My name is Pia Jackson and I am a happy member of the Bonkers Brigade. There, I’ve said it. In fact, I’m probably the Leader of the Loony party, the Queen of Fruit-loops, the Empress of Madness. (Admittedly, I quite like that last one.) In truth, I am a sufferer of anxiety and depression. And it’s taken me a bloody long time to admit it.

anxietygirl

For the past ten years, I have descended further and further into the dreaded abyss of the mental madness affliction accompanied by a healthy serving of self-loathing. I am wholly aware of its trigger; the death of my father at the age of 21 during my first year of studying Law at University hit me head-on like a steam train. Did I deal with it? Did I grieve? No. I deemed this a weakness, was far too embarrassed to be considered thus so instead I heroically donned the shiny armour of a strong person,  locked my grief, despair and sadness into a small box, threw away the key, put the box in a cupboard, sealed the cupboard firmly and threw it off a cliff. I shut down. I refused to feel anything for several years and was enormously proud of this. I had somehow managed to evade capture by the emotion police. Well done me.

Or not.

Slowly but surely the cupboard crept its way, battered and broken, back up the cliff-face, the grief seeping from its cracks like a black mist and crawled its way into my subconscious. It commenced its torture in super-sneaky fashion with the occasional sleepless night then slowly but surely evolved into full blown insomnia. As these devious tendrils of angst wound  their way into to my very soul they churned and twisted until I was in a constant state of anxiety and panic, sick with worry and wholly convinced the world was going to end at any moment. Not, of course, that I was aware of any of this happening. Me? A confident, bubbly, presenter-type person? Suffering from anxiety? Never. Yet my daily thought process would begin with a (seemingly) harmless contemplation on a rather nasty work colleague. This would descend into complete conviction that this person was behaving in such a manner with the soul purpose of irritating me and me alone. These notions turned into panic at the prospect of seeing him and I would begin every day fearful of what exchanges may develop. I would rehearse possible arguments which may occur (they never did) and ready myself for all conceivable outcomes.   Eventually I became so lost in my hatred for this person that I would daydream of ways in which I could murder them in the most heinous way possible. I finally decided that the most wicked and satisfying method would be to stab him with a blue biro, chop him into small pieces (not with the biro, that would be far too messy and time consuming) and send each bit in a little brown jiffy envelope to his mother.  But of course then I would lose my job and have to go on the run and leave my home, my other half and my family, disappear without a trace leaving nothing behind. I wouldn’t have enough money or contacts in the underworld to do that. I didn’t even have a false passport. Besides, my TV career would really suffer.

See? Mad as a box of frogs.

This is just a small snapshot of my brain patterns. The murderous rampage story is fairly trivial. I haven’t even begun to divulge the internal arguments I have with my mother, my other half and my friends (none of which have ever, or will ever happen) my worries about finances, my future, my past, my queries about the meaning of life, why we exist, the point of it all and my plan of action should the zombie apocalypse suddenly occur tomorrow without any warning. Is it any wonder I never slept? I was just so BUSY.

During this turmoil of total exhaustion I would shuffle in a zombie-like state to and from work, pausing to ball my eyes out at various junctures for no apparent reason. My fuse would grow shorter by the second, triggering a mammoth attack of the rage when confronted by someone walking too slowly in front of me or a fellow passenger elbowing me in the head (both of whom were obviously doing this simply to annoy me) and I would swiftly dive headlong into a hot fury ready to commit bloody murder, arson and grievous bodily harm to anyone who would even DARE look in my direction. This frenzy of indignation and general hatred of everybody and everything would eventually explode leaving me collapsed in the corner, a dribbling, depressed heap and wailing like a toddler. Such fun.

These numerous cycles of delight continued on a loop until I experienced what can only be described of as a breakdown. I didn’t want to see anyone (least of all myself) I didn’t want to do anything, I cried solidly until my eyeballs nearly fell out, I wanted to run away and escape everything whilst simultaneously feeling guilty for not seeing everyone at once. Pathetic isn’t it? Well, actually no it isn’t.

This, as I discovered, is what’s known as a ‘mental health problem.’ Yet for a very long time, I refused to admit I was suffering and in pain. I refused to admit that I needed help. And that, my friends, is due to the stigma built around mental health problems. We are considered the ‘weaker’ ones, the ‘pathetic’ ones, the wobblers rocking in the corner. Unfortunately, a sufferer isn’t covered in warts or excessive facial hair, there is nothing to suggest that they are ‘ill’ and therefore the majority of the world’s response to anxiety or depression is; ‘cheer up.’ Really? REALLY? Well thank GOD you’re here, I hadn’t thought of that.

