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

How Borderline Personality Disorder Feels To Me

CAUTION: This post contains issues of self-harm and suicidality, although not in any great detail (but you have been warned).

I have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

That’s no big news for regular readers but if you’re new, it is important that I say this from the outset. I have BPD. That’s the angle that I am coming from.

Many people with BPD choose not to admit to having it, mostly for the simple reason that there is a great deal of stigma attached to the disorder. But that’s not what I want to talk about, although I hope that what I say might be in some small way helpful towards smashing that stigma.

Another reason people with BPD don’t talk about their disorder is that it is a very difficult disorder to talk about. There are many variations (think over 200), and that means that what people feel and experience is going to be different for practically every person who has it.

If there is one thing I have consistently failed at as a writer, it is to describe what BPD feels like for me in a way that satisfied my desire to get it across to others. I have tried many times. I just haven’t managed to describe it as I really feel it. Every time I have written a post about BPD I have finished feeling dissatisfied. I might have got some aspect across, but I didn’t describe how BPD is for me.

While I was diagnosed as having BPD some five years ago, I admit that for as many doctors who have said I had BPD, more said I probably don’t. They said I wasn’t typical of people with BPD. Even more said it wouldn’t be good for me to have that diagnosis (in my mind a strange thinking for diagnosing a health issue). Only those who said I do have BPD were willing to listen and hear that my experience is that BPD matches both my emotions and behaviour.

To me, it wasn’t specifics that spelt BPD but rather an intrinsic way in which I deal with my emotions and my relationships with others. Face it, that’s hard stuff to talk about.

But here are the issues for me (in no particular order).

I  am completely paranoid. I expect that friends/family are about to leave me or say awful things about me. They are constantly (in my mind) one step away from leaving me or hurting me.

You name it, a lightbulb might blow… to an argument with a friend/family member, and I will (over) react by thinking it’s time to kill myself. Yes, it’s time to kill myself because it is an assumption that one day I will commit suicide and people would always be better off without me. It’s just a matter of time! Remember this is thinking rather than actions, although given enough thought and common depressive thought, BPD will drive me in that direction.

I think that the best thing for me is to leave you… before you leave me. It would be best to quit my job just in case my boss is about to sack me. Actually this is exactly what I did in my last job. I thought they were about to sack me, so I quit. Actually I later found out that they had no intention of sacking me and were disappointed when I suddenly left.

While I haven’t self-harmed for about four years, I regularly mull over thoughts of self-harm, particularly if something in my life goes bad. It’s not that I ever got any form of high from my years of self-harming (it was about control), but I just don’t value my body enough to say “no!” to myself. Thankfully it has been four years of fighting the urge rather than actions, but to be honest, it doesn’t get easier.

Self-harm, for me, is not just cutting, etc but also includes substance abuse, extreme dieting, smoking, and excessive exercise. That’s my way of thinking about it and I accept that you may not agree. For me, it is all the negative ways I use to control myself and my body, not to mention exerting pain on myself. Not surprising now that I experience more physical pain through fibromyalgia, I am less likely to think about exerting physical pain, through self harm, on myself.

I constantly think in ‘black or white’. Good or bad. Right or wrong. I can’t for the life of me even comprehend ‘grey’. It would be so much easier if I could. I try, but I am yet to master seeing the whole spectrum.

It is possible for me to have no idea what I feel. Is it happy or sad? Is it hate or love? It is difficult, at times, to know. Maybe I feel both, at the same time. It can be right on the borderline.

My emotions can cause me pain. The great Marsha Linehan says that people with BPD are like emotional third-degree burns victims. Personally I’m not fond of that analogy, but perhaps because I don’t see that my emotions hurt me as much as physical burns victims suffer from their injuries. I hasten to add though that I claim that statement as my own but not for others. I get that for others their emotions cause as much pain as physical pain. I know many people who have BPD who would say Marsha Linehan’s analogy is completely appropriate for them.

I admit, with some reluctance, that I am inclined to think that everything is about me. In a time of extreme unwellness, I thought that 9/11 was about me. I can’t remember my reasoning but it made perfect sense to me at the time. But more commonly I assume that negative events, such as arguments and the like, are my ‘fault’. Interestingly I don’t apply the same logic to positive events. Perhaps I am only interested in destroying my health, happiness or well-being.

I have a tendency to be impulsive. I admit I have shoplifted (ok, so only once). As a child, I regularly stole from my parents. I constantly have to be careful not to engage in compulsive shopping, spending, drinking and thinking. All that said, I have rarely been impulsive in relationships, even if at times, I have failed to think things through as much as I ought

And lastly, because this is one that appeals to me, people with BPD are sometimes prone to, what one author I read called, magical thinking in which they use unrealistic thoughts and beliefs to solve problems in their life (Robert Friedel in Borderline Personality Disorder Demystified, 2004). I admit that I do this (I’m not going to go into detail), although have never before seen it attributed as relating to BPD. My psychiatrist prefers to call it my ‘weirdness’.

