Mental Health Awareness Week 2019
Living with Mental Health
Mental Health Awareness Week
If you've been affected by any of the issues below, and would like to talk to someone - please contact:
2gether NHS Foundation Trust: https://www.talk2gether.nhs.uk/
Swindon and Gloucestershire Mind: https://www.sgmind.org.uk/
“My mental health affects me from the minute I get up in the morning, it is a struggle getting out of bed to using the shower or getting dressed. I find it difficult hearing voices, because it scares me and I don't know what is happening or what she is doing.
“Treasure Seekers has helped me in lots of ways. Some days I volunteer helping look after pre-school children, I help with TSPA with learning disability adults. I thoroughly enjoy doing that, and I have found it difficult volunteering elsewhere but now I can do this and I really enjoy doing it
“I have been doing the enablement programme for nearly two years, there are things that are helping me. There are things I couldn't do before which I can do now and that's a real improvement in my life. I have done a talk recently about my mental health and what has happened in my life, for social workers to hear”
From the people working with Sally:
“The biggest change that I have seen in Sally since her enablement training is in using new skills in building relationships. Sally has more ‘two sided’ conversations now rather than them centred on how she is doing/feeling and this is leading to some good, healthy, new friendships.
“The other thing that I think has improved massively, is Sally’s ability to problem solve, to help her achieve her goals. Things like shopping, driving to new places, cooking healthy food. These are all things that Sally would just not have done without a carer with her when I first met her.
“It has been amazing to see Sally grow over the last two years, she never fails to amaze us all with her new achievements and has become a good friend to us all. I strongly believe that this has all been purely down to a combination of Sally's strength and resilience and her Enablement training.”
Often people would think I had a charmed life. My parents had given my brothers and I a good education and all of us now had good jobs. I was the last one to get married and eighteen months after, my wife had our first child – my parents fourth grandchild and the only boy at the time.
My wife had a good job as a pharmacist and planned to carry on part time after her maternity leave, as she was also studying for an additional qualification. Yes- a Charmed Life was what we thought we had too. However, I ceased to think that in December that year, when our son was just eight months old.
When he started sleeping through the night, my wife and I moved him to a little room, which opened just off ours, with the baby monitor on and both doors open. That evening, we had had some family round and were a bit later up to bed than usual. Our son was fast asleep so we kissed him goodnight and went to sleep ourselves. In the morning, I was getting ready for work and remarked jokingly to my wife he had been very quiet and perhaps the excitement of everyone coming to see him had tired him out. as he had not yet woken up for a feed.
I don’t really remember what happened next. I do remember my wife screaming and screaming then running back into our bedroom holding him and shouting at me to ‘Call the Ambulance’. Then I just remember our bedroom full of people and my wife had sunk to the floor, calling for her own mother.
Cot death is more frequent than I had realised and distressing on so many levels. Of course the Police had to talk to us and my wife kept blaming herself for having invited family round. No specific reason for his death was ever found.
My wife became profoundly depressed and I tried to stay strong for her sake. She didn’t seem to want me around though, so I started going out at every chance I could to give her that space. I was finding it increasingly hard to sleep and make decisions at work and I worried about losing my job, which was the last thing we needed. One of my friends told me it was clear that I was struggling and in a bit of a mess. My middle brother had a baby shortly after this tragedy, a baby boy. My parents were like ‘Oh- a boy!’ and were clearly so happy. I just felt empty, constantly thinking to myself ‘hey! This one is NOT the first boy’!
My line manager encouraged me to ring the employee helpline and get some counselling. That really helped to just talk to someone. As a result, my wife and I went and got some counselling together.
All this happened three years ago, and I’m feeling better. We now have two children – a girl and then a boy. I will never forget though how lost I felt when I couldn’t fix the situation for my wife. No one’s lives are ‘charmed’. But life itself is a blessing.
