Category Archives: mental health

Through the eyes of an addict

 

addict

Through the eyes of an addict

“Oh my God, where is it!”

Kneeling on the floor, scrambling for hopeful misplaced pieces of crystal meth, weed. Damn it, in fact, anything will do right now. Dropping fragments of his dignity as he scavenged for anything, he needed a fix and he needed it badly.

In the corner of his eyes, he spots it, a tiny white rock.

Weak with desperation he starts crushing this rock. It’s the fourth day without any sleep, his mouth, raw. The only thing that went in his mouth during this time was copious amounts of alcohol and the ends of a tie that chocked his arm to find any remaining veins.

While shaking violently, he manages to roll a note and starts sniffing the crushed rock through this note. It was chalk.

The boy curls into a ball, pulling his knees as close to his chin as possible. “I can’t do this anymore!”

“God, please help me!” Whispered so softly, he could barely hear the desperation in his own voice.

The disease of addiction affects millions of people around the world. People around you are affected by these issues, not just those people, but those around them, co-workers, friends and if they are lucky to still have any left, their family. The harshest reality is that, most of us are to scared to confront these issues or simply choose to ignore the issue, in hopes that it may go away..

He was bullied and constantly mocked by kids in school, it was also at this age that he learned to wash and iron his own clothes. He found that in doing so, the chances of him being bullied that day reduced significantly. His journey with addiction started when he was just 13 years old. Being bullied for much of early childhood, he so desperately wanted to feel a sense of belonging, of comfort. He had found that in alcohol. In a very short period of time, he had gained this newfound sense of belonging. It felt amazing. He finally found what he’s been searching for his entire life, he found acceptance.

Numerous events happened in these years. Even more tragic events happened in his earlier years. None of which was being dealt with though, none of which had to be dealt with. Back then, his life became one big party. His tolerance for these substances increased drastically. His values and morals dropped at an even faster pace. Lying, cheating, stealing and having sex with random people he’s known for all of two minutes became the norm. He started gambling. He turned to sex and pornography. In an incredibly short period of time, his addiction progressed from mostly substances to behavioral addictions too.

Drugs and Alcohol were no longer fun. They had now become a means of survival, his sole coping mechanism.

The life he so desperately worked towards achieving slowly started falling away. It didn’t matter who was around anymore, he felt more and more empty. As his addiction progressed, he would often sit alone in his room, drinking copious amounts of alcohol, snorting and injecting. All of life’s traumas he desperately tried running away from started catching up to him. He couldn’t’ handle it. He constantly wanted to feel numb. It just wasn’t working anymore.

February 2017, something happened that would change the course of his life forever. While partying, the boy met up with an elderly man at a local night club, they immediately clicked, both highly inebriated and agreed that they would go back to the man’s house as he still had loads more alcohol and drugs. When the boy got to the house, there were two other guys. He slowly sobered up, knowing that something was very wrong.

He blacked out.

After a few hours, the sun shone brightly and he finally regained consciousness. He laid on the side of the highway, his belt buckle loose and his jean still left open. He knew what happened.

The reality is that until we can reach a point of speaking openly about addiction and all other mental wellness issues, it will remain difficult for people to recovery. It will remain even harder for people to ask for help. Help, before it’s to late

11 February 2017.

He takes a deep breath. Lays his head on the grass and closes his eyes, feeling the whisk of the wind brush against his hair. Simply, reflecting.

I then look up at the sky, as tears of hope flood my face and softly whisper:

“Thank you”

 

This was a guest post – for more information on the author, Brady, visit his website: Eyes of an addict

Is my thinking normal?

 

person thinking photo

Is my thinking normal?

This is a question we all ask ourselves at times. I know I have had moments where I have questioned my sanity and wondered if I have completely lost the plot. This is usually as a result of some overwhelming emotional experience. I find when emotions are involved, my thoughts tend to be far less rational.

If you would like to test out your thoughts, try the Dysfunctional Attitudes Scale:

This questionnaire lists different attitudes or beliefs which people sometimes hold. Read each statement carefully and decide how much you agree or disagree with the statement. For each of the attitudes, indicate to the left of the item the number that best describes how you think. Be sure to choose only one answer for each attitude. Because people are different, there is no right answer or wrong answer to these statements.

