Asking for help in a crisis … or not!

I spent the majority of 2015 ‘in crisis’. Between May and December I experienced my most severe depressive episode in a decade. It took me right off my feet, for the most part left me entirely incapacitated, and ultimately at risk of dying. CRISISI only began to recover in the days leading up to Christmas. January saw steady improvement in my mood. I was thrilled to find myself alive, having been convinced that I wouldn’t see Christmas because I had to die. I had hope again and, for the first time in my life, reliable, consistent support – which was to prove life-changing and to allow the final pieces of my life and self recovery puzzle to begin to fall into place.

February was rather more of a roller coaster of mood. I panicked as I first felt my mood decline, terrified of the depression taking hold and fearing I would be trapped in it again for months, or even years as I once had been. Depression can be paralysing.

Late last year, on a day when I was able to harness some capacity, I arranged to visit the local crisis centre – a voluntary sector project – to obtain support to build a crisis plan. It was a helpful appointment – my plan involved strengthening my fledgling support network and reaching out to speak to a worker at the crisis centre. The latter can be contacted by text, email or call … 24/7. A follow up appointment may then also be made for the client to visit the centre over the course of the next two days or a follow up call may be made to the client the next day, if more support is needed. It’s a good service. There is only limited provision of a similar type throughout the UK, certainly nowhere near enough to meet demand. Commonly, someone experiencing a mental health crisis, certainly outside of ‘office hours’, is likely to find attending A&E, where resources are stretched and often not geared to mental health, is their only option.

I feel enormously grateful that I now have access to appropriate crisis support. I experienced a four year period of serious mental illness some years ago. There was no specialist crisis support where I lived at that time, only an out of hours GP service that was stretched and, I’m afraid, in no way sympathetic to mental health difficulties. Telephone helplines, such as those offered by the Samaritans, SANE, Breathing Space (Scotland) and Supportline, although helpful, were no substitute for the services that are now available to me in a new area. I believe everyone experiencing mental health crisis has a right to the best, free care – 24/7. We are some way from making that a reality.

So, what is a mental health crisis? If you’ve had one you’ll certainly know about it; they are far from fun. Like those who experience them, they are varied and individual. A crisis might involve psychosis. For the uninitiated, that’s not where one wields an axe and becomes a killer as media depictions might suggest, but rather where a person’s perception of reality becomes mildly, moderately or severely distorted. Read more here. I thank my lucky stars that I haven’t had to experience it and have much respect for those who do. They’re not ‘loony’, ‘psycho’ or ‘sick’, but experiencing the symptoms of illness. They are as deserving of respect and care as anyone experiencing serious illness. A crisis might involve suicidal feelings, ideation and plans. Equally a crisis might involve loneliness, despair, fear or anxiety, impeding a person’s ability to cope or function.

For me, crisis is feeling suicidal, whether those feelings progress to planning to end my life or not, I don’t want to feel suicidal. As far as humanly possible, I want to avoid slipping that far.

Crisis prevention care is as vital as in-crisis care.

The increasingly stretched NHS is, in mental health terms, generally reactive rather than preventative, as limited funds mean limited resources and so limited capacity. In-crisis care is often woefully inadequate, crisis prevention nigh on non-existent. I was only able to access the support I needed when I was deeply in crisis, even after months of crying out to my GP for help with my rapidly worsening depression and suicidal ideation. The attitude was very much one of not to worry, you’ll be fine. When I described finding myself assessing elements of my home as means to end my life, my GP said that was OK, so long as I didn’t act on those thoughts.

No support was put in place to ensure that I didn’t act on them or to help manage and indeed, reduce those thoughts. Only when a friend, sensing that a suicide attempt may well be imminent, telephoned my GP surgery insisting they take action, did appropriate mental health support begin to materialise. My friend (at the time working away from home and 500 miles from the city where we both live) was correct in her assumption and may well have saved my life by at first listening, by continuing to listen until she was able to understand, and, once she did, by taking prompt and appropriate action.

