Monthly Archives: June 2012

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A Little Local Color

I just left a comment on the blog of a young woman from the United Kingdom named Laura who wrote about two different approaches she used to seek help from a mental health professional They struck me because I’ve heard of this from people I know. One school of thought is that we must go into an appointment smelling of b.o. and being quite thrown together. Pity anyone who rides the transit such a person, eh?

The other approach is to have cleaned up one’s act, looking well and talking like a sensible human being about one’s problems. I refer to the the first approach as sawing off one’s limb to see the doctor. In the new modern age of help and helping let’s strive to make people feel comfortable talking with us while they’ve got some of their wits about them. One of the massive failings of our current…

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Using the crisis resolution and home treatment team.

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I thought I would share some of my experiences in using the mental health crisis team ( Their full title is the crisis resolution and home treatment team). For anyone reading this who is not in the UK, this is a specialist team of mental health professionals who can be contacted through your GP, via telephone and hospital Accident and Emergency department when you have hit rock bottom and started thinking you might be better off dead. They are an immediate intervention service, although when I say immediate, if you turn up at A+E it is important to factor in an approximate wait of up to 6 hours.

I was forced to call in their expertise in Feb 2010, which is where I will pick up my story again.

It was approaching the 2nd anniversary of my Dad’s death. Before he died I was never really sure why people got upset on anniversaries. Surely you missed someone all the time and the exact date didn’t matter? Also I thought the passage of time was supposed to help? I’d managed to get through the first anniversary just fine. It didn’t make any sense whatsoever that the second one caused a total meltdown.  It was starting to seem like nothing about the grieving process made sense.

I’d had my 3rd session with The Pointless Counsellor. Her complete and total pointlessness had left me shellshocked and feeling vulnerable. She had encouraged to talk about all my nasty feelings and emotions and they were all hanging around in the air like a noxious smell. For 3 months I felt as though I had been holding onto myself by a sheer gossamer thread and when I reluctantly admitted to myself that she was pointless, I felt completely overwhelmed.

My partner came home from work one night to find me in the throes of a full-scale anxiety episode that would not subside. I am reluctant to call it a panic attack, because the episodes I had usually lasted 12-18 hours. A panic attack is usually a lot shorter. I was having these episodes about 3-4 times a week and was never sure if I was on the extreme end of the anxiety spectrum, or was having  about 20-25 short panic attacks in quick succession.

Either way it was pure unadulterated hell. I’ve always felt that depression was far easier to deal with. I’ve suffered with it so many times, I know what to do with myself and how to handle it. But this was the first time I’d ever had anxiety so badly that I couldn’t cope with it. It was always during the anxiety episodes that I lost all faith in my ability to get through it. It is so hard to explain how it changes you when you are in it. Of course there is fear and panic, there are racing thoughts but it’s more than that. It was a wild journey into another reality where you can’t see the road you just left, or believe that you will ever come out the other side. Writing about it when you have come out of it is hard, because it is an altered state of consciousness. The only way I can get it across is to say it was like someone had a spade and was digging around in my head, unearthing all of my deep seated fears and worries, throwing out irrational scenarios and imagined outcomes of situations, all of it which felt completely and utterly 100% real. It was nightmarish and terrifying. Like a tornado in my skull. So overwhelming in fact that the thought of killing myself to get out of it seemed perfectly reasonable.

This latest episode must have been nightmarish and terrifying to watch, as my partner didn’t question me when I asked him to take me to A+E.  I felt so unsafe that some sort of survival instinct kicked in and I knew I must get myself to a place where nothing bad would happen.

When I arrived at the hospital, I thought that now I had definitely, conclusively and absolutely reached rock bottom. But after 6 hours of sitting on the hard metal chairs, I realised it was possible to feel even more suicidal than I ever could have imagined.

The 6 hours of waiting was just for starters. I’d been assessed by a triage nurse quite soon after I arrived who clearly decided things were not urgent, hence my long wait. From the main waiting room I was then called into a private room where my partner and I sat looking at the cracked green paint on the walls for another 2 hours. At least I didn’t have to sit with other people any longer looking like I was possessed by evil spirits. 

At around 2 am a chaotic and crazily dressed woman burst into the room apologising madly. She said she had been dealing with a very ill lady before me. I barely heard what she said as I was so taken aback by her entrance and appearance.  She had pillar box red hair with matching pixie boots. An acid yellow top with nails to match. For a second it jolted me out of my trauma.

