The day my cat saved my life

In more ways than one, she’s been my lifeline through the last few years. But there’s one day in particular that she saved me.

A little over a year ago, my mum came home from work late one night to find our cat meowing outside my door. It’s not normal for my mum to check on me when she gets home as it’s usually quite late but on this particular night, my cat’s behaviour concerned her. She opened my door and found me unconscious after a suicide attempt. If she hadn’t checked on me that night I may not have made it through. My cat saved me and allowed me to get treatment before my body starting failing.

A few nights ago, I had an incident with self-harm. I heard a noise at my door; my cat was outside meowing and wouldn’t stop until I let her in. She then proceeded to make herself comfortable on my bed and curled up against my chest all night long. The physical contact with an animal is often used as a therapeutic technique and remembering her beating chest and purs against my skin, I can imagine why. There’s something reassuring knowing that you are not alone in the world.

Now, this might seem normal to a lot of you but my cat knows that I am a restless sleeper and prefers to sit on the end of my bed. So the fact that she chose that night to curl up with me makes me think that she knew I was having a hard time and that I needed her. Her intuition was spot on.

I’m so grateful for her. She is my rock. My companion. My saviour.

The inner battle of taking my medication

These pills, these tiny little pills. Especially this one. this single white pill.

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It seems so simple, so easy. Follow the instructions on the packet. Yet, my experience with it is so far from easy. Me and this pill, we have a complicated relationship.
This white tablet in my hand, you see, is an antidepressant. And it’s not just any antidepressant, it’s my antidepressant. Prescribed by my doctor because she believes it helps me, but I have so much trouble taking it.

I can’t tell if it helps me or not and taking it is difficult because it means I’m actively doing something to help myself. A lot of the time I don’t feel like I deserve help and I don’t know if I want to get better. Why? Because this is safe and familiar and anything different is scary. I don’t know how to live without mental illness. Feeling better terrifies me because who will I be if I am not who I am now?

For some reason, I can take sleeping pills and vitamins but antidepressants scare me. It’s because they affect your brain chemistry and your brain chemistry is makes you who you are. I am still the same person if I take this or not though and I need to keep reminding myself that. Taking this does not mean I am weak or will magically be cured. All it means is that I am taking it. Maybe it will help or maybe it won’t but regardless, I am still me.

I wish it was easier to do this. I wish my brain could see it as a solution or medicine but it’s hard to see it that way when results aren’t immediate and when it’s your brain that’s sick.I’m scared of feeling better but I’m also scared I’m going to feel like this forever.

I am starting these again because I have to, deep down I know I have to. I need medication and that’s okay. I wish there was a sign pointing to the one that is the right one; the solution of all solutions. But I’m learning that it’s not that simple.

Please work little pill, I need you to work, even if sometimes I don’t want you to.

You’re not beyond help

I know what it’s like to feel like the world would be better off without you. To have gone through medication after medication, sit through unproductive therapy sessions and to experience life through hospital walls. To feel like nobody can help you. I know how much it hurts to see how your suffering is affecting other people. I get it. I do I’ve sat and cried and begged for everything to stop because the pain was so unbearable that death felt like the only way out. But I’m here to tell you that there is no such thing as being beyond help.

You may feel like you are not worthy or that you’re too much trouble, but none of that is true. You’re not too much trouble and there are people out there who care and want to help. It’s okay if you haven’t achieved everything you want to. There’s still time. There’s still time.

The worst day with you here is better than the best day without you. I get that this may not feel true. I understand it might be hard to believe, but you make the world a better place just by existing. You are worthy of life and worthy of help. No matter how hopeless the future seems, you are worth the fight. Please don’t give up because you are worth it.

You are not beyond help. I haven’t given up on you and you shouldn’t either. Hold on. Please, please, please keep holding on. One day this pain will all be worth it. You are not alone in your suffering.

You are not alone.

Involuntary ed treatment feels like

It feels like my life has been put on hold, intercepted by a greater power. As if I am frozen in time and space, existing within this small bubble that I cannot escape. The only way out is via a door that I do not have keys to. I catch glimpses of the world outside; newspaper headlines, family gossip, the sound of rain against the hospital roof, but it’s like trying to put together a puzzle despite missing the pieces that fit in the corners. Everything just feels so far away.

My attention is focused directly on my current situation; what I’m going to have for breakfast tomorrow, what time to ask for medication. Whether I can manage to sneak out and go to the toilet in the middle of the night without supervision, or if the relief isn’t worth the embarrassment. I spend my days crying over plates of food and attempting to comfort other patients but mostly being comforted. I’m trying to work out what the right moves are. What actions I need to take to be deemed well enough to make my own decisions. Well enough to choose to go home.

