Mental Wellbeing: Being Aware and Taking Care…

Hey hey, my my! It’s Mental Health Awareness Week so I thought I thought I’d write a blogpost about mental health in hope of spreading awareness or piquing awareness. Mental health is of optimum importance and we need to be very aware of it. Too often, though, we’re unaware and don’t talk about it or even acknowledge it. There are various nebulous reasons – stigma, fear, discomfort – but the truth is we need to get beyond those reasons and consciously engage with this issue of ‘mental health’ (and its dark flipside) because minds are everything.

Truly, minds are amazing things. Everything around and everything that ever was, is and will be is an expression of and the result of mind-power so, with gratitude and appropriate awe, let’s all politely applaud mind-power. (*polite applause, somebody whistles and hollers “H’yeah! Yeee-aaah!“*) Consider the human mind and realise that it’s the unique attribute that marks us out from the rest of the animals and that has enabled us to dominate this Earth. Our brains helped us excel in the field and we turned that field into irrigated farmland and we invented wheels and language and plumbing and electricity and spaceships and all this other sophisticated, impressive stuff (and some unsophisticated, less impressive stuff though those things couldn’t have been crafted by, say, a moose so humans are still ahead thanks to the immense instrument inside their heads).

I’m thinking about the creation of whole cities, complex systems, incredible innovations and inventions, masterpieces of art. I’m also thinking of the more crucial things that our minds achieve every day – like responding to external stimuli, emotional intelligence, reasoning everything from the mundane to the marvellous, managing the human body’s communicative procedures and its actual functioning, and all the rest. Your mind may not be writing a contemporary gender-swapped Moby Dick with a non-linear narrative in Swedish at a speed of 427 words-per-minute right now, but it is telling you that putting that thing in your mouth is a terrible (potentially fatal) idea. Minds don’t have to be exceptional to be exceptional – they are cognitive, creative, rational and emotional instruments par excellence vital to our survival and our thriving as living organisms in this Universe. Hooray for our minds! (*cheering*)

Ah but here comes the ‘ah but’. (*gasps, atmospheric mood deflated, tension*) For reasons we know not why, the things that raised human beings up are also the things that bring them down, down, right down. Is it nature restoring some kind of balance? Is it the will of the Gods, keeping those hubristic humans in check? Is it some kind of cruel cosmic irony, self-sabotage encoded into the would-be Masters of the Universe? Whatever, these miracle minds that make people what they are can (and do) viciously turn on said people and mess things up for them. Minds afflicted by foggy, disturbing ideas and feelings; minds mixed up thanks to misfiring neurons and faulty connections; minds becoming dysfunctional and destabilised.

Altogether, minds are vulnerable and liable to start acting up and working against their owners as opposed to working for them and with them. This, sadly, is not a rare phenomenon. Lots of people (I’d argue every single person, in fact) are struggling with anxiety, low self-esteem, psychological disorders, mental illness or just general ‘mental wellbeing deficit’. Labels are a tricksy and problematic thing, but altogether we can put them under the same umbrella of ‘poor mental health’. (An umbrella may not be a good image to use, actually. This umbrella isn’t protecting you from the rain. In fact, the rain is coming from the inside of the umbrella and sometimes that rain is actually smoking black tar.)

Poor mental health is distressing and, potentially, devastating on both an individual and collective level. Poor mental health makes me sad. Poor mental health makes me angry. I have history with poor mental health (both my own and others’) and that’s part of the reason why it makes me so sad and angry. Thus, I’m writing this to exorcise some of that sadness and anger and have a “People! Be aware!” moment. If it helps someone, then bonus.

I know and have known too many good people who’ve suffered with mental health problems. So many wonderful human beings with so much going for them and with so much life within them and ahead of them brought down low by depression and/or by mental disorders. It’s horrible and heartbreaking to witness, especially when you end up feeling completely powerless to prevent it, fight it or improve the situation. I appreciate that I’m speaking generally and non-specifically here and that the spectrum can run from “oh dear, this low mood isn’t good” to “this disease is soul-destroying and has completely destroyed a life here“. Whatever the condition is or however intense or acute it is, the truth is the same – mental health is essential and something we need to consciously engage with and be aware of.

You may not agree with my view that we’re currently going through a global wellbeing crisis, but I think we can all agree that the line between ‘sanity and sound, stable mind’ and ‘disturbed mind’ is a very fine and fragile one. The way our modern society and culture has developed, I’d say it’s even harder to stay on the bright, right side of that line. Everywhere, I see people feeling pressured and stressed in an Age of Anxiety in which more of us (read: pretty much all of us) are feeling on edge or out-of-sorts more often. Hardwired for worry and conditioned by our culture to constantly strive to achieve impossible ideals of perfection, we’re even more vulnerable.

