Monthly Archives: December 2014

2014 in pictures

2014 has been, to be frank, a horrible year. It has seen my absolute darkest times but also, some really hopeful times. Here’s my 2014 in pictures.

Starting with a positive. 2014 was a year of impulsive holidays. In April I went to Paris with my two best friends from uni and spent a lovely few days exploring the best Paris has to offer. From a moving wander round the Vincent Van Gogh exhibition to staring in awe at the extravagance of Versailles to sitting outside on a Parisian street sipping wine and eating snails!

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Then in November there was a trip to Rome with two amazing friends I met whilst an inpatient/ day patient at Vincent Square. Completely spontaneous and booked without a second thought, we set off for three days in Rome. All three of us left anorexia (mostly) at Stanstead and made like true tourists- touring the Vatican, gawping at the Colosseum and indulging in pizza, pasta, coffee and of course wine!

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2014 was a year of university. I returned to university in January to sit the exams I had had to defer the year before and complete my final year. I took a module in Epidemiology , sat the exam and then started my dissertation working in a research lab looking at protein expression in Clostridium difficile. Whilst it took me longer than intended and ended up being a very frustrating and stressful experience I have now finished that part of my life and can say I honestly enjoyed it- stresses aside. And somehow I came out the other side, despite sitting exams whilst physically and mentally severely unwell with straight 2:1s for my final year exams.

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2014 was the year I lost control of my mind and very nearly killed myself in the process. In February my anorexia morphed suddenly and without warning into severe bulimia. In May I was admitted for a week to an acute psychiatric unit following an episode of self harm. I thought it would end there but it didn’t. I was under the crisis team and on the 2nd June they came to visit me and everything went out the window. The police and an ambulance were called and I was removed to A&E where I was sectioned and re admitted to the acute psychiatric unit I had been on before. My time there was horrendous and traumatic, I attempted suicide multiple and was within minutes of succeeding several times. I spent over a month on 1:1 observations, was restrained daily and spent many an hour in A&E waiting to be stitched back together again. During my time on the ward I was diagnosed with BPD and was discharged nearly two months later mentally in not much better state than I went in. I moved back to live with my parents and within two weeks was re admitted as a day patient to a psychiatric hospital in Oxford. I was discharged in September and have stayed out of hospital since but with many wobbles. I’ve a long way to go but I’m much better than I was in June when I was utterly set on killing myself.

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During 2014 my self harm became severe and I’ve spent countless hours in A&E being stitched and glued. In July I hit an artery which wasn’t treated at the time beyond stitches. A month later suffering from severe tachycardia, breathlessness, dizziness and marked loss of fitness I had a blood test done. That night I was called by hospital and the next day admitted for an emergency blood transfusion and vitamin infusion- I had a Hb of 5 and an undetectable iron level.

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2014 was a year of friends and family. Who in my darkest moments where there to sit by my side, an in my lightest moments share laughter. People who stuck by me through everything and are the reason I am still alive. My amazing parents not least among them.

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I’m going to finish this post with my first tattoo and the hope I cling onto when entering 2015- a year I never expected to be alive to see.

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The lure of being ill

Something that I still struggle to make sense of is the lure of being ill. Not to say that I chose to be ill or that I can decide to relapse but simply that some days being well or in recovery is such hard work that it feels much easier to just embrace your illness again and sink into the depths of being ill.

For me night times are the times where my mind starts whispering that life would be easier if I just relapsed. I toss and turn, feeling the fat on my body expanding and suffocating me. My mind calculating and calculating- how many calories will I eat tomorrow? How long to lose 10kg? Then 20kg? How many times a day will I purge? How many hours without food?
My brain throws up memories of being hospitalised and I find myself at once caught in the horror of the situation and a small but insistent part of me really missing it. Missing the structure of the days and the support. The way I had nothing to worry about more than surviving the day. I didn’t have to think about money or work or uni or tidying my room or keeping anyone happy. I didn’t have to live up to anything, my identity was entirely just that of a ‘patient’. At the time I hated it but I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that misses it.

