Thursday, 21 April 2016

Mental illness is NOT a choice

For some reason, many people think that people choose to have a mental illness. Maybe it's because they don't understand, or maybe it's because of their ignorance about mental illness. There are many reasons, some of which I've not even thought about until now. However, telling someone that the illness they have is a choice, is not okay, and I'll never understand the reasons why people think this. Yes, not everyone understands mental illness, or understands what it's like to have one. But this doesn't mean people are allowed to tell others that their illness is a choice; it's not okay.

Over the time that I've been mentally unwell, I've had so many things said to me.
Just smile! Be happy. Stop being anxious. You have no reason to be sad. Just eat. Tell the voices to go away. Just ignore the voices! Why are you so moody all the time? 
This is just a very small portion of what people have previously said to me. When I used to get told all of this, it made me so angry. Why would I choose to be this way? Why would  I choose to be mentally unwell? I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy, and if I could switch my illness off, I'd do it in a flash. So, let me give you an insight into what life is like for me. For those of you that don't know, I suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Social Anxiety Disorder. As well as this, I also suffer from auditory and visual hallucinations, paranoia and paranoid beliefs. For the people that don't know what BPD is, it basically causes extreme mood swings, intense emotions, unstable relationships, etc.

I wake up. Great, another day to drag myself through. I lie in bed for at least an hour, contemplating on when I'm going to get up. Just 5 more minutes! However, 5 minutes turns into 10, and then 15, and so on. I hardly have any energy to get up, and I have to drag myself out of bed. I drag myself to the bathroom and run a bath, because I've not washed myself or my hair in a while. Gross, I know, but it's reality of being mentally unwell. Once I'm in the bath I don't have the energy to get back out once I'm washed, so I end up staying in there for too long. When I've summoned the energy to get out and get dressed, I stumble back to my bedroom where I collapse on my bed out  of sheer exhaustion. For someone who is mentally well, all of this would take about 1 hour, maybe an hour and a half at max. For me, all of this takes about 2-3 hours. So I'm all washed and dressed. Now what? I could use my skills and distractions. Painting, reading, mindfulness, going for a walk, writing, and the list is endless. Yet all this just seems too much. On a good day, I'd use some of my distractions. But on a bad day, I just can't be bothered. Then comes the intense emotions of sadness, anger and emptiness. When the intense sadness comes along, I just sit and cry for hours. Intense emptiness results in me sitting somewhere, either the floor or my bed, and just rocking back and forwards. And then there's the intense anger. Oh boy, I dread this emotion. I hate knowing that when it's gone and it's over, it's going to come back, and I dread it. Because once it comes along, I'm verbally aggressive towards other people, I scream, shout, throw things and hurt myself. In the past, this intense anger has resulted in the police being called, and being threatened with an arrest. Once I've calmed down from my intense emotions, I feel guilt and shame. What have I done? How could I hurt other people? And then I feel like I need to hurt myself. I feel so empty that I need to hurt myself to feel something. To feel alive. 9 times out of 10 I end up in A&E or the urgent care centre to get my arms cleaned, steri-stripped and bandaged. Then the questions of "Why did you do it?" come along. I don't know. Maybe it's because I feel numb and empty constantly. Maybe it's because I hate myself. Or maybe it's because it's the only thing that keeps me sane.
Back home I go, without any support. If I'm in A&E, I'm seen by the psych team and sent home, because there isn't anything they can do for me. And that's the worst part, because I feel like I'm screaming out for help, yet no-one will help me. At times, I feel really, really desperate. Once I'm back home I usually feel calmer. I can use some of my distractions and skills, until it gets to night time. The sadness comes again, and it's worse than ever. The voices have been at me all day, and I'm fed up. Why me? Why can't they just leave me alone? Next thing I know, I'm using different methods of self harm, including smacking my head repeatedly off a wall, just to get them to shut up. But it's not just the auditory hallucinations, it's the visual too. And oh Lord are they scary! Imagine hearing and seeing the devil, everywhere you go. If you can't hear him, you can see him, and vice versa. He's constantly laughing and saying things to me, and he even speaks to me in Russian (not that I can understand him). Not only this, but imagine getting into bed at night and just lying there. You can hear a few people pacing up and down your room, mumbling things, talking to each other. These people are known as shadow people; they are literal shadows. They're talking about how they're going to hurt you. As well as pacing up and down your room, you can feel them pulling at your hair, scratching at your skin. It's utterly terrifying, and I've had a lot of people, including professionals, say to me:

Just ignore them.