If any of this persistent and punishing drumbeat of input sounds even vaguely familiar, you may also need help (and there aint nothin’ wrong with that.) If you are already aware of your bonkersness, in whatever guise that may take, firstly ‘well done you’ but secondly and most importantly, please note: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Understanding that I needed help was the biggest step. ‘I’m FINE,’ I would shriek at anyone who asked whilst envisaging the slow insertion of cocktail sticks underneath their fingernails. The last thing I was, was ‘fine.’ Once you’ve jumped that difficult hurdle, you’re already on the road to getting better.

The next step would probably be to visit your doctor. However, and this is just my personal experience so feel free to completely ignore it, doctors a) don’t know what is best for you and cant accurately predict what method will be successful and  b) have one answer for everything which  is; ‘Here, take this shiny pill, isn’t it pretty? Swallow this lovely sugar-coated chemical everyday for the rest of your life and you’ll be just fine.’ (For some reason I picture this doctor wearing a spinning bow tie with eyeballs on stalks, waving a packet of pills in front of me like a watch on a chain. Anyway, I digress.) Suffice to say, if pills work for you and allow you to get up in the morning then that is wonderful and I am offering you a sweaty palm for a high-five. Ok, ok, Ive wiped it dry….

However, pills aren’t the only answer. They only mask the symptoms, they don’t actually fix the problem.  If you are caught in a desperate cycle of self-hatred, depression and anxiety with no apparent way out, there are other options and I can offer you the light to show you the way. You don’t have to try any of them or you can try them all at once. Regardless, it requires time, investment and persistence. It is not an overnight miracle cure. This is from someone who is by no means an expert or even cured, but at last I can say, ‘I’m getting there, I’m a little bit closer to finding peace.’ And if I can do it, well….!

My tips to nourish the mind are, in no particular order, as follows:

1) Watch Ruby Wax’s ‘What’s so funny about mental illness?’

http://www.ted.com/talks/ruby_wax_what_s_so_funny_about_mental_illness?language=en

2) Read these books:

The Art Of Happiness;  The Dalai Lama

Well it’s the Dalai Lama, probably the most peaceful and happy human being on the planet. Inevitably, he talks a lot of sense.

Sane New World: Taming the Mind; Ruby Wax

Her hilarious and acute observations are supremely brilliant. She wields her Bonkers Badge with pride whilst simultaneously providing comfort and guidance. Plus she’s got a Masters from Oxford in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. Bet ya didn’t know that!

Mindfulness: A Practical Guide To Finding Peace in A Frantic World; Prof Mark Williams and Dr Danny Penman

This outstanding book provides a technique to calm your chattering mind and allows you to step away from the self-loathing and into a spot of self-loving. The accompanying meditation CD is where the hard work comes in but I guarantee its worth it. Plus, it’s one of those books you can dip in and out of as necessary.

3) Meditate:

Yes I know, you’re probably thinking of a collection of robe-clad individuals with shaved heads chanting ‘ohhhhmmmmmmmmmmmm’ to the sounds of tinkling music in a cloud of incense. Which is fine, if you’re in Tibet. However, if you live in Hackney, that could be a problem. Mediation can be done anywhere, anytime but its best to start when there are no distractions (see the book above or try the downloadable ‘Headspace’ App.) It revolves around the breath (which you may have noticed seems to stop completely or go into hysterical overdrive during times of stress or panic) and allows you to ground yourself into the present moment. How many of us live in the past, arguing with ourselves over what we should have done or said? How many of us live in the future worrying about what could happen? (I see you nodding, I do.) Do we live in the present; are we alive, aware and living in this moment? In this breath which you just inhaled or exhaled? Probably not.  Meditation gives you the power to unlock that wonderful skill and guess what, you carry the key with you at all times.

Breathing is the beginning of meditation but it doesn’t end there. Meditation allows you to notice when the madness in your head starts gearing up for a good shrieking and the strength to simply let it pass you by, or ‘change the channel,’ so to speak. Seems almost impossible right now, doesn’t it? Trust me, it isn’t.

There are numerous mediation workshops across London (which are free, but please donate.) This is just one of them http://www.londoninsight.org/

Regardless, give it a try, there’s a reason with the Dalai Lama is such a cool dude.

