Growing up with an abusive parent – A Conversation with Claire.

CLAIRE CONVERSATION TMY

 

This month, I had the opportunity to sit down with Claire* who bravely opened up to tell me her story of how she grew up in a domestically and emotionally challenged environment, and the impact this had on her mental health as an adult. Claire is now a parent and a homeowner with her long term Partner, and when she’s not caring for her two children she works part time as a registered medical professional. This is Claire’s story of her experience with an abusive parent.

*WARNING – this post contains some reference of domestic and sexual violence, and some contents can be triggering. All names have been changed to ensure confidentiality. 

 

 

TMY – “So what made you want to speak out?

 

CLAIRE – Mostly to help your blog, and to touch on subjects that I don’t really speak about which could help other young adults or children. Um… about – it’s really hard to say it now – if you are having a tough time at home when you are young but you don’t see it as abuse or anything… But when you get old you know it is, do you know what I mean?

 

Yeah.

 

And how it can affect you a little bit really.

 

So tell me about the background of it all, obviously I know quite a bit about the life you had with your mum?

 

Even now I’ll try and discuss it, and I still won’t see it as abuse. But now when I think about it with my children, and if I was ever to do something like that, I wouldn’t do it – you know what I mean – so I know it’s wrong. But even discussing it I’ll think – ‘No, it’s not really, it’s not’ – but then again it was. So I’ll think about the way my mum used to speak to me… see even now I think people will just think it’s attention seeking or you are just being stupid, but that’s just my mum talking.

 

Yes.

 

Do you see what I mean?

 

*Nods*

Yes. I think when you are that age as well you just don’t know, you haven’t got the experience to compare it to. You haven’t got that self-worth built up over the years.

 

No, I remember when I was at school and I went to one of the mentors who helps students, and I really wanted to tell her what had been going on, and I approached her and she said to me, ‘Someone’s mum died today’, and then just blanked me so I never spoke out to anyone again after that. So I do think it’s quite important for children to be able to approach people and mentors who are supposed to be there to help you. And actually get acknowledged and not brushed off, because that actually reinforces you saying well, maybe it is nothing? If she’s not going to listen to me who is? Maybe it is nothing, maybe it is just in my head.

 

It’s quite a big deal for someone to – how old was you at the time?

 

So… I think I was in year 8 when that happened…

 

So 13, 14 maybe?

 

*Nods*

 

And that was the first time I actually went to approach somebody about it and it was the last time I ever did.

 

Yeah.

 

I suppose things might have been a little bit different if I’d actually said; look this is what’s happening at home, I’m not very happy.

 

It’s a big thing to do, was it just… built up? What made you want to talk to somebody?

 

I can’t remember to be honest I just remember thinking I need to tell someone, and then I never did again.

 

And to face that kind of rejection as well at such a young age, it must have made you feel like…

 

It’s something that has always stayed with me, what happened, it’s not something I will ever forget.

 

Yeah. Do you remember the next time you spoke out after that, when you told somebody?

 

I think it was….. I think it was when I had had my proper fall out with my mum, and I went to the doctors with panic attacks – I couldn’t breathe – and like, I kind of spoke about it but not really. I can’t remember really? I think I have obviously spoke about it to my friends as I got older, but at the time it was normalised, you sort of get desensitised to things you know like, you don’t see it as… maybe when I went to councillor really, but that was when I was about… I was pregnant with my son, so, about 13 years later. And that’s when I really opened up to a stranger about wanting to seek help again, so that’s probably about 12, 13 years later.

 

It’s a long time.

 

Yeah. Oh and I did at university actually, I had this lady called S that I used to speak to. And I wrote a massive long letter about all the things my mum had done and she like took me under her wing a little bit. Um… yeah, it affected me whilst I was at university; I used to self-harm, I tried committing suicide. I had to stay in observations with the nurse for a couple of nights, I wasn’t allowed to be on my own. I had to sleep there before they were worried I was going to kill myself. I think that’s when I wrote the letter to this women who tried to help students.

 

Trying to reach out?

 

Yeah, yeah. I’m a little bit all over the place, sorry.

 

It’s okay. Do you think that…you said you was pregnant with your son at the time when you really started opening up… Do you think that being pregnant with your first born kind of helped to see your own worth in a way?

 

No, I sought help because I didn’t want to feel that pain anymore, and bringing a child in to it.

 

Okay.

 

I was so… I think it highlighted things more because my mum would, we’d obviously had that fall out, and she wasn’t bothered with my – you know with me being pregnant or anything – and I think it just hit home just how hurt I was still and that’s when I sought counselling, I didn’t want to bring a child in to it. Well, since having children it’s got better, but I still feel feelings of guilt towards my mum, I still feel like sometimes in my head… was it acceptable behaviour? And I’m just… You know… But I wouldn’t do the things she has done to me to my children, you know then it’s wrong, you know?

 

Yeah, I suppose you’ve got something to compare it to now, you are on the different perspective, you are on your mum’s perspective in a way.

 

Yeah. Because I think really, it would be nice for people to read this, and acknowledge that there are similarities in their stories, where they have got a narcissistic mum, that they are getting abused and that it’s okay to stand up – and if they are in the situation like, with the woman at the school who didn’t acknowledge it and brushed it off, because she’d heard that something more important had happened to someone else – there are other people who you can speak to, you don’t have to just walk away and then try and find help 13 years later because you wouldn’t have to go through all that suffering.

 

Do you think your life would have been different if she did say, ‘Okay, let’s sit down and talk?’

 

I think I would have been under the eyes of social services. But my mum was under social services with my younger brother. I’m not really sure of the story behind that, I know she had a social worker to take him out, but I don’t know we never spoke about it, so I don’t know what that was all about. But because that had happened, maybe… Well, if I had gone in to more detail, gone in to any detail what had happened, I think she would have spoke to various agencies to try and take me away.

 

When did it all start with you mum? Can you remember?

 

I don’t know if this is a memory… or it’s something she had told me. But she left alcohol out in the living room when I was about 2 or 3. I got really drunk and passed out, then I got bit by a dog. And I don’t know where she was then, and I find that quite neglectful because you don’t, like –

 

It’s very young.

 

– ‘Where are you?’ You know. But, um… I do have a memory of her pushing me down the stairs when I was 4. And I have another memory… the one memory I remember really well is, I was – I can’t remember why she was angry at me – but I was in primary school and I must have been about 5 (I started school when I was 5), and she was really annoyed with me, I can’t remember why. And she pushed me. We had this sofa where it had all these little metal studs going all around it, she ended up blacking my eye? And she told me I had to tell people that I had fallen over my toys. Um, and I remember that, and pushing me down the stairs, but I can’t remember anything else after that. So I think… what I can remember… I think she was neglectful from me being a toddler, because why else would a two year old get drunk and get attacked by a dog?

 

Yeah.

 

But my first memories are more when I was about 5, um… yeah.

 

Did you feel like it was normal, growing up in that environment? Or did you know something was wrong?

 

I used to watch films and I would see like, these families being really happy, and I used to think, ‘Why is my family not like that, you know why are we not like that?’ and I used to say that to her and she’d be like, ‘Oh it’s just in the films, it’s just films.’ I just saw it as normal I think though really, I used to see the films and think why is my family not like that. But… yeah I saw it as normal really. I think it was as I grew in to an adult where I thought, you know, it’s not right, it’s not right.

 

Yeah. Did you tell your friends?

 

I can’t remember. I don’t know if they witnessed it or… I know one of my friends said that ‘I know your mum is always a bit funny with you.’ I don’t think I told my friends at the time actually, what was going on. They must have known something because when I was about 15, I lived with my friend and her mum for a while, and her mum used to say to my nan, ‘Oh I used to have her all the time as a toddler,’ and my nan was like ‘Well I used to have her all the time as well,’ so when did my mum actually have me? My mum had me quite young, and I think she felt she had missed out on a lot of her teenage years where you are going out and getting drunk and all that, so I think she wanted to experience those that everyone else was feeling? And I think she took it out on me. Quite a lot. Blamed me.

 

Do you know if she had a history of any abuse, anything similar?

 

No, she was doted on by my grandad, absolutely doted on and the problem with my mum and how she is, is that my grandad doted on her, and gave her anything she wanted, but he was a strict parent. But my nan used to hide things from my grandad too so she wouldn’t get in to trouble, and I think she has always get away with stuff and walk all over her mum because my nan wouldn’t say anything. Like my mum used to come home drunk and my nan would make cover stories up for her, you know… so. But I don’t think she was abused. She once said in anger that my dad had raped her, but I think she just said that because she’s just…

 

*Silence*

 

Yeah.

 

*Silence*

 

There are some stories about my dad and how he’d pushed her down the stairs when she was pregnant, and that he’d held her face to dog shit, but I don’t know how real these stories are because she, with my mum, you never know what to believe. She tells so many lies, it’s like the boy who cried wolf, you don’t know if it’s true or if it’s not true. So you just doubt everything she says.

 

How was the relationship between you mum and your little brother? Was it different to the relationship that you had?

 

Yeah. Um, my mum hated… So my Mum used to buy all my brothers clothes and stuff, she wouldn’t buy me any, so my nan would get them for me, my mum hated that. And my mum was very all for my brother, my brother was a little turd when he was younger sometimes… But my mum was quite nasty with him growing up though, I just remember little things, you know? And I’d think ‘It’s a bit mean that’, but… not half as much as she was like with me. They were quite close.