In 2000, I was working at the Women’s Unit of the Government on a year’s secondment. One of the issues we had been tasked with was to contact editors from women magazines and get them to answer questions about why the fashion industry perpetuated and promoted the ‘size zero’ ideal. Of all the Editors we contacted, only one was willing to take part. Liz Jones, who now writes for ‘The Mail’, has always been amazingly frank about her personal life- including her struggles with anorexia.
Most of us in the office agreed- one to one- that change needed to happen. Those of us with daughters were concerned at the message girls were picking up about their value- if they were not skinny and conforming. Yet- these same women would say things like ”No- I won’t. I am being good today” when the usual tray of breakfast pastries was brought out to meetings. I was very well known for my eagerness to greet the day with cake, so often had a look of disappointment when we visited the Marie Claire offices and were offered plain, low fat yogurt with sultanas and green tea instead of something ‘more robust’. But my open love of cake was hard won and not something I shared ten years previously.
For most of my senior school and university life, I had been anorexic and bulimic and at five feet ten had once gone down to eight stone. I hadn’t been inspired to do so by the fashion industry, but my love of horses that had triggered it. I was a keen rider but as I grew taller and taller I had to ride bigger and bigger horses-and I didn’t feel at all confident in my physical strength to manage them. When allowed smaller horses (they were never going to be ponies!) I felt terribly guilty that I might be too heavy for them. So I then started skipping meals, saying I had eaten when I hadn’t and all the other well known traits.
At University- I didn’t always turn down food, but rather enjoyed all the fast food and hot buttered toast that got most of us through our studying- because there I had discovered that ‘what goes down’ can also ‘come up’. It gave a sort of ‘high’- a smugness that maybe it WAS possible to have your cake, eat it- but not have it stick to your hips. I continued to lose weight even after my mother who had at first been very complimentary started urging me to come home for Sunday lunches! Finally- a friend who was very worried about me marched me to the GP. There I was referred for counselling and a course of anti depressants. Gradually I started to adopt more healthy eating habits and to see food as a fuel rather than a ‘good or bad’.
So it was worrying all these years later to find that women were being sold the ideal of near invisibility as desirable- yet at the same time being encouraged to develop their careers- to speak up. The feeling of being separate from everyone else- having a ‘secret’ that couldn’t be discussed was what I remember the most- of having to wear one face in public but feeling quite different in private.
Body Image sadly, is still a huge issue- no pun intended-nineteen years later and affects males too. How we look and feel about the way we look are intrinsic informers to how we behave. There is so much each of us can do to give positive messages to each other and especially- to our children.
When I was told I had Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD) in 2011, I had mixed emotions.
On one hand, it was a huge relief because it made sense of so many of my symptoms. For years I had believed that I just couldn’t cope very well with adult life. I was frequently overwhelmed by intense emotions and could go from feeling high and happy to desperately despairing within the space of a few minutes. I also had very low self esteem, anxiety when I was around others and didn’t really know who I was or what I enjoyed. When I felt very low I would often self harm and sometimes felt suicidal.
On the other hand, EUPD has a lot of stigma and negative stereotypes attached to it, with sufferers often assumed to be controlling, manipulative and melodramatic. For this reason, I didn’t want that label. I already fear people judging me negatively and I didn’t want people using (wrong) stereotypes against me too. Sadly, I have experienced negative reactions from people when they hear my diagnosis, including from health professionals. However, I now use this to drive my work to better educate people about personality disorders and reduce stigma surrounding them.
Two and a half years ago I almost lost my life to my illness and was hospitalised locally for many months. Fortunately I was then offered a specialist out of area placement for people with severe personality disorder, which helped me change my outlook on life. Now, I am the most well I have been in my adult life and am using my experiences to help others. I have become an Expert by Experience for the 2gether Trust, where I help increase service user involvement and co-facilitate anti-stigma training to mental health staff across the county. I have also launched my own campaign to get a local specialist personality disorder service in Gloucestershire so that more people can access the kind of treatment that made such a difference in my life.
EUPD will always be a part of my life but it has made me stronger and more resilient over the years, which is a real benefit it would be easy to overlook.