It’s Time to Talk, Seriously.

On February the 2nd it is Time to Talk day 2017. I think this is a great initiative. I know it’s been running for a few years now and I really hope that each year more and more people speak up about their mental health because we all have mental health. Just like our physical health, our mental health can be good, or not so good and it will vary. Just like our physical health, we might suddenly find ourselves in a situation with our mental health that was previously unthinkable. Very suddenly everything can change but the world still turns, the people around you still go on, and you can be left wondering.. how could this have happened to me? I’m not like that… Just like with our physical health there are risk factors in mental health – you probably know that being overweight increases your risk of diabetes, but, have any of us really stopped to consider just how that person with mental illness arrived there? I wonder what they were struggling with for the illness to begin. I suppose it’s easier for us to think of those suffering from mental illness as weak, sensitive flowers because it means that we can reassure ourselves that it will never be us. Until it is. And then…what?

Over the last few years I’ve noticed more people speaking openly about depression and anxiety and it’s brilliant. Even men, a group that speaking about their mental health is almost forbidden (sensitive flowers right?). This is awesome…but… (I’m sorry there’s a but) I want us to talk more. I want us to start being able to share some of of the more (perceived) frightening aspects of mental illness. I think they’re frightening because they are so mysterious, shrouded in hearsay, misinformation and sensationalism. Let’s name some of these bogeymen: suicide; self-harm; hallucinations; hearing voices; psychosis; dissociation; flashbacks; delusions.

I don’t work anymore. That came as a huge surprise to me. I never imagined that would be me. I used to be a research scientist for a major pharmaceutical company – intercontinental conference calling, symposiums, shares and benefits. Then I retrained as a science teacher and I was successfully climbing the career ladder with the aim of being a head of chemistry and a lead teacher. See? Normal. Doing life and doing pretty well at it but the risk factors were there. Without realising what I was doing I actually fought mental illness all my life and then, and I don’t know how it happened really, everything changed. I tried to kill myself. Now I’m at home I get to catch up on a lot of TV (no, not lucky me). There’s a lot of crime stuff on during the day. Know who the baddies are? Yeah, they usually have mental illness and are suffering with the bogeymen. But, you see, this is my point – I’ve experienced a few of those bogeymen symptoms and I’m as dangerous as a wet tea bag (i.e. not very). People would know that if I could talk to them about it.

Very few people in my life know that I tried to kill myself. Even fewer know about the self-harm. My husband and I haven’t even spoken about it. I keep meaning to. He must see the cuts but then I hide them so well I wonder if he does know. How do I tell someone who loves me that  I deliberately take a knife to myself? I don’t know but it’s definitely time to talk, seriously, because self-harm is a very real and troubling part of my mental illness. This leads me to another massive misconception about mental illness – that it is attention seeking. Are you kidding me?! Attention seeking?! Ha! Right. No, that’s the kind of attention I can do without ta. People being afraid of me, thinking I’m crazy (which I am but it’s ok)?! No, no,no! Attention seeking. Wow. I’m not saying people don’t ever look for some sort of concern or help and that can be in really messed up ways but that’s mental illness for you – it can make rational thought kind of difficult sometimes!

My diagnoses are borderline personality disorder (BPD) and complex post traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD). I’d never even heard of BPD so I googled it. It’s a heartbreaking and damning read: attention seeking, manipulative, liars. Difficult to love? Aggressive or violent? Hand on heart I will tell you that those particular traits do not apply to me (well, maybe I’m hard to love I dunno) but imagine what people will think of me when I tell them that I have BPD (that they’ve probably never heard of) and if they go so far as to google it? Yeah. So it’d be really great to be able to talk about it, to let them know the truth; what I struggle with and how I manage it and why I’m still me. Then there’s the cPTSD bit. This tells people that I have something awful in my past. They don’t want to ask for fear of upsetting me and I don’t tell them because I know it will upset them (been there, done that, sat through the awkwardness).