Aside from a lack of appropriate sources of support, the symptoms of mental illness may themselves impede access to support. In recent months, despite having confidence in my local crisis centre (at least my ‘logical brain’ does) and having received much encouragement to seek support from it and other sources, such as my GP and my housing support officer, I have been unable to do so while in crisis or once I begin the slide towards crisis. This is because my depression rather has its own mind and it’s not supportive of my well-being, darn thing that it is! Depression makes me believe that I’m a burden and that no one can or will help me. That’s not what you need to be thinking when you need to reach out for support to manage your illness. You see my dilemma. I don’t feel that way unless I’m in the grip of depressive illness. That at least allows me to continue to devise and revise techniques to circumvent the obstacles to support.

I have made progress.

In February, with encouragement from my housing support officer, I was able to contact the crisis centre as my mood began to rise after a frightening few days of persistent low mood – although not so low as to ignite suicidal ideation. The contact helped strengthen my capacity to recover and continue to move forward. I was able to arrange to visit the centre two days later, in order to discuss my difficulty in reaching out as a mood slide or other crisis trigger occurs. This proved to be enormously helpful. I found my own answers, but having the time and space to discuss my feelings and thoughts around the problem with a crisis worker, is what enabled me to do so.

I realised that I had not been able to engage with either my crisis plan or my crisis/comfort box, despite working so hard to establish them to support me. In conversation with the crisis centre worker, I realised that I had been treating both plan and box as pariahs.

They reminded me of being in severe crisis – a terrible place to which I never again wanted to return – and so I shunned them.

I resolved to rename my crisis plan a rather more cosy support plan and to drop the word crisis from the comfort box. I also made a new, larger box and reworked the contents – a few of which are shown below. It includes, but is not limited to, the following.

  • Items for relaxation – such as a stress toy, herbal tea bags, a relaxation audio, a book and postcards to colour.
  • Photo frames to fill with images of the few who stood by me last year and remind me of the hope and support they offer me.
  • A soapstone heart and fluffy bunny – both tactile – to aid  grounding techniques.
  • Assorted toys and other items from my free and brilliant  Little Box of Distractions to occupy and distract a stressed mind are also in there.

Someofthecontentsofmycomfort box

For the first time I feel confident about accessing appropriate support when I need it – in the form of contacting a supportive friend, the crisis centre or a specialist helpline, whichever is most appropriate in the circumstances. I am somewhat less confident about accessing crisis prevention or in-crisis support from the NHS because of it’s failure to support me in the past and because of the limitations I know have been forced upon it.

Last week a mood slide was triggered by the unexpected discovery of a psychiatrist’s report from more than a decade ago. It details my poor mental state in the immediate aftermath of my disclosure of the physical and psychological abuse I’d experienced in childhood and beyond. I had some horrendous experiences within the NHS in those days, the worst when I was verbally abused by a GP, who went on to admit his wrongdoing but which was subsequently covered up and I was hounded from the practice. A mental health charity backed me but said that without family, a supportive partner or friends to stand and fight with me, I had zero chance of redress.

I still fear being that vulnerable again and know I have still work to do to recover from it. My current GP who, since my friend acted, has improved her support and so has been slowly gaining my trust – the first to do so since that event 11 years ago – is leaving the practice next month. Starting anew with another GP will challenge me, but must be done.

Faced with this triggered mood slide and associated flashbacks and anxieties, I did not panic and so trigger a further slide (well, OK, I did a teensy bit). I calmly and mindfully worked to ground myself, helping to stabilise me, and reached out to friends, Twitter friends and the crisis centre to obtain the support I needed to begin to recover my mood and confidence.

HappyThoughtsJar

How I felt when I achieved this (delighted) is described on a sticky note held within the jar pictured above. It was made for me last month by that super friend. Her intention is that the happy thoughts collected within it can also help to comfort me at more difficult times.

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Today in tweets.

This evening I decided to set up a Storify.com account and use some of my tweets to tell you about a key event today.

Unfortunately WordPress no longer support Storify code so I’m unable to embed the story directly into this post, but please click here to read it.

TTFN x

Jack Monroe has given me, as a survivor of abuse, a freedom from fear and I really want to thank her.

I have never wanted to devour a recipe book. I don’t suppose they taste too good, do they? I have owned and perused many a cook book from slim guides to hefty tomes, by the lesser known and the ‘celebrity’ chef, offering everything from simple suppers, one pot dinners, veggie delights, vegan cooking made easy, low fat, low stress … low fun. No matter the brilliance within those pages, those books couldn’t excite me.

