Mental Health Conference, Norwich

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Meds, Me & Mental Health

#MentalHealthWeek | Blog 1:3

I’ve commented on posts, talked in person about meds, made one post about meds in IG when I was pissed off but grateful for my conviction when a doctor lectured me. it occured to me recently, I’ve never written about meds, it’s been almost 4 years perhaps a bit more since I’ve been med free & that’s ok. It might be that I will always have a maintenance does of 10 or 20mg. But I’d love to know what I’m like without it.

Will colours be brighter and orgasms more intense?

NO really I mean it. recently I chose to up my does to a level I haven’t had before. I’m not weeping at the drop of a hat or taking 3 hour depression naps any more which is good, but the world feels a bit flat and my interest in hedonistic stuff is just meh, oh and to add to that none of my clothes that fit well last year fit at all now, buying new jeans? do not want! though I’m not crying into my coffee or sleeping half the day so its swings and roundabouts right?

One afternoon with friends, possibly 2 years ago I felt content, borderline euphoric, then got too drunk and ruined it, Sometimes everything loses its zing, but every now and again I notice that Im noticing colours, they vibrate and pop. Will I get that natural high of just living my best life, if I eventually come off meds? How will I cope with the lows, the natural ebb and flow of life?

I’ll have to find a whole new normal! AGAIN.

Am I capable of self regulation? I quit drinking over a year ago because I couldn’t regulate that. I tried several ways around it, keeping the responsibility and giving it to someone else, but I just couldn’t do it. So I stopped. That in itself is probably a whole other post. I definitely have alcoholic tendencies but I won’t take the name of alcoholic because I feel it takes away from those who have had a greater struggle, and those around them that have held their struggle with them. In a way this is very much how I identified as a victim of traumas, someone else had it much worse than I did. Though everything is relative so this thought isn’t particularly healthy.

There is something in this that I know I’m not alone in. It’s a you do you thing of course. We manage. Those who’ve recovered or who have the burden of being just self aware enough to not fit into a broken system of health and social care. Those who suffer greatly but manage and keep managing.

This is how I manage. I take the prescription and do the talking when I need to. Mostly. Actually not that much. Sometimes just doing the motions of self care. I keep ticking over, balanced. I have some big hurdles to stride over but I think I can manage, but only with the meds and the talking, being visibly, painting and leaning into my village. I want to be off them but know now isn’t the time. but I’m aware there may never be a good time. I will have to make it happen.

I was taught from an early age that you can’t have a mental health lable on your medical record, because “people” will know, the same people who taught me that you can’t have an abortion because “you’d go crazy with guilt just like my sister”. *eye roll GIF*  “ it will dull your senses. You can’t expect to still make art.” When I eventually went to the GP far too late, I took the prescription to the pharmacist took them home, but I distinctly remember feeling scared and so grateful for a friend who was honest with me about their experience.

The first week was hell, but I was prepared for this because I had guidance from a friend. I’m pretty sure she cooked for me twice that week. Due to this, and her, whenever a friend tells me they are starting, changing or upping meds for depression or anxiety I tell them to lean into their village.

here ar 6 simple ideas to bare inmind if you have never taken anit depresants or anxiety medication. 

  • Expect very little of yourself
  • Breath, wash, dress, eat. (Parent/work if you have to obvs)
  • Get simple to make meals and healthy snacks in.
  • Have a selection of things to comfort and distract you, a series to get into, podcasts, playlists to listen to. Simple books nothing too taxing.
  • Take a little walk every day if you can.
  • Invite friends over, you don’t have to tell then why, just don’t be alone.this is the top one for me. If you can cook for friends do or ask them to or order take away together. If you feel up to it go to a different friends house for dinner. Some people find it easier to be alone but I find it’s comforting to have someone around even if I can barely form a coherent sentence.

It’s so easy to not look after yourself, but there is no need to suffer or punish yourself. I had people around because it stops me zoning out for too long and scaring Dynoboy. In the early days, way back in crisis it was the friends coming over that were making sure we both ate dinner in the first few weeks of meds. I found out the dangerous way what withdrawal feels like. During a time when I was really not ok, unable to get my prescription and didn’t realise the consequences, went 4 days without them.

Things got weird. Fizzy eyes and electric whooshing head,legs that weren’t my own and a cod fish flip flopping in my chest.

I’m pretty sure I’ve said nothing revolutionary but I thought it was important to say how I feel about it and what it can be like. Some people have had horrible experiences with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) others are fine, some people don’t find they help and have to try something else. Some people feel it is polluting the body and I should be able to manage with meditation and yoga, well that’s their choice for their body but I need this as well as a range of other things to manage my mental health. There is a ridiculous train of thought that someone is weak for taking medication for mental health. Which I just cannot fathom, it’s just ignorance and I have no time for it. Oh a good one is it MASKS your true feelings, I don’t buy that, I lived half a life in dissosiation, I find pinning down one emotion quite difficult, being hypervigilant does that.  I had to learn to feel safely and couldn’t do that with the epic ups and downs with out the meds. Sure there is a flatness now and then but maybe thats just life sometimes.

