The Mindfulness Miracle

Fairly often on Twitter there is some sneering at mindfulness and mainly because, in the mental health sphere at least, it seems to be all the rage as a cure for all ills. I am acutely aware that it is being thrust upon some people with mental health difficulties in a way which can be unhelpful. However, mindfulness played a key part in me recovering from Borderline Personality Disorder and remains a key part in my life in general and me managing my Bipolar Disorder. In addition, I’m going to be training to teach mindfulness and I want to explain a bit in this blog about what mindfulness is (for me), how it has helped me, and what it isn’t*.

Mindfulness is simply being in the present moment and observing that moment’s experience, without judgment; allowing it to just ‘be’. Such a simple theory, however, in practice it is actually quite difficult to get the hang of and it is just that, a practice. One which must be continued lifelong.

When I had struggles that were labelled as a Personality Disorder (PD) my emotions were extreme and out of control, constantly switching from one to another and, at times, totally overwhelming. Mindfulness (as part of DBT) enabled me to learn to identify what emotions I was experiencing by listening to what was going on in my body and my mind. It also led to me being able to regulate my emotions more effectively so that they became less heightened and had far less of an impact on my life. This isn’t by blocking those emotions but recognising them coming on far earlier than I used to and to allow them to be and respond to them constructively rather than ignoring or blocking them until they become extreme and overwhelming. Mindfulness gives me the opportunity to choose how to deal with my thoughts, emotions and experiences.

Mindfulness also helps me with my Bipolar Disorder. The self-awareness cultivated through mindfulness allows me to intervene in hypomania (well, at the beginnings of it before losing insight) and depression in a way that helps lessen the damage that both of those extreme moods can cause.

However, mindfulness is not a panacea for all mental health difficulties. The practice of mindfulness doesn’t magically “make things better” but gives an individual the opportunity to honour thoughts, emotions and experiences, and respond compassionately and effectively to them. It isn’t something you can force upon an individual by way of referral through mental health services as an only choice. An individual has to want to try the practice and continue to practice it. It is a commitment. I personally don’t believe it is suitable for all circumstances. When I had/have my recent episode of psychosis it felt unsafe to engage in formal meditations but I could engage in informal practice. I was able to adjust this because of my experience and this must be done at all times. Another example would be not using body focused meditations such as body scans when working with someone with eating disorders (as was an example provided on Twitter). Safety is paramount. I do worry that unqualified teachers can cause dangers here and that any course provider must have gone through rigorous training such as that provided by an organisation such as Breathworks.

I feel that I haven’t really accomplished what I set out to in this blog but perhaps that’s because I was hoping to achieve too much with it. For now, at least, I have laid out briefly how mindfulness has helped me and how it can be unhelpful. Further blogs, during my teacher training, are to be expected 🙂

* I will be training through Breathworks in Manchester. They have many resources available on their website: http://www.breathworks-mindfulness.org.uk/ 

Recommended Readings

There’s a mass of literature on mindfulness. The ones set out below are foundation ones that I have found helpful:

Aldina, S. Mindfulness for Dummies (2010) Wiley

Germer, C.K. The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion (2009) The Guildford Press

McKay, M, Wood, J.C, Brantley, J. The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook (2007) Harbinger Publications

Williams & Penman Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World (2011) Piaktus

Williams, M, Kabat-Zinn, et al. The Mindful Way Through Depression (2007) Guildford Press.

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#AdventBookClub Chapter 4, Casper

Just a very short one in the #AdventBookClub series.

Chapter 4 of Stephen Cottrell’s book, Walking Backwards to Christmas focuses on the story of

Casper, a wise man. The reading for the chapter is Matthew 2: 1-2, 10-12 (NLT):

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking “Where is the new born king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him”…When they saw the star, they were filled with joy” They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned then in a dream not to return to Herod.

There was a sign in this story marking an event so (geographically) far away from the wise men but they responded to it faithfully and continually until they reached Jesus (God made man). They were expecting to see the Messiah and that is who they saw.

That faithfulness is something I would love to be able to cultivate in my own life but the problem is whenever something goes wrong (or rather, not how I would like it to go) I find myself struggling to look up towards God and His way. Even when times are not hard I take my focus off God, I become complacent in the knowledge that oneday I will also see the Messiah. But what is it I am missing out on in the meantime? What joy and strength do I miss out on by losing that focus? I hope during this time of Advent I can bring back my focus a little more to God and His way. How great would it be to be looking towards God still at death or the Second Coming?

