13RW

I’m sure I won’t be quite the last writer to respond to the Netflix series ’13 Reasons Why’. I know I’m late in the piece, but it took me a while to get through the series. And once I had? Well, I wish I had never gone there. I wish 13RW didn’t exist. And I wish the bullying, mental illness, self-harm and suicide didn’t exist either.

It’s so easy to forget the impression this bundle of heartbreak has. Even two days out from having finally finished watching it, and I’ve abbreviated not only from ’13 Reasons Why’ to ’13RV’ but the pain of watching those last episodes has started to ease. It’s not quite so raw as it was two days ago. “Life goes on“, or so they say. But it doesn’t always, does it?

So where am I coming from in choosing to write about 13RW? I’m not a teenager going through similar angst. I’m not a parent of teenagers watching their offspring going through this angst. Actually, I could have easily opted not to go anywhere near this series. I did because I was curious. I have friends who have tragically lost offspring to suicide. I have friends and family who have teenage offspring. I have (extended) family who are teenagers themselves. And I wondered. I wondered what the hype was about. I wondered about the series behind what others were writing about.

It took me a while to get through the series, not because of the distressing nature of some material in it, but because I found it dragged in the first half. It was like I was watching the old television series ‘Beverly Hills 90210′ with a lot of the gloss taken off. I struggled to get engaged in the series because teenage angst (as it seemed) just wasn’t something I was interested in.

But I kept going, and as the material became more distressing, I became more engaged. To the point where the last few episodes, which centred on rape and suicide, had me glued to my seat and becoming more and more distressed and well, traumatised. By the time the series was finished my mind was replaying scenes over and over. Scenes I could do without being repeated. Scenes that I wondered how teenagers would cope with when I was so badly affected.

Of course, it’s fair to say that the reasons I was so affected were such that teenagers might be unlikely to react the same way. Or perhaps they might react for different reasons. But still, it made me think about my teenaged nephews and niece. The teenagers I love and care about. How would they react to ’13RW’? Had they seen it by now? What was their response?

My niece is almost thirteen and has apparently expressed her wish to see ’13RW’. This was on my mind as I finished the series. I had a desperate wish to wind back the years so that she would be a young child again. I wished that she wouldn’t need to be exposed to the events in ’13RW’. Ever. I wish that I could wind back the years for my nephews too.

Then it occurred to me why I might want to do this. I was only a year older than my niece is now when I began to be exposed to some traumatising and distressing events in my life. Things that I didn’t have the knowledge or the maturity to handle. Things that I wasn’t able to talk about. That no one heard about.

At the time, I deemed it impossible to talk to my parents about. Actually, they would never hear of the distress I lived with then. They were simply left to wonder why my behaviours were as they were. Wonderings that were never answered for them, because I simply buried it all very deep down inside.

The trauma of those years actually lives with me still today. I resolved some of it in my years of therapy but my therapy was cut short and I never completed the journey.

Perhaps that’s why I fear for my niece and nephews in watching ’13RW’. Because I fear of their lives away from the television carrying such trauma. It’s why I want to roll back the years.

I know I can’t. I know that I can’t protect them from distress in the way that I wish I had been protected. Not only are they human beings who have to make their own way, but also they are not my children. I love them and I want to keep them safe from bullying, rape, self-harm, suicide and other issues of mental health. But I know I have little control over that.

What struck me in ’13RW’ was how little the parents knew of what was happening to their children/teens. That doesn’t seem that different from real life for so many. Certainly, for me, my parents didn’t know what was happening to me. If they had, I’m sure they would have at least, attempted to protect me. They simply couldn’t protect me from what they didn’t know of and what wasn’t happening under their roof.

While I thought that ’13RW’ dragged at the start, I was somewhat overcome by a tsunami of feelings by then end. It transported me back to my own teen years. Somewhere I usually try hard not to think about. Somewhere I wouldn’t wish on any young person that I love.

That’s where I’ve gone in watching this series. It’s where my mind has journeyed across the past few days. It hasn’t been pleasant, and actually, it’s not what I was expecting. I thought I could handle it. I’m a suicide attempt survivor and I thought that a fictionalised account of another suicide and other teenage trauma would not upset me. I was wrong.

” If you hear a song that makes you cry and you don’t want to cry anymore, you don’t
listen to that song anymore.

But you can’t get away from yourself.
You can’t decide not to see yourself anymore.
You can’t decide to 
turn off the noise in your head.”

— Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why – the book)

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

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“Everything Seemed So Good”

When “everything seemed so good”, the short story (in case you don’t have time to read the whole post) is that “everything wasn’t so good”. Believe it. Everything was not as good as it seemed. It is not as good as it seems.

There’s been a lot in the media about suicide lately, in New Zealand particularly. There have been the on-going discussions about the Netflix series ‘Thirteen Reasons Why‘ generated by the book of the same name by Jay Asher. I am only just starting to watch the series, so have no other comment to make.

In New Zealand too, there has been an on-going call for a review of the mental health system in our country, some of which has been generated as a response to statistics of suicide, and what seems an ineffective system that all too often ends in the death by suicide of people who don’t get adequate care. More people die by suicide in my country than die on our roads. This is not acceptable, although I would add that neither toll is acceptable to me.

Then this past week, perhaps New Zealand’s best-known advocate for suicide prevention, comedian Mike King, resigned from the government’s Suicide Prevention Guidelines Panel after a draft paper was released contain no specifics or targets to lower statistics. This post is not about Mike King’s resignation, and so I won’t get into it here. But it does seem significant to me, that there has been so a large outpouring of disappointment and anger directed towards those of the Ministry of Health who wrote and released the draft paper. Note however that the paper has been released for public discussion and comment so I would encourage readers who are concerned to make their views known to the Ministry of Health.

