Mind Maps are something I came across whilst studying for my GCSEs and they have stayed with me since then. My English teacher, Mrs Morby, told us that before we begin writing a story, we need to plan it out in our heads and visually before we begin writing as it would help us provide structure. For example, when I was writing the Titanic poem, there were certain areas I wanted to cover such as:
Why was it going so fast
Something about the people boarding it
This helped me keep on topic and gave me different areas which I wanted to cover. But Mind Maps have also helped me when it has felt like I have too much going through my head to even think straight. It has helped me visually see connections to different things that were going through my head and which I couldn’t understand. I approach Mind Maps in relation to Mental Health as though it was a spiders web.
At the centre of the web is me. My life. And from it there are branches that go off into different areas of my life. The big areas from which everything else is connected. E.g. Work, Health, Home etc.
From here I can break things down even more into the image you can see above. I can then see the bigger picture of what is going through my head and from here I can make connections. E.g. I enjoy outdoor photography so I can make a connection between it and my physical health as it means I have to get out and walk, which has a positive impact on my life. At the same time I can create a box relating to my PTSD and draw connections to anywhere else in my life that it can be connected.
Suddenly this nice spiders web is no longer orderly and structured, but has connections that link different areas and it becomes quite messy. But it does help me see those connections and through self-awareness I can either challenge those beliefs or I can pick an area to work on improving. E.g. Coping = self-harm = physical pain = impact on my physical health as it takes time for my injuries to heal and I feel I need a way to justify them to people who may query them. In the past I have had to do a web, such as that for my PTSD, in other areas of my life to see what the relationships are between the different groups and where those connections not only are but where they also lead. So in the end I have an overall picture but also a more detailed picture of each specific area of my life. Doing it this way has shown me just how complex mental health can be and how it can drastically affect different areas of my life which were seemingly unconnected. But that PTSD has its tendrils linked to every aspect of my life and personality. It’s impossible to untangle it without completely changing the person whom I am today. In fact, the only way to remove it is to go back in time and stop my dad from being murdered; then I would be a completely different person and we delve into the realms of “what ifs” and that road only leads to pure speculation without any concrete evidence or impact on my life today. These diagrams are just examples and simplifications of what my life is like. Any questions, just ask 🙂
Let me ask you a question. Could you name the most wonderful experience of your life?
Most people may describe losing their virginity, others the day they met their partner. Whatever the case, just remember and remember well!
I’m going to try and tell you about mine. I say try, because the most wonderful experiences are ones for which words are not enough to describe, a voice does not compare too and even you cannot describe the feelings and sensations you experienced, to yourself!
It all started on a family holiday to Lough Melvin in Co. Fermanagh in 2001. We were camping in a town called Garrison, on the shore of Lough Melvin, through which runs the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. ‘Twas into the last night of the trip, about 8:00pm that night, whilst my family was in the camping reception house, when I decided to go for a long walk to gather my thoughts.
As I ambled along I decided to go to the small peer jutting out into the lough. The light had begun to fade, turning the sky ever darker shades of Grey, and the wind was blowing, not strong, but enough to give a chill through the thin jacket I was wearing.
Following the shoreline, I walked into a small stone and concrete parking area and past a white van with a man and woman inside and then to the beginning of the peer.
Looking out onto the lough; the waters were dark and black. A thick carpet of cloud in the sky hid the setting sun from sight. The mountains around me were smooth with a few white house’s dotted on them, like stars laid down onto the landscape, and the occasional row of trees marked otherwise unseen field boundaries. I could make out the different shades of green grasses on the hillside and could tell where it was longer in some places.
To my right I looked back at the campsite. The few tents of different shapes and sizes, some with vehicles stationed outside, making mini boundaries, an old rock harbour big enough for the few row boats still tied there and the rocky walls being held in place by huge amounts of thick chicken wire. As I allowed my gaze to travel I could see the large circular, red brick structure with the fresh water tap, the park with a few swings and a climbing frame, the utility shed with showers and toilets with automatic outside lighting and finally the stone wall marking the edge of the site.
