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 😉 !

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Euphemisms: Where’s the harm?

TW: Mention of #suicide in relation to #suicideprevention.

I love language. I love it all, from accent to puns, colloquialisms to sesquipedalia.

I read Linguistics at university – essentially the science of language. I’m no expert, but language fascinates me no less. I love to write and I like to write about language, among other things. Its usage particularly interests me, since I find communication equally fascinating.

Euphemisms are common, certainly here in the UK where we do love a good euphemism.

We’ve so many euphemisms for death alone that someone’s probably published a book dedicated to them. But isn’t it all a bit Voldemort? As J.K. Rowling’s Dumbledore said, “Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.” 

I wrote recently about the question of whether language usage could impede suicide prevention. Listening to a GP speaking to a patient, during an episode of the current series of fly-on-the-wall medical documentary series GPs Behind Closed Doors, I was taken aback when I heard her ask,

“Have you started thinking about doing something silly?”

Say what?

Silly is … clowning around; blowing raspberries; playing with water pistols; a whoopee cushion.

We need to talk about suicide. We REALLY need to talk about suicide – but do euphemisms help or hinder conversation? Statistics declaring suicide THE biggest killer of UK men under the age of 45 hit the headlines this week, thanks to Professor Green. That is not news to be taken lightly. I’ve twice been bereaved by suicide. I’ve experienced suicidal thoughts more times than I’d like to remember and ten years ago I attempted suicide. I am far from alone in that.

I’d argue that the euphemism ‘doing something silly’ is harmful. I think it trivialises suicide, infantilises it even. Doing something dangerous, yes; doing something desperate; definitely.

However, what matters most in terms of suicide prevention is that we are talking. Silence kills.

Perhaps euphemisms are very useful in helping us to communicate around difficult subjects? I would generally rather people were more direct. I think that leaves less room for misunderstanding, and helps to normalise speaking about the thing, such as death or more specifically suicide, itself.

Thanks for reading. I love a good discussion and I’d really love to hear your thoughts. Are euphemisms generally helpful? Should we be more direct? What about in terms of suicide prevention? You could comment on this post, or tweet me @heartsetonlivin .

‘Threatened’ suicide … is it OK to say that?

TW: repeated references to suicidal feelings and the act of suicide.

After seeing this article and its headline in my Twitter timeline, I tweeted to @HuffPostUK, I’m not sure about using the word ‘threatened’, I think it adds to stigma. How about ‘considered’ or ‘risked’?

If that sounds like a case for the ‘word police’, I’ll explain why I have concerns.

I think, as I subsequently tweeted, that ‘threatened’ is too close to ‘threatening’. Sadly, too many people still conflate mental illness with being a threat to others or generally dangerous, when actually people with mental health problems are more likely to be a risk to themselves, or, be a victim of violent crime (scroll down to the section titled ‘are people with mental health problems dangerous?’.)

You could threaten to punch someone – I wouldn’t personally but I hope you see my meaning! In that context the use of the word ‘threaten’ is accurate and appropriate. It is threatening behaviour. It is possible to threaten someone – the threat may not be carried out but the person on the receiving end of the threat can feel threatened regardless.

I’m also concerned that using the word ‘threaten’ in relation to suicide may inadvertently perpetuate a dangerous myth about it – by dangerous myth, I mean a misconception that can cost lives.

Suicide is a desperate act. People consider it for various reasons. Commonly, it isn’t because they want to die, but because they can see no other escape from desperate circumstances, they’re often experiencing unbearable pain. There are many myths surrounding suicide, including the idea that people who talk about it, aren’t serious about doing it. While it’s true that not everyone who experiences suicidal feelings will go on to die by suicide, suicidal feelings should always be taken seriously. It is vital to talk about suicide, talking can and does save lives.

I attempted suicide in my thirties. I survived by fighting with myself and managing at the last moment to call for help. I had already seen my then GP that morning and been sent home, after my suicidal feelings were dismissed, to be alone with lots of medication to hand. In a desperate and distressed state I believed I’d been sent home to die. I took a massive overdose that would have proved fatal, help arrived in the nick of time. I lost consciousness just as the first paramedic entered my home. I remember nothing more until I came around in intensive care. I was told I’d had to be resusciated soon after arriving at hospital. However, because I called for help. a now ex-friend of mine decided I was an attention-seeking fraud and liberally spread word to that effect, losing me other friends in the process. That person’s reaction to my suicide attempt was the responsibility of that person, but stigma in wider society does play a part.

Stigma contributes to discrimination. As someone once said mental illness does not discriminate and nor should you. It can affect anyone. Experiencing mental health problems is no picnic, people doing so are already disadvantaged by their illness and should not have to face further disadvantage as a result of stigma.

I think the use of the word ‘threatening’ in relation to a suicidal act could perpetuate the myth that many suicide attempts are ‘fake’ or that people who are ‘threatening suicide’ are simply attention seekers, because to threaten isn’t necessarily the same as carrying out.

You can learn more in this great article from the Samaritans on myths about suicide

The media has often added to and perpetuated stigma surrounding mental illness. The infamous ‘Bonkers Bruno‘ headline immediately springs to mind, but there have been many other examples. Researching an essay about risk in terms of mental health, earlier this year, I was able to find, in a matter of moments, numerous examples of news reports where mental illness was conflated with threatening, violent and dangerous behaviour, despite their being no evidence.

As someone with a background in journalism, it might seem hypocritical of me to criticise the media. I became a journalist because I love to write, communicate and campaign. I wanted to bring stories and issues that matter to people’s attention. I wanted to help to give a voice to the voiceless. With apologies for deploying a cliche, I wanted to make a difference. I have no time for sleazy, salacious or irresponsible journalism – actually, to me, that’s not journalism; it’s just tripe.

In my youth, I considered journalism a noble profession, much like being a teacher, a doctor, nurse or lawyer … ahem. I may have been a touch naive, I was surprised that many people were not impressed when I declared my profession.

To be clear, I don’t consider the @HuffPostUK article which prompted this post to be irresponsible but I would be delighted if they and others would consider my concerns.

@HuffPostUK haven’t yet replied to my tweet. If I do receive a reply I will edit this post to include any response.

Thanks for reading, I’d welcome your thoughts. You could comment on this post or tweet me @heartsetonlivin .

Further information about and help with suicidal feelings can be found here.