Having written all that (and apologies for the length), I think I have gone somewhat closer to describing BPD as it feels to me, but, I am somewhat terrified. Firstly, how are you going to treat me now that you have seen inside? But secondly, I need to remind you that this is me. It is not how it is for others with BPD. Maybe some of it might apply, but just as easily, some of it won’t.

With the distinct possibility that I have not succeeded in what I set out to do with this post, I am including a link to another person’s version of what BPD feels like. I found it very useful and the temptation was to post it simply as it is. But I needed to do the ‘Cate version’, which would only ever be written. I hope you take time to watch. For each person who chooses to tell what BPD feels like to them, I believe more will learn and experience what BPD really is, and maybe one day the stigma against us will reduce.

I have such an unstable sense of self that I fear my post will somehow destroy me and my relationships. Somehow it will confirm what I have suspected to be your earlier suspicions that I am a fake, a fraud and just too much work. I am posting it anyway because I know that writing this has somehow been a good journey for me. As much as I hope you have learnt something, I know that I have learnt. It is good for me to be able to say “this is how it feels to me”.

One last thing I need you to know. You don’t have to try to somehow assure me that I’m not that fake, fraud or whatever. You don’t have to assure me of anything. All I wanted to do is done. I have shared how it is for me.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

 

Halfway To A Hundred

Look at it that way, and it seems impressive. 50 years ago today at 1.30am my mother gave birth to me. My father had been sent home to sleep, as was the practice in those days. Much as I know he loved me when he eventually met me, I know he wouldn’t have needed any encouragement to go home.

I can honestly say that 50 is not a big deal for me. What is a big and slightly frightening deal is that 60 is only 10 years away. For some reason, that has hit me in recent days and won’t go away. Am I really that close to 60? Where has my life gone? I’m sure I was 25 last time I looked, but now look at me.

I’ve had a struggle with birthdays, really since I started battling for my mental health. It’s really hard to celebrate anything when you’re depressed, let alone the idea of celebrating your own life. And with experience, I can tell you that it is worst if you’re living with suicidal thoughts. Worst too, if you have an eating disorder and everything seems to focus on food.

The irony is not lost on me that World Suicide Prevention Day 2015 is the day before my birthday (that I don’t want to celebrate). What’s more, perhaps most of my friends are in a different hemisphere and so while they are acknowledging World Suicide Prevention Day, I am trying to avoid even  acknowledging my birthday.  They will want to celebrate my birthday tomorrow, taking it to two days. Add to this that my birthday is 9/11. A day on which even outside of America, it is difficult to find the will to celebrate anything.

Yet there are people who want to celebrate my life, and my birthday.  In spite of my struggles, I know that I am lucky to have these people who love and care for me. I know that when I see my four-year-old niece (and her family) tonight that she will be very much committed to celebrating my day. Her family are apparently also committed to this task.

Because of those people, I chose to celebrate my birthday this year. I struggle to see the worth of my life for myself sometimes, but strangely (to me) I know they do. So I will go with what they wish for the day, hoping that next year I might just see it differently.

Today I finish my post with a great kiwi song. My words for today. The lyrics are below.

Cate

Lyrics:

You call me up, I’ll say a few words
But I’ll try not to speak too long
Please to be kind and I’ll try to explain
I’ll probably get it all wrong

What does it mean when you promise someone?
That no matter how hard or whatever may come

It means that I won’t give in
Won’t give in, won’t give in
‘Cause everyone I love is here
Play it once, disappear

Once in a while I return to the fold
With people I call my own
Even if time is just a flicker of light
And we all have to die alone

What does it mean when you belong to someone?
When you’re born with a name, when you carry it on

It means that I won’t give in
Won’t give in, won’t give in
‘Cause everyone I love is here
All at once, and I’ll show you how to get me there

Come on now, come on now, can you feel it, I can see it in ya
Come on now, come on now, reveal it, turn around won’t ya
The right time, the right place, right now, turn around

A chance is made, a chance is lost
I carry myself to the edge of the earth

It means that I won’t give in
Won’t give in, won’t give in
‘Cause everyone I love is here
Say it once, just say it and disappear

 

 

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

 

River of Flowers, 2014

“What’s all this talk about an earthquake?” says Mum.