Hopefully the background stuff will mellow and I’ll get to experiment bringing the dosage down, with gp and a plan and contemplate not having them, there are some unpleaseasnat side effects to long term usgae i’d like to avoid. Everyones experience is different, it’s a very personal choice.

Pill shaming is gross, but it’s good to see people out there making awesome memes and cartoons countering that BS.

Over all I have to do what works best for me. My main focus is to being balanced, I have already proved that I cannot do mum mode with a wobble for a sussstained period with out serious repercussions. I was a robot zombie mum. It was scary and not just for me.  I dicsoved that our house is less stressful when I eliminante as much anxiety from myself as I can. Kids know intuitivly when things are off with their primary care givers and they test it, which isn’t fun, but it’s tottally normal, it’s how they find out where the bounderies are. We took a lot of testing and just about managed to prove where the bounderies in our house are. I couldn’t have done that with out support, part of that was and is anti depresant.

I have to look after myself in order to be the mum I need to be. 

Thanks for reading. Part 2 and 3 will be out later in the week, and will focus on the theme of this years menatal health awareness week, Body Image.

If you apprecisate this blog check out my Instagram, Facebook or Twitter @findingavoice

menatl health week UK 13 – 19 May 2019

Halloween beats Christmas

Halloween doesn’t come with the weight of expectation or the sense of loss that Christmas does. You can celebrate it for two weeks or just one day. In our immensely dysfunctional family, grown-ups were depressed, absent or intoxicated around the time of Christmas, they always pulled through in terms of getting gifts under the tree but there was an unmistakable diss ease from November until boxing day. Even those who were in attendance weren’t ever fully present.  My birthday is the beginning of December. Around 8 I started asking for a tree instead of Polly Pockets or a candle making set, always a real one, fake trees and tinsel were banned, the appearance deemed too tacky. If I could make it look good, maybe everyone might feel better. The children would decorate the tree together, as I got older I would perfect it when they had gone to bed.

Terms such as ” I just can’t be bothered, do what you want” and “We’re fucked, Christmas is cancelled.” were heard a lot. There wasn’t a sense of hiding struggle, won’t somebody think of the children! The grown-ups were children, unable to cope with the responsibility or understand the impact of their actions or behaviours. I feel like I can say that because I parented in a similar way for 7 years but now I know where they were coming from. Intergenerational trauma is a bitch to sidestep.

Halloween didn’t hold dark secrets like the festive season.

As I got older my tree responsibilities grew, by the time I was 14 I knew that the two white ribbons I had been instructed must always go underneath the vintage angel where in-memory of two pregnancies that didn’t make it to term. Christmas was about holding on until the emotional triggers of the grown-ups raw traumas were no longer all around us.

Spoopy Finley
Dead Mummy Dynoboy 

We weren’t allowed to go trick or treating because it “appeared” to be begging. So by the time, my child was 4 and youngest sibling was 8 we had engineered how to meet our own needs.  We loved dressing up, consuming sweets but didn’t like turning off the lights and hoping the neighbours would think we weren’t in or writing notes to tell them we had no sweets to give. We decorated the front facing part of the house and gave out goodie bags of sweets (American ones to outdo the neighbours). By this time I was the grown up and take control of how big we went with the decoration, costume and dress up. We had to do the decorating and faffing because the other grown-ups wouldn’t. It was easier to pester and be bold at this time of year than it is at Christmas. Halloween is easy to do on the cheap, on the hop with little organisation.

Halloween is our Christmas now because it doesn’t come with a cascade or uneasy feelings or sadness. We wrote this time in for ourselves, to keep making side steps and big leaps away from what hurt us, so we don’t hurt ourselves and others. We eek it out for at least a week, decorating the living room with creepsome treats, made a big night out as a fam squad to go get spooked at primEVIL, an evening of pumpkin carving, scary films and an evening of Spooky City This time of year isn’t all about families getting together, now more than ever we feel the loss of the undead. Those significant relationships, parents, grandparents were so toxic that they are alive, some just around the corner, but are not present in our lives…….and that’s ok.

We always looked after our selves, now we do it without the hope of it looking all John Lewis or caring if Mum’s gone to Iceland.

 

Me, My work, Trauma & EMDR Therapy

Today, World Suicide Prevention Day, The Guardian Printed An article to which I gladly contributed. Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing therapy allowed me to understand why I struggled with my mental health and how deeply trauma had effected how I process information and how little authentic confidence I had.  While doing EMDR I drew and painted to further process the nightmares and violent thoughts that occurred during recovery. This was my Eyes, Teeth and Vagina’s phaase. I was understandably very angry, and needed to put it somewhere safely. By this point I had a working studio, where I could paint, then walk away. Ensuring my bile didn’t spill out at home. This was during one of the worst times of my life, except now not only was I dealing with what I was living through I was FEELING as it happened. I moved out of dissociation and started feeling and learning to name it. I was most disgruntled to be honest. Dissociation is has its perks.

