World Mental Health Day 2017

This year’s World Mental Health Day has the theme ‘in the workplace’. I am not in paid employment at the moment but I feel this theme is still very relevant to me.

I have had mental health issues since as far back as I can remember. My official diagnosis started in 1993 when l was sectioned after a suicide attempt.  At that time I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Not that l needed a label to tell me this but this label allowed me access to the mental health system, support and various modalities of treatment

In the years since then, my mental health became steadily worse. Unfortunately, the main way I dealt with my depression and anxiety was to numb it with food restriction, alcohol and drugs. Doing this also allowed me to keep working. If I was numb then l could blot out the anxiety and exhaustion that being around people caused and cope with the sickening feeling of nameless dread I experienced on a daily basis.

Not surprisingly, living life like this was not manageable and soon, not only was l caught using cannabis and being drunk at work, but also being numb just was not masking the low mood and anxiety like it used to. I then moved from being, in the loosest possible term, a ‘functioning person with mental health issues’ to being completely non-functioning. My anxiety was at astronomical levels, to the point where I was constantly rocking and l had picked up self-harming as another futile coping tool.

No longer functioning, my life began to shut down. My University faculty department suggested I take some time out of my University degree studies which I wasn’t managing at all. I approached my local GP for some support and was officially signed off from work. Later that year, I was admitted to a full time 18-month non-residential treatment at a therapeutic community in which I stayed for 23 months including assessment phase. There I was diagnosed with various personality disorders, to add to my already existing diagnosis

Although the therapeutic community addressed my drinking and using, it wasn’t enough to stop me completely. For the entire time, except the last month of therapy, I was free from using cannabis but I was still drinking alcohol. The communities approach to alcohol misuse was to use controlled drinking methods rather than abstinence and this allowed me to continue to drink and lie about the amount I was drinking. Once I finished the 18-month program in the April of 2010, l went out for a drink to celebrate and that party lasted 4 months.

Waking from a particularly wild night in early August 2010, for some reason I found myself for the first time really wanting off of the hamster wheel of it all. A series of chance events led me into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous where for the first time I was able to admit I was an alcoholic, stop drinking one day at a time and begin to take responsibility for my recovery and my life.  Not only am l now 7 years clean and sober but l am also managing my various mental health issues in healthy ways and am able to move forward in my life, despite them often making things more challenging

And this is where I return to how this year’s World Mental Health Days theme applies to me. I am still unable to return to paid work, although l am so much better than l was l am still unable to stay consistently well enough to withdraw from benefits into paid employment. On top of my mental health issues, I am also undergoing gender transition which currently involves a lot of medical treatment and surgery recovery. This in turn has an impact on my mental health and l have to be so careful to make sure I’m being balanced and taking care of myself. If l don’t stay self-aware and vigilant about my recovery and my mental health, I risk relapse and if that happens l could lose all. mental health progress I have made.

The worry and shame of being on benefits affects me every single day. I live in dread of the constant reassessment forms and medical assessments which are done by people who have never met me and make an assumption based on a small snapshot of my life. It’s an exhausting and humiliating process that you never get a break from for more than a few months at a time and always negatively effects my mental health.  As anyone with mental health issues knows, the benefit system, including the back to work team, are not clued up about how having long standing mental health diagnosis effects trying to find and keep employment. This means that many people with mental health issues fall into two categories. The first are those forced back into work due to inadequate mental health assessments deeming them fit for work by the benefits team. The second are those who are awarded benefit and then get stuck on it because they are too scared to move forward into work for fear that if they do and they find it negatively effects their mental health, they will then lose their benefits.

I am trying to develop a career for myself that allows me the flexibility I need to make my own income. I’m not lazy, l don’t want to be on sickness benefits, l am hard working, and driven but the current general pattern of work that employers ask for just do not suit my mental health needs. I need to be able to evaluate where i am on a daily basis and set my own hours according to my level of mental well being. I need to be able to simplify things when times are tough or take time off when my mental health is feeling too fragile. I have to put my mental health first or nothing else is possible. The way we work in our society does not allow for this flexibility in employment.

