It’s been over a week since I last posted, which kind of annoys me, as I felt like I had a good rhythm of posting once a day going. It’s not like I’ve been out of things to post about, either. Most days I’ve had half an idea of a topic I’d like to post about, and I’ve been fleshing out ideas in my mind.
But this is probably a good a time as any to feature the fact that my health, in general, sucks. I’ve mentioned I’m disabled, but haven’t gone into details.
Backstory: At the age of fifteen my life rapidly shattered into chaos. I’d always had emotional issues, thinking back, but in the face of puberty it became blindingly obvious I couldn’t handle them. As a result, my relationship with my whole family became strained as I hid in my room or online. I struggled with food, I struggled with physical interaction, I struggled with self-harm.
When, at eighteen, I left home, in a few months I’d already overdosed. This pattern continued over five years until I was twenty-three, and I overdosed more times than I physically care to remember.
I spent a lot of time between seventeen and twenty-three trying to work to fix this. During High School it was hard to sort. I spent a brief amount of time on prozac, which caused my emotions to run even more rampant. I don’t remember much about this period other than I quickly swung between suicidally low and unnervingly and angrily happy. It only lasted six weeks, until I saw a psychiatrist who didn’t speak English as a first language in a way that meant I struggled to understand him, and he decided that I didn’t have depression but I did have emotional issues he’d like to discuss further. This never happened.
I saw the school nurse on a regular basis until I could see self-harm therapist at the school. She would make me take off my shirt so she could check my arms for recent cuts, a well-meaning endeavour, I suspect, in order to try and minimise the damage I was doing to myself. All that did was drove me to cut places she couldn’t ask me to show, as standing there with something on show that I’d learned to hide for my own protection, something that caused me shame, felt oddly like standing in front of a stranger with my genitals on show.
The therapists, though, were well-meaning but out of their depth in the face of what I was going through. In the face of the admission I was struggling to eat, I was informed that I should eat more vegetables. There was a heavy focus on the idea I should stop self-harming, meanwhile my life got more stressful and harder to deal with, not less.
When I left home, at eighteen, to go to a prestigious University, I felt like getting away from my home life and going somewhere people didn’t know me would allow me to stop these issues through sheer will-power. I swore to myself that at University, I wouldn’t cut any more, and I would have friends. The opportunity to change was within my grasp.
But it became painfully obvious very quickly that, even with the ability to re-invent myself, the emotional problems I still had couldn’t be left behind. I was permanently broken in some way. But one thing did change for the better; I had the blossoming social life I desired. I had people I was desperate to keep in my life. I even had, to a limited extent, people who understood what I was going through.
I promptly came to the conclusion I couldn’t expect these people to stay around me if I wasn’t constantly working to get better. After all, if all I was going to do was try to destroy myself, I wouldn’t want people to hang around and watch that. Every time an emotional outburst happened that embarrassed and upset me, I resolved to find ways in order to make sure that never happened again.
I sought mental health treatment fervently, but kept running up against psychologists who wanted to help, but didn’t have the skills. Or realised that they didn’t have the skills, I suspect, and set me adrift with a condition that was threatening my life. I got a little relief from anti-depressant medication, but I couldn’t work out how to verbalise the suspicion that depression wan’t the route or source of the issue. I got told, time and time again, that I was verbose and articulate, which would be in my favour, but only served to grow the painful restlessness inside of me that there was something more there I couldn’t describe.
I left University after a year and a bit. I was managing to pass increasingly few classes. My anxiety had grown to the level I was slowly becoming agoraphobic, a situation I was ignoring as much as I possibly good. I spent hours underneath desks in labs, or attached to lampposts on my way home, haunted by a fear of the wide-open spaces the small town University had in abundance. I was afraid of sleeping at night, causing me to sleep through the mornings when all my lessons were. I’m told of strange and weird things I was doing but I can’t remember, that only served to terrify the people around me. Self-harm felt like it was repeatedly becoming a drive that I had little to no control over.
I spent a while living with my parents again, who had slowly realised with the relief that anti-depressants had brought that I was ill, not acting out or difficult. During this period I fell in love with the city of Edinburgh. My dad gave me a part-time job doing odd tasks on the farm I grew up on, and I spent the money I pieced together every week going through to the city.
I started to volunteer for Beltane Fire Society, an eclectic arts group of people were mental illness was more the norm than I’d ever come across before. I found friendships I still value, an acceptance of gender nonconformity that fascinated me, and a festival of fire, puppeteering and drumming vivid with colour and creativity. I also found within myself the seed of someone who was Competent, who Could Do Things, and began a life-long love-affair with volunteering.