To decide whether a given attitude is typical of your way of looking at things, simply keep in mind what you are like most of the time.

1 = Totally agree 2 = Agree very much 3 = Agree slightly 4 = Neutral 5 = Disagree slightly 6 = Disagree very much 7 = Totally disagree _____

1. It is difficult to be happy unless one is good looking, intelligent, rich, and creative. _____

2. Happiness is more a matter of my attitude towards myself than the way other people feel about me. _____

3. People will probably think less of me if I make a mistake. _____

4. If I do not do well all the time, people will not respect me. _____

5. Taking even a small risk is foolish because the loss is likely to be a disaster. _____

6. It is possible to gain another person’s respect without being especially talented at anything. _____

7. I cannot be happy unless most people I know admire me. _____

8. If a person asks for help, it is a sign of weakness. _____

9. If I do not do as well as other people, it means I am a weak person. _____

10. If I fail at my work, then I am a failure as a person. _____

11. If you cannot do something well, there is little point in doing it at all. _____

12. Making mistakes is fine because I can learn from them. _____

13. If someone disagrees with me, it probably indicates he does not like me. _____

14. If I fail partly, it is as bad as being a complete failure. _____

15. If other people know what you are really like, they will think less of you. _____

16. I am nothing if a person I love doesn’t love me. _____

17. One can get pleasure from an activity regardless of the end result _____

18. People should have a chance to succeed before doing anything. Revised date (4 October 2006) 56 _____

19. My value as a person depends greatly on what others think of me. _____

20. If I don’t set the highest standards for myself, I am likely to end up a second-rate person. _____

21. If I am to be a worthwhile person, I must be the best in at least one way. _____

22. People who have good ideas are better than those who do not. _____

23. I should be upset if I make a mistake. _____

24. My own opinions of myself are more important than others’ opinions of me. _____

25. To be a good, moral, worthwhile person I must help everyone who needs it. _____

26. If I ask a question, it makes me look stupid. _____

27. It is awful to be put down by people important to you. _____

28. If you don’t have other people to lean on, you are going to be sad. _____

29. I can reach important goals without pushing myself. _____

30. It is possible for a person to be scolded and not get upset. _____

31. I cannot trust other people because they might be cruel to me. _____

32. If others dislike you, you cannot be happy. _____

33. It is best to give up your own interests in order to please other people. _____

34. My happiness depends more on other people than it does on me. _____

35. I do not need the approval of other people in order to be happy. _____

36. If a person avoids problems, the problems tend to go away. _____

37. I can be happy even if I miss out on many of the good things in life. _____

38. What other people think about me is very important. _____

39. Being alone leads to unhappiness. _____

40. I can find happiness without being loved by another person._______

Dysfunctional Attitude Scale (DAS)    Author: Arlene Weissman

The DAS is a 40-item questionnaire that is designed to identify and measure cognitive distortions (irrational thinking), particularly distortions that may relate to or cause depression.

The items contained on the DAS are based on Beck’s cognitive therapy model and present 7 major value systems: Approval, Love, Achievement, Perfectionism, Entitlement, Omnipotence, and Autonomy.

Scoring: Any items that are missing, assign a zero. To obtain the overall score, simply add the score on all items (ranging from 1 to 7). When no items are omitted, scores on the DAS range from 40 to 280. Lower scores represent more adaptive beliefs and fewer cognitive distortions.

The higher your score, the more likely it is that your thinking is working against you and creating anxiety and depression. Be more aware of your thoughts and get into the habit of challenging their validity. Not every thought we think is true or is valid.

Mandy X

 

 

 

Personal affirmations to counteract stress

 

confident

Personal affirmations to counteract stress

I created a personal mantra to help focus my mind when I am feeling vulnerable or overwhelmed by stress. It helps to remind me that it is possible to counteract stress by regularly ‘feeding’ myself a positive inner dialogue. I call it my 4R Mantra and I’d like to share it with you…

Resourceful – I am resourceful

The first “R” is for resourceful. I remind myself that I am good at finding a way around things. Whether it means finding out more information or by finding support from the right people, I believe that I can find these resources if I need them. The idea of being resourceful is a powerful one as it suggests that if I do not have the skills or knowledge to fix a problem, I will find someone or something to help.