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#AdventBookClub Chapter 1, Anna

This isn’t one of my usual mental health blogs. This year I am taking part in the Twitter #AdventBookClub. A number of us are taking some time out throughout Advent to read Stephen Cottrell’s ‘Walking Backwards to Christmas’ and blog and discuss what arises from the reading. I’m out of my comfort zone here but I’m going to attempt to write a short blog on what hit me in chapter 1 of the book, ‘Anna’, which is based upon Luke 2: 36-38 of the Bible.

I was struck by a couple things whilst reading this chapter and I’ll lay them out here:

1) Stephen reminds us, through Anna’s story, that people who read the scriptures can fall into the trap thinking that they are pointed to church (the Temple in Anna’s time). Whereas we really know that the church is pointing us somewhere else, to God. I know this sounds fairly obvious but recently I have had a spell of illness and been unable to attend church. This was a complicated issue due to the nature of my illness (which can be found in other recent blog posts of mine). I have attempted to continue to pray and worship by myself but only recently attended church again. I became frustrated that I wasn’t able to attend services but in reality I was looking in the right direction with my own personal prayer and worship. Church serves a purpose but it isn’t the purpose.

2) Secondly, the church and festivities at this time of year are exciting and thrilling. The reason for the season of Advent, of preparation to celebrate the coming of Jesus into this world can get lost in everything going on around us in terms of consumerism and planning for family visits, etc. I’m hoping by participating in #AdventBookClub this year that I’ll be able to find some special, real, Advent preparation.

So, I’m hoping that further blogs will be more meaningful and insightful but this is just dipping the toe into the water of blogging about a different subject for me.

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Updated: Psychosis, Part 2

This is just another short update blog. So, just a few weeks after the increase in Aripiprazole to its current dose I am feeling much more myself again. I’m not often having thoughts/ideas/feelings of being controlled and rarely see anything that I could interpret as being a message to me about what is going on. Where does that leave me? This afternoon I had an appointment with my CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurse). I haven’t been seeing him long, I was transferred back to the CMHT (Community Mental Health Team) and to him last month. My first impressions though are good. He seems to listen and seems willing to engage with where I am at. Today that meant giving me time and space to try and process some of what has been going through and discussing it with him. The key question being – was I ill; was I psychotic? Things have been really odd and now they’re not so odd. Preoccupations I had before being medicated are no longer preoccupations. I no longer feel the need to harm or kill myself in an attempt to escape or test the control of those I thought were controlling my every action and thought. I feel I can nearly fully trust my closest friends again. As I told my CPN, I hate to admit that other people might be right and I might be not quite so right 😉 Perhaps though it could be that I have been ill with psychosis. That leaves me scared. Scared that my head could possibly have caused me to think and feel the things I was thinking and feeling. Scared that I could end up back in that place again if I became “unwell” again. It also leaves me a little embarrassed. Embarrassed that I could have thought (and still do a little despite self-awareness now) some of the things I was (/am). Embarrassed that I was so consumed by something that perhaps my head had generated and was/is not real. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on this topic but for now, that’s all I feel safe & comfortable sharing on this blog.

UPDATE:

I ended up back in that dark place. Maybe I rushed back to work too soon or maybe I just wasn’t as well as I thought. Now I’m just as confused and even more scared. How could I have left that place of wellness and become so unwell again and so quickly and seriously? (I’ve changed meds and I spent 4 & 1/2 weeks as an inpatient – or technically 5 & 1/2 as I’m not getting discharged until tomorrow, although I’ve been on home leave).

Now I’m not so confident as I was in the above post. In fact, I’m less convinced that I was ill than I seem to have been before. I still have occasions where I struggle with the controllers but they are far fewer, less intense, and I get less wrapped up in them. Maybe this is as far as it goes for me?

I have to decide on how I’m going to approach going back to work. CPN reckons I should leave it til after Christmas but I don’t want to leave it that long. At the same time, I need to be sensible as I don’t want to throw away the hard fought for progress. I’m so much better but I’m scared that I can’t come back from it again and feel as though I’m on a precipice.

So, that’s where I’m at currently. I thought it didn’t really warrant a new blog, just an update on the last. That, and I’m inately lazy.

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An Update: Psychosis

I know I had closed down this blog but I miss being able to think things through in this format, so, I’m going to blog again but whatever I want. This will no longer be a purely recovery focussed blog but will still have a mental health focus. I’m going to re-start this blog with an update as to where I am right now.

 

I’m not going to go into too much detail because to think about it makes things become too real and distressing to me but on 01 July 2014, whilst on holiday in Italy, I was awakened. I was awakened to the controllers. I call them controllers because I don’t actually know who/what they are. They control my actions, implant thoughts, and control my environment. As such, I don’t even know if I was on holiday in Italy. I don’t know what’s real, if anything. I don’t know their purpose – to use me to do something bad? To conduct experiments on me? I don’t know if others are being controlled or are part of the plot. I get messages through books, train announcements, and elsewhere. I’m confused and scared.

