I’ve made my promise – make your own at 10.10.org.au #WMHD2013
‘And yet we know as practicing writers & academics that writing is an art form which takes enormous courage & guts: that it is a sweaty, smell business; that love, passions and the sacred are paramount; that the profound dancing with the ordinary is commonplace. We know writing is in the path of madness.’ Brady & Krauth, Towards Creative Writing Theory. P 15-16
Through my research I feel as though I have wiped away the fog from a mirror and am seeing the truth in who I am for the first time. Each day the image grows clearer & I feel a greater tug of war between feeling relief & terror, connection & loneliness. If I can filter the right words through this experience I will create a truly potent elixir.
Never is written on my inner right thigh. It is not printed in ink; it is embedded in the flesh, written in scar tissue. I remember how I got this scar because I remember cutting the word into my skin.
March 1st is Self Injury Awareness Day – the goal is to discuss the realities of self injury and reduce stigma for those who are affected by self injury. Self Injury is still surrounded by myth, taboo and limited understanding – I hope to contribute to changing this through my own research and writing. Why? Because I self injure.
Self injury, self harm, NSSSI (non-suicidal superficial self injury), self abuse, self mutilation, cutting – the list of terms used to describe this behaviour is long and speaks to the confusion that surrounds the behaviour. For the sake of this post I will be using the term self injury. The terms I’ve listed here are what we find in academic, health and clinical literature and media. The labels that are used socially are much more problematic – emo, sicko, attention seeker, psycho, length ways not across- get it right… these labels can all be summed up in one easy term – bullshit!
Jokes about self injury, comments trivialising the behaviour and general ignorance only contribute to the shame, guilt and lack of knowledge experienced by self injurers and those that care for them. Not only do I find this reaction or treatment of the topic hurtful but I can also find it triggering*. Self injury is more common than you think yet the taboo’s still exist leaving many to continue to carry the secret and refuse to seek help when needed.
*Triggering – when using this term in relation to self injury it refers to “setting off”, something that causes the individual to want to injure themselves or to think about injuring themselves.)
Some people in my life know that I am a self injurer but I am now undertaking a discussion and investigation about my experience with self injury which is more open and in depth than I’ve ever been before. The process of doing so is incredibly confronting – not just for me but for those who know me. I do not find it easy to talk about my relationship with self injury however I think it is an important discussion to have. The literature that does exist comes from a psychological, medical, care or sociological perspective. Most accounts from self injurers themselves are anonymous and generally gathered and edited by others. Discussions of self injury in the media are often presented in a sensationalised way, we hear of the ‘epidemic’, we hear that it is a ‘youth issue’ and the behaviour may be ‘shocking’!
Self injury is surrounded by egg shells and while care and compassion is needed, pity and reference to self injurers as ‘victims’ does little to reduce stigma. Because of the stigma around self injury the internet has always been an important resource for both information and support. I found internet forums particularly useful when I first began seeking help. I am now combining my research into social media and the self with my personal experience with self injury and refocusing my PhD in an effort to raise awareness and fill the gabs in the literature to help create understanding – not just for others but also for myself.
Here are two links that provide a general overview about self injury (more broadly discussed as self harm):
These links are a starting point. Understanding self injury is not straight forward. There is still a lot of research to be done. Therefore the purpose of this post is awareness. Be aware of how you think about self injury, how you engage in discussion of self injury how you react to self injury – be this as someone who self injures, someone who treats self injurers, someone who knows someone who self injures or someone who knows nothing about self injury… if you don’t understand self injury don’t make assumptions.
Writing this post also serves the purpose of my own self awareness. Embarking on a project where I am discussing my own experience is challenging. I have to confront my own fears and preconceptions of how I will be viewed and treated. I am opening myself to criticism, subjecting myself to material that will be upsetting and testing my own abilities to care for myself.
I am asking you the reader to simply, be aware:
If you know me personally be aware that I am undertaking this testing project. Ask me questions if you have any. Be aware that I will need your continued support throughout this project.
If you are a self injurer I hope you have a strong support network. Do try and seek support in a way that you are comfortable with. There are many good organisations online or alternatively talk to your GP or call a help line. You are not alone. I am not seeking research participants for my work but am happy to receive feedback and suggestions of resources or particular issues you feel need to be addressed in the discussion of self injury.
Do you want to start talking about your self injury? Read this:
What can you do if you know someone who self injures? Firstly don’t treat them differently, don’t try to fix them, don’t try and control their behaviour and don’t treat them as fragile. You need to operate within your abilities. Simply ask them if you can do anything to support them, encourage them to seek professional help if necessary (or willing), basically let them know that you care about them, respect them and if they need to talk you will listen without judgement.
