Tag Archives: Supporting Others

True Peer Support

I’ve recently started going to a DBT skills peer support group. I’ve only done about three sessions but already I’m seeing the effect of true peer support. And yes it is positive.

I’ve come across peer support before; both online and in real life, as they say. I’ve had mixed experiences. Some have been extremely positive where as others seemed to drag me further down into my suffering.

My first experience of peer support was on an online forum for people who self harm. At the time I had no diagnosis and no one in my everyday life knew what was happening. Reaching out on this forum felt positive. It felt like a place where people understood me. It also gave me advice on what to do next. It was great. I made some really good friends who I’ve since met and they are still in my life over ten years later. There is a group of us who quite often meet up. We’ve seen marriages and children born. Most of us have graduated through university. We are all a similar age so I think that is why we’ve clicked. We also talk about other things than our mental health but the option to talk about it is always there. This is all positive but there was a darker side to the forum. Things seemed to become competitive for some users. I felt myself being dragged downwards. People were comparing who had it worse or seemed to one up people. It started to become a toxic place for me. Therefore I removed myself from the forum. I still keep in contact with the friends I have made through it though and in that way I still have peer support.

Another place I did peer support was through a local charity. They offered a recovery course run by people with their own experience of mental illness. It was a useful place and much was discussed about mental health and what we all found useful or not. There was a sense of comaradery among us. We bonded and shared many laughs. Again I made friends who are still in my life now.

A major place for peer support that I have found is the Twitter mental health community. Everyone is so supportive of others and it is a great place to get information about many different aspects of mental health and mental illnesses. There can be trolls on Twitter so you have to be careful but the block button is there for a reason. I have made great connections with people on there and found it a great sounding board and a place I can ask questions when I’m unsure.

My latest foray into the world of peer support has been through my local Mind charity. I started by attending the young person’s group and although we don’t really discuss our mental illnesses it is nice to know we all understand when someone is having a tough time and we work together to make the time fun. It is also a chance to be creative and work as a team. I’ve also started attending the DBT peer support group recently, which I mentioned at the beginning. The people have been so lovely and supportive. I’m so grateful for them. I feel I’m making some great friends there.

Overall my experience of peer support has been positive. Of course, as with anything, there have been negative experiences but I believe it has a vital role in helping us learn about our mental health and mental illnesses. However it should not be used in place of professional support, as can be the case, but alongside it.

For more information on peer support you can look on the Mind website here.

If you have any experiences or questions about peer support feel free to share in the comments or on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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They’re Not All Bad

I realise I’m quite often pretty scathing about mental health professionals but some of them are OK. Some do an amazing job and are let down by their colleagues. Quite often our bad experiences overshadow the good and we get into a negative view of all professionals, which is understandable.

I’ve had a few good experiences with different professionals. The negatives with these professionals only come when they are let down by the system they work within, otherwise they are amazing and make all the difference. When someone is caring and takes time with you it makes you feel valued and has a positive effect.

The first professional I found that was great was my art therapist. This was the first major mental health professional I worked with. At the time she was part of the young person’s service which was part of CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and worked with those aged 16-25. I was 20 when I started working with her. She treated me on a level with her. I was training to be a teacher and she treated me like a professional as well as a patient. She didn’t patronise me and went at my pace. Her main work was to get me to communicate and she did well with this but at my pace. She made herself available between sessions if I needed to leave a message or write a letter to help with the next session. She’d talk me through situations. She tried to teach me it wasn’t all my fault and at times I almost believed her. The main thing that sticks with me though is that the young person’s service was disbanded so all over 18 were to be taken on by adult services meaning I’d lose my therapy. However she fought for me and told them it ws totally the wrong time to take it away from me and that she needed to continue her work with me. This led to me having a further 18 months with her. Leaving her was hard and I miss her a lot. I still have the card she gave me at the end of therapy.