4) Try Yoga and/or Pilates

The ‘experts’ do like to waffle on about ‘exercise’ don’t they? Yes, that’s all well and good but I have enough stress, rush, frenzy and general nonsense in my daily life that although pumping, sweating, heaving and hopping about in the gym to Ibiza dance tracks may be good for my body, it’s not particularly beneficial  to my mind. Plus those bicycle saddles are NOT made for ladies.

I have been practising yoga on and off for years but it’s only recently that I’ve woken up and realised that it’s more than just exercise. It’s a calming, soothing practise which focuses on the breath (see meditation above) and takes my mind away from the crashing and thrashing which Ibiza Dance Classics only seems to exacerbate. Pilates is the same but is a little more active if that’s more your cuppa tea. And boys, yoga is for you too. Provided you wear very tight leggings, of course. I jest, lycra is fine.

If you don’t want to sign up to a class just yet, try these home videos from ‘Yoga With Adriene,’ they are short, sweet and cover every ailment possible , mental and physical; https://www.youtube.com/user/yogawithadriene

5) Fill your mind with good things

Watch ‘Happy,’ a documentary/film which puts everything into perspective and makes you feel, well, happy. http://www.thehappymovie.com/ It can also be found on Netflix.

Read books you love, take a walk with your wellies on to kick up some autumn leaves, listen to classical music, turn the TV off, cook your favourite meal, try something new, draw a sketch, go to a short film event (see www.shortsontap.com ) or an art gallery.

6) Take yourself out of routine

If you sit on a particular seat on the bus to work, chose a different one tomorrow. What can you see from the window on this side? If you try and do six chores simultaneously at the speed of light, do one slowly and leave the rest for later. If you look at Facebook/Twitter first thing in the morning as soon as your eyes open, don’t do it for at least an hour when you wake tomorrow. We don’t realise the effect technology has on our minds.

7) Check your diet

Eating too much sugar, drinking too much booze? Feeling groggy most mornings? Constantly swerving between the mad coffeecoffeecoffee fix in the morning and a bottle of wine to send you to sleep? Cut it out from your diet, go cold turkey for two weeks (no, you wont die) and replace it with a fresh veggie juice in the morning. (Buy a Nutribullet https://www.nutribullet.com/  rather than a juicer, much easier/quicker/tastier/) I can not stress the importance of green vegetables enough, especially kale and spinach, they got some good shit in it, innit.

8) Try Therapy

Counselling works for some but for others it’s like talking to a brick wall. However, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy isn’t just a chat about ‘how am I feeling,’  it’s a pro-active discussion about why you behave in a certain way and your therapist will give you homework (yes, take a pen and paper) to break the normal behavioural patterns. For example, one of my tasks was to buy a single apple from a busy cafe during the midday lunch rush using only pennies which I had to count out one by one…slowly. You can imagine my heart rate by the time I managed to escape the huffing and heaving queue behind me with apple clutched in sweaty paw. It may sound silly but it made me look inward at the physical sensations which accompanied my feelings of self induced stress.

If you think it may help, ask your local doctor for advice and they will point you in the right direction.

9) Keep a diary

Sometimes writing your first thoughts in the morning and your last feelings at night can have an enormous relieving effect. Try it. You needn’t share them with anyone, its just for you.

10) Don’t hate yourself

A father and son sat beside a campfire discussing life. As the flames crackled, the father told his son a story of two wolves; one embodied love, peace, happiness, joy and mindfulness. The other represented hatred, anger, self-loathing, violence and all the other nasty traits that spring to mind. Forever locked in an eternal battle, the wolves fought and wrestled one another. The son looked up at his father  in awe and asked which of the two would win . The father replied, ‘son, the only wolf who will ever be victorious is the one I feed.’

Continued thoughts of how pathetic/stupid/idiotic/weak you are do nothing to help. You are none of these things. Filling your mind with hatred and dislike for your being turns your soul sour and will not open the doorway to repairing your mind. Stop it, stop it at once.

Finally, I leave you with the notion that there is nothing to be ashamed of. I have now fully accepted my inner lunacy and no longer perceive it is a weakness. It has also come to my attention that there are many of us in the Bonkers Brigade who hide behind masks of supposed strength and confidence. Talk to someone, you may be surprised to learn that they too are completely bonkers. Whatever avenue you take, however you decide to continue your path, please do not allow it to fester and grow. There is always a way out, there is always another option, there is always help to be found.

Nourish the mind with goodness. Expect to stumble but always remember the words of Lewis Carroll:

‘we’re all mad here……the best people usually are.’

 

In Loving Memory of Vito Neo Reargo:

The Maddest Hatter That Ever Lived.

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