All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…


1 Comment

Roadblocks to Recovery: #3. Social Isolation

Over the last eight years, my hope has been on the decline, so it is no surprise to me to find that it has now completely evaporated. What caused this decline in hope began when I lost my social network in 2007, following my breakdown and the subsequent emotional abuse I received. For without people with whom to share our life with, there is little hope left. Hence today’s roadblock to recovery is the isolation I have found myself existing in.

Social Isolation

lonely-robot_00445841

There is a difference between loneliness and isolation, just as there’s a difference between isolation and solitude. What I experience is not the serenity of a few hours spent in solitude from the hustle-bustle of contemporary life, what I experience on a daily basis is the soul-crushing state of being completely isolated from the rest of the human world. I have no friends. I have no acquaintances. I have no-one. And over the course of the last eight years, that’s something few people have been able to comprehend.

We live in a world where friendships are common place. Everyone is supposed to have ‘friends’ on Facebook, everyone is supposed to have a cavalcade of followers on Twitter, and everyone is supposed to have one or two people in the real world that they consider friends. People with whom you can catch up with over a beverage or two, people who you can confide in, people with whom you can wile away the hours and validate your own existence. So when someone – such as myself – comes along who has no-one, people react with complete confusion.

Over the years, everyone from support workers, psychiatrists, psychologists and telephone counselors have reacted with disbelief upon being told I have no friends. They were unable to comprehend that some people have no-one they can share life with; that no matter how hard some people try, they just don’t have any friends.

The problem I have making friends stems from the first two roadblocks I have looked at; PTSD and social anxiety disorder. My abuser worked her genetically blessed arse off to convince both myself and the world that I deserved no-one in my life. She deliberately isolated me from my friends through a series of lies and manipulations, she informed me that I was an orphan that no-one could ever love and took great glee in informing me that I should move into a cave where I wouldn’t inflict myself on the world. Her incessant abuse also rendered me unable to trust a living human being – including my parents – and without trust it’s almost impossible to make friends, let alone sexual relationships. Even if it wasn’t for the psychological damage my abuser inflicted on me, making friends has always been something I’ve found difficult to do. Ever since I was but a wee young thing in school, talking to people has been difficult for me. This is why it took so long (five years) to make friends after my arrival in Australia, and why I find it so difficult to forgive my abuser for destroying this social network I’d created.

The other reason that I find making friends so difficult, is the simple reason that I don’t have any friends. It may sound odd, or plain ironic, but the simple fact is it’s easier to make friends when you already have friends than it is to make friends when you don’t have friends. Firstly, you are more likely to meet new people through your existing friends, and secondly, people are far less likely to ask “what’s wrong with you”. For someone who doesn’t have friends is automatically (and wrongly) labelled as being ‘not friend material’ because they must be ‘crazy’, ‘needy’ or ‘just plain damaged’.

I am acutely aware that being so isolated is damaging to both my physical and mental health. A study in 2013 found that people who suffer from social isolation are more likely to die prematurely and it is commonly known that isolation can increase feelings of depression, anxiety and panic attacks. So it isn’t too difficult to realise how being isolated has become such a severe roadblock on my journey to recovery. We all need someone in our lives. Someone we can vent to. Someone we can share with. Someone we can spend time with. To have no-one is painful, debilitating and damned lonely.

The only social contact I have comes from my weekly appointments with my support worker. They last for approximately one hour each. Every single other hour of the week I spend alone; staring at the wall, roaming the streets, trying desperately to work out how I can make friends. It’s debilitating, painful and makes me wonder why I continue with this crazy thing called life.

So what can be done about my isolation? How does one even go about making friends at the tender old age of thirty-six?

Well, firstly, I need to do something about my social anxiety disorder. For as long as this condition retains the control it does over my mind, I am never going to be confident enough to talk to other human beings. There is far too much risk of humiliation and badness if I do.

And, secondly, I need to do something about my PTSD. For as long as this condition retains the control it does over my mind, I am never going to be able to trust other human beings to the point of making and retaining relationships with them. There is far too much risk of pain and chaos if I do.