Doing EMDR allowed me to turn and face my truth, to own that mess. It allowed me to feel confident and incontrol, of myself and life but as a parent, allowing my child to feel confident that he was contained and safe. It was during this period that I also used my voice to ask for help. It gave me the confidence to lean into the feeling that I was enough,to be cared for and supported. This is when and how I grew #MyVillage, because I was able to be honest and present. I learnt to say out loud some of the most vulnerable sentences that I thought I would never be able to say. By saying them I was able to understand how very wrong the “normal” I had been born into was. EMDR is how I found my voice, The Compass Outreach is how I learnt to use it. Which is why I create Finding a Voice exhibitions, a cellebration and a platform for these voices. The #FAV17 Finding A Voice 2017 was about my celebration of having done the work in therapy and no longer needing intensive involvement of services. This year #FAV18 is about celebrating those voices that “get it” and other “service users” who happen to mothers and artists too. Sometimes a voice isn’t verbal.

When I become a philanthropist ( we all need a dream) I would back and fund The Compass approach, because it works, and what I learnt has stopped the behavioural loop of intergenerational trauma, priceless.  

Read the full atticle here theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/sep/10/mel-b-is-watching-flashing-lights-to-help-with-trauma-but-does-emdr-therapy-really-work?

 

Half a Person

Half a woman.

Nameless, hairless, she floats in my bedroom. Blue fade of sea or sky and a yellow ark of thought and hope.This was a piece I made after an angry body (FAV17) of work and alongside a body of work I can’t face( yet to unwrap it, document it or write about it, it will take up so much energy I have been avoiding it for 2 years) This passive half figure is painted on a piece of marine ply, left over from a degree show, it sat outside for 5 years before I decided to prime it and paint on it. Circles are symbolic of many things, planets, moons, cycles, revolutions, behavioural loops. There is something comforting in their roundness, symmetry and completion.

Oil on board 2016, Katherine Gilmartin

My first attempt at painting figures was in a pink and blue phase, I restricted my pallet for a while because it felt comforting. Colour is weird, in all my art school education I never sat with a colour wheel and tubes of paint or ink to see how it worked. I have this overwhelming feeling of someone saying “Those colours don’t go. Flesh isn’t pink. You’re not a artist, why are you painting? You have no taste, your opinion is invalid, you’re wrong, you don’t belong.” Painting in colour has the weight of social anxiety, patriarchy, victim status and classism all rolled into one. The weight of my lack of confidence and a dick. I think I’ll feel that way until “the greats” and the “masters” are viewed through a lens of authentic accountability. Where we are taught about dismantling oppression and rape culture alongside the behaviour or actions of artists and their practice. It feels like it’s happening in cinema.

💛Just.

My upbringing is gritty, uncomfortable. After 5 different high schools I learnt I was safer as a social butterfly, being in art school taught me further how to quietly slink into situations and camouflage myself, heritage, lived experience, to become palatable. An accent that cannot be pinned down to a county and an uncanny ability to make others at ease, desirable, to fluff their ego gave me the power to be non threatening.  Leaving the relative comfort of the institution left me with little to camouflage or slink into, I no longer had a framework. For countless other reasons, the final straw in a lifetime of abusive relationships, I fell down and it took an team professionals and my strong willingness to work it out to get back up.

 

So who the fuck am I?

It doesn’t matter because in a year I won’t be her anymore. It doesn’t matter what I am to you because I have to do me, I’m accountable to no one professionally which is scary, but it means I’m determined to make my actions match my intentions. Stepping out of behavioural loops to become a new kind of other, the evolution of post 30 magic. Using my super powers for good. Yeah fuck you ACEs!  I’m writing because I’m in positions of powerlessness and that is something I find wholly disturbing. Summer holidays are frustrating, for many that’s true, the extra parenting alongside self regulation and containment without the usual vents and space to purge the sludge that builds up, it’s dangerous. Mum Mode can get ugly. The anxiety that grows isn’t dispelled so easily and I get that “lust to get shit faced” a yerning for escapism that I no longer use.

 

One of  the places I love to go is currently out of bounds because the building work has caused a smell that I have to work through. The thing about PTSD is that, it’s brain damage, even now I’m totally on top and in control, I know how to stay safe but something that I haven’t touched, smelt, or seen since before having EMDR therapy can totally derail me for a moment. Someone can use a phrase that sends repulsion through my body but smells and textures are something else. So the distinctive smell of plasterboard and warm pine dust in the confined space of a loft in summer isn’t something I have encountered  for a long time and I have to do a hell of a lot to stay grounded. To calm the 10 year old in me thats utterly alone and powerless.