And then at the end of last week came news of the death by suicide of musician, Chris Cornell. I admit that I had not heard of him until last week, but now I find myself commenting on reaction to his death. That in itself is a little crazy but as we know, when celebrities die there is a great outpouring of reactions of all types. And when that death appears to be the result of suicide, the outpouring seems to be even greater. Suddenly everyone has an opinion (including me sometimes) and every opinion tends to hold too much in the way of assumptions.

As I said, I wasn’t familiar with Chris Cornell, and I admit I have quickly given up reading much of what has been published both by mainstream media and individuals on social media. That is because, most of it made me so angry. Most of it, missed the point for me.

Let’s take this statement:

“But, why, many are asking, would a man who was worshiped (sic) by his fans, had a beautiful family and successful career, take his own life?”
Matt Agorist, The Free Thought Project.com

Are people that shallow? Do people actually believe that because someone’s life looks so good, that it must be that good? This is what makes me angry. Whether the subject is a celebrity or simply your next door neighbour, reality is never quite as good as it seems to outsiders. Never.

What I know of Chris Cornell is that he was a successful musician, a family man, a middle-aged man, but also a recovering addict and someone taking prescription medication for anxiety.

As an addict myself, let me assure you that addicts are not addicts for the sheer pleasure of it. In very simplistic terms, we are addicts because we wanted reality to be better than it was, you see to addicts it wasn’t as good as it seemed. And being an addict is not as good as it might seem to those outside their world.

The need to take prescription medication for any mental health issue also spells out to me that everything is not as good as it might seem. We don’t take those pills for the buzz! But then, maybe if you’re looking in from the outside, that might be how it seems.

I also know that middle-aged men are taking their own lives too often. The statistics are pretty well published and that suggests to me that their lives are not as good as they might seem to those of us on the outside.

I find it really sad that society generally sees only what it wants to see. When someone dies by suicide, society sees nothing of what was that person’s reality. This must make it incredibly hard on family and friends to grieve when society refuses to see what was real.

It must also make it very difficult for those who have suicidal thoughts, to get help from those around them.  Because those around them refuse to accept that everything might not have been as good as it seemed.

This is not rocket-science, but I think that it can make all the difference in how we are there for those left behind, and those who still struggle. If we are to be of any help, we have to acknowledge that the view from the outside, is not the reality on the inside.

Thanks for reading

Cate

We Let Each Other Down

TRIGGER WARNING:

This post is about a recent suicide that has reported and commented on in many different realms of social media.

There are no images in this post. There are no video images. And there are no links. This is done out of respect for the family and a desire to keep from encouraging the triggering nature of this disturbing and distressing story.

This morning I was waiting in a hospital waiting room. If you’re not too nervous about what you’re waiting for, waiting rooms are great places for surreptitious people-watching, and I did my fair share while I waited. What I immediately noticed was that every adult (except me who was busy watching) in the room had their eyes and fingers glued to their phone. What’s more, the organisation in whom whose waiting room we were sitting, was advertising on the wall, their ‘free wi-fi’ to waiting patients.

The internet is something that we watch from morning ’til night, and then into the night for many of us. We can’t put it down, and that’s exactly what the designers of social ap’s want. They want every adult in the room glued to their screens. They’d probably like children too, but in this waiting room, the only children were babies. This is what those babies have in store for them in the years ahead.

The internet and social media, in particular, is great. There’s no denying that. Until a 12-year-old girl films her suicide on a livestream, and no one stops her. No one gets to her in time. Then we let each other down, her most of all.

Many people have written about this since it happened, and maybe you’re sick of the subject. Maybe you think it’s time to let this 12-year-old rest in peace. And there’s no doubt in my mind, that she deserves some peace. It’s okay with me if you choose not to read this post as a result, but I simply have something that if I never put into words, I will never get peace.

We let each other down if we are glued to the internet but we don’t use it to save a 12-year old’s life.

It’s likely that most of us learned of this tragic and horrific event after the fact. I certainly did, and I immediately made a decision that I was not going to watch the tape of this girl’s death. It wasn’t going to serve any purpose in hindsight. I could do nothing. I also resolved not to read too many articles, posts and comments (that’s why I don’t mind if you don’t read mine). They would simply upset me further than I was already upset. Why? Because human beings can be cruel, and it’s in this instance that I believe we see the worst of it.

Perhaps what has upset me the most is the people who commented on the livestream at the time and egged the 12-year-old on. Suicide baiters. People who see a potential suicide and encourage the person to ‘jump’. In a ‘nice’ society it would be good to think that such people didn’t exist, but they do. And they did, in this case.

A friend of mine lost her son to suicide some years ago, when people watching him on the edge of a building shouted at him, encouraging him to jump. What’s more, several uniformed police were watching and did nothing. He did jump and he died. My friend has lost her son forever. The suicide baiters got what they wanted, although for the life of me I can’t imagine what it was that they wanted.

Whether we egg someone on or do nothing, we all carry that person’s life in our hands for the rest of our days. Even if we simply did nothing, I believe that we let this 12-year-old down and we let each other down as fellow human beings.

We have the ability through the internet to make sure that 12-year old human beings are safe. When they choose to record something like this and put it on some form of social media, we have the opportunity to keep them safe. When that doesn’t happen, I have to wonder whether it has lost its point.

Sure, social media is not simply about suicide prevention and keeping at-risk people safe. Sadly, it seems such stories simply become entertainment. But when we have that opportunity, surely we have to grab it with both hands.

