Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Let's stop blaming Trump's policies on mental illness

You can't blame Trump's policies on mental illness just because you don't understand where they've come from.

Okay, let's start with the obvious. Donald Trump is a "bad" dude. Let's all agree that he's a racist, misogynist, prejudiced and privileged man. Okay? Ok.

But does that make him mentally ill?

Well, according to a number of psychiatrists who have been keen to get their names out there, it does.

Criticism of Donald Trump has been veering towards slurs about his mental health for the past week. "He must be mentally ill" to have come up with such policies as the Immigration Ban. The media has been quick to jump on these psychiatrists who claim they have found a diagnosis to fit Trump (side note: let's not even get into why such a diagnosis is unethical and fundamentally flawed). I've also seen a large number of tweets and Facebook posts absolving Trump of responsibility for his actions and blaming it on an illness they suppose he has without any diagnosistic proof.

I have a problem with this. Mental illness is not an excuse for racism, or other bigoted views.
Mental illness diverts blame from a grown man onto a real, serious and life-threatening illness that affects millions of people. Using it in this way is only serving to restigmatise mental illness as something only the 'crazy' other has, rather than something 1 in 4 of us live with on a daily basis.
Mental illness is being used as a weapon against Trump. How can he be a fit President if he's mentally ill? I refuse to accept the label of mental illness as an insult.
Mental illness does not explain how millions of Americans, and others, have flocked to Donald and pledged their support for the way he is governing. Are they all mentally ill? Or just misinformed? 
Citing mental illness dismisses the prevalence of racist, Islamaphobic beliefs.
Mental illness ignores how the far right have gained a lot of popular support. And if we ignore it, how can we learn to stop it?
"In every generation, there are quite firm rules on how to behave when you are crazy." - Ian Hacking 
Here's the thing. 'Mental illness' has been used as an excuse for views that defy the 'norm' for hundreds (if not more) years. During the feminist movement, critics were quick to throw mental health labels at protesters too because they challenged the established society. And now, Trump too is challenging the progress towards a fair, just and equal society that has been made over the last few decades. And once again, 'mental illness' has been used to justify a belief system the rest of us cannot fathom.

The reality is that right-wing rhetoric has been growing for the past number of years all across the globe. The Christian right wing have been on the rise for years in America. Trump's policies have all been born out of that.
Trump was born in 1946.  He was brought up before the 1960's Civil Rights movement. Where black people had to use separate drinking fountains. Where the KKK were still very much active. The last lynching of a black man took place in 1955. He woke up one day suddenly an equal to these same people he had lived with as inferiors. Racism is not a sudden, and new concept to him.
Abortion laws have been rolled back to restrict access to abortion in Southern states for the past number of years. Alabama, for example, only had 3 clinics left at the time of the making of the Trapped documentary last year. Trump's pro-life stance is the natural evolution of such policies.
'Lad culture' has been normalising sexual harassment and rape culture for years; Trump's views on sexual assault are frankly not that surprising.
And he's narcissistic? I challenge you to point out one business CEO who doesn't display some narcissistic qualities. Again, this is not proof of a mental illness.
It's proof that he possess views and qualities based on his upbringing and who he is a person.

Trump may have a mental illness. He also may not. Does it matter? Why do we feel the need to slap labels on something just because we don't understand it? And why do we assume that those who are intolerant must have a mental illness when in fact they are just bigots?

Monday, 30 January 2017

I Just Want Back In Your Head

Why I practice Mindfulness

While I never fully embraced mindfulness in Tony Bates’ book ‘Coming through Depression’, it is something I’ve tried to practice since. I attended a workshop on it in college and I found it to be really useful. Last year, while at a volunteer workshop I rediscovered Mindfulness.
Through a simple deep breathing exercise, I immediately felt more relaxed, calmer, and my fears had left me. I swore that I'd keep it up in times of stress. While I can reflect a year on from this workshop that I haven't quite managed that, mindfulness is something I know that I should return to. And what better way to ensure I do that than through a blog post?

What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist tradition – It's said to be up to 6,000 years old.
The focus is on your present physical state. It teaches you to be aware of yourself, right now, as you are. That means no worrying about what you've done in the past, or what you will do in the future. 
The Mental Health Foundation give this kind of cheesy definition: 'To be aware of your negative thoughts and judgements and to let go of them, open yourself to new feelings, positive ones.'
I can hear you yelling 'hippie bullshit' from behind your screens, but hear me out first.
Being aware of negative thought and judgements is also a huge part of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), and people aren't as quick to discard that. And positive feelings can't be a bad thing in any context, can they?