 

When you had your first born, was anything like, brought out of you?

 

Yeah so, some of the mental health things that I experienced was, when I was with my son, and one of the other reasons why I tried to sought counselling was that I was getting nightmares of my mum. Um, every night really, waking up screaming and stuff… and even though my mum had been abusive like, I still wanted her, I still wanted her in my life and I wanted her to care for me, and I still want her to care for me but she’s never going to be that person so you’ve kind of accept and acknowledge the fact that she’s never going to be the person that I want her to be… and a lot of anger and resentment came out for her really as well when I had my son because I thought how could you do that? How could you treat your daughter that way, like I could never be like that with my children, you know? Um… Yeah. But… There’s a lot of things though that I think ‘I could write a book about my life’ and there’s a lot of things I find it hard to talk about.

 

Does your partner know about what you have been through?

 

He knows everything, I think he knows everything really? Most things yeah.

 

I bet it feels nice to have someone who you can share your life with in that way?

 

He doesn’t… he hates her with a passion.

 

*Nods*

 

But… He gets so angry when I’m upset about her, because he hates what I have been through… where it can come to the point where he’s not really supportive and he’s just angry at her? And sometimes, like, I mean I’m not really like it anymore because of my medication but when I used to get really down… he didn’t get it? He just didn’t get it, because he has never experienced any bad things in his life, everything is perfect and rosy and he doesn’t really understand that anyone can ever suffer in pain or anything, and feel down.

 

Do you get depressed? Do you have bouts of depression?

 

*Nods*

 

Not at the minute though, because of my tablets, they really help. If I was to come off my tablets tomorrow, I’d say in a few months’ time I would be back down there feeling anxious, feeling paranoid that everyone is out to get me, like nobody likes me, I’ll get a funny look off someone and I’ll think, ‘Oh they are talking about me!’ I feel devalued, I feel below everyone, I don’t feel like I’m… I feel like everyone up here? *Raised hand above head.*

 

But I’m down here… *lowers hand.*

 

I don’t feel like my worth is…. Everyone else’s standard…

 

*Chokes up*

 

*Silence.*

 

Um… I’ll look at myself in the mirror and think – ‘You’re ugly, you are so fucking ugly!’ Um… and I’ll… I’ll just have really bad… Yeah… and, but… I’m on the tablets and I’m a lot happier, I try to avoid thinking about my mum now, but I do question my own parenting, I get paranoid that I’m not a good parent? And I feel like I’m letting my children down, but I try so hard. I think I overcompensate, but I just, I just want to be everything that my mum’s not. Um, but yeah without the tablets, I would be very down I think.

 

How long have you been on them for?

 

Um…

 

*thinks back*

 

About 2 years… yeah.

 

And who’s decision was it to be on them, was it your doctor’s?

 

That was mine. That was mine.

 

And was you in counselling before that?

 

I think I started with CBT…

 

Yep.

 

But that was before, that, I think it was before I was pregnant. But I didn’t like that, I didn’t like the female therapist, I thought she was young and I would have wanted someone a bit older and I’m my eyes a bit more experienced and someone who could actually listen to me, I felt like I was talking to someone my own age who was being judgemental of me, so I didn’t go to any more of them. So that’s when I opted for counselling, that’s when I was pregnant.

 

Was that through the NHS? (National Health Service)

 

Yeah

 

Yeah – do you think it helped at all?

 

It did yeah, but unfortunately got cut short because I had my son early…

 

Okay.

 

And we never really followed it through after because obviously with a newborn it is quite difficult to go to counselling.

 

*Nods*

 

Yes.

 

But, with my first born I had suspected mild psychosis, which is what my mum had. Well, she didn’t have mild, she had strong psychosis where she would see blood coming out of the walls. Um, I can talk about that if you want, with psychosis and stuff?

 

*Nods*

 

So… when I was pregnant with my first born, I used to, like see the devil coming out of the ceiling like out of the corner, um… I used to see the number 6 everywhere, and think of the devil, I thought he was after me. I’d be screaming at night telling my partner I could see the devil coming out of the wall. I used to have nightmares. And then when I had my son I was hearing voices where, I could hear voices but I could never make out what they were saying it was like whispering it was like…

 

*Whispering impression*

 

…One time, I heard somebody go, ‘Go on…’  like an old man’s voice but there was nobody there, because I was on the postnatal ward and it was in the middle of the night, but I was so tired and drained it was just normal to me. And then when I got home I could see bears coming out of the walls, and on the way home I could see shadows climbing up trees, and loads of weird things going on. I went back to hospital because of what I could see in the walls… And then it kind of just disappeared, it kind of disappeared after all. But I remember, like, when I used to breastfeed my son, and I’d be looking at his toys and I could see them moving and I though they was alive, so when I used to feed him I used to hide his toys away so I couldn’t see them. I used to hide them behind the cot the teddies because I genuinely thought they were moving! But then that kind of disappeared then, I went to a support group for women with postnatal depression, and I found that really helpful and it all so gave me a bit of structure – that helped. But with my first son I had to be super mum, I had to do everything, I couldn’t sit still. In one day we’d go swimming, library, park… everywhere like, it would be jam packed my schedule, I’d never keep still. Whereas this time around I’m a little bit more relaxed but then I’m thinking am I a bad mum because I’m not being super woman, I’m not doing this and doing that, you know? Um… but I’ve not had any signs of psychosis this time around. But, the hospital was quite rude though with my second son, because I got told because I had mild psychosis with my first, then I had to see a psychiatrist in order to get discharged?

 

Okay.

 

So… about 7 days after having him, I said, ‘Can I see the psychiatrist now?’  So when it comes to me leaving the hospital, I can just leave, instead of waiting around to see the psychiatrist. The psychiatrist came in… And he was asking me all these questions – which they have to do – do you think you have got super powers? Do you think everyone’s after you? And I was like, ‘No, I’m fine, I’m absolutely fine there’s nothing wrong with me, I feel so much better than I did when I had my first…’

 

Yeah.

 

And then they was like, ‘Well I think you should get supervised whilst you look after your baby for the next few weeks, can you agree to that?’ and I was like, ‘No!’ I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m getting supervised, there’s nowt wrong with my parenting, I’m not giving you any answers that would make you feel that way?’

 

Yeah…

 

I requested this psychiatric assessment because it’s what I need to get discharged, and I didn’t want to be fannying about! Because I’m in hospital for so long, I want to get discharged, I don’t want to be waiting around, I wanted this to be over and done with, and I found it quite…. Infuriating. Because I’d had it the first time around that they had assumed… Do you know what I mean? It wasn’t like that at all.

 

What did they say to that then, when you put your foot down and said No?

 

He just said – ‘Okay then!’ – he didn’t say anything. But he was a student psychiatrist and I think he was just covering his own back.

 

Yeah maybe, maybe… Did you have any signs of psychosis or paranoia, or anything like that when you was younger?

 

Paranoia, yeah. Psychosis, no.

 

*Laughs*

 

I was always frightened of ghosts and stuff. But no not really…

 

*Silence*

 

A lot of my memory is blanked out. I don’t have a lot of happy memories. I do of my nan and grandad. I don’t really remember a lot. I remember one time when we was sat on the floor next to our house and we was chatting a lot, and that was really nice? But my mum could turn really quick, and I always remember being really disappointed where one minute she’s be really happy, and the next minute she’ll take it out on me. You’d feel lifted and nice and comforted, and the next minute… You were back down to the bottom again…

 

*Silence*

 

Um… yeah… I don’t have a lot of memories of my childhood to be honest, I have a lot of stuff from what had happened but the happy memories, I don’t have many of them.

 

Do you feel like you missed out on a childhood?

 

Yeah. Because I don’t have a dad. Haven’t got a dad that has bothered with me as they say, and my mum’s not particularly the best mum you could ever have…so yeah I do feel like… I wish that I had a family where, like my partners mum and dad; where they come and help with DIY and you can go round for your dinner and you can raid the fridge without being judged or… and I had a mum where I went shopping with her and drank champagne. Maybe those things don’t happen, and maybe that’s not reality and that’s just created in my head because that’s what I want? And I see it in films and stuff maybe that’s not what family life is really like and that’s what I have created and it’s not really real. But that’s what I’d like – a mum and dad – with no mental health issues and that cared about me and loved me and took me shopping, did the normal things that mother and daughters do, and a dad that cares about you and judges all your boyfriends and… Instead… Instead of having emptiness. It is, it’s just like a childhood of emptiness, I don’t remember anything… Apart from the bad things…

 

*Silence*

 

You seem quite close to your partner’s mum and dad, do you see them as a family?

 

I know they are family because they are my children grandparents, but I don’t feel like… I get on with them but I don’t feel like I am part of them, I don’t feel like I a worthy of being part of their family. I just feel like, it’s me, my partner, my children and my nan. I feel quite lonely. I feel like my children family, it’s all about my partner’s side, because I haven’t really got anybody. That’s how I feel. I feel like I’m quite lonely, like I feel like I’m not really part of my son’s life.

 

Okay.

 

Because I feel like, I’m here. That’s their family… And my nans over there? I don’t feel like really… yeah. Yeah, I don’t know.

 

*Silence*

 

Do you feel like… I know your mum came back in to your life quite recently and you tired making a go of it, and that didn’t work out. Do you feel like you was stronger to handle the situation this time?

