Pink & Blue Mummyland

Pink and blue parenting through pink and blue moods….

Depression

Sometimes people ask me what depression feels like, and this is what I say.

Depression is like a cat burglar – it creeps up behind ready to steal your most precious things, and although you see the shadow from behind it doesn’t occur to you that it might leap. And yet when it does you realise it’s been behind you for weeks. You started off running away from it, but as time goes on you get tired and can’t run as fast, and it catches up, jumps and covers you completely.

Depression doesn’t make me sad. I cry a lot more and at much smaller things – and at nothing. I cry a lot in self-pity – if only I were good at something, talented in some way. I wanted to do so much with my life – depression makes me think nothing I do is worth anything. But sadness isn’t the main character in my depression drama.

I spend hours asking myself what the point is of anything. The lethargy of inaction, giving up aiming to do anything productive because it won’t do anything anyway. When I’m ok I can see the ripples of my actions spread across the water of my everyday being. When I’m depressed there are no ripples. Every activity drops dead in the water, and I wonder why I bother doing it in the first place.

Depression makes me nearly scared. If I had the mental energy I’d be scared of everything, but as it is I don’t have the energy of thought to get properly frightened about the state of the world, because I know if I do it’ll be overwhelming.

The main fear of my depression is the fear of being found out. I feel the dread of having done something wrong, but I have no idea what it is. I feel like an imposter in my own life. A phoney, pretending to be normal when I’m not, but also knowing that I’m actually making a big fuss about nothing – why do I give my experience such gravity when everyone else has just as hard a time of it?

I feel guilty all the time – I have no good reason for feeling the way I do. So many people have so much more reason to be depressed.

None of this is really a response to real life. I can see that it’s not reactive. I know it’s my brain going screwy again, and that I need to do something about it, but I just don’t want to. I don’t want to admit that it’s managed to engulf me again. If I pretend it’s not there it might go away…

Will it…?

 

 

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Anxiety

Someone asked me what anxiety was like the other day, and it’s something I find hard to explain. But it goes something like this:

You wake up to a cup of tea and cards and cuddles, then have a wonderful morning out as a family. After an afternoon chilling out, you have a takeaway followed by snuggling on the sofa with a film. Then an evening with the hubster and cats, eating mini eggs and watching crappy telly before going to bed. Hubby falls asleep.

Then suddenly your chest feels tight, and you have to go and check on the doors are locked and make sure the children are still breathing. You try to pray and distract yourself but you can’t stop thinking that one day you may be without all the things that are important and you’ve no idea when or how that might happen and it all feels too much. After a perfect day all you can think is that you might never have that again, and the only way to start breathing again is to take tablets and hope you sleep.

That’s what anxiety is like.

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Scared of the Sun

This post is related to my previous post Fear of the Fog. I realise that the titles may now come across as slightly cheesy, but what can I say – I’m an alliteration junkie (please comment below with other words for ‘junkie’ that start with ‘a’…)

This past weekend I have had the joy of going away on our church’s women’s weekend. We had 70 women all in one place, being challenged by some amazing talks and taking part in some inspiring worship.

I also managed to have some relaxed and elongated time with my best friends, Beauty ICE and Lawyer ICE. Our normal prayer times are odd hours, grabbed from between jobs and school runs, so it was lovely to have some proper conversations, intense sharing, and laid back company with colouring books, knitting, and large bars of Galaxy chocolate.

On the Saturday, Beauty ICE and I went for a walk around the grounds of the conference centre, chatting and reminiscing. During our last women’s weekend away I was in the middle of a full blown nervous breakdown as I swung quickly and wildly from hypomania to depression. Beauty ICE (who from now on I’m just going to refer to as Natalya because it’s easy and there’s now no reason not to) was the person who bore the brunt of supporting me at that point, and I can categorically state that I was not fun to be with. My brain had suddenly swung into a major low before getting over the high – the result was all the negative self talk that comes with depression, but at four times the speed. It was hideous.