In-front of me was a peer maybe 40 or 50 feet long, wide enough only for one person to walk, a metal grab rail on my left and wooden decking at my feet, turned dark brown, almost black by the fading light. The peer was being supported by thick round, concrete pillars below, disappearing into the black swelling waters of Lough Melvin.
I started out. Heading for a small right angled turn at the end of the peer. As I walked, the wooden decking felt damp and slightly slippery from being soaked by the water for so long. My hand clutched the cold metal grab rail, as I looked down I could see the black water through the gaps in the decking. There was no way for me to know just how deep the water was should I have the misfortune to fall in. This realisation sent a chill up my spine and played on my nerves. But on and on I carried till I reached the end. And I looked out at the new sight that welcomed my eyes. I could see more of the Lough, more of the mountains and more of the setting sun. I could see where the thick darkening carpet above me broke and allowed some of the land below to bathe in the suns warmth. Where the carpet did break, streaks of yellow and orange light came flooding downwards and onto the mountains below. Like the heavens above opened for a short time and allowed me to bear witness.
Fear and my now over active imagination took over and I slowly proceeded to walk back along the peer. The planks beneath my feet did in deed feel slippery to my step. At one point I thought I was going to fall in, but my main concern was not for my safety, but for the expensive camera I had taken with me.
Back the way I came and onto the campsite I went. Down to the shore once again. I found a spot just a few feet from the rocky shore, sat down on the damp grass, looked and listened to the wonders happening around me. The sound of the water breaking on the rocks just feet from my feet (excuse the pun) and the sun still trying to break through the thick graying cloud carpet. Eventually the grass beneath me got too wet and I went in search for another observation point.
I found a bench made of thick wood and mounted on two concrete pillars painted white and covered in pebbles for decoration. The dark chocolate coloured seat looked inviting when compared to my current perch.
As I sat on the bench, I shivered both from the cold and the dampness of the seat but my discomfort was soon to be forgotten as I gazed out upon the shore waters once again.
And again I found myself lost in a world of beauty and peace.
The clouds now threatened to rain. I scanned the Loughs length taking in every detail my eyes could find. On the far shore white buildings stood out like stars in the night sky. An array of greens in varying shades marked field boundaries made of grasses, trees and bushes.
As the night progressed and the sun sank further into the distance, the cloud began to break and fracture allowing light, like gleaming blades, to shine upon the mountains. Almost as if God himself were viewing the land. And the waters changed colour to a deep, dark blue haze.
The evening wind started to blow, piercing my jacket and biting at my skin, and causing tiny waves to form in the waters and crashing into the rocky shoreline.
Streaks of oil floating on the surface left behind by some unknown vessel show up like white slime trails.
In the distance mist starts to roll of the shallow mountains like a hazy tide slowly coming towards me. Enveloping everything in its path. The greens and browns and yellows of fields all get swallowed by the encroaching tide.
I look up at the clouds and can clearly see the different layers. The lower parts are a light Grey turning to a graphite shale colour. The upper levels retain a light white, still being fed by the disappearing sun.
In the furthest parts of the Lough a seemingly tiny boat can be made out only by the white colouring of its sail in contrast against the darkening Lough waters.
As I sit, I admire Mother Nature and all her glory. I look at the watch on my wrist and it reads 21:30. Half nine at night. I’d been watching the Lough for what seems like 15 minutes when it has actually been 90 minutes. As I sit I think about what I had the privilege of witnessing, thoughts and feelings of peace and serenity fill my entire body extending to every nerve from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. Mere words are not enough to describe this sensation, but it is one I shall never forget.
The gentle dripping of water on my face and jacket tell me it’s going to start to rain. Time to go back to the tent and get a bite to eat and still think more of, what has possibly become, one of the most awakening and perfect experiences of my life and one which is likely to remain as fresh at the time of my death, as it is on that very same day in which they took place.