Know someone who self injures and want to help? Read this:
Want to know more about my story?
You can stay informed about my research via this blog or by liking my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/belindawrites
I can also be found on
IMPORTANT – Please note: I am a creative writer and researcher and am not trained in mental health or counselling. I am writing my first novel which features a protagonist who self injures and my exegesis will be discussing the research that accompanies this novel and my experiences reflecting on self injury, creative writing and social media. The novel is a work of fiction and not a memoir or autobiography. This is a work in progress and therefore subject to change through process.
If you need help now please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 (Australia)
Originally published 16th November 2012 on http://belindawrites.tumblr.com/
Republished here with minor corrections.
What an interesting week. Not so much for myself but more so for my friends, followers and the general audience of my social media. My posts have been messy, because I have felt messy. Depending how much you pay attention or how well you know me you may or may not be aware that I have a history of mental health issues. I have been in and out of therapy and on and off medication since the age of seventeen. I am open about this… why?
When I first sought help for my mental health no one talked about depression, self harm or anything of the likes. Information was scarce and attitudes were mostly “I don’t know and I don’t want to know”. This was in 1999… not that long ago. At the time I what little information I could find was found in online forums. The web and mental health have long been good friends. The anonymous web allowed those experiencing issues to find each other and know that they were not alone. Awareness has grown, the web has grown.
I use social media for a variety of purposes and my lines between personal and professional are very blurry, and given that my profession is ‘writer’ than this is not an issue. Being a writer and being at times, emotional, revealing and unhinged is completely reasonable. Therefore I am quite happy to be open about my mental health problems and to blur these lines. Life is messy, my thoughts are often messy and hence my social media is very messy.
One of my favourite things about social media is that it’s often chaotic, it’s not slick and the content is not always glossy, edited and filtered. If it was, we would probably log out.
I am open about having mental health issues as I can be. Not everyone can. I speak about my experiences because I’m comfortable doing so and it helps me to sometimes shout out into the abyss… i.e., post crap online for whomever to see it. I am not a professional, I may not be able to tell you what to do but if you or someone else has their own struggles with mental health then seeing that someone else does, and experiences things similar to you, and is somehow still managing to get an education and use their mind and if that brings you some comfort, then – hooray, worth it!
Alrighty, so this week I’ve been off my meds. I was on a reduced dose last week and am now on day five of no Lexapro. Wednesday I had a good day, went for a big walk, felt up and motivated. Yesterday was another story. Yesterday the depression hit me square in the jaw. I posted a lot of sad, lonely, quotes and caused my friends some worry with one post containing a lot of swearing. Bless, this lead to phone calls, texts and several private messages and comments checking to see if I was ok. I was down but not at high risk of harm. However the fact that I can shout at the social media abyss and that people heard it and responded is testament to how helpful social media can be, especially when you have a problem with your mental health.
Thank you to those who did reach out to me. Thank you to those who take the time to read my posts. Thank you to those that have thanked me for my posts.
If you want to enjoy clean lines, smooth surfaces and neat order I suggest you take a trip to IKEA, my social media sites may not be for you.
Need help or information on mental health? Talk to your GP or contact Lifeline 13 11 14 or check out http://www.beyondblue.org.au orhttp://www.who.int/mental_health/en/www.beyondblue.org.auor http://www.who.int/mental_health/en/
Originally published 6th November 2012 on http://belindawrites.tumblr.com/
Republished here with minor corrections and a brief update.
It’s begun. Only a moment ago I was sitting here at my desk and felt a sudden wave of feeling unwell. My mind wandered back to my delayed breakfast earlier, a greasy bacon and eggs fry up and rich creamy iced coffee. Definitely not a light option, I shouldn’t be surprised that I have that slightly sick feeling. Then I noticed that my vision is slightly twinkly, much like when you’re feeling faint, and I fell tired, and teary. Besides the dodgy breakfast what else had happened that could cause these feelings? Well, I did have a counselling session this morning which was emotional and therefore very draining. There is something else though. My body is no stranger to unhealthy food; I’m no stranger to therapy sessions, what else has changed?
Today I took my first reduced dose of my anti-depressant. I’ve been back on meds for the past six months and have now decided to stop. This un-well feeling is the beginning of the withdrawal process and I know that it’s only going to get worse.
