The mechanics within my mind make a clunking sound, grinding wheels against each other, like fingernails on a chalkboard – the sound vibrates through my ears making my eyes weep. This pain occurs intensely, it’s sensory – losing control of reality.
Am I machine? Or is this mechanical device planted inside my head? Confusion bubbling inside, like a kettle steaming and churning, spilling over.
Reality seeming far away, too far to reach. Having found it before – I can find it again. Did I ever “have” reality? Was it something tangible, that I could touch and claim for myself?
The thoughts fizzing in my brain, as if someone has shaken me up like a soda can – eventually opening me, to explode.
My faculties are dimming, my sight is heavy and my limitations are apparent, there is no resolve in this paradox.
Soon my eyes start to close, lucid dreaming begins. Seeing myself step out of my body as if it were a costume, walking toward vagary.
Is this now my reality? Or was reality something I left behind?
Consciousness is waning, leaving me like an empty vessel.
The realisation that control was never in my possession – my last responsive thought before darkness.
If you have any thoughts on this piece of creative writing please leave your comment below:
This art and poetry portrays the ordeal of intrusive thoughts which are brought on due to mental illness, specifically complex trauma, anxiety disorders, personality disorders and psychosis.
My intrusive thoughts have been dominating my life since I can remember. As young as 5 I recall laying in my bed and reasoning with myself, internally bargaining:
“If I die in my sleep, I wont know, I will just die and then it will be over”.
Scary things had always happened at night in my world, the dark couldn’t be trusted and nor could most adults.
As I got older my intrusive thoughts took on an internal shaming ritual, whereby ripping myself to shreds about how I looked, how I had acted or how no one loved me and I would be alone forever – hence why these thoughts turned suicidal. Repeating to myself again and again:
“you are fat, you are ugly”,
as if I were counting maniacal sheep – one named fat the other ugly.
Sometimes the thoughts can turn external and onto others, fearing you may hurt someone or even kill someone – not because you want to but because you fear you will lose your mind. I used to fear that one day whilst travelling to school or college that I would push someone onto the railway tracks. Visualising it was horrifying, playing it out scene for scene , watching others scream in horror and watching myself be carted away by the “men in white coats”.
With psychosis the intrusive thoughts are there but take on a hallucinogenic dimension. In the dark seeing evil angels looming over me or small fairy like creatures guiding me to safety, another world would open up – but what if I got trapped there? What if I wanted to stay? Reflections in mirrors can cause dysmorphic appearances, my eyes would disappear into my sockets, skin looked to be hanging off my face and seeing other people as myself.
Traumatic experiences cause flash backs which take you back to your trauma and hold you there in order to relive the ordeal again and again. Or you try and recreate the trauma and imagine a new ending – all the while punishing yourself internally, blaming yourself for what has happened to you or for what others have done to you.
Medication can help but it can be so much worse if you miss a dose or have to come off your meds for whatever reason, as well as very unpleasant side effects. There are so many drugs I have tried over the years and the ones that worked best were always the ones which left me like a zombie during the day, which is fine if you wish to be a zombie and there have been times this has suited me, to barely exist. However when you want to survive and possibly even live you can’t compromise on the “being awake” part.
The important thing to remember when dealing with intrusive thoughts or if a loved one is experiencing them, is to take this seriously – it is like any other health concern, such as finding a lump or a cough that just wont go away. Intrusive thoughts are an anxiety driven issue due to:
“THE AMYGDALA CONSTANTLY SENDING US FALSE SIGNALS THAT WE ARE IN DANGER”
Fight or flight is triggered with the obsession (the intrusive thoughts) and then the compulsion (is the bargaining – the fear) and the cycle repeats like groundhog day. Many people suffer in silence with these feelings and become trapped in their own isolation created due to living this way. So if you feel this is you or someone you know – please know first and foremost:
YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
There is support out there for you and your loved ones.
Halloween is upon us and has been all weekend, it is a celebration, a ritual and a chance to party with friends, adorning costumes and different personas for one night. With the nights drawing in and winter fast approaching it reminds us of the dark and in turn the dead.
However Halloween has become a mass capitalised practice, with shops and establishments enticing you with their decorations and latest gimmicks from the beginning of October. Making plans for this one night affair becomes about popularity and with the addition of social media – a costume contest is held with hashtags and a one-upmanship mentality.
Although this is not the scariest thing about Halloween, in fact the most frighting of attitudes and beliefs come out to play during this festivity and that is the representation of mental illness and the mentally ill. With depictions in horror films, on TV and in literature – as well as costumes depicting “psychiatric patients” or the idea of insanity being cool or glamorised.