The problem is stuck in quasi-recovery feels like no life at all. I’m eating but the purging is still a major problem and the thoughts are stronger than ever. I’m not ending up in A&E every day but I still self harm several times a week. I can’t manage having more than three days medication a time. I function but my mood is all over the place. Frankly it’s exhausting and overwhelming and it feels like I’m teetering on the edge every day. And sometimes it just feels easier to give in and sink into being seriously ill once again.

Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas everyone. Hope you’re all having peaceful, restful and enjoyable days. Thinking of you all and thank you so much for all the support you’ve given me through here and elsewhere. It’s been truly humbling to get to talk to such kind people. 🎅🎄

Thank you NHS

I’ve posted a lot on here and Twitter about my bad experiences with the NHS and the mental health teams but I’ve not really talked about the positive experiences. That needs to change.

I am thankful to the nurses on my last inpatient admission who made me feel human and cared for. The nurse who painted my nails after a terrible day, a bright yellow colour to cheer me up. The nurse who sat by my bed talking to me until the early hours on a night I was too distressed to sleep. Another nurse who sat with my mum and I whilst we had the hardest conversation about my being raped and immediately set to finding support services when I agreed to getting help for it. The nurse who sat with us whilst we planned our escape and joined in with suggestions of how to scale the fence surrounding the garden!

Then there is my therapist from the eating disorder service. She saw me at my absolute worst- the day I was admitted to the inpatient unit, curled over in misery sobbing over a lion bar, in full blown panic over the scales and at the end of the phone the day after being sectioned. She never seemed to give up on me, even when I gave up completely on myself, and she always gave me hope that life could be better.

There were the staff at Vincent Square who supported me for the ten months I was on the unit. My key nurse who would chat about boys and celebrities and fashion whilst dressing my legs after another episode of self harm. Who when on nights would sit talking to me at midnight when I just needed someone to hear my terror at the next morning’s weigh in. The nurses who sat with me gently coaxing me through every difficult meal and who never showed their frustration even when I was absolutely refusing to eat the meal of have the ensure. There was the OT who was the kindest and warmest person I’ve ever met who shared my love of books and reading. The nurse who used to watch Dr Who with me and have geeky chats with me and compare favourite Doctors.

There are the A&E staff who went out of their way to put me at ease and make a difficult experience as bearable as possible. The doctor at Chelsea and Westminster who sat next to me whilst I sobbed and let me decide when I wanted to be stitched, who stitched me so carefully I barely have a scar from that time, who sat in with me whilst the psych told me if I left I would be sectioned and persuaded me to stay overnight and whilst it ended with an admission to a psych ward he made me feel so much more human. There was the nurse at Charing Cross who refused to hear me apologise for wasting his time and said it was simply a symptom of my being ill, again who stitched me carefully and treated me with dignity and respect- who even managed to make me laugh.

Two GPs I’ve seen who are amazing. My current GP who sees me fortnightly just so I can check in and who saw me after the surgery had closed the day I was sent home from inpatient with no medication. My GP back in London who took a while to find but who was a gem who again went out of her way to try to keep me out of hospital but didn’t dance around the difficult topics either or lie when she thought I needed admission.

There was S of the crisis team who was so understanding and kind even when she had to call the police, who came to A&E with me when I’d overdosed and wouldn’t go on my own.

There are many examples of excellent care in and out of mental health and it’s sad that they often get overshadowed. They shouldn’t be forgotten or discarded but celebrated as much as the bad experiences are shared. There are many faults in our NHS and mental health services, but there are also many wonderful and caring individuals doing the best they can in an overstretched system. So this post is a thank you, because it’s not said often enough.

