What To Do Next?
In last week’s post (Identifying The Triggers) I talked about the combination of identifying the conscious thought and memories that sparked off the chain reaction that is a negative thought pattern. Within that same post, I also mentioned the discipline of Mindfulness and being aware of ones thoughts and where they lead so that we can learn what the triggers are and discipline our mind to avoid thinking about those particular negative thoughts altogether.
However I realize that this is firstly, not a solution to the issues regarding emotional triggers that can be used in the here and now as it is a discipline that takes a lot of effort and a certain time to master (as do the many other positive meditative states that we can learn). Secondly many people will be asking, “if I choose to investigate ideas regarding meditation, mindfulness and mind training and it takes a long time to master these methods how can I help myself in the mean time?” Well, this is what today’s post is about. Using examples of my own experiences and my own triggers, I will provide examples of how I managed to work my way around everyday situations where my switches that brought on dark spells were more than likely going to be flipped. I will also talk about them in order of which most regularly affect me in day-to-day life.
My Mental Health Problems & Triggers
Anxiety & Paranoia – This is by far the most pressing issue for me. It happens most of all when I go out in public to engage or socialize with people. Only when I return to my home, in a quiet, comfortable environment does this feeling recede. When I go out in public, particularly when there are a lot of people around, I constantly feel as though I am in jeopardy and that the people around me are a threat or are there to harm me. I think this is mainly because of how my injury occurred, an unprovoked attack on a street corner. It means that when I go out I can never really relax or be at ease. If I am going to a particular place, as many people with any issues regarding anxiety problems will say, it is not the same as something like depression where you find yourself in that state and don’t know how you got there. You are aware of the sense of uneasiness and anxiety building as you approach your destination. The sense can be overwhelming. For me it has now got to the point that even when good things happen, I often find myself bent over with my head between my knees, taking deep breaths and choking back tears. I am shocked when good things happen to me, that good things can happen to me, such is the extent of my anxiety and paranoia.
I find that the biggest external factors that influence my state of anxiety and paranoia tend to be crowded places and invasion of personal space, loud and relentless noise and long and complex conversation and questioning. In terms of internal factors, the first one is a big contradiction to the one above where I mentioned personal space. I often feel as if I am exposed, too visible and that people are staring at me or watching me. The second is that when in social situations and talking to people I fear that they are judging me and disliking me (who doesn’t want to be liked and accepted? I think that’s more the. I want to be accepted for who I am, regardless of my condition).
Despite the extent to which it affects me, I have to acknowledge that going out in public is not something that I can avoid. (As I say that, I must confess to you that the amount I go out, socialize, number of friends I have and my ability to form and maintain relationships have decreased hugely since my ABI. My inabilities to manage my emotions in social situations that are in busy locations combined with the difficulties I have in trusting people are the main contributor to this). What I can do is try to avoid the things that have a tendency to really exacerbate my mental state of anxiety. These are the steps that I take to try and ensure that I master myself in public and in social situations.
- Arrive Early – I always try my best to arrive early. Very often by arriving early and doing what you need to do quickly and efficiently, you can avoid the mad crowds and the hustle and bustle.
- ALWAYS Bring My iPod – When I mentioned noise and crowds and the way it makes my feeling of anxiety worse, I always bring my iPod. On my iPod I have an album of Mindfulness/Relaxation music composed especially to be relaxing. It does not have any lyrics, it is just gentle music you can absorb, not interpret and analyse. It helps me to walk through the crowds, block out the noise and be at peace in my mind.
- Strategic Placement – When entering a place, say a café or pub, I strategically position myself at a table with my back to the wall where I can see the whole floor as best as possible. It eases the feeling that someone can come up behind me and I can see the other people in the place. This gives me comfort, I’m not sure why.
