Emotional Flashbacks

It starts off with my heart pounding and i’m struggling to breath. I feel fear. Terror. Something is wrong and something terrible is going to happen to me.

And then the tears come. And the pain. I can feel it in my stomach, and chest, and heart. All over my body. I’m doubled over in pain. It feels like grief. Loss. Complete and utter agony.

And I can’t stop it. It just keeps pouring out of me. I even scream into my pillow to try and get it out. To try and make it stop. And I’m completely back there. I’m completely alone and something is happening to me that I do not understand. But I know it is wrong. I know that I want it to stop. I know that I am paralysed by fear.

And I feel tiny and small. Helpless and defenceless. No-one can hear me or help me. And I can’t even put into words how excruciatingly painful it is. Physically and emotionally. And it goes on for hours. I cannot come back to now. I cannot remember that I am an adult and that this is not happening right now. I cannot feel safe.

And after hours of agony my head is thumping, and I can’t see properly from how swollen my eyes are. And I’m exhausted. And eventually I fall asleep. But I toss and turn all night long having nightmares.

I wake up panicking, with my heart racing. Something is wrong. I feel it in every single part of my body. And maybe it begins all over again. Or hopefully I am back in the present a bit more. Hopefully I’m able to phone someone and bring myself back. Hopefully I don’t get stuck there all over again.

But all I can do is wait until I am back again. Wait until I am here again, as an adult, in the present. But even then, I am exhausted. I need to sleep and rest for days. I don’t have strength or energy to do anything other than recover.

And all I can do is build up my strength again. Until it happens again. Until I relive everything again. and again. and again.


Do labels matter?

Throughout my experiences of the mental health system since I was around 14 until now at the age of 26, I have been given many different labels. Psychiatrists and psychologists can’t seem to figure out which box I should fit in. I have been told many times ‘not to get too hung up on the diagnosis’, and at times I have told myself it doesn’t really matter. But my opinion on that is changing, because as a women who has been through trauma and has been abused, exploited, silenced and shut down for what feels like almost my entire life, the words that are being used to explain my story really do matter.

The first diagnosis I remember receiving was a mood disorder of the cyclothymic type at the age of 14. When I was 16 I was sectioned in a psychiatric unit because the psychiatrist who admitted me thought I had Bipolar and wanted to try me on mood stabilisers. Once admitted I was under the care of a different psychiatrist who after a few days decided I had Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and I was told I was no longer being detained but could stay on a voluntary basis. Of course at the age of 16 on an adult psychiatric ward, I was definitely not hanging around voluntarily so I was discharged. BPD is a highly stigmatised diagnosis, and I was suddenly treated as if my experiences and illness were my own fault and that I was not actually unwell, but just someone who needs to change their behaviours. I did not understand what I do now about the BPD diagnosis, that it seems to me that it is used to silence women who have been abused. You may not agree with that statement, but from my own personal experience I believe this diagnosis was used in order to make me responsible for what others have done to me. Rather than asking ‘what has happened to you and what can we do about it’, the question became ‘what is wrong with you and why are you not dealing with what has happened to you in a socially acceptable manner?’. The way I was treated after this diagnosis prolonged my pain and symptoms of trauma, and after having spent years being silenced and feeling without a voice this was reinforced to me by the system in place which was supposed to be helping me.

10 years later and I have still had different opinions about what my diagnosis is. I know that I don’t agree with the BPD diagnosis, and am unsure about Bipolar. What I do know is that the two psychologists who have had more of an insight into my life than any other mental health professionals, have both diagnosed me with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is the only diagnosis that has ever made any sense to me, and is the only one which recognises the impact trauma has had upon me. I thought I was getting somewhere when the psychiatrist on the crisis team also gave me a working diagnosis of PTSD, but since being admitted into hospital and being under the care of my new psychiatrist I have again been told I either have Bipolar or BPD. And I have once again been told ‘not to get too hung up on the diagnosis’.

Since I have been given medication to stabilise my mood and referred for trauma therapy, you might think it wouldn’t matter so much what labels they have given me as long as I get the right treatment. But the next time I have a relapse and I am at my weakest moment and asking for help, the nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists and whoever else is involved will look at my notes to find out what my diagnosis is. This will change how they treat me. I might be treated as someone with an illness which requires medication and hospitalisation. I might be treated as someone who has been severely traumatised and requires therapy. Or I might be treated as I have been in the past as someone who is just being difficult and needs to change my behaviour. All because of the labels they keep telling me not to worry about.

