For all my bravado about being honest and open with work/family/friends, I still get nervous the stigma attached to mental illness. After being off all last week, I made it into work today (despite the temptation to simply ride the bus all the way to Heathrow and back). The anxiety I am feeling right now is unbearable, overwhelming and frustrating.
For starters, nothing seems to be working. When I got in I found all my cables had been unplugged and ‘tidied away’. My little turtle picture has been taken down and hidden away beneath my monitor riser. It was unsettling and – my brain being the beast it is – I jumped to the worst case scenario; they want me gone. It all got worse when I finally got in; I can’t access one website, another appears to have lost all my work since July and even my laptop is rebelling – it keeps crashing on me.
Even on a normal Monday morning this would stress me out. On this Monday morning it is almost-too-much to cope with. I was on the verge of a panic attack before I even swiped myself into the building, and it’s gradually worsening as the minutes tick by. I don’t know how I am going to cope with this till 4:30 – I am telling myself that I will hold out till midday and then re-assess the situation, but I know full well I will only worry endlessly about letting my boss down if I do head home for the afternoon.
The problem is; no one can see what I’m putting myself through just to be here today. Maybe if I allowed myself the luxury of a public meltdown, then they’d understand it better. This is where mental illness gets super-tricky because essentially it’s invisible – it’s ‘all in my head’. It’s impossible to verbalise just how awful I feel. To anyone looking at me, I am working and I look exactly the same as I do every other day. I feel like a fraud (actually, if I get Freudian on myself here, I feel like other people think I’m a fraud – I’m projecting my insecurities onto the people around me).
I’m trying to reassure myself that nothing bad is going to happen, but that mean little train of thought is running amok and somehow I just can’t stop listening to it. I wish it was easier.
This week has been a spectacular failure. I am trying really hard to see the positives but it is hard to get past the negative self-talk that is plaguing my waking hours.
The anger is unbelievable and incomprehensible. There’s no good reason for it, just a total irritation at the smallest issues. I know it’s irrational, and that pretty much just makes it worse. I feel like a horrible person for getting so worked up over little things; on Monday I yelled at Luke for not sitting down fast enough on the train and then spent a 3.5 hour journey mentally beating myself.
There’s anxiety too – mostly stemming from a fear that one day I’ll break, totally shatter my resolve to not lash out, and then land myself in trouble. I work so hard to keep everything to myself that I feel I’m bursting; this is so hard to explain but I think the closest I can get is that I am a pot of water, with a lid, on the hob – I’m simmering and simmering and coming up to the boil. I am so scared that one more irritation will get me boiling over.
Of course, I want to turn to the tried-and-tested coping strategies. Which is a euphemism for the bad, bad word; self-harm. And goodness knows I am pushing myself to stay away from that slippery slope, but I come back to the place I started – this deeply ingrained belief that I’d rather hurt myself than anyone else. That I should be able to keep control, no matter what it takes.
I’m also struggling with Eve. More accurately, I’m struggling with keeping her and me separate; things feel easier if we can share the load. True – she encourages the bad coping mechanisms. But it is as though I have my very own childhood friend within me, as though I have a mental hand to hold when I’m being overwhelmed by everything. The things I can’t bring myself to vocalise – the things she knows the instant they cross my mind. But, of course, there are problems with this. Poor Luke worries when she’s active – he has plenty of reason to, given past events. But it hurts that he hates her.
This has not been the most eloquent post.
In the UK at present there is no government backed scheme that provides service dogs for those who suffer mental illness. Organisations like Guide Dogs for the Blind and Hearing Dogs provide for the population who need assistance with their day-to-day lives; the benefits of the services of these animals is well-documented. Children with autism are assisted with their relationship and interpersonal skills by dogs trained to open the world to them. But despite many studies worldwide – for example a study on the benefit of service dogs in the treatment of PTSD by Dr James Gillett and Rachel Weldrick – that have shown the great assistance in day-to-day living for people with mental health issues, there remains no government-backed or even voluntary scheme in the UK to provide therapy animals.