At twenty one, I moved to Edinburgh. For a short while I held the only real job I’ve ever had, as a Care Assistant, which was as empowering as it was frustrating. I could do the work, but never fast enough, I formed real bonds with people, but we were so understaffed I could see solutions to issues I could never act upon. Needless to say, the unrelenting pressure led to the biggest period of straight-up illness I’d ever had.
I overdosed, and found myself signed off from work. I tried to claim benefits, but it took a year for me to sort them. The pressure of living in a city and relying on other people to keep me there – lovers, friends, my parents – and constantly being out of money, lead to large stress-related psychotic episodes with an amazingly deep underlining storyline.
During this period I met my therapist. A psychiatrist I didn’t like for his decision that my depression was entirely a “personality trait” and that I therefore did not need anti-depressants (or any form of medication, for that matter), did do me the favour of approaching someone he thought could help in my situation and in the process dropped me the single person who has had the most impact in my mental health treatment.
Nanette is a fifty-year old woman with grandchildren, dyspraxia and hearing-aids. She has a motorbike, is from a Jewish background but has explored spirituality – meditation, shamanism, all kinds – in great depth. She has an inquisitive mind and isn’t afraid to be different, doesn’t care (encourages, even!) if people see her as a little off-the-wall. She was the first person who treated me as an equal, as someone who has a right in my care to decide what I do or do not want, and helped me in exercising that right.
When I said I didn’t like the psychiatrist I saw and wanted to see a different one, she helped me get an appointment with the other psychiatrist at the centre. She encouraged my agency in deciding what happened to me, and what medications I took.
She gave me choices in the therapies I might want to do, rather than laying down my only option as cognitive behavioural therapy, and encouraged me to learn and make my own decisions on them.
She helped me learn about the issues I faced – she approached me with information about Borderline Personality Disorder, and it was like someone had handed me the language I had been looking for to describe my experiences. She taught me about Bowlby’s theories of attachment, she taught me about Marsha Linehan, and encouraged me to equip myself with knowledge.
She validated my experiences in every session I went to. She took on the role of mentor, confident, friend, held on to my hope when I had none, and even, in some ways, I suspect, took on the roles of mother where my family life had failed me.
She encouraged me to find and hold on to all the things she could see in me that was good about me.
She saved my life.
At twenty-three I was able to stop overdosing, and whittle down my self-harm to the point I only do it in dire situations. Many of the problems that plagued me with my emotions calmed under the right medications and practise in mindfulness.
I still struggle to function. I am horrible at looking after myself. I am still plagued by depressive episodes, especially in the winter. Anti-psychotic medication, while totally necessary for dealing with the more stressful times in my life, has made me gain weight, compounding already-present back and knee issues. I struggle to source the energy required to live like a normal person. Housework is sometimes more than I can handle. I find it difficult to get out the house, a combination of anxiety and energy resources. I dissociate regularly, have a terrible memory, struggle to concentrate.
But I like myself. And that’s probably the biggest gift I’ve ever been given; the power to be able to say that and actually mean it.
The last year as brought into focus a couple of issues I’m struggling to deal with. A brief period of homelessness meant that while I’ve managed to stay in the right area to see Nanette if needed, I’ve had to change doctors surgery and psychiatrist.
My current anti-depressants give me headaches which have gradually increased into frequent, painful, days-at-a-time, painkillers-don’t-touch-this, now-I-can’t-move-for-pain headaches. Which impacts on my back, as I can’t move as much to keep the pain lessened. Which impacts on my diet, because cooking is not an option when you can barely get off the couch. The psychiatrist is struggling to see why this is an issue when the medication has given me concentration levels that far surpassed anything I had before and improved my mood more than any medication I’ve been on.
Oddly enough, it’s hard to keep taking something that you know is going to hurt you physically. Over the last week I’ve found my resolve to take them totally vanish, and have been dealing with withdrawal symptoms. My limited energy reserves have dwindled, motivation and focus are in short supply, and I’m bracing myself for the eventual emotional fall-out.
I got bloodwork done last week to check my general health and make sure that there’s not another cause of these headaches, and I get the results tomorrow, but as I also haven’t had a headache in the last week I’m pretty sure what they’ll say. I have a psychiatrist appointment on Thursday to discuss where I’d like to go with the issue, and regardless of what tomorrow brings I know it’s going to be a resounding “change my medication”.