As some one who has sever psychiatric conditions and who has had these since being a child, my thoughts on this subject are something I wish to be heard on, hoping that listening to someone who is actually mentally ill, who has been hospitalised in genuine Victorian asylum buildings in the UK, as an inpatient on a psychiatric ward, that in hearing me you will understand that my suffering, trauma, illnesses and identity is not something you get to “have fun with”. You don’t get to put it on for the night and then take it off without hearing me tell you that this is causing me and people like me to be demonised, you continue our persecution and discrimination. Whimsically you step into a piece of clothing which represents people who have been killed for their disabilities, locked away and forgotten about due to their illnesses, and tortured or experimented on because they behave and think differently to the perceived average person.
Having been stigmatised and labelled as dangerous to others, as a person who is violent or unstable – a person to be feared, a monster. I myself, have believed these things to be true, having allowed myself to be shamed into submission, thinking that in fact I am a scary, crazy villain. So I hid from it, allowed myself to be silenced, accepted family and friends stigmatising me with their fancy dress and in their language when watching horror films. Listening to people discuss my situation as frightening, something which scares them so much they can’t watch.
In the depictions of mental illness within horror films and on TV sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself, in a girl who is screaming manically and bashing her head against walls, or rocking herself in a corner or strapped down sedated in a hospital bead. I have lived these experiences, I still do sometimes. The rocking myself is a self soothing, allowing me to keep myself safe.
Yes I have done this in the dark, on a psychiatric ward – yes it was scary.
But not for you! For me!
When experiencing psychotic episodes I have smashed my head repeatedly against walls, on tables anywhere I could. As I rarely remember my psychosis or at least only fragments of it, I can not tell you exactly what I was thinking – but I can guess with almost complete certainty that it was to stop the intrusive images, the voices, the flashbacks, the pain… It was not because I was possessed or dangerous to others it was because of my neurological damage due to early childhood trauma. Which again is not scary in the spooky horror sense when explained, it is in fact a medical condition and symptoms.
Being in a psychiatric hospital is not a horror fest or a sensationalised attraction to experience. It is like any other medical facility, it is there to treat people with illnesses in a focused in-patient manner. Yes the Victorian buildings were scary and yes me and my in-patient friends would tell ghost stories and scare ourselves whilst walking through the abandoned buildings and grounds – but we didn’t think we were the monsters, we knew we were thought of this way by the outside world.
West Park Hospital, Epsom, England
West Park Hospital, Epsom, England
West Park Hospital, Epsom, England
West Park Hospital, Epsom, England
West Park Hospital, Epsom, England
West Park Hospital, Epsom, England
(West Park Hospital in Epsom is where I was an in-patient for 6 months in 1999)
However we had seen real horror, most of us having survived childhood molestation, violence, and emotional abuse. We knew we were only really a danger to ourselves, hacking away at our own flesh daily, burning ourselves with lighters, putting ourselves in danger as vulnerable people, not eating, taking substances to excess and attempting to kill ourselves often. We were the scariest thing around – to ourselves, but are we really people to be feared? No – we are people who have been vilified in order to hide the realities of true horror, which happens everyday in plain sight, by people you know, people you forgive and people who you look up to. Our ideas disturb the status quo and our sadness gets in the way of the idealistic idea of living a happy life. We make you uncomfortable – because deep down you know we are not different, that you could become ill or have a breakdown. Your neurology is not bullet-proof. We are not made of weaker stuff.
So I ask you to think about the depiction of mentally ill people at Halloween, I ask you to challenge your thoughts on what we look like, act like, or are capable of. Think of the backstory of a character and realise just how un-scary someones emotional distress, neurological condition or neuro-divergent ideas are in context. Think how you may make someone you know feel – who has mental illness, when you dress up as a deranged “psychopath”. Don’t contribute to this stereotype and the discrimination it allows to continue.
Graffiti by myself and patients from Woodside adolescents unit, at West Park Hospital in Epsom – for art therapy sessions.
Graffiti by myself and patients from Woodside adolescents unit, at West Park Hospital in Epsom – for art therapy sessions.
Graffiti by myself and patients from Woodside adolescents unit, at West Park Hospital in Epsom – for art therapy sessions.
(These images are of graffiti myself and other in patients did in abandoned rooms during our stay at Woodside adolescent unit at West Park Hospital in Epsom, England in the summer of 1999 – during art therapy sessions. These photographs have been taken by people who site these as disturbing images of “crazy”impatient scribbling. I see them and remember letting out our pain, me and my best friend Jenny (who took her own life years later), of us together – expressing ourselves through art, this is NOT a horror movie scene or anything sinister.)
Waking up this morning was a torturous affair, opening my eyes, feeling that sensation in my stomach, the one that feels as if you dropped off the earth but your body is still looking over the edge waving you goodbye. It feels like sinking in pain – as if pain was quick sand, if I did not know better I would say someone had opened me up in an operating theatre, during my sleep and rearranged my internal organs and sewed me back up.
