29/12/2020

Clocks

I once believed that if you were a good enough person, bad things wouldn't happen to you.


That was a long time ago.


I am now the proud owner of a second diagnosis. (Because, you know, schizophrenia wasn't enough.) Depression arrived just in time for Christmas this year.

Unfortunately, schizophrenia and depression are often comorbid. Thanks a lot, neurobiology.


Never have the lyrics of Coldplay's song 'Clocks' been more true for me.

16/07/2020

Antipsychotics and side effects

I've taken a few different antipsychotics since 2012, but have finally 'landed' on a balance of medicine that seems to work for me.

The only side effect I currently experience is eye-rolling, and it only happens every now and then. Fortunately, I have Akineton, a pill I can take that will eliminate the eye-rolling within 10-20 minutes. (Waiting for the pill to work, however, feels like forever - when you're 'in it'!)

The road to finding the 'optimal dose' has been rocky. When my dose of one particular medicine was increased, I would get much worse eye-rolling - it was horrible! So, then, I was prescribed a different medicine, but it made me hungry all the time (a common side effect of antipsychotics is the inability to feel 'full') and I hated the weight gain (another common side effect), so eventually we (my psychiatrist and I) found a 'middle ground' - a dose that I am still satisfied with today.

Of course, the whole point of medicine is to relieve symptoms, so, obviously, I had to take my voices into consideration, first and foremost - fortunately, the medicine seems to work, as I never hear the worst kind of voices any more. I still hear voices daily, but they're not negative and aggressive.

Those who have followed my previous (Danish) blog from the very beginning (or read my book) will know that I have two kinds of voices: '24/7 voices' and 'situation-based voices'. The 24/7 voices were awful - constant, nasty, unbearable. I could never escape them - they were there from the moment I woke up, right up to when I fell asleep, and just an endless stream of cruelty. These are the voices that my medicine has removed.

The situation-based voices are the ones that crop up when I've been in a situation that triggers positive or negative stress. So, naturally, I still get these ones sometimes - and it doesn't take much for them to appear. As mentioned, I still hear voices daily - but, as long as they remain 'neutral' or even 'positive', I am more able to cope with them. (When they become negative, I know I have to address the issue immediately and take things veeeeeeeery sloooooooowly - until they subside again!)

An illustration from my book ...

My first medicine, which I was prescribed when I first went to hospital, gave me a LOT of side effects. I gained a ton of weight, got 'restless legs' (a feeling of constantly having to get up and move around - very discomfiting), severe eye-rolling, a dry mouth and a stuffy nose. In fact, I got even more side effects than all this, but some of them I feel uncomfortable describing, so I won't mention them.

I was on quite a high dose of that particular antipsychotic, which could explain why I experienced more side effects back then - in the beginning, I just needed a pill that would 'knock out' the psychosis (and I was 'protected' by being in hospital); now that I'm doing so much better and navigating 'real life' again, there's room to alter my dose so that it suits my present life better.

I made a meme (one out of twelve!) to portray an 'antipsychotic dilemma':



Nobody wants to be overweight. Nobody wants to experience unpleasant side effects, no matter how severe the condition the pills are treating. And, trust me, you don't want eye-rolling. Nightmarish. Being unable to control your eyes - or your head, as it gets thrust back involuntarily - as they force you to 'look upwards' all the time, so you can't focus on or do anything until you've taken an Akineton and the fit is over, is not a fun way to spend a train journey home. I sometimes wonder what the people around me on the train that day thought; what on Earth is that girl doing? Why is she staring, blinking excessively and jerking her head back? In any case, it's NEVER pleasant, but feeling self-conscious just adds to the agitation.

For many reasons, it is my hope that modern medicine - which evolves all the time anyway - soon produces the 'wonder drug'; one that relieves symptoms with very few, if any, side effects. Heck, here's hoping for a 'miracle cure' one day!

Yeah ... I've had fun making these ๐Ÿ˜œ

See more of my memes at https://georgiabrask.dk/memes-ive-made/ or follow me on social media:

Facebook - Georgia's Voice
Instagram - georgiasvoices

Thank you!

01/06/2020

Schizophrenia and aspirations

^ Click here! ^

Aspirations, ambitions, hopes and dreams (I've touched upon this subject before).

I have always wanted to be an artist and a writer, but I face so many obstacles in my daily life that it makes it extraordinarily difficult to achieve. Despite that, I have become a published author and I do work as an artist (yay, well done me!).

But I want more ...

The thing is, it's more than just 'wanting'. It's knowing. Knowing that I can be so much more than I am, knowing that I can do so much more than what I've already achieved.

When I was little, I 'knew' I'd write a book. However, I didn't know the sharp detour my life would take (due to schizophrenia), nor that this detour would become the subject of that book (that was something of a surprise), but, on 4th September 2018, my first book, GEORGIAS STEMME(R), was published. So many people turned up at my book signing (MY book signing!) and my book SOLD OUT. I was so overwhelmed and grateful that day and will remember it forever: surrounded by family and friends, centred around something that meant SO much to me. It was a very special moment.

I cherish my successes (just as much as I cherish the process towards my goals). But I want more ...

'Wanting more' doesn't mean 'unhappy with what you've got'. It doesn't mean 'greedy' or 'ruthless'. It just means you have a healthy dose of ambition and (hopefully) the drive to make it happen.

When I express frustration over "not achieving enough", it's not an expression of dissatisfaction about what I've already accomplished.

What I'm actually saying is: I know what I'm capable of. I want to keep contributing. I want to express myself further and for as long as I keep growing. I want to help more people with my words. There are so many reasons why I started my first blog back in February 2016, and they still stand today (now accompanied by all your positive feedback, which spurs me on to keep at it. Thank you).

It's extremely frustrating for me that my ideas and aspirations cannot be expressed verbally. For me, trying to explain what's 'perfectly clear' in my head just never comes out the right way - it turns into an incoherent, embarrassing, pitiful mess that makes me wish I hadn't even tried. Talking about my intentions takes the magic out of them - especially when they're not fully understood. This is why I tend to write my thoughts down (or, just keep them to myself). I place so much importance on my written work because it's my 'voice' and the only way I can truly communicate all I have to say.

So, you can imagine my disappointment when my book was recently turned down by an English publisher.