Facebook is currently being criticised for refusing to take down posts which give a link to the livestream, and I think the criticism of the company is warranted. It serves no healthy purpose now other than as a statement of the day we as a human race let down this child with irreversible consequences. Now, it is voyeurism. And if anything, it eggs on other people at risk of suicide and self-harm.

Facebook say that the posts in question don’t violate their community standards. I am inclined to think that if their standards allow this to be posted, I’m not sure I want to be part of their community.

On a good note, apparently a few days ago, a man in Thailand tried to livestream his suicide attempt. A friend intervened and his life was saved. If only it had been this way for our 12-year-old.

It breaks my heart that young people are dealing with such heartache and trauma that they are considering, and acting, on suicide. I don’t have children, but I do have a 12-year-old niece and several nephews who have been 12 in recent years. I can’t bear the thought of them suffering to this degree, and reaching out without anyone reaching back with help.

Our twelve-year-olds deserve our protection. Whether we know them personally or not, they deserve at the very least that we don’t let them down.

At the point in which the 12-year-old posted this video, we as a society should have responded more than we did. Apparently, it is possible to hear friends and family calling out for her. But it wasn’t enough. They didn’t get to her in time. We human beings didn’t do enough.

And now that this 12-year-old has tragically died, the record of her suicide needs to be taken off social media out of respect for her and her family. Any viewing of her video now is outright voyeurism. It’s wrong, and it will only distress people who are probably already distressed or provide some sick sense of satisfaction to people who need their heads read (and I’m not talking about people who have valid mental illnesses). But we do have to ask as a society, what did we do wrong and how do we make sure this never happens again. We need to talk about this in all aspects of society.

We have to stop letting each other down. We have to keep our 12-year-old’s safe.

“there is a loneliness in this world so great
that you can see it in the slow movement of
the hands of a clock.

people so tired
mutilated
either by love or no love.

people just are not good to each other
one on one.

the rich are not good to the rich
the poor are not good to the poor.

we are afraid.

our educational system tells us
that we can all be
big-ass winners.

it hasn’t told us
about the gutters
or the suicides.

or the terror of one person
aching in one place
alone

untouched
unspoken to

watering a plant.”

― Charles Bukowski, Love Is a Dog from Hell

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

September 11 – A Birthday ‘Girl’

There were times when I thought birthdays were simply a kick in the teeth. A day which celebrates your life? When you’re seriously depressed? Exactly. It doesn’t work.

I would fight my family, especially my Dad. There was no way I wanted to celebrate my life or my birthday. Love him as I did, Dad couldn’t get why I didn’t want to celebrate anything, and having an eating disorder (think Anorexia) I had no desire to face any extra food. Why was all this so hard to explain? And why do all celebrations centre around food?

Now that Dad has been gone for over five years, I know he just wanted to take the bad stuff away, see me happy; and now I would give anything for him to have been here today. I would even have put up with his sometimes, over-exuberance for my life.

Sometimes birthdays are just as much about who is there, as who is missing.

This morning I took my mother to church (we do it pretty much every Sunday). I go so that Mum can continue her life-long habit of church involvement. If I didn’t go, she wouldn’t be able to. With Alzheimer’s to contend with she doesn’t altogether understand that this is the only reason I go, but that’s okay.

While I used to have a Christian faith which would fit with my mother’s church, I admit that now days I find it frustrating, bordering on annoying to even angry-making. I admit today was at the angry end of the spectrum.

So my mind wandered, out the window, and I watched as firefighters were preparing for a 9/11 commemoration ceremony across the road. I watched as they tied both American and New Zealand flags to the handrail going over the bridge. I could just see the two beams from the World Trade Center towers, which are now the focus of the Fireman’s Reserve here.

There have been times since that I hated that 9/11 was my birthday. It is a reminder of a very dark time in my life. 2001, I was desperately suicidal and had planned to be dead by my birthday. Instead, I was in a psychiatric hospital in Dunedin.  I was close to psychotic and the staff would tell me they were running out of ideas of what to do with me. I was becoming a hopeless case. I certainly felt hope-less. Without hope.

Each year when 9/11 is commemorated, I am almost forced to remember my own hell of 9/11. I actually want to think of anything but. That morning (it was actually 12 September by then in New Zealand, but that didn’t matter) the nurse woke me and told me “the world had gone mad“. I wondered what I had done. Why else would she say that?

That was fifteen years ago, and much has changed. I’m glad it has changed, and actually, I’m glad I have a birthday today. Yes, I did just say that (for the benefit of family who may be reading). Today I can remember my 9/11 hell and not have it pull me down into despair. I remember my time in Dunedin but I know it is firmly in my past.

When I see the American and New Zealand flags side by side on 9/11, I can remember what happened that day, and the people who died, but I can remember my American friends too. Without having gone through my own version of hell back 2001, I probably wouldn’t have some of the friends I now have. I’m glad I have them.

Happy Birthday to me.

Below is my gift today from my niece L, still my favourite little person in the world. She makes being alive worthwhile.

livy-birthday-001

I know you might not be able to read the message, but that’s for me anyway. The picture is of her and I. I love it.

The fact that I can now love anything, anyone and especially my five-year-old niece tells me that there is hope. I would never have imagined being able to enjoy a birthday or enjoy L.

Life isn’t perfect, I wouldn’t even say it is great. Life is what it is, and often that’s really hard. But it is worth being alive.

And that makes 9/11 worthwhile for me.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

Why Can’t I Have Both?

It’s been a while… I know.