No one knows what to say but, you know what, that’s OK. This stuff is complicated. It’d be a lot easier if we could talk about it so that’s what I’m saying: it’s time to talk about the scary (not really!) stuff too. Oh, and I want to make clear that I am absolutely not minimising depression and anxiety. I find the depression the worst part of my illness. It’s brutal and can be life-threatening, as anxiety can be too. These conditions have a continuum and if your depression/anxiety is classed as mild then it is still an illness and you have every right to receive the correct treatment. You deserve empathy and understanding. So, no matter how your mental health is faring currently do make time to talk. Please.

From a  crazy, wet teabag x

BPD & cPTSD: a Monster and a Ghost part 2

The Ghost

The BPD monster peeped out for DBT therapist, Monica, in my last appointment (that’s Part 1). Later in the same appointment the PTSD ghost wanted acknowledgement too.
I don’t know how we got on to the subject but I think it came from me expressing my frustration at not being able to enjoy my life. I have a fantastic life. I couldn’t ask for more and yet there I was, in therapy. The only thing between me and enjoying my life is me. It’s bloody maddening but then the more I beat myself up the worse I make it. From there, I think, M got me to describe the person I am now. I used words like adventurous, that I saw a world full of potential. Monica was surprised. So I explained that I am haunted, continually pulled back to 20+ years ago and that stops me being the person I think that I am. Naturally she asked me to describe that person. Well…scared, invisible, wants to die but can’t because she has to take care of her brothers, powerless, has no voice, doesn’t trust because people say they will help and they never do. This is the person that Monica knows now. It’s not me. It was me; once upon a time. She wonders how the younger me became the adult me given they are so vastly different. I explained as best I could about going to university, meeting new people, going wild, achievements and finally a name change. 

Gradually that younger version of me was eradicated. To the point that she was barely a memory. She was gone but, unfortunately, not laid to rest. I am haunted by the ghost of myself.

Now that I can see she kind of gets it the words come spilling out of me. I sometimes see her at nighttime, I know that what happened to her is really sad but she needs to be gone now, I need to make her be gone but I can’t. It’s like she wants me to do something to giver her peace but I don’t know it is. I try and pay attention in dreams and hallucinations: what is it? I know it’s strange to experience ‘her’ as a separate entity but that’s how this thing is playing out. It’s me – I get that. Although if I stop to think about that it’s terrifying so, for now, I’m thinking of her as a ghost that needs to be laid to rest. Trouble is that I don’t know how. Monica said we would continue to explore this next time. 

That night at my Body Balance class (mix of tai chi, yoga and Pilates) when we were doing the meditation bit I had to keep my eyes open. Whenever I tried to close them my eyelids fluttered and in my minds eye I saw her. I imagined holding her hand and reassuring her – it’ll be ok, we’ll sort this. I’ve got to admit though I don’t know if that’s a good thing or further descending into madness! 

Maybe the monster and the ghost are the same thing? I don’t know but I do feel relieved that my therapist now seems to have a better grasp of what’s going on with me. Do you know what? I’ll happily leave it to her to figure it out. I’m exhausted enough just managing the two of them. 

Well, that’s why they call it complex PTSD! They got that right! 

BPD & cPTSD: a Monster and a Ghost part 1

The Monster

My DBT one-to-one with Monica was intense this week. Lots of stuff but I think, dare I say hope (?), that she is edging closer to glimpsing what I live with: the monster and the ghost.

Monica saw the monster.

She was pressing me about goals and the future. I felt the conversation was a game of cat and mouse. Do I give the ‘right’ answers for an easy life or be an honest, if devilish, little mouse? I went with honesty. The dialogue burned out and she sat back in her chair, looked thoughtful and fixed her eyes on me. “How angry are you right now, from 0 to 5?” I raised my eyes from the floor and paused to consider it. I tuned in to my body and I could feel the anger inside me. I really wanted to smash the room up. Hmmmm. Outwardly I was calm. I wasn’t flexing my fists, or clenching my jaws or any of that. It was like my outside and inside were completely detached. I finally answered “4? Actually no, maybe a 5. Yes, a 5. I’m actually really angry”. My tone was calm and conversational. She smiled a little victory smile (which I was cool with. )