After giving her my abridged life story and the hideous details of my immediate crisis, she concluded that I did need extra support at this time. She told me that it wouldn’t be appropriate to admit me to the psychiatric ward, but I would receive daily home visits from the crisis team. They would work with me to establish coping mechanisms and undertake a review of my medication and therapy sessions.

She also very helpfully shared with me the details of a bereavement she had been through and how badly it had affected her. She told me to be realistic about how long it might take me to work through things. I really appreciated this.

Then she told me I should try smiling at myself in the mirror every day. I didn’t appreciate this. In fact I thought, “Are you f*cking kidding me? You are on the front line of mental health intervention and you’re coming out with one of the most cliched  self-help book phrases on the planet?!”

I left thinking two things :-

Knowing that help was coming had made a difference. But why did I have to be desperate before anyone really listened? I had already explained how I was to doctors 3 months earlier.

Why does nobody talk about death? Hearing about someone else’s struggle made me wonder what else is going on behind closed doors that is not being spoken about.

The latter point is a whole other blog post I guess.

Think and Grow Rich

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I wanted to share this fab poem with you all –

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

If you think you are beaten, you are

If you think you dare not, you don’t

If you like to win, but you think you can’t

It’s almost certain you won’t

If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost

For out of the world we find

Success begins with a fellow’s will

It’s all a state of mind

If you think you’re outclassed, you are

You’ve got to think high to rise

You’ve got to be sure of yourself before

You can ever win a prize

Life’s battles don’t always go

To the stronger or faster man

But sooner or later the man who wins

Is the man who thinks he can!

Time to change – but how?

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I wanted to re-visit my first blog post where I talked about the ‘Time to Change’ pledge I signed. To take you back for a second, it was initiated by the mental health organisations MIND and Rethink, with the objective of ending the stigma and discrimination associated with having mental health problems.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I could do to become more involved in this. I want to do more than show my support with a signature. I know that starting this blog is a step in the right direction but I still feel I am merely dipping my toe in the water. Although my blog is ‘out there’ in cyberspace for anyone to read, it still feels like a very ‘safe’ arena. I suspect that the type of people who will gravitate towards it will already have more than a passing interest in mental health issues. Maybe from personal experience or from knowing someone close to them who has suffered. I’ve started to share the link to the blog with selected friends and family, but to start with, it was only people who I knew were guaranteed to support me and not judge me. As I have gained confidence, I’ve started to share it with people who I don’t know very well and in a blind leap of faith, with someone I had only known for an hour ( Although I did get a very good vibe from them.) I think it is important that I don’t stay in any sort of comfort zone for too long. Although I acknowledge that building confidence is a process, I also want to feel I am pushing myself as much as I can to share the blog with people who may not have any experience of mental health issues. My ultimate goal is to feel able to share it with anyone and everyone and to feel able to deal with whatever feedback came my way. I don’t think there is any point in me being open about mental health issues if I am only open in a way that guarantees a good reaction.

When I first started this, it took me about a week to calm down from the anxiety of giving the blog link out to a new person. Now, there is about a 2 day turnaround which I am pleased with.

I’ve been amazed at how open other people are in their blogs on similar subjects but I’ve also wondered how many of us could talk like this in ‘real life’ as well as in the blogosphere? As well as writing this, I want to feel able to discuss anything I write here with people in the ‘real world’.

To stay focused, I’ve decided to see it as a project with definite steps along the way. If I was at work dealing with a project I’d be doing an action plan and making sure my goals fitted in with SMART targets ( ensuring they are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-related ) I will use the same format with this to keep me on track.

I think it is important to define WHAT exactly has got to change. The MIND/Rethink mission statement is to end discrimination towards people with mental health problems. At first glance, it seems as though it is other people who have to change their attitudes and assumptions. It is true that there is a lot of incorrect information around, but where has it come from? I think it stems from lack of understanding and education, but I’m not sure this is anyone’s ‘fault’. If I don’t challenge people though, I am reinforcing these inaccurate beliefs and discrimination.

So for one of my first goals, I will openly challenge anyone who I feel has made an inaccurate statement or judgement on the topic of mental health. At the same time I will openly admit to my own mental health problems and use my experiences as an example, even if it happens at work or somewhere I feel there are ‘risks’ involved in such disclosure.