It’s just on two months since I disappeared off the blogging trail.  No explanation, just not there.  My apologies for the ‘no explanation’, but it just had to be.  The short story is that I came to a point where it was necessary for me to question whether my participation in the blogosphere was helping or hurting me.  Was I getting out of blogging what was good for me, or was it actually causing pain?  Ideally it would be great to say my participation couldn’t possibly be hurting me, but that’s simply not true.  I have yet to resolve the issue in my mind, and so in the meantime I will only be posting sporadically, when something is weighing particularly heavy on my mind.

I admit too, that pulling back in my participation has also included cutting back on how much I have been reading others’ posts.  That has simply been too hard, particularly with writing comments.  But I do still have a desire to support the blogs I follow and I will be back eventually.

Meanwhile, a dilemma falls before me.  It’s not one that is new to me, but perhaps this time it is a bigger issue because of the consequences involved.  Two options are before me and I wish so much that I could have both.  Unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way and particularly in the issue of mental health versus physical health.  So often it seems the option is one or the other.  Why can’t I have both?

This past week I finally got in to see a Pain Specialist to consider how best to treat my Fibromyalgia.  I’ve been waiting for this for several years now, so it was so great to finally be there.  Regular readers will be pleased to know that I also finally changed my doctor (General Practitioner) a few weeks back.  That, and seeing the Pain Specialist has finally given me some hope that treatment is possible.  Unfortunately though, it looks like it might come with a cost.

The Pain Specialist has recommended a medication for me to try, which if it works for me, could turn my life around in terms of the pain and fatigue that I have on a daily basis. What the medication recommended isn’t important to this post as the last thing I want to do is get into a conversation of ‘what works for who‘.  I don’t see the point in that simply because we all respond to medication differently.

It was not possible for me to start on the medication straight away as it was necessary to get funding approved from the New Zealand health system.  The hope was that by the end of next week I would be able to start.  It would take some weeks to get to optimum dose and so to work out if it was effective.

It was all sounding great, until I came home and did my own research on the drug.  I am particularly careful to read up on medication I intend to start on because of firstly adverse interactions with other medication but also because of those lovely side effects we all dread.

The interactions were listed as moderate, but I had discussed it with the specialist and we agreed that with careful monitoring it would be ok.  But the side effects were different.  All the usuals, including my dreaded weight gain… but here’s the one that stopped me in my tracks:

“you should know that your mental health may change in unexpected ways and you may become suicidal (thinking about harming or killing yourself or
planning or trying to do so)”

Added to that was:

“….panic attacks; agitation or restlessness; new or worsening irritability, anxiety, or depression; acting on dangerous impulses; difficulty falling or staying asleep; aggressive, angry, or violent behavior; mania (frenzied, abnormally excited mood); talking or thinking about wanting to hurt yourself or end your life; withdrawing from friends and family; preoccupation with death and dying; giving away prized possessions; or any other unusual changes in behavior or mood”

It speaks for itself.

I know that this is not the first, or only, medication that has these possible side effects.  There is the well-known anti-smoking medication which I have always said I would never risk taking because of the possibility of suicidal thoughts.  Then there are of course, many anti-depressants and other medications for mental illnesses which have similar risk.

I know that.   I don’t like it.  I think it is crazy, but I know that’s the pharmaceutical world we live in.  What bothers me is that I am stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Yes, these are possible side effects and might not happen but I have to be prepared for their possibility.

For just a few hours, from leaving the Pain Specialist to getting home and doing my own research, I had some hope for the possible end of my pain (or at least significant reduction).  I started to think about being able to get back to work, and was even mentally rewriting my out-of-date CV.

This drug offered me hope… but at the expense of my mental health.

Do I restore my physical health while risking my mental stability?  Or do I say no to the drug, continue to be limited in my physical health, but be sure my mental health is maintained (at whatever level it is currently at).

This is a really hard one.  Yesterday I was by chance reading Lulu’s post on her blog Sunny with a Chance of Armageddon on a similar issue she was facing. Which do we preserve?  Mental health or Physical Health?  It seems that this is a common dilemma we face when we have mental illness, and I’m coming to the conclusion that we each have to make our own decision.  For each, it will be different.

Personally, while I haven’t reached a decision on my dilemma, my inclination right now is to preserve my mental health (which would practically mean avoiding this particular medication).  While my mental health is relatively stable now days, I continue to struggle.  I have been at the bottom of the pit in terms of mental illness. Years of hospitalisation, heavy medication, ECT and the many harmful things I did to myself including suicide attempts.  I had suicidal thinking for a very long time.  I have no desire to go back there.  I suspect I would find it difficult to crawl out of the pit again.

Do I try for stable physical health?  Or stable mental health?  I hate the way my life is dominated with pain right now, but perhaps surprisingly, I think I would rather have that physical pain than to go back through the mental pain I lived with, the worst of which was through the late 1990’s.

On Tuesday I will see my (new) doctor and talk to him.  Maybe I’ll find the cash and go see my rather expensive psychiatrist too.  The problem for me is that while my medical notes are full of mental illness, none of the doctors involved knew me at the worst of my mental struggles.  They haven’t seen that Cate.  They don’t know how bad it can get for me.  I do.

There are no guarantees in this game.  I could have no side effects and get good pain results too.  It just might not happen… but I’m not a lottery player and even so, I just don’t like my odds.

But forget about my dilemma for a moment…   what would you do?  Maybe you’ve already faced this issue.  How did you deal with it?