See yourself as resourceful and believe that you will somehow find a way. Always believe that help is at hand. The next thing I need to work on is asking for help – still working on that one!

Resilient – I am resilient

I like to remind myself that I am resilient and in times of trouble, I like to  remind myself of the tough times I have already been through. I am still here – I have lived through tough times and have lived to tell the tale. Remind yourself regularly of how you have overcome problems in the past to reinforce that you will cope better than you think you will.

Ready – I am ready

I sometimes say to myself “Bring it on”. I don’t like stress and I hate feeling anxious but I accept that it will always be something that will enter into my life in various forms. Whether it’s through a tricky relationship or a challenge at work, I like to feel that I am ready for it. I try not to tell myself that I will be happy when….I can be happy now. I am ready now for the good and the bad. When you tell yourself you are ready it takes the fear away. You are prepared. When you don’t feel ready you are sending yourself a message that somehow you need to prepare or that you lack something. You hold the key – nothing is lacking…

Recognition – I recognise my strengths

We tend to be so self critical of ourselves and rarely give ourselves the recognition we deserve. Give yourself a pat on the back for all your triumphs, no matter how small. When you do something that outs you out of your comfort zone, give yourself recognition.

The above steps can help us to counteract stress and improve our belief in ourselves. It reminds us that we can and do cope better than we think we will when life is tough and challenging.

Mandy X

 

How to promote emotional wellbeing

 

happiness photo

How to promote emotional well being

Looking after yourself on a physical level is important if you want to keep your mind healthy and protect your emotional well being. The body and the mind are closely linked and both need to be working well and be looked after in order for a person to function well. An unhealthy body won’t help promote a healthy mind.

Think of the acronym “PLEASE” to help you remember important aspects of this connection:

PL           Treat Physical Illness

E              Eat healthy

A              Avoid mood altering drugs

S              Sleep well

E               Exercise

FOCUS

Monitor what you focus on. Humans tend to focus more on what isn’t going right instead of looking at what is working.If you hear ten compliments and one criticism, you’ll probably focus on the criticism. Work on having an attitude of gratitude and appreciation.

Watch your thinking and let the negative thoughts float by. Thoughts will keep coming, you don’t have to focus on each one. Pick out the helpful ones and dismiss the negative ones. Self limiting beliefs can be detrimental to emotional well being.

OPPOSITE ACTION

Do the opposite of what you normally do. What we resist persists. If you normally get angry and shout, try walking away or whisper instead of yelling. Try force a smile. If you normally avoid people when you feel down, force yourself to call a friend or visit someone.

Doing the opposite can help you to change your emotion.

CHECK THE FACTS

Are there times in your life when you have overreacted or where you have assumed something and been wrong? Always check the facts – thoughts are not facts. Looking for evidence can reduce the intensity of emotions. Ask yourself what triggered your emotion? What interpretations and assumptions are you making? Does your emotion and its intensity match the facts of the situation?

Always stop and take time out before reacting to something, especially if your emotions are running high. A little bit of time is always a good way to add perspective to a situation.

Mandy X

 

 

Accept anxiety as a part of life

 

accept anxiety

Accept anxiety as a part of life

Anxiety is a part of life unfortunately, yet we all furiously engage in behaviours to try avoid anxiety as much as possible. When you accept anxiety as a part of life it actually becomes easier to manage.

If you are not willing to experience anxiety, you will definitely have anxiety!

When you accept anxiety as something that will always be there, you can then learn ways to deal with it more effectively. Anxiety can be managed but it can’t be removed completely.

