Today’s Inktober prompts were rat skull, Lactarius indigo fungi, and the cubine tangle pattern from Instagram lists by @book_polygamist, @nyan_sun and @havepen_willdraw.
What did I end up with? A very stylised drawing that is rather Art Nouveau in style.
I have to say that I absolutely LOVE the rat skull. I also am rather enamored by the Art Nouvea-y fungi and fronds.
Simple colours were needed for this design, along with a texture overlay that makes it look a little less ‘digitally perfect’.
Yes, I did draw this digitally, again using Autodesk Sketchbook Pro and a Surface Pen and Surface Studio from Microsoft.
I may not get tomorrow’s Inktober done, as I won’t be home until quite late tonight I think.
World Mental Health Day 2019
I’m currently sat in a hotel in Llandudno, having breakfast and getting myself ready to go and set up a table and take part at an event in a different hotel.
I’m going to be at the Wales Health at Work Partnership Summit where I’ll be talking to delegates but also taking part in the ‘Open Minds’ workshops in the afternoon, which is all about taking positive action on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
I’m there as a Time to Change Wales champion, and so will be giving a short version of my mental health story at the start of the workshops.
Time to Change Wales is an all-Wales campaign that aims to reduce, if not end, the stigma and discrimination around mental illness by getting people to have conversations about mental health.
I’ve suffered poor mental health all my life, having developed cPTSD in early childhood. The rest of my life, until the past few years, saw my mental health decline until I had two big breakdowns. EMDR therapy has been the ‘magic pill’ for me, that is helping me to process and release the traumas of my past and replace the negative beliefs I have about myself with more positive ones.
If I had known what good mental and emotional health was, as well as what it wasn’t, sooner in my life I may have sought help sooner. The self-stigma I have experienced around my own mental health prevented me from recognizing I had a problem and also made it difficult for me to seek help.
Indeed, my mental and emotional ill health would cause physical ill health in me when I was ignoring the stress, depression, anxiety, fear, hypervigilence, and other symptoms of cPTSD.
If I can change attitudes, make people more aware of what good mental health is, help people to recognise that they too may be suffering and then seek help, then I’m doing a good thing. Oh, and of course getting people to talk about mental health, thus beginning to break down the stigma.
So, today is a good day for everyone to ask those they meet not just to ask ‘How are you feeling?’ and accept the first answer given, but to repeat the question, ‘No, really, how are you feeling?’ to let them know you really are interested in them it’s ok for them to tell you that they’re not ok.
So, Angela, how are you today?
I’m tired. I never sleep well away from home and I did have quite a broken night’s sleep.
However, I am also quite pleased with myself. I managed to stop at a Starbucks on the 4 hour journey to Llandudno for something to drink and eat. I then had a good walk along the sea front and pier after booking into my hotel and having a mug of tea. Then, I actually went to an Indian restaurant by myself to have an evening meal!
Maybe it was out of sheer necessity I went out. However, I could’ve just picked sandwiches or some such at a Sainsbury’s local a short walk away. But I didn’t.
I also didn’t feel all that awkward in the restaurant. I did wish I’d brought my Kindle along so I could read while waiting to be served throughout my visit. I do have the Kindle app on my phone, but I didn’t have a good enough signal in the restaurant to download the book I’m reading.
I am also feeling a little anxious about today, which is only to be expected. I’m going to a strange place, talking to people I don’t know about something that is important but that also can provoke an emotional response in me.
I wanted to try to create a series of templates that could be used as frames for quotes. This is my first one. I remembered to save it as tiff file in layers so that I can easily change the background.
I didn’t start with the intention of creating waves filled with zentangle-type patterns, but that’s how it intuitively flowed from the tip of my Surface Pen onto the screen of my Surface Studio. So, I went with it.
It’s a very comfortable kind of art to create, whether you call it zentangle, zentangle inspired, entangled artwork, line art, doodled art. It’s just about filling space with patterns and lines, using them to add depth and dimension.
It was an enjoyable process that I could complete in a few sessions in-between a hectic few days.
The saga of the keyboard.
Saturday my Bluetooth keyboard decided to not connect to the Surface Studio. It had been finicky for a few days. I changed batteries, I tried disconnecting it and reconnecting it and following all the trouble-shooting processes I could find. All to no avail. This is why I’ve not done any blogs and been quiet around social media, along with life being a bit busy too.
It also worked out that the warranty on my Surface Studio and all it’s attendant bits and bobs had run out just over three weeks ago. Yes, I do have software I can use the Surface Pen with or a keyboard that pops up on the screen that I can tap with my fingers or mouse or pen, but they are so slow and frustrating to use in comparison to the speed at which I can type. I do love to handwrite, even on the screen. However, as I can’t turn the ‘paper’ or ‘writing window’ to an angle that makes it comfortable for me to write at I don’t do as much as I could.
Of course, I’d forgotten I still have, and use my Surface Book. However, when something goes wrong, my mind goes into instant ‘oh my gosh, I’ve got to sort that out as there’s no other way to get things done’ overwhelmed and panic mode. It’s only after I have solved the problem and calm down that I can see that I had alternatives open to me.
So, my brain told me my only option was to buy a new keyboard. Then I had a decision to make. Should I go for a wireless one or a wired one?
I decided on a wired one as that should always connect to the ‘puter. I also was beguiled by a keyboard that has pretty rainbow lights beneath the keys. Sparkly and colourful always attracts me.
So, I now have a keyboard and can email and write and do everything else that requires words from me quickly once again.
