Tag Archives: diazepam

The pointless counsellor

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When I started this blog, I was hoping to knock out around one post a week. I thought it would be easy enough, but the last few weeks I’ve been struggling with being ‘out there’, posting under my real name and publicising the blog. I thought once I’d started this, the worst bit was over. What has actually happened is that I swing between feeling proud one minute and wracked with insecurity and embarrassment the next.

I’ve managed to overcome some of the negative self-talk by reading about a fresh spate of celebrity mental health revelations in the press. The latest being from Natalie Imbruglia and Frankie from the Saturdays. Both of them have opened up about suffering from depression and have chatted with various women’s magazines about the struggles they have faced. It must be such a hard thing to admit if you are a rich, beautiful and successful pop star. I’m really glad they did because it shows that depression can affect anyone. It also made me think that I have a lot less to lose and if they can do it, so can I.

So I will carry on telling you what happened to me at the end of 2009. I approached Christmas slightly comforted by the fact my counselling appointments were approaching, but that still left a festive celebration to get through whilst feeling like my brain was coated with mould. I had reviewed the prescription for diazepam and decided not to take one 2mg tablet twice a day, but would save them for the overwhelming anxiety rollercoaster episodes. I thought this might guard against becoming addicted. I did make a special exception though and took a few before I did my Christmas shopping. This sends me mental at the best of times, so I decided it would not be best practice to attempt it in the throes of a full-on breakdown. I can highly recommend it. I managed to get 90% of my shopping in one trip and was completely unfazed by the crowds, prices and Christmas songs blaring over the loudspeakers.

I can remember thinking everything about Christmas seemed totally irrelevant. My only goal was to survive it until the counselling appointment came through.

January came and I felt overwhelmed by the endless days of feeling terrible. I attempted a return to work as I couldn’t cope with being on my own all day feeling so lost. I managed two days before being sent home again. I thought I had managed to disguise the worst of what was going on in my head, but my boss took me to one side and said he didn’t think I was well enough to be there.

I had to go back to the doctor’s for another sick note. I asked to see a different GP and he was slightly better. He made eye contact, which is always a good start and was of the opinion that I need to be off work for at least the next month. His kindly manner fooled me into thinking he knew what he was talking about, but then he said that I shouldn’t worry about being on diazepam because “loads of housewives in the area were on it” and it was fine because it worked.  He also finished the session by saying, “Don’t worry love, you’ll be alright!” How the f**k did he know whether I was going to be alright?! I felt sorry for all the housewives in the area with him as a GP. Surely the goal is to find ways to manage your anxiety and only take tranquillisers when you have to? I was only planning to be on it until something better came along.

It was February 2010 when the counselling appointment finally came through. 3 months wait, which in relative terms is not bad for the NHS, but when you feel horrendous it is an agonising length of time. I should have known after all my experience of counselling thus far not to get my hopes up too high, but still I pleaded silently with the universe to send me someone good.

The first thing that happened was I couldn’t find the building. It was in Garston, a less than salubrious area of Liverpool and I had wandered along the main street for half an hour, trying to ignore all the boarded up shops and ‘scene of the crime’ tape outside Ethel Austin. It was about time that shop was cordoned off – I could only assume the incident involved a crime against fashion.

I eventually found the building tucked behind a ramshackle pub called the Dealer’s Arms. I know the NHS is strapped for cash but having to traverse such a grim area was adding to my depression.

Pamela ( not her real name ) called me into her office and I had barely sat down before I unleashed the great backlog of built up torment and unhappiness which had been brewing for months. I’d had a lot of time to think about why I felt bad and I thought I had explained everything very clearly. She listened, she nodded and empathised quite nicely at times. But I got to the end of the session and thought, “Is that it?” She hadn’t questioned me at all or offered any illuminating insights. I went home feeling deflated. I tried to be positive and think that at least I had someone to talk to. But she hadn’t been much use. Not really. It had been little more than a nice chat. Her main strength was pulling a very good concerned face.

I went back for my second and third appointments, hoping that once she got to know me a little better, things would improve. Sadly, she remained useless and it turned out she wasn’t even a specialist bereavement counsellor, which I thought I’d asked for at the doctors. She was just your regular bog-standard Diploma graduate. In some ways she was not only pointless but counter-productive. I was finding it really difficult bringing up my deepest darkest feelings about my Dad’s death, only to leave with everything hanging in mid-air. I wasn’t given any guidance about how to handle these emotions and I would go home feeling terrible after I’d seen her. I reluctantly came to the conclusion that she was actually making me feel worse. A LOT worse. I also realised that now I had begun to verbalise my feelings that I couldn’t push them back down again.

