“The Untreatables”

I need to clarify something. For my own sake as much as for anyone else. One of the terms I hate most in the psych world is ‘Treatment-Resistant’. I’ll explain why in a moment, but first what was a new term for me. Maybe it’s not new to you, but I wish it didn’t exist at all. I was quietly checking my Twitter feed recently when these two words came flying off the screen at me. “The Untreatables”. Ughhh!

“The Untreatables”? Really? Does anyone else take an immediate dislike to this term? (As an aside if you’re interested, the tweet I read contained a link to this article). ‘The Untreatables’: the people for whom there is no treatment.

If I had skills in the cartoon drawing you would see now a group of ‘Untreatables’ gathering together in what might be some type of 12-step group aimed at recovery from untreatable mental illnesses. But I can’t draw to save myself so I’ve hopefully left the image in your mind.

I think I have gained entry into this group three times. Firstly, I was pretty quickly labelled with the ‘treatment-resistant depression’ label. It only takes two different types of anti-depressants tried unsuccessfully, and you’re there. I don’t remember how it was put to me, that this was how I was now seen but I always thought it was an odd term. I thought it applied to me personally whereas it actually applied to the illness. A small but necessary difference.

There was I thinking”but I’m not resisting my treatment!?!” I had been taking my pills, careful not to miss a dose, and I had been going to my therapy (with a man who seemed decidedly odd. But that’s another post.). How could I be defined as ‘treatment resistant’?

The second time this applied to me was many years later when I was discharged dumped by the Adult Mental Health Service in my city because I wasn’t responding to their treatment. This time, ‘treatment-resistant’ was being applied to me, the person. A social worker had been working with me using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and I didn’t respond as I should (apparently). Actually, I suspect the term ‘Untreatable’ was used because that’s really what they were saying. There was no treatment for me.

The same thing happened a short while later with the Eating Disorders Service I had been seeing. There I had been in group therapy (using CBT again) and I hadn’t responded as they thought I should. I was discharged dumped again with my untreatable eating disorder. Fortunately, I had got myself past the Anorexic phase before I even got seen by their Service (sitting on a waiting list for years) otherwise, I suspect I would be dead by now.

My point in sharing what was a very frustrating but also depressing stage in my life is that in each case, mental health professionals were leaving me with a sense that all this was my fault. I was either resisting treatment or I was untreatable because I didn’t respond to CBT.

I accept that in the first case, the psychiatrist involved may well have been clear in saying that my depression (the illness rather than me personally) was treatment-resistant, but in my frame of mind, I took it to be about me. It wasn’t. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I simply hadn’t responded to the anti-depressants he had chosen. It was actually more about him than about me. It was about choices he had made.

When I saw the tweet that hit me between the eyes, I took exception to that term ‘The Untreatables’. It’s an awful description as well as being an easy way out. Class us as ‘untreatable’ and you can send us on our way.

I take exception too, to the term ‘treatment-resistant’ if it is used to describe a person.

To any mental health professionals who happen to read my blog, please think before you use either term whether it is to the patient or not. How you think about it will determine how you see your patient, regardless of whether you use the terms in front of them.

And to mental health patients, please hear me when I say

You are not treatment-resistant.

Your illness may be treatment-resistant, but not you. And I hope that you are never made to feel ‘Untreatable’. Don’t believe it, and know that it is not your fault.

There are theories that some mental illnesses are untreatable, particularly Personality Disorders. I don’t accept that, but then I’m no professional. I think it comes down to how you understand the term ‘treatment’. The Mental Health Services who chose to discharge dump me from their services could have chosen a different treatment path. They could have simply listened to me. Instead, they put a distressed and unwell person out of their systems without support. It wasn’t until a few years later when another mental health professional worked out that I had Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and not just depression and an eating disorder, and that is perhaps why I hadn’t responded to the earlier interventions.

I am convinced that sometimes it is just about having the time to work beyond the ‘treatment resistant’ or ‘untreatable’ labels.

