogging as I’d run out of things to talk about. I’m sure everyone was getting rid of hearing about my recovery (though I’m clearly writing about it still) which is still ongoing, though I am doing better. Panic attacks are limited now to bed time when I have too much time to think (so I’ve been playing retro Pokémon games to fall asleep faster with less panics). Social anxiety is lessening, though please don’t put me in a room with a whole load of people I don’t know and tell me to socialise. I will cower in fear, hide in a corner and most likely hyperventilate.

My reason for writing this post is that I feel as though I’d lost my way with this blog recently. It started as a blog about volunteering and has become more about my mental health than anything else. I am certainly looking at diversifying the content that I put up here to include things that I find interesting (I hope you’re all ready for Nerdpocalypse) but again, lots of it won’t have anything to do with volunteering.

However I have a few projects in the pipeline which will be happening in the next few months and I’m super keen to share the first one with you. I’ll soon be turning 25 years old. A quarter of a century. I’m really lucky that, at this milestone, we generally don’t start to have gammy legs and broken backs. I’m reasonably healthy and able. So for my 25th birthday, my friends and I are coming up with a list of 25 random acts of kindness which we’ll carry out on my actual birthday. 25 is quite a lot and there are only so many hours in the day so we’re looking at doing small, thoughtful gestures. Here’s the list so far:Diem.jpg

  1. A meal for a homeless person
  2. Help an old person/person less physically able with their shopping or cross the road
  3. Sing for the sick
  4. Sing for random people to put a smile on their face. 
  5. Write and distribute positive notes to strangers
  6. Tape some coins to a vending machine for the next person
  7. Give strangers a flower
  8. Pay for a coffee for the next person in the queue
  9. Community clean up
  10. Pop up yoga session for people
  11. Give Blood
  12. Give random people a compliment

We only have 12 things so far so we’re needing lots more! I’m hoping for a huge group of people who can help me tick off every item throughout the day and I’m reaching out to everyone on the internet to help out. It’ll be taking place in London on Sunday September 4th, likely starting from Croydon first thing in the morning. I’ll surely need help carrying things from my  house through Croydon and into London.
If you’re interested at all, just pop a comment down and/or email me. 🙂 I would love to get someone along to help to document the day via video and social media as well.

I’ll be tweeting out using the hashtag #SelflessSunday.

It’s sure to be a Spectacular September Sunday of Successful Selflessness so please join me for part of or all of the day and help me celebrate my birthday in the best flipping way possible!

I hope you’re all feeling happy, healthy and loved.

A

Mental Health Awareness Week: Tag

So it’s come round again pretty swiftly but we’re slap bang in the middle of MHAW.

The delightful Becca has tagged me to talk about my mental health. You should go check out her post here. First things first, thank you to Becca for sharing her story, answering these questions and helping to make talking about your mental health normal. Now, I’m sure regular readers will know a fair bit about my journey but here goes! (Warning, this is going to be a long one.)

  • What mental illness do you have?

I have depression and anxiety.

  • When were you diagnosed?

I was diagnosed with depression when I was 18 and still in college. The anxiety was when I was around 22.

  • Who knows about it?

Almost everyone I know. I try to be as open and honest about it as possible though that doesn’t always happen! The first person who knew was my ex who to this day I’m grateful to for supporting me and getting me the help I needed. We don’t speak anymore but I’ll always be thankful for helping me to get better! The first friend who I told about it was one of my closest friends and my sister from another mister. That was the hardest thing for me, just coming to terms with it all. I was so scared that it would alienate me from other people because I wasn’t normal.

  • Do you receive treatment for it?

I’m currently on a pretty decent dosage of Fluoxetine (I think it’s called Prozac in the states). I’ve been on more different tablets than I can count and have gone to counselling multiple times but believe it or not, the idea of talking about it to help me recover is still quite scary.

  • Has your mental illness stopped you from doing anything?

My anxiety and depression stop me from doing a lot of different things. Though I’m outwardly a very chatty person, I despise meeting new people fearing that they may hate me. It regularly stops me from going out and socialising with friends. So often, I decide to stay at home rather than see people I really want to as I’m so scared of talking to people that I don’t know. My mental illnesses also stop me from doing some really basic things too. It often leaves my body completely exhausted and I sometimes struggle to get out of bed, speak, eat, drink or even breathe sometimes. I’ve also (not for a while, thankfully) once left a restaurant because I couldn’t decide what to eat.

  • Is there anything in particular that has helped you?