So this time, I had huge reason to be thankful for my stable state of mind. We walked, thanked God for the change, and had fun whilst we walked. We laughed and we yelled and we let our hair down with gay abandon, and arrived for dinner rosy cheeked and giggly, ready to eat, drink (juice) and be merry. For the first time in a long time I felt more than ok – I felt good.

But bipolar is never far away. I can never forget that it’s there, and it’s still not been long enough for me to relax and let my guard down. By the time we got to the evening meeting I was in panic mode. What if this was hypomania? Playing on swings, running through puddles and throwing snowballs isn’t exactly normal behaviour for me, and I didn’t even notice. The more I thought about it, the more frightened I became. I was on the verge of phoning every medic I knew just to check whether I should be doubling my medication, getting to A&E, checking myself in somewhere. Somewhere along the line, bipolar stole the fun.

Fortunately, sitting between my ICE ladies is the safest place to be. I can stress, I can cry, I can talk about the same things over and over again, and they never get stressed out about “what it might mean”. By the end of the session I was fine, and headed off to the team quiz in my normal, fiercely competitive way.

But it never goes. I like to think that one day I’ll be able to stop that level of overreaction and get to the stage where I can enjoy the good days and sit through the bad days without panic of relapse. But there is a fine line between self-awareness and paranoia, and whilst the former is sensible and necessary for continued health, the latter steals the joy, reminding me that I will never be normal again.

This post doesn’t have quite the happy ending I’d hoped, but it’s real. I’m coming to terms with the idea that this is what life is like now.

scared by the sun

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Fear of the fog

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It doesn’t take much to worry me when it comes to my mental health.

Today I feel low. I feel unmotivated, unable to concentrate, like I’ll never manage to achieve anything that’s of worth, and altogether too exhausted to go up to bed. Staying awake into the night and writing long diatribes is a key sign that Churchill’s famous black dog might be following close behind me. I find myself too scared to stop writing and go to bed, because then I might think, and that could lead anywhere. Or I might find myself completely unable to think, which is even worse.

The thing is, the fear of it can be just as bad as the actual thing. The memory of having been so ill not all that long ago (eighteen months can feel like forever or yesterday) makes me hyper alert to any possible symptom. The thought of being that unwell again induces a level of anxiety I normally only experience in an episode of depression, so I end up on a roundabout of doubt – am I anxious about becoming depressed, or anxious because I’m depressed?

As is always my key tactic, I try and work my way back to see if there is an actual cause for feeling low. I search the calendar for hormone surges or forgotten traumatic anniversaries. I look back over Facebook and Twitter to see what might have nudged me off kilter – social media can be cruel in its reminders of what I haven’t done or become. If I can find a solid reason why I might feel like mud, then there’s more of a hope that it will pass without effect, that it is just a normal bad day, like normal people have.

There’s nothing like experiencing what normal people experience to remind you that you’re not actually normal. In a bad few days a normal person can curl up, eat chocolate, and watch a movie that provides an excuse for a good cry. For me, any longer than a couple of days and I start getting antsy.

So, I start putting things in place. I stop listening to the news, and exchange sad Joni Mitchell music for something brighter. I make sure I go out, even if it’s just to the supermarket cafe, so that my four walls don’t become overbearing. I get up, I get dressed, I eat – I make myself do all the things that most days I hardly notice myself doing. I talk to friends – if my best friends don’t hear from me for a day, they come knocking.

It’s an effort trying not to get depressed when depression is one of the things you most fear.

But who knows, it might all be better tomorrow.

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Roller Coaster

I’ve not been here for a couple of weeks. This is mainly because I have been doing this:

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and this:

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and this:

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and this:

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It has to be said, I’ve never really been a fan of roller coasters. I like keeping my lunch in my stomach too much. But I am married to a thrill seeking husband and we seem to have spawned two children who take after him in that department. And the ‘family holiday where we do things together’ (which I, now to some chagrin, wish I hadn’t constantly insisted upon) apparently extends to fairground rides.

But, to be fair, I spend most of my time on a roller coaster, albeit in a slightly less joint straining, child restraining way.