“No amount of love can cure madness or unblacken one’s dark moods. Love can help, it can make the pain more tolerable, but, always, one is beholden to medication that may or may not always work and may or may not be bearable”

— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

Psychiatric Medication Saved My Life

Image credit: CDC via Wikimedia Commons
Image credit: CDC via Wikimedia Commons

I get a little concerned when I become aware of the news of a tragic death being used as a means to increase publicity to a particular movement or way of thinking.  I recognise that many people don’t have a problem with this, and therefore it is important that I state this is my opinion only.  What I say in this post is not fact, and I respect the right of others to have differing opinions.  I know that some of those opinions are based on tragic circumstances and I have no wish to minimise the effect of those circumstances on the people who have and still live them.

If my viewing over the past few days is anything to go by, and I accept that the internet is a large space, it seems to be a growing movement of people against the use of psychiatric medication (and other treatments) to treat mental illness.  I know this is not new.  I’m not saying it’s wrong.  It’s just that there is another side of the story and for some people psychiatric medication is the only life-saving treatment appropriate.

Since Robin Williams’ wife came out and publicly said that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease before his death, there seems to have been a swell in people saying that his death was a result of the medications he was taking for this illness.  The reality is that at this stage no one knows the exact cause of his death.  I don’t believe it is fair on anyone, including above all Robin Williams’ memory, to be making assumptions and statements like this.

I don’t mean to take on the whole Anti-Psychiatry movement with this post, but rather because I have seen so many statements about the dangers of psychiatric medication in the past few days, I simply want to be clear that I have another opinion.

Psychiatric medication saved my life.  I have no doubt of that.  In the nearly 21 years of my mental illness I have been on a vast range of drugs, mostly prescribed by psychiatrists.  I am very aware that most of those drugs were of little or no use to me.  Also many were changed too quickly and therefore didn’t allow time for it to work.  I know they were desperate to find a quick solution.

I experienced a whole heap of side effects, which I could have done without.  One of the side effects I ‘possibly‘ experienced was suicidal ideation.  I say ‘possibly‘ because I have no means of telling whether the severe suicidal thoughts I experienced for around 10 years, from before the medication was started, were caused by the medication I was on, symptoms of my specific illness, or the life situation I was in.

It makes no sense to me (as a lay person) to have psychiatric medication that can cause side affects of suicidal thinking.  What are pharmaceutical companies  thinking?  On that I totally agree with anti-psychiatry, but I also don’t believe anyone could point the finger at any aspect of my life and say that was specifically causing the suicidal behaviour.  They would only be guessing.

Around 12 years ago my psychiatrist at the time made what would be one last change to my medication regime.  I’m purposely not going into details of the actual medications prescribed because I don’t believe that is helpful.  We know that responses to medication are different for everyone.  What has worked for me won’t necessarily work for anyone else.

Since that change I haven’t had any more hospital admissions (and I was stacking up admissions before then) and my suicidal behaviour has largely gone.  Yes, I admit there are still thoughts at times, but I can manage them without hospital admissions or crisis intervention.  I have been able to stop self harming.  I have begun to find hope in living.  These are huge changes for me and they literally saved my life.  I continue to take that medication today and will probably stay on it for my lifetime.  That’s okay with me,and yes, even in spite of what it may be doing to my body.

All that said, I don’t believe that all people who suffer from mental illness need to be on medication.  I read a blog post recently that advised sufferers of Depression to eliminate sugar and alcohol from their diet, get out walking and learn to meditate.  That’s pretty standard and I am sure that for some people, that would go a significant way in curing the problem.  But I know that this instruction wasn’t sufficient for me.  I needed more.  I believe that I needed to change the chemicals going on in my brain, and that prescribed medication was the only way to do that.

With Depression I believe that there are different levels of severity(sometimes it would be good if there were different names for those different levels).   Therefore I accept that medication is not always necessary.  If depression can be cured without medication, I think that is great.  But nothing can sway me from believing that for some people medication is the only answer.  I am sure that I would have been dead today had a psychiatrist not taken the time to find the right medication for me, and had I not committed myself to taking it daily.

I also believe that psychotherapy went a long way to contributing to my improvement, but that it is the right medication that really sealed the deal from changing what I will call a suicidal pit to some chance of living.  The medication made the therapy possible.  Without it I wasn’t well enough to undergo that process.  Of course, you probably didn’t know me 12 years ago, but those who do will attest to the fact that my life has significantly changed.

I am not cured and I expect that with the type of mental illness I have, I will continue to have symptoms, but I know that continuing to take the prescribed medication will go a long way to keeping my illness managed and hopefully keep suicide from being an option.

I totally respect people’s right to determine what is right for them.  This was right for me but I understand that it won’t be right for everyone.  But I also believe it is wrong to write off a particular type of treatment which may not be right for one but can be a lifesaver for another.  From all the range of treatments and options available hopefully there is hope.

“Others imply that they know what it is like to be depressed because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or broken up with someone. But these experiences carry with them feelings. Depression, instead, is flat, hollow, and unendurable. It is also tiresome. People cannot abide being around you when you are depressed. They might think that they ought to, and they might even try, but you know and they know that you are tedious beyond belief: you are irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and no reassurance is ever enough.

You’re frightened, and you’re frightening, and you’re “not at all like yourself but will be soon,” but you know you won’t.”

— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

Love Doesn’t Cure Mental Illness

This week, not surprisingly, there has been a whole lot of talk on our screens about mental illness and suicide.  Having those subjects ‘out there‘ is a good thing, but I can’t deny that unwise words and ill-formed arguments have not helped anyone, most especially those personally affected by the tragic death of Robin Williams, and also importantly, those people struggling with their own mental illness battles and suicidal thoughts.