World Suicide Prevention Day 2019
Warning – this may contain emotional and mental health triggers.
The World Health Organisation says that one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds.
In the UK, two people take their own lives every day.
In the UK, men account for approximately 75% of all suicides.
In the UK, suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20 to 49.
They also say that one of the biggest obstacles to overcome in suicide prevention is the stigma and taboo that surrounds suicide and mental health problems.
The stigma and taboos that surround talking openly about suicide leads to a lack of awareness about suicide, and also about mental illness.
I am a champion for Time To Change Wales, a campaign whose aim is to get people talking about mental illness to break down the stigma that surrounds it. This also includes suicide.
As a champion, one of the things I do is to go to organisations and other groups to talk about my experience of mental illness and the stigma and discrimination I have faced. This includes self-stigma.
Thanks to self-stigma, I was in denial that I was experiencing mental and emotional ill-health for many years. It led to me not seeking help until I had nearly broken my mind. I ended up being off work as a teacher for almost a year. I went back to work for just eight months before I had another ‘breakdown’ for want of another word.
What I don’t often mention, and what I think also needs to be discussed here, is suicidal ideation or suicidal thoughts. These are thoughts about wishing to die, wanting life to stop, hoping that one would not wake up in the morning. Not actively planning suicide, but wishing that life would end to bring the mental and emotional pain to an end.
For a long as I can remember, right back to being young, I can remember wishing this upon myself. I often wanted to die in my sleep and not have to face another day like the one I just had. I didn’t feel loved or valued in any way, and the constant bullying, name-calling, being ignored and neglected. I felt a burden, a bother, a nuisance, an irritation, a problem to my family. I thought they would be happier without me. That the world would be a better place without me. I never thought of actively taking my own life, but I certainly wished to die.
That belief about myself has followed me throughout my life. Sometimes it would be quiet, at other times it would be shouting through a megaphone in my head.
I remember driving to work most days in the last few years of my teaching career wanting to just keep driving and never come back to my life as it had become so very, very painful for me and I could see no way out of the pain.
I never did drive off towards the horizon as I didn’t actually know what I would do. Also, the thought of my cat and how he’d not cope without me would pop into my head. And so I would get myself to work so I could look after my cat.
At the time, it felt my cat was the only living thing that was consistently and unconditionally there for me, sharing love and affection with me. I still miss him now, a bit more than a year when I had to say goodbye to him.
I owe my life to my cat, and to the one friend (now my brother of the heart/choice) who kept nagging me about getting help, and the GP who knew the right words to say to me to get me to understand I needed help and a break from work and also from my mind. Now, I am also so grateful to my EMDR therapist for persisting with me.
I have tears flowing down my face as I write about this. The tears represent the sadness that I feel that I was ignorant of what good mental and emotional health is and of the stigma I held about it in regards to myself. Oddly, I never had those thoughts about others who were experiencing mental illness, having helped others during their own crises. I feel sad that I have lived most of my life with poor mental and emotional health, thinking that was how everyone else was. I feel sad that only now am I learning what it is like to have a touchstone of contentment and optimism to hold onto when times get tough.
The tears are also ones of gratitude that I’m still here. I have come through the darkest days of my life. My career has changed, and my life is gradually changing for the better, as is my mental and emotional health.
I rarely have suicidal thoughts now. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I did. That says something about how far along my healing journey I have come.
If someone had told me in my darkest days that my life would be as it is now, with that contentment within me, an optimism for my future, I might not have believed them. In fact, I most probably wouldn’t have.
However, I am here to say that I made it through it all. Through my childhood and adulthood and now into middle age.
I wish I’d known what I know now as a child. Maybe I would’ve sought help sooner in my life.
What I wish for everyone is that every person on this planet is given the information about what good mental and emotional health is. I want mental and emotional health to be seen as important as physical health with the links between them fully recognised, and support is available to all who need it.
No matter how bad life seems, there are always options to improve it. This is something I’ve had to learn. In fact, I’m still learning about it. When I get overwhelmed, or something goes wrong, I tend to slip into the black and white thinking mode.
That’s what the black and white borders to today’s art is about. The complexity shows just how crazily my mind was working during the darkest days.
For the space between them, the background on which the quote sits, I chose colours that remind me of a sunrise. A new day, with a fresh mind and eyes always comes with new options, if only we can see them.
My story has not ended. It will not end until my life is naturally completed. For the first time in my life, I have a feeling of optimism for my future. It may have taken me two severe episodes of mental ill-health and several years of EMDR therapy and counselling to get to this point. But I’ve got there.
No matter how much of my life I have left, it will be lived with some contentment, peace and hope for my future. I wish the same for each and every person.
Warning – there are triggers in the CPTSD section of my blog today.
A little more work done on this mandala before I start back on a colouring template or two today.
It’s progressing quite nicely, though colour choice for latest ‘ring’ was an issue for the ‘shell-like’ green arc. It was a blue, but that didn’t seem qutie right, so I changed it for a green with a hint of blue. I’ve not quite finished with this section yet, but I want to let it ‘sit’ for a while and I can come back to it with fresh eyes.
I had thought the previous, darker ring was going to be a mis-fit. However, now I’ve added this latest ring, the darker one gives some much-needed contrast, and a bit more dept too. The inner part of those pointy arches makes me think of windows with a view out on the starry sky. Of course, the pointy arches make me think of gothic arches in churches and abbeys, with a more modern, sci-fi feel perhaps.