Lots of people liken having bipolar disorder to being on a constant roller coaster. It’s a very good analogy – getting higher and higher, and more and more excited as you reach the top, only to lose the exhilaration all too quickly as you plummet towards the concrete of a seaside palisade. Fortunately, with a roller coaster, there is at least a little warning of what is to come. My experience of bipolar is that of blind corners, often unrecognised rises, and largely unexpected and unstoppable falls. 

The most analogous thing about this roller coaster for me was that when on on the pleasantly undulating slopes rather than extreme and invigorating climbs and drops, the car spun around. There was never a point at which you could just relax and enjoy the views, because you never knew which way you would be facing when the exaggerated excitement began again.

That’s my life. I have to be constantly aware, never losing concentration, trying to track every little twist and turn for fear of what might come next. I would like to be one of those sufferers who can see what’s going on with my moods, and predict their arrival based on minuscule changes of demeanour or the rolling of seasons of the year. Perhaps that comes with experience, with years of watching and waiting and willingness to record every mood change that comes to call. Perhaps if I was further on with that process they call ‘acceptance’ I would be doing likewise, rather than just being tossed to and fro, riding the tides as they come. That’s what you’re supposed to do, as a sufferer. It’s what all the blog posts and medical journals and self help group aficionados advise – the better you know yourself, the better your health can be.

Is it wrong not to want to have to do this? I feel like a stubborn little girl, stamping my feet at the idea that the rest of my life might have to be consumed by note taking, mood tracking and medication management.

I’m fairly well aware right now that the closer I move towards acceptance, the more I realise I’m not there yet. Each time I deal well with whatever mood change comes to call, I become more aware of coping mechanisms that need instigating and thought processes that need changing. Eighteen months down the road from diagnosis, I’m only just beginning to own the fact that I suffer from an essentially permanent mental illness (which for some sufferers becomes terminal) that will need long term (if not life long) medicating, and constant acknowledgment, awareness and observation. It’s only recently that I’ve actually been able to say with certainly that I have bipolar disorder rather than, “I kind of have bipolar,” or, “I had a sort of breakdown.” Many years of experience have helped me to use terms like, “I suffer from depression,” but I still don’t find myself able to say, “I was hypomanic,” or use the word ‘episode’ with regards to depression or mania – it is just too close to admitting I have this illness that comes in waves, like chapters of a book, with a cliffhanger at the end of each one. It’s hard to know how to end a post like this. Do I try and think of some witty comment, dramatic climax, piece of wisdom for others following the same path? Do I falter, writing on and on with ever more obscure simile? A roller coaster finishes it’s adrenaline fuelled circuit and comes to a stop, and a family stumbles out, all ready for the next party to clamber in.

Stop the ride, I want to get off.

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News Of The Day

I got a text this morning. It was from a friend who had clicked on her Facebook icon before me, only to find that the legend, Robin Williams, had taken his own life. Like a true friend, she warned me that it might be a good idea to stay away from social media for a bit. She was right.

I’m someone who is consciously and decisively protective of my mental health – especially at the moment. I avoid any sites that might risk bringing me down, and despite following numerous bipolar, depression, and general mental health groups on Facebook, I am careful what I choose to click on and what I choose to avoid. I’ve given up Twitter altogether for the moment, because – as famously said by another of my favourite actors – “you never know what you’re going to get.” I am not willing to let my iPad dictate my emotions.

But today has got the better of me. I find myself clicking on every link and watching endless YouTube videos. I have heard again “O captain my captain,” “it’s not your fault” and “goooooood mooorniiiing Vietnaaaam!” I’ve even watched him singing with a gorilla. It’s hard to believe such a powerhouse is suddenly not there any more. It’s harder still to believe that someone who had such power over an audience, such an ability to draw out emotion, such humour as to draw people in, eventually lost the fight.

A poet who lived round the corner from where I grew up describes it perfectly: “I was much further out than you thought, and not waving but drowning.” Robin Williams always did a very good job of waving. He waved hard and fast, with innumerable affected voices, hilarious mannerisms, and what has now shown to be bittersweet slapstick. When life knocked him down he got back up again – and again and again and again it would now seem.