Another mental health professional that gave a good impression was a psychiatrist I had in adult services. She is the one that diagnosed me with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder). She always valued my opinion and explained things when asked. She wasn’t perfect in that she didn’t discuss my diagnosis with me before it appeared on my notes but she was happy to go through it after. She was also a consistent presence for nearly a year before she moved on. This makes a difference.

The next professional who I had a good relationship was a care coordinator of mine, L. L was very proactive in my care and worked hard to get things sorted for me, not only with my mental health but my physical health too, even spending ages on the phone to a hospital trying to sort an appointment for me. She didn’t make me feel like our time was limited, it was always as long as I needed to talk. She took an active role. It was sad when she moved on.

My current care coordinator is also great. She’s not been involved in my care for long but has already shown me how great she is in that she gave me direct contact details for her and allows me to text rather than talk on the phone. She doesn’t mind me messaging between sessions and is quick to reply even if it is to tell me she’ll get back to me properly later. She’s also always on time or early for appointments which makes all the difference. I’ve kind of thrown her in at the deep end with my crisis but she hasn’t made me feel bad about it. I hope we can work together for a while.

Unfortunately these professionals are the exception rather than the rule. It shows as these are four out of many professionals that I have encountered. Hopefully things will improve and we will get more professionals that want to help rather than make us feel like an inconvenience or stigmatise us more. If we can be part of the education of professionals I think it would help them to be more empathetic and understand us more.

Have you had any good experiences? Feel free to share in the comments or on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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If You’re Feeling Suicidal, This Is For You

If you’re reading this you are probably in a really difficult place. It’s one of the hardest feelings to deal with, but I have hope for you because you are reading this (don’t worry I’m not saying I can solve all your problems in a blog post, I know that’s unrealistic).

Great, you’re still reading, thank you. I know with how your feeling it can be hard to hear that things will improve. At the moment it probably feels impossible that anything can change. The world feels overwhelming. It feels like the only option is to end your life. But you are worth more. You are worth love and support.

I know you may not believe me and I understand that. I’ve been there. I still go there at times. But I believe you have value. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be writing this. There is someone who would be lost without you.

Still reading? Awesome. Now let’s think about some things you might be able to do to help yourself in the immediate future. If you can try and do one of these things it might help put some distance between yourself and your thoughts:

Talk to someone: This is a huge step I know but it could be the most important thing you could do. It doesnt even have to be about how you are feeling, it could be about a TV show or anything that will help you distract for the time being. Of course if you can say how you’re feeling that would be great but I know it’s a big step. It doesn’t even have to be someone you know, you could call one of the crisis lines here.

Take a walk: Sometimes putting some distance between ourselves and where we are staying can be a good thing. If you feel you can keep yourself safe then a walk may help you to feel a bit better. If you can let someone know you’re going that can help you to make sure you are safe.

Do something you’re good at: There is something you are good at. It may be something creative, it may be some sport or it may just be a computer game. Whatever it is do it. It may help you to see you’re not worthless; you can achieve something.

Hopefully there is one thing there that you can do. Or you may think of something else that may help you distract from the thoughts that you are having.

If you’re still reading that’s great. You’ve achieved something just by getting this far. If I was with you I would give you a hug. I can’t take away your pain but please know someone cares; I care. It doesn’t matter that I don’t know you, I would not wish these feelings on anyone and want you to be safe. I’m sure there are others who care too.

This is where I leave you. But you are not alone. I hope I’ve helped in someway. If you want to get in contact feel free to use the comments or Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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Ashamed

This is a personal piece. Please be aware some of the content may be triggering.

Today I had a melt down. Not just a little one but a major, uncontrollable show of emotion. I was in the DBT peer support group that I’ve started attending and I got triggered and that was it. My mind started turning over everything. Memories came back with full force. The voice started. It was overwhelming. I started by sitting quietly with tears going down my face. We were doing an exercise and everyone was focused and I just couldn’t ask for help. Then someone noticed me. They asked if I was OK and I got asked if I wanted to take a moment. That’s when things just nose dived.