But once I’ve done those, there are other things I can do:

Thirdly, I could join some local community organisations or social groups, this way I can enjoy my spare time doing something I enjoy doing whilst placing myself in a position to make new friends and connections. Perhaps a photography group or book club would be suitable to begin with.

Fourthly, I can make more of an effort to connect with people online. I find this method of communication less painful than real-world conversation and it could lead to making online friends with the hope of transferring the friendship into real-world contact, depending on where the people live, of course.

Fifthly, well, I honestly can’t think of a fifth option, for making friends basically boils down to getting yourself out there and just meeting people! No amount of counseling or therapy is going to make friends, it’s just something you need to do, regardless of risk. For without risk there is no reward.

Previous installments in ‘Roadblocks to Recovery’:


Leave a comment

Roadblocks to Recovery: #1. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

I spent a considerable amount of time yesterday reading through some of the blog posts that I wrote in 2012 and 2013, quite possibly the most prolific blogging period of my online writing career. Some of the posts were depressing, some were uplifting, some funny and others steeped in inspirational content. But the defining characteristic of each blog post that I read was hope; hope for me, hope for a better future, hope for my recovery journey.

Over the last twelve months, ever since I slipped into a deep depression that refuses to lift no matter what I do, I realise that this hope has evaporated. I no longer have hope that I will ever recover. I no longer have hope that my life will be any better than it is now. And that’s the most depressing thing I’ve ever written, for if my life is never going to get any better than what I have now, I may as well kill myself, because what I have now is nothing.

My “life” (if you can call it that) is a monotonous routine of the same-old, same-old every single day. I roll out of bed in the morning only because I need to go to the bathroom. I fiddle online. I listen to the radio. I watch DVDs (almost at the same time each day) and I yearn for something (anything) to happen so as to break the routine that I have fallen into. Sometimes I try to break the routine myself; go for a walk, cook something new for dinner, break up the route I take when walking to the supermarket, but nothing cracks the protective routine I’ve fashioned for myself.

As I read those blog posts yesterday evening I began to wonder why I have such trouble breaking my routine. Why I have no hope for recovery. I started to wonder about all the roadblocks that have been created that are preventing me from continuing my recovery journey. All the niggling frustrations that have been concocted to prevent me from living the life that I want to live. And it is these roadblocks that I need to explore, to try to work out why they are causing such problem and what (if anything) can be done about them.

For until I navigate these roadblocks I will have no hope, and without hope, there is nothing.

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

PTSD

The first roadblock that is preventing hope from re-entering my life is something I wrote about recently: PTSD. My PTSD is a complex beast. It is not just from one incident, but rather several life-threatening and traumatic incidents that have occurred over the last eight years of my life. From being emotionally abused, to being raped, to being forced to live a homeless, sub-human existence, the memories of these events permeate every facet of my life, forcing me to live in a constant hyper-vigilant state. There are so many triggers, so many things for me to avoid, that ‘living’ is something that seems almost impossible. Even simple acts like someone chewing gum, talking to people or writing comments on blogs can cause crippling panic attacks and hours of re-living the events that have defined my life over the last several years.

Even without these triggers, my PTSD can come flooding back unbidden. I have already mentioned recently the near constant conversations I have with the ghost of my abuser, frantically trying to make sense of what she did, why she did it and why I deserved it. Conversations (nay, screaming matches) that can last for hours at a time, no matter what I’m doing or where I’m doing it. At night, my sleep is constantly disturbed by the near-endless nightmares of being raped, and that is when I can get to sleep, as my efforts are often affected by the memories of my time sleeping rough as my mind constantly asks whether or not I ‘deserve’ to be sleeping in a bed.

Living in such a hyper-vigilant state is exhausting both physically and mentally. Constantly having to be aware of everything that is going on around me, constantly avoiding things I want to do and places I want to go, in case I find myself triggered, in case I succumb to the crippling effects of a panic attack. It’s mindbogglingly tiring. So much so that I often have very little energy to do the things I want to do. I have trouble walking down the street without being overcome with exhaustion, I have trouble keeping my mind focused on even simple acts such as grocery shopping or watching a movie.