Music, art, comic books, videogames and volunteering. Oh and food. I love food. Music is my favourite way to unwind and calm myself down. I love to sing and play. There’s something very therapeutic about creating something. Whether it’s a piece of music, a piece of art, a delicious dish. Or just saving the universe from monsters and aliens. Of course the other huge thing that helps me is having good people around me. Friends and family are not to be taken for granted. Whenever I need it, I seem to get a text or call from my best friends. Whenever I go home to see my family, we chat all night, we eat and watch Grand Designs. My work also helps me greatly. It’s a job I love and getting to work with and support other young people to help their communities and themselves gives me endless pleasure.

  • Can you describe what it feels like to have your mental illness?

It feels like a prison of thoughts. Every single interaction I have, whether professional or social is an absolute ball ache. I go through all the possible scenarios that could possibly come out of this interaction. What if I say something that offends them? What if I say something embarrassing? It’s exhausting. It’s a constant feeling of ineptitude and inability to function normally. It’s comparing myself to everyone else in society and to societal norms and trying to fit those molds. It’s like an elephant standing on my chest and daggers poking my brain. It’s more often than not a complete numbness to everything in the world. Pleasure is an uncommon thing and it’s very rare that I feel truly happy to be alive but I want to get back to being happy again.

  • What is a common misconception about your mental illness?

That it’s as easy as flipping a switch to turn it off. The number of times that I’ve been told to just get over it and stop being so miserable is impossible to count. It’s also the least helpful thing in the world. If I could do that I would do that in an instant. I don’t believe there’s anyone in the world who would want to suffer with depression and anxiety. I know so many people who I’ve worked with, volunteered with, spoken to online who are fighting the same fight as me and it’s probably the most common thing that is said to us. 13245324_1854977518062911_6991456438909472387_n.png

  • What do you find the most difficult to deal with?

The guilt. It’s unfounded, unfortunate and irrational. I would never feel guilty for breaking my leg and not being able to do something yet for some reason, not being able to bring myself to go out and see people because of my mental illnesses fills me with so much guilt. I feel guilty that I miss birthdays, gatherings, parties, dinners. I struggle to do any of that stuff unless I’m in control and I’ve planned every detail and know exactly who is and isn’t going to be there. I feel so guilty for letting people down and disappointing people but if it was the other way round, I wouldn’t ever feel like they were letting me down. They’re just looking after themselves.

  • Do you have anything else you’d like to say?

First, thanks for reading this far! It’s always a struggle to talk about these things so openly but it’s important that I do. I would love for more people to do the same so that I can make sure that we’re not going to be stuck feeling bad about our illnesses. As always, just make sure that you ask your friends how they are. Offer to support each other, look after each other, be kind to one another and make sure that there’s always love and compassion at the forefront of your mind.

Also, just generally don’t be a dick.

As this is mental illness tag, I’m tagging everyone who’s reading this. Drop it in the comments below if you’re comfortable doing it or write a blog post of your own. Otherwise, please feel free to like, comment and follow me for more mental health posts. 🙂

A

The Recovery Part 6: Celebrating Serotonin

Today was a good day for me. I did something which I’ve been wanting to do for years. I got a tattoo. I spent months trying to figure out a tattoo that I could get which I would love on my body for the rest of my life and would mean something to me and hopefully mean something to other people.

The tattoo I chose was this: 20160502_190830.jpg

This is serotonin. It’s one of the “happy hormones” and it’s something that my body and brain sorely lacks. It’s one of the causes of my long term depression and so it’s something that I’ve always tried my best to understand. Needless to say, I’m super happy with this.

“I know some people aren’t a fan of tattoos and they may think that this is a pretty extreme way of getting to talk about mental health and you may well be right but sometimes you need to do something a little bit strange to get people talking.”

Obviously this is primarily something for me. If I don’t have enough of this stuff in my body, I’ll get it tattooed on me in the hopes that it brings me a smile when I see it. I will never be without again. In fact this was the first time I’ve been genuinely excited about anything that I’m doing for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do but this was for me and it’s one of the rare times I do things just for me.

However, there is another reason for this particular kind of tattoo. It’s not something people see very often and so people will hopefully ask about it. When they do, it gives me the chance to talk about mental health, my experiences and the experiences of countless other people who have mental illnesses. It will help to open up the discussions that are so often taboo.

“It gives me the chance to talk about mental health, my experiences and the experiences of countless other people who have mental illnesses. It will help to open up the discussions that are so often taboo.”

I know some people aren’t a fan of tattoos and they may think that this is a pretty extreme way of getting to talk about mental health and you may well be right but sometimes you need to do something a little bit strange to get people talking. This to me, isn’t just a tattoo. It’s a message. It’s a statement. If I can get even one person who looks at my tattoo to think a little bit differently about their mental health and the health of those around them then it will be worth it.

Let the conversations begin.

A