Let me explain: In October, last year, I sent my (fully-translated) manuscript to a UK publisher that focuses solely on books about mental health. They gave me a 12-week time frame to expect a response, so I waited with bated breath (and crossed fingers).

I had not heard anything by the beginning of February, so I contacted them. Unfortunately, they had decided that they would not be publishing my book. Their feedback was polite and helpful feedback, but it was a "no".

I should say that contacting a publisher was a huge hurdle to overcome for me. Just sending an email requires massive amounts of mental energy (that I don't always have) and any form of social communication is exhausting.

I know that I have to go through the same exhausting and stressful process all over again if I choose to contact another publisher - it takes an enormous toll on me to do it.

Unfortunately, the majority of publishers don't accept unsolicited submissions. It's almost impossible to 'get your foot in the door'. When it comes to publishing in the UK - you need an agent. So, I guess that's what I'm looking for now.

"Why bother?" you might ask - why not just be grateful for what you've already achieved? So, I ask you: Why not? If I'm capable of it, I should try.

This brings me to my next point:

Frustrations.

Because I can see my goals for the future SO clearly (and because I KNOW where I want to go), the publisher's rejection of my book is disheartening and frustrating. After all the energy I've put into my book (and the enormous amount of positive feedback I have had from Danish readers, health professionals and sufferers of schizophrenia), I am convinced that it is worth a spot in the UK market (where it could reach a much wider audience and help many more people).

However, that's not the only thing delaying me.

Can you say a m b i v a l e n c e?

...

While my ambition is like, "I know where I'm going!" my ambivalence is like, "Yeah, but f*** you".

Due to my ambivalence, I can never commit to a decision. At least not the logical, linear way. Yes, I will get where I want to be in the end, but mein Gott, it's a convoluted route!

Also, everything needs to be 'in place' - 'just right' - for me to be able to pursue my goals. I need a solid, secure framework to work from. A bit like people with autism aren't good at handling change or disruptions to their routine, I (as a schizophrenic) find even the slightest, tiniest 'threat' to my 'established framework' terrifying. It could be as silly as having to dispose of clothes that don't fit me any more (this can trigger panic), or as real as coronavirus. Anything that signifies a change in my daily life, something I have to adapt to, takes its toll - although I have learned to accommodate certain 'changes' that cannot be avoided.

Executive function also plays a part here. Executive function = the cognitive processes involved in regulating one's behaviour and managing daily life (working memory, concentration/attention, flexible thinking, organisation and planning skills, to name a few). All of these areas are inhibited by schizophrenia.

My official IQ - which I have written about before - puts me in the top 0.01 % of the population.

Can you imagine how frustrating it is to have a Ferrari with a faulty accelerator? How exasperating is it to have a brain that, all things considered, is more powerful than 99.99 % of others, but unable to harness this power (and don't get me started on having to abide by the same speeding limits as everyone else ... perhaps that's a subject for a separate blog post ๐Ÿ˜‰).

...

So, all in all, Georgia ... what do you want?

((Sigh)) ... again, because I can't trust myself to stick to a choice (nor can I control the choices of others - or even rely on my intelligence to propel me forward), it's almost impossible to know if what I want today will be what I want tomorrow. However, here's a start:

ART

Drawing/Painting: Basically, I'd like to get a little business up and running where I take commissions for my artwork. I've already got a few commissions (both drawing and painting) under my belt and am working on two paintings at the moment. My commissioners have to be happy to wait between six months to a year for a piece; I know from experience that I take a long time to finish, but, fortunately, I've only had 100 % kind and understanding commissioners so far!
My art business would involve drawing and painting people's loved ones and pets; I LOVE completing portraits to perfection! I'm not complaining about getting paid for my work, either ๐Ÿ˜„

Ceramics: My mice are my trademark, and I'd like to develop them as a concept. I'm currently looking for the perfect clay to make them in - smooth, pure white, and the right firing temperature. Stoneware or porcelain (not earthenware). I'm also interested in taking up throwing on the wheel again, but - as with everything - I have to be 'in the right frame of mind', otherwise I don't take anything in (and I would have to be re-instructed in throwing, to refresh my memory).

Jewellery: One day, I would like to try my hand at making jewellery. I think I would really enjoy it, just like I enjoy all my other art forms (when I'm inspired!).

WRITING

Georgia's Voice(s): Should I make a 'Georgia's Voice(s) 2.0'? Many thoughts have crossed my mind. Should I self-publish? Do I need an agent? Where would I find the right one? How much would they cost? I even had the dreaded thought: Is it just not meant to be right now? ... which I quickly dismissed again. There is no space for self-doubt! 'Georgia's Voice(s)' HAS to become a reality; there is no other option. So, Penguin Random House, if you're reading this, drop me a line ๐Ÿ˜‰

Children's books: Ooh, a wonderful genre. My mum has always said I'd be good as a teacher for young kids - I'm patient and good at explaining complex things simply. As taking a formal education is, for me, out of the question (for now), I cannot get a degree in teaching - but there are other options for me use my pedagogical skills, and what might be better than incorporating art into the mix?!
I've been re-reading my favourite books from childhood and taking in all the elements - colour, imagination, rhythm, repetition ... maybe, one day, I'll have my first children's story published, complete with my own illustrations ๐Ÿ˜Š Aside from this, I still love manga - and am entertaining the idea of developing my own comic strip.

Novel: The ultimate goal. To be able to start (and finish!) a full-blown novel in my desired genre (Young Adult fantasy fiction) would be a brilliant achievement. At this rate, however, I'll be 84 before that happens.

This leads me to my next point ...

OTHER

Reading: I've started re-reading Harry Potter - I've devoured the first three books and am now embarking on the Goblet of Fire. J. K. Rowling's imagination just blows me away! I finally feel I'm reading properly after years and years of not opening a book (despite having always LOVED reading). I guess I'm also collecting inspiration for my own novel ๐Ÿ˜‰ It's a dream of mine to write the fantasy fiction YA novel and the best form of 'homework' is to read established authors' works.

Helping others: I do my best to be kind to others, albeit I do fall short sometimes. I'd like to use my kindness to make a difference in people's lives - I'm not quite sure how, especially as my energy is a limited resource, but perhaps the gift of giving would balance it out.