It feels like all of my decisions have been taken away and I am just a machine going through the motions. My interests, dreams, ambitions- all the things I should be holding onto tightly, I can sense slipping out of reach. None of these things matter here. Not now. Not really.

What matters is the contents of the silver spoon being brought up to my mouth, the empty supplement boxes and white chipped plates being put in front of me. I’ve had so much practice now that you’d think it would be easy but every swallow is a challenge. Sometimes I can do it without thinking, but other times I can spend what feels like hours staring anywhere but at the food until it is taken away. And then it all happens again.  Some people go to work, I eat.

It feels like everyone is telling me that my thoughts are all made on false pretence. That the monsters I face daily, are not real. It’s as if my world is being taken apart bit by bit and I am challenged to start again from the ruins.

I am constantly terrified. It’s difficult not having any say over my treatment and to be questioning everything. It’s exhausting. Painful. Endless. But it’s worth it, I know it is.

Or it will be.

On being a mentally ill psych student

It takes a certain type of person to be attracted to helping others.

I don’t believe people can be drawn to the psychology field without at least a small part of them wanting to make a difference. Like teaching or nursing, this isn’t a profession that you go into for the money. If it were purely for financial gain or prestige then there would be more surgeons and lawyers. That’s not to say that people who enter those fields don’t do so because they want to help people, but rather that the wages associated with psychology don’t necessarily equate to the required effort and education.

It is no secret that like attracts like and when questioning the reasoning behind your desire to help people, lines can be blurred. Some people believe that the only reason anyone studies mental illness is so that they can fix themselves but I don’t believe this is true. Yes ,it can be helpful to understand why you are the way you are and how you become the person that you did but it’s also difficult.

It can be discerning to listen to ignorant comments from other students and even some lecturers who don’t understand because they’ve never experienced what you have. It’s hard not to want to stand up in a rage and yell because what they’re saying is wrong. It’s hard having to sit through explanations of your own symptoms and even discover ones you didn’t know you had. But some say that’s the nature of studying psychology. It’s a science that can be immediately applied to every day life and people will relate to certain things whether they are mentally ill or not.

It can also be triggering and confusing. You start to question your own upbringing and wonder whether your illness’ are valid since you don’t fit ‘x’ criteria. But having a good understanding of yourself is crucial to  becoming a good psychologist and can only help you, help others.

The important thing here is to acknowledge that you can’t fix yourself. If you are struggling with your own issues the best thing you can do is seek professional support and the sooner the better. To be a good clinical psychologist  you don’t need to be mental illness free (especially as many illness are lifelong) but it is essential that they are managed. Mental illness is treatable and you would be a hypocrite and highly unprofessional if you were to treat patients without dealing with your own issues.

Please don’t be afraid of your own history impeding your ability to become a good mental health professional. With lived experience comes great empathy and unique insight that not all possess. You know what it is like to be ill and to seek treatment. You’ve been on the other side of the system and have some understanding of what is and isn’t helpful. It is not necessary to have suffered to become a good health professional but it can be used to your advantage and the skills you learn while studying psychology can be applied to many different fields.

Yes, I am mentally ill and studying psychology but no, I will not let that stop me from becoming a great psychologist and you shouldn’t either.

I’m falling backwards

If I’m honest, 2017 isn’t shaping up to the year I had hoped it would be. The last few weeks have been rough and unfortunately I’ve found myself deep in depressions grasp again. I’m not really sure what happened or how things got this bad this quickly but I haven’t been very well and I feel like I’ve lost any sense of direction.

In late January I was hospitalised  in a medical ward for a few days following an overdose and was then transferred to a youth psychiatric hospital where I stayed for about 4-5 days. I’m currently home and have been for a few days but am still finding things extremely difficult. I’m not sure if I want to accept the help being offered to me or where I want to go from here. Putting it bluntly, I’m not sure if I want to be alive.

So much has happened in the last year but I feel just as stuck as ever and I don’t know if I can see things ever getting any better.

This is a short post because I’m obviously still struggling and I don’t think negativity is a helpful thing to put out there but I don’t want to pretend things are all sunshine and rainbows when they’re not. Things are bad but I’m trying and taking things day by day.

I have just had my birthday and turned twenty which is a pretty big achievement. I didn’t expect to still be here and I think that’s part of why things aren’t great right now. Getting older is hard because it means I’m still alive and still breathing but I am proud of myself for making it this far and it needn’t be scary.

I was meant to go back to university early but being in hospital has meant that I’ve had to postpone that and will now go back at the end of February for the start of semester 1 with everyone else. I’m hoping that returning will help motivate me and give me something to work towards, I just hope that by then I am well enough to study.