If I could, I really would. When I'm in bed at night, I pray that the voices, or the shadow people, or the devil, will just kill me there and then. Because that's how terrifying it is. I pray that I don't wake up in the morning, that something happens in the night so I die. Mental illness has made me so desperate that I pray to God to kill me already, to save me from this living hell. It's made me so desperate that I've lost count of how many times the police have had to come to my house, or come out looking for me, to save me. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be alive right now.

It's like your drowning, but you can see everyone else around you breathing. 

Saturday, 9 April 2016

My struggle with mental illness

When I was younger, I never thought about the concept of having a mental illness. I remember when I was first starting to experience depression, before I was referred to CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health service), and a few of my friends were suggesting the idea of me suffering from depression. I just laughed at them. Me? Have depression? I honestly didn't think I had it, everything that I was doing at that point was completely normal for me. Suicidal ideation and self-harm was my idea of normal. It wasn't until I'd had my first appointment at CAMHS, and I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, that I realised things weren't normal. But how can I have depression? It's just something that people like me don't get diagnosed with. I denied having it, it just couldn't be true.
But it was.
When I was 13/14, I really thought I was at my lowest and things could never get any worse. Oh how wrong I was! But I suppose when you're at that age, you really think things can't get any worse. The bullying and torment that I'd suffered from fellow pupils since primary school had subsided, but that didn't stop the constant thoughts and feelings. It felt like there was a dark cloud hanging over me all the time, I just wasn't happy. Of course around friends and family I'd put on my 'mask'; I'd smile and pretend everything was okay. However, it was far from it. I never realised how detrimental putting on this mask would be, or else I probably wouldn't have done it. Even though I've never really been a big talker, I never spoke about how I was feeling. It got to the point where I was just lying my way through my CAMHS appointments. They started me on fluoxetine, yet after a few months I just stopped taking it. My counsellor didn't know this, I'd been telling her that it had been helping, when it wasn't. I didn't see the point in taking something that wasn't helping, so I stopped. I can't remember if this was before or after I was started on medication, but I remember my first overdose so clearly.
My parents had gone out for the day, and my sister wasn't in the house either. I already hated being in the house alone, but the suicidal thoughts made it so much harder. I didn't tell my mam and dad this though, I didn't want to spoil their day it. It seemed as though I ruined everything. I wasn't going to let that happen this time. Not long after they'd gone out, I searched through the medicine cabinet for any tablets I could find. I took a handful of paracetamol, and then panic set in.
How could I have done this?
I rang an ambulance, and a police officer and an ambulance crew arrived shortly after. My parents arrived soon after they got to the house, too. I was taken to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, where I had a cannula put in and I was kept in the children's ward overnight for observation. In the morning, I was assessed by the mental health team, and discharged with a follow up from CAMHS. I'd scared myself so much by doing it, that I never wanted to do it again; I never wanted to hurt my family like that. I just wish I could have stuck by that.
I hate the fact that I've been in and out of CAMHS since I was 13, and I'm now very close to being 18. I've grown up around mental illness, and sometimes it feels like it's the only thing I've known. As normal as people may think I am, I've not been able to live a happy, normal life. Yes, there have been times when I've felt okay. But these periods of happiness and positivity have never lasted long, and in the end I've always crashed harder than the last time. At the start of 2015, I started to run away from sixth form quite a lot. This was around the time that I'd had an emergency referral back to CAMHS by my GP not long after being discharged. I just couldn't see the point in living anymore. On a lot of occasions when I would leave the school, I'd end up overdosing. I always refused to go to hospital, because I felt like I deserved the hurt and pain I was inflicting upon myself. Everyone was so angry and annoyed with me, but I couldn't control my actions. One time when I was taken back to sixth form, a police officer came to speak to me. He told me that I was hurting everyone around me, and that I was stopping the police from attending real emergencies. That was the word that got to me the most - real. It felt as though my problems were being undermined, and that no-one really cared.