Feeling useless

For as long as I can remember I have had drive and purpose to my life. Even in primary school I pushed myself to excel- whether it be to get the solo in the school carol concert, achieve high marks in my violin exams or win prizes for my writing. At secondary school I was gifted and talented in all my lessons with the exception of the more practical subjects like PE and dance. I won awards for being the best behaved, the highest achieving. I was known for being focused and determined. I knew I wanted to study microbiology at university and I did everything I could to ensure that happened.

I don’t say this to be big headed or conceited, and I’m sorry if it comes across that way. But I’ve always had a direction to my life and something to strive for. Which I why where I am now feels so intolerable.

A few weeks ago I was successful in applying for a job in reablement in the local NHS community service. It sounded the perfect way to spend this year whilst I’m waiting to start back at university. I would be contributing something to society, earning money and making a difference. And yet, I got called to meet occupational health yesterday to discuss my fitness for work. As it turns out being out of hospital for only three months, having been sectioned back in June and still struggling hugely with my eating and self harm makes you a pretty undesirable job candidate. The lady I saw was incredibly kind but very clear that in her opinion I am not well enough to work in a high stress high pressure environment. I’ve stopped noticing my self harm scars but baring my arms for her was the most ashamed I’ve ever felt. How can I care for others when I do this to myself?

I’m still waiting for medical reports from my psychiatrist and GP but the recommendation of the OH team is that I’m not to be found medically fit to start work and as such can’t take up the job.

In all honesty it’s absolutely tearing me apart. I feel so directionless and lost in my life- spending time just sitting around home after years of intensive study feels lazy and pointless. Aside from the boredom is the niggling feeling that my life is useless. My biggest fear is to be a waste of space and by doing nothing I feel I’ve become one.

And this feeling is fuelling my slipping again. When I have no focus I grab on to anything I can and at the moment that is food and weight and self harm, with no other purpose I find myself wondering what the point of fighting for recovery is when it’s not bringing the positives I was told would come.

Mental health and Christmas

Living with mental health problems, both as a sufferer or a friend or carer, can be upsetting, challenging and at times, frustrating.

Navigating life with a mental illness is a steep learning curve, for everyone involved. Sometimes what will seem to be the right thing to say or do will be the complete opposite. Sometimes the same thing that helped last week will be the most unhelpful thing ever a week later. Is it any wonder that holding on to a normal relationship whilst dealing with mental health problems become monumentally difficult?

So how do you help someone suffering from a mental health problem at this time of year? Here’s my list of what would help me.

1) I am still Becca. I still have likes and dislikes. I still enjoy long walks and snuggling up on the sofa with a glass of wine. Talk to me as Becca and remember I can still have a laugh!

2) sometimes I might struggle. I might have down days and not feel able to take part in the festivities, I might not be able to eat the Christmas dinner. But that’s okay, try not to see it as a complete relapse but a struggle I can be supported through.

3) sometimes I might need some space. If I’m on my own in my room check on me but if I say I need some time to myself please respect that. Even for people without mental health problems Christmas can be a draining time of year.

4) that said, don’t let me isolate myself completely. Insist that I join in at some point during the day and make sure I know I’m welcome to join in any time.

5) Help me plan and stick to my plan for meals and snacks. Don’t expect me to be able to manage the full roast and pudding and wine and mince pies and everything but make sure I don’t use it as a complete chance to not eat.

6) check in with me and see how I’m doing, but don’t make my mental health problems the sole focus.

7) Remember to include everyone else. This is your and their Christmases too remember and you deserve to have a good time.

8) Try not to make comments about food and weight and appearance, i hear it as ‘you’re fat you shouldn’t eat that you greedy pig’.

9) We’re all human and we’ll probably say the wrong thing at some point and that’s okay, just don’t beat yourself or each other up with guilt.

10) Have a Happy Christmas! 🎅🎄

My ideal mental health service

It was suggested to me after I wrote A Letter to my CMHT that I write a post on what I’d like from the mental health services- thank you for the suggestion and here goes.