I hope you’re all doing well and I will post more when things improve but right now I need space and I hope you can understand.

Keep hanging in there everyone, better days are coming.

-S

BPD doesn’t make me attention seeking

‘Attention seeking’, ‘dramatic’ and ‘manipulative’ are just some of the terms that come appear in google searches of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Within the mental health community there is still so much stigma associated with this diagnosis and you do not have to look far to find people who have been treated with prejudice because of this diagnosis. There are even professionals out there who refuse to treat borderlines because they believe we are too high risk or manipulative. And they call us the crazy ones.

Borderline Personality Disorder is classified in the DSM-5 as an axis 2 personality disorder.It is an ingrained pattern of behaviour that causes significant difficulty in a person’s life. The core features are difficulty regulating emotions, impulsive behaviour and unstable relationships and self image. That’s the clinical description. Diagnosis requires 5 of a possible 9 criteria to be met, and thus there are 126 possible ways that the disorder can present meaning that two people with bpd may only have one symptom in common and it has a highly variable presentation.

On a more personal level, it causes me to feel things deeply and often and on a level that most people don’t experience. I am wounded easily and dealing with these intense emotions causes problems in my day to day life.

Every emotion that we express is 100% real and we lack emotional permanency. If we push people away or cling to them, it’s because we fear that they are going to leave us to deal with this pain on our own.When we cry it’s because the sadness is so overwhelming that it feels like our insides are burning up and nothing is ever going to be okay again. If we yell, it’s not to hurt anyone but because we have to let the anger out somehow. We don’t want to feel everything this deeply but we don’t have a choice. Living this way is exhausting.

Often the emotional pain is so intense that we’d do anything for some brief moment of relief. This is why people with bpd engage in impulsive behaviours such as self harm or drug and alcohol abuse. Unfortunately, these actions are often viewed as manipulation or attention seeking when really we’re just trying to make it through another day alive. There are times when we’d wish someone would notice our pain and that we possessed the right words to describe our suffering. Sometimes this might lead sufferers to try and show others through our actions but this isn’t true for everyone and it usually  isn’t an isolated reason. But please don’t let that turn you away  because when someone collapses onto the ground you do not leave them there. Our pain may be emotional but it is just as real as anything physical.

Living with bpd is a full time job, and when our behaviour annoys you just remember that this is an illness and it doesn’t just disappear when we need it to. We our trying our best and what you see is only the tip of the turmoil going on inside.

Phrases that trivialise teen mental illness

1. Adolescent angst is a normal part of growing up.

There is no denying that adolescence is a complex and confusing time. It involves changing relationships with peers and family, identity confusion and juggling pressures from school and home. Yet what appears to be normal teen behaviour can often mask deeper problems.

Research indicates that half of all mental health conditions emerge by the age of 14, and 3 in 4 by age 24 (i). Despite the high prevalence, studies have shown that less than a quarter of young people (16-24) suffering from a diagnosable mental illness have had contact with professional services in the last 12 months (ii). Suggesting that despite suffering, most young people are reluctant to seek out help for themselves and therefore dismissing their issues as ‘normal’ teen behaviour could be preventing them from getting the support they need.

2. It’s just a phase

In fact depression is a progressive disorder and instead of getting better without treatment, it’s probably going to get worse. There’s also the risk of suicide and you can’t outgrow something that kills you.

Instead of doing nothing we should take steps to prevent things from becoming a bigger issue.

3. Your mood swings are hormonal

Puberty in teens and menstruation in females may very well cause mood swings but they’re still real and valid. It’s also possible for puberty to mask an underlying problem and  dismissing problems as ‘hormonal’ can invalidate the experience of teens and prevent teens from receiving help.

Some girls do become depressed or suicidal when on their periods. This could be because of hormones exacerbating an existant condition or it could be something could pre-menstrual dysmorphic disorder (PMDD) which is a serious and legitimate medical condition that can be treated and managed.

4. You have nothing to be depressed about

That’s why depression is classified as an ILLNESS. It doesn’t need to have an obvious cause, it just is. Some people are more vulnerable to becoming ill because of their genetics or upbringing and whilst this doesn’t mean they will become unwell it definitely increases the likelihood.

When you’re 15 the ‘worst day of your life’ will differ greatly to when you’re in your 40s but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still ‘the worst day of your life’. Being a teenager isn’t easy. You’re coming to terms with who you are, juggling stressors from school and home and are usually dependent on your parents. Teens can and do experience abuse, poverty and violence. And they do experience mental illness.