It’s not quite finished yet. But working on it one section at a time and then taking a break really helps me to see what I’m trying to do.
As usual, my tools are Autodesk Sketchbook Pro along with a Surface Pen and a Surface Studio from Microsoft.
So, how are you doing today Angela?
I’m doing ok I think. I am feeling tired though due to not quite a long enough night’s sleep. I have that gentle contentedness with me again today, which is a good thing.
See, EMDR can cause upset, but all of these days of that quiet contentedness and a greater self-awareness are very much worth the difficult minutes, hours, days or even weeks after sessions.
This too shall pass.
Quite true. The fallout from EMDR does pass as processing continues or as my body needs to come down from an emotionally distressing time in some way. Sometimes that takes just a few hours or overnight. At other times it may take a couple of days or longer.
A small price to pay for days like today where I have that gentle contentedness. I’ve had precious few of them throughout the entirety of my life, most of them have been in the past few months or so thanks to the work being done in EMDR.
Warning – The following sections may contain triggers concerning abuse, narcissistic abuse, childhood abuse
Just forget about your past.
I don’t know how many times I’ve been told this by well-meaning people who have no understanding of CPTSD at all. I try to explain why it’s not possible, but they just seemingly don’t get it.
I think people think I spend all my time replaying my past memories over and over and over. Nothing is further from the truth.
Yes, I make statements about what has happened to me. That doesn’t mean I constantly play the events over and over again.
What plays over and over again is the anxiety, the fear, the feeling of being unsafe that these traumas have created in me, that live in me still. Various events can trigger an emotional, behavioural and/or thought-process responses from the anxiety, fear and unsafe feelings I carry all the time.
Also, I have very few memories from my past, particularly my childhood. I’m aware of some of the negative beliefs I have about myself. I get emotional flashbacks. But I have very few memories of situations that have contributed to these things.
How can you forget about a past you can’t remember?
With CPTSD the body, feelings, thoughts and behaviours are stuck in the past. Even now, no part of me feels safe in this world very often. Maybe when at home. Sometimes when I’m out and about with a companion. Rarely when out and about by myself.
Everyday life is fraught with danger for me. Maybe the danger is not real, but my body, my emotions believe it is and so my mind reacts accordingly.
Every single day of my life for as long as I can remember, right the way back to the few earliest memories I had as a child.
One of my earliest memories is of being a toddler and living in Cheshire. The back garden of the house backed on to a wheat field. I can remember going through the fence or hedge into the field, just to the edge where I actually was quite safe, to watch the combine harvester in action. As it was moving towards me, I became so scared I was frozen to the spot and was screaming in fear. My mother shouted at my older sister for not watching me, she came and shouted at me for daring to leave the garden. I can’t remember if my mother and sister argued, but I remember a lot of anger and fear with me. I have a memory of being told to stop screaming and crying or I’d be in trouble.
Even now, I get anxious at the thought of that memory. I can feel the fear of that younger me; not just the fear of a big, noisy machine heading towards me, but the anger around me. I don’t remember being comforted, reassured, calmed. I just remember anger from those present.
I do know that there have been many other instances in my life where I’ve been in that kind situation again – where I’m scared and I freeze, but don’t scream or speak out. I learned at a young age not to speak up or scream as that just made the people I looked to for caring or safety angry.
I remember a small number of these instances, but so many more have been ‘forgotten’ by locking them away where I can’t access the memory itself. It’s a self-protection strategy that happens. It’s not a deliberate action. It’s what the mind does to protect itself.
However, the conscious mind may not be able to access them, but the body, emotions, instinctive reactions, behaviours certainly do remember them.
So, does this explain, a little, why I can’t just forget about my past and move on? I hope so.
The stigma surrounding mental and emotional suffering.
Would any of us tell someone who has broken a leg to just forget about it, not get any treatment, and continue to go about their lives as if nothing has happened to them?
Of course we wouldn’t.
Well, not unless you’re someone like my mother who wouldn’t believe I’d hurt my leg and made me walk around for three days before calling the doctor. I remember the doctor yelling at my mother that I should have been taken to the hospital A&E straight away as I’d broken my leg. I seem to remember being in trouble for breaking my leg and getting her into trouble with the doctor.
Oh, I was blamed for her being shouted at too. Everything was always my fault. That’s what happens when a narcissistic mother makes you a scapegoat.
Anyway, caring, compassionate, loving people wouldn’t hesitate in taking a child for medical treatment or encouraging an adult to seek medical help if they needed it.
Yet some of the same people who’d encourage medical treatment for a physical illness somehow think that with an injured mind or emotions you should just get along with life as if nothing has happened.
The emotional distress through anxiety that I feel daily doesn’t go away just because I ignore it.
Anxiety stops me from doing things I want to do because I get so scared that I just can’t do it. I freeze. I need to retreat to my safe place which can be my home or my car.
Putting a brave face on is like putting a sticking plaster over a manky, infected wound. The wound now looks better, but underneath it’s festering.
Emotional and mental damage done by trauma is the festering, infected wound that hasn’t been treated properly. They don’t go away on their own, in the same way a broken leg won’t heal properly without treatment.
It’s not the memories themselves that are the problem. It’s the behaviours, feelings, responses that come from trauma damaged mind and emotions that are the problem.
I wasn’t ever helped through any trauma in my life, ever, as I was a child and into adulthood too. I was never helped to learn healthy coping strategies, to understand what happened, how to feel safe again. I was never helped to be resilient.
