Shared from WordPress

This a powerful post from Claire. I admire her writing and her strength. I’m sharing this post because I believe passionately that it’s vital to break down the stigma that persists around mental illness.

Why Do I Self-Harm? : Self Harm Awareness Day 2016 – http://wp.me/p5hrVh-8O

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Medication … miracle?!

TW: This post contains discussion of suicidal intent and a suicide attempt.

So, after stepping back from the brink, how are things now?

Well, by goodness, there is a LOT going on in my life, a great deal to manage and to process but I have some support and may yet have more to come. For the first time in my life that support is appropriate and reliable and it’s paying dividends. There remains a long and challenging road ahead, more of that in later posts, but the outlook is positive.

I have a long history of depression, I’ve lived with episodes of it for more than 25 years, since I was around 18 years old. Mine is always reactive and triggered by major stress. Alas, when you are survivor of abuse and trauma, life does rather tend to have more than its fair share of that!

I wrote about the attempt I made many years ago to end my life by suicide, here. It happened in the years immediately following my disclosure, to a GP and subsequently a counsellor, of my experiences of trauma, physical and psychological abuse within my family over many years. I was not well supported then and was lucky to survive the attempt. I was discharged from hospital with no follow up support. I tried to be proactive and so sought it out but soon realised there was nothing doing. I feel great dismay when I read accounts by others who are still having this experience in the 2010s.

Finding myself at risk of homelessness was at the root of the prolonged episode of depression in the year from December 2014, but there were other contributing factors. I had been pushing myself much too hard, for one. The prospect of losing the roof over one’s head would be stressful for anyone. As a result of my experiences of abuse, loss has loomed large in my life. I lost all my family, many friends and with those losses connections to my history. I’ve lost some memory. I’ve lost some hair (!) as a result of alopecia. I’ve lost my beloved career. I’ve lost my marriage and I’ve lost the chance to have a family of my own. I’ve lost health and fitness and I’ve lost a great amount of time to illness and recovery. A few things can be recovered, others are gone for ever, others can be replaced with a great deal of flexibility and endeavour. Throughout it all I have hung on to a home – there have been many of varying types scattered around the UK – this one is mine and mine alone and with that has come a fledging sense of safety. The threat of its loss became unbearable.

Depression threatened me again and as its impact intensified, I was disturbed to find that it was once again very difficult to access support, despite effort and honesty on my part. [I’d like to discuss this issue in more detail but will do so in a later post focusing on issues around suicide prevention.]

Medication was mentioned but I was very reluctant to go down that road. Having previously been prescribed various anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications over a period of four years. I never felt they had any benefit or served to ease my psychiatric symptoms in any way. The doses were regularly increased to no effect, in my view, except to ensure that I had a veritable pharmacy on hand at home. It was while on the highest doses that I made the attempt on my life all those years ago, by swallowing a massive overdose of more than 100 tablets.

I came off all medication in the year following my suicide attempt but continued to pursue counselling and other forms of psychological support that I found in the voluntary sector  and which were hugely beneficial to me.

When my friend made the call to my GP that brought me back from the brink, a few short weeks ago. medication remained the only treatment option on the table. I was told I would not be allowed to access further psychological support – such as specialised trauma therapy – on the NHS, without having first tried medication. My GP, whom I have known for 18 months, remained convinced that it could help me. Knowing that something had to change if I was to continue to stay alive and after lengthy discussion with my GP during an hour long home visit, I made the decision to try medication again.

I didn’t want to be able to accumulate medication at home, knowing myself to be at risk of suicide, so we agreed that I would receive my medication weekly and that since I am having difficulty getting out and about it would be delivered to my home each week.

After just two weeks on a relatively lose dose of anti-depressant medication, I realised that my mood had been steadily improving during the preceding seven days. Side effects were unpleasant at first but manageable with the help of my GP and they have subsided. We increased the dose after those two weeks and I’m due a final increase next week. My mood has remained stable and this is despite receiving some devastating news four days prior to Christmas and, additionally, having an encounter that forced me to relive episodes of terrifying violence in my childhood.