One of my best memories of seeing Robin Williams is probably different from everyone else’s. I saw him on a TV documentary, in a studio recording the Beatles song “Come Together.” Beatles producer George Martin, on retiring, chose his favourite songs, his favourite (not necessarily singing) celebrities, and gifted us with one of the best mash-up albums ever. Robin (I feel strangely comfortable referring to him by his first name now) was mesmerising, although I’m now unsure how universal a response that would have been. But I remember thinking, “how does he come up with so many voices, so many faces, so many ideas, so quickly? How does he keep up?” Of course, with my recently acquired, enforced knowledge of bipolar disorder, I can understand. I’ve felt that quickness of mind, rush of thought, challenge to get everything out. I don’t know whether his coherence in that slightly manic state was due to practise or plain giftedness. I’m fairly certain it was the latter, but thinking it was the former gives me at least a glimmer of hope that one day I might find an edge whereby I can harness what hypomania gives me rather than losing it all in a rush of words. (By the way, the documentary is here, and you can find Robin at 9.27)

I wonder how many more people will give up their fight to live today, after having had the news of Robin Williams’ suicide spread unexpectedly before their eyes as they opened their Twitter and Facebook apps this morning? I wonder just how many of us will have seen his face scrolling over and over and had the thought, “if he can’t carry on, how can I?”

I also wonder, how many people will make more effort to understand mental illness? How many people will take the step from believing that suicide is selfish and weak, toward finally seeing it as the final symptom of an invisible, life threatening disease?

I can only hope that the first number will shrink and the second will grow. That somewhere, from the fate of this funny, clever, troubled man will come a new understanding and a softness of heart towards those of us who struggle every day to keep going.

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

(Stevie Smith, 1972)

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Inevitable

So, this week I’ve done the thing that apparently every bipolar sufferer does that I swore I wouldn’t do, and went off meds.

It started so innocently. On Tuesday morning,I forgot to take my Lamotrigine. I’ve only been on it a week, and am still only on a tiny amount, so it probably wouldn’t have had any effect. I’m just not used to taking meds in the morning – I’m not set in the routine yet. But then it got to Tuesday evening, and it was 1am, and I hadn’t taken my quetiapine yet. A little ‘what if’ entered my head, and that was it.

I should say, I was already on the way up. The quetiapine hadn’t been doing the job for a couple of weeks – it had worked well enough to make me drowsy and exhausted all morning and tired in the afternoon, but by evening I was wired, not tired, and couldn’t see the point of bed when there was so much else to be done. On Tuesday night, I knew that if I took the quetiapine as soon as I realised, I would completely lose the next day to exhaustion, so decided to give it a miss.

I really did intend to just start everything again on Wednesday. Absolutely honestly I did. But then I woke up.

Waking up was the big deal that kept me from taking anything. I actually woke up. After five hours sleep I was up and at ’em, made breakfast for everyone, and got everyone where they needed to be, before doing housework in record time. I was sold. It was the meds making me feel rubbish, I was fine without them, and would start living a normal life again.

The thing is, although I was on the up and off the meds, I was doing great. I got everything done I’d wanted to do for ages, I saw people, I enjoyed myself, but I didn’t do anything daft. I didn’t do anything that it says to look out for – no shopping, no clubbing, no flying to Vegas on a whim. Ok, I wasn’t even remotely tired on only fifteen hours sleep over four nights, but maybe I was catching up on all the sleeplessness I’d missed over the last few years. And my friends saw that I was doing great. People said I looked more like myself than I had in a long time, that I was back behind my eyes.

Friday saw the first visible signs of hypomania. A close friends, who is deaf and has to lip read me all the time told me I had to slow down because she couldn’t understand me, and another friend asked how my meds were because I seemed a bit ‘hyped’. By afternoon, my ICE girls had got together, taken my car keys away, and told me I had to do make a decision – go back on meds or carry on without to see what happened.