I’ve never found cooking in any way thrilling despite being far from devoid of enthusiasm generally (I’m something of a jump up and down, beam broadly and talk the hind legs off a donkey with great passion on many topics, type. Enthusiastic hardly covers it.). I do enjoy food. I’m mindful of the importance of healthy eating. I don’t want to rely on processed foods and have often wished I had a love of cooking from scratch.

My lack of excitement for cooking, stems from a lack of confidence rooted in an old fear. I recall the swipes, slaps, pokes, verbal batterings and other punishments that accompanied the cooking of my upbringing. Nothing I did, in learning to cook or otherwise, was ever deemed acceptable. I’ve worked hard to build self esteem and confidence, but my relationship with cooking remained affected. Perhaps because it’s such a fundamental skill, and I was for so long deemed incapable of even that. I instilled my ex-husband with the confidence to learn to cook, and mentored his efforts – planning menus, gathering ingredients and lovingly encouraging. Still I cooked without enjoyment, with a lot of fear and to no more than a basic level.

The blog, devotedly largely to cooking on an impossibly tight budget, I found at agirlcalledJack.com caused something of a stir. I refer not to the stir in the media or in a bowl filled with a magical mix of low cost kidney beans, a square of dark chocolate, tomato puree and a pinch of cumin. This was the makings of a stirring deep inside of me (ooer – I have heard tell that food can do that to some folks).  Instead of wishing that I could tackle these recipes, that I found I was avidly reading, or feeling that I ought to tackle them; I started to find that I wanted to tackle them. Soon I found that not only did I want to tackle one or two basic budget recipes, I wanted to tackle quite a few. Then came my first encounter with A Girl Called Jackthe book* …

I devoured it in one huge gulp, reading from cover to cover with mounting EXCITEMENT. I wanted to make these things, because they excited me and because, finally, I felt I could. Then, after cooking one day, I found myself thinking I enjoyed that, then it happened again … and again. Now I look forward to cooking and it seems I enjoy it every time and best of all the fear has gone and in its place is a growing confidence.

Jack, I can’t thank you enough for that.

I’m never going to be contestant on the Great British Bake Off. I haven’t baked consistently since the cookery lessons of my school days of the 70s and 80s. I have baked since then but with fear, little success and more than a dollop of self-judgement. Last week * wait for it * I made a banana loaf. No, really, I really did … and bloody good it was too! I searched the terms ‘easy low fat banana loaf’ and came to this recipe from the BBC Good Food website – a site I believe also inspired you, Jack. I have to say that if I can successfully complete this recipe, anyone could, but boy did I enjoy making it. I positively revelled in it. By the end I might as well have conquered Everest, such was my sense of accomplishment and new found baking confidence. I’ve made it twice more since and, thanks to a gift of some apples, next week plan to bake Jack’s Apple and Cinnamon loaf.

A slice of MY banana loaf to sustain me as I write

As someone who lives with a number of diagnoses of chronic illness and is a ‘spoonie’, the amount of energy required to make a meal is of real importance. Before Jack, for two years (trying not to eat rubbish) I relied largely on expensive ready meals and ultimately, so burnt out was I, ended up living by snacking, not healthy, not good for the waistline and not at all satisfying or sustaining. My dysfunctional marriage had ended, I was continuing my extensive efforts to rebuild my life post-abuse disclosure and subsequent serious illness. I was dealing with the sudden terminal illness then death of the last person I had left who could be termed a ‘loved one’. I was studying, volunteering, making plans for self employment to revive the hard won and much beloved career stolen by the effects of abuse … and a whole lot more. Then after a final piece of devastating news it all stopped.The words straw and camel come to mind. I saw no light this summer. I stopped going out and my world closed down. Suicidal thoughts raged aplenty.

Now in dire straits financially, as a result of my marriage ending, and illness, I need Jack’s recipes all the more. My grocery shopping of late has almost entirely comprised products from the supermarket’s ‘basic range’, thanks to Jack encouraging me to try more than one or two. I’ve found I didn’t have enough money to buy tampons and put back food items to pay for them. Now I no longer have money to shop. Last week I was referred to a local food bank – a surreal moment and one that I’m still finding difficult to process. My first food parcel will arrive on Thursday.