Thanks for reading




Uncharted Territory

“Life is uncharted territory. It reveals its story one moment at a time.”

Leo Buscaglia


When I was first dealing with mental illness, I found myself in a world where people wanted to know about my feelings. Feelings? I thought myself an intelligent person, but feelings were something I knew nothing about. Actually, I knew so little that I thought I was being asked what I thought.

I don’t remember  ever talking about feelings in my family while I was growing up. Actually, I’m pretty sure that we simply didn’t talk about how we felt. Even into my adult years, my parents would never talk about how they felt, so I think it’s pretty safe to say that feelings were simply not an issue for discussion.

When I found myself in the offices of doctors, therapists, and psychiatrists, they all wanted to know how I felt. And I had no idea. How I felt simply did not register with me.

In time I found myself able to explain what was happening for me using imagery. I could paint a word picture, and if the health professional had the time to listen, I was able to arrive, through the imagery, at what I was feeling.

I was depressed (apparently). I simply knew there was something very wrong. Even now, after many years of therapy to unearth my feelings, perhaps my first sense, when my mental health is on a downward spiral, is that there is something very wrong. I’m just not that sure what it is.

Using imagery I would eventually arrive at fear. Yes, I was terribly afraid.  I felt like I had fallen off a very high cliff face. I had no idea where I was. And as I fell, I wondered where I would land. It was uncharted territory.

In my mind, this cliff face was in the Waitakere ranges, west of Auckland. I lived in Auckland for a time during my childhood and later as my mental illness was revealing itself. I had childhood memories of walking in the Waitakere’s with my father and brothers. I always felt very safe with them, even on days when we might end up a little bit lost. I don’t remember there being any great rock faces from which I might fall, but my mind’s image was clearly here.

The problem when you fall, you often can’t see where you are or what is above or below. You don’t know whether you have landed at the bottom and so can’t fall any further, or whether you have landed on a ledge. And you don’t know whether the ledge you might be on, might give way and you fall further.

With depression, I found myself falling often. I would think it was rock bottom, and it couldn’t get any worse. But then, worse would come and I would be falling again. I thought I couldn’t possibly feel any worse. I couldn’t feel any more despair. But I did. Over and over.

That’s why Penny Redshaw’s (of Motivating Giraffe fame) drawing hit a note with me. It was my experience of living with depression.

Image credit: Penny Redshaw,  Facebook/Pics by Penny

Thankfully, I’m not at the bottom of a very big cliff called Depression right now. But I do feel like I’m being dangled over the top of a cliff, and I am very scared terrified of what might happen next. At the moment my doctor (who doesn’t know me very well) and a psychiatrist (who doesn’t know me at all but has somehow ‘assessed’me without me being present!) have decided between them that I should come off lithium, a medication I had previously been told I would need to be on for my lifetime. The doctor has asked what I think but basically ignored my both my thoughts and my fears. It’s happening anyway.

So back to word imagery, I feel like I am being dangled over this very big cliff by these two doctors. There has been a fence (its’ name was lithium) which protected me from a fall but that’s gone and my toes are over the edge. I am currently clinging onto the few bits of greenery, the odd tree also clinging to the edge. I hope they will have strong enough roots to hold me safe (think skills I learnt in the years of therapy which might, if I am lucky, hold me fast to my well-being). Will it all be enough?

I don’t know. And if I fall, I don’t know whether it will be a ledge on which I land or the bottom. I don’t know how hard I will land.


As I said, I just don’t know. We never know. With a physical illness, there is often some sort of chart, maybe just a pamphlet or maybe a book, to tell us what to expect.Sometimes it’s called a prognosis. That’s not the case with mental illness. We never know what will come next. That’s just one of the reasons why we need our friends who are on a similar journey. They ‘get’ that uncharted territory can be a scary place to go.

Stay tuned. Hopefully, I’ll be able to grab a passing tree root to stop the fall.

Thanks for reading






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.


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



Spring Follows Winter

I was wrong.