I wasn’t sure what to do. The anniversary of Dad’s death approached – 21st February, followed by his birthday. The combination of the terrible counselling and date situation was starting to ferment dangerously. I thought I had felt what it was like to be at rock bottom, but I hadn’t. There were new levels of rock bottom below it.

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The curse of the terrible doctor.

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December 10th, 2009.

I sat in front of my GP who was wearing a comedy Santa tie. I was new to the practice and had only seen him once before when I needed my ears syringing.

A couple of minutes into the consultation I realised that ear syringing was pretty much all he was good for. He asked only the most basic questions and didn’t look up from his computer while I sat mentally dissolving next to him. In true full scale depression style, I had lost the ability to form a coherent sentence. I tried my best to explain the hideous meltdown of the night before as he typed away, expressionless.

In ten minutes I was out, clutching a prescription for anti-depressants and diazepam in my sweaty, unwashed hand. He had referred me for counselling, which would take 6-8 weeks.

I was shocked at how different it was to access support as an adult. As a young person, I’d got used to being able to find counselling and support very quickly. At college, I’d managed to get an appointment within the same week from the on-site service and before that, I’d received help from the Young Person’s Advisory Service. No waiting, no fuss and no hanging around watching your problems get worse.

I’m aware that waiting lists are long and I know we have probably all had some experience of this. I also take full responsibilty for the fact I didn’t ask for help sooner. If I’m honest, I knew I was very down about 8 months before I crashed to the bottom. I’ll never make this mistake again and I could hit myself over the head with a wet fish for leaving myself to fester in my own depressed juices.

My boyfriend took me home and then had to leave for work. I started my tablets and told my boss I would be off for a couple of days.

What I didn’t realise was the door leading towards being able to cope was shut.  It wouldn’t be opening again for some considerable time. I thought the worst part was over, but sadly the night before was only the bread basket, while the starter was still being prepared in the kitchen.

I put Jeremy Kyle on and got about halfway through before another nuclear storm of anxiety built up in my head. This one built up to a terrifying crescendo quite quickly because I was on my own. I couldn’t understand what was happening to me, or why I couldn’t control it. I ended up on the phone almost constantly to my boyfriend and a close friend who had seen me through a depressive episode once before.

Over the next couple of days, things got progressively worse.  It became clear that I wouldn’t be able to go back to work anytime soon. This thought petrified me, as I didn’t want to be on my own feeling that bad. I wanted the routine, distraction and feeling of purpose, even though I knew I was exhausted and overwhelmed. But I also felt deeply embarrassed at how emotional and unstable I was and didn’t want anyone to see me like that. By the end of that week, I was unable to function on even the most basic level. I could hardly eat, was too anxious to sleep and didn’t want to wash or get changed. This caused my anxiety to get a lot worse, as I need to look after myself to keep my blood disorder in check. I felt like everything was spiralling out of my control and I was losing everything that I had worked so hard to create.

Then came the questions about how often I should take the diazepam tablets. I knew my anti-depressants were not going to kick in for a few weeks and so the best I could do would be to keep my anxiety levels down. The instructions on the box of diazepam were to take one tablet twice a day. It was a very low dose and it didn’t have much effect. I decided to try and ride some of the anxiety and then try taking both tablets when it started to escalate. This worked for a short time but then I seemed to become resistant to it. So I took a double and triple dose and the same thing happened. The anxiety was just too bad. I became anxious about being depressed. I became anxious about being anxious. I became anxious that the diazepam weren’t helping.

I could see how people ended up getting addicted to tranquillisers and I could totally understand why. If you are in that level of distress and are given a way of alleviating it, then of course you will take it. I tried taking more and more in the hope that some sort of emotional numbness would result, but I knew if I carried on I would end up with more problems than I started with. I felt angry that the GP had sent me away so quickly without realising how bad things were. That prescription was handed out way too easily. I decided to reserve the diazepam for an ’emergency’, although most of the day was feeling like an emergency at that point.

I don’t drink and gave it up completely about 13 years ago. I’d also stopped using other unhelpful coping mechanisms and was very proud that. It did cross my mind that they served a purpose during other difficult times, but I didn’t want to go down that road again. Those ships had sailed, although this would mean I was facing this crisis with no buffer or safety net.

My boyfriend didn’t think I should go back to the GP. In the middle of another spectacular meltdown, he took me to the local NHS walk-in centre. Although in my case it was more like the drag-in centre.

Although I was humiliated to the extreme, I found the doctor there to be much more understanding. He took me very seriously and didn’t try to minimise my feelings. He told me about immediate sources of help, such as the mental health crisis team and said he would write to my GP and ask for a psychiatric referral.

It made a difference to know there were options available if I really couldn’t cope. But the biggest difference came from being listened to and heard.