Laying there with only feelings not thoughts, no rational thinking commencing in this lucid state. However the pain is reminding my brain of other hurt, other ordeals. Like a back catalogue of torture, my mind runs through a long list, flashing images in front of me, in an attempt to condition me or subliminally coerce me. Then with no warning, I am awake! My fight or flight has been triggered, blood is rushing from my head to my extremities, preparing me to run away. There is no where to run, no where for me to escape this danger, for the danger only exists in my brain, my own neurology is basically trying to run me out of town.
Peoples opinions and past criticisms enter my stream of thought, “It’s all in your head”. I chuckle maniacally to myself and say repeatedly “Yes, it is indeed in my head”. The idea that this is said to us, the mentally ill, the neuro-divergent, is laughable to me at this moment. As if our species has taught itself that the head/brain/mind are not part of us, not part of our physical selves or bodies. We never say to a “physically” disabled person, its all in your legs/arms etc. All the while my brain is trying to desperately stay in the moment and ponder on the complexities of people’s lack of understanding for anything related to the unseen, our illnesses are less believable than Father Christmas, fairies, lizard people and the all powerful dude sat above us and the evil one living down in the depths of hell, but mental illness is utterly unbelievable without being in a straight jacket throwing yourself into walls, dribbling and wanting to kill people – because of course it is perfectly believable that the mentally ill are criminals.
My body is still preparing itself for battle. The pins and needles in my arms and legs are going crazy, there seems to be no blood left above my heart. My mouth becomes very dry and then my need to vomit takes over, as apparently the sickness is trying to escape me. The blurred vision begins, bringing with it more panic – I am certain I am about to die. With my breath getting quicker and my body perspiring at a scary level, the only option is to lay on the floor and accept my fate.
With no ability to leave the house, on my own – my only choice is to call someone, something I can only do with a few people. So with my double vision, tapping away at my keypad, the ring tone begins…
“Lisa?? I am dying! I can’t do this anymore, I am sure I am going to die alone here”, the uncontrollable need for safety and reassurance is like someone giving me oxygen, I hear Lisa’s voice, she knows how this feels, so I do not need to explain. Lisa try’s to distract me and get my brain out of the immediate fight or flight state that I am in, trying to focus my attention outside of myself, so that every sensation that is felt is not interpreted as a sign of dying. Eventually she gets me from the bathroom to my living room, all I can do is sedate myself now, lay in my chair and hope to sleep.
Before long sleep takes over, my parallel world opens up, a world created from old buildings which are derelict shells, past homes, schools and locations where trauma was created. There is no day or time here, no summer and no order. It is grey with darkness lurking everywhere, like every horror film ever watched muddled up with my own life events. Old faces appear behind corners and in the darkness, natural disasters erupt on a frequent rotation, buildings collapse without warning, stair cases and corridors never end, fluorescent lights flicker, music plays in the distance – songs played as soundtracks to the violence endured, smells are vivid with scents of perfumes and aftershaves by the oppressive abusers. This is where I come to rest. This – the place my mind rebuilds and orchestrates every night, a haunting performance of memories and trauma.
Sometimes the only thing my brain conjures up are flash-backs, which can be on repeat for what feels like an entire life time. The brain is able to retrieve the most long forgotten detail and with a force of pure malevolence this detail is forced down your gullet like an over-fed goose. Chocking on the terror and the overwhelming taste of bitterness, my eyes often feel pulled open, when in fact they are closed – being forced to face the shame. Upon awaking from this, the particular detail is seared into my conscious mind and begins infecting my hippocampus and amygdala, whilst poisoning my thalamus and hypothalamus, and the sickness spreads to my peripheral cortex and temporal cortex. Soon I start to feel physical pain in the places most violated, there is no time to slowly open my eyes, stretch and ponder my day, the alarm has been raised, high alert is here and my day begins again as it ends.
Here are some facts about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, brain damage and sleep:
“When patients re-experience traumatic events and flashbacks during sleep, these nightmares can be accompanied by real physical reactions to feelings of fear, such as a pounding heart and sweating. The re-experience can occur at random or might be triggered by sights, sounds, or smells that remind the person of the trauma. Therefore, patients suffering from PTSD often try to avoid objects, places, events, or even emotions that trigger memories of the traumatic event.
In addition to nightmares, people with PTSD can manifest a state of hyperarousal, in which the individual is subconsciously “on guard” to protect himself, and as a result feels anxious, has difficulty falling asleep, is irritable, suffers emotional outbursts, or is easily startled.”