Using my brain: Anything that will simultaneously challenge and inspire me. I need constant stimulation - something that's inordinately difficult to get access to when you cannot take an education or work. How does one keep up the 'stimulation level' and stave off boredom/restlessness when unable to learn in a structured environment? I suppose, like me, you turn to absorbing information from the internet - but it's not quite the same as having different perspectives and focused teaching in a subject. However, the alternative is worse - experiencing symptoms of a relapse due to being unable to cope with all the stresses that come with formal education.

Making an impact: When you have an official IQ that puts you in the top 0.01 % of the population, this means you're different from 99.99 % of people you meet - which significantly narrows down your chance of finding like-minded individuals. I'm not complaining - I'm simply explaining why I'm so driven to express myself and 'get out there' by using my natural strengths (writing and art).

We ALL want fulfilling social lives.
We ALL want meaningful relationships.
We ALL want to be understood ... right?

So, by making my little mark on the world and, perhaps, making an impact on other people's lives, I hope one day to reach a point where I can say "I did it. I achieved what I've always yearned for - and have reached where I wanted to be" (or, rather, "Where I knew I'd end up"). ๐Ÿ˜‰

-

So that's it - at least, it's what I can think of right now!

THANK YOU for reading, and - even if you're not from Penguin Random House - do feel free to comment ๐Ÿ˜†

31/05/2020

A Little Poem (by Georgia Brask)

Sometimes, in life, the hand you’re dealt is mightily unfair
Could write a trilogy of books and still have prose to spare
How could the higher power be so merciless to me?
I’ve always seen myself as good; I wouldn’t hurt a flea
Zoning out is how it started—my mind would disappear
Overrun by voices, the kind that only I could hear
Paranoia creeping in and making life chaotic
How was I to know that this was called being psychotic?
Rightly, I soon was sectioned to a psychiatric ward
Each day a mix of medicine, care and feeling rather bored
Now, it’s been almost nine years since my time in that safe space
I’m further, strong and happier; the problems that I face
Are by no means easier, I’ve just learned to get better …
… and if you’d like to know my fight, read each line’s first letter.

10/05/2020

Schizophrenia and insight

"Lack of insight into own illness" is a common symptom of schizophrenia.

I had it myself (when I was most ill). I didn't think I was ill, nor that I belonged in the psychiatric ward - which I told the nurses repeatedly! This was before I started taking my medicine and gradually became aware of all the nasty voices shouting and screaming at me in my head. (There was also an element of me feeling like "I want to get back to my life - now!", but that's another story!)

In this post, I will try to word my thoughts about a lack of insight in general - not 'just' lack of insight into one's own illness.

Insight ... is something I've struggled with for a long time. I've had many 'aha moments' during my recovery process. For example, it's liberating to realise that many of your barriers are 'all in your own head'. (It's an ongoing process, however, and everyone's recovery looks different!)

I had an aha moment recently while thinking about my difficulties with communication, loneliness and why I'd had such a hard time at school.

What was I doing to provoke the bullying and exclusion? Why was 'no-one else' so badly affected?

I never found the answers. I simply couldn't understand it. Making someone else feel bad has never been something I've made a conscious effort to do - so, the whole concept was a mystery to me. What made the bullies do it? Why couldn't they just leave me alone? What did they get from it? How did it benefit them? I had so many questions and, in my desperation, I became more withdrawn (in an attempt to avoid further pain) and took my frustrations out on my loved ones, which didn't help my situation, either.

However, thanks to many years of distance from the situation and a good measure of maturity, I've become much more 'resolved' about everything that happened. Things are better now. Which is why I'm more able to tell my story and explain schizophrenia's impact on insight, communication, initiative and socialising.

In earlier posts (on my first blog) about bullying, I wrote about how I viewed 'the others' (my peers) as 'stronger' than me, socially. Therefore, I also believed that it was mostly up to THEM to get to know ME. Me, clearly shy and inhibited - they, who could talk without problems - it was obvious, right?! Of COURSE they could - and should - take initiative, seeing as it was so much easier for them.

This would also make it easier for me, as I find it extremely difficult to take initiative, but am fine with 'just' answering questions.

However, I couldn't expect my peers to know this.

I'd been told that people had thought I was a 'snob' because I didn't say anything.

Whether or not I say something has everything to do with how comfortable I feel. If you're clearly showing interest, then I'm more comfortable than if I have to initiate contact myself - with the latter, I feel completely 'out of my depth'. For a long time, however, I had thought I was 'doing okay' on that front - with regard to how much I participate in conversation and social situations in general. But, on closer inspection, it's become clear to me that I probably haven't always been functioning as 'normally' as I thought.

I understand now why I was labelled 'the quiet girl'.

Because I don't say anything.

I think a whole lot, but it never 'comes out'.

Not before now - not before I started blogging.

It's been a hard pill to swallow (sorry for the pun) - that the image I had of myself as a confident, 'normal' girl didn't match the image others had of me. It was a blow to my self-confidence. I felt embarrassed, stupid and 'exposed' - as if everybody else knew something about me that I'd previously thought was 'opaque'. Like being in one of those nightmares where you're suddenly stark naked in front of others. It didn't feel nice - and I was scared. Didn't know how to handle it. So I withdrew even further into myself - perhaps in an attempt to preserve the last little piece of me that wasn't accessible to others.

So, all in all, I didn't open up to others. This was fine in the years before I went to high school, because it was a way to protect myself - from the bullying. But, when I started high school and met a whole bunch of nice people who actually wanted to get to know me, I had no idea how to deal with it! I was still the shy, inhibited girl who hadn't had any social practise and continued to isolate myself from others. If only I'd had the necessary social skills ... then maybe I'd have approached that nice guy who kept smiling at me at a high school party - and not 'just' smiled back and walked past. Maybe I'd have said the funny comment I thought of during a lesson and made the others laugh - instead of keeping it to myself. Maybe I'd have picked up on all the signals I now can see (in hindsight) were friendly interest in me, but that I wasn't able to 'act upon' back then.

You can tell I've thought about it, right? You keep thinking about these things many years afterwards. What if, what if, what if ...?

Imagine if I hadn't had my illness. Well, then I'd probably have been a fairly outgoing, social person. I believe so. Because I like being social. I'd never have been the 'party animal', but I'd have been more proactive and extrovert.

I remember when I was first in hospital and practically begged the nurses to let me go to the open unit, where the other patients were. However, three months would pass before I was robust enough to be around others, and even then it was an extremely slow and gradual prodecure - baby steps.