I learned unhealthy coping strategies that I still use. I also learned to wear a protective mask of happiness, confidence that belied the very scared, insecure, unloved, self-hating person within.
EMDR therapy is helping to undo the trauma and replace it with healthier ways of thinking about myself and living my life.
EMDR isn’t a sticking plaster for me, it’s like the hip-height plaster cast that I needed for three months to help the broken bone in my lower leg to heal. It would’ve taken less time and a shorter cast if I hadn’t been forced to walk on my leg as if there was nothing wrong.
I absolutely believe it is time that society starts to change the way they think about mental and emotional illnesses. The suffering they cause to the people who experience them is no less great than for physical illnesses.
This is one reason I include my journey to CPTSD in my blog, along with my art. I tell my story to help some people gain understanding. I tell it to let others know they’re not alone. I tell it to let people know it’s not just the big traumas in life that can affect someone – war, major accidents, life threatening events, rape, sexual abuse, physical abuse.
The constant daily actions of emotional neglect, emotional and mental abuse, bullying, scapegoating, an environment full of conflict and drama, can all take their toll on a person, especially a child who hasn’t had the help to learn the tools to be resilient.
It wears away at a person like the gradual drip, drip, drip of water on stone can wear a hole in it over time.
A child being abused by it’s parent(s) doesn’t stop loving it’s parent(s), it stops loving itself. – Shahida Arabi
I’m guilty of minimising the effects my upbringing has had on me. Until fairly recently I thought everyone was brought up in a home just like mine and I was weak, pathetic, useless, a whinger, a complainer, for thinking it had affected me, and a liar for thinking this had really happened.
I’m only just becoming aware of the gas-lighting done to me. Recognising the ‘you’re a liar, you’re just attention seeking, don’t bother me with your nonsense’ self-beliefs created in me has having come from another isn’t easy.
We need to stop categorising some traumas as worse than others.
What is important is how deeply a person has been affected by the trauma producing experiences, experiences where they feel unsafe.
I finally finished this mandala today. I think I’ve logged somewhere around 35 hours on this image. I think that makes it the longest I’ve spent on any art project.
I have learned so much about how I can work with digital tools. I’ve also learned far more about my abilities and how I can express myself, particularly through digital art.
Although I find looking at the mandala rather strange now. That may be due to the closeness that I’ve worked with it, or the combination of colours not being too pleasing to me at this time, or the choice of backgorund colour. I don’t know for sure.
I’m am pleased with myself for persevering with the project, even though there are parts I’m not at all sure about, as I’ve mentioned.
I never, ever thought I would turn my hand to digital art.
Yes, I enjoy digital drawing; the beauty of Microsoft’s Surface Pen and Surface Studio are that they make drawing digitally so similar to drawing on paper.
However, this is the first time I’ve really ‘painted’ digitally, where I’ve worked in colour without black outlines.
It marks a huge step forward for me, as well as a coming together of things I’ve learned along my way. Not just digital things, but my observational skills, drawing skills, general art skills.
Lots of different aspects of my artistic/creative journey seemed to have gelled together in the past week or so, and I am really pleased about that. I’m more pleased that I’ve recognised this and gone with it.
About me and art
What I’ve come to realise more and more lately is that I like to create art that is pretty, beautiful even maybe. That is my whole drive in being creative. I enjoy making art that is pleasing to the eye, colourful, and full of intricate details that fascinate and call upon the viewer to spend time looking carefully at all the sections of the artwork.
There’s no hidden messages in my art. You don’t need to ‘understand it’. All I’d like it to do is to make you smile, to bring a little bit of colour and beauty into your life. I’d like it to be something that can give you a break from the harshness of life. I’d also like it to be something that you never tire looking at.
That may not be what many people think art is, but that’s what it is for me. Adding a little more prettiness, maybe beauty, colour and smiles into the world.
Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so.
So, Angela, how are you today?
I’m fine today. A bit tired, but fine. It’s been a warmish sunshiny day and I’ve been out to Cowbridge with my friend Liz for icecream at Fablas. And fabulous it was too! A well earned treat I think.
Yesterday I had my Time to Change Wales champions hat on as I gave a talk to around 100 people from Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW) at the University of South Wales in Treforest as part of the pledge signing ceremony.
An anti-stigma talk involves relating information about mental illness, stigma and discrimination and then I tell my story of mental illness (CPTSD) and the stigma and discrimination I’ve faced. Mostly it’s been self-stigma, telling myself I’m weak, pathetic, useless for having anxiety and crying and being depressed or having panic attacks and absolute dread and so on.
Yesterday, I noticed how anxious I was before I left home to go to give the talk. I’d not really noticed this before and it kind of jolted me a bit. Either I’m becoming more self-aware or my daily background level of anxiety is diminishing. I do hope it’s both, but particularly the latter!
These talks leave me rather emotionally exhausted and a nap was required yesterday. I could do with a nap now, but that would really mess up my sleep tonight as it’s early evening here in the UK as I type this.
I’m still tired today, despite sleeping well last night.
I do these talks as the I think it’s important to lead by example and open up about the struggles I’ve faced. I hope that it will encourage others to be brave and open up, or even admit to themselves that they’re struggling with their mental and/or emotional health.
I also hope it helps to increase understanding and awareness of what it’s like to have a mental illness, what poor mental health is.
If only I’d known more when I was young, maybe I would’ve sought help sooner and I wouldn’t have ended up having two really bad and lengthy bouts of severe anxiety/depression.