My new found cooking confidence is helping to sustain me in more ways than one at this terribly difficult time. I’m sure I’ve cooked more in recent weeks than in the rest of my adult life and I’m using cooking implements that have long languished in boredom. I have a history of mental illness because of the trauma and abuse I have experienced. Reactive depression has returned with a vengeance, that alone makes me feel like I’m wading through treacle. It feels good to know that I am sustaining myself with good home cooked food. A bit of weighing, chopping and stirring goes some way to distracting my troubled mind.

I fear turning on lights and as colder days approach, I know that I can no longer afford to heat my home, despite the fact that the cold exacerbates my chronic pain. At risk of homelessness, I know that without a roof over my head, cooking will be the least of my worries. I hope there is a way I can be supported to stay in the one-bed rented flat I found last year and have grown to love so much, and keep on cooking and growing.

Thank you Jack for your brilliant recipes delivered in a gentle easy manner that means even the most ‘culinarily-challenged’ like me can be engaged.

I thought there could be no greater surprise than when I took up running last year (I am far from an athlete) but now … now I find I’ve added the category Food and Cooking to my blog :))) !

I still can’t make an omelette, despite Jack’s gentle instruction I still end up with scrambled egg. One day  …

With love and many grateful thanks to you Jack xx

*Thanks also to Jack for the introduction to the Hive, buy books online and support vital independent booksellers at the same time. Click here to buy any of Jack’s books – no, I’m not on commission 😉 !

Operation Fight Back: Day 17

Today did not start well as I slept badly and woke to mood still low.  I didn’t get going until around 2 o’clock this afternoon but after that I managed to attend a challenging appointment and make a number of stress inducing but vital telephone calls.

It’s late, I’m writing this on my smartphone and don’t have my specs to hand so I’ll leave it here for now except to say that, I have a job interview tomorrow.  Wish me luck!

Operation Fight Back: Day 10!

A whole 10 days of stable mood, growing hope and confidence. Woo and indeed hoo!

I’m blogging belatedly today and so will be brief. The last two days have been very productive but also very busy. I’ll write more tomorrow. I was out and about yesterday and again today and will be every day this week until Sunday.

For now, treadmill stats for yesterday and today.

10.3.14 = 12mins 23 – 10 min run – 0.67 distance and 62.4 cals

11.3.14 = 12mins 29 – 10 min run – 0.67 distance and 62.3 cals

It’s not the minute mile but by jeebers does it feel good!

**

Tonight, I hope for better sleep.

Operation Fight Back: Day 8 – Part 2

I’m listening to, and really enjoying, tracks by the Brazilian singer and composer Caetano Veloso after receiving a recommendation from a friend yesterday.

I’m doing OK today. I’m not dancing on the ceiling but my mood is nice and steady. In the terms of the mood app that I’m trialling at the moment, today began at less than OK (OK-), with the help of my routine and strenuous efforts to stay in the moment it quickly progressed to better than OK (OK+) before settling at pretty good. I certainly felt pretty good yesterday and I’m feeling pretty bloody marvellous to have progressed from being actively suicidal (actively in this case meaning making plans) to feeling pretty good in seven days, by way of mindfulness, exercise and a strict routine. That’s not to say that anyone who is experiencing suicidal feelings can ‘just turn it around’. If you’re not familiar with what it is to be suicidal then I’d ask that you please do not run away with that idea. I’ve been dealing mental and physical health problems and recovering from the effects of abuse for many years. I’ve learned a huge amount along the way and I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to apply a lot of it this week. That is gratifying, but doing so is also exceedingly hard work. It is, in my view and that of many others I’ve spoken to, a battle to recover.

Today’s treadmill stats: 12mins 35 = 10mins run (I upped the tread speed another notch today) 0.68 distance and 63.1cals. I enjoyed it today too.

Today’s further aims:

  • Make a vegetarian stew & this paté – except I’ll be using butternut squash instead of sweet potato – both variants are lovely!
  • Write a letter which cannot be put off any longer!
  • Give myself a manicure and pedicure
  • Take out the bins
  • Some further writing and/or creative journaling
  • Continue to build on yesterday’s eating really well achievement!

 

Operation Fight Back: Day 8 – Part 1

I had a really good day yesterday. I was productive, active and communicative 🙂 .

I remembered that when I woke late this morning feeling wretched after another disturbed night. I’m going to keep remembering it AND the fact the ‘staying in the moment’ really helps me, as I plough through my morning routine. It’s 10.22am, 135 reps and treadmill here I come!