I also remember seeing a doctor at the ward (I'll call her 'V'). She was really nice and understanding. And patient. I asked her in frustration again and again - every time I had a meeting with her - "Why don't the others talk to me?" She couldn't give me a satisfactory answer. After all, how was she supposed to respond? Now, I can see that my problem most likely stemmed from the fact I didn't do much to talk to them - but, back then, I would be seething inside; feeling like 'I deserved more'.

It's incredibly easy to fall into the 'they should do more for me' trap. So easy to expect too much from others and become 'lazy'. I think this is where schizophrenia plays a part in regard to insight; everything the illness does to you - voices in your head, ambivalence, low motivation, cognitive deficits, not to mention difficulties with communication! - well, of course you're going to be withdrawn and live 'in your own head'. So much that you cannot see how you come across to others.

That's what it was like for me, at least.

Sometimes I think that, perhaps, communication and socialising isn't 'worth it', in the end. Don't get me wrong - I will continue doing my best to become better at wording my thoughts and share them with others (verbally, too). But being social in the 'normal' way, like other young people, requires a heck of a lot of energy - energy I don't have. Therefore, I guess I've reached a point where I'm ditching a lot of the ideas I've had about my 'social identity'. For instance, I almost always say no (with a thank you, of course!) to invitations to birthdays, house-warming parties and other events where I don't know many people coming. I'd much rather celebrate my friends quietly at a later time where we can meet one-on-one. I'm incredibly lucky to have fantastic friends who always invite me (and it's important to be offered an invitation) but who completely understand that I will generally say no, while expressing gratitude for being included.

It's been difficult to reach the conclusion that I can't do as much as other young people, especially when I'd like to join in - but here I am, and I'm not more ill because of it!

So, yeah. Insight, huh? A strange thing.

I hope you feel a little more enlightened about my experiences - and that I can help others with my words. Others who might be thinking about the same things, but haven't found the words to express them. Heck, I know I could have used something like this when I was struggling the most.

01/04/2020

Schizophrenia and ambivalence

I wrote a poem about ambivalence once - this time, I'm writing a blog post about it.

Ambivalence. It's more than just indecisiveness. It's a core symptom of schizophrenia that impacts every aspect of one's life (as most schizophrenia symptoms do). The earliest sign of my ambivalence was when I first started writing; I would have to stop typing at regular intervals to change the font because I simply couldn't decide which one to use. As fellow typeface nerds will know, there are so many good ones - it's impossible to 'commit' to just one! ... right?

Now, my ambivalence is still just as pronounced. Choosing a blog design is an ongoing process; at the moment, I've decided on a water theme - because, as I reasoned, blue is my favourite colour (and I would never have got round to actually blogging if I didn't just pick something!).

Listening to music often consists of choosing a playlist only to skip most of the songs because none of them quite fit my mood at that particular moment. Still, it's better than having angry, aggressive voices shouting over the music, so I'm not complaining.

I'll start reading a book one day because "All writers must read" ... the next day, it gathers dust because now it feels like an obligation. However, all hope is not lost - I usually pick it up again at a later time. It's important to note that, with schizophrenia, you need endless patience - I will make progress one day, only to spend the next week doing virtually nothing. Recovery is not linear, and energy comes in waves - so it's important not to get disheartened.

Illustration from my book.

An example I've used before to illustrate my ambivalence is when I've been asked what colour of Ludo pawn I'd like. "Um ... yellow! No ... blue ... uh ... I don't know". Things as small and 'insignificant' as that. I guess that, with schizophrenia, nothing is insignificant. Every little thing has meaning; maybe because we're so used to the negativity of being harassed by our own minds, so we have to find meaning in anything we can?

Unlike the voices, which I sadly would have no idea how to cope with if they got bad again, I'm finding ways to cope with ambivalence. Slowly, carefully, you have to 'harness' it - turn it to your advantage. (I must highlight this: Slowly. Carefully. Take it at your own pace. Nothing good ever comes of rushing and pressuring yourself into things.) So, for example, when you're not in a rush and have to choose one out of two options, just pick one at random. If you immediately regret your decision, pick the other instead. Then stick with whichever felt most 'right'.

This is good practise for future situations when you are in a rush; you'll not become completely paralysed and 'throw in the towel' over having to choose either the pink socks or the purple socks!

It's like when you're tidying your room and have to decide on what to keep and what to discard. I still struggle with this. I am by no means a minimalist by nature; I tend to keep things 'in case they come in useful later' and hold on to anything with 'sentimental value'. However, I've also seen immaculate, Instagram-worthy rooms and yearn for that kind of aesthetic discipline (which I'll probably never achieve as long as I have my artistic streak, haha). Avolition plays a part here, too - but, to combat my 'saving everything' tendency, what I'm currently doing is sorting things - slowly, carefully ๐Ÿ˜‰ - and putting them into bags and boxes. If I haven't worn, used or at least looked at the items within a certain timeframe (I decided on six months), it's time to get rid of them. Here's hoping I manage it.

It should be noted, at this point, that I have an inclination to get thrown into a dark place if I feel I've made a 'wrong' decision. "OMG, I've done something terribly wrong, I'm a failure, I'm a loser, everyone will see what an embarrassment I am and I'll just have to delete all my social media accounts and move to a remote island ..." I often refer to being bullied as a cause of my faulty thought processes, and this instance is no exception. My mind can be set off by something as silly as sending a birthday message to a friend, or posting a photo to Instagram - especially if I can't 'take it back'.

Crazy, right? It's not like I'm hurting animals or anything else that would merit retribution ...

Nevertheless, if I - for example - donate a coat to charity, thinking it was the right choice at the time, and later suddenly get hit by a surge of regret ... then I have no idea how to deal with it. Because it's a feeling, it's uncontrollable, it's stuck in your body, you cannot run from it - and, especially with the constant risk of relapse lurking at the back of my mind, I'm extremely sensitive to feeling like things aren't going in the 'right direction'. Heck, I'm so sensitive that things from years ago still haunt me!

So, to sum it up: because of all the stress involved, I generally can't trust myself to make a decision and stick to it.

It's agony.

Okay, so maybe that's a little dramatic. But I hate it.

However, by finding ways to use ambivalence to one's benefit, it's possible to not suffer so much. Maybe it's good in that you know you'll never make a rash decision - you've simply thought through all the options!