The good news is that we can be aware of this. The other good news is that we’re not alone when it comes to grappling with this. Every single human being on the planet (except a special few existing on an especial plane of pure enlightened cosmic consciousness) has something ‘up’ with their mind – a neurosis or irrational hang-up; a personality ‘flaw’; trouble with stress and anxiety; a psychological dysfunction; or what might be called a mental disorder, whether it be diagnosed or not.

We’ve all got to take care, of both ourselves and each other. Mental illness and the panoply of problems related to poor mental wellbeing shouldn’t be allowed to have their merry way with good people and no one should suffer alone if they can’t cope. You’re not alone, and if you by any chance do find yourself struggling I’d urge you to reach out for assistance (and it doesn’t matter what your state of mind is, whether it be ‘mildly bothered by this bleak bugger’ or extremes of ‘all of Creation is a living Hell and I am the blackest abominable spot in this roiling inferno of abject despair’.)

Charities like Mind are a good place to start, and a few clicks and entries into a search engine can get you to support and advice related to specific conditions. Otherwise, talking to friends and family (or anyone, really) is a great way to get outside your own mind if your own mind is letting you down or actively declaring war on you. If that doesn’t help or you need more support, go and see your doctor or try and secure a referral to specialist services. If they prove to be ineffective or, indeed, useless (or if the services just aren’t there) try to find seek out other support groups.

Whatever you have to do to fight the demons, to keep the black dogs at bay or to try and get better from the invisible ailments afflicting you, do it. Cling on to the good stuff and the good people that make you feel better and that help bring the light in. And of course, as a guy with a surging geekstreak, I have to encourage folk to find therapy in the things they love, and throwing yourself into creative activity (writing, art, music, crafts) and/or immersing yourself in your favourite entertainment products and hobbies can be hugely beneficial and provide emotional uplift when you’re feeling down.

Go to your happy place – or, at least, stable place – and do what works for you. Life is beautiful and it’s too precious to be wasted and drained by depression and the dark anti-energies and dim effects of mental disorders. As best as possible, with compassion in your heart and your consciousness carefully and sensitively engaged, don’t let moop, mental illness and low mental wellbeing bring you down and remember that you’re not alone (and that’s an essential thing to hold on to, because loneliness and alienation makes everything so much worse.) I repeat again, be aware and take care of yourself and others.

Here’s to better mental wellbeing and human beings with brilliant minds living happy lives… (*cheering, hugging, smiling*) 😀

 

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Upheaval, and ‘How to Self-Diagnose a Severe Case of Idiopathic Cerebrinunsensia Dysfunctilia in 13 Relatively Simple Steps’…

By the bushy tail of Ratatoskr! It’s been aeons since I uploaded something onto this blog space so, feeling the need to rectify that, here I go. Some context first: I am currently in a state that’s best labelled as ‘Upheaval’. ‘Upheaval’, as a matter of fact, sounds like a really good name for the summer house I’m going to build in Asgard at some point. “Good morning Odin! How do? Would you lie to come in for a brew?” “Mornin’ kiddo! Aye, grand! Don’t mind if I leave these here dead Frost-Giant bits on ya lawn f’ra bit d’ya?

Anyhoder, coming back down to Upheaval on Midgard, erm, Earth and this is where I’m sitting. I’m in the middle space between working at Italian summer camps, in the middle of family home total redecoration/overhaul and, altogether, in the middle of a great deal of confusion. It’s just about several shades less chaotic than Ragnarök. Still, in spite of all of that – in spite of the fact that all my junk is in boxes and that I’m sleeping on the floor and feeling out of sorts and out of order – creative action has still been happening and is happening. Den of Geek columns have been manifesting themselves and I was fortunate enough to get away for a week’s retreat in the Shropshire countryside recently. While there I got chance to focus my mind on creative projects and get a clear sense of certain secret things so I am now very excited about certain secret things which I will not talk about because they are certain secret things.

While there I spent some time going through ze process of revisiting abandoned ideas and old projects and, as part of that, I rediscovered things that I’d completely forgotten about. One thing was a surreal piece of writing that I’d had fun with and submitted to a literary journal. Having browsed the internet a bit to check, I’m pretty sure that this thing didn’t make the cut, so I may as well share it here. It may entertain you or enlighten you (or save your life!). I’ll leave it here and go back to dancing through this Upheaval – here’s a handy guide for you titled ‘How to Self-Diagnose a Severe Case of Idiopathic Cerebrinunsensia in 13 Relatively Simple Steps‘…


 How to Self-Diagnose a Severe Case of Idiopathic Cerebrinunsensia Dysfunctilia in 13 Relatively Simple Steps

Are you feeling unwell? Do you have a sense that you are not quite yourself? Are you harbouring acute suspicions that you may be a victim of Idiopathic Cerebrinunsensia Dysfunctilia – the increasingly common albeit unexplained malady vexing the medical establishment and respectable-and-unrespectable society?

