Here is part 3 of Keener’s journey. The rest of this post is her words:
This part of the tale charts how I struggled to find a footing in the world and to find joy in it. However the ‘happy ever after’ part ultimately became somewhat delayed as I made a slight detour into utter insanity. Part one and two can be found here.
Keener’s blog The Allotment Junkies is here.
Sabbatical and re-entry into the mental health system
So, I continued to see my counsellor, I would often leave her house thinking well what was the point in that – that was just a chat, where’s all the analysis I’m paying for! However, I soon came to learn that she was very skilled , as I digested and assimilated our ‘conversations’, I would realise how a seemingly innocuous story or anecdote that she had told me was in fact directly relevant to how I experienced things. It was truly enlightening and I learnt so much about my self – and I finally started to realise that I had many positive attributes.
Whilst my days were filled with panic, tears, fear and all manner of self-tortuous thoughts, things were shifting onwards and upwards. I couldn’t see it nor could anyone else, but sure enough subtle changes were occurring and to use my therapy speak, I became more self-nurturing and completed less acts of self-sabotage. Or at least I was noticing the tendencies in myself and the repercussions.
Daily life was still tortuously uncomfortable and uninspiring. But small chinks of hope began to shine through. I began to wonder what ‘normal’ people did with their time and realised that I had no hobbies, interests or opportunities for joy in my life. Enter gardening. I had always keenly attended to my house plants. I had a particular interest in nurturing sick bedraggled plants – sometimes nursing them back to health, sometimes not! I had a rather daft conversation at the time with my counsellor as I explained that I was concerned that I was spending too much time obsessively thinking about my plants, reading about them and looking at them. I genuinely believed that it was a developing problem! She giggled at me as she reassured me that it was not a problem, but something to embrace. I walked away not entirely convinced by her argument, as I suppose the ‘obsessive’ thoughts were so reminiscent of the yucky negative thoughts. But I continued to read and learn and branched out into developing my own overgrown garden. I started to make new friends, who didn’t want to sit down the pub all night and who seemed to like me!
In the mean-time I had been allocated a Psychiatrist in my new area. I only went to see him once, because to put it politely – he was rubbish. He spent the session rabbiting on about his wife and the fact that she was pregnant. When I told him about how ill I became if I missed a dose of Effexor , he looked at me a little bit funny and changed topic on to something much more interesting ie himself. When I told him I really wanted to give up smoking, he told me how he had and how marvellous it was and how the decor of his home had benefited from his decision. I walked out of his office slightly confused by his clinical practice and trying to decide what his diagnosis was.
So life trundled on and I started to feel more competent. I went back to the social work course and graduated and got a job as a manager at a mental health charity. I stopped drinking. I started Yoga. I ate and taught myself to like fruit and veg. I gardened – sporadically, messily, haphazardly and inefficiently. But nevertheless I grew things and could stand back pleased with what I had achieved.
I continued to take the effexor, just ticking the little repeat box on my prescription. Blissfully unaware that it was a ticking time bomb. I believe that over time my body adapted to the presence of this poison, but its effects were still there to be noticed in the background. As it settles in, the body makes some desperate attempts to rid itself of the unhelpful substance. The unsightly acne on my chin – which would not go despite all manner of remedies – some sensible, some not. The flatness of emotion, but most troublesome to me was the exhaustion and the ridiculous amount of sleep that I needed. My personal best is from Friday night to Sunday night. I have a blurred memory of stumbling to the bathroom, drunk on sleep, but nothing else for the whole weekend.
Now in my opinion, that ain’t right. So I mounted operation ‘get my brain scanned, x-ray-ed whatever’. I made a couple of visits to the GP to explain to them how I needed at least 12 hours of sleep a night to feel normal, sometimes 14 and that I don’t have a life cos all I do is work and sleep. Its a quality of life issue, please help me. They would look at me perplexed and kinda say most people with depression would be grateful to sleep so much – whats the problem? For pity’s sake! I went back again and saw a newly qualified locum and went in for the kill. I explained my predicament and that I had tried all manner of things – better sleep hygiene, varying when I took the effexor, light boxes for SAD etc etc. I told her I think I really need a referral to the sleep clinic. After my waffling on and on, she eventually caved in and agreed to send the letter.
I was very excited, I really though they’d invite me over and put one of those colander things on my head and wire me up and study me. Instead, after spending 4 hours there retelling my life history for the umpteenth time, I was offered a prescription for a stimulant, which I refused. He told me if I ever fancied giving them a go, I should ask my GP, he’d send a letter. Thanks very much, just what I need to start – necking a load of speed! He also referred me to a support group, when the letter arrived it said ‘insomniacs support group’. I thought I better not go because other group members might think I’m taking the mick! I phoned up the nurse in charge of the group fuming ready to complain and to give them a piece of my mind …. but the bloke was really nice, he was real embarrassed and explained that was the information that he had received from the doctor. I told him not to worry and he gave me some numbers of other groups and stuff that might be able to help in the voluntary sector.
I gave up then, bored with the incompetence and determined to get on with it, taking the advice that actually it is within the ‘normal’ range. I therefore adapted and practised a bit of the old ‘accept what you cannot change’, seeing copious amounts of sleep as being part of ‘me’.
A couple of years went by, popping the effexor, getting on with it, bouts of depression, stress, and anxiety and panic attacks but doing ok-ish. I knew that stopping the effexor would be difficult and that’s why I kept taking it, everyone learns that when they forget to take a dose. I didn’t think I needed it anymore, but I guess I was putting it off until things were just ‘right’, whatever that means. Anyway I came to the conclusion that the time had arrived in Nov 05 and began, what i though was a slow withdrawal over a three months. It is nearly a year ago now that I was sectioned after becoming acutely psychotic and manic (twice). Now of course that reaction is well known and is written in the little medication hand out thingy. My story is about how easily that can happen, but more importantly (I reckon) it is about what happened after that – how not a single professional in the countless number I saw recognised it for what it was – drug withdrawal. Also how difficult it was for me to escape more medication and convince people that yes I am absolutely bonkers fair point, but I don’t have schizophrenia or bi-polar, not that there’s anything wrong with that, its just that the problem is the bloody effexor!
Suffice to say things have been a little bit tricky in the last year.
I intend to explain more about what happened when I was hospitalised. My fear is that people will think its too sensationalist, too rare, too unlikely to happen to them. In some ways, thankfully it is – but don’t bet on it. However there is a huge screaming question mark in my head – how many people out their believe they have bi-polar – the doctors think it, the patient, family and friends think it, the ’scientific’ literature backs up their conclusions and the medication proves it because it makes them ‘better’.
I could easily be sat here now believing that I have a very serious condition and my world would have shrunk again, but the point is that I would have been in a very serious condition – on some hardcore drugs and believing once again that I have something wrong with me..