There are quite a few of us champions, all with different stories to tell around our experiences of mental illness and the stigma and discrimination that goes with it.
It’s always nice when people come up to me to share their stories, often quite shyly, or to ask more questions. It always amazes me that people think I’m really brave in telling my story.
Maybe it is brave. But if I don’t tell it how can things change if people are unaware of how mental and emotional ill-health affects us? I’ve lived it. I still am living it. All the champions have lived it and many still are.
Telling our stories is powerful; not just for the audience listening and perhaps getting an insight into mental health they’d never had before, but also for us.
We should never be ashamed of having mental or emotional ill health. Yet many of us are or have been. I’m not ashamed that I’ve broken bones or had the measles or mumps or chicken pox or other illnesses. I’m not ashamed I have asthma.
It’s high time we stop being ashamed that we have a mental illness. It’s high time society stopped being afraid of people with mental illnesses or judging people unfairly because of them. It’s high time that mental and emotional illness are viewed in the same way as physical illnesses.
I’m now tired and have lost my train of thought, and so this blog post comes to an end.
I officially have a post-therapy and post trio of antistigma talks emotional hangover/headache.
I’m so tired today. Headachy. Feeling quite sad. Finding focus is difficult.
A big, big mug of strong Yorkshire tea, clementine segments, banana and some French bread with butter and marmalade is being had for breakfast.
I was so tired when I got home yesterday from the last anti-stigma talk of this week that I ordered in pizza and garlic mushrooms. I watched most of Attack of the Clones while beginning to crochet a market bag. And when I felt I could sleep I went to bed.
To find that I couldn’t sleep, not straight away. My mind was still way too busy.
So, I thought I’d sit in bed and do a little drawing, which is the one above.
I knew today would be Friday, so I added some really simple dangles to the bottom of it for dangle day.
I used my R2-D2 Sheaffer fountain pen on some Claire-Fontaine mixed media paper. I have managed to smudge the ink in some places.
However, this did let me settle down to sleep. It was a meditative practice for me, if not mindfulness meditation itself. No matter what, it helped me calm and quieten my mind so I could sleep.
The anti-stigma talks have a part that is about Time to Change Wales, a bit about stigma and discrimination and mental illness, and the main part is my story of mental illness and how stigma and discrimination has affected me.
Self-stigma has always been the worst for me. What others would say to me such as ‘just pull yourself together’ or ‘don’t be such a misery’ or suggesting that I have a lot going for me in my life and I shouldn’t feel the way I was the same as I was telling myself. In fact, I talked to myself worse than what others could say.
I was really resistant to the idea that I had problems with mental and emotional wellbeing.
“It’s been a long, busy term. I’ll be fine after the holidays.” “We’ve got an inspection coming up, it’s really busy.” “I had that difficult pupil again today and it just wore me down, I’ll be ok”. “I’m not crazy.” “I’m not weak.” “I’m not mad.” “There’s nothing wrong with me that a weekend won’t fix.”
That was, and still is me to a lesser extent. Always trying to put a brave face on how I’m feeling. Trying to hide behind a mask of smiles and laughter and competency. Doing my best not to be a bother to anyone, not to worry anyone. Not wanting anyone to think I was lying/attention-seeking/making a fuss over nothing.
Always denying I had a problem. Until I could deny it no more.
That happened in steps.
Being physically confronted by two pupils led to me receiving counselling for the first time and with me finally admitting some things about grooming in my past, not only to the counsellor, but to myself.
Counselling kept me in my job. When it ended, the decline in my mental health resumed and continued until I had to have 8 months off from work, accept anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication to give my brain a break from the constant worrying, thinking, panicking it was doing.
One of the hardest things I had to do was to admit to myself I needed help. Not just admit, but accept that help.
Talking about my childhood, where those patterns of thoughts, the very negative, critical thoughts and beliefs I have about myself have come from. Not talking in depth, mind you, just touching the surface of it. This is emotionally draining for me. It awakens emotions in me that are only just surfacing and being recognised through EMDR therapy.
Yesterday, I wrote a post about why I do these talks. Today, I’m writing about the aftermath of the talks.
The aftermath won’t ever stop me from doing the talks. I can cope with it. I need a day or two of self-care (and ice-cream).
Self-care is doing things that are familiar, that calm me and bring me pleasure. So that’s art, crochet, Star Wars, ice-cream with a friend. It’s quiet time for myself, without the pressures of people. It’s sleeping when I need to sleep. My body isn’t tired, but my emotions and mind are. They need time to rest and recuperate.
And that just doesn’t apply to me, a CPTSD survivor on a healing journey towards recovery. It applies to each and every single person.
Me. You. Everyone.
We all have mental health. We all have emotional health. We all need to take care of them as much as we do our physical health.
Just as we seek help if we have a problem with our physical health, such as taking a painkiller for a headache, surgery for appendicitis, dental work for teeth problems, a cast for a broken bone, chemotherapy for cancer, then we also need to seek help if we’re having problems with our emotional and mental health.
There’s no stigma attached to having a physical illness. But there is with mental and emotional illnesses and problems. There should not be.
It’s about being kind to ourselves. Learning how to be kind to ourselves. Taking that time to give our minds and emotions a break. That’s what self-love is. It’s kindness to ourselves.
Something I never learned in childhood. All I learned was that I was unworthy, useless, stupid, ugly, fat, unloveable, a failure, an embarrassment, the reason everything went wrong.