No matter what I do, the PTSD has a direct impact on every area of my life. And no matter what I do, nothing seems to alleviate my suffering. I’ve tried everything; from CBT, DBT and mindfulness, to talking therapy, exposure therapy and psychotherapy. Nothing works. Nothing does anything to alter the hyper-vigilance, flashbacks or endless replaying of my previous trauma.

The impact it has on my life is devastating. And the PTSD I’m afflicted with is clearly a major roadblock on my journey to recovery. For as long as the PTSD has such a hold on me, I will never have hope for recovery, let alone be able to recover to any reasonable degree. But what can I do about it? People suggest I should “move on”, “get over it” or “move forward” from the trauma. I’m told to simply stop replaying events. I’m encouraged to just “deal with it”, but these suggestions are nothing more than platitudes that I already know, platitudes that ignore the devastating effect that PTSD can have on someone. It’s not easy to just “get over it” or “move forward” when you are constantly being reminded of the trauma to the point of panic attack and inaction. It’s not as simple as just “moving on” or “dealing with it” when your subconscious mind constantly dregs up memories that you don’t ask to remember. When I’m lost to a PTSD flashback, when I’m trapped in a conversation with the ghost of my abuser, when I’m experiencing nightmares of being raped or being assaulted whilst sleeping rough, I’m not even conscious enough to acknowledge my own name, let alone tell myself to just “move on”. It’s just not going to work. Period.

So what can be done? Well, if I had the answer to that my PTSD wouldn’t be causing as much of a problem, but I need a plan of action in order to rebuild hope, so I have to come up with something. Anything. So:

Firstly, I need to undertake some extensive talking therapy. I firmly believe that psychoanalysis from someone who is trained, someone who knows what they’re doing, someone who has experience of PTSD, will do me the world of wonder. I’m hoping this will come courtesy of the psychologist I have recently been put in contact with, if it doesn’t, then I need to find someone else. Regardless of how much it costs.

Secondly, I need people in my life. People have always been more powerful to me than medication. The most stable I have ever felt in my life (late 2006) came at a time when I wasn’t medicated, when I wasn’t receiving treatment, but when I had friends. The simple act of just being around these friends, spending time with them, sharing my life with them, enjoying life with them, changed the structure of my brain and enabled me to see myself for who I want to be. They distracted me from my issues, took my mind off my troubles and enabled me to enjoy life. Yes, people would help, that much I’m sure.

Thirdly, I need to consider PTSD specific medication. If there is such a thing. I don’t know much about the world of medication when it comes to PTSD, but it’s something that I need to research, something that I need to look into. For if medication can help, I’m more than willing to give it a go. So if anyone has any experience of medicating PTSD, please leave a comment below, your experience would be greatly appreciated.

Fourthly, I need to write more about the incidents that have caused my PTSD, for by talking about them in a safe environment (such as my blog) I may be able to look upon them in a new light. I may be able to alter the way my brain interprets them, alleviating the control they have.

Fifthly, well, I don’t have a fifthly, so four items will have to suffice for now. At least it’s somewhere for me to start rebuilding hope.

Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear.
If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.
Thich Nhat Hanh


5 Comments

How to cope with PTSD flashbacks?

I feel it pertinent to point out that this isn’t a ‘how to’ post. You may feel slightly jipped to discover this, especially since the first two words of the post title are “how” and “to”, but I did place a wee question mark at the end of the title, meaning I need your help. And with your help, perhaps we can write the ‘how to’ post that you were probably expecting.

My PTSD is a complicated beast. It doesn’t just come from one traumatic incident, but several, the memories of which have combined to form an almost impenetrable wall of trauma that I have no idea how to deal with. Firstly (and foremost) there is the emotional abuse that I was the victim of. Without question this causes the most damaging of my PTSD symptoms. Secondly, there is the assault and rape I experienced when I was in Adelaide in 2007. Thirdly, there is the recurrent memories of being homeless; of being ostracised by society and forced to exist in a sub-human state on the streets of Melbourne and beyond. Fourthly, comes the various physical assaults that I received during this homeless existence. On a daily basis I am hounded by flashbacks of these four incidents; flashbacks that occur without warning, leaving me a quivering, delusional wreck.