“Psychological trauma has great effects on physical aspects of patients’ brains, to the point that it can have detrimental effects akin to actual physical brain damage. The hippocampus, as mentioned above, is involved in the transference of short-term memories to long-term memories and it is especially sensitive to stress. Stress causes glucocorticoids (GCs), adrenal hormones, to be secreted and sustained exposure to these hormones can cause neural degeneration. The hippocampus is a principal target site for GCs and therefore experiences a severity of neuronal damage that other areas of the brain do not. In severe trauma patients, especially those with post-traumatic stress disorder, the medial prefrontal cortex is volumetrically smaller in size than normal and is hyporesponsive when performing cognitive tasks, which could be a cause of involuntary recollection (intrusive thoughts). The medial prefrontal cortex controls emotional responsiveness and conditioned fear responses to fear-inducing stimuli by interacting with the amygdala. In those cases, the metabolism in some parts of the medial prefrontal cortex didn’t activate as they were supposed to when compared to those of a healthy subject.”
( Tarara, R., Else, J.G., Suleman, M.A., Sapolsky, R.M. (1989). Hippocampal damage associated with prolonged and fatal stress in primates. J Neurosci 9:1705-1711.
McNally, Richard J. (2006) Trends in Cognitive Science, Volume 10, Issue 6: Cognitive Abnormalities in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. P271-277)
My friend, surrogate sister and colleague Lisa Reeve has very kindly started a fundraiser for me to get the assistance psychiatric dog which I desperately need so that I can live a more independent life and access more help for my sever and complex mental illnesses.
Here is what Lisa had to say:
Help us raise money for Charlotte Farhan to get a psychiatric assistance dog so that she can lead a more independent life as a sufferer of C-PTSD.
Hi I’m Lisa I am writing this having battled a long term mental health condition since childhood. I am passionate about recovery and believe in helping others and the cause.
My best friend Charlotte not only has been my rock, she has been my life line through some terrible years in which I am starting to see the light again. Unfortunately for Charlotte she suffers from C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) from sexual abuse in childhood and sexual violence and assault as a teenager, due to this Charlotte has not been able to live a “normal” life and has progressively got worse, which has led to several mental illnesses such as psychotic depression, borderline personality disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, and OCD. This has meant Charlotte has no independence and has not been outside alone for over 9 years, as well as not being able to leave the house at all at times even with a carer.
I feel it is now time I give back to her some of the hope she held for me. Since being told the NHS can’t do anything more for Charlotte she has grown more isolated.
I really want to help her out of this and this is why I want to ask the world to help raise money for Charlotte to get a psychiatric service dog. Charlotte responds very positively to animals and with a dog she could in time, adapt the skills to be independent and manage her symptoms with a more fulfilled life.
As we know service dogs help people both mentally and psychically and help reduce unwanted symptoms that have a disabling impact on one’s life. Unfortunately this service is not given to people like Charlotte here in the UK, even though many places round the world do, in the UK service dogs are only given to those with psychical disabilities, children with autism and war veterans with PTSD.
We plan to take direct action with the donations raised. A puppy has already been chosen for Charlotte, a little male poodle puppy called Amadeus who is only 3 weeks old but will be ready for his forever home with Charlotte at the end of May 2016. Charlotte has a team of friends who are helping her with this as well as her husband. We have a dog behavioural trainer who is offering her time and skills, called Rebecca Smith, I shall be on hand as well as Charlotte’s other friends: Lesley and Anna, we will be helping Charlotte with exposure work and getting her used to being outside with the dog. Money raised helps towards costs for: the purchase of the puppy, veterinary care, vaccinations, a dog passport, insurance, food, leads, a dog crate, car modifications for the dog, training etc.….
Research in pet therapies reveal that a service dog can help manage symptoms by helping you feel less stressed and alone. As Charlotte spends her days working non-profit as the MD of Art Saves Lives International from home, a visual artist, the editor of ASLI Magazine, a feature writer for OTV Magazine, and she is also about to enetr her last year of her degree in Philosophy, Psychology and Creative Writing with the Open University. She is alone at home with no human contact or ability to go outside, she often feels abandoned and scared, reinforced by the fact that she cannot go outside by herself at all. She would love to be able to do what ‘ mentally able’ individuals can do and carry out simple tasks such as crossing the road and walking to the corner shop to buy milk, as well as exercising more (which will help Charlotte as a diabetic), meeting people for her charity work and as Charlotte is an artist she dreams of painting outside in the summer.
A suitable dog would be a dependable companion, helping aid her confidence and give her more freedom. Dogs are great lovers of affection and their unconditional love can help overcome self-loathing problems and inward negative thoughts.
An assistance dog would help Charlotte feel more comfortable with the idea of being able to stand closer to strangers and have more contact with others. This is a fear of Charlotte’s, brought on by her trauma, she feels unsafe and in danger around others causing extreme anxiety and emotional regulation problems. This would also positively encourage her in new situations without scanning for danger. As we know dogs are particularly vigilant and are able to assess whether this danger is real or fantasy, something Charlotte is unable to do, offering a form of logical determination and protection. The dog will also help with grounding exercises in situations that are overwhelming due to too much sensory information which will stop Charlotte from detaching as much and having debilitating anxiety attacks.