My name is Becca. I am 23, a microbiology student, a sister and a daughter. I want to study psychology and have a love of reading and writing. I yearn to be back in London where I feel as if my blood is singing with the pulse of the city. I like Brussel sprouts and hate coconut. My favourite colour is purple. My all time favourite films are Love Actually and About Time although The Hunger Games comes close! I have a slightly shameful addiction to awful American TV series and Doctor Who.

That’s what I’d like you to know of me first. Because first and foremost I am human with likes and dislikes. I am quirky and individual and despite my diagnoses, I am more than that. I’d like you to show an interest in my life- not just my medication or the depth of my self harm- but how many things have made me laugh this week and the TV show I watch every week and what did I think of it?

Once we’ve got that out the way then you can look at my diagnosis. Because I walk into the room as a person first and diagnosis second. This is the bit I dread because I know that will change the way you treat me. I apparently have the unpopular and heart sink diagnosis of BPD. I won’t go in to detail, I’m sure you know all those from my notes which I would like you to have taken the time to read. I also have an eating disorder and have done for 9 years. And then there’s the self harm and suicide attempts. You can ask me about that now but please don’t do so in a nervous or tentative way. It’s far easier if I feel you’re in control and not intimidated by the situation. It would help me if you asked me direct questions- it’s easier for me to tell you if I’ve overdosed if you specifically ask me rather than dodging around the subject and then being surprised when I end up in hospital. It would also help me if you were sympathetic and kind, telling me off for feeling low or having a bad week- again- doesn’t help and makes it harder for me to talk to you. And please don’t leave it to the end of the session as then I feel at my worst just as I’m leaving.

When you’re talking about my eating disorder please try to remember that it distorts what you’re saying. I have suffered from anorexia and been hospitalised for it- I don’t need telling about the latest diet or my restrictive diet being praised for its healthiness and lack of saturated fats. Please don’t buy into the eating disordered distortion so prevalent in society. And please know that just because my diagnosis is bulimia it doesn’t mean the anorexia has gone away- all it really means is I feel I’m being pulled in half and torn apart multiple times a day.

If you’re from the crisis team please understand how difficult it has been for me to reach out. I’m absolutely terrified of the telephone so calling you felt like a real risk. Please hear me when I tell you I’m struggling, if I’ve called you I am in real extremity and feeling very much unsafe. Telling me that I have BPD so it’s not a real crisis, or I’m only self harming or ODing to be manipulative or attention seeking is possibly the worst thing you can say. Hear me as a human being, not a diagnosis, who has hit rock bottom. Spend some time talking to me and finding out how I feel. I don’t necessarily need you to problem solve for me, just hear how difficult things are an alone I feel. Please don’t tell me to have a bath- I hate my body- or treat myself (I can’t right now). I know you’re overstretched but please give me a little of your time. You are the only human interaction I have right now and I need someone to hear me.

If you are the liaison psych team in A&E, again please don’t judge me. I didn’t harm or OD to be a nuisance or a pain- I was trying to get rid of the badness inside of me. Please talk to me and find out what’s gone on- how I’ve ended up in this place. Don’t just assume I’m either time wasting or sectionable- talk to me first. Then please contact my team s they know what’s gone on.

And at te end of the line if you are staff on an inpatient ward please be gentle. Remember that no matter how challenging I’m being inside I am screaming and shattered. I am at my most vulnerable and am lashing out in self defence. Take a moment to talk to me before restraining or drugging me. Maybe you can make me feel more settled on the ward- show me where to make a cup of tea, explain how I get supplies to shower with and pyjamas to sleep in. I don’t have anything with me. I know you’re probably not allowed but human touch, even just a hand on the shoulder or you getting down on the same level as me (some of my most helpful situations have been sat on the floor with staff) is unimaginably calming right now. But ask me first, don’t just crowd me because that’s overwhelming. On my first night check on me- and I don’t just mean by opening the hatch on my door or doing my Obs. Ask how I am, how am I feeling? Do I need anything?

Most of all, please introduce yourself. There’s nothing worse than not knowing who you are opening your soul to.

Many thanks. A patient.