 

I was a lot stronger this time than how I was when I was pregnant with my first born… I was a lot more accepting of it because I’d already been through it. But, I still get feelings of guilt that maybe it’s me who’s in the wrong? And being that person where you have always been put down… My mum is like, it’s like role reversal where I’m her mum and I have to look after her needs and her feelings, and it’s still like that now, I think that’s why I get the guilt. Because, she is narcissistic, she has got the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder, she’s like that. Even now I’m thinking, ‘Oh I feel guilty on her, how is she feeling? How is she coping? I am being the bad person because I’m putting her through this?’ But, then I’ve also got to think I’m doing it for myself as well, and I’ve got to be in a good place to look after my children. And when I was friendly with her, she did nothing to make her horrible when we were friends, obviously the telephone calls she went a bit insane, but the times we saw each other she was okay. But there was always that doubt in myself thinking she’s not doing to stay like this, this is all an act. And she proved me exactly right when we fell out. Because of the social services things, and, ‘I’m going to take your kids on a Saturday,’ and, ‘It’s going to be on my terms,’ and I thought well you have not changed and I know I did the right thing my cutting her out again.

 

Yes.

 

But it does mean I don’t feel guilty and that show I feel, but she doesn’t worry about how I feel because it’s all about her.

 

I know that you had quite a bad time with it again, but do you feel like you did the right thing by trying to give her a second chance?

 

Yeah I’m glad I did because if I didn’t I would always wonder what if? but I’ve done it, I have extended the branch, and it didn’t work out so. That’s the last time I ever do it because I don’t have any feeling of what if anymore. I know what it leads to… it leads to me feeling anxious, me feeling nervous, me worrying, me being paranoid – even if she doesn’t give me any reason to be paranoid. And then, it’s just not worth it, like I wasn’t sleeping, I was overthinking. Do you know? Whereas now I feel a lot better.

 

Yes.

 

I still feel guilty. I feel like I have pushed herself out on purpose, but she proved me wrong anyway with calling social services on me and my children and stuff. I thought – you’ve not changed.

 

No.

 

You’re still selfish.

 

Do you feel like you have come out stronger from it?

 

I’m back in the place where I was when it was me, my son and my partner, where it was just us and I didn’t have to think about her. But I feel like I think about her a bit more now because she has met my son and I’ve put her in that situation where I have introduced her to my son and then I’ve taken it away? But I took it away – not in spite –  but for my own sanity, because I’m worrying so much, and also when she used to be with him I used to think, ‘You don’t deserve this, you don’t deserve this happiness to be with my son, you are not worthy of being with my son, because you are so cruel.’ She’s been so cruel to me yet I’m letting her see my son? And I used to resent her and think why am I doing this? I’m not doing it for me, I’m doing it for her, I’m not doing it for me, I’m not doing it for my son, I’m doing it for her, and it’s the whole role reversal thing again of looking after her needs.

 

Yeah, I think there’s bit of a whole role reversal with your worth as well, I mean you grew up in that situation thinking that you wasn’t worthy, and now it’s she’s the one that’s not worthy?

 

Yeah. Kind of, um… but on the same token, I’m still looking after her needs by feeling guilty, you know?

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

I won’t… but then, I am more worthy than that so…

 

I think that’s what makes you human though? Like, we’re empathetic creatures aren’t we –

 

– Some of us.

 

Some of us…

 

*Silence*

 

I just… I’ll close my eyes and think of her when I was a child, and I’ll just see these evil eyes, looking through my nan’s window, shouting and swearing, and saying, ‘let me in’ or saying ‘You’re killing your nan and your grandad, they don’t want you here..’ And she didn’t want me because obviously her husband would beat me up. He’d bust my lip open. He tired breaking my nose, but my nose it like… malleable…

 

*laughs and squeezes tip of nose*

 

*silence*

 

Um… I forgot what I was saying now. What was I saying? Yeah, so she didn’t want me and my grandad took me in and she hated that, because it made her feel jealous, so in turn shed make me feel like they didn’t want me, that I was killing them, she actually said -‘You’re killing them being here!’ and… she just made me feel like I wasn’t worthy of anybody, of anybody loving me, of anybody taking care of me… You know if they ever brought me some clothes – even though I was living with them and she didn’t buy me any – she’d go sick, she’d hate it! And I used to think… why? You know, why am I not allowed a holiday, why am I not allowed clothes, why am I not allowed to be loved? And it did make me… because I know I look back on my school days, there was a time where someone would wind me up and I’d just go over to them and punch them in the stomach *laughs awkwardly*. Like, that I’d be so angry and I’d just go over and punch them… Like… I think if I ever worked in a school – which is something I do want to do – if anybody ever came to me and said, ‘I’m having problems at home’, even if it was something so daft I would sit down and I would listen to them, and I would acknowledge them and make them feel acknowledged, I wouldn’t turn them away because, schools hard enough as it is without having problems at home as well.

 

*Nods*

 

Yes, I agree.

 

And when you seek that help of someone who’s in an authority position, where they are in a position where they can help you, then they should stop listen, actually listen to what they are going to say, because you never know what that child is going to say or what they are going through. You can look at somebody, they can be well dressed, well groomed, going on holidays all the time, they can be the most happiest person in public – but if they come to you are say they are having problems you need to listen to them. You don’t just turn them away.

 

Do you think with the situation that you went through, it would make you be more aware of it with your children? You know, say if they are going through tough times at school?

 

Yeah I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t want to see any child, regardless of it they are mine or not, I wouldn’t want to see any child going through any problems because it would really, you know… strike a chord with me, I wouldn’t like it. But it would make me feel more desperate for my children to be happy though, because it would make me feel guilty if they were so down? It would make me feel horrible. But my children will never experience anything from me or from their dad, you know… I don’t know really? I want my children to be more open with me and willing to discuss anything with me, without feeling judged. Where they can have ten minutes where they can shout and swear, and punch things and after ten minutes… *holds hand up* ‘right… Calm down now,’ do you know where they have got that time to be able speak about their emotions, you have ten minutes where you can shout and swear, you’re not going to get in trouble, just get it all out… You know, where they can just come to me and feel open and relaxed, to say – ‘Look mum I’m having problems’, and that’s something I wished I’d always had. My nan’s always been there for me, she’s been amazing, but there is going to come a time when my nan isn’t there anymore, and like I said before my partner and my sons are there and I’m literally on my own then I don’t have any branches off to anyone else really, you know what I mean? And I think there is going to be a time, when that time comes I’m going to feel incredibly lonely.

 

*chokes up*

 

But then I’ve got to think that I’ve got two beautiful children now, and I don’t have to dwell on the past and that I’m not really on my own because I have these two beautiful babies and I can look after their emotions and help them to grow up to be strong people where they do feel wary that everyone is here, but they’re up there, and they are not on the same level they are up here…

 

*raises hand*

 

You know? I want that for my children, I want everything that they didn’t have, where if they… You know… If they… where I can get them the shoes that they want so they fit in at school, where they can talk to me if they need to talk to me, where they can feel open to talk to me where they can get a cuddle from me or they feel comfortable to give me a hug because that’s what they want. Where they are not nervous to give they mum a hug because it’s not a natural thing, I want it to be natural where we give each other a hug and you know, where they speak to me and know that… Their worthiness is up here, so they can do well in life and they have the confidence to go forward, instead of thinking, ‘Oh everyone thinks I’m down here, you know…’

 

Yes. Well…they are two very lucky boys!

 

*Laughs*

 

They are very lucky. So what would you want to say to somebody who read your story and was going through the same thing, what would you say to them?

 

Acknowledge it. Acknowledge that it is wrong. Speak out, don’t feel guilty for speaking out on that parent because that parent is not thinking about your emotions or your health or your happiness, they are not thinking about your happiness. Speak out and do something, and if the first person doesn’t listen to you don’t give up. Don’t just put up with it, and acknowledge that it is wrong, ask yourself would you do that to your child? And if it’s no, then it’s not right.”

 

 

 

The NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) is a registered UK charity that provides 24/7 support and information for children who are victims of abuse, and support for families. For more information about the NSPCC, research, and their services please follow the link to their website below:

Web: nspcc.org.uk

The NSPCC also provide support helplines for adults concerned about a child;
Tel: 0808 800 5000

For help for children and young people, the Childline website, provided by the NSPCC, is a great resource for information, advice and 24 hour support.

Web: childline.org.uk

Tel: 0800 1111

 

 

The blog is looking for people to take part in telling their story. To take part in The Conversations, please drop me an email on themanicyears@gmail.com.

Megan x

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The appointment – The switch in psychiatric medication

If anything summed up the dark side of the standard of mental health care in my current cummunity it would have been this appointment.

Psychiatric appointments, with a consultant Psych, are like liquid gold these days. So imagine the shock I got when the postman dropped off a letter with an actual date that she was available to hear what I had to say. And to strip this down of all it’s glory; I didn’t even ask to see her in the first place.

 

9 months prior.

After meeitng my eccentric new Quack at my local healthcare centre, and sneakily flipping through my medical notes and snapping pictures of the annotations on my iphone when she’d left the room, I had failed my case against coming off the Zombie med. For those who have read my journey, I had been on Quetiapine by that point for the past year and a half, and unfortunately gained 3 and a half stone – I was protesting that now I had crossed over the unhealthy line on the BMI chart and that for that sake (as well as not being able to drive/look after my daughter/not go a day without taking a nap/function altogether etc) – and she managed to try to convince me that because my mood was controlled  I was not causing any trouble; she had me walking away with a prescription of the extended release version of the same devil drug.