When considering whether to try medication again it didn’t occur to me that something is different this time around. Although I’ve been experiencing the most severe depression again, I have come a very long way in the intervening years and I’m in a very different ‘place’. It certainly seems as though the medication is doing its job this time – ironically, I am taking Sertraline which is the very first of the medications I was prescribed all those years ago. (That news very nearly had me running for the hills, I can tell you!) Perhaps the fact that I have moved on so very much, has made the difference.

A Twitter pal has been expressly wishing me miracles in recent months and continues to do so. It looks like that wishing worked 🙂 …. I needed a miracle and I think I got one … thanks LongJohn 😉 !

Getting on with it and why sometimes you really shouldn’t

When s**t happens, that’s life and you’ve just got to get on with it … right?

Yes, and no.

I’ve experienced so many shattering events, I could make a world record winning mosaic from all the pieces.

I’ve picked up those pieces and I’ve carried on time and time and time again.

In yesterday’s blog post I mentioned ‘a straw and camel event‘ that happened earlier this year, so called because it followed a series of awful events but was the one that broke me. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Although, reading about the origins of that idiom, I realise that my ‘straws’ were actually rather more ‘tree trunks’, so it’s really not surprising that this camel’s legs buckled.

I know a lot about getting on with it.

Events such as losing a parent to suicide at the very moment I reached double figures and simultaneously being cut off, without warning or support, from all connection to that side of my family, were treated with about as much gravity as a broken fingernail. So what? Get on with it! The message was clear. It became a familiar pattern and I learned to ‘suck it up’ no matter the tragedy, trauma or difficulty. It’s part, but by no means all, of the reason why I endured an abusive family situation well into adulthood (I was tempted to write horribly abusive, but there is no need to clarify. Abuse is abuse, no matter the type or form; it’s all horrible.). It became normal to me to have devastating things happen – witnessing extreme violence; being assaulted; losing all my family  – yet put a smile on my face and get on with it without complaint. Despite having no real understanding of how bad things were, I still felt the effects of the bad stuff. For a long time I just didn’t know why I felt them.

I know that years later I am no longer the closed book that I became, as a result of the culture of silence so often encouraged, or imposed, in an abusive environment. I know that in different circumstances I would always have been an open and honest person and I’m glad to have at last been able to grow into that person. I know that I am often very matter of fact about things that have happened in my life, things others would deem alarming at best (ironically, I am horrified by similar events happening to other people). I know that stems from having to just get on with it. That experience normalised terrible things for me and put me at further risk.

After the straw and camel in late spring, life stopped. I withdrew. I could no longer cope with doing … with living, much less with seeing others able to live their lives. I retreated into my own special sort of stasis. It’s a coping strategy that’s sometimes helpful, sometimes not. (I long to get to a stage where I can abandon it) A wonderful psychotherapist, who helped me a great deal, described it as being something like a animal frozen with fear at the point of an attack. Unable to take more pain, hurt or disaster I disconnect from the world, it can’t get me if it can’t reach me. I lost the entire summer that way. What a waste, right? I agree, but* …

My username here, and on Twitter, is borne of a desire to live life to the full, to be true to myself and to really live, not merely exist. I am very much a ‘do-er’. I love to be productive, creative, busy and active. I am ambitious. My ‘modus operandi’ is very much to grab life by the horns and, given half a chance, ride the heck out of it. I don’t want to waste a moment …

*With the best will in the world, it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes you can’t just get on with it. Sometimes you need time out. Sometimes you need help and support. A little compassion and understanding go a very long way.

There are those who will argue. Like the person I saw claiming on Twitter this weekend that depression (just one of the many effects I’ve felt) is a choice not an illness. Grrr.

Please don’t judge. It’s a cliche, but I do believe that, for the most part, you cannot judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Sometimes you just can’t get on with it and nor should you try to do so.

When I am vulnerable, I do worry about being judged. I worry about it very much. I know it comes of being told I was useless, weak, filthy, dirty and more … ad infinitum. That was abuse, it wasn’t fact. I have learned enough, developed enough and recovered myself enough to know that I am not ‘lacking’, but I still fear being deemed so, vulnerable as I am. I fear I won’t be helped or treated with kindness but could instead be blamed. I have to try to hang onto the better part of me that says … You think you could do better in my situation? I’d darn well like to see you try!