 

There is a plant, I haven’t seen for perhaps 20 years, it’s delicate fussy tendrils thumped me right in the chest a few weeks ago, damn my love of house plants! I don’t stop to gets its name, it’s out there in the delightfully modern trendy places and I know it’s attached to a bad experience so long ago that all I can put my finger on is it felt like a whole lot of nope. But this is it. This is life after. This is the future. I recovered enough to responsibly push my own boundaries and stay in control. My recovery was learning to safely feel emotions, having left them for the comfort of dissociation reconnecting was tough but I had some good help. Finding I had a voice to speak about them, acknowledging my super powers, those delightful gifts left over from living in fight or flight, means I have to authority to brush aside the imposter syndrome and kick the ass of those doubtful feelings because what I’m doing now matters.

 

I recently got to listen to a seemingly kind man about how he felt design was more worthy than art, painting for oneself, about emotional response is selfish he thought, to take someone else’s idea and make something useful was far more virtuous and worthy of space in the world. Psht, yeah well in a capitalist, patriarchal, privilege kinda way I see why you might think that. By being hugely self indulgent and quite courageous I can tell my stories, voice my experience and make someone else a little less scared to talk, a little bolder in ideas of breaking behaviour loops, changing my family culture and coming forward post abyss, post abuse, saying words out loud is just good practice.

 

Why bother? Why bother being in a world that is full of boys clubs, full of cis white male depictions of female form? Why paint and exhibit? What’s the point? It’s very selfish, it’s my self care, my way to stay in control, I paint to talk and talk to paint. Exhibiting gives me a unique soap box to shout from. I have begun to talk without my work, describing recovery as a Family Mental Health Activist at conferences, but Im still focused on using the space I used to slink into to remove my camouflage and talk about the ugly, to use the art space to educate the professionals from government agencies alongside the public about domestic abuse and mental health recovery, BUT WHY? I’m not alone, unfortunately my experience isn’t unique, if I talk about my experience in order to educate those working in preventative or recovery fields, maybe it will shift the trajectory of other 10 year olds experiences. The more I talk the more I see I’m not alone, we start to band together to to support one another #survivorculture

Colour still feels weird though.

Who The fuck am I? Ask my paintings in 10 years, they might know.

 

Pain comes in waves.

I have anger, it is rarely seen or heard but it’s there and valid.

Often my anger comes from pain, it comes in waves. Just like watching the sea roll onto the shore, periodically there is a bigger wave that rolls in and if you’re not aware, you don’t know till you’re feet are wet.

I sit watching my life sometimes, I’m so greatful. Sometimes it’s shitty and unfair, but I can only control what I can control and I love how freeing that is.

I can’t hold an ocean.

I tried to hold a wave.

The only thing I can contain is myself and my babe.

That’s all, that’s enough.

Work in progress, oil on canvas, pretty big, 1×1.5m playing with layers.It will be finished by October because I want to put it in a pop up solo show.

Keep On Keeping On

#Trauma #depression #anxiety

There there isn’t a cure, there isn’t one pill, there isn’t one method to make the ongoing struggle of trauma disappear. It’s not fair but I is what it is. It looks like anxiety and depression but it’s different.

For quite a while I found it tricky to stay present in an authentic way. Trying to stay connected to the things that I wanted to be connected to, rather than connected to everything in a hypervigilant kind of way. After becoming aware I had been numb completely because I had been hypervigilant in a way that didn’t seem to bother me, I had to re-adjust to cope.

Anxiety wasn’t a thing for me except it really, really was. The short tempered, hot, anger explosions when leaving the house have now turned to just crying.

And that’s ok because I’m aware and I’m engaged with it. Sometimes I might cry because there’s too much and I can’t do it anymore and I have to stop. Then I realign myself and start again, I’m 4 years on becoming aware, from understanding where my difficulties came from and understood why I was stuck there. 4 years and I’m still working things out.

Trauma sticks and it sticks to your kids and it takes a lot of growing and peeling and gentle, meticulous, agitation to wash away the bits of crud that you can. There are parts of me that I will never be able to change some reactions, wires crossed or unplugged. I’m staying engaged with it, I’m not done yet. Finding my new normal is exhausting but I’d rather this than the than lust for escape.

That’s what I think it’s difficult for people to understand that it’s a process that it takes long time that once you start un peeling this stuff there’s more. There’s no cure and it just takes time, courage, acceptance and a bloody good village.

This is more than mindfulness and good wellbeing practice, it’s a bigger more complex project for you to take on.

If you’re looking for care or therapy keep trying, you might have to pay for it, all the more reason to work hard at it.

You are worth the hard work.

You are enough.

Hold on.