What are your strengths?
What are your weaknesses?
Which do you tend to focus on more?

-

Finally, on a side note: Googling 'MAID model' (model of ambivalence-induced discomfort) did NOT give me the academic and educational results I was looking for. *Georgia closes laptop - that's quite enough internet for today* ...

27/03/2020

Schizophrenia and motivation

You'd think that, with all this extra time on your hands, following the outbreak of the coronavirus, it would be so much easier to find the opportunity to do something productive ... right? Y'know, like finally getting round to sorting out the mess that's accumulated in your room for weeks (... months). Maybe summoning up the motivation to paint the commission you've been neglecting, or even write a chapter or two of your future novel.

You're not watching the entire original series of Pokรฉmon on your laptop, are you? Or eating biscuits while endlessly scrolling through Twitter? Listening to the same old music again and again while thinking to yourself, "I should really be doing something useful"?

No, no - not at all ........... ๐Ÿ˜

Source: Tenor

To be fair on myself, I have managed to do most of my weekly cleaning, so I'm not completely 'down' on the efficiency front.

I've blogged about this before - 'avolition', as it's called, is a lack of motivation associated with schizophrenia. A general absence of initiative and goal-directed behaviour. This article from Verywell Mind explains it in depth - here's a paragraph from the page:

"Within the context of schizophrenia, avolition suggests that you are willing to complete a task but are unable to harness the mental and physical energies to do so. Even if there are consequences to that inaction—consequences you may want desperately to avoid—you will still be unable to act."

So, as you can see, avolition is more than 'just' a lack of interest or willpower. You may want something with every fibre of your being, but be incapable of following it through to completion. It's not laziness. It's not a sign of weakness. It is an actual symptom of schizophrenia (and sometimes other mental illnesses, such as depression).

I don't hate cleaning or tidying up - in fact, when I manage it, I think it isn't so bad and often feel a sense of accomplishment when I'm done. Unfortunately, the problem doesn't only apply to chores; even deep-rooted, intrinsic goals, your innermost desires and passions, are affected by avolition. You may 'run out of steam' quickly and 'give up' halfway through pursuing your goals, or simply never get started (because it just seems too insurmountable).

The same goes for 'smaller' activities like watching a film, following a TV series, reading a book or even making a phone call - these things can also seem like mountains. 'Liking' someone's post on Facebook? Yep, that too.

On a social level, you may appear aloof and disinterested in others because you are unable to see the 'point' of making conversation, even though you may really want to connect. All too often, this can lead to others 'overlooking' you and, eventually, not inviting you to join them. I'm not saying I approve of this tendency; everyone should feel included - nobody should have to see parties and get-togethers be arranged without getting an invitation. But, sadly, it happens. Especially when you're quiet and unassuming and don't 'press the issue'.

With schizophrenia, the obstacles are endless. Crippling ambivalence. Deficits in self-awareness. Paranoia creeping in from time to time. Side effects of medication - weight gain, 'restless legs' and the horrible 'eye-rolling'.

Voices!

Source of photo: Cosmopolitan
Meme made by me

I will devote a post to each of these aspects of the illness ... so, be sure to follow me on Twitter (Georgia Brask) and 'like' my Facebook page, Georgia's Voice, to stay updated about when I post ๐Ÿ˜„

To get back to my original point: as you may have deduced, not even an extraordinary situation like the country being in lockdown can necessarily spur me on to get things done. I have to rely on surges of creative inspiration and sheer determination. These things are far from constant - they often 'drop by' at the most unlikely times (and disappear again just when you thought you could conquer the world). Sigh ... avolition, you savage!

-

What are you doing to entertain yourself during these strange times?

26/12/2019

Christmas and New Year expectations

I've been thinking about something (as is the imperative for most of my blog posts!), so here it is ...

EXPECTATIONS.

These things we all have, but cannot necessarily define.

When you send someone a text message, you expect them to reply. When you go into a clothes shop, you expect clothes of perfect quality and good service from the shop assistant. When you go to see your favourite singer in concert, you expect them to deliver a performance you can rave about with your friends for weeks to follow.

You feel contentment when your expectations are met, and disappointment when they aren't.

People can crack under the pressure of others' expectations - and people can crack under the pressure of their own.

So why would all of this be any different at Christmas?

Christmas. "It's the most wonderful time of the year" - Andy Williams. "Everyone's dancing merrily in the new old-fashioned way" - Brenda Lee. "Snow is fallin', all around me, children playin', having fun, it's the season of love and understanding, Merry Christmas, everyone" - Shakin' Stevens.

Yes, if the popular Christmas songs are anything to go by, it's the special time of year where everyone is happy, merry, jolly, dancing, smiling, laughing and generally having a wonderful time.

Personally, I have a mother who has learned to 'tolerate' Christmas (and all that it entails) ๐Ÿ˜‰ - and a father who starts playing Christmas songs as soon as the clock strikes midnight on December 1st! (Well, exaggeration promotes understanding ... ๐Ÿ˜‰) But - it's not Christmas in itself that's the issue.

It's the expectations surrounding it.

You've probably heard of the Danish word "hygge". Pronounced hoo-guh, it's a concept that's been noticed by other countries lately (the Danes are - don't ask me how - known for being the happiest nation in the world, so I'm not surprised their hygge is of interest overseas!). Hygge is basically a feeling of cosiness, often achieved when surrounded by good friends, candles and warmth, after a delicious meal - perhaps it's raining or snowing outside and you're comfortable in your armchair with blankets and cushions next to the fireplace. Hygge is homemade biscuits, quiet reading time, a relaxed ambience.

Christmas - is hygge.

Source: Jodelgrin.dk

The translation of the above image, which I found on a Danish website dedicated to the funniest stories from the popular app Jodel, is roughly as follows:

"My mother during Christmas: "Now we shall hygge! Now we're having a good time. Are you having a good time? Are you!?! Have fun!! FUN!!" #TheChristmasDictator"

((... in other words, it's NOT my mum! ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚))

I laughed at the time and kept scrolling - and here I am now, using a random stranger's old Jodel story in my blog post! But it illustrates my point perfectly. My point that this festive season - Christmas and New Year - is full of, you guessed it, expectations. Expectations that you MUST enjoy it, you MUST have fun, you MUST be happy ... and so on.