There. I’ve said it. I was wrong when I suggested in my last post that there was no hope. I wrote that instead of hope there was only a void.

I don’t mean to deny how I was feeling, but that’s the point. It was a feeling, and I was forgetting what I know.

Think about it. What I know is that there is hope. At the time I wrote I was feeling that there was no hope in my life, but really, that didn’t replace what I knew.

I might feel down, discouraged, and even depressed and frustrated, but deep down…

I still believe there is hope.

It will get better.

I don’t know when, and I don’t know how, but I know it will happen. Even if I can’t rely on my own knowledge. Even if I get so down that what I forget what I know.  I know that other people who love me know there is hope (see my post Borrowed Hope).

“I am a success today because I had a friend
who believed in me and
I didn’t have the heart to let him down”

 – Abraham Lincoln

This past week I met someone who I knew about 20 years ago. I only met him once but he was a friend and work colleague of my then husband. It was at an extremely difficult time in my life. I was struggling with severe depression, PTSD and Anorexia Nervosa. I was being judged by all sorts of so-called friends and extended family.

But this man seemed to accept where we were at, and he supported my husband at a time that he needed all the support he could get. I know that I was far from easy to be married to at that time.

This week, this man reminded me that spring follows winter, and dawn follows night. It was a simple reminder of something I knew, but had forgot.

Spring starts in New Zealand this week, although it’s been a few weeks early. The weather here has been great and the spring flowers are blooming.

Image credit: Anita Martinz, Wikipedia.org Colorful_spring_garden.

Perhaps spring is my favourite season for this reason. I need to be reminded over and over again that spring follows winter. There is an end to the dark and cold. Even to the depression and despondency. It might not come for me this week, but I have hope that it will come. And that’s what matters.

To be fair, I know that spring can also contain it’s challenges. Life will be better but it might not be all plain sailing.  There might still be times of darkness. That’s the reality of mental illness. I think I’ve got to a point in my life where I can accept it, even if I don’t always like it.

Thanks for reading


Image credit: தகவலுழவன் (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Please Don’t Mess With My Meds

WARNING: This post does not contain the hope that might usually be found in my blog. I’m sorry about that, but I have to be real. I hope (yes, really) that ‘normal’ service may resume soon.

It’s pretty simple. Just don’t mess with my meds.

Don’t change anything, don’t add anything, don’t stop anything. That should be simple enough, shouldn’t it?

It’s like a huge cauldron of… smoke. Me.

Yes, smoke ( see the image above). The fire beneath burns red through the hot coals. You might not be able to see the coals, but I can. I can see them and I can feel them. They will burn me in their wake and if you get too close, they will burn you.

But the smoke? It looks innocent enough but will strangle, suffocate and kill you and me both. Even at a distance.

Did you read my last post? If you did you will know that I just experienced lithium toxicity (it’s not an experience I would recommend). That is, too much lithium in my blood.

Beyond what I wrote in that post, I was sent home from hospital to detox. That involved coming off the lithium, cold turkey. The withdrawal wasn’t too bad, perhaps because the symptoms of toxicity were pretty awful and over-rode absolutely anything else.

But that wasn’t the end of this issue. Nearly a month later…

I went back onto lithium and have suffered for the decision. Now, I have had two times when lithium toxicity was thought to be the issue resulting in some major physical symptoms, and a total of four changes in lithium dose.

This week my doctor suspected I was toxic again, but after more blood tests finally concluded (yesterday) that I wasn’t. My levels were simply ‘too high’ and I needed to come off lithium again.

I’m struggling to keep up with this,so I will completely understand if you are too.

The whole time what is most on my mind is my mood. When the doctors are most worried about my medical condition, and getting the lithium out of my kidneys. Yes, I get that is important, but my worry is my mental health. Four changes in dose of any drug for your mental health and you might just be reeling too.

It’s when people start messing with my meds that my mental health is what pays.

And now I’m paying. My mental health seems to be dropping by the day and perhaps the biggest thing addressed in my blog – hope – is nowhere to be seen.