This is a completely natural emotion to feel. It keeps us safe when we feel threatened, increases respiratory rate flooding the blood with oxygen and releasing adrenaline and our bodies natural painkillers; in preparation for either attacking a danger or running away from it – flight or fight.
I have some difficulty with this particular emotion as it conflicts with some of my personality traits in that I am not an aggressive person and I do what I can to avoid conflict and try to deescalate any increasingly hostile situation which life throws at me.
I have seen people get angry and loose their temper with people who are only doing their job or they get so engrossed and passionate about a sport that they easily take offence at anyone who disagrees with their view.
Anger also has its place within our society. Soldiers, martial artists, sports; any sort of situation where we are competing against or in conflict with another person and anger is useful in a controlled way as it improves our performance, increases our pain threshold and enables us to go that little bit further…or in the case of military personnel, helps keep them alive.
For me its different as it conflicts with my personality. I hate being angry. I don’t find it to be a pleasant emotion and it makes it easy to loose control of a situation and react negatively. But then again, that rush of endorphins flooding my body and increasing my confidence can be exhilarating lol.
Sadly my anger often times results in self-harm and emotional pain that’s almost beyond endurance.
I’ve spent years learning to be on the lookout for warning signs that I am starting to get angry and as a result my anger rarely sneaks up on me. There are usually early warning signals. Maybe I am feeling more irritable than normal or I feel that adrenaline starting to be pumped into my blood and my breathing increases. I also use my eyes, ears and mind to assess what is going on in my surroundings to see what the stimulus is that could be impacting negatively on my emotional state.
In the meantime, having had these early warning systems being triggered, I immediately focus on my breathing to try to calm down. Deep breath in… hold… and slowly release. Repeat as often as is needed. I also take myself out of and away from any situation that is causing this level of distress.
Sadly we all have a breaking point. I’ve found myself in situations where I need to have that physical release of energy and I usually end up punching a wall and damaging my knuckles or biting my arm until my teeth hurt all the way to their roots.
This is a controlled, and destructive, release as I will NOT take my anger out on ANYONE as I don’t believe this is productive. And I rarely find myself in situations where my safety is in question. I am always on the lookout for an alternative to a physical confrontation. I pose a danger to myself, but not to others.
But like I said, we all have our limits and even mine can be tested to the extreme…
Many years ago I remember one night when I was supposed to be staying with a friend in their flat. They had a visitor from Scotland over and the 3 of us were supposed to be going to a fancy dress party. I had my dads leather jacket and was going to go as John Travolta from Greese.
The situation that night took an unexpected turn before we even left the flat. My friends visitor had begun drinking and, having been informed somewhat of my past, he began questioning me about my experiences. I wasn’t happy about this and refused to answer. But the questions kept coming and were becoming more aggressive in nature.
I could feel those familiar warning signs being triggered and I was becoming concerned. I began to employ calming breathing techniques. As the minutes went by the questioning changed and this visitor began to ask before demanding to try on my dads jacket. This to me would be the equivalent of trying on his skin and desecrating his memory.
I looked to my friend for help and asked them to help; but my pleas were ignored whilst they laughed.
I had to get out of there before I snapped. I began to pack up and was being told to stay by my friend whilst being called a ‘chicken’ and a ‘little boy’ by this visitor.
Nah, fuck this, if I don’t get out of here I am going to loose my shit!
It took several trips to remove all of my belonging from the flat, but despite now being outside and away from these idiots, I was barely in control. I was physically shaking with rage.
Sadly, I seem to have somewhat of a delayed reaction in that even when I was finally out of that flat, my anger was actually increasing as the gravity of the situation began to fully catch up with me.
All I wanted to do was to kick a bin, but I didn’t do this in case the neighbours heard and began to ask questions.
I walked to my car, determined to drive away. I also knew that as soon as I got behind the wheel, this would not be safe and I could very likely end up in an accident or hitting someone; but such was the heat of my anger I decided to be selfish and not care about other people. With the distress I was feeling I just didn’t care about myself or others.