Now, I'm not dismissing the fact you should be grateful when someone gives you a gift, cooks a nice dinner or takes the time to call you amidst the hectic December period. There are plenty of expectations that are perfectly valid. I've just been thinking that there's an awful lot of pressure to perform around Christmas and New Year, and that perhaps not everyone can live up to it.

Here's a quick questionnaire:

Do you have a loving family?
(Yes.)
Can you afford the often manic, last-minute insanity (Black Friday, anyone?) that is gift shopping?
(Yes.)
Are you able to go food shopping, prepare meals and host get-togethers for groups of family and friends?
(My parents are.)
Do you have friends to celebrate with?
(Yes.)

If you can answer yes to the above questions, you're pretty darn fortunate. Some don't have a family. Some cannot afford to buy gifts. Some are unable, for whatever reasons, to organise and carry out social get-togethers. And some simply spend their Christmas/New Year alone.

Like the rest of us, I'm sure they're well aware of the expectations surrounding the festive period.

On a much smaller scale, I remember when I felt enormous pressure to be social, out and about on New Year's Eve - because I knew people who were celebrating it with all their friends and I thought that was what you were 'supposed' to do. Turns out there are other creatures like me who don't go about painting the town red on December 31st. Honestly, if I could, I would have told my teenage self DON'T WORRY - nobody's expecting it of you! Sometimes, what you think others expect of you can be just as detrimental to your health ... been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.

(Danish friends: that's an expression meaning "I know how it feels" ๐Ÿ˜†)

Ten years and a diagnosis later, I guess I don't care so much about that kind of thing any more. And, to be honest, I'm realising that what's 'meant to be' will happen - in its own time. Why put the strain on myself to be 'all-singing, all-dancing' when I'm more of an 'all-writing, all-thinking' kinda girl? Why do anything other than what feels right for me (while not completely disregarding the needs of others, of course)? My health comes first. Only I can make it number one priority. Perhaps, in 2020, I will learn to manage my expectations so that I won't be utterly crushed if they aren't met - and will be pleasantly surprised when they are.

* * *

What you do think others expect of you? What do you strive for? Do you believe in New Year's resolutions?

(Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments - and feel free to not. There's no expectation from my side ... ๐Ÿ˜‰)

24/11/2019

Why I'm Quiet

I'm quiet because I'm thinking.
I'm quiet because I don't want to unintentionally hurt anyone's feelings.
I'm quiet because I prefer to keep my mouth shut rather than say something that could be interpreted incorrectly.
I'm quiet because it feels most comfortable.
I'm quiet because I'm used to being quiet.
I'm quiet because I know I cannot handle the enormous pressure it is to be talkative and outgoing all the time.
I'm quiet because someone else said what I was thinking before I got round to it.
I'm quiet because I'm listening.
I'm quiet because it's interesting to hear what you have to say.
I'm quiet because I'm enjoying the moment.
I'm quiet because I don't want to ruin the moment.
I'm quiet because my words won't ever arrange themselves the way they were in my head.
I'm quiet because talking can feel messy.
I'm quiet because I prefer writing.

For the most part, you can take my silence as an expression of who I am - maybe even as a compliment!

"He who does not understand your silence will probably not understand your words".

^ I try to keep an open mind at all times and give people the benefit of the doubt - so, if they are curious about my silence, even though it feels awkward to have someone point it out, I will try to respond in an informative way rather than get irritated. However, a normal conversation doesn't exactly call for long explanations, so that's why I'm writing my reasons here!

Yup, though it may seem like I've only just come to this conclusion, I've always known and accepted this about myself - that I'm quiet, and like it best that way. Perhaps it's periodically been a little difficult for me to accept, though, in a world full of people who are able to talk more freely and who haven't necessarily understood my silence.

So that's what was on my mind today!

And finally, some advice for my fellow Zipped-Lips - next time someone tells you, "You're so quiet!" or asks you why ...?
Respond:
"... You can see me?!"
๐Ÿ˜œ๐Ÿ˜œ๐Ÿ˜œ๐Ÿ˜œ๐Ÿ˜œ

Have a great week! ๐Ÿ˜„

What's been happening lately

Whew ... haven't written for a while!

1. I've had creative block. I got a painting commission in March and have only recently finished and delivered it. Though I love creating art when my brain's in the right place, I'm not yet so good at doing it on command; I've never been good with 'commitment'. As the months went by, the painting seemed more and more intimidating, and I just couldn't sit myself down and do it. My head and hands simply wouldn't cooperate. I did eventually end up with a result I was happy with, but the bursts of inspiration were few and far between, and sometimes it felt more of a burden than an enjoyment. Creative block, you nasty!

2. So, that's why I haven't been so active on my blog. Well, partly. I've also been doing other things that have required time and energy, and I don't have oodles of energy. Among other things, I've contacted an English publisher in the hopes of getting Georgias Stemme(r) published in English. They have confirmed that they've received my submission, but it takes a few months before you can expect a more detailed response (they get lots of submissions). So, fingers crossed!

I would SO love for Georgia's Voice(s) to become a reality and for my voice to be heard. For even more people to be helped by my words; to help break the taboo surrounding schizophrenia; to bring something fresh and different to what is considered a rather dark and heavy subject. I am so proud of my book and hope it could benefit an even wider audience - especially those who need it the most.

Again, if you have an English-speaking network, please do share this blog with them! (Thank you!)

3. Good news:

I got my fรธrtidspension (early pension) – so, now I no longer have to go through the whole ‘treadmill’ of ‘trying to develop a capacity to work’ - a capacity that simply isn't there. Read below ...

To make a long story short:

I had to resign from my job (working in a friend’s publishing house) in 2016 because it was too stressful for me and I became completely overwhelmed by what would be considered the simplest of tasks or interactions with people. Shortly afterwards, I started the long process with the municipality/social system - with a view to getting me into regular work or a formal education (the goal of the social system appears to be to get everyone working or learning, no matter how unequipped for it they might be). I tried everything they recommended (everything!), but all of it was beyond the limits set by my schizophrenia - (I couldn’t cope with something as simple as going into town and/or interacting with shop assistants) - and it was apparent to everyone around me that coping with a job or schooling would be beyond my capabilities. After much frustration, many meetings, and consistently emphasising that work or education would be out of the question (my parents: “Georgia can’t do it - please, stop!”) I eventually got my early pension granted in October.

