There are moments in life that define you. Sometimes they are brief seconds and sometimes they are longer lasting. Sometimes those moments stay yours and yours alone, for weeks, months, years or even for all time. I’m sick of holding those defining moments in. Many I have divulged in dribs and drabs or huge bursts over this past year, some I’m not yet ready to explore. One thing I’ve learnt is that keeping them internally locked just decays you inside. No matter how much you don’t want to share wether due to pain, grief, shame or fear of hurting another or how you might be viewed by others, those defining moments are part of who you are. The power of some moments aren’t always apparent straight away or even for years and others their power smacks you immediately in the face.
One of the later for me, was my recent stay in a psychiatric ward. The funny thing about one of these is the stay itself can be traumatic, defining, hopeful and hopeless all at the same time. I’m not quite ready to divulge all of my experiences here yet but this article from others via the mighty hit home on so many levels and says things I I’m not ready to just yet:
The following points all resonate strongly with me: 2, 3, 4, 7, 11, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 27, 31, 33, 34, 37, 39, 40, 44, 48, 49 & 50
Some of them are contradictions but hey mental illness often is a huge array of contradictions as is recovery and life in general itself. This one sums up my experience best of all:
38. “It’s lonely, scary, unfamiliar, depressing. But as much as I hated being there, it saved my life. I was more scared to leave the place than I was to arrive. Leaving meant I was being trusted not to hurt myself, but I still had a huge journey before I was on the way to recovery.”
And this one just can’t be said enough:
19. “As a mental health therapist experienced in the field, I can say that there is a serious lack of funding for inpatient hospitals (as well as other mental health facilities), and sadly the people who suffer are the patients. Too many places are understaffed or staffed with under qualified people. If this is important to you I urge you to become involved in your community.”
Today is #worldmentalhealthday #wmhd17 and today I am angry. Anger, just like sadness, fear, shame, pain and even my loves and desires are things I have spent most of my life hiding. Maybe I didn’t deserve to feel them, maybe I was scared too, often I was more concerned with adjusting myself to fit around others emotions. But these emotions aren’t bad things. They are what makes us human and we all have a right to feel and express them. Why am I angry today? Because how ever bad you feel our mental health services are … times that by 100. However much you feel you don’t stigmatise mental illness … question the fact that maybe you have at times, wether at a stranger, someone you know or even yourself. We all have mental health and we all may experience mental illness just as we all have physical health and may experience physical illness. I’m angry about the assumptions that are made when someone suffers illness and the reasons why. My diagnosis is recurrent depressive disorder. Every single person I know has seen me during an ‘episode’, many, more often than they have seen me not in one. My current ‘episode’ has been going on for over 4 years. .. 4 years! I didn’t want anyone to know that. It’s funny that as I began to express what was inside people said you can’t tell you just seem ‘normal’. Yes because I’m still me and this is how I’ve been for so long. It’s funny how the more I expressed the more I suddenly became not ‘normal’. Yet the things I was expressing weren’t new I was just giving them a voice. Its funny how people needed to apply a reason for it. Their reasons, their pain, their timeline for when they knew. My previous ‘episodes’ have generally lasted a year. I’m told that’s pretty damn long anyway but this one has been unbearable. Mainly because I got so exhausted. Exhausted of the pain. Exhausted of hiding it. Exhausted of the pretence. Exhausted of living through it. I will continue to put on a disguise as and when needed but I will no longer disguise my emotions as a whole and let them eat me up. I will show all of me. Don’t be afraid of who you are x
This poem comes from reading the collection of tweets earlier in the week for the hashtag abused by services both historical and very much still present within mental health services.
A difficult one to write and I couldn’t complete on the day. My personal experiences tell me to stress to you BELIEVE THEM! The other truly remarkable and wonderful people working within the services don’t let them silence and discredit you too – speakout
***Trigger warnings for self harm***
It’s been 4 weeks since I last punished my own body to release the pain I was in. My last self-harming incident was whilst a patient on a mental health ward. I confessed and handed in my blade a couple of days later.
“Have you got any more? ” They asked.
“No” I lied.