If you would like to make a donation, please follow the link HERE
As well as Lisa’s support, my Friend and other surrogate sister Bex Smith is a behaviourist for animals and will be doing the specific dog training needed.
Sign up to her blog as we will be documenting the training and the story of how this will help me.
Also my amazing friend Lesley who I have been best friends with since I was 11 years old, who is like family to me, is going to be helping me with exposure work and supporting me.
And not forgetting the lovely Anna (we call each other brain twins) who has said she will help taking me to locations for long dog walks.
Being able to be independent is something I dream of daily. I know my neurological damage from severe trauma will mean I shall be different and neuro-diverse forever, but I also know that just because we live in a Neurotypical world that I do not have to accept this fate. I want to be as functional as possible, I am a victim who survived which is why I know I can do this.
I feel uncomfortable asking for help and am so grateful for Lisa doing this fundraiser for me, for Bex who is giving over her time to train our puppy and help me be independent, for Lesley and Anna who have agreed to help me with my exposure work, and for my husband who helps me every day in so many ways.
Together I know we can do this, I can see me and our new member of the family, Amadeus – I can see us waking side by side into our future.
We have already raised £410 out of our £2000 goal. (29/04/2016)
All the donations have been from my amazing family in Jordan and the Isle of Man, my supporters and followers from around the world and dear friends as well as some anonymous lovelies.
Thank you for your support.
Facts on Psychiatric Service Dogs
Just as a dog can be trained to alert to seizures and other medical conditions, a dog can also be trained to sense the changes in a person’s body when they are beginning to have a panic attack, flash back, anxiety attack, or other psychiatric condition. The dog is able to paw at the leg of their disabled recipient and interrupt what would otherwise be a debilitating and destructive behaviour for the individual. This helps the handler to refocus on their dog and work through the problem.
Deep Pressure Therapy
Just as medical wraps are used to alleviate anxiety in persons with psychiatric conditions, dogs can be trained to put the pressure of their body weight on their handler’s lap and abdomen to physically, and then mentally relieve anxiety and induce a sense of calm.
When the individual suffers from anxiety due to the close proximity of others, or due to claustrophobia in a crowded room, the dog can be trained to stand in between their handler and others to gain more personal space. The dog is not being protective, but is simply following a simple cue from their handler to move their body into the space surrounding their handler.
A frequent problem for those suffering from PTSD is to negotiate corners without the fear of what is waiting on the other side. Our dogs can be trained to go around corners in front of their handler and then alert their handler if there is someone waiting on the other side. Over time this form of therapy can assist the disabled recipient when becoming more comfortable with going into public.
There are many situations when a recipient will need to excuse themselves from a classroom or meeting due to personal psychiatric concerns. With a discrete signal to the dog the handler can command his dog to paw at the leg, making it look like the dog is seeking attention. The handler is then able to comfortably leave the situation with the excuse that his dog needs to relieve itself.
It goes without saying that any service dog’s greatest assistance is the emotional support they can offer their handler. Most disabilities present trials than can be relieved on a mental level simply by the dog’s presence. A well behaved dog can help to lower blood pressure and give a sense of ease to anyone who is near.
Waking up from the intensity of nightmares and night-terrors, feels a though you have been battered black and blue emotionally and physically. The hell of thinking within your unconscious dream state that you are trapped in this dystopian creation of your own afflicted mind, causes you to wake screaming, as if you were grappling through time and space to re enter this realm of existence.
Then you wake; the truth hits you like a tyrannical fist, you try to unpick the mess of your insensible and sensible self which is tangled like forgotten jewelry left in a drawer. You lay there trying to regain some control over your faculties, you are still and lifeless – almost catatonic. The world as we know it has not been brought into focus yet, it is still a distant memory.
Hours go by and you’re still unable to move, your mind is working so hard at the puzzle that is your trauma. At this point what is real and not – is completely interlinked; woven together like a tapestry of war.
Finally you feel able to move, the world has invited you in and you feel, you can find your way there. You stick to muscle memory tasks, such as getting dressed, making a tea and sitting at your desk.
Unfortunately, your mind does not always recognise your consciousness in reality and “the real world”, so it flickers from flashbacks to memories of nightmares, interchanging as if someone had a remote control to your brain and was flicking through the channels of your life.
This has been my life for as long as I can remember; however it has grown darker again and is still growing with ferocity. Since becoming older and now in my 30’s, the space in my mind seems to be at capacity, which means when one cupboard or box is opened in my mind – things are now having to be squeezed tighter or rearranged, which in turn causes mess and a lack of new space for new experiences, emotions and eventually memories. Leaving me stuck in a hoarders prison – internally locked in. It is not that I wish to keep these memories or thoughts it is just they need to be processed, labeled and filed away.
Which is difficult when they are buried under years of self preservation.
