One Small Stand Against Stigma

TRIGGER WARNING: this post contains general information of a self-harm event but has no graphic details. There are no images.

I said it was small, and it is. But it’s gigantic for me.

This week I swapped which wrist I wear my watch on.

Earth shattering, isn’t it? And surely not much to do with the stigma against mental illness. But there’s more to it than what meets the eye.

Fifteen years ago I was self-harming pretty regularly. It was probably a daily occurrence at the time of this event. Sometimes I knew what I was doing, but others I was  dissociated and really not aware of the harm I was doing to my body. I would realise afterwards when I was mopping up the damage.

On one occasion I cut my (right) wrist. I wasn’t aware of what I was doing, but I know for certain that it was not some kind of suicide attempt. But don’t ever believe that this makes it better. I don’t believe this [although I acknowledge that some readers might find my thought concerning].

I realised pretty quickly that this large wound was going to need sutures and I didn’t seem able to control the bleeding, so took myself to the local hospital. At the Emergency Department, I encountered a doctor who had perhaps had his fill of self-harmers. I’m not going to make excuses for him, even this much time later but I do acknowledge that the job of an emergency doctor is a difficult one.

He told me what he thought of me in no uncertain terms and that I was completely wasting his time. There were, apparently, more important people than the likes of me. He said that as I had cut myself without anaesthetic, he was going to suture my wrist (15 sutures) without anaesthetic too. He proceeded to do so, although he left me waiting for what I’m guessing was as long as he possibly could.

That night I was vulnerable and scared. It was the first time I had gone to an Emergency Department after self-harming and had no idea what to expect. What I did know was that my self-harming was getting out of control, and I desperately needed help.

What I got was stigma. Against self-harmers and against mental illness. I concluded what I guess I already knew but was hoping that help might tell me otherwise. That I was a bad person, and I had wasted his time.

As soon as the wound healed I switched to wearing my watch on my right wrist for the sole purpose of hiding my scar. I knew some people would think I had attempted suicide. Others would think it was self-harm. There was little chance that anyone would think it was accidental. I was best to hide the evidence. From the world, and also from me. Hiding it from myself as much as possible would save me from the graphic reminder of the person that doctor had said I was.

Fifteen years later and most people in my life wouldn’t know that the scar even exists. I’ve hidden it that well, from everyone. But this past week I came to the conclusion that it’s time to stop hiding the scar from myself, and from anyone else who might see it. I’ve switched the watch back to my left wrist. It just seems right.

I don’t self-harm anymore. I’ve been about five years free. I know that if I got myself into a bad space then maybe I might again. I hope not, but I’m just honest with myself.

Because I have shifted cities and changed friends, most people aren’t aware of either this scar or the many others that litter my body. I’d have to virtually tattoo my whole body to be able to hide all of them and I don’t have that much money or that many ideas of what designs I’d choose.

But I’ve come to a conclusion. Those people who really matter will cope with the sight of my right wrist if and when it comes in front of them. For anyone who doesn’t cope with it, won’t matter anymore. And for those who don’t know me, they don’t matter anyway.

This is one small part of my voice against stigma. People who self-harm are important and do matter. Every time I see the scar on my wrist I am saying that doctor’s attitude doesn’t count because it was so wrong. I don’t have to let him keep telling me that I’m a bad person. And that’s what was happening every time I put my watch on.

Okay so that’s easy to say, but in reality this week I have felt exposed and vulnerable. Everytime I see the scar, I want to hide it again. It’s going to take a while to be comfortable with it. One day… it will come.

And that doctor? Well, he could have helped me that day, and probably avoided a few more scars. But he chose not to and I believe that was because he had stigmatized his patient. He didn’t see me as a person in need of help. God, I hope there aren’t too many doctors like that in Emergency Departments around the world. Sadly, I know better.

“Other times, I look at my scars and see something else: a girl who was trying to cope with something horrible that she should never have had to live through at all. My scars show pain and suffering, but they also show my will to survive. They’re part of my history that’ll always be there.”

— Cheryl Rainfield (Scars)

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

 

World Mental Health Day 2016 – Real People

world-mental-health-day-10-october-earth-globe-in-hands

World Mental Health Day. That’s today. It’s the day on which we come together, united in a call for better mental health around the world. It’s a day on which I usually know exactly what I want to say. This year has been different.

