Relapsing: How to cope
Guest blogger Siobhan Deborah talks abouther experience of relapsing and how she traies to maintain positive emotional wellbeing.
(a short poem about the inner demons of relapse)
“I rise nervously from my nesting grounds, something remembered once, passed previously, has returned.
My brutal friend could it be you are back to haunt me? Dearest black dog how is it you have stumbled across my path once more.
Yesterday was glorious, and suddenly the stress has overloaded me, my shoulders bear no rocks, no triumph in my heart, my mind weighs down upon my body, and pulls me from my shelter.
The desperate search for energy has begun, can I pull myself from such a nightmare again, can I rise to the challenge and prove my ability to live, to learn, to fulfil my dreams.
Every room is shaded by darkness, every step taken feels like the process of a million more, and here I push away my qualities in search of inner peace. Alone I attempt to force through the abyss which my bitter truth has created.”
It sounds grim doesn’t it, but that’s just the truth behind the relapse. For me, the hardest part of having a mental health condition will always be the arrival of the relapse. I know I, and many others living with long term mental health conditions can live life to its full potential, manage our symptoms well on a daily basis and take the appearance of social normality, with most never knowing or suspecting our conditions unless being told otherwise. Then one day we wake up, and everything suddenly feels very different.
Relapse, the darkest hours, when that first ever time you experienced the full brutality of your mental health and all its symptoms come back to haunt you. You rapidly fall back into an abyss of self destructive habits and the world is no longer your own, your full potential is lost in the darkness of depression and every day becomes an extremely difficult struggle for survival. And these struggles are all far more common than most would suspect.
The facts and figures surrounding mental health today are more than simply just alarming, the following statistics about young people with mental health problems were drawn from here (accessed 14/10/2012)
- One in ten children between the ages of one and 15 has a mental health disorder.
- Estimates vary, but research suggests that 20% of children have a mental health problem in any given year, and about 10% at any one time.
- Rates of mental health problems among children increase as they reach adolescence. Disorders affect 10.4% of boys aged 5-10, rising to 12.8% of boys aged 11-15, and 5.9% of girls aged 5-10, rising to 9.65% of girls aged 11-15.
Charities such as YoungMinds support young people and their families through mental health struggles, and do so often by drawing from personal experience and knowledge from those who have suffered from poor mental health from a young age. They also work hard to raise awareness and decrease the stigma which surrounds mental health in young people, offering an extremely valuable service and advice to people and professionals who may need it.
I struggle to recall exactly when it began, somewhere between the ages of 12 and 14 my own tale began with depression, I had always led an extremely happy life, I was lucky with my upbringing and my surroundings, my family were wonderful and my friends were the greatest people in the world. The pressure of school work and social activity began to stress me out, and around the age of 13 I began self-harming, long sleeves in summer, and trousers always instead of tights, my self-destructive behaviour began to define every action and choice I made. I never knew why I started just that the release was imperative to survival. I pushed myself harder through the school years, thinking nothing had changed inside of me, but one day it all became too much. I heard a voice in the back of my mind, but not one I knew, and certainly not my own thoughts, I remember glancing around to see if anyone else had heard it, and through their invisible responses I decided to keep it to myself, and convinced myself it was nothing more than a normal addition to adolescence.
For a couple of years, my self-destructive behaviour increased rapidly, and those around me became aware of my self-injury. I was weak and damaged, and slowly but surely the voice in my head multiplied in quantity and frequency. It hurt me, the demands they made, the opinions they expressed, but I was able for a long time to push them to the back of my mind. Then, still at the very young age of only 15, and after an extremely long and challenging winter I finally broke after years of suffering. The hallucinations had escalated and I found myself living in a world which didn’t really exist, blankly staring at walls for the majority of my time, I became paranoid and delusional and worst of all suicidal, and that was when the truth came to light. I’d been involved with CAMHS for around a year now, but it was no longer enough support for someone in a position as dangerous as my own, and in the space of only two days, an emergency admittance to a youth psychiatric unit was made. It was there that I would begin the long process of living with, accepting, and understanding my mental health problems.
Nearly eight years on and I am a lot wiser about my condition, but that does not necessarily mean at times that it’s easier to cope with. Throughout an average year I face two to five relapses, my condition worsens dramatically, and I am left in the care of a home treatment team who will on a daily basis come and offer me support. It’s still support that’s extremely hard to accept, especially on days where you honestly feel no place in the world, but you find a positive drive, and you push through it, because you have many times before and you’re certain with the correct support and the right people around you, you know you can.
Effects, Actions and Advice.
There are a few basic tips I follow on a daily basis to check my own mental wellbeing, it helps me recognise my relapses, so I can seek support before it’s too late, they are as follows;
-Know your symptoms;
A simple activity, each day I compare my symptoms to that of a day and a week prior and check none of them have increased or heightened.
However certain or uncertain of an increase in symptoms, if you suspect something is going wrong then contact your care co-ordinator ahead of time and express you concerns.
As hard as it feels, and as stubborn as you want to be, it doesn’t make you a weaker person for accepting help from others, always take advice and remember that the professionals truly are there to help you, work with them for the most positive effects.
If in doubt, distract! In my eyes this is the most important coping mechanism, surround yourself by people and creativity to keep yourself distracted from your symptoms, avoid situations where you are left to your own devices and you will find that your ability to cope not only increases in strength but your positivity may also find its way back to you.
-Remain open minded;
Even when offered therapy and medication you don’t necessarily want to take part in, you must remember that it is being offered to you on the basis that it may help you through your time of need, so there is no harm in trying.
Prevention of relapse and keeping up a mental wellbeing is crucial to survival, speaking out and requesting help during your darkest hours might just keep you from falling into self destructive habits and even save your life. It is so essential, to know your symptoms and to be aware of how your own condition works and effects you, as in the long run it will able you to be more confident in not only recovering, but also in recognising when times may become challenging again. Work with the professionals, they have been employed specifically to help you and will always have your best interests at heart. Finally, and such a cliché it is, but it is also extremely important to remember that you are never alone in your struggle. The world is changing and the stigmas around mental health are decreasing, speak out, tell your story, and help others through their dark times.