Making Time For Self-Reflection-Day 44 & 45 Of #365daysofselfcare

This blog takes part in the #365daysofselfcare challenge

2018-06-13_15.54.32-01.jpegSelf-care is using balanced self-reflection

I am a deep thinker. In the past, this caused me a lot of unnecessary distress. I would over-think absolutely everything and go over and over things that had happened. Over the last seven years, since finally beginning to engage with, and take responsibility for, my mental health, I have learnt to use this tendency in a positive way. Balanced self-reflection is now a vital part of my self-care,

Self-reflection is a valuable skill to add to a well-being toolbox. It is an active, conscious process, unlike the over thinking and negative self-evaluation I used to engage in. It’s a balanced action of not regretting things that have happened but also not locking them away.  Everything we experience is a chance for self-growth. The ability to be able to stand back and objectively look at aspects of our inner selves without judging, allows us to learn from mistakes and understand ourselves on a deeper level.

I have carved a career for myself out of self-reflection, in the development of my YouTube channel and in my writing. Most of my creations are reflections on aspects of my personal growth. I really enjoy the process of experiencing and then reflecting on aspects of my inner and outer world. I think sometimes people are concerned that this reflecting means I am not OK with what is. It’s not that I am not OK, but rather that I wish to move deeper into understanding a particular thing. I want to move from simply experiencing to fully understanding. That can only happen in deep, active reflection.

Over the last few months, my life has been crammed with significant and life changing events. There is so much new information to process, fresh understandings of myself, of who I am and what I want in life. My new relationship, in being with a man, is causing the filing cabinets of my mind to fly wide open and spit out their contents. I realise that so much of what I thought about myself, is not true at all. I need to spend some time reflecting on and understanding this. I took some much-needed self-care time, yesterday and today, to allow myself to freely mull over everything and write down my reflection’s. This is why you are now seeing a number of new posts and vlogs!

I do not regret at all the oddly winding road I took to arrive here, where ironically, I find myself back where I started, albeit in a different package. Neither do I wish to shut the door on it. It is because of the journey I took, that I am now fully able to embrace who I am. I simply wish to unpack my previous understandings and re-visit them through the lens of this new knowledge of myself. This will allow me to make sense of the past and know myself on a deeper level.

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Coping With Stress When Your Scale Is Already Off-Balance

balance.jpgThis week is Mental Health Awareness Week and this year’s theme is ‘Stress’. Sadly, stress is a common affliction in our fast-paced world and it is something that each of us need to be mindful of. However, when you have existing mental health challenges, being mindful of stress becomes even more critical.

I experience my own mental health as a set of scales which are always off balance. My various challenges and addiction history, mean I own a set of scales which are incorrectly calibrated. It’s almost impossible to get them to level out dead centre. I have learned to be okay with this, and to find ways to get them to balance and stay stable in their offset state. This works as long as my life remains fairly consistent and stress free. However, life is life, unexpected or upsetting events will of course occur. When they do, like many of us with mental health challenges, I’m affected far more by stress than people whose scales are more accurately calibrated.

In experiencing an additional stress, I find I am triggered in all areas. The shock of a stressful event can knock me for six, my physical health begins to suffer, I can start feeling ashamed that I am falling apart where others around me are coping. If I am not careful, this can send me into a spiral and put me at risk of a crisis or relapse.

Over the last few years in my recovery, I have learnt how to better manage a stressful event so that I can look after my mental well-being until the event passes or is resolved. These are some of the things that I find helpful, in order to reduce the impact of the additional stress.

Remind yourself that it is OK to feel whatever you are feeling

Enforce your personal boundaries – clearly state your needs and your limitations

Drop anything from your life that is not important – make things simple

Use your coping strategies to administer self-care to yourself

Contact a friend or support agency for extra help

Evaluate your well-being on a daily basis – it may take a while to re-balance

Stress is often unavoidable but with careful management, it need not compromise our entire well being and we can return to own definition of balance in good time.

The 365 Days Of Self-Care Challenge

self care by finnThe last couple of weeks have been good mental health weeks for me. In realising the need to let go of some old ideas and refocus my direction, I have felt a welcome awakening of hope and possibility. I have really enjoyed feeling motivated and driven, a feeling that has been greatly lacking for several months now.

However, over this bank holiday weekend, I feel my mood has lowered somewhat. I have been finding it hard to get out of bed again. After making huge strides in getting my comfort eating under control, I have reverted to using Ben and Jerry’s as a mood lifter. The salad has gone brown in my fridge and the tomatoes have withered.