Then the biggest mistake she made was that she would promise to see me in 4-6 weeks time, and that I would easily be able to get hold of her receptionist if something went wrong.

That apointment never happened, until I unexpectedly ended up sitting in that chair in her office two weeks ago, whilst she insisted in calling me by the wrong name. (In case you were wondering, she had decided to label me as Bruce. It is not even a complete anagram of my surname).

 

1 month prior.

As it turns out, the appointment they had randomly allocatede me to, I couldn’t make it. I had just started a new job and didn’t want to be taking time off so soon. So i tried to get hold of her receptionsist. This is how that wen’t down.

Friday – Tried to ring the local trust from the generic number they gave me. Went round in circles for half an hour as the automated system didn’t have an option for psychiatric appointments.

Monday – Finally got through to a human being. Went round in circles for half an hour as human being didn’t have an option for psychiatric appointments.

Tuesday – Two days before appointment. Got through to Psych’s receptionist. She was very pleasant.

“So can you tell me why you can’t make this appointment, Miss Bruce?”

“It’s B****. I am unavailable and I’m going to have to reschedule.”

“Well you are going to have to give me a good enough reason for not wanting to turn up to the appointment you made…”

“I’m sorry, but this was an unexpected appointment. And I am unavailable at the time of the appointment.”

Silence.

“Can you tell me why you can’t wake this appointment?”

“I have just started a new job you see, and I do not want to be taking any leave this early in to me starting. Especially two days before.”

“Well you should have rang up sooner Miss Bruce.”

“It’s B****.”

*Considers explaining how easy it was to get hold of her, but i’d blatantly had enough of trying to get this appointment I didn’t make*

“Look can I please just reschedu-

NO, no, no, no, no – I will tell you when you can reshedule for.”

*!!!!!!!!

“Okay……”

“It’s going to have to be June i’m afraid…”

“Perfect, I’ll have it for then.”

“But if work is the issue here, then you are going to have the same problem when it comes to this next appointment…”

I was done by this point. But, gritting my teeth, I proceeded to politely explain in hope she did not think I was a dumbass who couldn’t grasp the concept of what she was saying to me.

 

“Okay, have a great day Miss Bruce, thank you so much for calling…”

 

Condescending B***h.

 

The Event itself.

The ‘assessment’ went quick itself. Can I call it an assessment? Not only did the psychiatrist not review my notes (she admitted this when I walked in to the room), but she hardly gave me the opportunity to tell her what had been going on in my life since I last saw her. There is a huge issue here, as she couldn’t even recall when the last time she saw me actually was. I told her, again, that a major part of the medication was the worrying amount of weight that has made itself a comfortable lodger on my physique, and how difficult it was for me to try to evict. I am not the slim size 8 anymore that I was after having my first child. I was now a size 14.

She proceeded to tell me that yes, with Quetiapine, you usually have problems with your appetite.

Don’t get me wrong, I may have had some serious sugar cravings. But that was not the issue here. My whole metabolism has grinded to a halt. System down.

We reviewed medication, again, then after going through every option apart form the one we discussed, I politely reminded her about the Abilify that we had discussed.

“Great idea!”

No SHIT.

She was happy then. No more questions asked, and I walked away with a prescription of Abilify, A few mil’s of Quetiapine to wean off and help me sleep for the next week and some Diazepam.

Diazepam. That’s right. She had let a drug addict walk away with a prescription of Valium, all because she couldn’t be bothered to read her notes properly.

I took it of course. My GP, who on the contrary knows me very well, won’t even prescribe that to me.

And so, after some messing about to get a ten minute appointment, I am now off the Zombie drug.

I am free (for now!)

 

*Hypomanic post to follow.

 

“Sharing Stories” – The Beginning, by Hazel Hillboro.

image

 

“I don’t really believe in mental illness,” I said.  This is always a great way to start off a conversation with psychiatrists.  You can almost see the smoke come off of their pencils as they try to write fast enough about how crazy you are.  I wasn’t joking, though.  I was on psychiatrist #4, and I still didn’t believe in mental illness.

I perched on the edge of my comfy blue chair and eyed the kleenex box next to me.  I wondered if psychiatrists get immune to people crying sort of like kindergarten teachers do.  Kids cry all the time, so I’ll secretly think things such as, “I’m sorry Timmy took your cookies, but actually I don’t care.  Stop crying.”  I wondered if psychiatrists have also become jaded and learned not to care.  I made a mental note not to cry, just in case.  I looked around at the “calming” decorations: beach scenes in frames and a random fake plant in the corner.  A plethora of degrees on the wall behind the psychiatrist’s desk were hung proudly to make me think she knows what she’s talking about.

“It’s like this,” I continued. “I see people all the time posting on facebook and twitter and such, ‘love me because I have an anxiety disorder,’ or ‘how to love a person with depression,’ or ‘my depression is really bad today, so everyone be nice.’  I mean, it seems like they wear their ‘illness’ as a badge of honor, a way to get attention.  It’s an excuse to be an asshole without having to apologize.  That’s dumb.  I’m a teacher, and the teachers at my school offer around xanax like tic tacs.  I realize we have a stressful job, but come on.  We’re not all mentally ill.  People just need to learn how to deal with their lives better.  People who broadcast their ‘mental illnesses’ drive me nuts.”

My psychiatrist stopped writing to look me straight in the eye.  “There may be people like that in the world, and they may be annoying, but I would rather work with someone like that than someone like you, because you just tried to kill yourself and still refuse to believe you have a problem.”

Oooooh snap.  Shut down by my shrink.

I mumbled something along the lines of “good point” and sank back into the chair.  I wasn’t going to get out of this one easily.  My vision blurred, and I grabbed a kleenex.  Stupid psychiatrists and their stupid kleenexes.

“What kind of meds have you been on?” she asked.

“All of them,” I answered.  “I don’t remember them all.  Name one.  I’ve probably been on it.”

I’d been diagnosed with depression and anxiety multiple times over the years, I’d taken medications with varying degrees of little to no success, and I’d given up on ever getting better.  I’d just tried to kill myself the day before, and I’d been dragged to this psychiatrist pretty much against my will.  I mean, not literally kicking or screaming or anything, but when one doesn’t have any will to live, it’s basically like, “Fine.  Another doctor? I don’t want to go, but I also don’t actually care.”

She ran down a standard list of medications.  Prozac?  Yep.  Zoloft?  Uh huh.  Klonopin?  Of course.  Xanax?  Got a collection.  You get the idea.  So many pills, so little time in a one hour appointment.

Finally she asked if I’d been on oxcarbazepine.  Umm…no?  Is that even English?  Did she just make that one up as a trick to say if I’d say yes to everything, even random made-up words?  The answer, however, was no.  I had not been on that drug.

She asked if I’d be willing to try it.  That’s like when the teacher asks you, “Would you like to give the answer to #5?”  You can’t very well just say, “No.”  I said fine, that I would take it.  I can’t say I had a lot of hope that it would be any different (my resume of drugs taken was impressively long with very little results, as you may recall).  I took the prescription, got the pills, and immediately googled two things:

  1. Can I overdose on this drug?  (No)
  2. What is the success rate for this drug? (Pretty good…for bipolar disorder)

Bipolar disorder?  What?  I obviously didn’t have bipolar disorder.

(If you haven’t already figured this out, I was also a pretentious idiot)

If I had anything (which I didn’t believe), then it was depression, not bipolar disorder.  I was incredibly uninformed about this disease.  I thought it just meant that people got really moody – happy one minute and furious the next.  Basically PMS on steroids.  I had no idea that bipolar people could sometimes go days without sleeping for no apparent reason (which I had absolutely done) and be super productive.  I didn’t know that it made them act completely out of character for themselves sometimes for weeks on end, and that they could then crash into a horrible depression.  I didn’t know that bipolar disorder can go undiagnosed for an average of ten years before stumbling on a correct diagnosis.  No one goes to a doctor to say, “My life feels absolutely perfect and I just solved a bunch of problems by staying up for a week straight.”  They go to a doctor when they feel depressed, hence the misdiagnosis.

My psychiatrist is very smart.  I think she knew that if she told me I had bipolar disorder, I wouldn’t have believed her.  I would have refused to take the drugs and decided she was the crazy one, not me.  Only a few days after I started taking them, though, I felt like I woke up from a years long coma.  For the first time in a very, very long time, I could think clearly.  I could be rational.  It was strange.

Isn’t that sad?

I started blogging as a way of reaching out to two groups of people.  The first is to people who have a mental illness or love someone who does.  I am just starting down this road, and it’s scary as hell.  I hate knowing that my brain can’t function properly without drugs.  I hate thinking that I will probably have to deal with this for the rest of my life.  I guess, selfishly, I’m looking for anyone out there who can give me a “me too” or a “been there” or a “you can do this.”

I’m also writing this for people who are like I was only a few months ago. I fully subscribed to the “ignore mental illness and it will go away” philosophy, and I am now a true convert who knows firsthand how damaging that view can be. I almost lost my life over it. I would like to help other people know that mental illness is serious, it should be taken seriously, and they should stop shaming those of us who have to struggle silently.”

-by Hazel Hillboro.

 

You can follow Hazel’s experiences on living with a Bipolar life here at Behind these Hazel eyes.