One thing that can separate normal teen behaviour  and emotion from an illness  is the duration and degree of difficulty it causes. A good guideline for depression, for example, is that a negative mood which persists for longer than 2 weeks could be a sign that something is off and needs to be checked out by a professional. This method isn’t foolproof though and if you think something is off, and even if you don’t, just ask.

For many young people who are suffering, the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness can be as difficult to deal with as the disease itself.

Sources

i Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas KR & Walters EE (2005).  Lifetime prevalence and age of onset distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey replication.  Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, p 593

ii Slade, T, Johnston, A, Teesson, M, Whiteford, H, Burgess, P, Pirkis, J, Saw, S. (2009) The mental health of Australians 2. Report on the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Department of Health and Ageing, Canberra.

2016; The year that was

,The year. The worst year. The year that was the worst year so far.

January-

My weight has declined rapidly. I am in the depths of my ed but I cannot see it. I feel amazing. Depression is nowhere to be found.

February-

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I started falling all the time

I am forced to have twice weekly physical check ups, weekly therapy and blood tests in order to stay out of hospital. I see a dietician for the first time but don’t stick to the meal plan because ‘I’m not sick’. I struggle with turning 19. I am miserable.

March-

I return to uni against everyone’s advice and do well for a while but it’s difficult and I can’t concentrate. I am isolated from my peers by my illness. Inevitably I  gain most of the weight back, leaving me full of self hatred. I stop my meds. Stop talking to people. Stop going to appointments. Start skipping classes.

April-

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Depression roars it’s ugly head. I throw everything into study.

May-

I start on medication #2 (escitalopram) and sleeping pills again because my head is too loud. I recommit to therapy. Almost exam time and I become incredibly suicidal. I don’t study because I don’t plan on sitting them. I’m failing my classes. My exams are deferred.

June-

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Admitted to an adult psych ward. First time in hospital and I’m terrified. Everyone is so much older and I feel like I’m making everything up. I am kept physically safe but there is no treatment. Out after a week but nothing feels better.
July-

 

I get to vote in an election for the first time. Struggle through exam time. I’m not getting better. A culmination of things lead me to taking a large OD and ending up in hospital. I have a bad reaction to a medication they give me, and hallucinate but then I wake up the next day and I’m fine. Covered in bruises from being restrained, but fine. I’m glad I don’t remember this. Have to have my heart monitored in hospital for a few days. I am angry at being alive. Have to defer uni. The pressure eases.

August-September

I spend these months holed up in my room miserable and wishing I was dead.

October-
I am stopped from making another attempt and am transported to a youth ward. The nurses are lovely and the patients are kind but being locked up without my normal coping mechanisms causes me to stop eating.  I trick everyone into thinking I am fine. But when I’m allowed out after a week I really do feel good. Strong. Maybe I can do this.

November-
I’m starting to feel better and positive about the future. My meds are working and I’m seeing my friends again. Things are great.

December-

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Coasting along. Starting to make plans for next year. Didn’t think I’d still be here. I’ve stopped taking my meds again but I feel happy and stable. For the first time in a long time, I am hopeful that things might get better.

Please wait for me

What I’ve always wanted out of life is to help people whether it be as a health professional a stranger or a friend. It’s been the thing holding me to this world, getting me through the dark nights. My dream is to one day become a clinical psychologist and I really hope I get there. If I could make any small difference in one person’s life then I have to fight this. The suffering would be worth something.

I love when people that have been through hell walk out of the flames carrying buckets of water for those still consumed by the fire. -Stephanie Sparkles.

Except that right now…. I don’t know how to help people. I can’t be that person because I’m still burning. I can’t even help myself.

Sure, I can spread positivity and tell people to not give up because one day things will get better and they deserve to see that day. But I’m not sure if I believe that. For other people certainly, I do but I’m not sure things will ever improve for me. In fact, I’m certain they won’t. I feel like a hypocrite for telling someone something that I can’t apply to myself but I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know how they can recover or what will hep because I’m still struggling and I’m going through this all myself.

To everyone out there who is struggling, I want you to know that you are not alone. It may be impossible for another person to know exactly what you are going through but the things you feel, the thoughts you have- other people have them too. You are not alone. You are not alone. Repeat that over and over if you have to until it sinks in. There is help available and there are always other options. The times you feel like giving up, are the times that another person wants to give up too.

We need to fight. for each other. We need to fight so that one day adequate treatment is available and all mental health workers show the kindness and respect that is so desperately needed. We need to fight so that one day the stigma associated with the word ‘mental’ will be no greater than that of ‘illness’.We need to fight so that the world will become more understanding. You can make a difference so please don’t give up.

To those struggling, I want you to hear that I am coming. I am coming with buckets of water and firetrucks and bandages but I need to heal myself first. Please wait. I am coming.