In the days leading up to today I have thought about writing about the WHO topic chosen of Psychological First Aid. Something that I have thankfully been on the receiving end of in the past. Those in the crisis and caring professions (for me it was the Police) providing psychological care. It helped, enormously.

Then I thought about writing about stigma, this time about sufferers of one mental illness stigmatizing sufferers of other mental illnesses. Yes, it happens and I had been on the receiving end of this just recently. I am, apparently, “a fruit loop”.

Then I was thinking about the people of Haiti. I wondered how their mental health was holding up. The situation in their country leaves me thankful for what I have, but I suspect that their need for psychological first aid doesn’t get a look in, the need for clean water and housing coming up as seemingly more important.

My friend, Motivating Giraffe wrote a wonderful post about the over-abundance of Awareness Days, and how they just don’t matter if we (including people at the top) don’t focus on what ‘really‘ matters. If you read nothing else on this Awareness Day, make sure you read this one (oh, and mine too).

But then heavy on my heart over this past week has been a story in the New Zealand news. It has unfolded as the week went on. It’s one of those stories that in other countries there might not have even been a raised eyebrow, let alone a news headline. But here, these things thankfully don’t happen every day. They can still stop the nation in its’ tracks.

A man with a mental illness went on ‘a rampage’ here. Only three weeks ago he was an inpatient in his local (Waikato) psychiatric hospital, but this week attacked his parents, leaving his mother dead and his father critically ill in hospital. No one knows what motivated this attack, except it must have been somehow driven by his mental illness.

For the next few days, his location was unknown. Police mounted a manhunt with no success. And then at the weekend came the discovery of more dead bodies in an unexpected location. The mentally ill man had killed another elderly couple and then taken his own life. The ‘why’s‘ will perhaps never be known but four people are dead and one still seriously ill in hospital.

What really strikes me is the emergence of this man’s mental illness. He had schizophrenia, and it might be easy to simply conclude “oh, that it explains it“. But that’s not fair. Not all people who suffer from schizophrenia go on to murder. Not all people who suffer from schizophrenia go on to commit crime. And not all people who suffer from schizophrenia go from there to taking their own life. But stigma will have us believing all these things.

This man had no history of mental illness (described in one article I read as a “nice young man”) and then apparently he used illicit drugs once. And ‘once’ was enough to trigger schizophrenia. You see ‘once’ is enough for some people and some mental illnesses. It seems it is a game of Russian Roulette. And that was enough to end four lives and leave hundreds in mourning. Lives changed irreversibly.

My point? That mental illness, and the tragedy that can follow, can happen to anyone. The stigma that too often is applied, is unfounded. It could happen to you too.

This story really hits home to me because I was a ‘nice young wo(man).

I wasn’t mentally ill. I had a good career, a nice home and I had prospects. I was ‘going places“. No one expected my life to change dramatically with the sudden emergence of mental illness. I don’t have schizophrenia, triggered by a casual single use of a drug, but I have another mental illness now. One for which sufferers aren’t often described as ‘nice’.

My friends and family had no reason to expect such a dramatic change to my life. And perhaps more importantly, I had no reason to expect that change.

I could accept a friend’s Bipolar diagnosis. I could even visit her in hospital. I had no difficulty in supporting her, because I believed it could never happen to me.

I could accept that a man known to my family had schizophrenia. But when he began to stalk me, I very clearly saw myself as a victim and him as the perpetrator. I didn’t once stop to think that he was a victim too. And I never once thought it could happen to me.

It did happen to me. I got my own (BPD) diagnosis and spent far too many times in hospital. My days in psychiatric wards and hospitals may not even be over. I don’t know what lies ahead.

If you gain nothing else from World Mental Health Day this year, please  know that it could happen to you. I don’t say that to scare you, rather that you don’t judge those who struggle with mental illness.

Even for the cases, we hear about in the news, those are real people who struggle/d with real illness. Maybe they were on the receiving end of stigma. And maybe they didn’t get the support or treatment they needed. I don’t know why Ross Bremner killed those people or himself this past week. Maybe we will never know. But what we do know is that they were real people, just like you and me.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

“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

 

Cate

 

Human 2 Human

Relationships with other humans have to be one of the most difficult and complex aspects of life. They are for me anyway, and there have been a few issues which have reared their ugly head for me in the past few days.