Why? Why when I was confessing and handing one in did I lie about the other? It’s simple really. Although I was ready to get help and ready to try and stop the daily, sometimes multiple daily self harm, I was not ready to give up the security of being able to hurt myself if needed. Crazy hey, that holding onto it would give me security and make me feel somehow safe and in control.
The most challenging thing about confronting your own mental health is the vulnerability you have to put yourself into. When you are already feeling incredibly vulnerable it’s almost cruel that increasing that vulnerability may be the only way out. Self harm helped me for a long time. It was both equally a way to express and get out my emotional pain and a way to deal with the numbing sensation depression can bring. Sometimes the pain is too awful to acknowledge but numbness is just as devastating.
A few nights later, following an emotionally fueled exchange, I went to my room and paced up and down for what felt ages. I could feel the uncomfortableness of my emotions and there was only one way I knew how to deal with them. I tried to be mindful, but my mind was racing too fast. I couldn’t control my breathing and that nasty, vicious, hurtful brain of mine was back,
“Everyone hates you”
“You don’t deserve happiness”
“You only deserve punishment”
I went to my purse and dislodged my last blade. I held it in my hand and continued to pace once more. If all those things are true, then why am I putting myself through this? Make the choice right now. End it all or give yourself fully over to recovery. Why did you even walk into that surgery and beg for help? If you really want to get better why are you holding onto this?
I left the room and paced the corridors, before heading to the nurses office. I paced some more and then knocked,
“I want too so badly. This is the last one I swear.” I mumbled as I opened my fist.
That wasn’t my last challenging moment whilst admitted. A week later I was going on leave to see my child receive an award. Yes I have children. Yes they mean the world to me. At the worst moments you feel your very existence is the most damaging thing to them. That may be wrong but sometimes that evil brain is louder than your sensible one. It was another warm day and I wanted to look nice for her. I’d had to hand my razor in on arrival and request it when needed. I hadn’t yet requested it. I knew I was not ready for the temptation. Today however, I felt good. I wanted to wear a dress but my legs looked like they belonged in a zoo. Back to that nurses station,
“Can I use my razor please? I’d like to shave my legs”
“How are you feeling? Any urges to harm yourself? ”
“No” I replied, honestly.
In the shower however it was hard to ignore the pull. I washed and shaved and then looked at the razor. It was both my enemy and my saviour. I stood, cold, shaking for so long. Then the tears came. Real, wet, intense, free-flowing tears. I was feeling. Feeling so much. Pain, shame, guilt, self-hate. Then the realisation. What if they find out? They won’t give me leave. My daughter had pleaded with me to come. She was so excited. I continued to stare.
“Get rid” I whispered.
I repeated it over and over until I found the strength. I threw it out of the bathroom and hit the panic alarm. I knew I wasn’t strong enough to resist it twice. If it was still lying on my bedroom floor when I got out that would have been it. Staff came running in seconds later.
“I’m OK. I’m not hurt. Just take it. Take it away. Please” I begged.
Naked, wet, pathetic, pleading. That was me in that moment. But I wasn’t pathetic. I was being strong. Showing and facing your weaknesses takes so much more strength than hiding them.
I never asked to use that razor again. I havn’t had a bath since I returned home and if I need to shave, I ask my husband to sit in whilst I shower. I have avoided the shop where I used to purchase blades. Do I feel like a child, like an invalid – yes! But I am not pathetic. This is me, accepting help and facing down the negative coping mechanism that has been a part of my life for way too long. Raw, needy and vulnerable, but despite all that making me feel useless and weak, I can now accept that it is infact a strength. It hurts, my gosh it hurts. Way more than a cut ever did. Will I faulter? Will I fail at times? Maybe. I’m damn sure though that I’m not giving up fighting it.
If your struggling. Ask for help. Keep asking. Beg if you have too. Make it clear to the many people – even professionals – who think it’s just about stopping the harm. It’s not. It’s about finding better ways to deal with the emotion, the pain, the numbness. The cuts, burns, scratches, whatever it is, is mainly a problem for those around us, who find it too uncomfortable. Make it clear you need support with what they can’t see.