Sun, sea, and self harm scars (part 2)

Hello again folks,

Long time no post, yet again. I can’t seem to keep myself in a routine at the minute. Graduation through my mood completely out of whack but here we are! Back with the second part of my tips on how to cover up in the hot weather without actually melting into a fleshy puddle.

As I said in my previous post, scars from self-harm affect so many of us. Whether we have scratches, scalds, or stitched up cuts, the act of showing them is a personal choice.

I am a huge advocate for being transparent when it comes to mental health, however many of us choose to hide the history we have on our skin.

DISCLAIMER: This post is in no way intended to be body-shaming. You can wear anything you feel comfortable with, no matter how your skin looks, your shape, height, or size. These are simply suggestions I use for myself to help cover-up and stay cool.

Skirts

Midi Skirts

Calf-length skirt - Dark blue/Patterned - Ladies | H&M GB 1

Image Source: H&M, 2018.

Midi skirts are fantastic for summer. You can find them in most charity shops for under £10 (I once found one for £2.50!) and they keep your upper thigh covered. This one here is from H&M for £19.99.

Skirts this length can be found in a range of different styles, like pencil skirts and body-con so it’s super easy to tailor this tip to your own style. However, I find that the floaty type like the one pictured above is the most summery, and is typically my favourite style to go for when I’m trying to cover scars and stretch marks on my thighs.

These skirts are wonderful. You can dress them up or down, depending on the occasion. They don’t raise questions, as they are often worn in summer anyway. You can guarantee if you wear jeans someone will crack the old,

Aren’t you hot in that?

Yeah, I bloody well am hot in these jeans, but that’s none of your business!

 

Maxi skirts

Image source: Boohoo, 2018

Another life-saver in this weather is the maxi skirt. Obviously I’ve chosen to display this black jersey skirt from Boohoo because I’m still an emo kid at heart, but again you could find an alternative for cheap in Primark or a charity shop.

These are great if you have insecurities about your calves and aren’t ready to show them off just yet. They’re elegant and perfect for whatever occasion. Going somewhere fancy? Pair it with a fitted crop top. Heading to the shop? Sling on a t-shirt and tuck it in.

The added bonus of these skirts is the control you have. If you’re sitting in the garden at a sunny barbecue, you can keep your legs covered up. Then if you find yourself alone for a few minutes you can take the opportunity to get your legs out and show them the sun.

Tips:

Being a short-arse

Are you like me and 5 foot nothing and find maxi skirts drag on the floor?

Maxi skirts with an elasticated waist can be rolled over at the waist band without looking weird. If you fold it towards you it can take the skirt up a couple of inches.

Alternatively you could pair it with some platform shoes, sandals, or boots, depending on your style and where you’re walking that day.

https://images.asos-media.com/products/raid-wide-fit-alma-black-flatform-ankle-tie-sandals/9335894-1-blacksuede?$XL$?$XXL$&wid=300&fmt=jpeg&qlt=80,0&op_sharpen=0&resMode=sharp2&op_usm=1,0.4,6,1&iccEmbed=0&printRes=72

Image source: Asos, 2018

These RAID “flatform” sandals from Asos are an example of a flat but raised shoe – far easier to walk in than traditional heels. I’ve seen some similar in Primark which were about a third of the price of these, which are currently being sold at £29.99.

“Chub rub”

I know many of you will hate the phrase “chub rub.” Some of you lucky devils might not even know what it means.

This is a rash that occurs when there is friction between your thighs as they rub while you walk. It can be incredibly painful, and often deters people from wearing skirts at all.

That being said, there are two tricks you can try which I have found to be particularly helpful.

1. Roll-on antiperspirant

I’m no scientist so I can’t explain to you how this works, but for the past two years I have been using this trick to help combat my thighs from chafing when I wear skirts.

It doesn’t feel very flattering to be rolling moist deodorant on your inner thighs, but I believe it reduces sweating and also acts as a protective layer to reduce the friction of skin-on-skin. Roll-on deodorants are fairly cheap and usually small so they’re easy to carry about with you so you can reapply in the loos later if you feel the effects wearing off.