 

– Please drop me an email on themanicyears@gmail.com if you want to take part and be featured in “Sharing Stories”, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences with mental health. I am so proud of everyone who has contributed and who has joined me in this journey so far, and I do hope our army gets stronger. A bigger voice. A fight to speak louder. – M

“Sharing Stories” -Let me tell you my name; I have a mental illness: I will not be ashamed, By Amanda Rogers.

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“The Mood Disorders Clinic where I have an appointment is nearly impossible to find. It is housed in one of a series of dilapidated buildings that look every one of their 135-plus years. They are currently being renovated, which means that the hospital, originally accessible only by a dirt road, is pretty well only accessible that way again. This narrow road (a stand-in while the real entrance is being rebuilt) winds through creepy old buildings, abandoned but for construction workers, overgrown with ivy and peppered with signs proclaiming dire warnings of danger due to overhead wires, but lacking a solid plan about how best to deal with that.

It is virtually impossible to figure out where to park. There are little parking lots here and there but nothing to indicate what services they are adjacent to. I finally pull into what I believe to be the staff lot. Getting out of my car I meet a nicely suited man getting out of his, and I ask him where patients are supposed to park. He scratches his head looks around, and admits that he really doesn’t know. “I only work here,” he offers with self-depreciating good humour. I return an affable smile, but inside I’m frosty. I didn’t ride in on a camel, after all. I can’t be the only crazy person ever to arrive by car. I want to ask where the Mood Disorders Clinic is but I have lost confidence in this gentleman so I move on.

A briskly walking woman with a lanyard around her neck looks like a plausible guide. She stops at once and gives me clear directions to my destination. “Who are you meeting with?” she asks me, squinting in the bright May sunshine. “I have an appointment,” I reply. “I’m a patient.” I should sing it out: I’ve been waiting more than six months for this appointment, but I mutter it breathlessly. Her face changes subtly. Her eyes linger on the lanyard of keys around my own neck — I forgot to take them off when I left work. Sheepishly, I slide them off and stuff them into my pocket. I am not one of us. I am one of them.

The Mood Disorders Clinic is up a flight of stairs and is strangely empty. A nurse in a small kiosk takes my OHIP card and tells me where I can get coffee. It sounds like a complicated journey and I decline. I sit down but I am too nervous to read. After 15 minutes the nurse directs me to another corridor to meet with a psychiatric nurse.

This nurse isn’t quite ready for me so she invites me to sit down in the corridor in a low vinyl chair which is belching out stuffing through a couple of rips. The hallway is strangely narrow and painted a colour so vile that it is difficult to imagine that was not the intent. A sign on the wall reminds me that violence is not acceptable.

My ex-husband is a surgeon. His waiting room, as I recall, is bright, clean and nicely furnished, featuring an aquarium I once maintained and several rather valuable prints I once took for framing. His patients are beneficiaries of the same OHIP that has paid my way here, but they are clearly a classier variety of patient than I am.

Soon the psychiatric nurse invites me in. She greets me pleasantly, takes a brief history and then we launch into the interminable questionnaire-type interview that is going to reveal the state of my mental health. The questions, by necessity, are very personal and we pretend that she does not hate asking them and that I do not hate answering them. On a couple of occasions her face betrays her boredom with this process. I know she has probably done it a billion times but I still fear that I am a boring psychiatric patient. She cocks an eyebrow judgmentally at one point, something which I counted on being verboten here. I hastily rein my account of myself. Boring and nasty would be too much.

An hour later she takes me to see my new psychiatrist, who turns out not to have arrived yet. He is probably off doing something terribly important, but I am peeved just the same. His secretary speaks only to my nurse. I smile at her and she looks at me, but her neutral expression never wavers. I work in a busy, friendly place: I am used to having my smile returned. Now it sticks onto my face like jam left over from breakfast.

While we wait, my nurse encourages me to join a CBT group. “What’s that?” I ask.

“Cognitive behavioural therapy. They meet from two to four on Tuesdays”.

“I work Monday to Fridays from eight-thirty until five,” I tell her. She frowns slightly, and tells me that many people find the group very helpful. She gives me a small card about it. I look like the sort of person who lies about their work hours.

I stuff the card in on top of my keys. A week later and two weeks after that I receive phone calls reminding me about the CBT group. I finally ask the woman on the telephone why they don’t hold groups in the evening as well as the day. I can’t be the only person who has both a mood disorder and a day job. She has no answer for me.

Finally the psychiatrist arrives and, after he meets with my nurse privately, we all sit down in his office. He is on one side of a vast uncluttered desk and I am on the other. He looks over my interview and asks a few questions. At one point he asks me about my brother who committed suicide a few years ago. Out in the real world I have learned that reference to a sibling’s suicide has a similar social impact to letting out a loud fart in a crowded elevator. People don’t mean to judge but they are, by and large, frankly horrified and they don’t know what to say.

Here in my psychiatrist’s office, however, we all deal with the excruciating intimacy of our subject matter by remaining so studiedly impassive that we might as well be exchanging recipes for pasta salad. I am a little tempted to profess an interest in cannibalism or a desire to smoke firecrackers, just to stir things up.

He seems like a nice man and he is doing his job and trying to help me, but he has a brand new diagnosis for me and it’s taken me 15 years to get used to the last one I was given. He recommends a medication I have never heard of, which I will, in time, start taking and which has improved my life significantly. He warns me that the medication can have side effects and that he will be monitoring me closely, and he gives me a requisition for a blood test. I have not yet got around to having that blood test and, despite two calls to the Mood Disorders Clinic, he has not yet got around to monitoring me closely, but I’m sure we will work that out in time.

There appears to be no counselling attached to this service. There is, of course, the CBT group, which I cannot attend, and private counselling in the community, which I cannot really afford. There are books in Chapters on CBT and how to use it, but I suspect that in counselling, as in many things, doing it alone is no substitute for the real thing.

I wend my way out of the mental health hospital and back to work. I have not been the easiest patient, but it has not been the easiest experience.

One in five Canadians has, or will have at some point, a mental illness. It is the mammoth in the room. On bus shelters I see posters of dedicated professionals and loving parents, all of whom apparently have mental illnesses and all of whom have overcome them with an obnoxious degree of success. Magazine articles declare that this or that celebrity has a mood disorder and, with the help of millions of dollars, is dealing with it in an inspirational way. Between the articles are advertisements for psychotropic medication. Depression seems always to be characterized by a pretty woman with a pinched expression and a cloud over her head, who becomes a joyful nurturing mother to her children with the aid of this or that antidepressant. Schizophrenics always seem to appear as men in these ads and are turning pots on a wheel or painting great pictures with expressions of concentrated fulfilment.

Once in a while a friend or acquaintance will mention, sotto voce, that they have been treated for a mental illness, usually depression, and, like an immigrant from the same disgraced motherland, I will whisper that I have, too.

“I’m going to write an article about it,” I tell a friend. She frowns skeptically. I am always going to write an article about something.

“Go for it,” she says. “Just don’t use your real name.” The irony of this washes over us both, but she is adamant.

“You know I don’t judge you,” she says, “but the world is the world. Some people will.”

Some people will. And I would like to use an alias — perhaps some elegant literary name. Lots of literary people seem to have had mental illnesses. Signing my name to this article will feel like signing off on my car loan — irrevocable, scary and a little exhilarating.

Having a mood disorder is something that is true about me. It is also true of me that I lose my keys and glasses almost every day, that I will forget your face in five minutes but I will never forget something important that you tell me, that I am woefully untidy and that I like to pile my bills in a secret stash behind the clock on my mantelpiece. It is also true of me that I am fiercely loyal, that I love and respect animals, that I am profoundly dedicated to the well-being of children, and that I always champion the underdog because I know what it feels like to be one.

I have a mental illness called Bipolar Disorder Type II. Sadly, this is the only thing I have in common with Catherine Zeta-Jones. I am better off than many if not most of my fellow mental patients. My illness is treatable and I have resources at my disposal. I have never been among those who cannot hide this truth about themselves.

My name is Amanda Rogers and I am one of four and a half million Canadians who have a mental illness. I stand shoulder to shoulder with them all, and, with your help, we will not be ashamed.”

-By Amanda Rogers.

 

Please drop me an email on themanicyears@gmail.com if you want to take part and be featured in “Sharing Stories”, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences with mental health. I am so proud of everyone who has contributed and who has joined me in this journey so far, and I do hope our army gets stronger. A bigger voice. A fight to speak louder. – M

Follow the Sharing Stories facebook page! – The Manic Years – Sharing Stories of Mental Health

“Sharing Stories” – So it Begins and will Begin Again (and Again and Again and Again), by Jennifer.

Why do they put leather couches in Shrink offices? Leather isn’t comfortable. It’s stiff, squeaky; no give in the cushion. My legs both jiggle up and down and the couch squeaks like a rat trapped by a big, fat cat.

The big, fat cat is sitting at her desk, her smartphone is in one hand, her laptop open on the desk in front of her, and her glasses have slid down her nose. How many quacks does she see a day? How do I rank on her list of nutsos? I pick at my cuticles for a few moments, then proceed to bite my red, calloused knuckle. I often alternate between these two nervous habits, along with the leg shaking. I must look insane. Well, that’s why I’m here, anyways.