As is my normal state of behaviour, I did what pleased everyone else (see, I can’t have been that high!). So now I’m back on the treadmill of exhausted in the mornings, ok in the afternoon, agitated and wired in the evening, but with an added dose of pissed off that I had it so good for a while and can’t have more. But I guess that with only two good days before becoming classically hypomanic, I’ve recognised that I do need the drugs.

So here’s my plan: up the Lamotrigine as planned, but with the view of coming off the quetiapine as soon as humanly possible. I could just come off it now, but I don’t think my doctors are going to be as open to me making my own drug decisions if I just come off them with no medical supervision. I feel crap, but it will hopefully be for a season.

What I could really do with now is understanding the drugs I’m on. So, has anyone been on Quetiapine or Lamotrigine? Can you give me any insight?

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When life hits hard

This past few weeks has been a roller coaster of emotion in my little world, and for once it’s not me who’s at the centre of it. Three weeks ago, out of nowhere, a dear friend was informed that her ex husband had taken his own life by hanging himself from a tree in a public place.

A few things you need to know about the wonderful woman that I call Cake ICE. Most of her awesomeness comes from brokenness. At twenty, she fell in love with a boy whilst at college. When she told her him she was carrying his child, he wanted nothing more to do with her, but she decided she would have her baby anyway, and raised her son at the same time as finishing a degree and becoming a teacher. Fast forward a few years, and she fell head over heels again, with a man who married her and gave her another two beautiful sons, but also bruises she didn’t ask for or deserve. Leaving him and taking her three boys with her was one of the bravest things she has ever done. Bringing up children with special needs on your own is hard, but she carried on regardless – even staying standing through another relationship that resulted in her beautiful baby girl. Eventually, a year or so ago, she came to church and found the one man who would never let her down. Her heart belongs to Jesus now – hallelujah!

So, even before hearing the news of her ex husband’s suicide, her day to day life was pretty hard. She is raising four kids and works as hard as possible to keep her close knit family off benefits and to show them that working hard is always worth it. She runs her own celebration cake company, and is pretty damn good at it. She has spent these weeks making cakes for other people’s celebrations whilst her world is in turmoil.

How do you tell pre-teen boys that the father they don’t remember has killed themselves? What about the seventeen year old who has only known one ‘father’ – the one who hit him and his mum? Praise the Lord for the little girl who makes them smile at least once an hour and can’t remember anything but love in her own short life.

Everybody in his family is quick to blame. They want an answer, a reason, something about which they can say “this is why”. Cake ICE is at fault in their eyes for leaving him and taking the children, as are other partners and ex-partners who have gone their own way and taken children with them. People seem to be spending a lot of energy on blaming people who are alive,because for some reason you can’t blame the dead. No one wants to say that his suicide, whilst possibly triggered by events, was entirely his own decision.

But then, I even use the word ‘decision’ loosely. When our very being is driven by a sense of survival, what does it take to enable us to go against self-preservation and towards self-destruction?

In all honesty, I just don’t know the answer. For the most part, I just can’t make suicide make sense. My inclination is to suggest that some kind of illness of mind is always involved, even if not a specifically diagnosed mental illness, but other people I know would claim that it is the ultimate act of selfishness, considered in a right mind as payback to those left behind. Maybe the fact that I can’t bear not to look for the best in people is the reason that that idea doesn’t sit easily. Or maybe it’s a more personal thing – I have been tempted by suicide’s finality, and thought myself completely logical at the time, but once in my right mind again I can’t believe I considered it. The thought that I could be called selfish hurts, because I don’t think I was my real, normal self when death was such a temptation.

I also can’t quite figure out what God thinks. There are some denominations and/or churches that would claim suicide is not just a sin, but one which can’t be forgiven. I’m fortunate that my church isn’t one of them. I’m not saying that I think suicide can ever be a part of God’s plan for our lives, but I know that we live in a fallen world, and that a loss of hope is a part of that fallenness that we all have to battle every day – some of us harder than others. From what I read in Scripture, Jesus knows more than any of us what it is to be in pain and torment. He was literally separated from God the Father so that we didn’t have to be separated from Him. He experienced true death – complete isolation from Father God – so that we didn’t ever have to be without hope again. So what happens spiritually when someone rejects the hope we have in Christ and takes their own life? I have no idea.