2. Cycling shorts

For some people, the deodorant trick simply doesn’t work. An alternative to this is to wear form-fitting shorts underneath your skirt to prevent chafing.

Image source: Sports Direct, 2018

These LA Gear body-con shorts from Sports Direct are really cheap, costing only £4.

Can’t afford to buy something extra? You could instead cut up a pear of tights or old leggings to just above the knee. Though this is not an ideal solution, nor one I’ve tried myself, it seems to be an effective way to tide you over until you’re able to buy some actual body-con shorts.

Trousers

Although I previously mentioned in this post about how jeans can raise the ridiculous “Aren’t you hot in that?” question, wide-legged or light weight trousers are a good choice in hot weather. They keep you covered, but are far more breathable than jeans.

These outlandish but amazing trousers from Zara are a prime example of the style of trousers I wear when it’s boiling outside.

Though these may not be something you usually go for, wide-legged trousers like these are currently in fashion, and are unlikely to make you feel as uncomfortable as jeans or leggings would.

Alternatively, if you don’t feel quite ready to wear something so wide legged, or are self-conscious about them being too long for you, harem pants are a great alternative.

Harem pants - Black/Floral - Ladies | H&M GB 1

Image source: H&M, 2018

These floral harem pants from H&M retail at £12.99. Wearing them feels like pyjamas. They’re thin, airy, and comfortable. You are also able to roll them up to your knees should you want to, so they look like cut-offs. This is great if you only want to cover your calves some of the time.

Tops

Finally, we come to the thing that is my biggest difficulty in summer. Tops.

Most of the tops I own are band t-shirts from when I was younger and in my prime emo years. These are no good in 30°C heat. First off, they’re black. Secondly, they do not cover my scarred up arms that I don’t always want to have out on display.

So if you’re like me and vest tops and t-shirts are a no-go for you in summer, here are a couple of suggestions that I have found useful.

Crop tops and bardots

Long sleeved crop tops and bardot tops are both beautiful and covering.

Image source: New Look, 2018

This cropped bardot top from New Look would look excellent paired with a long skirt or high-waisted trousers. Plus, the tight sleeves on these is great as it means you won’t have the awkward moment where your sleeve accidentally rolls down and your scars are on show to the bartender in Spoons who you weren’t quite ready to reveal your life story to.

I know that often because it is marketed as a crop-top and usually models who wear these have flat stomachs and defined abs, people are often uncomfortable about wearing these or even trying them on.

If you have a muffin-top like me, a sad belly button, stretch marks, scars, whatever, you can hoist your skirt right up to where the bottom of the top is as if it were a dress.

There is NO SHAME in having these things. I absolutely am not body shaming. However, I do understand than not everyone is ready to show these parts of themselves that they may be self-conscious about.

Blouses

The market is rife with thin, baggy shirts at the minute. Especially longer shirts.

Image source: New Look, 2018

This beautiful pale green shirt from New Look retails at £14.99 (but you can usually get 10% discount on non-sale items if you have your university student card with you in store). It would look gorgeous paired with skinny fit shorts, whether they’re mini or knee-length.

You could also tuck it in to some chino-style trousers, or a midi skirt for a smarter or more formal look. Alternatively, you could wear the shirt unbuttoned over a cami-top, however this causes me anxiety as I’m often worried someone will tell me to take the shirt off because they think I’m too hot.

Remember:

You do not owe anyone an explanation.

It is your choice if you want to show your scars, and if you don’t want to, you do not have to justify that because someone is asking questions.

Stay safe. Keep hydrated. Autumn will be here before we know it.

All the best,

Rowan x

 


GIF sources:

Living the Dream: what it’s like to dissociate

BhKvfqYCIAAbR5X.jpg large
(Image: Me, when I’m dissociating)

Do you remember those games you’d play in primary school?

Where you’d cup your hands in a ball shape and your friend would place their hands around yours, pushing your hands with their palms, and you’d push back against them?

Then after a while, they’d take their hands away and you felt like there was an invisible ball between your hands that you could stretch and manipulate?

Weird feeling, wasn’t it?