- Always Do Your Best – This may seem like a fairly obvious one. I do feel that we need to try and test ourselves when it comes so socializing and see where the line is regarding how much we can handle. Very often found that at the start of a social engagement, I find myself to be anxious or nervous for one of or many of the reasons I listed above. However, I think that the more we can make ourselves comfortable at the start, the easier it is to continue when a social situation gathers speed. There are ways in which to manage anxiety throughout interaction and exchange, whether through breathing exercises, disengaging slightly and allowing other people to do the majority of the talking or just taking a step outside for some fresh air and space every now and again. I used to fear that doing these kind of things may make a bad impression and that people will found me weird or antisocial. Trust me when I say that the people worth socializing with are the ones who will understand why you are doing this and accept that, for you, it is a necessity
Issues regarding depression have been slightly less of an issue for me over the last year or two. I have become less concerned by what people think of my disability and the effect it has had on me. I have found that I am quite happy in my own company. I have mentioned in past posts and in my blogging work on the Headway Worcestershire site, I have found that I am able to stand on my own two feet with just the support of my family such was the degree of which many of my so called “friends” left me to deal with the consequences.
However, as a result I would now say I am not the most sociable person in the world, mainly due to the issues with anxiety and paranoia I listed above. I don’t have that many people that I feel I can trust or confide in and I spend a lot of time on my own. To contradict the statement in the previous paragraph, when I say that I am happy in my own company, I would hasten to add that MOST of the time, that is the case.
When certain things happen in your life, whether they revolve around relationships, ambitions or just general musings about your own situation, it would be nice to have someone to confide in that is not a blood relative. There is only so much you can or even want to tell a parent or a sibling. So you look back at days where you had those confidents and that outlet simply from picking up a phone to arrange a meeting. What I’m saying I suppose is that it can be a very lonely existence.
I also have a tendency to look at the lack of spontaneity that my life has now. The resentment towards the fact that my life is now mostly dictated by a routine that my health and livelihood depends on can have a very large impact on the way that you view life. For example, the few very good friends in my life (friends from university who are scattered all over the country) are arranging a “Lads Holiday” for the summer. Now, before my ABI I have gone on a few “Lads Holidays” and I know what they entail. I know for a fact that many of the activities that would take place would not be possible for me to take part in. It is extremely painful to have to admit that by making the sensible decision for my health, my disability is excluding me from being involved in something with my best friends that, prior to my injury, would have been something I would’ve enjoyed greatly.
Finally, the biggest regret that I think all ABI victims have is the mourning of the losses we have suffered. It is easy to become depressed by looking at the things we can’t do anymore and resenting the loss of certain skills, capacities and abilities we had. All of these things combined can have a tendency to pull my mood down and get stuck in that never-ending cycle of thinking negatively and resenting both my overall situation and myself.
Over the last few weeks I have spoken of mindfulness. I have studied the disciplines of mindfulness, positive thinking and so forth but as you see from what I have written above (which are only a smattering of the thoughts I have that affect my mood), I have clearly not mastered it so that my issues with depression and low mood are totally under control. But here are some of the ways I try to help myself when these periods of depression take control.
- Be Pro-Active – By this what I mean is to have something that you are moving towards. I find that these ill feelings and poisonous thoughts occur most often when things in my life are static and I feel that I am going nowhere. Exert your energies as regularly as possible into things that fill you up, things that make you feel good. Don’t just do them for the sake of doing them though. Try and set yourself a goal or target to reach. It could be a target to do with your physical health, with certain abilities, employment or anything! Stay occupied and be ambitious is the advice I would give. There is no reason why we, as people with disabilities can’t achieve the things we want, the same as anyone else.
- Try To See The Beauty In Life – This is one of the things I have found particularly over the last few months. When you look at the world try and see the beauty around you. It probably sounds corny or cheesy but it is there; the ocean, the fields, laughing children, the beauty of the world is all around us. All we have to do is find it and see it for what it is and through that lens. That life is beautiful and that it can be beautiful for us to.