After a while, things slowly got better, and my appointments with my CAMHS psychologist were reduced. In the summer of 2015, my parents split up. This was a huge shock for me, as I thought my family was the type where my parents would be together forever. Clearly this wasn't the case, and it just goes to show how unpredictable life is. Although I put on a brave face and tried to cope with my parents' separation, it felt as though my whole world was falling apart. I had to be the brave one, because everyone else was struggling to come to terms with it. Not only was I having to hide my feelings about the separation, I started to become unwell again. I blamed myself for the separation, I thought if I'd been a better daughter, then none of this would have happened. As a result of this, I started inflicting more pain upon myself, in the form of self harm. I'd been doing this on and off since the age of 13, but now I was starting to carry it out in different forms.
Cutting, burning, pulling my hair out, restricting my food intake, punching myself, banging my head off walls, scratching myself.
I hated myself, I couldn't stand looking at myself in the mirror. Everything seemed to be going downhill again, and even though my appointments with my CAMHS psychologist had been increased again, nothing seemed to be helping. I felt hopeless, and I didn't know what to do anymore. This was when I took my second paracetamol overdose. I hadn't necessarily done it to end my life, it was just one of my impulsive actions. After I'd done it, I rang an ambulance because I realised what I had done. How could I have been so stupid? I was taken to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, where I was made to drink activated charcoal, to try and reverse the damage the paracetamol may have caused. I was seen by the doctor and I was kept in overnight for observation, and discharged the next day.
Nothing seemed to be improving, in fact my mental health was deteriorating. So my psychologist decided to refer me to a more intensive team; ICTS (intensive community treatment service). I was also referred to start Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), which would consist of 1:1 therapy and group therapy each week. I had my first appointment with two mental health nurses from ICTS, and they seemed really nice. From then on, I had appointments a few times a week with them; sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn't. My mood was all over the place, and from October-November things were really up and down. Most of the time I felt like I was on an emotional rollercoaster. Around the end of November I stopped going to sixth form, and this was when my mental health started to slowly go downhill. Christmas came around, and it was a really hard time. I felt as though I was a burden on my family, and I didn't deserve anything I'd received. I had to put on a brave face and pretend everything was okay, when inside I felt broken. I struggled to eat, and I struggled even more to be happy.

2016. The year everything went wrong. By January, I hadn't been to sixth form in around 2 months. I was hardly eating, I wasn't sleeping properly, I was self harming pretty much every day, I was actively suicidal and I was always hallucinating. Towards the end of January, I decided enough was enough. I couldn't live like this anymore; I couldn't live inside my own mind. I felt as though I was being tortured by my head and the voices, and I just couldn't cope. It was the first time I'd ran away from home, and the euphoria I felt when I got out of the house was insane. I'd planned it out well, and it had worked. Previously to running away I'd taken a staggered paracetamol overdose. I felt on top of the world, everything was going to plan. I honestly didn't think anyone had noticed I'd run away, until the police found me. I was taken back home where I was taken to the Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Cramlington. I had my bloods taken, but despite what the results were, I was started on parvolex, because I'd taken my biggest overdose yet. I felt dreadful, and the drip made me feel so sick. I was kept in overnight and discharged the following day by the mental health team, with plans that I'd be seen by ICTS. However, a few days later I was discharged by ICTS. 

I started constantly running away from home, and I was always involved with the police. I often spoke to ChildLine, who would ring the police because they were concerned about me. The following week after my overdose I ran away and went missing for 11 hours. Running away was one of my biggest impulsions; I felt out of control. But I just couldn't stop myself. My hallucinations were becoming pretty bad, and I ended up running away because of them. Everyone started to become really concerned, because I started to put myself in dangerous situations. At the start of February, I ran away twice within 48 hours and made two serious suicide attempts. Both attempts resulted in a lot of police looking for me, police dogs and police helicopters. After the second attempt, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Middlesbrough, where I stayed for 4 weeks and 3 days. During my stay here, I was diagnosed with emerging Borderline Personality Disorder.

Even though I'm not completely recovered, I'm at a much better place than what I was when I got admitted to hospital. I still have my bad days, however I'm starting to have more positive days. I still have trips to A&E when I'm unwell, but I have loads more skills to use when I'm in crisis. I've found ways of communicating with people to let them know I'm unwell, which can be really useful so I don't go into a crisis. I still have a long way to go, but that's all part of my journey.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.