“So how has the anxiety been lately?” The big, fat cat asks; her words make me jump and shrink back into the stiff leather. I pick my cuticles again; my legs shake quicker. I’m always shocked to hear someone speak of my weaknesses so frankly, like she’s asking how the weather is outside or something. It’s only a dark demon that’s gnawed at my insides for as long as I can remember.

“Um, okay…I haven’t had any panic attacks in a month…there was some stress at work, and I think I handled it okay. I’m still…picking…excessively.” My face flushes at such an obvious fact, as the big, fat cat has been looking down her nose at me this whole time and could clearly hear the couch squeaking with my fear. She just nods her head.

“That’s partly from your OCD. But your Panic Disorder seems to be doing much better. Now if we can just help you with your General Anxiety Disorder. And have you been dealing with much Depression lately?”

“Mmm,” I respond, trying to gather the thoughts that swirl through my head like a flushing toilet. “My depression…comes and goes…I’ll be happy, I’ll be calm, then it hits me…random.”

“Are you sure it’s random? Can you think of some times when it’s happened?”

“Mmm…driving in the car…watching tv…laying in bed…umm…I guess when I have nothing else to do but think.” She smiles like I reached some great conclusion and I want to bite her nose, bite her nose off and watch those glasses fall down onto her desk in a clatter of plastic and blood and cartilage.

“Are you still doing your relaxation techniques?” She asks. She’s tapping the keys of her laptop now; my cuticle has started to bleed. I let a frustrated sigh escape from my mouth.

“Meditation every night before bed…progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, deep breathing, mindfulness…yoga twice a week… half hour of cardio the rest of the days…I drink my tea when I feel like I need to relax, or take a hot bath, or watch one of my musicals, or read a book. I’m the most diligent relaxer who can’t relax….” My voice shakes the more I speak, and I’m fighting back tears.

Professional athletes work on their sport every day religiously, and are supported by a sponsor. My professional sport is trying to relax, and my sponsor is my big, fat cat shrink. She pays me in pills. We’ve decided to up my Klonopin to 3 times a day and increase my Cymbalta by 10mg. She pays me well — the lousier you are at this sport, the better you’re paid.

The appointment lasted 15 minutes and with my insurance costs me a $70 copay. I make another appointment for four weeks later and drive home. I feel defeated and the depression starts to set in. I pop in my relaxation music CD that you’re not supposed to listen to while driving because some people are stupid and fall asleep. I can’t sleep unless I’m in my own bed and have taken my meds. I start to take shaky breaths, as slow as I could, remembering to pause at the bottom of each breath because there have been times where I’ve hyperventilated and had to pull over to the side of the road.

My dark demon gnaws and gnaws at my stomach as I try to focus on the road and my breath.

 

***

 

For the first 20 years of my life, I was simply labeled a “worrywart,” and “sensitive.” I was considered “normal.” And I really believed I was normal. I mean, I had friends, boyfriends, went out and had fun with them, got great grades. There were times I really was happy. But that nagging, unexplained fear was always in the back of my head. But after a lifetime of feeling that way, and finding no relief in sharing my feelings with others, I simply learned to hide the worry, which turned out to be pretty easy.

Most of the time I had no reason for my worries. I felt like I was about to go up on stage before a large crowd, but I’d be sitting on the couch watching television. Other times I had a laundry list of problems with teachers, friends, family…things that most people would simply be stressed about became a life and death conflict to me, and I’d constantly obsess over them.

Before, when I was worried or nervous, my Ma’d do everything in her power to reassure me. Mostly she relied on childish whimsy and magic to try and comfort me. I had “magic” everything that my mother swore would make me feel better. Magic stones, little magic chicks and doggies, magic leaves, and other little trinkets…she’d teach me magical sayings I was supposed to repeat over and over to protect myself from harm: “I’m surrounded by the White Light. Nothing can harm me physically, mentally, or spiritually.” She had other sayings she’d repeat over and over for comfort, like, “it’s always darkest before dawn,” or, “good things come to those who wait.” I took the darkest before dawn thing literally, since I was usually already awake worrying by then. I’d sit in the dark and wait to see how dark it’d get before dawn, and I was kinda confused that it never seemed to get that dark.

 

Nothing ever helped though.

 

She tried to get me to believe in the magic of religion, but even as small as I was then I never really bought into it. Ma always told me to pray — that God would fulfill my wishes and make me feel better. But the worry never went away. God apparently never listened to me.

I feared death since an early age; my grandmother became very sick with kidney disease when I was 5. She was dead by the time I turned 7. It was the first time I’d seen my mother cry. She was never the same after that. After grandma died I heard a lot of, “pray to grandma, say ‘grandma help me.’ She’ll help you.” But Grandma never seemed to listen to me, either.

When I was 12 I started getting piercing headaches, and a combination of Motrin and Sudafed seemed to be the only cure. Ma would say I’d wait too long to take the meds and that’s why my headaches would become so debilitating. So the moment I felt the symptoms begin – a tightness in my shoulders and temples – I’d pop the pills. I didn’t realize until years later that these were tension headaches from my constant stress. Before I knew it, I was self-medicating my anxiety with Motrin and Sudafed, taking the maximum daily dose most days. I don’t think Ma really noticed. After my grandmother’s death, it was as if her perfect, shiny veneer that I’d gaze into for solace had cracked, and through the years the crack spread more and more. She was able to help me less and less, because by then she could barely help herself.

During high school, I began skipping meals because my nerves always made me feel nauseous, and began to work out for hours every day to try and distract myself from the worry. Even when I dropped 35 pounds the summer I turned 14 and was skin and bones, nobody seemed to notice my downward spiral. I was still “normal.” Even when I would sit in the kitchen at 3AM staring at a bottle of Motrin, thinking what would happen if I would just swallow the whole bottle. I’ve always feared death. I could never have the guts to kill myself. But I’d feel so overwhelmed that I’d wish for it.

By college I had my first stomach ulcer. I went away to college and found myself feeling more alone than ever. I had run away from my hometown, thinking that if I left then my problems would stay behind. I learned quickly that you can’t run away from your problems. My stomach ulcer made it even harder for me to eat. It seemed the demon had finally gnawed through my stomach lining, and I noticed It began to move throughout my body.

The panic attacks began around this time. The nerves would simply grow and grow to the point where I began to tremble, and the gnawing demon began to eat at my heart; I felt like I was having a heart attack. My heart was pounding in a desperate attempt to fight off this demon, and my panic grew by leaps and bounds. Each breath came faster and faster, like feet trying to run away as fast as they could from this demon inside me. The demon would move up to my brain, with the debilitating headaches leaving me paralyzed in my bed.

It got to the point where I laid in bed day and night. I would call into work and skip classes. My friends began to notice the change in me. When I visited my parents, I’m pretty sure they decided to ignore the change.

More and more family members, and even some childhood friends, began to die; more and more my Ma assured me at night over the phone that if I prayed to them then they’d help me. To Ma, there was this army of the dead just biding their time until they could be of service to any of us. By this time I was an Atheist and only humored her.

I was starting to notice that she was using on herself the same old reassurances that she used on me. I noticed she started to get more headaches, to withdraw more into herself, eat less, exercise more. It was like looking into a mirror. I couldn’t remember when she’d started to act this way or think this way. I couldn’t figure out if she had been copying my actions, or vice versa. She also started to seem to resent me. She looked to me for the same consolations she used to give me, and I found it impossible to help her in the way that she wanted me to.

One day while we were driving back to my college after a home visit my whole body went numb. My vision was blurry. I could feel the demon start to gnaw at me. The air in the car was stifling. I felt like throwing up, and could tell I would start to hyperventilate soon.

“Ma, dad, I have something to tell you.” My voice was barely above a whisper as I picked and picked at my cuticles. My shaking legs were uncontrollable at this point. “I think there’s something seriously wrong with me.” I wasn’t prepared for Ma’s reaction.

 

“I’ll say there’s something wrong with you! Are you on drugs!? Or are you pregnant!?

 

I couldn’t even register the bitter words she had hurled at me so cruelly. I was at the apex of my disease, standing at the precipice of a cliff, fighting so hard with myself not to fall off, and here it seemed my mom was trying to push me straight into the valley of jagged rocks below.

 

“No! No! There’s something wrong with…my body…I’m always…feeling worried…I’ve been having…these feelings…my body…is acting…weird…I can’t think…I can’t think straight…I can’t eat…sleep…there’s something…something wrong.”

 

Then my dad, who had been virtually silent on this matter my entire life, saved me:

 

“We’ll make an appointment with the doctor as soon as possible,” he said. “We’ll get you help.”

 

At that point my tears were uninhibited and my body began to tingle with sensation for the first time in forever. Was this the feeling of relief?

The doctor diagnosed me immediately. I was flabberghasted that my lifelong ailment was so simply decided. I was referred to a counselor and a psychiatrist and then began the long, long years of behavioral therapy, and the terror that is the trial and error of different kinds of meds.

Everyone’s body is different and reacts to medications different. The “wrong” med can make you feel the following: suicidal, extreme versions of your original symptoms, unbearable pain all over your body, fatigue so extreme you can barely move, unabated energy where you spend your nights cleaning your entire house twice over until dawn, etc., etc. As I switched from med to med, I cycled through all these issues to the point where I began to wonder if it was even worth it.

However, when I finally found the right combo of meds, it was like putting on prescription glasses for the first time. The whole world becomes sharp and clear, and you’re shocked to realize that you’d been living in a blur this whole time.