- Consume Positive Media – This plays a big part in helping me when I’m struggling with issues of depression. Depression is like being trapped in a cell with no windows, the air is stifling, it can be claustrophobic and it can even feel as though drawing breath is a chore or a difficulty. When we trapped in that cell, we need for a light to come on and a window to be opened. When we feel more comfortable and at ease with ourselves, the light becomes brighter, it’s easier to breathe and we can see the door. We can turn the handle and struggle our way out. Despite previous posts where I have highlighted the negative impact of the media and the way that television news and newspapers have portrayed people with disabilities over the last 4/5 years, media can also have a positive impact on the way we feel about ourselves and the way we see things. There are poems, books, short stories, film and music. All that tell the story of good deeds, talk about the emotions that are the antithesis to depression; love, hope, friendship, beauty, bravery, independence, doing the right thing and overcoming adversity. I find, very often, that the things we consume can be the catalyst for the light we need when we are locked in the cell that is depression.
- Positive Affirmation – Always take a moment at the beginning of each day and at the end of each day to look at what you have done and recognize your achievements. Take even the smallest victory you have had and take the time to give yourself credit for that and make sure that you recognise that you were the one who did it. We are often too quick to pass on credit for the little things we have done to others or acknowledge that without a certain circumstance it could not have happened. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge the credit for your own achievements! No one else did it, YOU DID!
Anger & Irritability
This has certainly become less of an issue now since I have taken more control over my own life. Over the last 9/10 months, I made the decision to focus on my blogging and writing full time so that I could control my situation. I realized that the main trigger for the anger and irritability I was suffering was down to situations I couldn’t control (customer’s at work, accidents or disorganization at work). When I returned home I would take out my anger and frustrations on my family. I realised that I needed a change. So here is my advice for those who are suffering from similar situations.
- Take Control – Most often it is an external presence that is causing the anger issues we are suffering from. For me it was work and the frustrations and other issues that came from it (I was working as a waiter!). Often people feel that this external presence can be an obstacle that cannot be passed or altered. It is absolutely not the case. We have to take control of our lives; it is just about working up the nerve to do it! Using work as an example, I found that to control the hours I worked, to not have to follow the instructions of others and not be under a pressure to present myself (in terms of my personality) to people and not have to worry about potential mishaps in that environment has helped me massively and that many of the anger issues I was suffering from have abated.
- Have An Outlet – Find a way to relieve any issues of anger you have through an outlet that is either fun or constructive. Many people use exercise for instance. Though I find that is more useful for me to relax and find piece of mind and lift my mood. My outlet in fact is a more sedentary one. I play video games. Mostly first person shooters and shooter games anyway. But this also has a second advantage, not only do I get to blow stuff up and shoot the opposition in my games, it is also suggested in research that playing video games can be beneficial post-ABI (unless you suffer from photosensitive epilepsy) as it exercises multiple brain functions at the same time (sensory function, cognitive thought via gaming strategies, co-ordination and dexterity of the hands by using the controller, and testing fatigue by how much you can play as they do stimulate the brain very much). Either find an outlet that is fun, constructive or both.
- Draw A Line – There has to be a line where the issues of work or whatever it is that initiates these feelings of anger is drawn. There are obviously serious matters that need to be considered and have every right to make you mad, but there are certain issues you just have to accept are out of your control and should not or will not affect you.The action of others for example, which was a large issue for me, and my reaction to them, was something I had to find a way to control. The actions of customers and even work colleagues could drive me to the brink of despair. But once I got my head around the fact that I had no control over what those people do or say, the problems became less common.It is kind of like picking your battles in your own mind. There are things that we have every right to get angry about but there are some things that get us so worked up it doesn’t seem to be a proportional reaction. It’s about accepting what we can control and what we can’t as well as having a reasonable expectation of fairness and what is right.
Face to Face With Myself
So, this is me in all my dysfunctional glory. I hope that some of the techniques I suggested in handling my mental health issues can prove useful to anyone who reads this. I realize I have droned on a lot longer than usual but I hope it will be worth it so I can try to help people tackle the nitty-gritty of mental health and actually help people find productive ways to help themselves along the way after something as life altering as an ABI. I think it is fair to say that when we know ourselves, how our mind works and where the emotional weak points are, then we will be better prepared for mastering those emotions and mental states when they start to take control. Thanks for reading. Remember; check out my Twitter page @ABIblogger and my Instagram page abi_blogger for more ABI info. Hope you’ll be back to read again soon.