I practically ran out the room. I wanted to slam the door behind me but couldn’t do it. This infuriated me and I hit the wall and ran to the stairs. At that point I just sobbed and emotion overtook me. There were so much emotion that I have no idea what it was I was feeling. All I know is it was horrible. In that moment I wanted to die. Everything was so intense. It felt unmanageable. I felt nothing was going to be OK again.

Luckily the peer support facilitator followed me. She was amazing. She got down to my level. I think she grabbed my arms. It’s a little hazy. I can’t remember what she said. All I know is she got someone else to go in with the group and took me somewhere quiet.

When we got in the office I just wanted to curl up small and hurt myself. I hated my reaction as well as still feeling the heightened emotions. Also everything was still going through my head. I couldn’t look at her. I was so ashamed of myself for so many reasons. For my reaction. For my feelings. For the thoughts of what had happened in the past. For what the voice was telling me. I started to hit myself as I was asked to stop. I hadn’t even realised I was. Things were hazy. It was like being in two different places.

The facilitator started talking to me. The conversation is a little bit of a blur. But it started to calm me. She got me to focus on my breathing to bring me back to the moment. She then had to leave me to go back to the group but someone else sat with me. They talked to me about nothing in particular but it helped. I started to be able to respond and the tears seemed to stop. The intensity of the emotions slowly eased.

When the facilitator came back we decided to have another talk. I opened up about a lot of things from my past. It all kind of blurted out. There were things I had never really spoken about. It just felt, well not easy but, OK to talk about. I felt listened to. I felt understood. I felt I mattered. But this was also contradicted by other feelings of shame (of what had happened in the past and of needing to ask for help), of being selfish, of guilt. I hated myself. As much as I was told it was OK I couldn’t believe it. I was (and am) an awful person. I couldn’t stop apologising.

Eventually I left, apologising as I went and promising to email her and contact my care coordinator. I decided to text my friend. She was the only one I wanted. I explained to some extent what had happened and she was concerned about me. Immediately guilt started to escalate again. But I kept talking (still apologising). She kept me calm. She was great. I’m so grateful for her. I’m so grateful for the facilitator too.

When I got home I got into trouble for being home late. It started as soon as I walked in. Immediately all the negative emotions started to rise again. I tried to explain I had a melt down and the questions started. They were things I found difficult to discuss but they wouldn’t leave it alone. Even when out walking with mum she brought it up and told me I just need to get over it. Maybe she is right but it added to how bad I’m feeling. Shame came forward again.

Since then things have been hard. My mind has been going over things. The voice has played its role. I’m trying hard to stay afloat. But its tough. I hate myself.

If you have any suggestions on dealing with shame feel free to share in the comments or on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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Self Harm Etiquette For The Medical Profession

This is a blog post for anyone working in the medical profession. This includes Doctors, GPs, Nurses, Healthcare Assistants, Paramedics, Support Workers, Psychiatrists, Care Coordinators, Psychologists, Pharmacists, Admin staff and Receptionists. Basically anyone who comes into contact with a person who may have self harmed (therefore could also be useful for police officers too).

It has come to my attention that some of the people we want to help us deal with self harm can be some of the least useful with their comments and actions regarding dealing with self harm. Therefore I thought I’d put some tips together specifically for them and any professional that needs to help with self harm.

1. Don’t comment on it in front of other patients

This may sound really obvious. Patient confidentiality is key. Bringing it up in front of other patients without permission is wrong and can cause harm to the person who is self harming, the relationship between patient and professional and possibly even the other patient/s who could hear about it. You never know where this information will go. Unfortunately I know it happens. I’ve seen it happen.