Over the last few months, ever since becoming unwell, the memories of the emotional abuse I received have been impossible to contend with. I have been regularly conversing with a hallucination of my abuser to the point I devolve into a fuming, shouty monster. Lord knows what my neighbours think of me, for the walls between us are thin, and my voice is raging. I will scream, yell, holler, bellow, bawl and shriek as I replay specific abusive events and attempt to discover why she saw fit to abuse me. I am desperate for answers, desperate for closure, but I know I can never receive it so my voice rages ever louder. I want to know why she decided to destroy my sense of self, why she was so cruel and callous in her criticism and insults, why she worked so hard to drive a wedge between my friends and I, why she decided I didn’t deserve to be in tertiary education and why she decided I should die because “my voice is so boring and monotonous it inflicts pain on everyone I talk to“. I need to know why I deserved the abuse she gave me. But like I said, I know I will never discover these answers, I will never have the closure I need, so how do I cope with it? How do I live with the trauma rather than let it control me?

At least fourteen hours a day are lost to these fuming, shouting sessions. They occur when I’m home, they occur when I’m walking down the street and they occur when I’m surrounded by people in the high street. And I have no idea how to stop it. I have no idea how to cope with these intolerable flashbacks.

My GP believes a new anti-psychotic will help – a week into taking it, it hasn’t. I’ve tried mindfulness techniques. I’ve tried my usual coping mechanisms. I’ve tried CBT and DBT techniques. I’ve tried flooding myself with distraction. But nothing has worked. I always devolve into the shouting, always devolve into the trauma and always allow it to control my thinking, my actions and everything in between.

Hence the question – how to cope with PTSD flashbacks? How do you cope with your PTSD flashbacks? How do you stop it controlling your life?


Leave a comment

Working with Voices: Nightmares

Previously, in the ‘Working with Voices: Victim to Victor’ workbook series…
~ Introduction ~ Dreams ~

MOnsters INc

“Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear.”
~ Stephen King~

My nightmares…

“Close your eyes and think about all the things in your life that have caused you pain, distress, anger and frustration. These things could be brought to the fore as you work through the workbook so it useful that you write them down so that they do not take you by surprise later in the process. These can be states of mind as well as actual occurrences and symptoms of your mental health problems.”

This particular exercise in the workbook is incredibly difficult for me to do, which is probably why it’s taken several months for me to attempt it! There’s something about revisiting my ‘nightmares’ that causes such distress I’m often left unable to function, and without someone to help pick up the pieces and put me back together again, my fear of such an occurence increases ten-fold.

However, as it’s an important part of the workbook I will endeavour to do my best. The manner that I’ve chosen to complete this exercise is to separate the list into three different sections: actual events, symptoms of illness and emotional states/reactions. Please note that these lists are in no particular order.

Actual events

  • The emotionally abusive relationship I was a victim of
  • The (numerous) physical assaults I’ve been the victim of
  • The sexual assault I was a victim of
  • My sister’s mental illness
  • The bullying I was a victim of during my primary and high school years

Symptoms of illness

  • My greatest nightmare when it comes to symptoms of illness is who I become whilst manic. In fact, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that I live in constant fear of ‘becoming’ that person again!
  • I abhor my socially anxious self. This part of me is a source of great frustration and anger.
  • Incidents of self-harm often bring on feelings of fear, emotional pain and anger, more often than not after the act.
  • I am terrified of the frequency and severity of my suicidal ideation, especially in times of severe depression.
  • The frequent nightmares and random night-time behaviour that occur as a result of PTSD scares the bejesus out of me!
  • The negative (nay, abusive) content of my voices – especially from Vanessa and Shay – causes tremendous distress.
  • As does Shay’s preoccupation with misogynistic and sexist content, as it goes against my values and beliefs.

