For the whole collected story go here.
Keener is now a long-time blogging “friend.” We actually “met” way back when I first started blogging over two years ago now. Her and her friend’s blog was/is predominantly about gardening but Keener had this side story that she worked on over time with multiple posts. I’ve been given permission to reprint it. It’s a downright odyssey in how she explains being sucked into psychiatry and ultimately how she escapes. I will post segments of it in the next couple of weeks. She is working on finishing it as well.
Entry into the mental health system:
I have always been described as ’sensitive’, a ‘deep thinker etc, or by less polite people a mental. My mum remembers that the first panic attack she was aware that I had was at age six. I was at school and the teacher started shouting at some naughty pupils. Although she wasn’t shouting at me, I became inconsolably upset and they had to call my mum into school. After some reassurance and some soothing words I returned to the class-room.
Years went by, as they do and my way of reacting/coping (or not coping lol!) became firmly programmed to ‘freak out’. As my teenage years progressed I became more and more aware that most people did not react to things the way that I did. I hid things well from people and isolated myself from my peers by sticking my head in a book. I also developed problems with eating, and various other self-destructive behaviours. The advice of the day ‘was to toughen up and to calm down’ – sound advice but I had no idea on how to do this, all I knew was how to panic and as I ate less and less my body lacking its fuel, also began to panic. Its so obvious to me now – how the hell are you gonna feel ok if your body is working in ’starvation mode’. Its a simple biological fact. I also had no idea what it felt like to feel peaceful for prolonged periods of time or
how it felt like to feel confident and strong in yourself – therefore I didn’t really know what I was aiming for. To put it bluntly I felt like a freak.
I left home at 18 to study Psychology at University – perhaps the first serious attempt to find my ‘cure’. All the theories and models helped me to more clearly develop my ‘opinion’ on mental health/craziness. However, the cure seemed ever elusive – heavy therapy, heavy medication or my favourite, perhaps a revolt of the masses, overthrowing consumerist, capitalist society. None of the options seemed particularly achievable or palatable. However the hot-bed of activity and ideas that is university life meant that I picked up a few more tricks and non-coping strategies. How to drink so much you forget who you are and how to completely avoid the world by sleeping a lot. My poor body – no food, poison and being put into artificial stasis. Unsurprisingly things got worse. I became scared of people, generally believing that most people are horrible. I got a job working with adults with learning difficulties and spent the rest of the time at home – drinking in the evening and hanging out with the friends I shared the house with, with whom I felt safe. We were all a bit chaotic and I always did my freaking out in private, so I managed to keep my dark, shameful secret – that I was a mentalist. I felt let down – I had been told by teachers, society etc that to have a good, enjoyable life you have to work hard, get qualifications, get a good job etc etc – I’d done that -surely I shouldn’t be feeling worse?
I decided a year after finishing at university to go to another one and study social work. An excellent choice, I thought – I can now help people to deal with the ‘real-life’ crap that goes on, not all those theories written by academics in their ivory tower. I was going to save the world. I hadn’t realised that I needed to save myself!! I continued to run from the real issues.
I moved to a a new city. I didn’t know any-one there and I had never even been there before. I became extremely depressed, distraught, self-destructive, self-neglectful and boring. All i could think about was how bad I felt.
Now I get to the point of all this – because it was then that I reached out for help from the mental health system. My family urged me to get help because it had got past the point where I was able to hide it. Also my social work tutor knew of my problems after I’d blubbed to her one day. She was great and very supportive (very much the social worker), she urged me to go to my GP and ask for Prozac and some counselling. She told me about all the wonderful research about the efficacy of combining prozac and cognitive behavioural therapy, the lack of side-effects, not to worry, everything will be ok. I felt very soothed and reassured.
I had always been extremely dubious as to the need for drugs for mental health, sceptical about ‘psychiatry’ and sure that the best person to sort myself out was me. Besides everyone was raving about Prozac, drop one and reclaim your life – no side effects, no addiction – easy peasy. Also doctor knows best, doesn’t s/he! So against my better judgment I went to the GP, spilled my guts, thanked him for the prescription and waited for my appointment with a counsellor.
Induction into the mental health system:
This blog is the second installment of a whistle-stop tour of the rise, rise and explosion of my mental health issues into relative stability and peacefulness. For the first part click here.
Where was I? oh yeah, so I began to take the prozac, I didn’t notice anything different in myself and life plodded and lurched and crawled along. I was very lucky to get an appointment with a counsellor at my GPs within a few weeks. You do need to specifically ask for counselling, or if you have to demand it – if you’re up to it, if not get a mate or family member to on your behalf.
I attended my first appointment nervous at the prospect of divulging the ins and outs of my life, but hopeful that I could make some headway into solving my problems. However, I left the health centre an absolute blubbering wreck. The counsellor displayed not a drop of compassion or empathy. The thing she said to me that sticks in my mind to this day is “you’re damaged, so you damage other people”. Now in my opinion that is a bit strong for a first date, especially after knowing me for ten minutes! I waited for the follow up session, but the letter never arrived. I didn’t chase it up because I didn’t have the mental strength or energy to be bothered to ask/demand another appointment. I still desperately wanted some counselling, but didn’t have the capacity to fight for it.