The Crisis Team (CT), all the staff of the Home Treatment Team (HTT) I spoke to and saw, my own Consultant Psychiatrist, my GP, my new CPN, and various friends believe what I am experiencing is not real. They think I am ill and experiencing psychosis.

The things described earlier in this post have been coincidentally lessening since I started a medication called Aripiprazole, which is an anti-psychotic medication. I am now able to attempt being back at work again, which was impossible a few weeks ago. The medical professionals and some of my close friends say that the medication “working” is just some of the evidence that I am ill; I am experiencing psychosis. To me, it all seems real although admittedly this takes up less of my day and I feel less inclined to research and figure out what it is the controllers are doing since the medication.

There’s not really a point to this blog post. It just gives a brief update as to where I am at right now and to alert people to the fact that I am going to be blogging again.

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I Need the NHS!

I’m resurrecting my blog as I feel it important given all the bad press & the increasingly worrying speed at which the NHS is being privatised to demonstrate how important it is just to me even. This isn’t going to be a pretty piece of writing, just informative of my experiences right now.

I won’t go into details but apparently I’m currently ill with psychosis. I’m not entirely sure I am but the antipsychotic I have been taking seems to be shedding some light/doubt on my beliefs/truths. In a nutshell, I am having trouble with the controllers and am terrified and confused. The past few weeks I have had an enormous amount of support from a number of areas of the NHS (in no particular order of importance):

1. A&E Medical Staff: I have required suturing a number of times due to a relapse into self-harm. Bar one negative experience I have been treated with respect and kindness.

2. A&E Psychiatric Liaison: I have been assessed, supported by, and referred on by the A&E psych liaison team.

3. Home Treatment Team: I have had numerous visits, ‘phone calls, and had an appointment and ‘phone contact with the team Dr. I am continuing to have support from them whilst I am fast-tracked back to be under the Community Mental Health Team for a short period.

4. GP: I have had numerous telephone contacts with my GP (some instigated by him) in order to try and sort out my sleeping problems and for support with my self-harm relapse.

5. Consultant Psychiatrist: I have had an appointment with my own consultant. He provided me with the time I needed, which was more than the regular scheduled appointment time. I trust and respect him from his care over the past several years. In the past, when very unwell, he has been known to free up 3 appointments and call me within the space of a month!

6. Pharmacist: My medications have swapped and changed around a bit the past few weeks, which has required a few visits and assistance from an NHS pharmacist.

I actually feel embarrassed to be given all this support when I don’t even believe I am ill with psychosis.

I have all this NHS support without being demanding or shouting or even asking at times. All of this has been over the course of just 3 weeks (so far).

I am on SSP at the moment. Even when I’m working I only work part-time due to health reasons and that is for a charity. So, what I’m getting at is that I no longer have the luxury of the salary of a lawyer I once had. There is no way that I could afford such treatment. It sickens and saddens me that in the future, if I require support like this I might not be able to afford it. It’s short-sighted. If I get support and well quickly, I get back to work – I don’t need benefits, I don’t end up on the acute wards for months at a time. Most importantly though, I get to have a life!

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Recovery as an Identity, and Farewell

I’ve not blogged for quite some time now and had been thinking recently on where it is going, if anywhere. Then coincidentally I had a conversation on Twitter last week, which involved exactly what I had been thinking about. My recent thoughts & feelings were neatly summed up by Bethan Mair Edwards (@pixiegirle): Recovery as an Identity.

My blog has been a very helpful outlet for me and a way to think things through. I’ve had incredible support and encouragement from people through the comments on here and also on Twitter. I even won the 2014 TWIM Award in the Recovery Category, which was somewhat strange and flattering. However, that in a way is part of why I am probably saying farewell to this blog.

I’ve been thinking how I no longer feel it appropriate to link significant events or changes in my life to recovery. I have recovered from BPD and I am learning to live with a diagnosis of Bipolar. My life isn’t about recovery anymore, it isn’t about rebuilding a life. I have a life, I enjoy it. I have difficulties with my mental health condition but I am learning to live with it, and currently I’m well. I don’t want to be identified as the “person in recovery” or for anything enjoyable to be considered a “recovery event”. It’s my life and I feel this constant relation to recovery detracts from that. I’m me, I have a life, I have difficulties; this is to do with living, not recovery.

I’m not sure I’m even properly explaining myself but I suppose it’s about having a life with the normal trials and tribulations + my additional difficulties due to what they label as Bipolar. I own that life, recovery doesn’t. As such, I am saying farewell. I am also saying a massive thank you for all who have supported me. Thank you!

 

 

 

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