Emotional states/reactions

  • I am frequently distressed by my lack of self-esteem, confidence and image of self, not because it scares me, but because I know when trapped by these emotions I am incapable of showing the world my awesome self.
  • The same can be said for the mute-idiot I become when in any social situation – be it conversations with support workers/GPs, supermarket queues, support/social groups or the rarity of an actual social situation.
  • Although it doesn’t happen all that often, when I become truly angry I scare myself; which is why I’ve spent many years honing my skills of controlling my anger so that no-one ever sees this side of me…ever.
  • My lack of physical and emotional intimacy, i.e. hugs, kisses, sexual intercourse etc.) causes pain so intense it’s impossible to describe.
  • For that matter, my isolated state in its entirety is a source of tremendous negative emotion.
  • The unfocused and lost to pain states I fall into during the evening and weekends cause me great distress.

My fears about the ‘Victim to Victor’ process…

As mentioned above, my primary fear of the Victim to Victor process is opening a Pandora’s Box of negative emotion that will cripple my ability to function. The work-book recommends you work through the book with the help of a supportive person, but as I am isolated, I lack such a person so have to brave through it myself.

As such, the actual work-book could be classified as a personal nightmare, for it is yet another reminder of my loneliness.

But, as I’ve managed to work through various negative situations all on my lonesome (such as the anxiety I feel whilst shopping or pushing myself to attend support groups), I’m hoping that the skills I learned in doing these things will hold me in good stead throughout the remainder of the book.

Only time will tell, I guess!

~ Next ~
Identifying Your Experiences


8 Comments

Six things that have happened in my absence

36

I think it goes without saying that – given my elongated absence – the last few months have either been filled with all sorts of wonderful excitement (such as restorative sleep, marshmallow fountains and rolls in the proverbial hay with Daenerys look-a-likes) or filled with the sort of nightmarish negative mental health episodes I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

Given that last week I spent the better part of two hours writing a list of reasons to die/live in my journal (for the record, 28 reasons to die opposed to 1 reason to live!) I think the ‘nightmarish negative mental health episodes’ is the safest bet as to my absence. 

Thus, as I attempt to slowly ease my way back into blogging mode (and deal with all the WordPress changes!) I shall fill you in with a few of the occurrences in my life over the last few months.

And, given my somewhat depressive mood of late, the first couple of things on this list fall into the ‘it’s okay to admit you’re not okay’ category…

1. I have suffered a relapse of my mental health

There’s a hell of a lot to discuss in this area and, to be honest, I’m not really in a mental state to do so right now. But, to sate any ‘where is Addy?’ appetites: I have been self-harming on a fairly regular basis for the last month or so, I have been considering suicide (as the above list-admission attests), I still haven’t got all that much hope for a better future and my voices, PTSD issues and sleeplessness have gotten way out of control!

Not fun! :(

2. I discovered I have dangerously low levels of Vitamin D…

…as well as worrying discrepancies in several other vital substances that are essential for human life!

Thus, I am currently on a strict regime of supplements – which I keep forgetting to take – and hope that by the next blood test in a couple of months my levels will more closely resemble an ‘acceptable level’.

But it hasn’t all been self-harm, suicidal ideation and ‘what is the point of living?’ depression.

Some of what has happened has been downright embarrassing…

3. I locked myself in my house (!)

Most people can claim to have locked themselves out of their house at some stage or another, but how many can claim to have locked themselves in? Last week, I did just that!

There I was, nonchalantly opening the back door so I could have my morning cigarette when the key snapped off in the lock. No problem, I hear you say, I can just use the front door. Wrong! Because my front door has two locks – and one of them uses the same key as the back!

So I was trapped in my own home for nearly two hours until the real estate agency could sort out a spare key in order to release me from my not very comfortable prison!

…whilst other things have actually been rather wonderful…

4. I am now the creator and co-facilitator of a group at GT House

The group I created is called Creative Therapy and its mission statement reads like this: “To provide participants the opportunity to explore their life’s journey in a safe, supportive and (hopefully) fun environment via a number of creative activities, writing prompts and lively discussions.”