Mindfulness does get a bad rep due to images like the one above - the idea of meditation and lots of humming.
And sometimes it's easier to describe what mindfulness is, by explaining what it isn't. It isn't a religion. It isn't meditation.
But it is more than possible to be 'aware' without sitting cross legged while burning your incense (But if that's what helps you reach mindfulness, that's okay too). 
Today, mindfulness is recognised by counsellors and therapists as a form of CBT.

Living In the Moment
A lot of counsellors like to go on about ‘the present’. The ‘here and now’. And while it’s easy to dismiss this as waffle, it actually has a lot of truth in it. This is a huge aspect of the practice of mindfulness. 
There is no point in living in the past; you cannot change it.
There is no point living in the future; you don’t know what will happen.
Living in the present is truly the only way to find happiness.
It sounded a little bit ‘hippie’ to me at first. But when you think about it, it does make a lot of sense.
Mindfulness teaches self-awareness in this way - recognising what's going on now, right at this moment in time. So if you're feeling particularly emotional, don't bottle it up or try to hide it. Embrace your sadness, let it out and reflect on why you're currently feeling this way.
Mindfulness also refers to consciously noticing when your mind wanders. If we're to really to live in the moment, you should be focused on the present, and not the million and one other things that fight for the forefront of your mind.

Benefits of Mindfulness:

  • Used to treat physical and mental illnesses.
  • Fights Depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Anxiety.
  • Helps to regulate emotions.
  • Improves performance.
  • Lowers levels of stress.
  • Used to treat chronic pain e.g. arthritis.
Basically there are so many benefits, it is impossible to list them all.

Stay tuned for a very simple and easy mindfulness breathing technique over the next week that can help with stress and anxiety.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

I HATE Blue Monday

And probably not for the reasons you think.

It’s the same every year. The most depressing day of the year comes around on the third or fourth Monday in January, and the media feed you story after story about how to fend off the dreaded Blue Monday.

Well I have news for you.

Depression is not a day of the year.

It is a real illness – ILLNESS.

A disease or period of sickness affecting the body or mind.

Stop using 'depressing' as an adjective to describe your feelings. It’s not a feeling.

Feelings are not dictated by a date. 

Stop pretending a scientific formula found this date to be the 'most depressing of the year'.

It trivialises mental health issues. You’re saying that my mental illness amounts to a crappy day at work. You’re saying that the illness I battled for years to overcome just lasts you 24 hours. You're saying that my 'sad' feelings on every other day of the year are not as valid or socially acceptable as they are on this day. 

There is a difference between feeling sadness, and being depressed.

If you have a crappy day where you feel sad and hopeless, on any day of the year, I’m sorry. I know it sucks. I know it can leave you unmotivated, exhausted, and exacerbated. But it is not depression. There is a clinical and medical difference between sadness and depression.

Blue Monday does nothing to address the reality of mental illness or the stigma that continues to be attached to it. It popularizes a 'depressing' feeling, but not the reality of living daily with and battling against a mental illness.

I would much rather see a discussion about how January can often trigger mental health difficulties, particularly in those with a history of mental illness. Not some bullshit bandwagon based on pseudo-science. 

Friday, 6 January 2017

Thinking about the future

For many reasons, the future can be scary. We don't know what's to come, or even what to expect. It's full of uncertainty and doubt.

The future can be, and has been for me, a problem for our mental health. Not knowing potential outcomes can lead to overthinking, negative thinking and patterns of self-doubt and criticism.

For a long time, I saw no future for myself. And when I did learn to keep on live, I couldn't see any happiness or success in my future.

But I'm also learning that the future isn't all bad.
Where to go from here?
One of my favourite things about January, is making New Year plans, goals and resolutions. and my bullet journal has come out in force the past week in preparation. So much so, that I've found myself actually looking forward to the year ahead and what it might have in store for me.

I've set myself several goals for the year; without going into specifics they revolve around the themes of self-confidence, budgeting, and upskilling.

And I've established a habit tracker to help me break my bad habits and develop new, better habits (yes, exercise is one of them).

I've been writing down birthdays, concerts, musicals, anniversaries and other upcoming events.

And it's left me this week feeling calm, good about myself, and somewhat like I-may-possibly-have-my-life-together. Possibly.

You see, in the darkness of my depression, during the worst days and the worst years, I couldn't see a future. The thought of one filled me with dread. Because despite everyone saying things do and would get better, I didn't feel it.

It took years of work, hard work of CBT and medication and counselling and the sheer effort of forcing myself to get out of bed and carry on, to change the way I felt. And years after my initial diagnosis, things are better and I know that in future, they can get better again.

Now, the future holds one thing I couldn't feel before.