I think something must have clicked with my friend because they came out and grabbed the keys from my hand and threw them away before shoving me away from the car. I was so so close to hitting them. I wanted to. I felt justified in throwing that punch.
But the morals my parents instilled in me as a child came to the surface and they were my last line of defence.
I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I just wanted the pain to stop. Emotionally I was in agony and just wanted the pain to go away. And I will admit that had I gotten into the car in this state, suicide was most definitely an option I was actively considering.
Fortunately my friends shove, when combined with my own constant calming techniques, did the trick. I calmed down just enough to regain my desire to not do anything stupid.
After a few minutes my anger had cooled from 100C to 98C. Still far from being safe and calm, but cool enough to regain that valuable control of my mind and actions that I so desired.
I still left. I drove away angry and alone, but now no longer carelessly so. I don’t remember where I went but as I am here writing this today, I clearly got there safely lol.
This is one of those complex stories that I am not sure how to fully get across, so I will undoubtedly revisit this topic in the future.
Such is the nature of Mental Health that when I began to write about this I had forgotten just how complex an issue it was. So this is going to be the start of a series of posts on this topic as there is far too much to cover in one post and those reasons aren’t straight-forward.
So, lets start with the simplest of reasons for me doing this – WHY???
Less than 12 months after I witnessed by dad being murdered (don’t forget, I was a young child when this happened), during the year where I have no memories, we moved to a new town, I started a new school and just when I needed the most stability I had the least.
I had to deal with the trauma of dads murder and now I had to deal with starting a whole new life in a new house in a new town and going to a new school and trying to start making new friends.
My mind already felt like it was a scrambled egg and now that scrambled egg was put in the microwave and turned up to the max.
All I knew was that everything I once knew was no more and I realised just how little control I had over my life and my choices.
I don’t blame my mother for this; she was doing the best she could having now been widowed with 3 children all under the age of 10. I can’t imagine that anyone could have done better.
By this stage there were no arrests nor convictions for my dads murder and as I started to form new memories my young mind was in chaos trying to make sense in a senseless world where justice seemed to fail and it just wasn’t fair.
I was angry and that anger was just growing and growing and growing.
But being the quiet reserved kind of child that I was, and still am as an adult, I turned that anger (I will post more on my anger later) inwards until I could not contain it and it exploded outwards. I also felt huge guilt and blamed myself for my dads murder as, when he asked if we should move house several years earlier and I said ‘no’, we never moved and had that move taken place then he would still be alive.
Because I could not target my anger and frustration at the person whom I knew was responsible for my dads murder, I turned my anger towards the next person whom I felt was responsible – me.
So, just to recap, within 12 months of my dads murder:
Witnessed murder of my dad
No memories for first 12 months afterwards
No chance to grieve or come to terms
Moved to new town
Started new school
Had to make new friends
No arrests or convictions for my dads murder
Held myself partly to blame for his murder
I began to self-harm partly to punish myself for my dads murder and also partly to show externally all the pain I was feeling internally. I couldn’t cope. I didn’t know who I was, where I was, what I was supposed to do etc.
In the years that followed, from then to now, I have:
punched walls / floors / doors
carved words and sentences into my arm with a variety of blades
headbutted walls etc
ate too much
ate all the wrong types of food
refrained from drinking any fluids for 34hrs and could have pushed this to at least 36hrs easily
exercised beyond pain
beat myself up mentally for each and every mistake I made
told myself I was ugly, pathetic, I deserved to die, was useless, weak, total scum, better off dead, waste of air, didn’t deserve to live – I HATED MYSELF AND FELT PHYSICALLY SICK WHEN I LOOKED IN A MIRROR
looked up suicide websites for ideas and one idea was called ‘psychological suicide’ where the goal was to ‘kill’ your emotions to the point where you don’t feel anything. You basically become a Zombie
became suicidal and began to make plans for my own death
This was the beginning of my journey into self-harm and anger.