Basically, for two hours every Monday afternoon I babble away to a miniature group of people about how therapeutic creativity can be. So far we have written letters to our younger selves, decorated a brand spanking new journal (you know, to take ownership of them), had a lively debate about the power of books and examined our personal positive experiences.

Basically, it’s what I’ve spent the last several years doing on this blog, only with a live studio audience! Some of it has been fun, some of it has been challenging, all of it has been severely anxiety inducing. But not enough to stop me from hoping there will a second term of creative shenanigans as I’m actually rather enjoying it! :)

5. I have joined a gym

The last time I was a member of a gym was late 2006; the glory days when mental health was a manageable nuisance and my life revolved around preparing for tertiary education, hanging with my social network and rolling in the proverbial hay with my then Daenerys look-a-like of a girlfriend.

But – courtesy of the wonderful people at GT House – I am now the proud owner of a free six month gym membership. My goal is that by the end of the membership I will more closely resemble a shaggable human being, instead of the hideous (body dysmorphic suffering) blob monster I currently am.

Last week (my first under this new regime) I put in 180 minutes of cardio (treadmill and cross trainer) and three sets of ten on four differing weight machines; I’m hoping to push myself harder in the future!

And yes, my menagerie are going mental at this attempt to alter my grotesque appearance, but more of that later!

6. I have obtained a camera!

Courtesy of a generous family member, who lovingly decided to send their distant nephew a camera they were no longer using, I now have the facility to take photographs again. Given it has been over five years since I really dabbled in this field – and given photography is now a bit of a trigger for me – it may take a while for me to get my form back, but expect numerous photographs of my ‘life’ appearing over the next few weeks, beginning shortly with a 30 Day Photo Challenge that I hope will help me get my photo-mojo back!

Just a wee photo I took as I played with my new camera. He is Meadhbh’s monkey and his name is Ceenem (pronounced as if C-N-M)

Aside from these things, ‘life’ continues as per usual.

Here’s hoping that you’ve all had a far more profitable, entertaining and joy-filled time since we last met! :)


3 Comments

Day #1: Mi Diagnoses

Over the next twelve days I will be undertaking the “Try Looking At It Through My Eyes” challenge, as devised by Bold Kevin on his blog Voices of Glass.

Normally, the challenges I undertake on this blog are rather shallow little things centered around favourite movies, books and superficial celebrity crushes. This challenge, in keeping with my (and Audrey’s) desire to move this blog ‘back to basics’, has been designed by and for people dealing with mental health issues.

Hopefully it will be as entertaining and enlightening as it will be challenging! :)

~◊~

Day One – “She” (Or if you are male “He”)
Write a short story about someone who has just been diagnosed with your mental illness/condition and who is the age you were when you were diagnosed.  What happened, what were they expecting, what are their feelings etc?

DSM

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; in case you weren’t aware, I’m not exactly its staunchest supporter! :p

Only day one and I’m already risking a trip to the headmaster’s office for flagrantly flouting the rules. The thing is, no matter how much I love writing fiction, I’m incapable of doing it at the moment due to excuses ranging from fluctuating moods, a downtrodden soul, various forms of exhaustion and a general lack of focus that’s currently affecting every facet of my life.

So, I will tell you the tale(s) of moments in my life when I was diagnosed with various illnesses and the wide-range of emotions that affected me on each of those occasions. Given the vast number of times I have visited psychiatrists/doctors/psychologists since my early twenties, I have chosen to look at only the first time I was diagnosed with various illness(es) and conditions rather than all the times I was re-diagnosed with the same illnesses.

Beginning with the very first time I discussed my mental health with a doctor, which was also the first time I’d discussed it with anyone, way back at the end of the millennium.

April 2000: Depression and Social Anxiety Disorder… (22)

After eight years of on/off self-harm, suicidal ideation, the onset of hearing voices and more fluctuations between mania, depression and self-destructive behavior than a champion stick shaker could shake a stick at, I found myself in a doctor’s office discussing these aspects of my life for the very first time.