These labels change how my story is seen by others. Mental health professionals have the power to do that, and in effect they have the power to silence me through a diagnosis. As someone who has been silenced far too much in my lifetime, I’m saying yes it does matter. I’m saying yes I will get hung up on the labels if I want to, and I will disagree if I want to. And I will use my voice to say if a diagnosis does not fit with my story. Because it is my story. I am the expert on my life, on myself, and on the ways in which trauma has impacted on my life every day. I am a woman who has been silenced, exploited, sexually abused and shut down for years and I live with the impact of that every day. The labels that are used to explain my story do matter, and mental health professionals need to begin to understand this. The words, labels, and diagnosis’ they use have the power to either silence me further or help me. It matters.


Time To Talk Day

It is Time to Talk day so today I am going to talk about something I would have tried my hardest to keep hidden; that I am currently an inpatient on a mental health ward. It is time to talk about the realities of living with a mental illness. The ugly bits. The bits that make people cringe and change subject. The things that people don’t know how to reply to. The things that make people who are suffering with mental illness feel like they have to hide from the world and stay silent about their experiences. Today I will talk about it.

On Friday night I realised that after over a month of trying to get well with the crisis team that I was still very unwell. I had been making progress on the anti psychotics I had been prescribed but due to side effects I had to come off them. And I’m going to tell you all about the embarrassing side effect I had to deal with because this is the reality of being on these kinds of medications. It increased my prolactin levels which meant I started leaking breast milk. Bizarre, embarrassing, and not something I would normally share but this is the truth of living with mental illness and trying different medications with bizarre and dangerous side effects. Unfortunately this could eventually lead to serious health problems for me in the future and could even effect my fertility so I had to come off them, and I was changed to a different mood stabliser. The day after this medication change (which would take weeks to settle again), the crisis team discharged me. Yes, the day after my moods were about to become completely unsettled again I was discharged from the support I had been receiving and was basically left to monitor this medication change myself. I was passed over to the care of a community mental health nurse but her role was only to see me once a week and the next week she was actually going off on holiday. So I was alone again, and felt back to square one. And I was supposed to be well again to be starting back at uni. I panicked. I felt like I couldn’t cope. I felt suicidal, so I sat in my bed alone swallowing diazepam tablets one after the other hoping to fall asleep and to not wake up again to have to keep living like this. I slept for 6 hours and when I woke up I felt even worse, because I was not only now dealing with the effects of the overdose but I was still suicidal and had woken up again still panicking at the thought of having to be well when I wasn’t. So to cut a long story short, I ended up at a&e, then the mental health hospital for an assessment where I was sent home from. I felt the same again on Saturday and ended up at the mental health hospital again asking for help when I was eventually given a bed and admitted in to hospital.

It is now Thursday and I have seen my psychiatrist today who is going to keep me in hospital until my medication is at the right dose and my mood has settled a bit, and I am safe enough to go home. This is not always a peaceful place to be. People are distressed. People are in pain. People are very unwell. It can be triggering and traumatic at times. This is the reality of mental illness. These are the bits no-one talks about. We are the people who are being silenced. So today is Time to Talk day, but every day should be that day. Every day we should be able to talk about these things. Every day we should be asking the questions; Why are so many people so unwell? Why are we not doing enough to help them? Why are we silencing them? Why is there not enough services and treatment? Why is there a mental health crisis in society right now, and what are we going to do about it? Every day, these are the things we should be talking about.


I asked for help and that is okay

Before the last few months I think I was doing a pretty good job over the last couple of years to pretend to myself and everyone around me that I was perfectly fine. Before the last couple of years I had become an expert at keeping my life a complete secret. The only time I was really around other people was when I was self medicating with alcohol, and then I was just a messed up drunk person which seems to be pretty acceptable in this society. The rest of my life and struggles with mental illness was a secret and I had become very good at hiding. I didn’t let anyone close enough to me to really see how my life was. Then I started volunteering, working, and then studying so I had to learn a new skill; to seem well enough to manage all of these things whilst actually being pretty unwell, interacting with people whilst also keeping them at a safe enough distance to not realise how unwell I was or know anything about my past, using alcohol to self medicate when things got difficult, and to spend my life throwing myself into work or uni and then spend the rest of my time picking up the pieces and recovering from that in secret. As you can imagine, living like this was exhausting and not something I could keep up forever. It was when I thought I could manage university and work as a youth worker four nights a week whilst still being pretty unwell, but pretending to myself and everyone around me that I was some sort of superhuman who could do everything and manage to magically recover from years of trauma and mental illness, that I completely crashed for the first time in a couple of years. How annoying when you realise you are in fact not superhuman and cannot do everything all at once.