I read a lot that I really wish I hadn’t read, but one article I came across perhaps summed up the issues for me more than ever.  I have shared that article in several places but if you haven’t seen it I urge you to read the wise writings of Molly Pohlig:

When the Illness You Live With Becomes Breaking News
(I Bet Robin Williams Knew He Was Loved. Unfortunately, Love Doesn’t Cure Mental Illness)
http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/08/12/robin_williams_and_mental_illness_when_depression_is_breaking_news.html?wpsrc=sh_all_dt_tw_bot

One thing we perhaps know from this week, is that fame, fortune, a great sense of humour, laughter, family and perhaps above all, love does not cure mental illness.  Robin Williams appeared to have all these things.  Depression is not magically spirited away by the possession of such things, and the struggle with suicidal thoughts is not relieved.  Oh, that it could be.  Wouldn’t it be great if mental illness was so easy?

If love were enough, my depression would have been cured years ago.

If love were enough, along with maybe a plate of my favourite food of course,  then perhaps my Anorexia would never have got the dangerous point it did, not to mention halting the permanent damage it did to my body.

If love were enough, I wouldn’t have struggled with chronic suicidal ideation for so long, several times plunging my body close to death.

If love were enough just maybe Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) would never have become the major stumbling block in my life that it is.

And perhaps finally, if love were enough then Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) would have been cured.  But then for me PTSD was triggered into a perhaps worse state by the presence of love in my life.  Now that’s confusing if you believe love will solve all.

Love certainly made the last 20 years of my life better than it would have been without it, but only because in spite of the pain I was in, I knew someone cared and perhaps I wasn’t quite as alone as I felt.

But love didn’t fix the pain for me.  It didn’t cure my mental illness.  I had a family surrounding me who loved me.   It was hard for them to know that their love couldn’t fix me.  I guess that hurt like hell.

As I have said before (An Apple Never Falls Far From The Tree), I tried very hard to prove for myself that my family didn’t really love me.  They did.  I can’t deny that.  Some of them (at least) probably thought they could help me if they could just love me a bit more and provide for the needs I had.  Maybe to sit down with me and watch a Robin Williams’ movie to make me laugh for a while.  I should say that just because I might laugh, doesn’t mean I am cured either.

I had friends who loved me, and though I tried very hard to push them away, some of those people are still my friends today.  No, they didn’t cure me, but they’ve stayed in for the long haul.  Mostly they simply kept being there.  But that didn’t cure me.

And then there was my marriage where for years a dedicated and caring husband tried harder than you could imagine to love my suffering away.  No one could fault him for the effort he made during what were the worst years of my suffering.  Strangely, the more he loved me, the more I kicked up my heels and pushed him away.  He loved me so much yet it wasn’t enough to save or cure me.  In the end was a broken marriage and still a mentally ill woman.

Why?  Obviously this is just my opinion but I think the reason my ex-husband’s and others’ love, weren’t enough to cure my mental illness was because:

I knew that I was unlovable

It wasn’t that I felt unlovable, but that I knew I was unlovable.  It is that certain.  I knew in my heart.  From my earliest days I knew I was unlovable, and actually I would go so far as to say that I knew this before I was born.  That might seem extreme and you’ll have to do without the reasons this time.  Some things are too private.

All the love around me meant nothing to me because I knew that it couldn’t be real, and I knew that eventually I would prove it to be false.  There was no way (in my mind) that those people really could love me like they said.  It just wasn’t possible.  I knew.

It’s certainly not the fault of the people who tried to love my mental illness away.  They didn’t understand that their love meant little because I was unlovable.  I couldn’t have explained it if I tried and so instead, the more they loved me the more of a fake I felt.  The more guilty I felt for not getting well.  This was not something any of them could fix.  It just was.

While I needed the love they were offering,  it was never going to be enough to cure my mental illness.  I can’t speak for others and I don’t pretend to.  This post is about me, and not the thousands who suffer from mental illness.  I can’t say if more love would have saved Robin Williams’ life.  In spite of many contrary opinions voiced this week, I believe that only he could have said what, if anything, could save his life.  And I suspect that he, like me, didn’t know if anything could cure us.

Mental illness affects different people differently.  And what is needed to cure it, if indeed that is possible, varies. To generalize simply isn’t fair on anyone.  I simply know that love was never going to cure me.

Thank you to those who tried to make love enough.  I am lucky to have you on my side and I’m sorry if I disappointed you.  There was nothing wrong with your love, it just was never going to be enough.

I saw a meme yesterday which said that love can cure everything.  I don’t believe that.  If only it were so easy.

“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.”

― Elizabeth Wurtzel

 

Seeking… Opinions

Caution:  This post contains discussion of suicide attempts and their effect on those close to the person who attempts.  However the post contains no details of specific suicide attempts and no images.  Please know that I am in no way offended if you choose not to read this post.

Sometimes it’s really necessary to gather the opinions of others  in order to find a way forward.  That’s where I’m at right now.

Recently someone in my life expected me to visit, and when I didn’t, she got worried.  I had said a visit would be unlikely because I was sick (fibromyalgia) but that was in some way misheard.  Next thing I get a phone call asking me whether I was killing myself.  She jumped to a conclusion that because I hadn’t visited, then I must be in the process of committing suicide.

At the time, my mental health was pretty good.  I certainly hadn’t been entertaining the thought of suicide or any sort of harm to myself.  It was my physical health that was the issue but I simply had to ride that out.  I had given the person no reason to think I was in danger, and she later agreed that there was no reason for her to be so concerned.  But I recognise that something must have triggered her worry.