If I was to walk down the street with a bandage or a limb in a plaster cast or even in a wheelchair, I doubt very much that I would have taken as much verbal abuse as I have and I think any physical attacks would have been avoided in their entirety, though I am sure I would receive some sort of verbal attack.
I also seriously doubt that anyone that has ever attacked me in ****** would have done so had I had an arm in a plaster cast.
But with a mental disability, such as PTSD, no-one sees it. No-one sees, nor do I believe they would even care, the impact their words can have on me.
I keep telling myself it’s their opinion and I don’t have to listen to it…but it comes down to the following:
Are their words stronger than my own ability to ignore them? Sadly the answer is sometimes ‘yes’.
I fight to ignore them, but I’m also fighting not to self-harm as a result. I don’t want them to have that kind of power over me. But when I am in a vulnerable mood then my resolve is not strong enough and each word uttered strikes me as though it were a physical blow.
One of the things I have to remember is that my Disability is a hidden one. It is not on show for the public, nor most people, to see. For me it is a private issue as it involves disclosing a lot about my past.
However, I have learned that there are ways to disclose enough so that the listener has a good idea of my past, whilst withholding anything I do not wish them to know e.g. the extent of my self-harm or the emotional turmoil I live with daily.
Physical disabilities are understood by the public. They are, at times, easy to spot, and a Blue Badge is something they can instantly understand.
Mental disabilities can be hidden and, unless they are disclosed, are not easily spotted. Even if they are made known, I do not believe there is the awareness out there for people to understand the scope and weight and impact these disabilities can have on peoples’ lives.
What is it like to live with my Mental Disability?
It’s hard work…would be the simple answer. I’ve spent years working hard to keep my symptoms under control…trying to hone my thoughts so that I am completely aware of my emotions, especially my annoyance, frustration and anger*; which are 2 separate emotions.
I am ALWAYS 100% aware 24/7/365 of my anger. I am reflexively on the lookout for any warning signs that I am getting annoyed, frustrated or angry. I’ve maintained this heightened awareness for 20+ years now. It rarely takes me off guard. Though it can surprise me just how quickly I can get angry at times and I always catch it in time so that I remove myself from that situation before I do something I would enjoy at the time but later regret once the flames have died down.
On a normal day I can function quite normally. You would never know I have Mental Health issues. I would say I am quite an intelligent. I have a good heart and my intentions are always honourable.
My mood can swing quite dramatically from one day to the next. One day I can be highly functional where nothing can bother me no matter how much abuse or threats I get from the public.
Then the next I am living on a ‘hair trigger’, where it would take just a simple comment to send me on a downward spiral.
I feel I need to talk about this. If I were to give it a name; a form; I would describe it as a Dragon.
My Journey began
So many years ago
Where it will end
I do not know
The scars I have
You cannot see
They are not on my skin
But hidden inside me
The rage that was bottled
Has now begun to crack
Once it shatters
There’s no going back
The fight is on
The dragon has awoken
Now its container
Has finally broken
I will beat this anger
And I will thrive
I am now stronger
And I will survive
You will not kill me
That much is true
You’ve done your worst
And I say ‘Fuck off’ to you!
Whilst my Dragon slumbers there is peace in my heart and all is right with the world. But once he awakens…he just wants to watch the world burn. He is fire and fury at all the injustice I have ever experienced. He doesn’t care for others or their emotions. His pain, our pain, is too numb for the empathy of others.
My Dragon feels like raw power. I feel agony when he is fully awake. My body aches all over from holding back the pain and emotion I am feeling. I feel my legs give out from underneath me and I fall to the ground. And yet the fire doesn’t go out.
I cry. Fuck I cry. I let my dragons’ full fury out and feel him unleashed upon the universe. I cry silent tears and scream my loudest…silent scream. Not making a sound is my last and only remaining strand of control. A silent protest to my Dragon, telling him he has not bested me completely.
I HATE him and he hates me.