I’ve lived most of my life believing that was so, trying to prove it wasn’t and to earn the love and respect of someone who is incapable of love and respect – a narcissistic mother. Not only her, but so many others in my life.
It’s never too late to do something to help myself have a better relationship with myself in the first instance. That’s what EMDR is helping me with.
If my talks help others recognise some of the same things in themselves, workout that their relationship with themselves, that their mental and emotional health isn’t good, and they determine to seek help when they’re ready, then every day of this emotional tiredness/hangover/headachyness is absolutely worth it.
It really has been a week for me. I seem to have dashed from one thing to another, sometimes seemingly without time to catch my breath. I’m still feeling dazed, mentally drained and emotionally fragile after it all, particularly the events of yesterday’s ‘Time to Talk Day’.
I do have, however, lying beneath all of this a sense of a gentle smile, a soft calmness that I have been aware of since starting loving kindness meditations to help me with self-compassion. It is this presence that I’m trying to focus on and find when I feel overwhelmed by tiredness and fragility.
The tiredness, the fragility will pass. Some of the fragility and the deafening shouting of the inner critic will need some help to dispel, and that’s where EMDR comes in. Bit by bit it seems EMDR is helping to disempower that inner critic, the beastie on my back.
Time to Talk Day – a review
It was good yesterday to be able to help out on Time to Talk Day as a champion for Time To Change Wales, draining as the anti-stigma talk in the morning was for me. I spoke to a lovely group of police officers from the South Wales Police at Ton Pentre Police Station. They even gave me two rounds of applause at the end of the talk.
Part of the anti-stigma talk is sharing my story of my mental illness, cPTSD, my life, how cPTSD has affected my life and the stigma and discrimination I’ve faced as a result of it.
The biggest stigma I’ve had to contend with is self-stigma. It was that which stopped me from acknowledging the thoughts and feelings I had about myself were not healthy and it stopped me from seeking help for a very long time – nearly 50 years of my life.
It is draining to tell my story. I get some emotional flashbacks. I’m letting people know some of the most difficult times of my life in terms of what I was thinking and feeling at that time, though I don’t share everything that has happened to me in terms of trauma. I still can’t talk about some of it, and some of it I have amnesia about – a coping strategy for those like me who have traumas they can’t speak about. There were traumas that were horrifying to me at the time and I had no one to speak to about it. I didn’t think anyone would believe me. That inner critic still tells me I’m making it up, attention seeking, swinging the lead, pathetic, weak, useless, and more ugly words it has about me. I sometimes feel a total fraud when telling my story, doubting what few memories I have of my past, wondering if people actually believe me.
The evidence of the trauma is there in the way I think about myself and the way I speak to myself however. The trauma is also stored in my body and that comes out during EMDR, sometimes with a memory of something I had no recollection of until that time. That is extremely uncomfortable when it happens and it can challenge my view of my childhood experiences.
Why do I do this when it causes me some difficulties post-talk?
I want people to know what is mental health and what is not.
If I had known at a younger age that how I thought and felt and behaved wasn’t healthy maybe I would have sought out help sooner and maybe my life would have been different. I can’t do anything about that, though. I am doing my best to recover from all of this trauma and cPTSD. But if me talking about how my thoughts and emotions were helps them gain a better picture of good mental health vs poor mental health and perhaps even recognise in themselves that they’re struggling even a little and they get help, then that is a good job done.
That’s why I do this.
I want people to know that they are not alone in their struggles. Because mental health is something we don’t talk about, that people fear and fear talking about, it’s all too easy to feel that we’re alone. By talking about mental health, our own mental health, bit by bit we can change fear into understanding, stigma into acceptance and recognise that our mental and emotional health is as important as our physical health.
That’s why I do this.
I want to help break the stereotype of what someone experiencing mental ill-health looks and acts like.
That’s why I do this.
I battle with the shame of trauma that has been inflicted on me in my past, trauma that the perpetrators should feel shame about NOT me! I felt so shameful about struggling with my mental and emotional health as well. It’s enough to fight being ashamed of things others did to me without the shame of the stigma of mental illness too.
That’s why I do this.
I want people to know that it takes a lot of strength to live life when you’re not feeling well mentally or emotionally. It takes a lot of effort to do life’s daily tasks when you’re well, when you’re battling yourself, your mind, your emotions it takes a lot more energy and strength to do that. It takes a lot of energy to hide what goes on under the surface, what people can’t see – the storms in the mind and emotions – to appear that you’re coping well and can do everything. Doing that for too long and not recognising that I was struggling was what nearly broke my mind totally. I don’t want other people to experience that
That’s why I do this.
I am on the road to recovery from cPTSD. I want people to know you can recover. I want people to know that it is ok to ask for help.
As I explained to someone yesterday that if you want to learn to drive a car you seek out someone who can teach you and we’re not ashamed about this nor do we feel week about it either. However, if we’re struggling mentally or emotionally we don’t want to ask for help because of the fear of how people might view us – that’s the stigma and discrimination that exists. But if we need help and don’t know how to help ourselves we should feel able to ask for help for someone to help us learn the tools we need, tools we can add to our mental and emotional wellbeing kit, whatever those tools may be – medication, counselling, advice, help to see things in a different way, and so many more I’m sure.
That’s why I do this.
I’m sure there are many other reasons, but my brain is still tired and a bit addled from EMDR on Monday, which left me tired and drained and I hadn’t quite recovered from that for yesterday’s anti-stigma talk and then the stand at the ABM Trust Headquarters in Port Talbot.