I was pretty surprised by the concern she expressed.  I thought, “where did that come from?”  I knew that somehow I had to get my head around it and understand where she was coming from in order to be able to address her concern.

Jump back 16 years and I was clearly labelled by my psychiatrist and mental health workers as having “chronic suicidal ideation“.  That is, suicide was something I was pretty much constantly thinking about and planning.  I had a number of suicide attempts across a period of maybe four years, including two very large and ‘serious’ attempts (actually all attempts are serious).  Even when I stopped making attempts (the last was 16 years ago) I continued to have those chronic thoughts for a number of years yet.  It seemed no amount of therapy, ECT, medication or hospitalisation would shift the thoughts.  Even though I wasn’t actively trying to kill myself, I was still very much thinking about it.

Time has changed that though.  As I have written here previously, I have found some hope and purpose for living.  I am not having suicidal thoughts any more, although certainly there are still the tough times.

The person who raised concern for me the other day lived through all of this, although at a geographical distance.  I don’t in any way want to undermine the effect that my actions, and what she knew of my thoughts, had on her or other people close to me.  I know she (and others) literally waited for ‘the’ phone call, and at one stage she had every reason to believe she had got it.  That must be an incredibly painful way to live your life, not knowing what would happen next.

I suspect that the history of all my attempts and chronic thoughts had a much bigger impact on my family and close friends than I ever thought.  I was after all, caught up in my own hell and, at the time, had little appreciation of theirs.  Not because I didn’t care about what my actions were doing but simply because I was drowning in my own stuff.

A psychiatrist once told me that in his opinion, once you had carried chronic suicidal thoughts with you, that it isn’t something you could completely put behind you.  What I’m wondering is whether it is also impossible for loved ones to put behind them?

After all that happened to me all those years ago, am I always going to have a ‘suicide risk‘ label hanging around my neck (in the minds of those who love me)?

I want to say “can’t we put this in the past and move on?”  But maybe it’s not so easy.  Maybe they see the words ‘mental illness’, which will always be in some way part of my life, and continue to live in fear of getting ‘that‘ phone call.  Maybe when they expect me to turn up and don’t, they automatically now think ‘this is it‘?  I really hate the thought that they live in such fear for me, even after all these years, but is it something impossible to let go of for them?

I’ve never been in the situation my family were in for so long when I was chronically suicidal, but I want to see it from their perspective.  I admit I was just a bit affronted when I got this phone call.  I thought ‘can’t we let this go?’, ‘at what point do I become free to move on from that time in my life?‘ and ‘are we always going to have this hanging over us?‘.  To me, I want this to be the past, but is that too hard or even impossible for those who had to stand by and watch (and wait for the phone call)?.

So I’m wondering what you think?  Maybe you’ve been in the same situation as me.  Then again, maybe you’ve been a family member/friend who had to watch as your loved one went through this.  Or maybe you’ve got yet another perspective.

I know suicide as a subject is really difficult to discuss for all of us, and if you can’t or don’t want to, then that’s fine.   I just want to try to understand whether my loved ones will always carry this fear with them.  And is it something that is possible to resolve?

PS.  Please understand that I have absolutely no criticism of my family or others who loved me through this period of my life, and I have no desire to hurt them beyond what I have already caused.  I know enough to know that it was an incredibly difficult journey for them, as it also was for me.  I appreciate, beyond words, that they stood beside me at all.

“Time does not heal wounds. It’s a body’s ritual that does. The instinctual cleansing with rain or other waters, the application of salves. Despite the sting. Even neglected, the body begins to take care. To repair itself. Blood clots, tissues regenerate, flesh scars. Soon, the thin white line is the only evidence of the pain. It is the body, not time. Time does nothing except create distance between the body and that which caused it harm.”

― T. Greenwood

Sliding Scales (Actually Quite Good Considering)

Sometimes bad is relative.  Good is too, when I stop and think about it.  But lately it has been hard to focus on anything beyond the bad.  Not just one issue, but several, all combined to create bad.

For a moment there I considered packing my bag and moving out to my brother’s farm.  There’s ‘no room at the inn’, other than the cow shed (which is small and breezy… this is after all, a mushroom farm and not a cattle farm!).  I was still seriously tempted.  The reason of course, being my darling niece L, who kindly gave me a few hours stress relief the other afternoon.  The only problem was that I needed more.  That said, I recognise for all parents out there that I might be being slightly unrealistic in thinking that living with a two-year old could be stress relief.

Still, a few hours of feeding L’s doll (it is still beyond me how one can feed a doll and it poops out the other end!) and chatting to her Dad was a very good remedy for what had been mounting symptoms of stress.  After a few days of that tight feeling across the chest, and breathlessness, I realised I needed to do something fast.  And so the trip to visit L.

L is, of course, a very healthy stress relief but I admit that this week not all relief has been healthy.  No, I’m not sharing the details.  Surely though, some things are less bad than others (I know that is terrible English but it’s warranted).

Put bluntly there are two things I am trying to avoid happening, in terms of where my brain goes.  The first is suicidal thoughts and the second is the ‘need’ to self harm.  If I can avoid those two, then I am relatively happy with whatever it takes.  And you’ll be happy to know I have avoided both.  Actually, in spite of being what I consider as addicted to self harm in the past, it has been the furthest thing from my mind.  I simply have no desire to go there.  Wow!  Even when I stop to think of what I need to avoid, I still find I have no desire to go there.  Everything else aside, I am so happy to have got to a point in my life where I can say this.