I told him the stories behind some of my scars; I shared with him the moments I’d wanted to end my life; I opened up about years of depressed, melancholic thoughts; I admitted to being pathologically incapable of talking to people and of being someone who no-one is capable of loving or liking.

After listening intently, occasionally interrupting my sporadic rambles with pertinent questions, he leaned back in his chair and wrote a prescription for Prozac, believing me to be showing all the symptoms of depression and social anxiety disorder. Although he didn’t categorically proclaim this diagnosis – I’ve noticed over the years very few medical practitioners will tell their client flat-out what their diagnosis is, psychiatrists especially – he referred me to a psychologist and we began weekly appointments.

As I walked around the Ness Islands on that overcast weekday afternoon, my mind wasn’t focused on the disorders he’d mentioned, nor on the medication he had prescribed. All that fear, confusion and uncertainty would consume me soon enough. On that afternoon I felt only relief for finally talking to someone about all the pain and torment that had been festering inside me for nearly a decade.

It is a relief I have never forgotten, nor felt the like of since.

March 2007: Breakdown… (28)

The only things I can recall about this diagnosis (given my state of mind at the time) are:

1) It happened in Port Fairy.
2) Being prescribed more medication than I’d ever taken before.
and
3) The constant, all-consuming confusion over why (given what was happening at the time) was I not hospitalized?

November 2007: Bipolar… (28)

Following years of erratic behaviour, psychosis, deep depressions, multiple suicide attempts, vicious self-harm and more pain than anyone should have to endure in their lifetime, a psychiatrist in Melbourne diagnosed me Bipolar Type 1.

At the time I was about to venture to Tasmania (a dream destination since my arrival in Australia) to explore the genital isle of Australia. However, following the diagnosis I was thrust into a downward spiral of confusion, anger, pain, despair, depression and the sudden realisation that my life’s dreams would never eventuate. I could forget friends, relationships and being a father. In fact, I could forget about being someone ever again.

I dealt with the diagnosis the only way I knew how to at the time: I drank numerous alcoholic beverages, had fiery conversations with Meadhbh – who encouraged both self-harm and suicide – and turned to my recently established blog to rant about my emotions and try to understand what was happening to me. Entire days were lost to Googling “Bipolar” whilst reading whatever book I could find on manic depression in order to gain some form of understanding about what was happening to me.

It would be years before I had a firm understanding of my illness and have never forgiven that psychiatrist for destroying my only real chance of visiting Tasmania; an island I have yet to visit and now, due to the poverty and isolation in which I dwell, probably never will.

February 2008: Bipolar (again), Social Anxiety Disorder (again) and PTSD… (29)

After returning to the UK, I took advantage of a (relatively) stable period in my moods to integrate into the country’s mental health system. Following several appointments with a mental health team I was referred to Abergavenny Psychiatric Hospital where I was seen by a clinical psychiatrist.

Weeks later, I received the multiple diagnosis of Bipolar Type 1, (severe) social anxiety disorder and – due to the trauma of the abuse I’d received in 2007 – Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. All I can remember feeling at the time was exhaustion, given I was still trying to deal with the debilitating physical effects of Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome and anger, given I was only nine months from my 30th birthday and needed to have my life sorted out by the time the clock ticked over to that date.

These diagnoses (and the resulting medication) would make such stabilisation almost impossible!

December 2011: “There is absolutely nothing wrong with you…” (33)

Following years of unsupported/unmedicated erratic behaviour, mood swings, self-harm, black-outs, psychosis, nightmares, dissociation and homelessness, I was referred to a Mental Health crisis team. It was through my association with this team that I would now prefer to die a slow, painful, self-inflicted death than be involved with any mental health service in the future.

The first person to see me declared after a half-hour session that “there were no mental health problems going on” and that was that.

The second person to see me, following a near two-hour session that explored my life in intricate, intimate detail, reconfirmed my earlier diagnosis of Bipolar Type 1, (severe) social anxiety disorder and PTSD. He immediately began me on a course of medication (lithium) alongside antidepressants and antipsychotics with follow-up blood tests and appointments; all of which I attended.