Surely there must be a better way. Can the benefit system and employers work together to provide a system whereby a person with long standing re occurring mental health issues, can be supported into work with flexible hours and the option to withdraw at times where their mental health is too severe without losing their money? This would be so fantastic and would also help in recovery as the self-esteem generated from managing to be productive and achieve something is so good for one’s mental health. Additionally, knowing that in times of need, some down time can be taken without fearing looking money, would also remove the shame or worry of having mental health issues and encourage better self-management. Until something like this is created, those attempting to make the transition from benefits to work will be failed by the system time and time again causing a cycle of constant relapse, shame and stigma.

 

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#JusJoJan Daily Prompt – Jan 3rd – ‘Warning’

This post takes part in Linda’s Just Jot It Jan 

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I, and others that know me, used to joke that I should come with a warning label. I thought this was an amusing and lovingly assigned description of my character but in truth it was because I was a complete pain in the neck and at the end of my drinking days there was nothing amusing about me at all.

Today I am unrecognisable as that person, when people describe me now; ‘warning’ is the last label I would be assigned. People remark on my calm nature, yes I can be very excitable and hyper, the new born child in me is very evident, but I am a person in control of myself and a person you can trust yourself to be safe around. I still find this an astonishing change in just six short years of mental health and addiction recovery.

In order to develop this calmer nature, I have had to create a robust and sensitive early warning system, an inner lighthouse to alert me when a storm is arriving or when the sea may threaten to thrash me towards the jagged rocks of mental illness. I have had to become acutely aware of the various things that threaten my wellness and very good at noticing the early warning signs and to this affect, the inner lighthouse will change from shades of yellow through to amber and red depending on the threat of the situation

The last month or so I have been inundated with warning signs, my inner lighthouse had been brightly lit  as a solid amber, but due to Christmas obligations, I haven’t had much choice other than to just ride the waves as safely as I can with mindfulness. However, today the lighthouse switched on to full red warning alert as I attended my medical assessment for my sickness benefit.

Attending these assessments, as anyone who’s had them will attest, is never easy, but then add being transgender into the mix and the whole thing turns into a cringe making, anger inducing mess. I sat there bewildered as the assessor first got confused that I was a man about to change to living as a woman. After correcting him and after he had picked his jaw back up from the desk he then remarked that I made for, “a very convincing transition” and that he, “had seen other people who were not as convincing and I must be very pleased”, He went on to then ask me if I would like to be referred to as he.

Wow, warning light on full flashing red mode, sirens, bells, whistles, the whole shebang.

I’ll be honest, I wanted to sob, I wanted to just fall on the floor in a heap, curl up into the foetal position and let my whole body convulse with reckless emotional abandon, but I can’t cry, I just don’t, it doesn’t come out and I am not one to indulge in dramatic emotional displays, at least I am not today but six years ago I may well have done.  I’ve had enough at the moment, Christmas has been incredibly tough being my first one single after a really messy breakup, add to the mix having to sit with a total stranger and explain my entire mental health history, my entire addiction history and then intimate details of my dysphoria and gender transition, all crammed into less than 40mins, to someone that had the tact and sensitivity of an array of hedgehogs.

However, the painfully crafted warning system served me well, one of the skills I have learnt in recovery is knowing which battles to pick and this one just wasn’t worth it. I spend a lot of my time educating people and this chap needed it but today had to be about first things first, my mental health, and so I  took a deep breath, answered as politely as I could and just got through it.

Thank goodness for my inner lighthouse and its warning signs, for lighting the way so that I can choose the path of least resistance and just make sure I kept myself safe. Now though,i t’s time to drop anchor, hunker down for a while and wait for the storm to pass.