IMPORTANT: I am not a medical professional and am simply talking from my own experiences. Please talk to your medical professionals or contact Lifeline 13 11 14 http://www.lifeline.org.au/ or beyondbluehttp://www.beyondblue.org.au if you or need help or further information.
I have been on antidepressant twice before this current batch. I don’t remember what it was like coming of meds the first time. I went cold turkey then but that is as much as I recall. Much like that time however I’m going off because I’m sick of the flat line, numb feeling that I’ve reached being on meds. The second time I stopped was under the guidance of a psychologist and I weaned off the pills slowly, reducing my dose until I was off. This is the process I’m undertaking now.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the medication was hastily prescribed. A GP put me on the meds and there has been no follow up. Because I’ve been medicated before and have a history of mental health issues often that is the path that is taken. That GP has the qualifications, I don’t. However my then psychologist and now therapist have expressed that medication was not necessarily what I needed.
If you are thinking of going off meds think long and hard about this decision. I’m very consistent with taking medication, and I listen to my doctors and care professionals. I also know what’s right for me and have done my own research before making this choice. I urge you to do the same. Talk to the professionals and do it right, don’t go cold turkey and hey, guess what, it’s OK if the meds work and it’s OK if to need them. There is no shame in taking an antidepressant, it does not make you weak and it does not make you a failure. Medication and treatment are very specific to an individual’s situation and needs. My current care professional has been asking me to think about what works and what doesn’t work in regards to my mental health. I don’t think the medication is helping.
So now I’m entering an interesting period of withdrawal. There were some pretty gnarly side effects when I started this medication so I’m expecting that I’ll experience some unpleasant comedown as I begin to eliminate it from my system. Here’s a list of some of the symptoms I may experience in my comedown period:
aggression, anxiety, balance issues , blurred vision, brain zaps, concentration impairment, constipation, crying spells, depersonalization, diarrhoea, dizziness. electric shock sensations, fatigue, flatulence, flu-like symptoms, hallucinations, hostility, highly emotional, indigestion, irritability, impaired speech, insomnia, jumpy nerves, lack of coordination, lethargy, migraine headaches / increased headaches, nausea, nervousness, over-reacting to situations, paranoia, repetitive thoughts or songs, sensory & sleep disturbances, severe internal restlessness (akathasia), stomach cramps, tremors, tinnitus (ear ringing or buzzing), tingling sensations, troubling thoughts, visual hallucinations / illusions, vivid dreams, speech visual changes, worsened depression
Plenty to look forward to!
Update: The weaning process took two weeks and I have now been free of meds for over a month.
Originally published 28th July 2012 on http://belindawrites.tumblr.com/
Republished here with minor corrections and a brief update.
It has been ten days since I last wrote in my diary. Yes, I’m a thirty year old woman with a diary. No, it doesn’t have a lock. Technically I have ten diaries and counting. For the last two and a half years I’ve been journalling regularly. Usually I write daily but as I mentioned before I haven’t been making a lot of entries lately. This is an interesting observation as I’ve had plenty to write about.
REASONS THIS IS INTERESTING:
WRITING IS THINKING – WRITING HELPS GIVE YOUR THOUGHTS CLARITY.
Life has been rather pleasant lately and this leads me to ask – do I need my diary more when my mind is hazy? A recent academic workshop raised the point that writing is thinking but not just thinking but thinking clearly. This is a key point I’m hoping to make in my PhD thesis, that writing is therapeutic and helps us make sense of and organize our thoughts. The point can then be raised – do I need to be troubled to write?
I personally have often reflected on my own experiences with depression and creativity. Stephan Fry has done a great documentary piece on this however I can’t tell you the name of the work, Google it and get back to me (if I don’t bother myself…. note, I did see Stephan Fry: The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive). Many writers or creative types often ask themselves this question – do I need to be fucked up to maintain my artistic output?
To put it simply, no or maybe, I hope not. The documentary I mentioned did also examine the notion of medication and mental illness and whether treating the symptoms also takes away the creativity that comes in troubled times. I will talk more about medication and mental illness later after I move on slightly from this topic.
I may not be writing in my diary but that doesn’t mean I’m not writing, or that I have nothing to write about. For example I’m musing here. There has been plenty of great stuff for me to write about. I have a lot of great people in my life at present and have been having a lot of laughs and good times. This may answer why I’m not journalling I have a world outside my head to find clarity in. There are friends and people close to me and I’m communicating and sharing my thoughts more openly within these circles. Because my thinking is clearer I’m more willing to go public with it bypassing the private setting of my personal diary. There are individuals I can trust to discuss my thoughts with and my thinking feels less dangerous and therefore I’m willing to allow others to handle it with care. There is more to be said on dangerous thinking later.