She told me that she sensed it. I felt a whoosh of fear (the monster!). She told me that whenever she sensed this from me that she wanted to pull back from me and this was a therapy interfering behaviour. I felt tears of shame and horror. I asked her why she wanted to pull back from me and I reassured her that I would never harm her or anyone. She agreed. She knew that, but still…she tried to explain but couldn’t quite. Indeed there hadn’t been any outward signs but there was something…she couldn’t name or describe it. Ha! Yeah, welcome to my world love. I was sobbing now. The voice in my head my repeating oh no oh no oh no oh no oh no. The monster. It’s escaping. Oh no, the monster.

Somehow I told her about my mum – that she did the same thing. That this was my fear. That I tried to contain this monster but I’m so scared of it escaping. Unlike Monica I could explain how it made me felt: I didn’t know what I had done that was wrong but you’d better believe it was bad. Don’t poke the tiger.”Yes!” she said “That’s it!”. Well, of course I could explain it, I’d had a whole lifetime of it. Her excitement was equalled by my despair. I thought I could contain it. Fool. To find out that it did escape, despite my best efforts, was the worst news. My children – what about them? They must see the monster too. Internally I was panicking. What should I do? Killing myself (and therefore the monster) seemed the obvious answer but I knew that would cause the children emotional harm. So I asked Monica, in between sobs, what should I do? She told me that I was very different to my mum. The relationship I have with my children is good and secure. My son can ask about depression and talk to me about it without fear or judgement. My children do not live in fear. That helped. 

It still leaves me with a monster. The monster within. Now she’s seen it too so she can perhaps begin to understand. I hope so. I don’t know if the monster is a product of nurture, nature, or both. I don’t know if I can ever get rid of the monster and that is terrifying. I’m trying not to think about it. The positive thing is though that Monica saw the monster. She knows it is real. She knows how hard it is to articulate. She knows that she has only seen the smallest little bit of the monster and perhaps now she can begin to understand my exhaustion and distress. She doesn’t like the monster either. Really? She wants to try living with it, with borderline personality disorder.

Anyway, with the monster revealed the ghost then decided to appear too. That’s for the next post. 

Future Plans

They say that making plans for the future is encouraging and positive. I agree. Trouble is that my expectations of the near future are so far removed from reality. I’ve just spent hours researching possible holiday destinations for February half-term but I give up. The combination of husband’s leave, our budget and my anxiety makes it ridiculous. I thought we could do it but I can’t. It’s too much. I just can’t. 

I met my boss today for coffee. Should say ex-boss really as I told her I’m quitting the teaching profession. Another thing I can’t do. I mean I guess it’s a pretty good breakthrough in terms of therapy to now recognise and accept that working in a school is going to be extremely challenging to my mental health but it sort of leaves the future kind of fuzzy. When I first came round to the idea of leaving teaching it was freeing – what opportunities lay ahead?! How exciting! Thing is I can’t even consider a job at the moment. I’m too ill. I’ll be doing DBT for another 11 months then psychcotherapy. So whilst I’d love to look at jobs and possibilities there is absolutely bugger all point.

I’m in such a rush to get back to ‘life’.

It’s depressing really and that’s the last thing I need.

Really very mentally ill

I’m just awake after another bad night. Dreams of everyone hating me, people leaving me, bombs and bullets, cold, isolation, loneliness and hopelessness. Now I’m awake I feel ill. Really very mentally ill. 

I don’t want to be awake. I don’t want to get up. I feel I shouldn’t as I shouldn’t be part of this world. Acceptance? It is what it is. Maybe this is what I have to accept. Andy has brought me tea. I cried my heart to him. I told him I’m sorry and that I want so much better for him and the children but I’ll keep fighting. He told me he knew today would be like this because I had pushed myself yesterday (going out to a panto – big family outing). I was pleasantly taken aback by his insight. “You’re getting wise to this mental health stuff” I said. “There are patterns” he gently replied. 

