Identifying and understanding our ‘red flags’

Hi there,

This post has been under construction for some time now. It originally took the form of an email I sent to my co-blogger and resulted in a discussion about what exactly our “red flags” or “symptoms of puddledom” were and how best to identify them in the future.

The premise came from the frustrating task of creating a “safety plan” for suicidal ideation – something which feels entirely pointless and patronizing at the best of times, and entirely hopeless and infuriating at the worst. How is one supposed to understand their own behaviour during times of intense irrationality, dissociation or fatigue? How can you objectively note your thoughts and feelings when the very fact you are studying them is to check for signs of incoherence, impulse, distress or fragmentation?

I like the term “puddledom” because it relates to a phrase I have used for several years to describe overwhelm – the response being to turn into a puddle on the floor. I like the idea of a puddle because it can take several forms; it can be a hot puddle of lava or a pool of water upon a frozen lake. It’s imagery conjures all the bits that make up me; my thoughts, feelings, screaming and considerate voices, worries, fears, frustrations, sadness, pain, misery, and reduces it to a liquid seemingly incapable of reforming.

Furthermore, it doesn’t denote a particular emotional state (I don’t like references to “being with a black dog” or “retreating into a black cave”). It doesn’t link these feelings to a pathological condition such as depression or anxiety, or even to a trauma or stress response like the word “trigger” often implies (why do we focus on the cause of our distress before properly understanding the signs of it?).

I’m not alone when I say that reflecting on a rapid and unpredictable descent into puddledom can be confronting. That’s why it’s important to isolate some of the key signs of this experiences when you are in a better state of mind, to reflect on the type of “negative coping mechanisms” or “maladaptive behaviours” (I use these psychological terms with a pinch of salt). And remember: if this task feels overwhelming or impossible right now, you’re probably not in the right space for it. Don’t force yourself, it’ll come with time.

Below is the original list of my “red flags”. If I had a partner, I imagine that I might stick it on the fridge or discuss it with them in a moment of emotional intimacy. However, the best I can do right now is to simply acknowledge the signs as a representation of me, as helpful tools to understand my nature and hope to share them with others to provide some comfort or insight. I invite you to think of your own “red flags” – we are all unique and respond to the world in vastly different ways. My co-blogger will be posting hers separately and it might be good to compare the two for similarities and differences.

With kindness and blessings, x

Red flags for wellness, symptoms of puddledom, warning signs of overwhelm:

  • Breakfast is hard (food in general becomes tasteless)
  • Mornings take longer (I feel stuck and can’t seem to hurry myself up)
  • Replying to emails is too overwhelming (the more I get, the worse it feels)
  • Struggling to find an activity which I can happily be engaged with for longer than a few minutes (my thoughts jump from one thing to another too quickly to maintain focus, thoughts feel loud and brain noisy, chaotic)
  • Falling behind in uni work (attendance, assignments, group work, motivation towards my degree in general)
  • Budgeting goes out the window (susceptible to impulse purchases in an attempt to either ‘treat myself’ or ‘treat’ myself)
  • It becomes more difficult to articulate my feelings via writing (struggle to form coherent sentences or keep track of which issues are actively hurting at any given time, feel like a walking clinical complexity chart, urge to hide myself away from the world)
  • Strong urge to confide in anyone who presents themselves (lecturers, strangers, etc) but at the same time, find it much harder to speak with close friends in case I break down and can’t stop crying (not trusting others response to my distress)
  • Feel far more acutely ‘at risk’ around train stations, bus stops and medication despite being fearful of this pull and fighting against it (suicidal ideation is often a major part of my puddledom)
  • Picking at my skin (scalp and hands) gets worse and more pain orientated
  • Friends who get ‘it’ become far more important and special to me; lights to hold onto in the darkness
  • Friends who distract and elevate me also become crucial to keeping me busy and out of the house
  • Advocacy work becomes harder (sense of disempowerment, loss of autonomy, hopelessness, what’s the point of it all?)
  • Increase in ‘coping strategies’ (self-care) such as take away soy chais, walking in the sunshine, listening to audiobooks on my laptop, Valium induced sleep, comforting OCD behaviours, etc
  • Vivid dreams which directly relate to my day-to-day experiences (including similar wording, people, places but not necessarily trauma focused)
  • I crave family and stability more than ever (and as a consequence, the internal dialogue of ‘people always leave, I’m too much’ becomes louder and more convincing)

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