For me, that’s what derealising feels like around my entire body.

Derealising is a form of dissociation that, in short, makes you feel like the world around you is not real.

This past week I’ve been experiencing some intense dissociation. Chances are, if you’re here reading this you have some idea of what ‘dissociation’ is, or maybe you’ve heard of it before.

If not, a generalised summary of dissociation is the feeling of disconnect from the world around you. To varying degrees of severity, it affects your cognitive function (so, like, your memory, concentration, feeling of identity) and is generally thought to be caused by significant stress, trauma, or as a side effect from medication. That’s dissociation in brief, anyway. It presents itself in a lot of different forms which you can read more about on the Mind website.

You don’t have to have been diagnosed with a specific dissociative disorder to experience dissociation, though. Personally, I experience it as a side effect of my PTSD and social anxiety disorder.

It isn’t until later in life I realised I’d been dealing with derealisation and something else called depersonalisation for the majority of my teenage years. Depersonalisation is, pretty much, the feeling that you are not real, and feeling disconnected from your own self.

I’d walk around school feeling as if I’d left my body. I looked at my hands, and they felt unreal. I looked at my friends and my surroundings and felt like I was looking through dream fog. As if my alarm clock was about to ring and I’d wake up somewhere else sweating, with a massive sleep headache from being dead to the world.

It always terrified me, and now it makes me exhausted all the time.

What prompted me to write about this is that yesterday I had one of the most severe episodes of dissociation I’ve had since my ~Official Breakdown~ in 2015/2016 when I was having total blackouts and psychosis but that’s another story for another time.

So I was walking around town on the hunt for a specific item of clothing and saw GAP, a place I have never set foot in in my life.

I wandered in, a conspiracy podcast soothing my little ears through headphones, and immediately I was over-sensitised. The bright LED lights, the walls and walls of clothing and unclear layout. I closed my eyes for a second, then tried to focus on the things I could see. Typically, a good grounding technique if you’re dissociating is to list five things for each sensation you’re experiencing.

It was the simultaneous experience of seeing everything so vividly whilst also feeling like I’d been knocked outside my own head and the door back inside had been locked.

Okay, I thought. Let’s just have a quick look around and see what we can find.

Walking further into the store, I felt like I’d been winded by sensory overload. I started to black out.

It felt as if I were looking out from a glass box that someone was drawing the curtains over.

Usually I catch the dissociation before it gets that far, but this time I honestly couldn’t see from the anxiety and the overwhelming sense of being unreal.

So I left and decided to get to a place I recognised. I walked into another store I know and love but the same thing happened. Once again, my vision started to fade and I couldn’t make sense of the words my podcast was saying.

It was at this point I left the shopping centre and went to wait outside for my friend as we’d planned to spend the day together. She eventually turned up and was amazing at drawing me out of that glass box I was looking through. We went for milkshakes and some retail therapy which I found manageable with her. Yet for some reason my broken brain couldn’t handle it on my own, when usually I love shopping alone. Weird!

If you guys are interested in learning more about dissociation, I’ve listed some links below to documentaries or films that have informed my understanding of myself.

‘Diaries of a Broken Mind’ – A BBC Three documentary about Dissociative Identity Disorder

‘Numb’ – A 2007 film with Matthew Perry, about a man who experiences dissociation as a side effect of smoking weed. I honestly don’t know how often this happens to people but the representation of how some people cope with dissociative disorders and how difficult they can be to diagnose is pretty great.

Dodie is a singer and musician who lives with derealisation and she explains how she experiences dissociation concisely in the video I’ve linked.

I do hope you’re all doing well. I’d be interested to hear how you guys experience dissociation in the comments. It’s always useful to help me further my understanding of how other people experience the world.

Love and hugs,

Rowan.

Films About Mental Illness

Hello my lovely human followers*

At the start of this month, a quote of mine was featured in the Metro – thank you, Erica Crompton!

Erica was looking to write an article on the best films that explore mental illness, and having recently written an essay on Benny & Joon as part of my final year coursework, I thought this would be a great chance to share my thoughts.