Self Care Day
I do know that today I need to do a lot of self-care activities. That means doing things that are familiar to me. I think in artsy way I’ll be adding things to my visual reference Leuchtturm. I may also spend some time knitting and watching Star Wars. Again, these are familiar to me, there are no surprises waiting for me and I can just relax into them, and that is soothing to me when I’m emotionally drained.
I also need plenty of tea today. I have run out of milk though, so I’m going to have to brave the heavy rain and wild winds to pop out to get some, and some food that doesn’t take much in the way of preparation today as well. I think cooking, though it can be soothing could be annoying today.
The arty stuff
Usually on a Friday I’d post a dangle design. Today, I wanted to post a quote about mental health, and I decided to have a play with a similar very graphic style of art to place behind it. I’m not entirely sure the art works. No doubt I’ll have a go at another version later on today, perhaps.
For this one I sorted out the words and black boxes in Publisher and exported the page as a jpg file. I then used this file in Autodesk Sketchbook Pro along with my Microsoft Surface Pen and Microsoft Surface Studio to add the artwork behind the quote.
I’ve created two coloring templates for Time To Talk Day, which is tomorrow, and the art above was created using one of them, but more about that later in this wittering.
Time to Change Day and mental health
The whole idea of the day is to get people talking about mental health. Mental health problems affect 1 in 4 of us, yet people are still afraid to talk about it. There’s still a huge stigma surrounding mental ill-health and that leads to discrimination of those experiencing mental illness.
I’m one of the 1 in 4. My cPTSD means that I am constantly anxious and it’ doesn’t take much of a trigger to get me into a full state of panic. I can have bouts of depression, nowadays not as deep or dark as they have been in the fairly recent past. I get emotional flashbacks to times of trauma. I don’t remember many traumatic experiences, but my body remembers the feelings associated with that trauma and I experience them yet again, retraumatising me.
Thanks to EMDR, however, these emotional flashbacks are less common and sometimes aren’t quite as intense, sometimes just as intense.
I have a whole host of other issues related to cPTSD and a quick google will bring back lots of information if you’re interested.
Tomorrow I will have my champions hat on for Time to Change Wales as I go to give an anti-stigma talk to a group of police officers in Ton Pentre and then on to man (woman?) a stand in Port Talbot after that. That means I won’t be parking in the police station car park again after my last experience there!
The anti-stigma talk has me telling people a little about Time To Change Wales, the statistics for mental illness, what stigma and discrimination there are and then I tell my story of my mental illness.
The talks wipe me out emotionally. I end up exhausted and often with what I call an emotional ‘hangover’ – I feel headachy and spaced out, sometimes quite upset too.
However, I consider that a small price to pay if my talks (and my blogs) help one person to recognise their mental health isn’t what it should be, or to find the courage to seek help as they know they are struggling.
It’s also important as meeting champions who have experienced or are experiencing mental health problems helps to break the stereotypes of what people with mental illnesses look like and behave.
I’m well on my path to recovery. I don’t know if that will be a full recovery from cPTSD or whether it will be a good enough recovery that I’m resilient to lifes ups and downs, that I’ll be able to form meaningful relationships, trust people, be able to travel by myself, be able to go places because I can go there not because I have to have some reason…and more.
I know that crowded, noisy places are always likely to be a no no – I don’t appear it, but I am an introvert. I learned to wear a mask of extroversion (among other masks) when I was very young and that mask kind of protects what is beneath it. Wearing that mask is exhausting.
So, back to the art.
I’ve created two coloring templates for Time to Talk Day 2019. Originally they were for the colouring day being run as part of Time to Talk Day at the Welsh Office! I’ve also made the templates available to Time to Change Wales and Mind have copies of them too, so they’ll be available over social media.
To create the art above I used one of the templates as a basis for the art. I think you’ll agree that this is a very different piece of art from me. It’s rather graphic and quite 1960s psychedelic too!
I had a lot of fun doing this artwork and I’m surprisingly happy with the result.
It is digital art; I used my usual trio of Microsoft Surface Studio, Microsoft Surface Pen along with Autodesk Sketchbook Pro to create it, along with my creativity.
It’s been a little while since I’ve done an illustrated quote. Today, I was drawn to one by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and even though it was written over 200 years ago, it still has relevance in our time.
I printed the words out and then used Ohto Graphic Liner pens to draw the illustration around it. After scanning the image in, I used Autodesk Sketchbook Pro to alter the colour and add my watermark.
A nice way to spend a damp, sometimes drizzly Monday morning here in the UK. The schools return, the teachers at least for their day of training/preparation for the return of their students in the coming day(s), the interminable meetings where so much information is passed on it’s hard to retain it, let along digest it!
I do not miss this one bit. I loved teaching – the actual teaching, helping pupils to grow and develop, not only as little scientists but also as human beings and in confidence and self-belief.
I do not miss the huge number of meetings, the constant change, the challenges of behaviour/attitudes that changes in society have wreaked, the homogenization of teaching strategies…and so much more.
I’m feeling grateful this day that I get to do what I love, to make a new career from it, to continue to help people through my colouring books, and in other ways too.
I was once ignorant of the fact that I could do something else with my life, I thought I’d be a teacher until I reached retirement age, and that I would struggle more and more with my mental health and emotional health over time. I was also ignorant of the fact I had depression, anxiety and more – willfully ignoring the signs, denying that it was a problem, that I was just tired, or it was the result of a verbal attack or poor behaviour or even a physical threat at the end of my time teaching.