If so, do not worry excessively, for a diagnosis can be made effectively by the patient herself/himself/itself. Simply follow the following steps and follow up with a visit to your local professional general practitioner or verified witchdoctor if you feel that, yes, you have come down with a severe case of Idiopathic Cerebrinunsensia Dysfunctilia.

Step 1

Look in the mirror. Does the reflection look like the reflection that you recognise and would identify as yourself?

Step 2

Cut your fingernails, your toenails, your nostril hairs, your pubic hairs and your belly-button hairs. Can you distinguish any trace of exposed nerve endings in the trimmed and depilated areas? If you do spy exposed nerve endings, would you describe their condition as “harried”, “agitated” or “German Expressionism”?

Step 3

Touch your nose. Touch your toes. Touch your clothes. Are you finding this simple rhythmic touching sequence in any way difficult or painful, either physically or mentally? (If you are not wearing clothes, try the test again once dressed or, at-least, half-dressed if you are having problems locating your full wardrobe.)

Step 4

Breathe in and hold the breath for ten seconds. Now breathe out and hold for ten seconds. Repeat several times and then, when ready, reduce the time allotted for the holding of inhalations and exhalations to five seconds. Repeat five times and then hold the inhalations and exhalations for three-and-a-half seconds. After five repetitions of this breathing pattern, hold in-breaths for two seconds and out-breaths for six seconds. After seven repetitions, reverse so that out-breaths are two seconds and in-breaths are six seconds, then equalise after forty seconds so that all inhalations and exhalations are five-and-a-half seconds in length. Are you finding breathing difficult?

Step 5

Pass urine into a small vial as a sample for close scrutiny. Is it a colour outside of the conventional Flat Champagne-Meyer Lemon spectrum? (Retain this urine sample for a future step.)

Step 6

Reflect upon your recent behaviour. Have you noticed any troubles when asked to observe and fulfil simple requests, obey orders or comply with clear demands? For example, did you discard the urine sample you were asked for in Step 5 (see above) in spite of the explicit instruction that it was to be retained?

Step 7

Pour yourself a glass of water. Empty the urine sample collected in Step 5 into another glass. Place on a solid, level surface. Observe both closely and wait until you receive communications from the liquids before you. In your experience, is it the urine that appears to express the message “DRINK ME” first? (Note: it is not advisable to drink the urine, no matter how persuasive said urine may be.)

Step 9

Walk backwards for a distance of at least one country mile. Do you have the sensation that you are walking forwards with your head on back-to-front?

Step 10

Check your internal compasses. Are they pointing to somewhere other than the True North? Are you finding it impossible to locate your internal compass or, likewise, are they finding proving to be incapable of finding you or True North?

Step 8

Observe your relationship to the imminent environment and the chronological unfolding of reality around you. Does it seem like you are experiencing things in the wrong order?

Step 11

Check your chromatic sensory perception. Are you seeing a lot of indigo? Are you smelling a lot of indigo? Are you tasting and hearing a lot of indigo? Are you feeling indigo? Indigo?

Step 12

Sit still for several moments and attempt to scrutinise your faculties of logic and reason. Do you illogical feel that trouble life having jumbled and because sense don’t make are you comprehending jumbled appears it all to be and understanding having up are you things?

Step 13

Ask yourself the following critical life-changing question. Would you like to suffer from a rare, interesting, definitely-spurious psychological disorder?

If, having attempted all the steps, you feel satisfied that you are a victim of Idiopathic Cerebrinunsensia Dysfunctilia, congratulations!

As advised in the introductory paragraph, please take this opportunity to consult with a medical professional and/or accredited witchdoctor for a confirmed diagnosis so you can proceed with your condition appropriately.

Enjoy your illness* responsibly.

(* “Illness”? Whoa now, sugar. I think we need to have a conversation about labels and stigma…)

Inspirational Heroes Emerging Out of Shame’s Shadow…

This is a serious post and serious posts are not something I enjoy writing. I’d rather dwell in the realms of light-hearted whimsy and enjoy myself rather than getting down into the dirty moop. I’m more eager to follow a  “Why so serious?” mantra in my online activity and push an upbeat, perky and proactively positive persona. There’s a lot of bleakness out there and the web doesn’t need another dour avatar face doling out the grimness, bitching and moaning about bad stuff. This is all good and keeps me happy, but there’s also a downside. That downside is denial of reality and that denial may have a detrimental effect in the grand scheme of things.