Now, let me preface this next part by saying I hate when literature and film imply that if you find the right romantic partner all your problems will be solved. In real life, sometimes that perfect love doesn’t quite work out…

However, unlike some films about mental illness, Benny & Joon combines subtle and common symptoms of schizophrenia to provide a positive portrayal of one way that the illness could manifest. Even though the writers never name her mental health condition – choosing instead to refer to her as ‘sick’ – she exhibits distorted speech, auditory hallucinations, and outbursts of anger which would likely mean a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Though I don’t have schizophrenia myself, I have experienced psychosis. After some seriously intense research for my assignment, I believe the film is a helpful representation of the disorder.

It demonstrates that not all people with schizophrenia are violent, scary, and unable to be integrated in the community. It casts light onto the strain that schizophrenic episodes can have on close friends and relatives of the individual.

Benny & Joon sends the message that not all people with schizophrenia will have the condition chronically. Through medication, therapy, and a positive support network, people who have schizophrenia can live an independent, fulfilling life.

Soon I’ll be doing a blog post on my favourite films that represent mental illness in a helpful way. Let me know your suggestions, I’m always looking to see how writers and filmmakers portray any mental disorder through fiction.

Check out the rest of the article here.

Hugs to all of you who need it,

Rowan.

*(Side note, when I was five I watched Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, during the part where Hagrid tells Harry about the night his mother died, for the longest time I thought he said, “Voldemort had started to gather some flowers” and I couldn’t understand why that was scary or relevant. True story.)


Links to GIFs:
Valencia

Too Loud

Joon in the car

Making toasties

Disordered Driving – passing your test when you have mental health issues

Hello all, and sorry for the hiatus.

These past couple of weeks have been hectic; I passed my driving test, got a car, became officially discharged from outpatient. It’s been a wild ride to be honest.

But now, let’s get down to business to defeat the Huns! (Had to, sorry.)

When I was 18, I started having driving lessons. I wasn’t on any meds at this point, and I would have panic attacks before every lesson. Shaking. Crying. Unable to breathe. After about two months, I gave up because I didn’t need to drive. Why put myself through something that was such an ordeal every week?

In an attempt at self-encouragement, I passed my theory test. I had pressure from all sides of my family, who mostly all had driving licenses (including some who can drive HGVs and tractors.) That plan didn’t really work out and I ended up not driving again at all until I was 20, at the start of last year. By this time my theory test was running out – they only last for two years.

During my time away from driving, I had an emotional breakdown. I don’t use this term lightly. I literally had to quit my job, I barely made it in to lectures at uni, my relationship ended because this was the worst my BPD has ever been. In hindsight, I should have been hospitalised, however the person I was living with at the time insisted that that wasn’t the right thing for me.

Back then the idea of ever passing my driving test was laughable. Even my little brother had surpassed me, when he got his license in February 2017, after learning for just five months. One day as I was traveling to an appointment with my CPN, I thought, Now my brother could drive me to my appointments. Almost instantly, a voice I hadn’t heard for a long time spoke up in my head: or you could drive yourself.

I sat with this thought for a while. It made me feel sick. The fact that I was thinking about learning to drive again by choice was terrifying to me, because it meant I might actually be ready to try. Although this seems like a positive thing, it was disconcerting. When you’re ill enough for long enough, it feels like there is no personality inside you beyond your disorder. This was a sign that there was a part of my identity growing. I was becoming stronger. In turn, this meant there was likely to be a retaliation from my illness.

I’m sure this will upset some people, but for me personally there is something about being ill that is easy. It is easy to sink back into this, because my illness is severe. It’s my natural, organic state. It is who I am at my core. But I don’t want it to be. Fighting to get out of that, to become a person who doesn’t just survive but functions was something I longed for.

So I decided to give driving another go. It was horrible. Before every session, pretty much, I had a panic attack. I’d stim and shout noises that were akin to a screaming goat. However, after a while of witnessing my white knuckles gripping the steering wheel and grabbing the gear stick so hard I’d ram it into reverse instead of first, my instructor asked me if I have anxiety.

I laughed. How had he only just noticed?