A quick Google shows up one organisation (PADs UK) that is looking to train assistance therapy dogs – and they’ve been so popular that their waiting list is closed. There is no legislation to allow any animal serving as a therapy or psychological assistance to have the same access rights to public places as guide dogs or physical assistance dogs. In England, Pets as Therapy have dogs (and a few cats) that visit residential care homes and hospitals to allow people to benefit from the presence of a furry companion for some time, but there is no scheme in place for the permanent placement of psychiatric assistance dogs.
In the USA schemes such as Paws and Stripes are paving the way in providing veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with a permanent companion to make their day-to-day life easier to cope with. This is despite a similar situation as here in the UK whereby there is no government legislation to support them. Dogs placed with veterans can assist them with being in public by providing a sense of a physical barrier between the person and the people around them. The tactile sensations of stroking a dog is acknowledged as an effective grounding technique which can bring the person into the present when the memories of the past are threatening to overcome them.
The benefits seen in combat PTSD sufferers can be seen in people with other mental disorders. The onset of psychosis and subsequent recovery, for example, left me feeling less-than-confident with being in public on my own. The anxiety I felt was crippling and I lost a lot of my social life during this time; something I’ve not fully recovered (like all aspects of my life now, it is run to schedule and with the support of my husband or family around me). Three years after my first manic and psychotic episode I have regained my confidence with familiar and routine excursions such as going to work, coming home and popping to our local grocery store. But in situations where I am expected to cope with more spontaneous or unusual trips, I still find the anxiety fluttering in my chest.
A service dog would not only be a help in public. Part of my mental illness is made up of a personality aspect; I have an alter called Eve. Although she is mainly submissive to my dominant, main personality, under stress she becomes more prominent and I begin to dissociate from the reality that everyone else inhabits. This is difficult enough when I am home with my husband, but more often than not this is a problem that occurs when I am at work or home alone. In these situations the benefit of a service dog would be incalculable; in the same way as a PTSD dog I would be able to ground myself and focus on playing with or stroking the dog to maintain my grasp on the present.
I would love to see the government passing legislation that would support the foundation of psychological service or therapy dog charities; as well as an acknowledgement of the animals’ service to allow them the same access to public spaces as guide dogs and physical assistance dogs. This country has come a long way in the understanding and treatment of mental illness, but there’s a long way still to go.
I don’t understand myself sometimes. We just got on the train home and I am suddenly and irrationally angry. Internally raging, soul burningly angry. I want to yell at the girls in front who are just pratting about. Poor Luke got an earful for something I can’t even remember now. This feels horrible.
The problem is I very much despise myself when I get like this. My internal monologue is provided by Eve who firmly believes that a good soul should never be angry. We join in harmonious self-hatred and I am left feeling like I just can’t cope; overwhelmed and sad and worthless and pathetic.
Historically, these have been the trigger feelings. We have learned to cope with this shit by hurting physically and once again we feel the need to punch the wall or *something* to get this frustration and sadness out in a way that we can actually understand and then deal with. The hope is that writing will help. I text my care coordinator too, not sure what will happen with that as this is the first time I’ve tried talking to him. Hopefully he can help us.
So, in true NHS-style, I have found out my co-morbid diagnosis through the medium of a copied letter to my new MH team. The letter is the discharge letter from Early Intervention to CMHRS and is headlined with ‘Diagnosis: Schizoaffective Disorder manic type, Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder.’… Charming.
EUPD is the new DSM (the mental health ‘bible’) term for Borderline Personality Disorder. A bit of reading tells me that the reason it was called borderline was because it was somewhere between a psychiatric diagnosis and a behavioural response – so it was literally on the border-line. Now it’s called EUPD, there’s a lot less to… hide behind? By which I mean – it’s less euphemistic, more direct and straightforward.