What is a bad day like?
On Monday 19th February 2018 I experienced, what I would describe as, ‘an episode’. This is what I call the results of a small events leading to a mental breakdown where all my defences fail and I am in a state of visible distress.
I think I slept OK the night before. I woke up several times during the night (this is normal) and didn’t feel tired. I think my cats wanted fed at 0400 and 0500 when they don’t get fed until around 0600.
I made a minor mistake this morning and it put me in a bad mood. But I was trying to keep it under control and was looking forward to a day working in ***** on my own so I can blow off some steam by going for a walk and pounding the pavement.
My mood worsened when I saw my colleague walking into my office. I was annoyed my solo day was ruined. I began my shift 10mins early and I kept my head down and my eyes looking only a few feet ahead of where I was walking. Actually I nearly bumped into a few people.
I felt very annoyed and recognised the warning signs and began to consciously do breathing exercises to calm my mood down. I knew I was in danger of having ‘an episode’.
I was OK at first; I was busy concentrating on my breathing and keeping a lid on my anger and listening to my music on a black earphone, which was helping immensely with my mood as it was giving me something else to focus on.
As I walked past the male he tried to get my attention. I thought nothing of it and continued on. Then I heard him again. I turned around and saw him giving me the finger and smiling.
That was it. That’s all it took. I felt my Dragon waking up. I knew now that I was in deep trouble. I could feel those angry flames rising and the tears threatening to spill out of my eyes.
Regardless, I fought those flames with every ounce of strength and will power I had. But it was too late. My Dragon had awoken and I knew I needed to return to my sanctuary.
Once I was there, I took a break; though I still didn’t feel safe to let loose in the way that I needed to as I knew my colleague could walk in at any moment.
Seeing me during a full blown ‘episode’ is every distressing. I don’t release all of my shackles; I never do as I am too scared to turn my Dragon loose. He just wants to destroy the world and see everything burn.
I finally began to cry as I felt the full might of the pain and fury I was trying to hold back. But I fight to stop every time a tear finds freedom. I went outside and grabbed the metal railings and just shook it hard. It swayed dangerously enough that I realised I was in danger of damaging more property.
I stood at the door and cursed the universe for giving me all this pain when I don’t deserve it. I feel my anger crystallise towards my dad and I feel furious with him for leaving me when I was 8 years old. I feel huge unimaginable guilt at feeling this emotion and my anger doubles and so does the pain.
I had terrible and distressing thoughts going through my head…feeding the fire I was trying so desperately to quench.
15mins later I rang ***** and explained what had happened. I rang again 15mins after that and following a conversation, during which time my previous fears were realised when my colleague came in and stood near me and heard more of my conversation than I wanted him to, it was decided that I was going home sick. I said I was throwing up and explained what he needed to do.
On the way home my anger was still strong. Those distressing thoughts, now made worse by the guilt I was feeling at having them, drove me to tears once again.
The drive home was dangerous. I was fighting a war; and sometimes winning, sometimes losing the battle that was raging within my own mind. A silent fight which only I was aware off. At times I was physically shaking with rage…whilst the entire time I was telling myself to calm down; focus on my breathing. Keep my mind clear and don’t think about anything.
When I finally got home I felt some relief to be somewhere safe and where I can fully express all the complex emotions and pain that were going through my head and manifesting physically through my body.
I made it into the kitchen and I just felt exhausted. I the strength I was using to keep my emotions in check was finally depleted. My legs gave out and I collapsed onto the kitchen floor.
Then the pain came…there was no holding it back. Emotional pain made physical. I felt like my entire body was in agony and I was screaming and crying as hard as my lungs would allow, but only a whisper escaped my lips as I did not want to alert anyone to my private torture.
Eventually the pain subsided enough for me to stand and compose myself; though it took several days for my anger to fully subside.
Sadly I know that this will happen again. It’s only a matter of time. It hasn’t been the first time this has happened and I know it will most definitely not be the last. It’s only a question of when…?