That was my 86-year-old mother’s question for me when I arrived at her home a few days ago.  I was astounded that she didn’t know.  It was pretty much ‘the’ topic here in the past week.

Today is the 3rd anniversary of the deadly earthquake that struck my city of Christchurch at 12.51pm on 22 February 2011.  Naturally the anniversary has been in the news this week, but Mum couldn’t remember an earthquake being at this time of year.  Actually, I was really thankful.  This woman had lost so much in that earthquake.  More than most.  She deserved to have it lifted from her memory for a bit.  I was glad, for once, that she had no idea what I was talking about.

As we then talked, her memories came back, but we had over 12,000 earthquakes over a period of about 18 months so it wasn’t surprising that she couldn’t remember one of them. Then she was confused as to which quake she had fallen over in.  I assured her that in that quake, thankfully, she had already been sitting down when it struck and she managed to remain in her chair as her home fell to pieces around her. My father though, was thrown to the floor.  So was I.

Heathcote River, Christchurch, 2013
River of Flowers, Heathcote River, Christchurch, 2013 (Used with permission)
Image credit: River of Flowers, Healthy Christchurch and Avon Otakaro Network
See:  Healthy Christchurch on Facebook or their website Healthy Christchurch

As part of a range of commemoration events in the city, there is one that I find draws me each year.  The River of Flowers is an opportunity for the public to share their experiences and hopes for the future by throwing a flower into one of the two rivers that flows through the city, and by writing a message of hope and tying it to a tree as various points.  Throwing my flower into the river which has always been important in my life, is for me, letting go for a few moments of the sadness, trauma, loss, and worries about the future.  It feels healthy to me, and I like that.

Natural disasters, like our quakes, happen across the world all the time.  Something that had never occurred to me until I lived through this, was that the aftermath goes on for years to come after a disaster.  When the media and their cameras have all gone away, and the rest of the world isn’t hearing anymore, the sad reality is that people go on suffering.

Three years on and my life is still unsettled (to say the least).  I now have a chronic illness (fibromyalgia) which is attributed to the trauma of the quakes.   I live in a severely damaged house and still have no idea how that will be fixed.  My house is pretty cold in winter because of the damage, but aside from that, I’m simply used to the damage.  That said, don’t suppose for a minute that I like living in a house that is now tilted on a bit of an angle.  Or the curtains blowing in the breeze even though no windows are open.  But it’s just life here in Christchurch and I know there are people here worse off than me.

I know full well that mental health is a major issue in my city.  Children are still badly traumatised, as well as many adults.  Free counselling sessions just don’t go far enough.  Three sessions per person is not enough.  The use of anti-depressants has risen significantly.  The psychiatric hospital is overflowing and they’re talking of putting inpatients into caravans out on the lawn.  Suicide statistics tend to run behind by a few years, but I understand the numbers are sadly picking up in my city.  Let’s not forget too, that there is a major housing shortage here now as well as significant poverty.  These both contribute to the state of mental well being.

But this is what really disturbs me…

A year before our deadly earthquake, Haiti (Port-au-Prince) suffered a quake too.  220,000 people are estimated to have died on 12 January 2010.  In Christchurch, there were officially 185 people died.  At the height of the Haiti quake, one and a half million people were displaced and sheltering in tent villages.  That’s just huge.  And it makes me say “what have I got to complain about?”.

While I wonder about the ongoing mental health of those who lived through the quakes here in Christchurch, I wonder even more what is being done for the people of Haiti.  Do they get access to free counselling like we have?  Are the children getting the resources that are being pumped into Christchurch.  It is so difficult to know what is being done for victims of natural disasters when the lights go off on the media bandwagons.  That said, I have a fair idea of the answers to my questions.

Whether it is an earthquake (or 12,000), a volcanic eruption, a hurricane, a bush fire or any other devastating event somehow we need to remember that life afterward is changed and will probably never be the same again.  Not just the physical welfare of victims matters, not just the infrastructure and buildings that have to be rebuilt, the mental health of victims will continue to be a major issue for years to come.

Somehow I think we forget, once the media have gone, and even more so we forget when the media never really got there.  It seems to me that third world countries recovering from disaster, do it very much on their own.

While today, I remember a day I never want to experience ever again, I want to remember people in other countries doing similar recoveries.  I have been fortunate to have access to welfare, Red Cross funding and the like.  I never ended up in a tent city.  I have insurance cover to rebuild my home (when they finally get to it).  But for so many people there is none of this, and those people are the ones I have on my mind today.

“How strange it (the earthquake) must all have seemed to them, here where they lived so safely always! They thought such a dreadful thing could happen to others, but not to them. That is the way!” 

― William Dean Howells, A Sleep and a Forgetting

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