I know that friendships, family connections and intimate relationships are really hard for me and now days I am inclined to pull back from all of them.

With one failed marriage behind me, along with a string of failed relationships, I am alone and pretty certain that I will remain alone. I believe now that I not supposed to have  someone by my side. I have never believed that there is a soul mate for everyone, nor will everyone find their soul mate. Actually,I suspect my soul-mate might just have been and gone.  And sometimes circumstances just get in the way and block the way for what might have been true love.

On the other hand, it was some years ago now that I also came to the conclusion that close friendships were perhaps something I would be best to avoid. You may call it sad but I call it safe. After being let down by a number of friendships, I made a specific decision that friendships I might have been able to rely on were no longer worth it. Yes, I do have friends but not many and I try hard not to rely too much on them. I am inclined probably too much to withdraw rather than depend.

And then there is family. I have been fortunate to date with my family connections. Maybe they didn’t always understand me or my needs, but they did seem to love me. I think they still love me, but their availability  for me to rely on them is perhaps changing.

I know that my Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) plays a part in how I relate to other humans. I’d like to say it isn’t part of the story. I’d like to say that I have it ‘under control’. But it is part of me, part of my personality if you like, and no matter how many ways I learn to control or even recover, I know that it will always be there.

An article I read highlighted for me some of the issues that float in and out of importance as issues for me with BPD:

“Most patients named gaining control over emotions, mood swings and negative thoughts, followed by reduction of municipality, self-harm and other destructive behavior and improving self-acceptance and self-confidence. However, improving relationships and improvement of social participation, social competence and job situation has been mentioned as important.”

It speaks of the issues important to patients with BPD in the treatment they need. But I use it as it easily highlights in a paragraph issues I deal with when connecting Human 2 Human.

It’s hard. It’s constantly hard, and with those issues at play perhaps it is easier to understand why I choose so often to withdraw.

This week someone important to me said:

“I don’t care…” [about you]

Ouch! Actually, it was more than “ouch”. It was fuck! Under my breath, of course.

The rest of their words no longer mattered. I had heard that they “don’t care” I didn’t matter anymore. They possibly weren’t even aware of having said it, but it was loud and clear. Maybe this person was someone I could no longer rely on (for any number of reasons). Maybe this was connected to my having BPD. Maybe I was too much. Maybe I had misinterpreted what another person might have taken differently. But then maybe it was simply about their issues not connected to me. It hurt anyway.

Do you see why Human 2 Human is hard?

Another relationship came up on my Human 2 Human radar. I know my mother’s Alzheimer’s Disease is not about me, but how I respond to something that is ever-changing is totally about me. I can’t escape this one.

In a conversation with my mother, I discovered that her memory has gone so much that she appears to know nothing of my life beyond my name and that I am her daughter (I am thankful that she still knows this). She also appears to know nothing of her life when I have been a part of it. Of course, I knew that this was coming some day but that day had arrived and it cut deep. My own mother doesn’t know me. Maybe even I don’t exist for my mother anymore.

My father passed on nearly six years ago, and it seems that while my mother sits in front of me, she is in some way gone too. I have heard the expression of grieving for someone who still lives, and that is even harder than it sounds. I feel like the wind has been blown out of me.

My parents have always been very important to me, although I admit that my mother and I have never been close, never even been friends. The tension between us has gone now. Something I can’t totally explain. But maybe she has gone too.

Perhaps my feeling of loss this week connects to my BPD. I know there will be a connection because there always is. It’s just that I have yet to work it out, to be able to put it into words. Meantime it hurts. Both instances I have described here. I need to hide away and lick my wounds.

I want the luxury of time with my therapist again, but I have no therapist anymore.

All I can do is write. I don’t claim to have any answers. Just questions. I hope that what I choose to write and share with you makes even the tiniest ounce of sense. I suspect it will make more sense with others who travel with a Borderline mind.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

 

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.

rock-bottom
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.

I.Am.Afraid.

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

 

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

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

Cate

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!

 

Cate

Image credit: Healing From Trauma: Welcome To My World

Watched**Stalked**Traumatised

He was watching, from across the road, as I stepped off the bus.

He was (also) watching from across the road, as I came out of church with my friends.

He watched as I walked down the hill from the school gates.