But wait. He thought I was neurotypical. He thought I was a person who can function.

I told him I had depression and anxiety (I hadn’t been fully diagnosed with EUPD and PTSD at the time.) This meant he adapted our lessons. He took the time to drive around country lanes, on scenic routes so we could look out over views of the hills. He was pagan, and he told me after he did this in part because green is such a calming colour.

After he did this, I became so much more relaxed. Well, apart from when I had a panic attack and cried during my first mock test, but hey we all have ups and downs.

And then, on 23rd May, I passed my driving test. First time. Eight minors but it doesn’t say that on the certificate so who cares?!

I got my brother’s old car, which I love. My favourite thing now is to drive down the stretch of road when I’m on my way home with the anthems of my teenage years playing loudly as a ‘screw you’ to the mental illness that took my adolescence away.’

 

As always, thank you so much for reading.

All the best,

Rowan

Terminal Mental Illness

My heart is breaking.

Today I learnt of the death of Claire Greaves, who passed away in late February. She was a mental health activist, a recovery warrior, and the world is a sorrier place for her passing.

I feel as if I have no right to be sad about this, though. I never met her.

Through the mental health community on Instagram, I found Claire. My anxiety prevented me from reaching out to her, as it did to Sophie before BPD took her life too. I have deep regret about that. Perhaps there is nothing I could have done for either of them, but to have shown them that one more stranger saw them. One more stranger cared. One more person found their strength to fight inspiring. Watching their lives unfold through their updates made me root for them. I dreamed that I could know these beautiful souls, but was too terrified to speak to them.

Being on the other side of suicide does not take away your own suicidal thoughts.

Seeing and feeling the effects of losing others does not automatically shock you into recovery.

What it has done is encourage me to reach out to people. To tell people when they give me good vibes, when I love their clothing, when I feel inspired by them.

A moment wondered is a moment lost.

Let the words have their moment.

I love your nails.

That dress is beautiful.

You have such a calming energy.

The worst you can be is weird.

The best you could be is the distraction that puts a smile on their face, takes their mind away from the blackness, and saves their life that day.

 

Stay safe, friends.

There will be a day when you can say you’re okay and you mean it.

Rowan.

The Road to Diagnosis

Hello lovelies.

Over the years, I’ve met a lot of people who have been afraid of taking the first step to go and see the doctor about mental health.

I like to call it brain health.

Your brain is a physical thing. It’s producing these feelings, these behaviours. It’s important to look after your brain, as you would your lungs if you had breathing problems, or your heart if you had chest pains.

People come up with lots of reasons to be afraid of going to the doctor. Some examples I’ve heard are:

“What if they don’t believe me?”

“I don’t want medication, what if they make me take it?”

“It’s not that bad yet. I’m not suicidal so it can wait.”

I’m just going to be brutally honest here.

In recent years, understanding of brain health has lost so much stigma. Don’t get me wrong, the stigma still exists, but if you go to your GP because you can’t sleep, can’t eat, and feel empty/overly emotional all the time, your GP will almost definitely not tell you to “man up” or “just deal with it.” They will not expect you to simply get it together.

And if they do? You can put in a formal complaint to PALS.

It is true that many GPs don’t have a lot of psychiatric experience, particularly older GPs I’ve found. However, they will be able to offer you medication based on your presenting problem (typically first line medications are SSRI antidepressants, like sertraline, fluoxetine, and citalopram).

If you have anxiety, they may offer you beta blockers (such as propranolol) to take when your anxiety is heightened.

Remember though: just because they offer you medication, it does not mean you have to have it! You can refuse treatment unless you are detained under certain sections.

Some counties in the UK have self-referral websites which you can go on and fill out an application for counselling. In other counties, your GP has to refer you.

Also – this is something that a lot of people forget:

It doesn’t matter if you aren’t suicidal.

It doesn’t matter if you are still able to work, or can mask your feelings well to the people around you. It is better to go earlier, before you become suicidal, so that you can get on the waiting list and start learning coping mechanisms as soon as possible. If you found a lump on your body that you thought could be cancer, most people wouldn’t wait until it grows into a giant third head growing out of your shoulder to get it checked out.