My eyes burn from crying. I am exhausted. I feel physically sick. Last night I was planning when (not if) to overdose. I’m going to fight that absolutely 100%. Which means building a bed fort, drinking my tea and waiting for this all to pass.

No one listens to me. Not properly. Which is fine because nothing I say makes sense. Maybe I should just stop talking. Nothing. Blah blah blah.

Dissociation 

Ah dissociation! If you have a mental illness then I dare say you’re familiar with dissociation. If not then you will have dissociated because everyone does it…a bit. I have a mental illness, or two, or who knows how many – doesn’t matter – and I’m used to dissociation. I find it can be pretty helpful to function in that kind of autopilot whilst my mind goes and hides deep inside me somewhere. In saying that the dissociation I’ve experienced in the last couple of days has been, frankly, frightening. That’s not good.

Yesterday it was like being unreal. I’d look at my hands, specifically my scars, and wonder – who did that? It couldn’t have been me (it was). I’d look at the scars and try and connect with the me that did that but, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t. I wondered if this spaced-out-me was actually the real me because spaced-out-me couldn’t understand self-harming and that’s got to be good, right? But it wasn’t and I don’t know why. All day I constantly questioned what I had done: did I really do that? Am I awake or dreaming right now? My hands tingled. It was frightening because each moment felt sort of new and unexpected, like I had just arrived in it without knowing how. I went to bed, took some promethazine and fell asleep listening to plinky plonk music (you know the type).

According to my Fitbit my sleep was the usual night long restlessness. No change there. I’m lucky that I do actually sleep but said sleep is not restorative. I suppose it’s a bit like being sucked into a strange video game; my nights are filled with demon fighting activity. As morning came around I was stuck in a dream. I’d wake up but get sucked back into the dream. This happened countless times, at least 10 I’d guess. I didn’t know what was real: the dream or the awake. I couldn’t tell the difference. The dream was distressing but it sort of made sense. My dreamself was seeing, hearing and experiencing things that were not real (in the dream) so it was almost like 3 layers of consciousness (Inception anyone?!). In the dream I would take people to show them something but the thing wouldn’t exist, everything was in my head. At one point I fought a monster. It was small and I used such force on it that I pushed my thumbs into it and made it bleed. I had killed the monster but just for good measure I threw it over a balcony. In the dream people started shouting and I realised it hadn’t been a monster. I immediately feared that it had been a baby. I slowly peered over the balcony expecting to see a horror but it wasn’t a baby that I had harmed – it was a rag doll. In the dream I was relieved but heeded the message: I was a danger. I could lose touch with reality to such an extent I was dangerous. Another thing that stuck out to me was that in the dream I tried taking selfies on my phone. This was to help me gauge reality. However each selfie of me showed me as black (I’m white). My features were totally different. To be fair the black-selfie-me was much prettier, more girly, but it wasn’t the face I expected. I was so confused.

Eventually I managed to pull myself into reality and properly wake up. It took monumental effort. Tonight my husband described me as talking to myself and not making sense this morning (this was when I was flitting in and out of the dream). He left for work when I was still in bed. When I finally wandered dazed downstairs it looked as if he had slept on the sofa. My first thought had been – oh no, what did I do?! I was scared, scared that I had done something bad. Fortunately I had not but this is my fear: what if I do something awful in this dissociated state? 

I feel a sense of foreboding – like something bad is going to happen. I have spoken to Nora and she reassured me. She said it was highly unlikely that I would do something harmful and that this is all perfectly…normal…in complex PTSD. She told me that the presentation of my condition was changing and, again, that was normal. 

I’m much better now. I couldn’t have written this in that state I was in. My desire to understand has me trying to decode the messages from my subconscious and I have some bits and pieces that I can stick together. My sodding amygdala. 

A Losing Battle

I went to yoga this morning. What I wanted to do was slash my belly but yoga it was. It was hard work. I thought it’d be chilled but no. Intense. Anyway signed up to go back next week.