I was ignorant as I chose to ignore the facts of what was happening to my mind and emotions.
It must have been a terrible thing for those who truly knew me (not many, one maybe, thanks to the carefully crafted mask of happiness and jollity that I wore all my life when with people, very different behind closed doors with no one around to observe) to see how I was plummeting downward, to have me dismiss their observations with the excuse ‘I’m just tired’ or ‘I’ve had a tough day’ or ‘So and so did such and such yet again today and it got to me. I’ll be fine after a good night’s sleep’.
Eventually I had no choice but to get help, to have months and months away from teaching so that I could recover just enough to return and last another eight months.
I know now my ignorance of my own well being wasn’t out of innocence about mental health issues; instead it was borne out of the messages I had as I grew up from the mother, from society, that to have depression, to be anxious, was a shameful, weak thing and there was something wrong with you if this was you.
I stigmatized myself, and prevented myself from getting the help I needed for a long time.
I was ignorant as I willfully ignored the facts, the evidence that was right in front of me, staring back at me whenever I looked in the mirror. It wasn’t innocence. I knew about mental illness, mental ill-health, depression, anxiety, but I refused to consider that was what was wrong with me.
Ignorance, ignoring the facts, the knowledge or applying it as it didn’t suit what I wanted to believe.
To give myself a bit of a softer time, I’d never known anything but depression and anxiety, ever that I can recall. So, to me, the worsening state of my mental/emotional health was just me being worn out by the day, the week, the term (semester) or academic year.
It took a very skillful and understanding GP to help me see that I needed help, and I took it, and still am with my weekly therapy sessions.
That’s a personal example of why I don’t see innocence and ignorance as the same thing with reference to the quote.
Today sees me do my third anti-stigma talk for Time to Change Wales as part of Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) 2018.
I am tired this morning. Each talk I do is emotionally draining. It also takes a lot of energy for me to keep up a happy, smiley and laughing mask when in public and not to get overwhelmed by my story and allowing aspects of it to re-traumatise me.
I put myself through this for some good reasons, and one of them is NOT attention seeking (which is what my narcissistic mother would say).
I really do believe it’s time for the stigma and discrimination that surrounds mental illness comes to an end. I know it’s not going to happen overnight, but little by little. I tell my story to give people an insight into what it’s like to experience depression, anxiety, hyperperfectionism, hypervigilance, emotional flashbacks, being overwhelmed by choices in a supermarket, not being able to get out of my car when I go to somewhere I want to visit, being in fear of going to do a job I used to love when I was a teacher, and more, CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) is so complex.
I also want people to know that little changes in the work place can help people remain in work.
I want people to know that the social stereotypes of depression, anxiety and so many other mental illnesses are incorrect and that they lead to be people being stigmatised/prejudged and treated differently/discriminated against as a result of the urban myths that exist.
The more we can have conversations, the more people open up about what it’s like to experience mental illness, the more people will, hopefully, have a better understanding and the urban myths will lose their power.
Not only that, the self-stigmatisation that results in people not seeking help, acknowledging they are not thinking well of themselves, will result in people seeking that help and advice they need earlier.
On a more personal level, telling my story is helping me ‘own’ it, and though I still minimise the traumas I’ve experienced from a very young age, it’s helping me understand that they are not small little things that everyone goes through, as well as me understanding that it’s profound effect they’ve had on me that is the important thing as well as having counselling/therapy to help me heal from my past and have a healthier way of thinking about myself and living my life without avoiding all kinds of things for fear the same things will happen again and again.
I come home from a talk emotionally drained and tired; I either want to nap or just draw, or both, but not at the same time!
When I draw I like to just draw intuitively, drawing on my visual vocabulary of favourite shapes and patterns, and just let them flow onto the page. I can lose myself in that flow, I’m able to enjoy drawing familiar motifs and patterns and the intricacy of my work. Just letting things flow, drawing for the pleasure and contentment it brings me, the calmness that results, lets me put to oneside the anxiety I can feel when I’m creating for a particular contract, to put aside my hyperperfectionism and just go with the flow in a way that can be difficult when I’m drawing for a publisher and can add anxiety and frustration when I need to draw for peace and calm.
And that’s what this drawing helped me to do. Today, I hope I’ll be able to draw again, however after the talk today I’m taking a friend out for ice-cream and I think I have something occurring this evening too.
This year, in my role as a champion for Time to Change Wales, I’m giving (at the moment!) four anti-stigma talks to various organisations this week.
The aim of the Time to Change Wales campaign is to help to bring about an end to the stigma and discrimination that surrounds mental health. In my anti-stigma talk, I talk about the campaign and tell my own story of my mental health issues.
It’s not a secret, I have complex post-traumatic stress disorder (cptsd) that has resulted from constant trauma from emotional neglect, emotional and mental abuse from a very young age and that persisted throughout my life until the past two or three years.
EMDR therapy with a fabulous therapist is really helping me and my mental health is so much better than it used to be.
If I help just one person through my talks, then it’s a worthwhile exercise.
For myself, it’s helping me to ‘own’ my own story and to not minimise the effect the traumas of my life have had on me, on the way I think about myself, about how I behave to avoid triggers or more trauma, and to begin to live a healthier more rewarding life.
Art is not only how I make a living now, but it is also my therapy, my way of helping myself when I’m anxious or depressed or stressed. It helps me to find my balance again, even if temporarily.