I try not to get drawn into depressing current affairs debates and dive into popular shitstorms. I also try not to overshare and force my personal daily life problems down people’s throats. I have a history of heath problems and used to blog extensively about them but it got too painful and I felt like a raw, exposed nerve. I felt defined by illness and found myself engaging with communities and cyberspaces that were all about disease and depression. It was very unhealthy and unhelpful and it got me down so I shut it all down, closed off those connections and channelled my attentions elsewhere. The bare shame and scar tissue were hidden and covered by a thick jumper, out of sight and out of mind.

It was the right thing for me to do way back when but it was also, in part, a retreat into denial. The end outcome is that there’s a separation of self-image from sombre real life issues in public spaces. I keep on with conscious self-censorship and try not to talk about my past and present health crap online. (There’s a lot of it, it’s boring and I’ve more than had enough of it for a lifetime thank you very much) I’m ashamed, both because of my shame and because the shame prevents me from being totally honest about myself and then I wonder whether I should just rename myself “Shame Clayton” and live in the wilderness in an igloo made of frozen, guilty tears.

All the wider world gets is occasional cryptic outbursts on Twitter that elicit confused sympathy from some very nice people. (And I’m grateful for the concern and best wishes in those moments, so thank you!) When I do have those moments I end up blurting out because I want to urge others to enjoy their lives as much as possible and cherish good heath while they’ve got it. My power to do that, however, is limited though because of the taboos I’ve taken on. I don’t have the courage or conviction to back it up and run with it, so I stick to irreverent discussion of pop culture and 99% of the time that’s perfectly okay with me.

I’ve therefore got a tremendous amount of admiration for people who actually do what I can’t do – genuine human beings who are so much braver than me in that they actually power through silence, shame, stigma and various other hang-ups to talk about the things that just aren’t talked about. I’m in awe of people who open themselves up and express themselves eloquently and creatively  to inform, educate and inspire others. It’s a risky move and it can be incredibly painful, but there’s a chance that in publicly discussing problems they beat stigma and ignorance. They may potentially save someone’s life.

As I say, I can’t do it but several events move me to write this short, serious post in praise of those that do. Today Angeline Jolie has written a piece in the New York Times explaining her decision to get a preventative double mastectomy. Here an infamous public figure is putting their physical and mental scar tissue on show and doing so to raise awareness of breast cancer. The issue is, for the present moment, out in the open and people are enlightened and possibly empowered if they were living in doubt and fear. That’s a win for knowledge and wider worldwide wellbeing. It’s a blow for cancer and the result is that much suffering may ultimately be prevented. This is why I don’t agree with those who sneer at celebrities for preaching about serious health issues from positions of comfort. By virtue of their fame they have way more influence and reach than any public service ad campaign or initiative. When someone like Russell Brand describes drug addiction in the Guardian or Magic Johnson makes a documentary about HIV people take note and come away armed with knowledge and possibly entertained and uplifted.

That’s showbiz, but I’m even more awed by those who aren’t celebrities and don’t have massive media attention or media resources supporting their bold decision to put it all out in the open. My main inspiration for writing this post is the artist Katie Green who is both a lovely person and a brilliant illustrator. For years Katie has been working on her graphic novel Lighter Than My Shadow which is an autobiographical memoir of her experience with eating disorders. She’s delved into all the pain of the past to write and entirely hand-draw a 507-page chronicle in comic panels. That’s immense and insane. It defies comprehension. It is possibly the boldest creative project I’ve ever encountered yet and I’m looking forward to finally getting a hold of the thing when it’s released in early October.

Katie says it all best in her blog in which she provides insights into her reasons for writing and drawing Lighter Than My Shadow. She is so right about breaking the silence and challenging secrecy. Her artwork is beautiful, her voice is authentic and it’s a guarantee that the final published thing will be an astounding work that will inform and inspire people. We’re dealing with a devastatingly destructive illness and I’ve experienced its awful impact firsthand (but we don’t want to go there). By making this graphic novel, Katie is effectively providing hope and education, putting up a strong fight against eating disorders through a creative medium.

Comics are an ideal format through which to explore health issues – the Better, Drawn blog and this recent webcomic chronicle of depression are two examples. I believe that  Lighter Than My Shadow will be an important graphic novel work, even if it’s only regarded as such by a niche, special interest audience. Regardless, it’s a worthy project and I can’t adequately express how much I admire Katie for embarking upon such an epic personal endeavour. This book will potentially do so much good, prevent so much hurt and heartbreak and I believe it will save lives.

Shame and silence kill people and cause awful, unnecessary suffering. People who courageously rise above shame and earnestly open up in public to raise awareness are heroes in my eyes. We should listen to them, learn from them and thank them for their bravery and honesty. If you’re going to take anything from this inarticulate, awkward attempt at writing a serious post, please take this – take care of your health and do whatever you can to help others take care of theirs.