I find it extremely hard not to overthink things when a mood change happens. Being in a dark place is incredibly painful and when the light returns and warms my skin, I want to grab hold of it and never let it go again. When it inevitably does, the sadness of it leaving, in turn, adds another layer to the low mood. I begin to worry about how long the sun will be gone for and what I can do to get it back. My head churns over the question, “Am I going to feel like I did last week again or was that a one-off fluke?”.

When a shift in mood happens, I serve myself much better by just accepting that it is how it is. It may just be a low couple of days, it may just be because I’m tired. It may be because our British weather is as bipolar as my mood. Last week we had the ‘Beauty from the West’ and I was on the beach with my shirt off. This week we have the ‘Beast from the East’ and I am wearing the entire contents of my wardrobe whilst hiding indoors from the torrential rain.

Adapting to my mood is the most useful thing I can do rather than worry about it. After all, that is the entire reason as to why I have reorganised my life. Rather than my life having to come to a halt every time I cycle into a low phase, I am building a life that works around whatever mood I am in.

The most useful tool in any mental health tool kit is self-care. Adapting our self-care to how our moods present is vital. I know this, but when a low mood hits, all ideas of self-care go out of the window and I have to use every effort to make myself grab that tool kit, find something, and use it. Conversely, when I am on the upswing of a mood, I can forget that I need to still use self-care because I feel okay.

Self-care is vital for everyone but even more so for those of us who struggle with our mental health. Regardless of our mood, we must always make time every day for it. Some days, self-care is simply a promise to ourselves not to beat ourselves up when we simply can’t get out of bed. Other days it’s making sure we stop working at a sensible time in the day and reward ourselves with a warm bath or put our feet up with a film.

I need self-care more than ever now if I am going to venture into a new business of writing for a living. I need to make sure it stays being the positive thing that I intend it to be, not another reason to put pressure on myself and beat myself up when I’m not feeling on top form.

I noticed the hashtag #365daysofselfcare on twitter and felt intrigued. Researching its origins led me to a website called ‘Blurt’ who describe themselves as a ‘A social enterprise dedicated to helping those affected by depression’. On their website, there is a self-care starter kit which is available for free download and it contains a wealth of wonderful self-care information. The idea is to make self-care a daily habit and they encourage people to share each day of their self-care journeys using the hashtag #365ofselfcare on their social media platforms.

This is such a fantastic idea, it will keep me accountable and serve to remind me to practice self-care every day. It also means I can connect with other people across social media who are also on this journey. Connecting with people with similar experiences is another vital tool in any mental health toolkit.

I would love you to join me over on Twitter and Instagram with this! Tell me about your own journey with self-care, how do you find it? What works for you?

Keep on keeping on my friends!

The late bloomer. “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.”

InspirationalQuotes3.pngOne of the hardest things for me in recovery from addiction and mental health challenges, and in going through gender transition, is the deep grief felt at the wasted time.

I began my recovery from alcoholism at the age of 37.  Finally, with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, I saw clearly how drinking had not served me well at all. I drank since the age of 13, this had stopped me pursuing a career, building a life, making proper relationships and even growing up.  It felt like I had slept my life away. In suddenly seeing how wonderful life could be, I wished so much that I hadn’t waited so long to get sober. If I had addressed it earlier my mental health issues wouldn’t have got as bad as they did. I would have realised I was transgender a lot earlier and I would have had many more years to enjoy this beautiful planet and to make something of my life.

Waking up at the age of 37 has made me a late bloomer in every aspect of my life. It is only now, in being sober, that I am able to return to study and make a career for myself. It’s only now, having learnt to identify and sit with the various emotions I feel rather than drinking on them, that I can develop healthy platonic and romantic relationships. Because I have also gone through gender transition, this adds additional new aspects to my life that most folk deal with when they are young.  I have had to rebuild my identity, discover who I am as a man, get to know my new body and discover my sexuality. I am 44 years old now and only just starting out in life. I am a pubescent boy in a man’s body!

With so much being still so new, there is so much I yet need to learn and whilst I am not old by any means, neither am I young. There is so much joy in this newfound life but also so much sadness at wishing this life could have started years ago. Of course, I realise that had things been different, then I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I have skills and qualities, only gained precisely because of the path my life has taken, but still, the grief needs to be acknowledged. It is both valid and understandable. Accepting the loss of time means that I can transform it into a determination to make the most of the time I have now.