Hope is replaced by irritability on a good day, and sheer raging anger (mostly contained internally) on the other days.

Hope is replaced by a belief that I am now completely alone. Everyone in my life has gone, or so it seems.

Hope is replaced by thoughts (but not plans or actions yet!!!) of self-destruction.

And of course, hope is replaced by paranoia. Somehow I have annoyed everyone in my life, and they hate me, so they have either left me (yes, alone again) or despise me.

Hope is replaced by depression (of the sad and angry type right now – no tears yet)

Hope is replaced by nothing. Void.

About a week ago I have to admit that I came scarily close to keying someone’s car. Yes, that’s right. I was going to take a key and run it down the side of this car, leaving hundreds of dollars of damage in my wake. For at least a moment, I didn’t care.

That’s not me! I have never vandalized anything before in my life, but I was so close to doing it. I didn’t. Somehow I woke myself up from a bad dream and walked away, relieved but more than a little bit shaken.

I have been here before.

Not the vandalism, but the Depression and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) taking over my functioning. It is perhaps most likely that the symptoms of these mental illnesses rear their ugly heads when people are messing with my meds (my physical AND pyschotropic).

Across the last 13 years I have tirelessly taken my prescribed medication every day. There wasn’t a day when I didn’t take the medication prescribed simply because I was terrified that if I missed a day, then I would go back to the psychiatric hell that was 1993 to 2003.

I had been told in 2003 that I would have to take two medications (particularly) for the rest of my life. One was lithium. I believed the doctor.

After my experience of (particularly) the last month, and admittedly some other problems I have had with the drug over the 13 years, it has been recommended that I come off lithium permanently.

The only problem I have with this is that the doctors involved seem only interested in my medical well-being. Sure, that is a major issue but my desperate desire not to return to what was the pit of hell for me, is a much greater issue for me. I don’t want to put my life at risk, and that is what it will involve. I know it.

The doctors treating me now didn’t know me when I was in that pit. Perhaps they think I am exaggerating how bad it was. I am terrified in the possibility I could go back.

When people (yes, doctors) mess with my meds, they have to consider ALL the consequences, and they have to be listening to ME. I know myself better than they do.

Of course I know that the worst may not happen if I come off lithium completely, but I have to do my darnedest to protect myself from the possibility. I would be crazy not too.

We would all be crazy to not do this when changes to our health regime are made.

Thanks for reading!



To See A Light That Shines

Source: To See A Light That Shines

“For me, and maybe for you, if you’re in a similar situation, it became harder to let my light shine as I got older. As my mental illness took over, it became a life and death battle to keep that light shining. Depression wanted to suck the life out of my flame. It wanted to kill the spirit within me. It wanted to change, and even murder, who I was. Actually, there were times when Depression, Anorexia and Borderline Personality Disorder did a good job.”

To See A Light That Shines is my latest post on A Canvas of Minds…

Vicious Circle

It goes round and round. Each time the circle escalates and the effects grow more.

Stress causes Pain cause Stress

Oh, and add in depression.

It looks like this:

Image credit: www.orthop.washington.edu
Image credit: http://www.orthop.washington.edu

I have one month to find somewhere else to live.  At that time, the repairs to earthquake damage to my home will finally begin. Don’t get me wrong. Because I’ve been waiting nearly five years, I am happy that they are finally about to start. Very happy. The repairs will take approximately six months.

The biggest stress right now is that I hope my insurance company are going to help with the costs of shifting and somewhere to live. But they won’t tell me how they will help (I mean specifics beyond what the policy document says) until the insurance company doing the repairs provide a specific completion date. I’m waiting. And I understand because they can’t finalise exactly how long the work will take until they lift up the floor and see just how bad things are down there. Meantime though, what my insurance company want is a best estimate.

The reason that’s the biggest stress for me right now is because I can’t find somewhere to live until I know what assistance I’m getting. You see I expect to have to pay three to four times what I am currently paying in rent. Yes, three to four times! And that is more than I get in income each week. I REALLY need my insurance.