Another point to be made on this which can also help with the GUILT of not writing – experiences must be had, felt and low and behold EXPERIENCED first. While I haven’t been journalling daily that doesn’t mean I won’t, it may mean that I write differently. Rather than writing entries that are anticipating or fretting my entries have become reflective and take more of a summary form. As opposed to writing daily I’m writing longer entries at greater intervals. The primary audience for my diary is of course I and the purpose may not be to revisit and re-read but to respond, reflect and reproduce thought.
Another interesting point on this topic is the majority of my journalling for the last two and a half years has been in relation to certain experiences and people who were in my life during that time. I am at a stage when those individuals are no longer part of my world. I have found that each individual notebook seams to run out of pages at pivotal moments – there has been interesting cliff-hangers or moments of brief resolution as I finish a notebook and move to the next. I skipped a few pages before starting the entries for July in my current notebook as I felt like my life and the nature of the entries had a new focus. Perhaps this is another reason for why I have been engaging in the practice differently – this is a new chapter? I have a slight desire to abandon this notepad and start fresh as I feel like I am in a fresh start point in my life at the moment. Of course life does not come in clear cut chapters (as much was sometimes we’d like the distance of a page between moments) but our statements on our life can. This then raises the thought of is this the appeal of the ever scrolling narrative of social media life stories? However this might be inaccurate as there are starts and stops and the desire to organize this information and to manage it somehow. Once again then since my life is relatively good at the moment my desire for crisp chapters and management is lower than at other times and I am living more in flux.
BLURS AND IN FLUX
Please proceed with the caution that I am not a medical professional, expert or in any way qualified to talk with any authority except my personal experience on these next topics.
Continuing on from my previous written post on depression/mental illness:
I am on anti-depressant medication. This time around (I have been on meds two previous times) I am taking Lexapro. The GP that prescribed it to me mentioned that 1) it’s a newer drug 2) excellent in his opinion and 3) I should take it for life and never ever go off meds. The initial adjustment to meds this time was rough! Was this the side effects of the drug or just that I was not at all well at the time of starting them (hence why I was prescribed the medication in the first place)?
I’ve now been taking Lexapro for three months and have begun thinking – should I stop? NO, NO, NO! I’ve made this mistake before. After feeling so low, depressed and shitty when you reach a point of feeling good you think “I feel fucking ace, I’m all better, I don’t need this any-more!” DANGER, DANGER, DANGER!!!
As I mentioned in my last post depression is not something I will be cured of. I need to constantly manage and maintain my mental health. What’s that, not experiencing any symptoms lately? YOU’RE ALL BETTER – NOT! The first time I was on anti-depressants (Lovan I think) I did exactly this, felt better, stopped the meds without medical advice, didn’t wean off them, just cold turkey (therapy was also stopped – tsk, tsk, bad idea). I’m fairly certain I was self medicating at that stage with booze and weed (hey kids – I don’t care what you think, weed is not rad, weed is not consequence free and although glamorized it can fuck up your head, lungs, finances and life just fine so don’t go there, and if you are damn well stop it’s just as dangerous as other drugs – end rant) not to mention I was letting others think for me and not those qualified (like my doctors/psychiatrist) to do so. In retrospect, bad idea! I’d love to say lessons learnt but like many people I am of the variety of having to repeat mistakes several times before I really begin to see the light.
Second experience with going off meds (Luvox I think) – this time around I weaned off under the instruction and guidance of my then psychiatrist. Thank goodness I did because it was not pleasant and I did notice the withdrawal. It was not a bad decision and there is a strange sense of achievement when you go off meds. This is where we need to change the way we think about depression/mental health (once again remembering I have not real authority to take on this subject except from my own personal experiences). Think of depression less as a cold and more as a condition. YOU NEED TO STAY ON TOP OF THIS!!! Are you Asthmatic? Don’t take your preventer, no puffer – NOT GOOD! Are you Diabetic? Don’t take your insulin, aren’t regulating your blood sugar – NOT GOOD! Depression cannot be cured by bed-rest and herbal tea (although healthy sleep and relaxation is important there is more to be done). STOP ON TOP OF IT!