Reliving trauma in therapy is my only solution, other than self destruction – which is ever so appealing. The temptation of setting fire to the mess that is my internal world seems enticing, a cathartic “fuck you” to the pain. Nevertheless my intentions are to stay in this mind until my husband dies ( which will hopefully be both of us in old age) as the thought of being without him is even more devastating than anything I have ever thought possible. This life is short as I have seen many times over, I promised myself I would spend this time understanding these illnesses which plague me day in and day out, as well as helping others who walk this tightrope of madness and sadness.
We will never forget what was done to us – you see. These abusers, predators and enablers, they caused so much of this. With their torture, subjectification, voyeurism, rape, incest, emotional battery and manipulation. Which begs me to ask, what do they carry with them after the fact? The best you can hope for is guilt; but this is not enough, this is not representative of what we suffer, the victims! They want pity, and sympathy for their affliction, which plays into further domination.
Reliving is a daily task, it does not end when I leave the therapy room, it does not silence the sounds of purgatory. It is in fact something those of us who have complex post traumatic stress disorder have been doing everyday and everynight since we were young.
My mind has been replaying reels of trauma – with added horror, as if my psyche wished to add special effects to my already terrifying past. Despite this, upon committing to reliving in a long term therapeutic setting and being at capacity – in my minds storage capabilities, the intensity rises further causing me to experience psychosis and physical pain.
This process is long and will be a continued managed activity of will power and a determination to use this experience as a way to contribute to the world. The idea is to turn myself, the victim into a survivor and then a thriver. These will never be whole states of mind, and knowing there will be bad days and good days and even relapses, but using the trauma to thrive even for 10 minutes is something worth committing to.
“It’s often said that a traumatic experience early in life marks a person forever, pulls her out of line, saying, “Stay there. Don’t move.”
― Jeffrey Eugenides
Recovery is not a time period set out, it is a continued process until death. When I say I am in recovery, do not be confused and think “that’s good she will be recovered soon” this is not how it works. Recovery is about a continued focus and is an exhausting task to undertake daily, which means there will be days I can not do it or days when triggering events or stressful life experiences put the mind back into those frightful moments which we tried so hard to keep organised and tidy.
Let me ask you?
How do you recover from being sexually abused as a child?
How do you recover from sexual violence, rape, assault, stalking and being beaten as a teenager?
How do you recover from having two parents (who are severely mentally ill themselves) one abused you, abandoned you and does not love you at all, to the other who didn’t love you at birth and couldn’t attach to you and who emotionally abused you, kept leaving you with different people and whose constant fragility due to their illness consumed your life?
You don’t recover…
You hopefully survive and then spend your life recovering.
So this is me and where I am, I know I am not alone, I know you are suffering too out there, I know it is hard and you’re ready to quit! But I want you to know that you are not alone and that you need to take this slowly and realistically. Do not allow pressure from others and society; which make you conform. They do not have to live your life, you know the truth.
Living is hard.
But reliving is harder.
For a bit of history on the practices of therapy in regards to PTSD AND C-PTSD, please read on…
Since the re-emergence of recognition of severe trauma on human development and psychopathology in adults in the 1970s, Chu and Bowman observed there had been three generations of trauma treatment theory. The first generation of research and response began in the early 1980s and emphasized abreaction of traumatic experience in treatment. Abreaction originated from psychoanalytic traditions and describes the processes of acting out and expressing unconscious conflicts that, in itself, brings relief.
The mental health system in the UK which is provided by the NHS is failing people like me everyday; so lets see why?
Here is what the NHS have to say about accessing mental health services in the UK:
Mental health, emotional wellbeing and resilience is all about how we cope with what life throws at us. It concerns the way we feel about ourselves, conduct relationships, handle stress or deal with loss.
Good mental health and resilience are fundamental to good physical health, relationships, education and work, as well as being key to achieving our potential.
This is just an opening statement on the NHS website and already there are many issues:
The first sentence implies that mental illness is only from environmental factors around us such as “what life throws at us” and completely negates to say that mental illness can also be a neurological condition which is visible to us on MRI scans. So for people like myself who have C-PTSD, BPD and suffer from periods of psychosis or someone who has schizophrenia, bipolar-disorder, dissociative disorders and many more are left already feeling like this does not include us.
It goes on to say, that in order to maintain a good life: mental health, emotional wellbeing and resilience are paramount. When someone like me sees this, the complete lack of effort to include severe mental illness appears as if the NHS caters to an exclusive group which myself and others are not welcome in. Some mental illness is not “fixable” in that there is no cure and the assumption and misinformation is irresponsible and suggests that those with mental illness can be healed with a one size fits all solution.