As for suicidal thoughts, I haven’t gone there this past week either and again, that is a major victory.  This past week I have (almost) been able to accept (or at least acknowledge) my despair, my anger, my hurt and my loneliness (and I’m not talking about needing a partner, I’m talking about feeling apart from people when I don’t want to be).  I could ‘be‘ with those feelings, and not think that I needed to destroy myself.  Don’t get me wrong, none of this has felt very nice but I haven’t slipped straight into destruction mode as I usually do.

So why the difference?  Well, to be totally honest with myself I’m talking about the last week, and I have no idea of what the next week will entail.  That said, I realise that I am a good person.  I realise that just because others do me wrong (and yes, they have done me wrong!), it does not make me any less of a person.  And perhaps most of all, I realise that at some stage (who knows when?) I will get through this.  I will heal.

There’s so much truth to those three words I will heal.

When all those bad feelings dominate my life it is almost impossible to tell myself the truth, that I will come out the other side.  When I’m depressed, I don’t even care about ‘the other side’ because I simply can’t see that far.  Maybe right now I’m not so much depressed as very badly hurt several times over.  Maybe that’s why I can see that I will heal, in time.

Meanwhile I keep up my stress relief.  So some of it may not be as healthy as it could be, but it’s kept me alive and physically unharmed.  That has to be a good thing.  I’ll worry about the rest when I get to a point beyond the hurt.  It is going to happen, and while I wish I never was hurt in the first place, I know that I will heal and grow.  If I could just keep telling myself that, then I’d be fine.  But I might need a few more visits with L because after all, I’m only human.

I just wish that humans could treat each other better.  It would avoid all this need for healing.

“As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation — either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.” 

― Martin Luther King Jr.

There Will Be No Sorrow

This past weekend (it’s Sunday here in NZ) has been really difficult for me. There have been a lot of tears and a lot of swearing, from one who doesn’t generally swear much.  I think it would be reasonable to say I am entitled to do some mud-slinging on account of what another person has put me through lately.  I’m not going to.

[So that you’re not completely in the dark, a number of you follow my ex-boyfriend’s blog and yesterday he posted some rather startling (well, to me anyway) news on his blog.  That, combined with some other matters I can’t go into, led to a great deal of upset for me.]

What does mud-slinging really achieve though?  Nothing really.  Maybe a brief moment of satisfaction, but not enough to make it worth it.  I’m not really a mud-slinging type either.  I might feel it inside and maybe sometimes it would be better expressed.  But only when it is expressed safely, for both me and anyone who might be in the way.

One of the difficulties I have faced is that I haven’t been treated with that all important kindness and compassion.  Should I say the kindness and compassion which is crucial to me in how I relate to others.  Mud-slinging would not meet my criteria of kindness and compassion, so that even though it might seem justified, I’m not going there.

I’m hurt, but I can find peace for myself eventually simply in the way I choose to react.  So one step at a time, I’m going to patch up my wounds and move on.  No, it’s not that easy.  I’m human too.  But it is my choice.

Interestingly (and painfully) while all this was happening yesterday I had another painful exchange with a family member who told me that my teenage behaviour some 30+ years ago had scarred their life ever since.  I was already feeling pretty overloaded with emotion, although this person was not aware of what else was going on for me.

To be fair I was probably the worst behaved of the three teenagers in the family, but I wasn’t a ‘bad kid’.  There was nothing extreme.  I was just me and was probably starting to show my Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) tendencies, which wouldn’t be diagnosed for another 25+ years.  I was simply a little difficult to communicate with unless I felt totally accepted by the person communicating.

30 plus years on and I have been told what I always suspected.  The way this person is today is apparently my fault.  Luckily this is something that I had already been through in therapy (because I suspected the person felt that way), so I was able to distance myself from this blame.  I am not responsible for the actions of another person, even if I was a slightly difficult teen.  And let’s be real.  That was so long ago.

This all relates to the other things happening in my life this week, where I have been blamed for another’s behaviour/actions.  It’s interesting how we can so easily blame another for our behaviours, and while this would have crippled me in the past, I’m not letting it.

I’ll be straight with you, and I apologise to those who find it difficult reading.  A few weeks back I spoke in Flawed… Or Perfectly Formed about how chronic suicidal thoughts tend to crop up for me anytime anything goes bad.  So yes, this past week I have struggled to see any hope and thoughts of suicide came up and hit me square in the face.  Yes, for a bit it seemed like the best option right now and I was scared of the track I appeared to be heading on.  I wanted my Dad because we had a type of password agreement between us in which if I couldn’t find any other words to say how I was, I could indicate just how bad things were by this means.  Dad, of course is no longer here, having died over two years ago.  And there was no one to reach out to in this manner.

What eventually shifted my thoughts was the number of readers who follow my blog who have lost a family member to suicide.  Those readers helped me (without knowing it) to shift my thinking away from destruction.  Their pain (from where I’m sitting) managed to shift the block for me.

I go on.  I move on from the hurt of this week.  There are some wounds that need healing but for that little girl (L) who is like my guardian angel ( see Disappointed In Me) , I keep on going one step at a time.  Thank you to my dear friends who have also helped me to do that just by being there (often across cyber space).

My friend Ruby, shared this music link with me after I included another version of the song some time back.  I’m sharing it today because the wording is slightly different from most Beatles versions.  This one includes the words ‘there will be no sorrow‘.  I’m not sure what The Beatles meant by this slight change but I like to think that when we learn to always treat people with kindness and compassion, that ‘there will be no more sorrow‘.  This is my hope.  Thanks Ruby.

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” 

― Ralph Waldo Emerson