Anxiety is caused by two things:

  1. The fact that we overestimate the threat. This could be fear of rejection, humiliation or failure. It could also be fear of losing someone or experiencing shame. There are numerous triggers around us and the more we try to avoid them, the more anxious we become.
  2. The fact that we underestimate our ability to cope. We often cope far better than we anticipate bit the more we avoid situations that might cause anxiety, the fewer opportunities we have to test out our beliefs.

Tips for managing anxiety

Know the difference between a real problem (the car has broken down) and a hypothetical problem. This is a “what if” problem that might never happen. Learn to spend less time agonising over “what if” type problems. Find a solution if possible but then ‘mentally shelve’ the worry.

Don’t spend time overthinking. If you can do something that is solution focused to help towards solving the problem/worry, do it. If you can’t, learn to distract yourself. Count backwards from 100 or do something else but don’t waste mental energy by allowing a problem to go round and round in your mind.

Learn to let thoughts pass without focusing on them. We have between 40 000 – 60 000 thoughts per day. Visualise thoughts as leaves flowing on a river, let the ones that aren’t useful pass by. It is possible to learn to focus your attention on the thoughts that are helpful rather than unhelpful. Examples of unhelpful thoughts: I will never be able to cope. I am useless. It will never work etc

If you really cannot focus elsewhere, try implementing ‘worry time’ Give yourself 30 minutes per day to worry and for the rest of the day, do your best to distract yourself and keep busy.

Ask yourself: what would I tell a friend in this situation? Am I exaggerating the threat? Is there another way to look at this that makes me feel less anxious? (there is always another way to look at something).

Learn mindfulness – be in the moment more rather than living in your head. TO bring yourself back to the present moment, try this:

Look for 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can smell, 2 things you can touch, 1 thing you can taste. The more you engage your 5 senses, the less time your brain has to wander off to your worries.

Anxiety is the body’s way of telling us we are in danger but often the body sends us false alarms. We may feel physical sensations related to anxiety – sweaty palms, heart palpitations etc but tell yourself quietly that you are safe and that you are not in danger.

Try deep breathing to calm yourself and tell yourself “this will pass”.

Make anxiety your friend as much as possible. See it as an early warning system that can prepare you and make you ready for action.

Mandy X

 

Perception vs reality

 

perception photo

Perception vs reality

Think of your perception of reality as your ‘map’. Think of reality as the ‘territory’. Perception vs reality is an important factor in how we live our lives and how successful we are at picking up on what is really going on. Over the years I have listened to many people’s stories, especially all the ways things can go wrong.Our parents teach us what they have learned. Along with this information, comes biases, prejudices and faulty assumptions which leads to our maps not quite fitting the territory. Our perceptions are ultimately distorted and stop fitting reality and this is where many problems come in.

We look for evidence that confirm our beliefs about the world and this, in turn, reinforces our perceptions and distorts what we see. I have seen many clients whose map is so far removed from the territory that they no longer actively engage with the world in a productive way that makes sense. People with severe anxiety and depression often have distorted maps and this causes them to only focus on certain negative aspects of reality in order to make sense of their thoughts and perceptions.

When it comes to perception vs reality, always look for the evidence in reality that supports your thinking/perceptions. This is one way to avoid upsetting and unhelpful thinking from getting the better of us. Cognitive behavioural therapy regularly refers to unhelpful thinking styles that tend to add to our stress. Thoughts such as: black and white (all or nothing) thinking, personalising (blaming ourselves for things that have nothing to do with us), catastrophising, emotional reasoning (I feel upset therefore something MUST be wrong), mind reading (thinking we know what others are thinking) and so on.

We have a lot of flexibility in the thoughts we want to choose to make sense of reality. Make sure you choose these thoughts wisely – ones that are reasonable, based on evidence as much as possible (rather than assumptions) and provide you with positive feelings.

Mandy X

PS. In times of distress, check what you have been telling yourself (your perceptions and thoughts of the reality) and always ask yourself “What can I tell myself that will make me feel better about this situation?” Always look for alternative ways to look at something – they are always there.

The cycle of anxiety

 

anxiety photo

The cycle of anxiety

We all worry about things that threaten us but often we overestimate the threat and fear it more than we need to. When we feel the fear, we assume we won’t be able to cope with the threat. Many times we are wrong and this is what we need to focus on when we feel anxious.