He drove past, three times in half an hour, as I was sitting in my friend’s car chatting.

He was sitting on his motorbike watching as I came out of work.

It took about one to two weeks for him to track me down after I had shifted house. And there he would watch as I arrived home.

He sent flowers. My skin crawled. The flowers were ugly and I gave them away.

My flatmates were interrogated, either on the phone or at the gate. What was their relationship to me?

I was visiting my friends and he saw my car parked outside. They were his friends too. As he knocked on the front door, I snuck out the back door. I never visited my friends at home again.

I came out of a church from my friend’s funeral. She had died in a car crash. He was across the road, on his motorbike, watching waiting for me. He “just wanted to talk”.

He was watching, waiting, always. But he never touched me.

♦♦♦

I was stalked by two men at the same time. They weren’t aware of each other. They never touched me while stalking me, and in those days that meant the NZ Police couldn’t do anything. The Police gave me advice, but I knew all that by now.

Constantly trying to avoid, trying to hide where I was, confidential phone numbers. The only friends I spent time with were those who would support my demand for privacy. The stalking went on for around 14 years in total. It started when I was 14, and I finally brought a stop to it when I left the city permanently at 28. It was a long time to convince myself that leaving town wasn’t giving in. It was taking control.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was diagnosed some years later, when I finally sought help (when I knew that help was actually available). You see, it wasn’t until after the stalking that I let out a breath and could finally feel my fear. I crashed. But relief didn’t come until I had the help. Meanwhile, I was still hiding, mistrustful of all.

♦♦♦

The triggers started to play on me… they included, but weren’t confined to…

Every man, who wasn’t a blood relative, was potentially unsafe to me.

Anyone who expressed a romantic interest in me, especially if they were ‘too keen’.

A gap in the curtains still meant someone could be watching me.

Motorbikes, especially the sight of them.

Going back to the city where it happened brought on terror in some suburbs and hypervigilance in all places.

Church

Dreams, nightmares.

The gift of flowers.

Later on, ‘friend requests’ on social media.

And many, many more.

After years of therapy for these and other issues, I really thought I’d finally beat the PTSD. The triggers controlling my life had lasted much long than the stalking, even though that had been long enough. It had been a long time since I had felt that all too familiar fears.

Then a few weeks ago, a man shifted into the house next door. Because of where I am living (temporary housing for earthquake recovery) our houses are very close. His kitchen looks into my bedroom. Our lounges look in on each other.

When I first shifted here there was a woman living in the house, and it was her practice to keep all her curtains pulled shut all of the time. Now I could start to understand why. I didn’t want anyone looking in on my bedroom and I have taken to keeping the curtains permanently shut for the windows facing his kitchen. Regardless of who he is, and what he does, I see him as a threat.

I hadn’t met him at this stage… but when I eventually did, I felt that familiar feeling. Elements of his personality ring warning bells for me. The fear instantly builds, and I admit that I don’t have much rational thought. I’d describe the type of man, but I can’t. And it wouldn’t be fair. Rationally I know he has done nothing to make me afraid, but this is exactly what PTSD does to me.

I just don’t want to be anywhere near that sort of man.  I’m simply afraid. It’s difficult to know that this is about memories, and feelings, from a long time ago.

I’m afraid, and while I thought I had completely dealt with PTSD, I realise I haven’t. It’s not over for me yet.

Since meeting the man I have simply done my best to stay away, but I irrationally want to move out. I’m terrified that this man is going to do what I refer to as “turn into another stalker”. I know he has done nothing to stir up this fear. I know it is completely irrational. And actually, I irrationally think that every man will eventually “turn into another stalker”.

And do you know what? It really pisses me off that those stalkers of years ago can continue to have such a hold on me. I thought I was truly over it, but this man has shown me (by doing nothing) that I’m not. And that is so disappointing.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

Both images contained in this post remain the property of  Healing From Trauma: Welcome To My World. I hope you’ll take the opportunity to visit this great Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

 

Fighting Tooth And Nail

That’s what I am doing. Fighting ‘Tooth and Nail’. Nothing seems easy and it’s as if it’s one thing after another. Know the feeling?

When I was at high school I read a book that affected me profoundly. It was New Zealand book Tooth And Nail: the story of a daughter of the Depression by Mary Findlay. I read it firstly because at the time I was interested in the era of The Great Depression. I think we had been studying it in History class. My second reason for reading it was that the author, Mary Findlay was the great-grandmother of one of my closest friends.

