Monthly Archives: May 2017

Thriving or Surviving?

I’m a bit late hopping onto the Mental Health awareness week campaign. That is “Surviving or Thriving?” But I think it’s a brilliant thing to raise awareness of.

Before being in hospital I worked in a supermarket office, I volunteered as a first aider, I helped run youth mentoring programs. I loved to read, to sing, to play my violin. I was thriving.

Then I got admitted. For the last few months before I was admitted to the EDU I had lost my ability to thrive. I was cold all the time, my head was a mess of numbers, I was so hungry yet so full, everything hurt. I used to walk back from uni to my flat, an hours walk, convinced that this time I wouldn’t be able to make it. I was only just surviving. As my admission passed I was able to lift myself up again. Groups and therapy gave me the ability to survive and maybe hope toward thriving. I can’t say I ever really felt I’d achieved much but I did make friends for life. What’s lovely is seeing some of the girls I was in hospital with living life- learning to thrive.

I managed to return to my degree and I loved my time working in a laboratory. In there, running between my test tubes and the anaerobic cabinet, I was able to forget about my mental health. I could completely immerse myself. But I was not coping on the outside and I was sectioned half way through my dissertation.

This latest admission has been different to my previous. Here there is a real sense of helping us patients do more than just survive. Across the country there are talks of Recovery Colleges. At my EDU there was one being mentioned but solely as a way to learn about your condition. There is a Recovery College here which for me has helped bring me up to somewhere more than just surviving. Going to groups involving the whole hospital has helped bring my confidence up so I can speak in front of others. I went to groups which made me laugh- the smell of our bath bombs probably won’t ever leave me ( I don’t recommend chocolate essence!)! But I also learnt a lot and as my confidence improved I started writing for the newsletter and then became editor. I haven’t worked for years and this lifted me so much. I learnt to delegate, to use new programmes on the computer. I started to become confident in myself that I could achieve things. I’m learning that talking about my story isn’t a bad thing and in many ways has helped me start accepting my past. I look back at when I first went to Recovery College and compare it to now. I now have the confidence to start thinking about work, about future university study, about leaving hospital completely. I even picked up my violin last time I was home! The Recovery College has played a huge part in my recovery. Most of the places I have been have been solely about survival. There was nothing to help you achieve more than that. And that’s what’s different here, we aren’t just helped to survive, we’re also helped to learn to thrive.

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A long journey

On the 2nd May 2015, I was sat in a car park, on the way to work, and I had cut my wrists. I had phoned my mum, terrified I was going to run into traffic. As soon as I had hung up, I realised I didn’t want to be saved.

I cant remember much of the next 18 months. I know that I was desperate, that my sole intention was to kill myself when I could get the chance. And there were times I nearly succeeded. I stopped eating and drinking and was taken in and out of hospital for glucose and fluids. I remember fighting that, I didn’t want them to help me. I couldn’t understand why the staff didn’t just give up on me. I spent hours head banging, trying to escape myself. I still have two ridges in my forehead and I spent a long time with an open split on my head where I had gone too hard.

My mental health story started long before that. Aged 14 I was being bullied at school. It wasn’t just name calling, I was pushed over a wall, slammed in a door. There were comments made on a bebo page- one of which stuck with me. That I was better off dead. That was the first time suicide entered my head. By the end of year 9, I was self harming and bulimic. I felt so alone.

I moved schools for sixth form and found my  feet, still suffering from an eating disorder and self harm, but I was feeling happier. I had a group of friends. For the first time in a long time I felt like people liked me.

The same came when I started university. For the first term, I loved it. My eating improved, I mostly stopped self harming. I was feeling well. But then I was raped and my world fell apart. Almost immediately my eating disorder took over. My depression clouded me. By second year I was anorexic. I’ve never felt so isolated. We lived in a horrible flat. I remember sitting there trying to persuade myself that I could cope. I managed to finish second year with a 2:1 but I didn’t feel any sense of achievement. I was completely in the grips of failing mental health.

In December of third year I was admitted to an Eating Disorders Unit where I spen ten months. I came out still struggling anorexia but then months later I suddenly flipped back to bulimia. Horrendous bulimia. I was binge purging on 1000s and 1000s of calories. Once my bank even rang me as there had been so much use of my card. I was falling apart and was admitted to an acute unit, twice. I came home, relapsed and that started this admission.

I’ve spent too much time in hospital. I’m tired of living by a regime. I want to be able to wake up when I want. I want to work.

And suddenly I’m getting there! This Wednesday I had my section lifted! It’s been the best part of two years since I was free. There is no better feeling that sitting out in the park knowing I can sit in the park enjoying the sun and not being limited to 1 hour. I can walk as far as I want. It’s such a weight off. I’ve worked so hard to get this far and I’m going to keep working.  I have the most incredible family, friends and boyfriend, even when I’ve felt alone, I haven’t been. They’ve been there, every step of the way. I have a 2:1 degree in microbiology and I’m going to use it.

My mental health story doesn’t end here, it keep going but changing course. Two years ago, I was desperate to die. Now? I’m desperate to live.

DBT; a realisation.

Sat in the corner of my room, tying a ligature round my neck. Pinned to the floor and injected. Lying on a bed being wheeled through for ECT. Fainting and being sent to hospital for glucose multiple times. Being watched 24/7 for over 8 months, no privacy at all. Having a CT scan after headbanging. I came into hospital very unwell and there’s a lot I can’t remember, but I’ll never forget these things.

Thankfully I’m so much further on, the idea of tying a ligature is so far away, I never kick off. I am compliant. Those baby steps I mentioned in my last post? They’ve turned into giant leaps. I’m sat here at home on overnight leave, I’ve been out to town with mum and exercised my debit card! I’ve helped cook lunch. I’ve cleaned the kitchen. This time last year I was just starting to have home leave, escorted by a member of staff for 8 hours only. Now I’m a completely different person.

On Wednesday I completed my second and final cycle of DBT. I remember a year ago starting on the programme I was so, well, obstinate that it wouldn’t work. I didn’t understand it. I couldn’t open myself to it. Now I look back and it has helped me so much.  There were four modules; emotional regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness and mindfulness. Each taught me skills I can use to live with, control and maybe even overcome my illnesses.

Through DBT I found a way to manage situations where I needed or wanted specific outcomes. I learnt how to voice my opinion and ask for my needs to be met without shutting down or disregulating. I started being able to take part in my treatment and to get my needs heard and met. Mindfulness taught me how to recognise my emotions, how to observe them and employ my most effective skills to deal with that emotion, or, simply stop and watch the emotion pass by. I learnt to use pros and cons of a specific situation or behaviour to balance out whether the urge I was having would actually be effective.  I went from feeling awful all the time and reacting immediately  to being able to stop, use my skills to recognise that I was feeling bad and instead of self harming or ligaturing I would distract myself. I would ‘radically accept’ I sometimes cannot change the situation (for instance I have to come back to hospital after time at home) but I can employ techniques to help.

I never thought I’d say thank you to DBT. I really struggled to grasp it, it didn’t really fit with my illness but with help I could use skills from DBT anyway and slowly that opened up a way for me to engage in DBT. It’s very weird thinking I won’t have anymore DBT but I’m so thankful for it. And to anyone starting DBT, stick with it. Don’t let anyone derail your recovery by telling you horror stories of DBT. It’s hard, you will probably cry with frustration, you won’t understand at times, you’ll feel stuck. But, for me, there’s almost a sudden moment when I realised, I do understand this and I am actually using the  skills. I can only say thank you to the therapy team for not giving up on me.

And so from baby steps, this is a giant leap. I’m on the home run.