I’m also going to answer people honestly if they ask how I am. I’m not going to weigh up the answer in terms of who I am talking to, how well I know them, where I have been asked etc. If I am depressed or anxious I will be truthful, likewise, if I am ill and frustrated with my other health problems I will say so. Sometimes I have answered honestly and then immediately followed this with some sort of back-up positive statement about how I am looking on the bright side of things or some such sh*t. I find it hard if people don’t know how to answer and I feel compelled to neutralise the awkwardness. When I think about it from other people’s perspective, it must be difficult if you have never been through anything like this yourself. I think it’s important to not only be realistic about achieving my goals, but to also be realistic about the reaction I might receive. People may understand some aspects of what you say, but not all of it. For instance they may have felt very down, but not clinically depressed. Some people may have  had mental health problems themselves and never been able to talk about it, so the fact you have brought it up may be a relief and a blessing. Some people will never understand mental health problems at all and won’t know what to say, but that’s not their fault. There are things I will never understand either, such as what it feels like to have a baby, to have cancer, or to be a man. It is not my goal to make everyone understand how I or anyone else feels completely, but to feel confident in expressing how I am in a truthful way.

So my immediate goals are to start chipping away in realistic chunks. To sum up the goals are:

  • To tell more people in my life about this blog and share the link.
  • To be prepared to discuss anything in this blog with people in my life.
  • To challenge people if I feel they have made an incorrect assumption or statement on any aspect of mental health.
  • When asked, “How are you?” to answer honestly and not quantify it with a reflex positive response.
  • Be realistic about other people’s capacity to understand.

What do you all think? If anyone has any thoughts, suggestions or feedback I would LOVE to hear it! Click on ‘leave a comment’ below.

Diet Coke break and awareness raising.

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I thought it might be time for an interval. I assume it can be quite tiring reading about someone’s nervous breakdown so let’s have a rest. I am having a Diet Coke, which is always my beverage du jour.

I will lighten the mood by telling you about a flash of inspiration I had yesterday. It occured to me that there is not enough recognition of people who struggle with long-term mental or physical health problems. I have four lifelong issues. Depression, anxiety, cyclical neutropenia and M.E. I am a very lucky girl. If you have never heard of cyclical neutropenia, don’t worry. Stick with this blog and you soon will!

I’m not saying I don’t receive support because I do. I just think as a society there should be more ways to acknowledge and recognise people who are surviving the feat of endurance known as long-term health problems.

International awareness days/weeks are a great start. However they only happen once a year and usually focus on more common illnesses. For instance, I was glad to share information about Depression and M.E awareness weeks recently, but there is no neutropenia awareness day because the illness is so rare and uncommon. The cyclic neutropenia which I suffer from affects only 2 in a million people. I am part of an online support group and suggested we try and get an awareness day off the ground, but was told by a fellow member we were already lumped under ‘rare illness awareness day’. I’m currently trying to see if there is any way we can get our own day started up.

Spock from Star Trek  said, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. I can see that in the case of more common life threatening illnesses such as cancer and HIV, the needs of the many certainly require attention. But why can’t we recognise the needs of the few AS WELL? Surely there are enough resources and interest around to generate some extra publicity for the unfortunate people suffering in their rarity and quietly managing in silence?

My flash of inspiration involves devising a range of greetings cards to support, honour and empathise with people suffering long-term health problems. There is definitely a gap in the market for this. I know there are the basic ‘Sympathy’ and ‘Thinking of You’ style cards but why is there not a specific range which sums up the dreadful scenarios some people go through in life? Death is more recognised in the card industry than long-term health struggles. It is possible to buy every type of card to support different types of bereavement, including details of family member/step-family member or friend on the front with a helpful verse inside, should you not know what to write yourself. ( Actually, I did note one gap in the market here for death of a pet – which I believe can be just as difficult as losing a person.)

I propose something like the following for starters:

“With deepest sympathy on your diagnosis of a debilitating lifelong disorder”

“My thoughts are with you as you continue your struggle with depression”

“Wishing you love and support with the many health difficulties you face”

I know I would be thrilled to receive a card like this. It isn’t easy to communicate to people that you recognise their long-term struggles, so until the little-known or stigmatised conditions get more awareness days/weeks, why not send a card?

I may write to Hallmark with my idea. Or I might just start making them myself.