Sun, sea, and self-harm scars (part 1)

Scars from self-harm affect so many people. Regardless of whether you have scratches, scalds, or stitched up cuts, the act of showing them is your choice. I am a huge advocate for being transparent when it comes to mental health, however for one reason or another some of us need to hide the history we have on our skin.

In winter, finding clothes to cover up isn’t such an issue. Come summertime, however, finding clothes that don’t make us feel like we’re being slow roasted by the sun can be a problem.

For years I wore hoodies and skinny jeans in 30°C so that the people around me wouldn’t see my scars. Some days, I wouldn’t even leave the house if it was hot, which becomes increasingly difficult as you get older.

So here are some outfit ideas that you can take inspiration from that won’t cause the ‘aren’t you hot in that?’ fiasco. All these outfit ideas are fairly affordable, and variations of them to suit your own style can be found in Primark, H&M and charity shops around this time of year.

(DISCLAIMER: I am not a fashion guru. These are ideas you can tailor to your own tastes.)

Swimwear

I’m gonna be honest, this is a difficult thing to combat. Normally when you go swimming people see almost everything. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Long sleeved swimsuits come in all sorts of colours and are suitable for all sizes. If you have scars on your arms, these are perfect for going to the pool or swimming at the beach.

Fancy Palm Leaf Print Plus Size One Piece Swimsuit  This one piece swimsuit from Rosegal is pretty, covering, and most importantly: subtle.

This particular suit costs $22.41 which currently is about £17. Rosegal offers free shipping internationally and have a plus size range if you are a fuller bodied person like me.

One thing to watch out for, however, is their sizes. Make sure to use the size charts they have and remember that US sizes differ from UK sizes. For example, a US 14 is the equivalent to a UK 18.

Sarongs and long skirts

If you have scars on your legs or thighs, it is quite easy to find a sarong. Sarongs are a skirt-type wrap that people often wear to the beach.

Sarong - Black - | H&M GB 1

This is a simple black sarong from H&M costing £4.99.

Despite the dark colour, the material these items are made of are intentionally thin and airy as they are designed for beachwear. Black is also simple and versatile.

The simplicity of a sarong is that it is easy to remove, so if you get a few moments away from the group, you can still move it off your legs to catch some sun.

Unlike a white sarong, it is unlikely to be see-through.

Board shorts

These items cover beachwear, but there is still the issue of hiding self-harm scars on your legs when you go swimming at indoor pools. If this is an issue, which it might be if you are on a family holiday,

Board shorts are a great way to cover up your thighs if they are an area you wish to keep hidden.

Honestly, the board shorts in the ‘male’ swimwear section are usually better, like these AMAZING pineapple shorts from Sports Direct costing £4.

 

 

 

Next week I will be posting the second part to this blog, which will be all about other fashion ideas you can wear to stay cool but covered in this ridiculous summer heat.

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 strong, my lovelies. It’ll be dropping cold again soon!

All my love,

Rowan x

 

BPD Meltdowns: An update on my health

Hi guys.

I’m sorry I’ve been on hiatus with no real explanation.

Over the past week I have been having a serious borderline episode. For me, this means that all of the emotions I am usually able to deal with using DBT (dialectical behaviour therapy) techniques are stronger than usual, so the techniques I use don’t work out so well.

For example, I’ve been having hypomanic episodes some days, which means I’ve been getting significantly less sleep which has messed up my sleeping pattern. Under normal circumstances I would take my emergency zopiclone to help me, but these shouldn’t be taken with alcohol and usually by the time I’ve remembered I have them I’ve started drinking.

Anyway. This post is just an update to say I’m not gone.

I’ll still be here, coming back in the next week or so with new content for you.

This weekend was particularly intense as some difficult things happened within my family life that triggered a BPD meltdown.

BPD meltdowns happen (in my case, at least) when you become so consumed and overwhelmed by emotion that the rational parts of my brain shut down.

The rationalising techniques taught in therapy, like finding distractions, like films or crafts, or self-soothing, such as having a hot drink or a bath, are no longer effective.

During my meltdowns, I am incapable of stopping crying.

My brain goes a mile a minute thinking about why I am worthless, why I should be ashamed of who I am, and how I don’t deserve to be alive any more.

Eventually it passes. Honestly, the most effective thing to help a BPD meltdown is time.

Be patient with yourself. Call a friend. Call your therapist. Call Samaritans on 116 123116 123 (UK and ROI).

I understand that you might not want to. In that situation you probably feel like you don’t deserve any kind of love and support. Regardless of whether you deserve it, I promise you that there are people in your life who want to support you. They want to help. Let them.

And please, if it is an emergency call 999 or visit your nearest A&E.

These emotions are temporary.

In the mean time, if you’re reading this, here are some BPD related memes I’ve found on the Internet that might provide the relief of making you smile.

Trauma - BPD Meme Queen

(Source: alrightanakin)

Impulsive - BPD Meme Queen

(Source: http://donnie–barko.tumblr.com/)

Danger - BPD Meme Queen

(Source: BPD Meme Queen)

24909719_1934891309893174_973015608981465796_n

(Source: Rey_Z)

30743279_2142936935755276_8309023213782827008_n

(Source: unknown)

IMG-20171129-WA0003

(Source: Sarah Anderson)

Okay lovely people, that’s all from me tonight.

Take care of yourselves,

Rowan.

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.