She fought Tooth and Nail.  Amazon describe the book as this:

“This a the true story of Mary Findlay during the bitter days of the Depression. When her mother dies and her drunkard father harasses her, Mary is forced to fight tooth and nail for food, work and a place to live.”

It affected me profoundly not just because of the connection to my friend but also that it was a life lived much harder than anything I had ever known. My life seemed easy by comparison.

Right now nothing seems easy. There is one thing after another. I’m sure there are those in my life who still think I have it easy. I don’t have a 60 hour a week job, I don’t have, say four children, nor do I have a partner to think about. It’s true. Compared to Mary Findlay’s life I perhaps have it easy. But to me, nothing seems easy right now. And when it all boils down, it is the person’s own perception that matters.

I could easily write a post about each of what I see as my current hardships. But I haven’t. Mostly because at the time there haven’t been words, and so you won’t have seen posts from me since before Christmas. But here is a taste.

  • My 88-year-old (yes, she had a birthday) is deteriorating fast. Her physical health continues to be great, but her mental health in the form of Alzheimer’s Disease is going down hill fast. I’m learning as I go. Some days there is little to recognise the woman she was in my growing up years. And tomorrow? I face what happens to Mum next in terms of the care she needs now.
  • My doctor stripped me of Fibromyalgia. He says I don’t have it, even after four years of being treated for it and having originally been diagnosed with it by a doctor with more qualifications and experience. Apparently I simply need some Art Therapy (yes, really!) to cure my symptoms. Thankfully a few weeks after this pronouncement he announced he was leaving the country permanently. I am to be assigned a new doctor, and time will tell just what s/he will have to say.
  • My dentist has just presented me with a whopping $2,000 (that’s a whole lot of money in NZ) quote for the work I need to stop some corrosion happening in my mouth. Hear this, if you take medication regularly. The $2,000 problem is caused by dry mouth and having been on lithium for the last 12 or so years. Both of these have a terrible effect on teeth. Right now I’m still trying to pick myself up off the floor. I was gobsmacked! I am likely to have these dental issues for the rest of my life (if I listen to my Psychiatrist and stay on the medication for life, as we have previously agreed). I have no idea how I will possibly pay for this work but meanwhile, I am eating only soft foods to avoid further corrosion to my teeth (particularly my front teeth).
  • And I can’t forget the fibro symptoms of mainly pain and fatigue. You know the fibro that I don’t have? Well, those symptoms continue with more fatigue than ever. I go deal with whatever needs dealing, and then come home and collapse, literally. Day after day.

That’s just a taste, perhaps the really big issues, and maybe that doesn’t seem like a ‘tooth and nail’ battle. But it is. Like I suggested above, it’s how it seems to me that really matters. I might not be in the middle of the Great Depression like Mary Findlay, but it seems like my own ‘tooth and nail’ battle (emphasis on the ‘tooth’ because if I don’t find $2,000 soon I’ll be looking at whatever a pair of dentures cost).

It was a long time ago that I read Mary Findlay’s book but I still remember the impact it had on me. Maybe I didn’t learn this at the time I read the book but I know now that we can’t compare our hard times. As a 15-year-old reading that book, I thought her life was incredibly hard and mine incredibly easy. Actually, I was having my own pretty hard time back then, but I gave no value to my hardship. Now I have learnt that behind the scenes other people can be having incredibly difficult times. Harder than we can imagine. And it really isn’t possible to compare.

If I was to ask each one of you what are the hard things in your life right now, you could probably come up with your own list (like mine above but different). We all have our hardships, and all of those can have a bearing on  mental and physical health. Whether we tell others of our hard stuff or not, it’s there and we’re probably fighting a ‘tooth and nail’ battle to simply keep afloat.

I haven’t listed my current hardships out of wanting sympathy. Or wanting you to say you’re sorry for me. Rather I share it with you because maybe it reminds you that we’re not alone. We all are probably fighting ‘tooth and nail’. Life is hard, but we don’t do it alone. Just because your hard stuff is different from mine, it doesn’t stop me from being aware that you’re having a hard time. And that, makes a difference to me, so perhaps it makes a difference to you.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate