It’s just in your head

To have either a mental or physical illness is extremely difficult, to have both is immensely challenging. A few weeks ago my mother went to the hospital due to a physical illness, she also has a mental illness which seemed to prevent medical professionals from acting straightaway on her health before she ended up at the hospital. My mother described to professionals a considerable lack of energy feeling extremely fatigue among other symptoms. The professionals seemed to put this down to menopause and depression without any testing because this is already on my mother’s file as well as having borderline personality disorder; however, they seemed to ignore that she also has Crohn’s disease that is also on her record.  My mother also experienced a fever for roughly 10 days where she eventually demanded that the doctors do some tests on her body because she knows her body better than anyone and can feel it is not depression (she has also experienced depression and is aware of what her physical symptoms feel like). She was right; there did seem to be some problems that lead to the doctor sending her to hospital straight away for more testing. Once at the hospital my mother was very persistent not to disclose to any medical staff at the hospital that she has a mental illness because she wanted her physical health to be taken seriously. She was actually whispering to me how she felt and how her anxiety was, making sure no one could hear her.

This absolutely frustrated me that my mother’s physical health was not taken seriously because of her mental illness. Instead of medical professionals listening to my mother and taking the time to understand what she was describing they straight away put it down to her mental illness because it must just be in her head. What was even worse was that my mother didn’t want to disclose anything about her mental health at the hospital in fear of not being taken seriously, people shouldn’t be in fear to discuss their mental health and not be taken seriously!

I wish I could say this was my mother’s only experience, but it wasn’t! A few years ago I had taken my mother to the hospital due to her self-harming and the wound being extremely deep requiring medical treatment (I wouldn’t usually take someone to hospital straightaway for self-harming however, in this case, it did need stitches etc., and it was 11 at night). When we got there, and they found out that it was self-harm she was treated entirely differently with a lack of respect from a lot of the staff (which may have lead me to tell a few people off for disrespecting my mother). Within the hospital they seemed just to want to immediately “fix” my mother’s mental health, however ignoring her physical, my mother tried to explain to the medical staff that she didn’t have feeling in some of her arm from where she self-harmed, many of them brushed this off as just being in her head. It took a lot of push from both my mother and myself to have her arm properly examined and what was found that it was not in her head, and she had in fact cut a nerve stopping some feeling in her arm, and actually required her to have surgery. If we had not pushed for the medical professionals to take my mother’s concerns about her arm seriously, she could have gone home and continued to have a lack of feeling and the potential for it to get worse.

I have also experienced similar situations, I went to see a doctor a few years ago because I was concerned my asthma was worsening I was struggling to breathe at times and having a lot of coughing episodes. Because I have anxiety on my file, but I also have asthma but let’s just ignore that, the doctor told me I must be having an anxiety attack but did not do any tests at all! I tried to explain to them that I know the difference between me having an anxiety and asthma attack and this did not feel like an anxiety attack; however, it seemed they didn’t want to listen because of course, they know my body better! I ended up going to another doctor where in fact it was my asthma that was playing up and not my anxiety!

It seems that as soon as someone has a mental illness, their physical health is not taken seriously, which is hugely concerning! If I had not gone to a different doctor I could have got worse, if my mother had not pushed to have tests done, she could have ended up extremely sick. The problem is that we shouldn’t have had to struggle so much and go out of our way to have professionals take our physical health seriously in the first place. People with mental illnesses need to be respected and treated like anyone else, yes they have a mental illness but they still know their body and when something is different and does not feel right. There does not seem to be a middle ground when it comes to mental and physical health treatment, which can lead to a lot of people slipping through the cracks and getting extremely sick! Things do need to change to make sure people’s mental and physical health are both being looked after and treated correctly.

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Having a parent with a mental illness

Before I start I just wanted to flag a trigger warning, I do talk about suicide and discuss some personal experiences with my mother and her experience with mental illness which may trigger different emotions for individuals.

Having a parent with a mental illness can be hard for a child at any age. 2015 while I was at my boyfriend’s house I received a phone call from my younger brother who was 15 at the time that an ambulance had been called and my mother had been rushed to the hospital, she tried to overdose on different medications. What leads after this was several more hospitalisations arguments with relatives, fights with my mum, mental health workers coming out to my house, phone calls from professionals, me taking over the mum role. The whole situation broke mine and my brother hearts, it was the most horrible feeling, standing beside my unconscious mother in the hospital as doctors try to pump her stomach. We both blamed ourselves the day she tried to kill herself; both of us had separate arguments with her that day which made us think it was our fault. I was already depressed but seeing my mother spiral out of control begun to push me over the edge. Mum felt she couldn’t stay home sometimes so she would leave my brother and me for a couple of days and stay at my aunties, me and my brother were both older enough to look after ourselves we didn’t rely on my mother however the fact that she just felt like she couldn’t be around hurt so much. I quite often blamed myself for all my mother’s sadness and mental health problems, even as an adult I thought maybe if I wasn’t born or if I just disappeared she would be happier. At the time I was so upset, every time my mum went to the hospital I hated myself even more and blamed myself. As well as sadness I surprisingly held anger so deep inside of me which I felt so guilty for; I would often have thoughts like; how could she try and leave us? Doesn’t she love us? How dare she do that to my younger brother who was the only one home at the time, how dare she do this to us and think nothing of it when she regains consciousness. The anger and sadness inside of me took over and convinced me that it was all my fault for my mother’s problems.

But I was so wrong; it was not my fault that my mum had things happen to her long before I was born, it was not my fault that along the years she suffered from mental health problems. I cannot take ownership and blame for my mother’s mental illness and traumas; I did nothing wrong, it was never about me. It was also never my mothers fault either with what happened to her and what she had to experience, I know now that what she was feeling had nothing to do with me or my brother. I want other children out there who have parents with a mental illness to know this, its not your fault! You did anything wrong! And I know it’s so hard not blame yourself when you live with them, and you see them suffering, and they don’t want to speak they lock themselves in their room, they hurt themselves. But you didn’t cause this; mental illness can happen to anyone at any time. It is also hard sometimes to remember that they love us, but remember under those panic attacks those screaming matches they trips to the hospitals, the silent treatments- they love you so much, and only want the best for you even at times when you may not feel it. I know there were times where I felt like my mum hated me; she would lock herself in her room and wouldn’t want to talk. There was a day when I received an award from my placement for university, and I wanted to show her, but she was too upset to look it at it, I did take it to heart it hurt but I know she does love me so much, and at the time she just did not know how to show it.

We can’t be our parent’s fixers, we can’t heal their sadness and struggles, and we can only be there for them and help them seek professional help. For a very long time even as a child I tried to be my mother counsellors (now I’m a social worker ironic) and be there and listen to all her problems and try and mend everything for her. But I cannot put my mother’s emotional baggage onto myself, it is not healthy for me, and I realise now I can’t mend my mother’s sadness I can’t make it go away I don’t have the power to do that. What I can do is be there and encourage her on her recovery journey.

I think there is a massive gap in receiving support for children who have parents with mental illnesses, there is defiantly a lack of support for the children young and old, and they often left to deal with these scarring issues on their own in the dark.

Changing psychologist’s

At the start of this year, I made the hard decision to change psychologist’s because I realised it just wasn’t working out where I was going, and I wasn’t getting the support I believed I needed to prevent me from going backwards.
This time last year I started with a great psychologist that I enjoyed going and who helped in my progress towards recovery. However, unfortunately, I went on a holiday for a month came back and she was gone due to sickness without the clinic discussing with me they had just added me to another psychologist, and I found that out through a confirmation text. I decided to meet with this new psychologist, and I didn’t really feel like I was connecting with her much, but I thought maybe that’s because I had got so used to my other one so I decided to stick it out for another few sessions with her (very unlike me, the old me would have left immediately). However, after those few sessions, I realised it was not working for me, it was clear that she wasn’t overly familiar with eating disorders which was not her fault, but I would pick up on certain things she would say to me which can be quite triggering for someone with an eating disorder. For example, I mentioned my fear of gaining weight from those voices from my eating disorder, and she told me to eat chocolate every three months and drink water when I was hungry, from there I realised that she might be a good fit for someone, but she isn’t for me. I felt like she was trying to fit me into a model that I myself just wasn’t going to fit into and needed someone a bit more flexible!

So, this year I went on a search to find a new psychologist, and it was hard; I did a lot of searches, and I finally found one that I liked the sound of, I decided to email her and book an appointment to see if I would like her approach. I then had to go back to my GP and ask for him to refer me to this specific psychologist because this time I had done my research!
I met with the psychologist, and she was great, and I instantly felt comfortable! She was able to get me to rethink some of the thoughts in my head. For example I am getting married next year, and my eating disorder voice will often pop up and tell me I won’t fit into my wedding dress because I am going to put on weight, she was able to say that even if I do put on weight it is easier to change a dress through alterations then it is to change your body. That was so powerful to me and put me at ease to remind myself that I do not need to change my body.
Today will be my second appointment with my new psychologist, and I couldn’t be happier to be going, I am so glad I decided to change and not stay somewhere that was not helping me. It’s so hard to find a good psychologist that fits you and your mental illness, but there is someone out there, never feel bad for not connecting with someone that might me they aren’t the one for you, and there is another one out there that can help you!

1 year into recovery!

It’s been a year since I went into recovery for my eating disorder and actually stuck to it! And wow it was a long year, but I am so proud of myself for how far I have come. I actually held to recovery and did not leave therapy, before I had attempted getting help several times but never stuck to it, I am so proud of myself for reaching out for help and sticking it to it even when it became challenging. Recovery has built my confidence in ways I never thought possible, although I still have a way to go and I still have days, things are so different from this time last year, and I hope I can say the same thing next year!

The past year in recovery has been a roller-coaster, to say the least, I have learnt to understand my own mental health more as well as have more understanding and compassion for others experiences mental health problems. Through this journey, I have become less judgemental of myself and others, and that has improved my relationships with all my loved ones with my new outlook on life and ability to be more open with my feelings. Although I did lose friends along the way, I learnt that sometimes recovery also helps you highlight what the toxic beings in your life that were that were not healthy for your mental health.

The most significant change for me is my relationship with food and how drastically that has changed, I used to fear food so much and although I still have some fear foods I am working on my outlook on food is a lot more positive. My attitude towards eating has changed. I have begun to practice intuitive eating that has defiantly changed my life and helped me view food in a different light!

Through recovery I started this blog and became an advocate for mental health, I was even in the newspaper last year which I never thought would happen! Recovery has been so hard I won’t lie but it has changed my life for the better, and I can’t wait to see where I am at in five years.

Self-care

Today I had to come home early from work because my anxiety was extremely high and I could not focus. I had experienced a night terror last night which disturbed my sleep a lot and left me feeling extremely anxious and scared. I was so frustrated with myself for having to come home since I had just had two weeks off for the holidays, I was criticising myself saying I don’t deserve to go back because I had two weeks to rest and relax, I am now undeserving of a day off to care for myself.

I was so frustrated with myself with how high my anxiety was with just having two weeks off; I forgot to be kind to myself and understanding. I forgot to rationalise it out and think I just had a night terror last night which can be incredibly traumatic and triggering for someone and disturbs your sleep; thus I was processing my night terror with little sleep and high anxiety while also putting myself down and not at all being compassionate to myself.

I had a big reminder to myself that mental illness does not discriminate and will creep up when it wants to even if you have just come back from holidays and your well rested. Just because I have had two weeks off does not mean I am not deserving of caring for my mental health and taking time out when I can feel it getting out of hand.

I found today to be an essential lesson in taking care of my mental health no matter what stage of recovery I am at or what I was doing last week or right now. I am almost a year into recovery and can sometimes get frustrated with myself when I do have these bad days, and I feel like I am going backwards. However, days like these are a reminder that I am human and it’s okay to be sad, anxious and tired! Today reminded me that it is so important to take care of myself and listen to my body when it needs a break even if I don’t think it does, it is not worth pushing yourself all day to exhaustion and worsens your mental health in the process.

Do we know how to address the problem?

When becoming open about my mental health with my friends, some of them did mention that particularly this year they did see a shift in my behaviour and mood but were not sure how to address the issue. One of my friends (god bless her) wanted to organise an intervention because she had noticed I was avoiding food and not eating regularly, however she did not say anything in fear that I would be angry or hate her. Another friend mentioned that she saw the self-harm scars on my knees at Christmas time but did not know how to bring it up or talk about it, also again I assume there would be fear that I may become angry.

I am definitely not angry at any of my friends for not coming straight out and saying why are you not eating, or what is happening to you. Honestly it is a scary thing to have a friend who is not eating or making themselves sick and try and address that with them. I mean I may have become defensive if someone did pull me up on not eating because the eating disorder brain can become quite defensive when someone tries to challenge the thinking and point out that it may be wrong.

However, this does speak volumes and raised the issue for me that do any of us really know how to approach a situation when we are concerned about a friend? I am lucky in my career I have been given training and experience to address those awkward conversations about how someone is going and express your concerns, but this is not something we get taught about on the daily from a young age to not only acknowledge your friends happiness but also their sadness and how to talk about it. I do not remember in school learning about how to have those conversations with people that you are worried about and how to see the warning signs for not only people around you but for yourself. What would be great is to start talking about mental health from a young age and how to notice yours and others different emotions besides from happiness, I think as a child we are taught that happiness is the only good emotion and other emotions such as sadness are bad. I remember being in primary school crying being told: “don’t be sad” or “you’re being a crybaby” by teachers and other adults in my life, it was as if sadness was this horrible emotion that no one wanted to see or talk about. As I got older, I remember just feeling so confused and alone when I was upset and not exactly sure how to deal with these emotions, it was as if I was disappointed in myself for feeling down and not being happy. The thing is that life is not black and white and either is our emotions this is something I started to learn particularly this year, it’s okay to be sad, angry, frustrated etc.  and to acknowledge those emotions, sometimes we need to cry and let it out and there is nothing wrong with that.

I have learnt to acknowledge and embrace my emotions, instead of trying to ignore them and bolt them away. When I am talking to friends and family who may be going through a difficult time, I often hear them say “I’m really sorry for being down or sad” I now tell them not to apologise or ever be sorry for how they are feeling, because those are their emotions and they are valid.

Medication

At the start of the year, I agreed with my psychiatrist to go on medication to assist with my mental health. At the time I was terrified and unsure of what to think, I had always been so against medication, but at that point, it just felt like I was hitting a wall and nothing was helping. I went on antidepressants for my depression and mood stabilisers to help me sleep at night. The first few weeks on this medication was a nightmare, what they sometimes don’t tell you is that sometimes in the first two weeks of going on medication you can become more depressed before it starts to work, and boy was that true! So, I went into a deeper depression than I thought I was before and then thought there was no hope for me now, not even medication can fix me.

Slowly I did see some benefits of the medication, I was able to sleep at night without waking up throughout, my mind wasn’t as clouded as before, and I could have clearer thoughts.  Of course, it has had its downsides, one being the very low sex drive which isn’t always great in a relationship but I am lucky I have a very supportive partner! Another thing has been that my mouth is always dry and I need to drink a lot more water than before, which could also be a good thing, I am now always very hydrated! It has meant I have not been able to consume alcohol, most of my friends understood this and were completely accepting of the fact that I could not, but it did fracture some relationships because I couldn’t go out and get wasted. Not that I went out a lot before and drunk a lot all the time, but while I have not been drinking at all I have got used to it and quite like it, I realised that I don’t need to get wasted to have fun and have a good time. When I was in a very dark place in my life when I did go out I would sometimes drink way too much, and that’s how I thought you had a good time, but now I have learnt there are other healthier ways.

I did expect the medication to make me better straightway and was confused when my anxiety was still around and I was still depressed. I for some reason had this rosy idea that my anxiety and depression would somehow just disappear once I started taking the medication. But that it is not true, it has helped lower my anxiety and improved my depression but I still have down days and can get anxious over different situations. I realised that the medication is there to assist as a tool for me to get better, but it is my own hard work that has seen me recover not the medication. At the start, I thought I owed it all to the medication for my improvement and didn’t give myself any credit for all the hard work and effort I had been putting in.

My psychiatrist now would like me to start going off my medication in December slowly, I didn’t realise how scary and anxiety provoking that would be for me. When she told me this, I did go home and cried because I was so scared I would go back into a relapse and be how I was before. It took a lot for me to realise that it has not just been the medication that has helped me get to this point. It has been myself as well wanting to get help, going to therapy regularly making changes and practising skills to improve my mental health. Yes, the medication-assisted when I was in a very low point in my life, but it does not deserve all the credit for how well I have been going.

To anyone out there who is going through their mental health journey, on medication or not remember to give yourself more credit for everything you have been doing for yourself, it is a lot of hard work to go through recovery, and you deserve to be recognised!