I kept popping the prozac but my depression and anxiety was getting worse and worse. By now I was being physically sick 3 or 4 times a day due to anxiety. I now know that this worsening of my condition was in fact side effects. The suicidal thoughts would barrage my brain constantly, until one day in a fit of anger, panic and ‘craziness’ I literally grabbed the prozac I had and took them all. I ended up sitting in A&E all night, not a very pleasant or nurturing atmosphere either for people in distress. I was assessed by a psychiatrist in the morning, but by this time the fit of craziness had well subsided and I could offer no explanation as to why I had done it. I felt a bit silly really. The Psychiatrist told me to get back to college, stop drinking so much and get on with life. On a superficial level this is great advice, however obviously I had no idea how to do it. I went home feeling humiliated and sure that I never ever wanted to repeat that experience again.
A couple of weeks later I had an outpatient appointment with a different psychiatrist.Now, this fellow I really liked. He prescribed seroxat and listened sympathetically while I explained how life was for me. I felt like I could trust him and that he got ‘it’.
I continued to see the psych and GP, but my ‘condition’ continued to deteriorate. The Seroxat dosage went up. Eventually my psych concluded that Seroxat did not suit me and he explained that many patients were reporting problems with Seroxat (this was around 7 years ago). He then suggested that I try Effexor, a newer antidepressant with less side effects. Whilst I now know this to be utterly untrue, I do not blame him because he seemed to genuinely care and gave me the information in good faith. He also told me it was stronger and more suitable for people with depressive illness. As I kept getting worse and some of my family members have experienced mental health problems, it seemed logical that maybe I did have some sort of illness or disease that runs in my family. I asked him about addiction – not a problem he replied. He told me that Effexor was receiving wonderful reviews and that as it was slow release it would be released into my body over a 24 hour period. Wow I thought that’s clever!
He told me to reduce the seroxat to half dosage and then next appointment he would prescribe the effexor. Unfortunately my psych went off sick for a few months. I experienced pure hell in those months, I had gone sick from uni by then and spent all my days either asleep, wailing or blankly staring at the TV.
He then returned to work and when he saw me he apologised profusely because he could see the state I was in. He said that I should have been sent an appointment to see someone else whilst he was off sick. I noticed that he looked embarrassed and weary (he resigned from his position unfortunately not long after this).
He gave me the prescription for Effexor and I went home to try out my new possible salvation. I eagerly took it that evening. Within one hour I noticed a huge change in my mood, it was like some cog had turned in my brain. I sat on my sofa thinking hang on a minute – I feel ok here not too bad, this is weird.
The next appointment at the psychiatrist I reported that I I had started to feel better and I told him that I felt the tablet ‘kick in’. He told me that wasn’t possible and that anti-depressants don’t work that quick. I can be a belligerent little so and so, which as you will see has got me out of some tricky situations. Unfortunately at that stage the defiance/disagreement was not vocal so I just sat there thinking you’re wrong, I did feel it, how would you know!! I couldn’t work it out, so I just concluded cor this stuff must be really strong – that’s good because someone as ‘ill’ as me needs strong medication.
I ought to say that I had also been seeing a psychotherapist privately since my dodgy suicide half attempt. She was great and is absolutely pivotal to my recovery. She helped me to have compassion for my self, it seemed that I had it for every man and his wife, but not for myself. She also urged me to see that there was nothing inherently wrong with me. Although it took nearly 3 years of therapy for her to convince me of that, she certainly earned her money!! I talked through all the jumble of feelings and experiences that I had been through and examined thing to put a new spin on them. Why might they have reacted like that, how could I look at that differently etc. So what you might call the juicy bits are not in the blog for so many reasons but largely because I don’t feel its relevant. Also I am desperately trying not to waffle and too many details means too many wild, unfollowable tangents.
Anyways like I was saying at this point I was still searching for a magic bullet.
Looking back on it now I believe that I was in withdrawal from Seroxat and the Effexor took me out of this. So what was seen as an improvement in my ‘illness’ due to the effects of Effexor, was actually a process of a ‘junkie’ feeling relieved at getting their fix.
Eventually my psych concluded that effexor was the drug for me and said that all that could be done now was to face my fears. I was absolutely gutted that day, I really wanted him to offer me another magic pill that would stop the agoraphobia, the nightmares and constant panic attacks. But of course no such pill exists, in my opinion not even hypothetically! I thank my lucky stars that he did not keep reaching for the prescription pad. I see now that it was the best advice a psychiatrist has ever ever given me, and to think it was ‘just’ a throwaway cliche that people often use! It is easy to forget the wisdom in these type of comments. Although obviously this is not to say that it is that simple, the how to, the techniques and the support that is needed are also part of the equation.
So operation ‘get a life’ was formulated. By now, I had already left city life, and stopped seeing my dysfunctional friends. I had moved to the country with my then boyfriend, who was and has continued to help me (as well as bloody frustrate me lol!). So my environment was certainly more conducive to better mental health, but I suppose the question/issue for me then was how badly did I want to not be agoraphobic versus how much I feared the world and all the rubbish people in it. It was not an easy task and it took me over two years to make any headway into ‘normality’.
To be continued…