Then I went to see my GP. Poor guy was running an hour and a half late. He always does to be fair so I came prepared with activities. Didn’t matter though. I couldn’t take being in the waiting room with all those people, knowing that I am a waste of the doctors time. I went back in, waited some more and sketched a picture of my daughter.

Looks creepy but it isn’t finished!


This was a better idea than giving in to the urge I had to rip the fire extinguisher off the wall and spray CO2 everywhere.

By the time I went in I was jittering, gabbling, edgy. I was embarrassed at the same time as I could see how off my behaviour was but couldn’t stop. He did the required pre-quetiapine health checks. He said the cut on my wrist looked sore. I said it was fine. He asked if I’d done that because of being distressed so I said yes. Inside I was ashamed at what a pathetic cut it is. I should have done more. I want to do more. Anyway there isn’t anything else he can do for me. I’ll try not to think about that.

I went to see my neighbour when I got home so I couldn’t hurt myself badly. 

Then Nora rang me because I’d left a message for her. She was supportive and said I may be experiencing something called extinction. Basically as a new positive behaviour is implemented the old negative behaviour kicks up a fuss and refuses to die. 

Die.

This voice inside of me keeps shouting all these awful things for me to do: to cut myself, to overdose, to go to the train tracks, to make a noose. I’m so stuck. I’m fighting with myself. I hate it. I can’t win if I’m fighting myself. It’s impossible.

I can’t even explain it. Nora said that could be because my distress goes all the way back to being so little I was pre-verbal. I just want to pull my hair out and scream in pain. 

Husband will be home soon. Then the in laws. Everyone expects me to be better because I was doing so much better but now?

I’m done. I just need my brain to rationalise the next step and then I can take it and end this nightmare.

Here’s what I wrote in the waiting room if you’re interested. No, no one is.


White Flag

I want to give in. I surrender. Dear mental illness/disorder/flaw or whatever the fuck you are, I submit. Well, I want to but I’m so goddamn stubborn that I just can’t.

I want to give in and accept the things I believe:

  • I am a flaw in the Universe. As long as I am alive the balance in the world will tip towards bad.
  • To keep my children and family safe I must harm myself to redress the balance.
  • All good things I experience must be punished.
  • At my core an evil side of personality exists. I can only kill this evil by killing myself. The evil is destroying me from the inside.
  • Whenever I think something good then something bad will happen to make sure I stay in my place. I must not get ideas above my station.
  • Everyone leaves. This is because being away from me is the right thing. When people get close things happen to remove those people from my life. Fortunately they are usually good things for the person (they get rewarded for leaving me) but I get so scared that the Universe will take them in a bad way and it is so much safer for people to stay away. It’s my fate and I accept that. I do not blame them.

That’s better. Let it all out. The things I believe that govern my life. My secrets. The beliefs that aren’t delusions because I know they aren’t true except I’m not so sure they aren’t true but I know that saying they are untrue is the correct. It feels glorious to be able to verbalise these feelings. Marvellous. 

And if I really let go I could harm myself with no care for the consequences. How amazing! I could cut, burn, and sand my skin. I could ingest alcohol and pills. On a lesser scale I could just tuck myself up in bed and fluctuate between crying, tearing at my skin and being comatose. Sigh. A girl can dream. I can’t do that though because of ‘The Contradction’.

The Contradiction is that I need to be harmed to keep the kids safe but the behaviour in the paragraph above would actually cause harm to my children so I find myself stuck in this very narrow gap: needing to harm myself in a very contained way. It is exhausting.

So I would dearly love to submit; to wave the white flag; I give up. Let’s just do this illness thing. BUT I am stubborn. Or oppositional. Or wilful. Oppositional and wilful are the preferred terms by the therapists but it all boils down to one thing: Dear illness, I will fight you. 

Because if I am happy then it will be taken away.

I am scared. What if they’re taken away because I am happy? I don’t know what to do. Maybe if I just keep hurting myself then I’ll keep them safe. The trouble is that the therapists want me to let go of this belief. Easy for them. Where’s the risk for them? It sounds mad. Maybe it is mad. Can anyone prove that I’m wrong?

They don’t understand.