My counselor taught me all of my “coping” mechanisms, the relaxation techniques that I’d have to use daily, sometimes several times a day, sometimes all throughout the day, in order to survive my life. She was the one who told me for the first time that the way I’d felt my entire life was never normal. I was shocked. Apparently, since I’d always felt that way, it was impossible to realize it wasn’t normal.

After 3 years of counseling, it was decided I had learned all I could from her. I cried on my last day. “I feel like I’ll be fighting this all my life, no matter what I do,” I lamented, and she leaned over and rested a cool hand on my forearm.

“I hate to admit it, but you may be right. Sometimes things balance themselves out eventually and you don’t have to stay on the meds, but sometimes you have to struggle your whole life.”

I stared down at my jiggling thighs and bit at my knuckle.

“Deep breaths,” my counselor quietly commanded, and I started yet another mini-battle with my breath. My whole life would be a war full of both mini-battles such as simply controlling my breath, and large battles such as the mental health crisis I suffered in college.

For many years, I went on and off the meds. I’d start to feel better, think to myself, “I’m cured!”, get off the meds, and feel ok for maybe 6 months, a year…then it’d happen again. The demon would return and start to gnaw deep inside me again. I would always feign ignorance until I got into crisis mode, where I knew I had no choice but to get back on the meds. Once none of my relaxation techniques worked, but actually made me feel worse, that’s when I knew I was in trouble and would book an appointment with the doctor.

I’ve been seeing the big, fat cat psychiatrist for about a year now. Yet another crisis last year, after about a year off my meds, made me finally come to terms with the fact that this would probably be a life-time struggle. We found to my dismay that the previous meds I was on were no longer effective. I hadn’t expected that. My magical pills wouldn’t work? I had to suffer through the trial and error again? Fear wracked my body.

However, the big, fat cat was good at her job, and we found a pretty good combination fairly fast. We have to adjust the dosages a lot, and I still may have to end up switching meds eventually, but I’m at least out of my crisis mode.

 

***

 

I park my car outside my house and slowly haul myself out, my work bag dragging behind me. “Another day I escaped death,” I sarcastically sigh to myself. There’s a bridge on my way home from work and I struggle every day not to drive off of it. I once heard an old man say that phrase once — “Another day I escaped death” — and I thought it befitting to my own situation, so I say it now every day when I make it home from work. I trudge up the stairs, my dog prancing with happiness behind me until I feed him dinner and he takes his typical after-dinner nap. My husband works evenings; I’ll be alone again tonight.

I flop onto the couch and kick off my heels. I try to focus on the feelings resounding through my body — my feet feeling freed from the confines of the heels, the feel of the soft microfiber cushions of the couch supporting my body. I scan each of limbs, my neck, my torso, my hips, my face, focusing on which part of me is tense, and working hard to relax each section of me. It’s like turning a hard, plastic doll into a soft, stuffed one.

By the time I feel loose enough and my breath is under control I shimmy out of my work clothes and change into my workout clothes to get in my 30 minutes on the elliptical while I watch TV. I run the bathtub with my aromatherapy bath soap and slip into the tub, a towel cushioning the back of my neck, and turn on my tablet to read the news.

Another day I didn’t give in. Another day I didn’t die. Tomorrow a new day, and a new battle, will begin.

So it begins, and will begin again (and again and again and again).

-By Jennifer.

 

Jennifer suffers with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder and OCD, and is married to a partner who has Bipolar Disorder. Her own personal journey can be found here, on her blog Vicious Butterflies.

 

 

Please drop me an email on themanicyears@gmail.com if you want to take part and be featured in “Sharing Stories”, if you have a story to tell or you just want to share your thoughts about your experiences with mental health. I am so proud of everyone who has contributed and who has joined me in this journey so far, and I do hope our army gets stronger. A bigger voice. A fight to speak louder. – M

The Dawn

dawn

So I did it. I finally cracked.

I’m admitting defeat now. I’m in a depression and I don’t see anyway of getting out. I can’t. fucking. breathe.

It all happened about 7 weeks ago when I had an unexpected miscarriage.

I know this will possibly be an extremely sensitive subject for anyone of my readers, or who happen to come across this post during a random search, so I will spare it at that. The experience was surreal, and the details i’d prefer to keep locked up in that black box full of little insanities in my mind anyway.

The following week, one of The Boy’s close relatives passed away, and took a massive part of him away with her.

As selfish as it sounds (I wholeheartedly admit that I was selfish, as the grief of knowing someone for the duration of your life vs the grief of… well, nothing, is one of the hardest things a human being would ever have to face), in the midst of both mine and his drama and without him there, I was alone.

I dealt with the next few weeks on my own.

Rejection after rejection of job applications, with the expiry date on my current job coming up fast, finances and unexpected debt putting pressure on me, other little life stresses sneaking up behind my back and attacking when I was at my lowest point…

I got the news that I wouldn’t be enrolling on my postgraduate course a few week before my start date (my finance fell through). So with nobody to talk to about it, no partner there to lend an ear I ultimately resorted back to the pills.

For anybody who is not familiar with my posts or my past, drug addiction has made a huge impact on my life the past few years. As it turns out, some habits die hard. Even after extensive therapy and rehab to wean you off them.

No money, no job, no period (for some reason my life seemed incredibly empty without one whilst my body recovered from the event), no university course. No plans. Nobody. No nothing, apart from a ton of pressure to sort all the debt I have somehow blindly managed to accumulate over the past year.

It wasn’t just the big things. It was the little ones that hurt the most. I began to get sensitive to everything and everyone around me, closing myself off from the world. One of my best friends once told me, “You know when something is wrong with you, when you don’t want to talk about your problems.” How right she was. I have even been ignoring her messages the past few weeks.

Eventually, I told The boy what was going on. Shameful feelings were confessed. Raw anger brought out to the table. Tears were shed (both parties). He didn’t know about the drug addiction. I thought he did. Little things I’ve mentioned over the past 18 months, I have an NA keyring on my everyday keys for heaven’s sake. Absolutely oblivious. Men.

He was supportive though. And he has been there ever since. He told me we will fight and go through this together, whatever life throws at me and whatever feelings are burdening me. It was too late by then, I already knew it. You don’t really go through a Bipolar depression together. You go through it alone. No one else around you really feels what its like to suffocate at site of the sun rising up during the day and setting during the evening.

The past 10 days, my finances took a turn for the worst. I am a single mother with a part time job, holding the fort down on my own – my bills are mine, and mine alone to pay. Since the government cuts this year I have spent the past week and a half unable to feed myself. My daughter is fine, she will always have enough. Myself? Let’s just say i’ve been left that short that I had to make an excuse last week not to go in to work because I couldn’t afford the petrol fee’s to get in, never mind a loaf of bread.

I have one more payday left in my current job.

Things started to get a little better. Last week, for a few days I had a few great days – tackling life’s problems like a pro, doing something active about my finance situation, making sure I attempted to scrape some funds together for the next month. My mood perked up, considerably. And then, I fell down again. Just like that. I think the no eating – and withdrawal from the not taking any pills, food came first before my fix obviously, i’m not that low of a person. Yet. – the tiredness from a messsed up sleeping pattern (my good old friend insomnia has made an appearance nightly since it happened). I just crashed. My motivation went, everything just went. Gone. That was it. I could feel a change in me, something fighting for some survival (I even wrote back to my friend at last about the whole situation). And then it just crumbled away again.

Saturday night, was the first night in YEARS that I laid in bed in tears and came to the realisation that I felt suicidal.

It feels so strange seeing it typed out like that. Like I am being a drama queen over nothing. I have to accept that not only these life events ( I have been saying to myself over the past month that time passes, it wont be like this forever, it will pass etc. It’s making no difference) are difficult to overcome, but the urge to push the reminder that I changed my medication two months back and the overexaggerated feelings that I am holding could be partly due to the cuts in my medication.

I am not on my antidepressants anymore (I would KILL for the feel of prozac in my system) and I am 100mg down on my antipsychotic.

My last pdoc appointment, she promised she’d arrange a follow up app within 4-6 weeks (never heard anything back off them). I also recall her saying, if it gets bad then we can try a back up drug (i think it was abilify??) that they can just throw in to the mix as an emergency.

Is it time to admit defeat, as a bipolar diagnosed patient, that my life and my health relies on that medication? I understand it’s common for mental health patients find it difficult to fully accept their illnesses. After all, we have no band aids, no neck braces, no broken bones.We only have scars and broken minds. We live with that. Sometimes it’s hard to see past our ‘normality’.

I think it is time I admit my defeat. Not as a person who’s life stresses are getting under her. But as a patient who’s chronic condition has her throwing in the towel to her illness.

Accepting that sometimes I have to surrrender is the hard part.

Hospital.

So a week and a half after my ‘incident’ i’m finally ready to talk about it.

Bipolar Depression

So my mood sank. Slowly enough to not realise I was slipping, then hard enough to know full well i’d fallen and I couldn’t see a way out of this one.

The week before, i’d wanted to spend a lot of time by myself. I was running baths constantly in the evening, listening to mellow music at bedtime and being lost in thought for hours on end. I was getting tired, I should have clicked from my drop in energy but it somehow managed to sneak up on me. By Saturday anxiety took hold. I spent the evening inside, I was too tired for any social events. Then it made sense; I was in for a long week ahead.