The problem I have with the EUPD version of this diagnosis is that it just sounds dreadful. It connotes images of wailing, histrionic women who need chocolate and wine to get through (and that’s only me half the time… well, who doesn’t find chocolate and wine to be a nice treat?). I much prefer the BPD label.
And I know – trust me I know – that this makes no real or dramatic difference to my current state of mind. It is just a definition for a professional to use to fit me into a box for treatment. I can’t even argue with the diagnosis; I meet lots of criteria that indicate this is the correct label (mind.org.uk has an article, if you want to see me in a new light…). I think it’s just that it is now defined and labelled and ‘real’. I know; it was real before it was labelled.
So I need to work out what this means to me now. I know – rationally – it shouldn’t make a difference, really – should it? It does mean one very good thing and that is the chance to engage with a psychologist for talk therapy (yes, I need to fill out the forms and yes, I’ve been putting it off).
Does this change me, or just my perception of me? Should I be happy to have something that defines the ridiculous highs and lows I swing through every bloody day. Something that helps me understand that my quick-fire anger and subsequent self-mental-beatings are actually a real issue that I can have assistance to resolve? And do I have the patience to wait for therapy, wait out these daily troubles and challenges and somehow make it out the other side?
I miss being manic. Yes, I know it was dangerous. I know it was a rough time. But it felt so good; so much energy, creativity and endless drive to succeed. I don’t have to be reminded of the drinking, the overdoses that came about because it was all too intense. I just don’t see why I can’t be allowed a little of that feeling back.
The problem is that even hypomania comes with a certain amount of negativity. I get frustrated and overwhelmed, angry and irritable. But the push, the energy, the spark – I miss that so much.
I don’t even know where I’m going with this post. Today has been stressful and I am wound up tight. Lots of relying on other people to do their jobs before I can get on with my bits is simply annoying. The stress is deadlines passing without resolution; and in part I suspect that it’s completing my first project, with the daunting prospect of the next challenge looming.
I want to scream. I want to punch something. I want to go walking in the rain and pretend I don’t have to work tomorrow. I feel distant from my own body, like I’m watching myself from behind my eyes – how exactly do I describe that? As much as I like to think I can be eloquent, words seem to fail me when I try to describe this weird buzzy-but-distant, alert-but-dreaming, intense-yet-hazy… feeling?
What happened to the confident 20-something with grand ambitions to earn lots of money and progress a career? Where along the line did I manage to break my brain so much that a simple bit of stress leaves me feeling totally out of my depth? How much of this can I handle before I break again? And, am I simply panicking because I forgot how to rationalise and simplify things?
As I seem to have posted a lot this week I thought it only right to round off the week with yet another mind-dump. It’s been an up-and-down week, a right rollercoaster of high/low/high and I’ve really, really, not enjoyed it. Things have improved as the days have ticked by and I’m hoping that this weekend will be a chance to do a reset and refill my mental engine oil.
This week reminded me a lot of spoon theory. I suspect that the Berlin business trip meant I needed to borrow spoons many days in advance of their availability, and then I tried to do a full working week in deficit. Usually I am mindful of what I can manage, and lately I have been able to do more things without burning myself out – things like late nights on Mondays so I can go to the pub quiz or doing the food shop with hubs and dad.
My resilience has been lower this week than it had been in a long time. Little things – website malfunctions, Colleague X, an innocent but insensitive comment from a fried – have sent my anger meter sky-rocketing. I’ve been hypo-ish and/or mixed every day, but thankfully as each day passes I can see and feel things settling back to normal. I visualise it like the image below (hastily thrown together in MS Paint!), and I’m aiming to get the indicator back to zero by Monday morning so that I can get back on my best game.
The website is going to be undergoing a redesign in the near future which I am hoping will make things a little easier to find. Things like separating the blog, the creative writing and the ‘Spotlight On’ articles so you guys can navigate to what you want to see without having to trawl through articles. Whilst I’m thinking about it, don’t forget that you can have your say with the polls available via the menu button.