My current rent is low, thanks to my family who own the property. But equally rents in Christchurch have skyrocketed since the quakes because of demand for housing, and a little bit (that’s generous!) because many landlords have been mean and taken advantage of the situation.  The Government keeps reporting that rents are coming down again, but not when you look at what is advertised. Rent is still really steep. The demand for rentals is not as great as it was maybe two to three years ago. Repairs are getting completed and homeowners are moving home. But it’s still not going to be easy.

So there is plenty of stress in my life, and the vicious circle kicks in because, for me, stress is the biggest trigger to fibromyalgia symptoms. Stress equals pain. And pain equals stress because pain means I can get less done. And when pain goes on, increasing stress, then I start to get depressed. Or more accurately, more depressed. Oh, and add in fatigue… and an unhealthy amount of brain function. In other words I can hardly function at all and I’m hardly likely to come over as a great budding tenant to an agent or landlord.

This week I have been in a lot of pain all week (it’s Thursday here). I have rated my pain  as “being able to leave the house several times a week. Moderate to severe symptoms much of the time. Able to do about 2 hours a day of work at home or activity like housework, shopping and using the computer“.

I have limited activity to visiting my mother (she has Alzheimer’s and doesn’t really understand why I can’t visit her). I don’t know for sure but I suspect an Alzheimer’s patient works on the way many people choose to view Invisible illness. S/he can’t see it so it doesn’t exist. Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but I think it’s something like that. Certainly there is little understanding. From Mum’s perspective, I get it. Some others, I’m not so charitable.

Of course, Mum’s illness simply adds to my stress. Today I decided to say “no” and not visit her. I wondered whether by keeping up the daily visits, whether I was exacerbating my own illness.

There are actually more and more facets to my vicious circle. What I really need is that completion date and then the details of how my insurance company will help me. Right now insurance companies are not my favourite people…

Instead of focusing on the negative, the positive is that by mapping out that vicious circle I actually remind myself what is going on. Better yet, maybe I can stop it all winding up just through awareness. I know for myself that if I can limit the flow of stress then I can limit the onset of pain and depression. And that will make for a happier Cate. Anything for that!

PS. By the way, do you remember Lucy? Lucy is my music hallucinations, and she continues. This week she is louder and more invasive than ever. I’m starting to think that Lucy is also affected by stress.


Stigma Via Health Professionals

This is my latest post for A Canvas Of The Minds. It was posted yesterday. I apologise for my lateness in sharing.

“Am I alone with this? Have you been on the receiving end of stigma from health professionals, be it general health or mental health?  How have you handled it and what effect has it had on the overall treatment of your health issue? If it isn’t something you have experienced, how would you handle it if you came across such stigma?”

Read on at: Stigma Via Health Professionals

Thanks for reading




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10 Reasons Why You Need To Stop Stigmatizing People With Mental Illness

I don’t reblog often. Actually hardly ever. But Rachel Griffin’s post here makes for some great reading. and so I have broken my rule. It’s long, but well worth making it a ‘must read’.

This is the billboard she talks about:



I normally post online about Muppets, coffee, musicals and cats, (not Cats the musical, the furry-animal-kind) but recently all I’ve been posting about is the Kenneth Cole billboard that links mental illness and gun violence. Why? #1 Because it perpetuates mental illness stigma. #2 The effects of that stigma are devastating.

Yes, I am now on a tireless quest to get people to understand why the billboard basically ate my soul when I saw it. CRUNCH! Don’t worry- I recovered my soul, undamaged. Souls are really durable.

I posted a blog critiquing the billboard on Facebook which was mostly ignored.. (got maybe 2 likes) I’ve had friends say, “What’s wrong with the billboard again?” I got 318 likes on another post.. but that one was about my hair.:/

Believe me, I miss my tweets about Kermit and the keyboard cat, too, but for now I need to focus…

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