2. Don’t guilt trip us

I’ve had this happen with a former GP. I was told I obviously didn’t love my parents over my self harm. It was awful. I didn’t return for treatment until two years later after a suicide attempt. This isn’t the only impact it can have. Self harm is not a selfish act. It’s a way of trying to keep going. It’s a way of coping. Most people who self harm probably already think about the perceived damage they do to others. To be guilt tripped by a professional is more likely to make the situation worse and even cause the patient to withdraw from seeking help, maybe until it is too late.

3. Don’t mimick self harm behaviour

Again this is something I have encountered and not just with one professional but many. It seems some can’t bear to say the words “self harm” and so use actions like using their hand to mimick cutting across an arm. Not only is this not clear communication, it can be triggering. It is a difficult topic but it is one that needs to be dealt with sensitively and professionally. Yes you do need to ask, but please use words rather than miming actions.

4. Be careful with what you say

Most professionals are careful with what they say. They think before they speak and take into account the individuals situation. That’s great if they know the patient. However without continuity of care, which is heavily missing in places, you may not know details or you may just be someone that only encounters someone briefly so has no background information to draw on. This means being careful with what you say. I’ve heard things that concern me. They may be useful for some but I can also see them as potentially inflammatory to the wrong person. I’ve heard “you’re scars look cool”, “just use your faith” and “what would your family think?” as common phrases among others. Let’s work backwards, the last comment can easily be seen as a possible guilt trip but it can also cause some negative emotions to surface, particularly if there is friction within the family. The middle comment is also dangerous as some people don’t have a faith and this may be because of trauma or abuse. It can also suggest unless you have a relationship with a god, you can’t be helped. The first statement may be the most troubling though. You’re reinforcing the behaviour. Yes self harm shouldn’t be something people feel ashamed of, but it shouldn’t be highly celebrated either.

5. Don’t judge or use stereotypes

Some professionals have a preexisting picture of what a person who self harms is. They may see them as frustrating and a drain on resources. They may see it as attention seeking. These stereotypes tend to grow over time within a staff member. I can see how hard it must be to treat someone who seems to be causing their own suffering. But it is a symptom of an illness. It is like an addiction. It is hard once you have started to stop. It can feel like all you have in the world at that time. It is a sign of distress. Being compassionate, non judgemental and just kind to the patient goes a long way. It can help the person to keep accessing help. Doing the opposite could push people away and leave them in dangerous situations.

6. Don’t compare us to other patients who have self harmed

Every person is going through their own unique experience with mental illness and self harm. Self harm is self harm. So it may not be as deep or as “bad” as someone else you have treated, but to that person the pain they feel inside is probably just as intense and unbearable. Hearing that we aren’t as serious as someone else because it doesn’t reach a certain level is heartbreaking and can have a negative impact. It can cause us to try and do more damage. It makes us think we aren’t good enough or that we don’t deserve help. Everyone, whatever level of self harm they present with, deserves support and compassion.

7. Don’t use the terms “superficial” or “attention seeking”

I hate the term superficial when it’s used to describe my self harm. It makes me feel like a rubbish self harmer and that I need to harm worse or more. It can encourage the behaviour and make things worse. The same can be said about the term attention seeking as it can drive the behaviour underground and prevent people getting help.

Those are just a few helpful hints for medical professionals. It might not be a regular thing you encounter but it is always useful to know how to help someone who self harms.

If you have any tips you wish professionals knew then feel free to use the comments or Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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Self Harm Scar Etiquette

As it’s summer the weather is warmer and people are starting to reveal more of their body. This brings an anxiety to people who have self harmed, past or present, as they are faced with the choice of covering up (and boiling) or revealing their scars and self harm to the world. Therefore I thought I’d come up with some things that will make it easier for the person with the scars or self harm if you encounter them. Obviously this is just my opinion and others may feel differently.

1. Don’t point it out

This seems obvious to some but not to others. Pointing out scars adds to the self consciousness. We’re already worried what people are thinking without it being obvious that they’re looking at the scars. Also if we are starting to forget about them and enjoy what we’re doing then pointing them out takes away from our enjoyment.