What I do know is that having seen the pain caused by someone so estranged has brought home with sating clarity just how much pain I could cause if I got severely ill again. I’ve put in place within my relationships a truth telling pact, and made sure that people are never too scared to ask me how I am and what I’m thinking. I have to hope and pray that that’s enough.

I’m interested in how other people see suicide as an issue, or what others do to keep themselves safe. Answers on a postcard…..

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Stigma on my doorstep

This week I have experienced some of the worst stigma and misunderstanding I have come across so far in my life with regards to mental illness.

Fortunately I wasn’t there to witness it. In the heat of anger, a family member said (or shouted) of me: “she doesn’t actually have bipolar – it’s just another excuse to be lazy.”

There are so many issues within this one comment that I hardly even know where to begin. The hurt and pain that it’s caused has been huge, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen The Cable Guy so angry. But the personal fury aside, the whole situation has made me think about how we tackle stigma in general, and specifically within those closest to us. I don’t get to stop being a part of my family just because they have some ignorant and arrogant views of mental illness. It’s not like Facebook friends who I can just block – I need to figure out how to be related to them whilst essentially unable to change them.

I’ve decided that changing people’s minds about mental illness is broadly a two stage process. First, we have to stop people saying what’s on their mind; secondly, we have to stop them thinking about it. My relative’s comment is a problem in two ways – firstly that they could say it at all (which has left me, and many people around me, incredulous), but also that the thought was there in the first place. As far as I understand it, when most people are angry, they don’t just make stuff up to say. In the heat of the moment, something they think deep in their consciousness, which they usually keep hidden, bursts out, with its barbs and sharp edges set on a trajectory to hurt whoever they are angry with.

The question I’ve been asking myself is, what is the point of changing what people do or say, if we can’t change the way they think? What point is there in my relative apologising if she still thinks that when I say I’m depressed it’s really just that I can’t be bothered to do anything?

Here’s what I’ve come up with. And I must say, I think its ingenious. It turns the current treatment of mental illness entirely on its head.

You know how the NHS is determined that the cure for all things mental health related is CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy)? In this case I think it is the answer – but not for the patient. It’s all the people around us that need it! People who don’t have understanding of mental illness need to be taught the practise of what therapists call ‘thought stopping’. This is quite an old idea, but essentially claims that you can change the way you think, and therefore how you feel and behave. The basis of the technique is that you consciously issue the command, “Stop!” when you experience repeated negative, unnecessary or distorted thoughts. You then replace the negative thought with something more positive and realistic (read more here). Of course, to start off with, you might need someone else to issue the short, sharp ‘stop’ – but I can think of plenty of volunteers who will be glad to shout loudly in the face of someone who has just said something incredibly stupid about mental illness.

So, the we are. The newest way to deal with stigma regarding mental illness. Treat the non-patient, not the patient. It makes as much sense as anything else I’ve heard recently……

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BBC Three Mental Health Season

I’ve been watching the BBC Three mental health season programmes with interest. I’ve actually been quite impressed – most of the programmes have been well rounded and informative, not the freak shows I feared they would be. And although I count myself a bit of an expert (in the layperson sense of the word), I found myself learning quite a bit.

My only frustration with the series is just how ‘young person’ focused it is. Every programme I’ve watched – and I’ve seen most of them I think – has concentrated on mental health issues in teenagers or people in their early twenties. “Don’t Call Me Crazy” looked at life in an adolescent psychiatric unit, and “Failed By The NHS” followed the stories of young adults crossing over from child and adolescent services to adult services. “Extreme OCD Camp” should have been called “Extremely Young OCD Camp”, and even the programme that seemed to promise a look at the long term, chronic nature of some mental illnesses – the programme about Frank Bruno’s battle with bipolar – was really about his daughter.