For us with severe mental illness the world is very different , we do not have the privilege of those who suffer from situational depression and anxiety solely. The world expects and allows us as people to feel depressed after death, or anxious after a car crash and what ever else “life throws at you”. This was not always the way, society has come leaps and bounds in the last 30 years to accept depression and anxiety in a mainstream way. This help is now widely available to the general public and society is more and more open to those who suffer from depression and anxiety as most people have had it or know someone who has. With celebrity faces, depictions in modern film, TV and literature as well as many charities and campaigns continuously running to educate the world about depression and anxiety, the world is still silent about those like myself still viewed as “crazy” or “psychotic”. Due to complex sever mental illness which are still only referenced in horror films, crime dramas, documentaries about “the criminally insane” murderers, news reports where “someone with a personality disorder has killed someone” or referenced as the go to insults for people displaying “weird” behaviours.
The NHS go on to say:
Less common conditions, such as psychosis, can make you experience changes in thinking and perception severe enough to significantly alter your experience of reality. These conditions include schizophrenia and affective psychosis, such as bipolar disorder, and can have the same lifelong impact as any long-term physical condition.
The issue here is that even within the severe mental illnesses there are some which will be focused on above so many others. With an over emphasis on Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and a general reference to psychosis. There is no mention of the most common of these disorders; C-PTSD or PTSD, there is no mention of personality disorders, dissociative disorders or to the disorders which have psychosis as a symptom. It is as if the world is not prepared to let go of the label “crazy” and still needs some of us to be under this stigmatising label so that we can be scapegoated as the deranged creatures of nightmares so that fingers can be pointed and there is a face to the monster.
This next paragraph from the NHS is misleading:
Mental illness is treatable and, with appropriate support and treatment, people do recover. Many move on with their lives and are able to care for their family, contribute to the local community, and get back into employment or training.
The sweeping statement that “mental illness is treatable” is an insult to many, it should instead read ” some mental illness can be treatable and severe mental illness is manageable with continued support and treatment”. This goes back to the generalised view that depression and anxiety are the only illnesses affecting the masses and that people can only have mental illness which is subject to your own psychological resilience.
Also some with severe mental illness like myself have symptoms from our illnesses which are depression and anxiety, so you will be offered in the NHS to have these treated rather than the severe illness which caused the symptoms of depression and anxiety. for example, I have C-PTSD, BPD and psychotic depression and due to these severe illnesses I have other illnesses which are symptoms of these, such as: GAD, agoraphobia, OCD, Adult ADHD and BDD.
And then lastly the NHS tell you what is needed but only provide one option in reality:
But this may not always be a straightforward journey. Many people only need a short course of psychological therapy or six months of medication, while others will need much more support and intensive treatment, be it medication or extended therapy.
The issue with this paragraph is again how the less complex and severe your illness is the more you are taken care of. Most people will only need a short course of medication and some focused counselling like 6 weeks of CBT if they suffer from anxiety and depression if caused by general life’s ups and downs, they may then need this again and it will be available to them throughout their lives.
However when it brushes us “the complex cases” under the carpet with the statement “while others will need much more support and treatment” this makes me very angry. As they imply they “the NHS” will provide this for us, but in fact this is NOT the case as all. You will be offered drug treatment of archaic psychotropic drugs, you will be offered short term therapy (6 weeks) and then once you have had this treatment you can not re-apply for treatment until after 6 months. So if you are not “cured” after 6 weeks, tough luck! Which as you have read is impossible for complex and severe mental illnesses.
There is no after care, the emergency lines (crisis support) they allow you to have whilst in treatment are then closed to you, (not that they answered when you were allowed to call them). Finally the pièce de résistance is that you will be told (like I have been told 3 times over the last 21 years) with no uncertain terms that “there is nothing we (the NHS) can do for you now, sorry”.
The devastation that is felt by people like me, who are unable to be part of society due to our mental illnesses due the stigma attached to us, is so overwhelming that in most cases it leads to a relapse and more often than not self-injury, suicide attempts or death. When this last happened to me last year, I suffered a further breakdown and relapse, this meant I did not take care of myself for over 6 months resulting in more ill health. If I did not have a husband who takes care of me when ill, I would have died. So what about all of those alone? What about my husband who has to deal with this on his own?
Now I ask you, is the mental health system working effectively?
Next time I shall be sharing my timeline of treatment within the NHS from age eleven to now. So follow my blog to keep up to date on my future posts.
My colleague from ART SAVES LIVES INTERNATIONAL and dear friend Jade Bryant is also exploring the NHS and its failings within the Mental Health System, please follow this link to read more and get involved by sharing your stories.
This is the beginning stages of a campaign which ASLI (our non -profit) will be running in the near future. We hope to elevate our voices and others and then we hope to take this to the government; to bring about change as well as running workshops and programs which will aim to engage better understanding within communities, so that people like myself and Jade and so many others can be included properly in society which will inturn help us with our mental health.
Thank you for your time.