Being such a late bloomer may well mean that I can’t do a lot of the things I wish I could. However, I can find other ways to fulfil those dreams, simply by adapting them. For example, I’ve recently accepted that I must shelve my plans to be a therapist. I have too much healing of my own to do first. The motivation underlying that career choice lay in my passion to help people, to make a difference to the world and to people lives.  Instead of giving up that dream, I can search for new ways to fulfil it. Moving instead into writing as a career, using my psychology studies and my personal experiences, mean that I still get to follow my passion and in fact may even make more of a difference by following this new path.

“It’s never too late to be who you might have been”.  It may just mean you need to adapt the way you go about achieving it.

 

Taking The First Step Into Writing As A Career

A-journey-of-a-thousand-miles-begins-with-a-singl-step

Having declared myself to be a writer, I now need to develop this into a business which will allow me to write for a living. Currently, I am not quite sure what that will look like. However, it helps me to remember that I have a lot of experience. Although deciding that I am a writer has taken a long time, being a writer, I realize now, has been ongoing since childhood. In school my strongest subject was English. I loved writing stories, my Teachers often remarked on the imagination of my writing. There was even an incident where my Dad was called into school, as I had described in blood-curdling detail how my parents were killed in a shipwreck. It seems when a ten-year-old writes, “My Dad’s flesh was torn from his body as it was hurled against the jagged rocks,” is a bit of a red flag to a school Teacher.

I’ve also kept detailed journals since I was very young.  I loved writing about my life, about my feelings and reflecting on the world around me, and I still do.  My YouTube channel and my Blog writing, are also not the first time I’ve shared creatively about my life on a public forum. I began in my early twenties, on My Space, that wonderful retro social media platform where all the cool kids hung out, before Zuckerberg’s empire took over.  There, I shared poems and short pieces about living with mental health.

I have always secretly dreamt of having a book published, and indeed started many yet never finished. Over the last few years, I have had lots of chance encounters with writers, who have encouraged me to write. I feel like the universe has been telling me for a very long time that this is my path. I have listened, but I haven’t believed it. I haven’t believed in my ability and more importantly, I realize now, I was waiting to become a writer, rather than declaring myself to be one

I am still marveling at the series of events which have brought me to this point of realization. I greatly thank the friend who emailed me the link to an LGBTQ writing competition. It was in writing a short story for that purpose which then set off a chain of events and here I am, declaring myself to be a writer.

Where I go from here I am not entirely sure, but, at least I now know my path. As long as I keep writing, I am a writer and that is the most important thing.  The places my writing goes to, I believe, will evolve naturally as I find my voice.  Whatever the outcome of the story competition, the seemingly simple act of entering, has burst open the backlogged dam of creation and beautiful crystal-clear water is, at last, running free!

I Am A Writer – The Ahhh Moment

 

2018-bright-celebrate-769525.jpgIf you are familiar with me across all my other social media platforms, then you may have noticed some changes happening. I’ve been fiddling about with header images, taglines, personal bio’s and generally spamming your news-feed with all these changes (sorry about that!). Lots of you have been asking, “What’s going on?”

Grab yourself a cup of tea and a biscuit and let me tell you.

I have recently experienced one of those glorious moments where, after months of feeling so utterly terrible, a flash of clarity suddenly appears. I love it when these arrive, it’s like having a thought orgasm, it fills you with a rush of, “Ahhhhhhh!” and, “Oh God!” Suddenly everything is warm and fuzzy, and you are pregnant with ideas.

This has been a long time coming, I have been stuck for months and thanks to this beautiful baby epiphany, the way forward is beginning to make sense.

Since I entered recovery from addiction seven years ago, my life has changed beyond all recognition. Once clean and sober, I was able to look beneath the surface, to the cause of a lifetime of mental health issues. This allowed me to realize I was transgender and to begin gender transition. It also enabled me to learn to better manage my mental health.

This incredible internal change, awoke a passion to pass it on to others. If I could come from such a dark place, then I knew others could too. I wanted to make a difference, to support and inspire people to find their own path to recovery, whatever that might be.

The most logical way to make a living doing this seemed to be by becoming a therapist. I hadn’t been able to work for several years, due to my severe mental health issues. I needed to start slowly, to not jeopardize my recovery. I decided to begin a psychology degree with the Open University. Alongside, I could gain experience by volunteering as a youth worker and support worker. This would allow me the flexibility I needed, to be able to work on my recovery and undergo gender transition.

Around the same time, I decided to create a YouTube channel, to share the process of my gender transition in a video diary. The channel evolved very quickly to include not only my transition but also my recovery from addiction and poor mental health.

Surprisingly, lots of people began to watch my videos and interact with me. People left comments about how inspiring my videos were, and how much difference they made to their lives. Before long, my subscriber count grew into the thousands. I suddenly found myself doing exactly what I hoped to do, to make a difference, to inspire others to find their own courage to change. YouTube became my passion. I have wished so much that I could do it full time as my main career but making a living from being a YouTuber is rare. I also faced the additional issue that pursuing a therapy practice would mean giving up sharing via YouTube. It would not be ethical to have my personal life online for clients to find.

As I get closer to my graduation next year, I find myself incredibly torn about what to do. The career I originally wanted, is what I am already doing via YouTube. It seems ridiculous that I will have to give up doing what I love in order to make a living. But I have to make a living. Over the last couple of years, I have been mulling over options to find a way forward. One idea has been to use my psychology degree to move into research rather than practice, where I will still be able to make a difference. Importantly, I would be able to continue the work I do via YouTube.

I have also been writing. After being told by many people that I should write a book, I finally began putting my memoir together. I hoped that perhaps having a book published may be a chance for a career break of some kind, allowing me to make a living from YouTube.

However, nothing is happening in any of the above-mentioned areas. I have looked at a few post-degree research options and as yet do not feel inspired. I have several thousand words of a memoir but just cannot seem to put them together properly. I haven’t progressed any further towards paid work, my mental health and transition surgeries keep preventing me from doing so.

My mental health is currently a rather big issue. Unsurprisingly, as the last 12 months have been challenging on many levels. I am beginning to realize though, that this current mental health crisis could actually be a blessing in disguise. It has awoken me to some truths which, as is the nature of sudden truths, I can’t believe I didn’t realize before. The counsellor I am seeing pointed out to me that, in the grand scheme of things, seven years is not a very long time. I’ve put this huge goal on myself to get clean and sober, mentally well, fully transitioned and qualified as a practicing therapist in those seven years. It’s a bit of a big ask, isn’t it!

Looking at this in a new light, I now realize why I still haven’t managed to progress from voluntary work into paid work. Seven years is not long enough to develop the mental and emotional stability needed to practice. I need longer. However, I’m 44 now. If I keep waiting to be well enough to practice, I’ll be retired before I embark! I’ve been doing a lot of honest reflection, and as much as it hurts to do this, it’s time to say out loud that I am not able to pursue a career as a therapist.

In addition to my counsellor’s comments, a few other chance events helped me to suddenly see the light. A friend sent me a link to a writing competition, calling for submissions on the theme of pride. At the time I saw it more of a way to motivate myself to write, as I was struggling with my memoir writing.  Having not written a fictional short story for a number of years, I sought out a book to help me. I picked up, The Easy Way to Write Short Stories That Sell’ by Rob Parnell. It turned out to not only be a book about short story writing but also about how to get yourself into the mindset of a writer. Importantly, this book made me realize that I could actually make a living from writing.

Having really enjoyed the mindset exercises to develop oneself as a writer, I looked for a similar book. I found, You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)’ by Jeff Goins. This book is fantastic and has changed everything for me. The part which particularly resonated was about building a platform. Thanks to this book, for the first time, I can see how my YouTube channel and my writing can work together.

I feel like someone has just turned on a light and I can finally see a way forward. The reason I have been repeatedly declaring I am writing yet not making progress is not that I wasn’t sincere. I really did mean it, every time I said it. The trouble is I’ve been viewing writing and creating videos as a means to an end rather than the goal itself. It felt like a big dream and I should just wake up, sort myself out and get a real job, as I’m not going to make it as a writer and creator. You see the issue wasn’t that I didn’t mean it but rather that I didn’t believe it.

Isn’t it strange that when things make sense its so obvious that we feel silly even saying it because it is so obvious!

So, what has changed? Well, everything really. I am shelving the therapist path. I shall still finish my degree, I love the topic of psychology but for now, my path lies elsewhere. Now I’ve said that out loud I can fully concentrate on writing. The wonderful thing is that I can start now. I don’t have to wait to be well, writing can be worked around my mental health needs. I realize now that I can make a huge difference, not only with my memoir but also with short stories around the themes I am passionate about, change, recovery, gender, and sexuality. I’m pursuing all different kinds of writing and I am excited. My YouTube channel now feels like it has a proper place and purpose. I’m also seeing a fresh start for this WordPress site of mine too, once stagnant, now it can contain my writing process and progress, to supplement my YouTube updates.

This is why you have been seeing so many changes in all my social media platforms. I’ve been refocusing them, away from support work and towards writing and creating, streamlining them and tying them all together. At last, it feels like I have a direction.

I am a writer. I am a writer. I AM A WRITER. (Thank you Jeff).

I am incredibly excited to share this next phase of development with you all!

Much love and light

Finn

 

 

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.