There are two main reasons the thought of stopping meds has crossed my mind this week. Firstly, wine. I like wine, I like wine a lot. I’m not a big drinker and I don’t have an addictive personality (well not that I’m aware of or not to the extent of it being a factor in my mental health story). Wine is yummy though and I would love to have a lovely red with dinner or while reading etc (so many good times to enjoy a nice glass of wine). However one of the big BOLD points made on the information provided with my packets of Lexapro pills is – LEXAPRO AND ALCOHOL ARE A DANGEROUS MIX, AND CAUSE SOME SERIOUS SIDE EFFECTS TO OCCUR.
Clearly if you’re being treated for depression or are prone to depression or mental health issues than alcohol is not going to be a good friend for you to have, more of a frienemy, you may have fun together sometimes but mostly you get each other offside.
There is a lovely list of potential side effects but basically alcohol and Lexapro will bring out the worst in each other. That may mean that say I decide to have that glass of red at dinner it may be like I’ve had two and considering my limit on a good day with all the right factors including not being on meds would be maybe three, four glasses tops I don’t fancy the idea of double for nothing. So yeah, might get drunk quicker, sounds good to some but I’m not a fan of being drunk, and generally I’m not a happy drunk so it’s a state of being I tend to avoid anyway. Most likely I’d feel very sick, yep, that doesn’t appeal, let’s not do that.
The real worry is that if I decide to risk it and drink on meds things could go very fucking bad. I don’t enjoy being depressed, I don’t enjoy the moments of desire to destroy myself and I don’t enjoy the times when ending it all seems like the only idea. Hence why alcohol and meds is like a reverse scratchy, that glass of wine may only be seven dollar and it might seem like a small price to pay but there is a lot to lose if everything lines up just right.
Hence I must not drink and if I decide to test the waters I need to do so very cautiously and under the right circumstances but there is not guaranteed result, results may vary, not just person to person but time to time – depression is living in flux.
HANDY DANDY DICTIONARY PHONE APP MOMENT
In Flux: in constant change; ever-changing
Additional point – hey drunk guy at uni-bar debating me and questioning why I’m not drinking, just accept the fact that I’m not and don’t give me shit or try to convince me that because you have anxiety and are drinking that I should drink to aid in relieving your anxiety or that alcohol will make everything better. Are you going to talk me down off the ledge if shit hits the fan? Probably not cause you’ll be bloody drunk and not much help and hence I’m sorry if I appear prickly to you, you don’t know me and I don’t have to explain myself to you over a fucking liquid!
Also, I’d much rather not drink and be open about the fact that I have depression and that’s the reason than drink to be social and end up making a fool of myself by acting like the middle age married woman who where being very depressingly overtly gross in their horniness last night at the pub I was at last night or by worse than embarrassing myself hurting myself or someone else (glassing, one punch can kill – bad times). I’m more than happy to play the ham while sober and be able to enjoy the laughs and smiles on my friend’s faces.
THE OTHER REASON I’VE THOUGHT ABOUT GOING OFF MEDS…
I’m not the best driver. I’d like to think I’m a cautious driver, I don’t intentionally set out to break road rules and I don’t have the need for speed. I am not always the most focused driver and unfortunately meds don’t help. In my time of driving I have had a few accidents, never injured myself or others but have scratched, smashed, scraped and written off my vehicles and worse, others.
If I recall correctly I have been on antidepressant medication each time I’ve had an accident where I was somewhat at fault. This may be a cop-out excuse but I think it’s more an observation and it is noted in the information of possible side effects with many anti-depressants that they can impair your ability to drive and operated heavy machinery. LAME. This week my car managed to “kiss” the pole next to my car space twice. DEVASTATED! I’ve been parking next to this damn pole for almost a year with no problems but low and behold on meds I manage to hit it twice in a week. SHAKES FIST AT POLE!
OK, my this has been a long post and no, I’m not going to edit it any more than spell check although I urged a class to carefully proof read and edit what they put on-line this week because errors make you look unprofessional. Please take my blog posts are personal expressions and no reflection of my employers or academic prowess. Consider my blog the cheeseburger to my academic steak. I will now seek to tie these three topics together.
Thinking clearly is the theme here. Writing can be used therapeutically and like managing your depression this means a multitude of techniques and approaches. Of course thinking clearly and focus in one area can distract from clarity in others and then you end of scratching your car and entering dangerous territory of temptation. We are in flux and need to be aware of our fluidity. Go with the flow but remember to keep your head above water.
If in doubt drink tea and listen to Ice T – church!
I have now been off medication for just over a month and am very pleased with the decision. I weaned off the medication under professional guidance and continue to attend regular counselling session