I crashed badly. I was exhausted, depressed, suicidal, and all I wanted to do was hide in my bed and cut myself off from the world which is exactly what I did to begin with. I became  frustrated with myself that I could not pull myself out of this through willpower alone. I was angry at myself for not being able to manage everything that I perceived everyone else around me to be able to manage. I spent a few weeks falling deeper into this dark and hopeless hole where my depression was now making it impossible to see anything positive in my life. In the past, this episode would have resulted in a lot of drinking, getting myself into unsafe situations which would further traumatise me, suicide attempts, or worse actually ending my life. But even though I had crashed so badly, something this time was different. I didn’t drink, I didn’t get into any other situations which would traumatise me again, and I didn’t get into such a self destructive cycle that had become a part of my life for so many years. Even though I was in such a dark place, there must have been some sort of hope there. I now knew that I was someone who could work, who could go to university, and I had come a long way from a couple of years ago. I had those experiences now to hold me up in some way. And so instead of doing any of those unhelpful things, I asked for help.

It was the middle of the night and I suddenly realised I could not do this on my own and I needed help, so I asked my mum to take me to A&E. This is something I never would have done in the past. The only times I would have ever been at A&E in the past for mental illness is if it was against my will by the police after a suicide attempt. But I was in crisis point and this was an emergency. If I had a physical illness and was in an emergency I wouldn’t think twice about going to the hospital and asking for help, so why should I not ask for help for a crisis point for mental illness. I was nervous and was worried they’d think I was wasting their time, but the consultant was extremely empathetic and referred me straight to mental health hospital for a mental health assessment with the crisis team. I told the crisis team everything that had been going on and how I was feeling and they put me under their care which meant they would come out and see me every day to begin with and I would be seen by the psychiatrist to figure out if I needed to be on more medication. I went home feeling so relieved. I had finally admitted to myself and everyone else that I cannot do all of this on my own, and that I am unwell and need some extra support.

It is now over a month later and I have been discharged from the crisis team and handed over to the community mental health team. I am on new mood stablisers, as well as the anti depressants I was already taking. I was supported through a crisis point with the help of my family, my boyfriend, friends and mental health professionals. I now have a mental health team made up of a community mental health nurse, psychiatrist and I have been referred for therapy. I have been trying to work out what has been different about this whole experience compared to my past unhelpful experiences with mental health services and there has been various differences, but one has stood out. I have stopped feeling ashamed. I have accepted that I am unwell and need extra support, and that this is nothing to be ashamed of. I have spoken openly about how I am feeling and have asked for the support I need. I have admitted to myself that I have been through things that have impacted on my life dramatically and that it is okay to have been affected by this. It doesn’t make me weak. It doesn’t make me less valuable than other people. It doesn’t mean I have failed. It means that I have survived but that I just need some extra support to heal properly. It has made me stronger and it has made me the person I am today who will be able to thrive in the course and career I have picked. It has given me empathy and understanding that cannot be taught from reading textbooks.

This whole experience has taught me that it is okay that I have had to ask for help. And from now on I am going to accept the support I am offered, and use the services available to me because that is what they are there for. I know it is easier said than done not to feel ashamed for having a mental illness, because we live in a society where this is highly stigmatised but I think I have eventually overcome that. And I hope that by sharing my experiences, story, and using my voice that I will be able to lessen the stigma for other people too.


My Story

My story of trauma and mental illness is a long one, so I won’t go in to every detail. But I thought I’d begin my blogging journey with an insight into my life, and to share what has brought me to this point.

I was 12 when things in my life started to go in an unexpected direction. I experienced trauma for the first time and it has marked my life in a way in which I will never be able to recover from. I was sexually abused and developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which began a series of life events which would hold me stuck in a cycle of trauma and mental illness for years. This of course carried along with it depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol issues, hospital, medications, various diagnosis’, a lack of education, no qualifications, unemployment and even now Fibromyalgia; a chronic illness which causes a number of physical symptoms and pain. These are just a few of the things I have been up against since I was 12 years old.

I am now 26 and the biggest difference in my life now is that I have a voice, and I am not afraid to use it. I have spent so much of my life feeling powerless and without a voice. I have spent years hiding. I have felt ashamed. I have felt as though to become part of this world I needed to forget my past, to deny my experiences and to hide the part of me which taught me to survive all of those years. I no longer want to hide, and I no longer want to feel ashamed of the person I am who has survived. I want to use my voice, and so this is why I have created this blog and why I am now going to use my voice to talk about my experiences. Trauma and mental illness has shaped my life in ways which have brought me to my darkest moments, but it has also shaped me to become the person I am today. Today I am someone who is at university studying Community Learning and development. Today I am someone who stands up for what is right in this world. Today I am someone who has worked as a youth worker and empowered young people who have had similar experiences to me. Today I am someone who one day wants to change something in this world for people experiencing mental illness and trauma. Today I am proud of who I am. Today I will use my voice to talk about what is important.