#JusJoJan Daily Prompt – Jan 2nd – Time

 

This post takes part in Linda’s Just Jot It Jan

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The word ‘time’ conjures up so many thoughts and emotions for me. Most significantly with the phrase “one day at a time”, which is a mantra I live by, given to me by my twelve step recovery program. Time is also a bitter sweet experience for me, I have wasted so much of it in my life, hiding from the world and from myself and I always wished it away. Now, with a sudden and dramatic shift in perspective since beginning recovery 6 years ago, there is suddenly not enough time.  Time has changed from being a slow lumbering painful enemy to a precious fleeting dancing fairy. I dance with it daily, living on the edge of sadness for the time lost, but turning my focus away from that so as not to waste any more of it exquisiteness.

As a transman going through transition, which takes an extraordinary amount of time, dancing with the time fairy in this way has been a challenge. Transition is a time of painful waiting, for appointments, for psychiatric approvals, for hormones, for surgery, for recovery, for my body to change and for my inner and outer social worlds to adapt. This means I have to work very hard to balance my view and my use of time, it’s too valuable to want to rush through having already wasted so much, but at the same time I am just so eager for the physical transition part of my life to be over so that I can simply get on with my life as the man I have always known myself to be.

I now mark in time the next ten days, when, on the 13th of January, I will have the final stage of my surgery and I will no longer be a slave to time but instead a dancing partner.

 

 

Happy New Year! – 2016 in review

2016, in many respects, has not been the greatest of years, both in my own personal life and in the world at large. It has been a very mixed bag of a year. Being as public as l am, most people are aware of my personal circumstances this year, however, only a small handful know the full details of the exact goings on. In my recovery I have learnt some valuable tools, the most helpful one being to keep my side of the street clean, which l try very much to live by. It’s been tough, because I’ve felt at times that being nice often doesn’t get you as far as you like, but what it does get me is peace of mind and the knowledge that I’ve done the next right thing.

Not making the full goings on public has also meant that I have truly discovered who my most trusted and loyal friends are. l work hard to keep upbeat, which is essential for my ability to stay sober and clean and maintain my recovery, but it’s not been easy. I’ve been the closest to a drink in this year than I have for a few years now and Christmas turned out to be tougher than l initially thought it would be. However, the special people in my life noticed this without me having to say so and have been my rock, you know who you are and l am so grateful for you in my life.

It certainly is true that you find out who your true friends are when disaster strikes and this has been the case for me. The love and support shown to me by my friends both nearby and online, has moved me to tears at many times throughout this year. I survived the most difficult of tests to my sobriety and mental health because of the many ways you expressed your love and support for me and there are not enough words to convey how much that means to me.

My own journey and the hard hitting loss of so many big names in 2016, has really hammered home what’s important in life, to cherish every moment and to spend time and energy on people and things that matter and walk away with love from those that don’t. l have an open heart and welcome warmly those who want to be in my life and want me in theirs, those that live by mutual respect, support and understanding and find as much joy in my life as I do in theirs. I will no longer waste my time on people that don’t live this way, I do not judge you, l simply am judging what I need in my life and what’s good for me.

It really has been one of those years of transformation and opportunity emerging from some very painful events. Moving to a new part of the UK was definitely not on my 2016 agenda but it has been the best move I have ever made and I have begun to make some wonderful friends here in Devon who have made the move so much easier and helped me to feel welcome and at home.  So while it has been a hard year, the fruits of good things have sprouted from it which l hope will go on to fully flower in 2017. Thank you to all my friends, for the encouragement in all the new adventures that have begun to happen this year. I’ve begun to believe in myself and  most importantly, I’ve begun to feel  able to say that out loud because of the special people that have reminded me of and  championed my abilities and  talents

Thank you to my wonderful friends who are such a blessing in my life, who walk this journey of life with me and allow me to walk in theirs.  l hope 2017 brings you happiness, love and  all the wonderful things you deserve.

Love and light

Finn

Happy Finniversary To Me

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It is incredible that today marks three years since my legal name change to Mr Finlay Games. This time 3 years ago, I’d been out living publically as a transgender male for just over a month and I was both elated and petrified all at the same time. The new realisation that I was transgender answered questions I had been asking for a lifetime. However, as amazing as it was to finally be able to make sense of the years of confusion, I wanted and wished desperately, that I could just shut the lid on the proverbial ‘Pandora’s box, I had just opened.

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