2. Don’t ask us why we did it

Again, this adds to self consciousness. We become aware that you’re really looking and thinking about our self harm or scars. It can make us feel awkward and like we’re being judged. Quite often we don’t know why we self harm or don’t want to discuss it as its obviously something that has caused us great pain. We can easily be taken back to that dark place.

3. Don’t tell us to cover up

First of all why should we cover up? This makes me a little annoyed. I’ve been made to feel ashamed of my scars a long time and this shouldn’t be the case. It’s part of an illness. I have every right to not boil in summer. I don’t want to make people uncomfortable but I also shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable. People who self harm feel enough shame and it takes guts to show your scars, we shouldn’t have that shame added to.

4. Please don’t stare

This can feel awful. I already feel self conscious enough without people staring at me. I had this once on the train and it really fed in to my paranoia. I know it can be hard to look away sometimes but please think of the person you’re staring at.

It takes real bravery to overcome the barriers to have your scars on show. It is revealing yourself to many people, including strangers. It can take a long time to accept your scars are part of you. Shame is a really strong emotion that people who self harm feel and can be added to by other people making ill thought out comments. Please think before you speak.

If you have any other things you feel people should do or not do help you feel comfortable showing scars feel free to share in the comments or on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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1000 Days Of Self Care

As many of you know, especially if you follow me on Twitter, I have been doing the #365daysofselfcare challenge created by The Blurt Foundation. This involves trying to do some form of self care each day. Recently I managed to reach 1000 days. Therefore I thought I’d reflect a little and discuss self care again.

First of all let’s totally go over the point that self care isn’t selfish. It is the act of looking after and treating yourself with respect. People may interpret it as looking out for number one but really it’s bigger than that. By treating yourself with kindness you are helping those that you care about too. In order to be the most effective friend, parent, son, daughter, carer or partner you need to be in a fit state yourself. Self care is important.

Why did I take up the challenge?

The reason I started #365daysofselfcare was because I knew things needed to change. Mentally and physically I was a mess and I had no respect for myself. I felt worthless. Then I saw that The Blurt Foundation had started this challenge. I’d never really considered self care before; why would I when I felt so rubbish about myself? I decided to read about it and discovered it didn’t have to be big gestures but instead could be simple things that meant I was looking after myself. I thought I’d give it a go, after all what harm could it do?

What do I do for self care?

As I’ve already said self care isn’t all about spa days or trips to the cinema (although they obviously do count as self care and are great if you can do them). Sometimes self care is a nap, getting dressed, having a shower, clean pyjamas or just eating and drinking. It might sound boring but self care doesn’t have to be exciting. It’s just important that you are looking after you.

What’s been tough?

Doing some form of self care every day is not always easy. To begin with it was really strange deliberately doing something each day to look after myself. It was a totally alien concept and I felt like I didn’t deserve to look after myself (and quite often I still feel this way). There were many days where I didn’t feel I had done anything that constituted self care. I learnt though through talking to others that I was actually engaging in self care without realising it. Doing it as part of the #365daysofselfcare challenge actually made it easier, especially at the beginning, as I felt I was doing it for other people rather than me which spurred me on when I felt worthless. Also having the support of The Blurt Foundation team, as well as other people taking part, made things easier too.

Overall I would highly recommend trying to incorporate some form of self care into each day. It helps me be a little more respectful of myself. It makes it easier for me to be there for others and feel less of a hypocrite when telling others to look after themselves. Even if you just start small it is just as important as the big things, maybe more so.

If you want more info on self care you can check out my blogs on the subject here or check out this information from The Blurt Foundation. A very big thank you to Jayne Hardy and the whole The Blurt Foundation team. If you want to follow me on the #365daysofselfcare challenge then head over to my Twitter. You can also keep connected on Facebook and Instagram.

Thanks to Jayne Hardy and The Blurt team for the pin.