Death

At the same time, A family member passed away and I had the pleasure of attending my first ever funeral (a different matter). A child’s funeral. 4 days old to be precise. That week, I switched my phone off, stayed in bed and tried to sleep it off. I stopped contact with people. I was getting up to 13 hours sleep a day, sleeping through alarms, struggling through the day to stay awake, trying to find the meaning of life again. Horrible, horrible depression. I sank.

Withdrawal

I got that low and tired I’d totally forgot that I needed to book a doctors appointment to renew my med prescription. But no matter how much I tried, I just couldn’t pick up the phone. It took all my strength to attempt to speak to the receptionist over the phone to book in to see my GP…And strength was just something I was too exhausted to keep hold of. I barely managed to dial the number then I pressed the end call button. Two days later when I ran out of Sertraline, I panicked and tried renewing my prescription online.

Cry for help

The following Friday I was at total loss. 3 days withdrawal smack bang in the middle of a solid depression. A bottomless pit. Anxiety attacks every other hour. Self harm on the brain. Suicide ideation. I finally gave in and cried for help. I knew it wasn’t real, it was just my mood, I knew it would pass but it got unbearable. Knowing The Boy’s nan had just passed away, I knew I couldn’t have demanded much from him with his heart broken and his family in pieces around him. I asked him for a hug. He flipped. Called me selfish, denied me a hug when I needed it most. Burst in to tears, grieving. And blamed me for not being there for him. You always make it about you, he said.

I tried to pack my bags and leave that night. But I was too tired. I crawled to bed and didn’t wake up until 13 hours later..

Serotonin syndrome

Hallucinations, anxiety attacks, migraine, fever, cold sweats, exhaustion. Impending feeing of… doom.

I tried to get up and ready but I was empty. I tried to focus on the world and it was just… thinking was hard – it was like I couldn’t focus my thoughts, they were skipping like a broken record and nothing was sinking in. My brain was jumping at everything my mind tried to make sense of – it hurt .I couldn’t recognise people, my cognition was way off the mark. I was scared and I wanted to die. So I went in to urgent care.

Confession

They were good with me. Took me to a quiet room to be alone. I got seen almost immediately. The boy was worried, and somewhat a little embarrassed to be there. It all came out, the suicidal urges, the stealing of prescriptions and dependency on the codeine i’d been abusing for months. They decided to get me seen by a mental health team because they didn’t want to send me home to an empty house of 50+ pills to damage myself with. I got referred to a different hospital a drive away, and taken in to the hands of another assessor. The usual protocol – full mental health screening, family history this that and the other. Got me an emergency prescription, a social worker on my case to check upon me for the next few weeks and referred back to the access and crisis team at my local mental health facility, and back in to the care of a psychiatrist. They’d only let me go a couple of months ago – to roam free and face the world on my own. Totally failed that one didn’t I. Wont be even less funnier when they find out about my manic journey over the Christmas period…

I’m looking forward to meeting my new doctor.

Hypomania.

Okay, after a week or two (or three? can’t remember what the hell I’ve been up to!) I finally hold my hands up and admit to myself that I’m hypomanic.

I think the stress of the build up to Christmas and the excitement of the new year has set me off. Here’s the list.

The past however many weeks has consisted of…

  • A four day bender
  • Being barred from my local
  • Not napping during the day (big thing for me!)
  • Struggling to get to sleep at night – apart from with help of handfuls of co-codamol and whatever else I could find to knock me out for a few hours
  • Borrowing and spending money like crazy (usually on nights out, the rest – I don’t have a clue)
  • Being a lying and manipulative little cow to get my own way
  • Making more plans with friends than I have spare time
  • Risky, overconfident driving
  • Uh-oh! The sexual predator has been out again!
  • Generally over confident and cocky about everything I’m doing
  • No feelings of empathy or guilt towards others, whatsoever
  • Switching my phone off at night and not returning home until 7am
  • Skipped meds (expecting another boom shortly, bleugh)
  • Feeling invincible
  • Uncontrollable bouts of laughter
  • Not being able to concentrate on what I’m watching on tv/what others are saying
  • Interrupting others and talking wayyy too much about things I shouldn’t be
  • Fantasising my days away due to racing thoughts
  • Having hallucinations and peripheral disturbances again
  • Total over consumption of caffeine
  • Vicious anxiety that can only be eliminated through self-medicating
  • Forgetting to eat for 24 hours (Seriously though? who does that?)
  • Self injury urges
  • Dissociation (octopus arms have made an appearance on two separate occasions)

and the last one of course….

  • Contacting my doctor/Psychiatrist is the last thing on my mind, because they will take my Wolf away from me. And I need her right now.

Yes, there’s no denying now that I am not well at the moment, but at the same time, I need this. I need to have this release for a while because it feels so good.

Does anyone else out there feel the same? Like our doctors are trying to medicate us from being 100% ourselves? I feel free for the first time in ages and I want to keep going, but I know in the back of my mind I have some awareness that my actions could have consequences not only on myself, but on others too.

Do I care?

NOPE.

The only thing that’s bugging me is the dissociation and the other psychotic symptoms. It’s not nice freaking out because you look down at your abnormally elongated arms which have gone numb, and as a result you cant seem to relax with these strange limbs beside you that don’t feel like your own. The paranoia that comes with it can be crippling. Nor is it nice when your laid in bed and your whole body disappears in to thin air.

So yes apart from that, and the fact I can feel a crash coming on, I don’t want her to go away. I need her to stay. She hasn’t finished playing yet.

But I think I know in the back of my mind that The Wolf won’t want to stop playing until she ruins some aspect of my life.

Assessment tomorrow!

Due to the struggles in recalling recent (and not so recent) memories, I figured i’d probably find it difficult to get everything out in the open to the new psych. So I made a ‘timeline’ of events over the years and just let my mind loose on it. What a mess!

Hopefully I will be able to keep adding to the list before the morning and be ready to admit some of the things I need to get out in the open. Which will be hard for me, during the past few months I’ve been reflecting on my past and i’ve even struggled admitting certain things to myself… I see a few interesting blog entries in the future, when i’m brave enough!

Other than that, this week I have remained stable (even though i’m run down with a cold!) – i’ve been nicely settled at a 5, apart from the occasional irritability, memory loss and hallucinations.

Speaking of which, they have been getting worse! I’m slowly convincing myself that i’m genuinely seeing spirits again, its all so real. They have moved from my peripheral vision and into my focus now – shadows, lots of movement, distortions and glitches in reality that stops me in my tracks – every one is different. It gets worse in the evening, and sometimes I don’t even notice them until late afternoon. It will be very interesting to hear what the psych has to say about it all.

About the memory – I have been researching and it sounds pretty much like I have Dissociative Amnesia, my symptoms appear to tick every box. Its all very confusing and overwhelming to think about.

Until the morning 🙂

I’m stable.

So I finally feel like i’m at a stable 5 on the mood chart… and what a difference I feel.

My memory is better. I’m not as distracted – I can watch a film or catch up on tv that i’ve missed over the past weeks without getting up out of my seat or not being able to concentrate enough on what is going on.  My social skills have seemed to pick up – I went to a party on Saturday night and for the first time in what feels like months. I felt comfortable – with the people around me, and in myself.

Talking to people I don’t know, no anxiety or paranoia, dancing and enjoying myself with a few of the people I really love. I trusted myself to drink and I got home at a nice time and didn’t over do it. I never thought i’d get there this quick – not this year anyway, however I know not to get ahead of myself because this could only last a day or two the way the Sertraline has been influencing my cycles. I’ll try to enjoy it for the time being.

I haven’t napped in two days – although I was tired yesterday. Today has been fine, no drowsiness, no putting my daughter to bed and feeling too exhausted to move. It’s refreshing. Funny how contradictory my energy levels are whether i’m up or down, the same goes for my cognitive functioning. My appetite is still very low, I have to admit I’ve been struggling to eat, but i’ve managed.

I’m not overthinking things for a change.

What I’m still dealing with is the hallucinations – the auditory ones only lasted two days, but the visual ones seem more significant and present. They are only minor, but i’ve experienced peripheral disturbances every day since they began last Wednesday.

I finally gave in to the Sertraline side effects (I didn’t read them all as adviced by the councellor, just had a route around on the web to see if visual disturbances are common) and it turns out there are quite alot of similar posts (particularly amongst Bipolar patients) on medication/mental health forums which have confirmed my suspicions – these hallucinations I have been experiencing could very well be medication induced. I’m feeling alot more comfortable with them now, they dont bother me as much, but I do find myself questoning whether things I see/hear are real sometimes. They often are, so I need to stop doing that to myself.

With the amount of risky side effects that have arisen in myself and other patients I have spoken to the past few months, its a wonder how GP’s are so happy handed to prescribe these SSRI antidepressants on a whim, without looking in to patient history or getting a second opinion by a psychiatrist. My GP had no idea about the terrible experience I had on fluoxetine, until I explained to him why I refused them straight up after the attempt to prescribe then to me. I went in to request councelling, which for me has done me more good than the medication has at dealing with my issues, in fact, the two different SSRI’s I have tried over the summer have made my mood episodes worse and even sent me in to psychosis. The only reason why I went back two weeks later to take my GP up on the medication offer was because the depressive episode I was in at the time was crippling, and I needed a quick fix.

Not the ‘fix’ I was hoping to gain. I’m not fixed. I’m more fragmented than when I fell sick at the beginning of the year.