It should be mentioned that the people working in the social system are all very nice, dedicated people and they did their best to help - it’s the ‘system’ that makes it excruciatingly difficult to get an early pension. You need a lot of documentation, have to attend several ‘courses’, must prove that you have tried employment and further education and must attend several rounds of interviews with the commune, social workers, doctors, etc. to prove that you cannot provide for yourself (even when it’s patently obvious to everyone around you).

4. I'm seeing a new psychiatrist in January. So, that will mean a goodbye to the familiarity of Distriktspsykiatrien (the district psychiatry), where I've been since 2012. It's not a huge leap, but it's a leap all the same. I hope the psychiatrist I have chosen is a good match for me - but the quality of the Danish healthcare system has (in my experience) been excellent all the way, so I'm not too worried.

That's all for now. Thank you for reading.

15/09/2019

Re-introducing myself!

To those of you who are reading my blog for the first time, I feel you deserve a proper introduction ๐Ÿ˜Š

Who am I (aside from a girl with a schizophrenia blog)?


I am Georgia. I am 25 years old and live in Denmark with my family (Danish father, Scottish mother, little brother Oliver and our dog, Viggo) in a house on the banks of a fjord. We moved here from London when I was ten.

I have always been creative - constantly drawing and writing as a child - and, in September 2018, my lifelong dream came true when I became a published author. My book, 'Georgias Stemme(r)' ('Georgia's Voice(s)') is available in all good Danish bookshops, libraries, as an audiobook and online (in Denmark). It tells my story about the reality of being a young, intelligent woman living with schizophrenia. What began as an essential (and therapeutic) means to express myself soon became a project to reach out and help others in the same situation. I hope for it to be published in English one day!

Though my illness sometimes makes it difficult, I continue to create art and go to ceramics every week with my wonderful grandfather. I have also received commissions for my drawings and paintings (especially of dogs and people).

In ceramics, my 'signature piece' is my little white mouse, as pictured below.



Why a mouse? Well, my favourite teddy as a child was my "Mr Mouse" and I've always had a fondness for the cute little creatures ... so, naturally, I had to start making them out of clay!

My creativity has been a vital factor in my recovery. When I was at my most ill, I found it impossible to create at all - it was as if my brain didn't have room for anything other than the enormous task of just 'being'. But, over a long period of treatment (and with the amazing help and support I've had from my family and friends), I have found stability - and my artistic streak (and the joy it brings) has returned. My illness, and its myriad of symptoms, means that I am unable to work in a 'normal working environment', nor cope with any type of formal education (I have tried both, but it is simply not a possibility for me) and so I have had to find my path through my art - and my voice through writing.

I was bullied for most of my school years, a topic that I touch upon in my book. Being bullied damaged my self-confidence and potentially triggered my schizophrenia (it should be noted that bullying, in itself, cannot cause schizophrenia - but it can be a 'trigger' in someone who is already predisposed to the illness). A substantial part of my recovery has been spent working through the pain caused by the bullying and regaining the self-confidence I need to progress forward. It's an ongoing process, but I'm gradually putting it all behind me and moving on - greatly helped by having been able to write about my experiences!


One of my illustrations from Georgias Stemme(r) :-)

When I was young, my IQ was measured at 152 on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, placing me in the top 0,01 % of the population. Having a very high IQ is both a blessing and a curse: a curse for the reasons explained above (because deviating from 'the norm' often leads to becoming an easy target for bullies) but a blessing in so many other ways. I wouldn't trade it for the world and hope to continue using my gift for good and not waste it ๐Ÿ˜Š

My favourite things include the original 151 Pokรฉmon, Ben & Jerry's dairy-free Chunky Monkey (I have an insatiable sweet tooth!), Ricky Gervais' "Flanimals", the red Quality Streets (anything strawberry-flavoured really), Taylor Swift's music, Ariana Grande's music (pop music in general), manga, origami, chinchillas (so fluffy!!), the colour blue, mint chocolate chip ice cream, silver jewellery, notebooks, brightly coloured clothes and handbags ... not to mention the plane scene in "Bridesmaids" ๐Ÿ˜ƒ Kristen Wiig's comedic timing is absolute gold!


Source: Giphy

So, yeah - that was a little about me! ๐Ÿ˜Š

As always, thanks for reading, and if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask. I will do my best to reply as informatively as I can - but, be warned: I might take a while (because over-analysing everything is my middle name) ๐Ÿ˜œ

Until next time! *goes off to listen to Ariana Grande* ♫♫

//Georgia

04/09/2019

End-of-summer reflections

One year ago today …

A year has passed since my book came out (now also available, in Denmark, as an e-book and an audiobook!), and I have some thoughts on what’s happened from then till now.

Shortly after the release of Georgias Stemme(r), I was interviewed for Dagbladet Roskilde (local newspaper), Roskilde Avis (local newspaper) and Jyllands-Posten (national newspaper) and my book hit the national bestseller list! I had a wonderful book reception and was so grateful for everyone who turned up and supported me. I cannot thank you enough ๐Ÿฅฐ๐Ÿฅฐ It felt so special to become a published author – my lifelong dream – and to have all this media attention was surreally overwhelming, but what was at least just as moving was having strangers come up to me and thank me for writing my book. I was overcome with emotion and happiness – everything I’d done up until that moment culminated in an altogether fantastic day.

The next interviews I had were for Ude og Hjemme (a Danish family magazine) and Psykologi (a Danish magazine focused on personal development), but the latter ended up getting published in Femina, one of Denmark’s most popular women’s magazines, which was cool! I had a good experience with all the papers and magazines that interviewed me, especially as I was allowed to read through the articles before they got into print (and suggest changes, if I had any – very important). However, they had written quality articles and I didn’t alter much, and continue to be pleased with the results to this day (also the wonderful photos!). Imagine getting interviewed in magazines you’ve read so many times in the past! Again, somewhat surreal, but nonetheless a great feeling that my book – my words – were impactful enough to make ‘mainstream media’. Wow. I try to remember this every time I feel frustrated with my progress or writing ๐Ÿ˜‰

Georgias Stemme(r) was positively reviewed in Psykologernes Fagmagasin (a magazine for Danish psychologists), Helse (a Danish health magazine), Psykiatriens Puls (a newsletter for psychiatric professionals), Liv & Sjรฆl (a Danish health magazine) and was shared on Facebook by SIND Ungdom (a psychiatry youth organisation), Kรธbenhavns Professionshรธjskoles Bibliotek (the library of the college of Denmark’s capital), Bedre Psykiatri (an organisation for relatives/carers of people with mental illness) – not to mention individuals who had simply read my book and enjoyed it! I regularly receive positive feedback from people who have read my book – people with no prior knowledge about schizophrenia, parents of schizophrenics, professionals, even schizophrenics themselves – which makes the experience all the more rewarding. I started off writing – posting that first blog post in February 2016 with shaking hands – because of a need to express myself, and since then it’s morphed into a little ‘movement’; a movement to help other schizophrenics, wherever they are in their lives. I have always communicated best via the written word, so, of course, Georgias Stemme(r) – Danish for “Georgia’s Voice(s)” – was the perfect title for my book ๐Ÿ˜‰ Not only about the voices in my head, but also finding MY voice – the voice that all too often had been subdued by years of bullying, exclusion and ostracism by my peers.