If you are younger (under 18) there are confidentiality issues if you go to your GP for things like suicidal behaviour or self-harm. If the doctor thinks you are a risk to yourself they have a legal obligation to involve your parents. For some people, having supportive parents is helpful towards getting early intervention for your mental health.

My experience, however, was that my parents did not believe I was struggling. My grades were good. In their mind, I was acting up. Attention seeking. They couldn’t see anything wrong. As a result, I had to wait until I was 18 to get the help I needed.

In my experience, my GP started me on citalopram and I was referred to a psychotherapist at the practice for help managing depression and anxiety. Psychotherapists are not trained to prescribe medications, but in therapeutic methods to manage your emotions. I was offered six sessions, which is fairly standard for counselling. At the end of those sessions I was referred on to the Community Mental Health Team (CMHT), because I was displaying dissociative and (at the time) psychotic symptoms indicative of a more complex, long-term problem.

A few weeks after my referral, I got an appointment with the CMHT for a month or so later. In my initial assessment they took my history and gathered information about my current brain health situation. They also got me to identify five or six of the main problems I was experiencing at the time.

Next, I was assigned a community psychiatric nurse (CPN). I’ll tell you all about her in another blog post. Anyway, my CPN also referred me to a *cough* useless *cough* psychologist. Said useless psychologist told me that I should consider getting new friends, because a lot of the people I spent time with had mental health problems too, and quite a few of my friends had autism. She asked me why I thought I gravitated to these people, instead of finding more normal friends. Safe to say I refused any more sessions with her after that.

I was 19 around the time I had intervention from the crisis team. I stopped working, I couldn’t cope with the environment. The combination of meds, alcohol, and severe dissociation I experienced at that time means I have little memory of that period in my life. Because of the crisis team, I was bumped up the list to see a psychiatrist. At some point around this time my meds were changed to venlafaxine. A joyous affair. One day I’ll do a post about different medications.

Anyway, that psychiatrist was amazing. She’d seen two of my favourite bands live when she was younger (The Dresden Dolls and Bowling for Soup). She took me seriously. Most importantly, she didn’t tell my to get new friends.

The second time I met her she changed me onto mirtazapine (WONDER DRUG …besides the weight gain). My useless CPN left and I was switched to one of the most wonderful nurses I’ve ever met. He did DBT and distress tolerance with me and it honestly changed my life. I had a final appointment with the psychiatrist and she told me I was too young (around 20 at this time) for her to diagnose me with BPD because my personality was still going through major changes having just come out of adolescence. She did diagnose me with EUPD traits and social anxiety disorder, though.

Over the past year, that psychiatrist left and I was put on vortioxetine by a different psychiatrist (who had never met me before and seemed like she was a representative from Brintellix come to sell me vortioxetine.) My CPN changed twice more, and I went back to see a different (far more impartial and professional) psychologist.

Following some major nausea from the vortioxetine, I had one more appointment with a DIFFERENT psychiatrist, who had actually read all my notes (which is insane – at this point I’ve been there about three years). He put me onto sertraline because of my PTSD, and finally diagnosed me with emotionally unstable personality disorder.

He understood that not all people with BPD explode.

Some of us implode.

And that’s where I’m at now.

I’m sorry this was a long post… If there’s anything you should take from this, it’s that the road to diagnosis is a long one. You will meet shitty mental health “professionals” who make your life harder at times, but once you find a therapist who engages with you and works with you, therapy will get easier.

Also, I understand that not everyone wants a diagnosis. Some people don’t find labels helpful, and that’s okay. For me, the diagnosis named the illness. It’s like the story of Rumplestiltskin – once she named him, she defeated him. Yeah, brain health is not that simple, but if I know what I’m dealing with, it’s easier for me to understand and compartmentalise it.

Personally, therapy felt like it was an antibiotic sent to kill off my identity. I’d been ill for so long I was my illness.

The biggest thing I’ve learnt these past few years is that there’s a person inside me. There’s a person beyond borderline personality disorder. And there is a person inside you too. I promise.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

Until next time,

Rowan.