If we feel anxious, it seems logical to do things to reduce that anxiety. Avoiding a situation is one way that we can avoid anxiety. It will certainly decrease anxiety initially but it only works on the short term and actually makes anxiety worse in the long run as we become more fearful of the world around us. The more we avoid, the more the fear grows and when we avoid situations we fear, we never learn the skills to cope and show ourselves that we cope better than we thought we would. We never get to test out our predictions when we avoid things. Stop avoiding and start approaching.

These things that we do to reduce our anxiety are known as safety behaviours. We do them to feel safe. Again – they only work for  a short while.

Examples of safety behaviours: avoidance, withdrawal, overthinking, over-eating, being excessively tidy, people pleasing, being too busy, etc

Reversing the cycle of anxiety

Gradually begin confronting scary situations.This will lead to improved confidence. Start with small steps and work your way up to situations that create the most anxiety. Keep repeating the behaviour – you need to keep putting yourself into situations that you fear in order to overcome them. Anxiety is a feeling that needs to be managed and unfortunately, it will probably be a constant companion to a certain degree. It’s when anxiety becomes unmanageable and interferes significantly with everyday functioning that it really needs to be addressed professionally – by a therapy or counsellor.

Accept that a certain amount of anxiety is normal for all of us and it is the body’s way of preparing us for action. It can be a good thing so learn to accept and manage your anxiety rather than fear it.

Mandy X

 

 

The cause of anxiety

 

anxious photo

The cause of anxiety

In cognitive behavioural therapy, we refer to the anxiety equation. The anxiety equation shows the cause of anxiety.

Overestimation of the threat

____________________________________  =  Anxiety

Underestimation of ability to cope

Anxiety is always caused by our overestimation of the perceived threat and our underestimation of our ability to cope or handle the situation.

With regard to overestimating the threat – think about a time when you have anticipated an event and got yourself all worked up over it. Then  when you have actually experienced the dreaded event, you have found that it wasn’t half as bad as you expected it to be. Sound familiar?? This is part of the reason why we feel so anxious.

The other part is that we often underestimate our ability to cope. We tell ourselves we won’t be able to do it or that if the feared thing does happen, we will have a panic attack or not be able to manage it. We talk to ourselves in a fearful way that adds to our sense of dread. What we then do is try to avoid the event (which is the worst thing to do) or we find ways that we feel will help us cope by employing “safety behaviours”. Safety behaviours are things that we do that help us to cope temporarily in a feared or stressful situation. For some, it may be carrying a bottle of water or looking at our mobile phone (say for example in a situation where we feel anxious socially, in the company of others) or it could be complete avoidance. The problem is that when we avoid something we fear, the fear grows in our mind and we never test out our beliefs. When we face our fears, we often realise that we cope far better than we thought we would and this helps us to grow in confidence.

Even of the feared event doesn’t go that well, we teach ourselves that we still get through it, that we are still standing at the end of it and in this way we chip away at the fearful beliefs.

So, keep facing your fears. Keep repeating this and the more you face the feared situation, the easier it becomes and the less you will fear it. Start with baby steps if need be. For example, if you truly fear walking in to a room full of strangers ( a 10 out of 10 rating for anxiety, 0 = no anxiety, 10 = most anxiety), start with a 1 or 2 out of 10 anxiety rating. For example, perhaps start out by entering a room with one friend in it, then a few friends in it (slightly higher rating of 3 out of 10), then progress to a room full of friends (rating 5 out of 10 and then finally a room full of strangers)…this is just a very general example of “graded exposure” – get used to each level until the anxiety dissipates and then progress up to higher rating of anxiety of your feared-situation list.

In this way, you will learn to see the threat for what it really is, which is often less scary that you thought it would be and you also learn that you can cope with difficult situations. You will only know this by testing your beliefs out to see what happens!

You don’t need to live with anxiety – learn to challenge your fears. You may need to be out of your comfort zone more often but in the end you will expand your area of comfort and feel anxiety much less often and that is something we would all welcome!

Mandy X