I have posted often about my experiences with bullying; it was partly incredibly therapeutic to get it out, partly distressing reliving the trauma, and partly gratifying seeing how my tales affected others. The pen is mightier than the sword … and that’s all I’ll say about that. ๐Ÿ˜Š

In February, I held a ‘speech’ for members of Junior Chamber International in Copenhagen. It was in the style of a sit-down interview/dialogue, and I was greatly assisted by facilitator Karen, who visited me several times at home to prepare the questions/answers and to help me find a way that I could manage the ‘conversation’ without becoming completely overwhelmed – because standing alone on a stage, trying to recite things from memory, with a bunch of people staring at me, would be impossible for me. I was determined to do it, and it went well. However, although it was a good experience, it took an enormous amount of energy (physical and mental). I had to prepare months in advance, keep myself calm on the day and was utterly drained for weeks to follow (months, actually). So, although I’m glad I did it, I’ve thought about it and have decided not to continue down the path of public speaking.

At the time, I was set on ‘proving’ I could ‘be like everyone else’; that I could do the things ‘healthy’ people could do. I wanted, in some way, to be a role model for others like me and felt the only way I could do that was by excelling at whatever I put my mind to. But, eventually, I stopped and thought: Hold on – I’m NOT like everyone else. I HAVE limitations. Perhaps I’m sending a confusing message to those who follow me by trying to be ‘so much’. So much that, in the long run, I cannot keep going.

Unfortunately, these limitations have meant that I have had to turn down an amazing, unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In 2018, I was offered the chance to be a protรฉgรฉ for the most talented porcelain artist in Denmark, if not the whole world. She contacted me after reading my blog saying I could come to her studio anytime. This is by no means something she ‘just does’ and I knew what a golden opportunity it was. Sadly, I found it too stressful/demanding –just like with the office job I had for a while, the realities of getting myself from Roskilde to busy, noisy Copenhagen (testing my limited planning skills and low threshold for stress) and my struggles with concentration, completing tasks and making conversation meant that I eventually had to ‘resign’. Maria and I are still in contact with each other (and she is one of my greatest supporters) but, oh, how I wish I could have managed this fantastic opportunity! It is one of the times where I really resent my illness and the barriers it throws up in front of me.

On the other hand, I have always been inordinately privileged. I have a close, strong, supportive family. Wonderful friends. Intelligence (truly a gift). Creative abilities. Mobility, vision, hearing and ability to speak. I’ve never lacked anything in my life, emotionally or materially – and I am well aware of the true value of a great ‘network of support’.

On the subject of ‘material things’: This year, I was due to receive ‘library money’ for my books. In Denmark, authors (who enrol) receive a sum of money each year for the books they have in libraries. However, there is a catch – the ‘money due’ is calculated in such a way that one receives the money only if the amount is over the ‘payout limit’.
This year, the payout limit was Kr1,301.
My amount? Kr1,298.37 (about 158 British pounds).
That’s right - I was Kr2.63 short of receiving my ‘library money’.
So frustrating!
I was sad to see it go after all the time, toll and effort writing the book had taken on me.
Ah well, such is life – better get started on a new best-seller!

So that’s basically my ‘year’ in review. I’ve had a quiet summer, ‘just’ here in Denmark enjoying the sun. I’ve needed it. I guess you could say this past year has also been a lesson in understanding my own boundaries and the importance of rest and understanding my limitations. I am getting better at saying no and taking time out; not doing things just because I think that’s ‘what others expect of me’ and realising that my health (physical and mental) must come first.

All in all … an eventful year. Here’s to the next one! ๐Ÿ˜

02/09/2019

A fresh start ...

Hello, dear followers!

Welcome to my new blog :-)

From now on, I will be posting my thoughts here - in English. I hope to reach and attract a broader audience this way.

So, please do follow this blog and share my posts as far and wide as you can - I'd really appreciate it! :-)

If this is your first time reading this, my name's Georgia, I'm 25 years old and live in Denmark in a town not far from Copenhagen. I moved here from London with my family (Scottish mother, Danish father and little brother) when I was ten. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2012 after seven months in a psychiatric ward, and since February 2016 I've blogged (on a separate blog - now closed) about my experiences with the illness, which, by the way, is NOT multiple personalities - that's a completely different disorder. Unfortunately, an uninformed media contributes heavily to the lingering of this myth and, sadly, all too often it's only the horror stories about "schizophrenic murderers" that make headlines - these tragic cases make up a very small amount of all schizophrenics and portraying solely this one aspect in the news only adds further to the stigma and taboo that surround the disease (which is difficult enough to live with as it is!).

My book, "Georgias Stemme(r)" (Danish for "Georgia's Voice(s)"), was published in September 2018 and is based on my previous blog. I covered a variety of topics related to schizophrenia - voices, hospitalisation, ambivalence, struggles with communication, just to name a few - and have illustrated the entire book myself. (Did I mention I looove being creative? :-D) My hope is for it to come out in English one day!


Fingers crossed! :-)

The title of this blog reflects the fact that, in spite of my illness and all it entails (including hearing voices), I have found my voice through writing. I have always been "the quiet girl" and endured years of bullying during my school years, which made it incredibly hard to express myself the way I wanted. But, armed with my keyboard, pen and extensive array of notebooks, I hope to continue shedding some light on this illness and expressing myself in the process! :-)

That's all for now. I hope you will enjoy reading!

Love, Georgia
xx

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