The third person to see me, after the previous psychiatrist left, told me within fifteen seconds of meeting him that multiple diagnoses of mental illness were “impossible”, justifying this by stating, “what am I supposed to treat?” and from there it was all downhill. My childhood was free of major illnesses, accidents and wasn’t “traumatic enough” to cause mental health problems. What had happened with my sister was instantly discarded because, when I was twelve years old, I should have understood the complexities of her anorexia nervosa and thus any reaction to what was happening to her (and how she treated me) was entirely my fault. Everything that had occurred in my life from 2000 onwards (multiple suicide attempts, self-harm, abuse, manic episodes, depressive episodes, mood swings, PTSD, breakdown etc.) were classified as “unimportant” and his final diagnosis (as he leant back in his chair with a Cheshire Cat sized grin on his face) was that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me, that I had been “play acting mental illness in order to get out of homelessness” and there was “no medication that could help me”. Thus causing him to immediately cessate the lithium I was taking.

Within weeks I was a gambling alcoholic lost in an ocean of self-medicating, self-harming, psychotic behaviour that ultimately prompted a suicide attempt. But true to my word, I have never once returned to a psychiatrist and/or mental health team and (probably) never will again; regardless of how bad things become in the future.


3 Comments

It’s OK to say no to something you don’t want to do (I’m just not very good at it!)

boathaven2

The swimming pool at the campground I’m going to. However, I WILL NOT be doing any swimming courtesy of my extreme body image issues. I’ll just be watching…but not in a ‘creepy’ way! :p

As mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the organisation I use for social groups and inclusion have organised a group camp to mark the end of term. Today, a dozen or so people are headed to a nearby caravan park to spend three days ‘chilling out’, ‘having fun’ and ‘enjoying themselves’. Given my current extreme state of exhaustion I spent the weekend mulling over whether or not I should attend.

On the one hand, attending the camp would be a big challenge to my anxiety and allow me to have a (brief) respite from the cabin fever I’ve been experiencing for several months given that I’ve been trapped in this quiet, uninspiring, monotonous town for nearly two years now!

On the other hand, attending the camp is sure to resurface memories of my time homeless (as I will be living in the same tent that was my ‘home’ for a while) and have a serious impact on my current morose suicidal exhaustion. It could also have a massive detrimental effect on my anxiety, as I would be away from all of my distraction and safety nets (such as my home, the internet, DVD, Wii etc.) and spending three days in the constant company of other people. Then there is the omnipresent, undeniable, proven by many incidents of my life fact that when I take on too much I tend to crash and burn. And when I crash and burn…I really crash and burn!

Whereas, on the original hand, also attending the camp is a rather cute support worker who I could surreptitiously admire from afar! What? I didn’t say perve, I said ‘admire‘, there’s a difference! :p

Last night, after days of constantly thinking about it, I decided it would be best for me to remain at home – chilling out, having fun and enjoying myself with blogging, radio quizzes and Conversation articles – rather than risk the (currently very real) outcome of complete mind and body shutdown if I were to attend.

However, this morning, in a moment of masterful emotional manipulation that I will forever hold against her, one of the camp’s organisers got me to agree to attend. Mainly because, as many people know, it is impossible for me to assert myself and say ‘no’ to something I really don’t want to do. Hence why I’ve spent the majority of my life doing things for everyone else whilst neglecting my own needs, desires and safety.

So, with extreme apologies, my HVSG update, the Try Looking At It Through My Eyes challenge and responding to my backlog of comments/emails etc. will have to wait until I return from three days of ‘heightened anxiety’, ‘homeless fuelled PTSD flashbacks’ and ‘why can’t I just say no’ frustration.

But who knows, maybe this is all just anxiety fuelled by my belief that I don’t deserve to be happy and if I permit myself to, I’ll find myself having a wonderful time!

We’ll find out in a few days! :p

Until then, stay safe, happy and well…and remember, you are allowed to say no to something! :p

boathaven1

There appears to be lots of palm trees where I’m going. Or perhaps they’re the same palm trees, just taken from a different angle than in the pool photo! :p