I not saying that there was anything intrinsically wrong with all the information in the programmes. The information was accurate and well delivered, and will, I think, have opened people’s eyes to the severity of the issue. Whilst following the Twitter feed #extremeocdcamp, a number of people had the reaction ‘I never knew it could be so bad, so controlling, so debilitating – how on earth do people cope?’ There has definitely been some awareness raising.

My concern is that these programmes are encouraging the idea that mental health issues are somehow teenaged by definition, and that they are something you grow out of. It’s great to raise awareness of these conditions, but not once has it been suggested that most of these conditions are chronic, and rarely disappear just through ageing into a new decade.

In some ways, “Failed By The NHS” has been the most painful of all these programmes to watch. A group of young people not long out of school or college feel they have been failed by the NHS – either by GPs, or by A&E, or by CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services). But nothing was said about the general mental health services. As someone who does to some extent feel let down by the NHS, I wonder how long it will be before boring old chronically unwell adults are given some sort of platform to vent their frustrations.

A risk of sounding soap-boxy and woe-is-me, let me use my own experiences as an example. At 19 I went into a psychiatric unit feeling suicidal. I was in a room with three other women, one of whom had night terrors, because there wasn’t money to staff the single rooms further down the corridor. I was put on medications without knowing what they were for, and offered no therapy of any kind. I stayed there for as little time as possible and lied to get out because it was more unbearable being in hospital than being in the world. The hospital was in Durham, where I was at university, and when I was discharged I decided to go back to my parents house in London. It was seven months before I was seen by a psychiatrist as an outpatient, and a further eight before I had any therapy. I was never, in any of that time, offered a social worker, CPN, or counselling. As a young person, I was seriously failed by the NHS, at a time when I didn’t have the confidence, energy, or presence of mind to stand up for myself and fight my corner.

But fast forward a few years to the present. Following the depressive episode I had after MicroBob’s birth, I had so much difficulty persuading anyone that I wasn’t being treated correctly that I paid to see a private consultant who was a specialist in Bipolar Disorder. He offered me a two hour assessment, involving questionnaires, blood tests and interviews, by the end of which the diagnosis was watertight. Since taking the report to my NHS consultant, he and I have been ploughing through a massive medications change to swap my high dose antidepressants for a preventative mood stabiliser. I see Dr K every four weeks, which doesn’t feel like enough, but can’t be increased without a huge reduction in his patient load. When I saw him a couple of weeks ago, he informed me that he would be on holiday all of August, so I wouldn’t be able to see anyone until September. And his closing advice was to ‘only phone the crisis team in a REAL emergency’ because, since no-one is covering his absence, they would be the ones picking up the slack, and would therefore be inundated. I could broach the subject with a CPN, but as I am not suicidal or psychotic, I don’t qualify for one. I would consider talking to my psychologist about it, but nine months after my referral I still haven’t seen anyone. It’s probably worth saying that Dr K completely agrees with the other doctor’s diagnosis – he just didn’t have the time needed to make it himself.

Both in a broad way 13 years ago, and in a more specific way these last few weeks, I feel let down by the NHS. Normally I’m the one fighting their corner – I have seen how fast doctors can run in an emergency, and know that most doctors are working huge numbers of hours to get everyone cared for. I had excellent medical care when I had severe pre-eclampsia and had to have an emergency caesarean followed by ICU for me and my baby, and when I seriously broke my arm four years ago, I was treated as quickly as possible and operated on within a day. When I was in too much pain I was given morphine, because my opinion was respected with regards to how much pain was too much.

So why are my physical health and mental health experiences so different? Why is it that my broken arm is treated swiftly and with dignity, whereas my broken brain is ignored for as long as possible? I would honestly like to know. I would like to understand how the NHS can defend the care that mentally ill people get (or don’t get), and how they can justify the decisions to put so little of their budget into mental health care. One in four people in the UK will experience a diagnosable mental health problem in any given year (stats here). That’s 25% of us. That’s huge. So why does so little of the government money pot for health go into making our brains better?

Answers on a postcard please…

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