If you have anything to say on this subject, or your own story please get in touch via this contact form:
Doubt is to certainty as neurosis is to psychosis. The neurotic is in doubt and has fears about persons and things; the psychotic has convictions and makes claims about them. In short, the neurotic has problems, the psychotic has solutions.
Now I am not a fan of Thomas Szasz and his views on mental illness, however this quote stuck out to me upon reading his works.
A relatively mild mental illness that is not caused by organic disease, involving symptoms of stress (depression, anxiety, obsessive behaviour, hypochondria) but not a radical loss of touch with reality. (Oxford Dictionary)
AND psychosis being:
A severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality. (Oxford Dictionary)
This tightrope borderline between two mind sets is exactly why the quote at the beginning of this writing is of interest to me. The struggle between two personalities within. Coercing one another into problematic scenarios and continuously trying to solve the unsolvable with behaviours deemed damaging and irrational. Like conjoined twins, with one whispering in the others ear, telling the other there are risks, dangers ahead or that people will hurt or leave them, the other hears this and with a maniacal smile plans on how to survive the monsters it sees and hears around them.
Having suffered psychotic episodes throughout my life due to my BPD, PTSD and psychotic depression, my view on this disordered thought process is that of a person outside of themselves. Being unable to look at it from an internal perspective but more of an outside reflection on behaviours and memories.
When I was experiencing my worst I was delusional and had hallucinations of dark figured angels who towered over me, gesturing at me to follow them and leave the place I was in. As well as seeing fairy like creatures who would whisper to me that this life was not the end, that I could follow them and be safe in a world of magic and beauty. When an episode of this would end I would feel drained and confused, often not knowing where I had been, who I had spoken to or what may have happened to me whilst hallucinating. I would lose time and sometimes days to this.
The cause for this is said to be due to my extreme trauma and my existing mental illnesses. At this point I had not taken psychotropic drugs or any recreational hallucinogenic drug, so it was purely my mind fracturing due to the trauma of sexual abuse and violence.
Now my psychosis presents itself most when I am outside and makes me see every man’s face as the faces of the males who assaulted me. Sometimes watching me and appearing to slowly walk towards me. On occasion I am trapped in what appears to be my British childhood home where these separate incidences took place, I walk through my actual home, but all I can see is my old house. I have laid in my bed and been scared to leave my room as I know when I walk out my bedroom, it will all be unreal.
Certain psychotic episodes I had during the aftermath of my rape when I was 15 are not accessible to me, I know I had them as others witnessed them, but I have no recollection. Unfortunately I have scared people and this is not something I wish to inflict on anyone.
The mental health system we have in the UK is not the worst but it is not adequate. If I were to mention certain things in an assessment I would be hospitalised again, this means I do not share certain information with NHS professionals but I would with a private psychiatrist or mental health practitioners. So like most mentally ill people I am not able to be open myself up and receive FREE treatment for what I need, without being given heavy sedatives like anti-psychotics (which I was on for over 10 years) or being admitted to a psychiatric ward, which from my own experience would not be the best solution for me at all.
The treatment of these illnesses is not good enough, there needs to be a completely new perspective and a new way to administer treatment with the patients needs being assessed on an individual basis, not simply a criteria and box ticking exercise.
Knowing the treatment I need but it not be available to me due to the NHS either not providing it or being too short term, means if you are of a low income (which more people are than not) you have to pay for your treatment, which if you have no spare money after the basics of survival are met, you are not able to afford the treatment and must go without.
Luckily for me I am fortunate enough to have a wonderful husband who supports me and my ongoing recovery. Together we work hard at the long game, we train and educate ourselves to be able to earn more money, so that someday in the near future we can afford my treatment.
Going back to the original point and quote on the feelings and behaviours that come from my borderline between neurosis and psychosis, the need for more understanding is crucial within these disorders. Many who are borderline do not even know what and why this is happening to them, they do not know what the words mean or what borderline it is they are on.
For me knowledge is power! Knowing about my illnesses and having a diagnosis is just the starting point and is valuable to most. Physicians have long argued on the benefits of diagnosis and information for those of us suffering from mental illness. I say this is not their argument to have. These ideas come from an archaic time period within psychiatry which in turn has contributed to the stigma mental illness has today. It is then turned on its head to suggest “we” the mentally ill will be worse off with a label or knowing what our own minds are reacting to or conceiving of. Which then leads to a broader ignorance within society on how mental health is viewed, treated or exists within an individual.
Being on this borderline is a continuous battle within the internal conflicts my mind has rewired itself to do and think. With a thought and an idea to save me and protect me from the evils in the world my neurotic brain lends itself and then a damaging or “mad” way for me to confront or avoid them is offered by my psychotic self. Somewhere in between is me gasping for air…
These struggles need to be understood better by everyone and the stigma associated needs to be challenged at every level.
For more information and help please visit these sites: