Maybe we always look back and think it was better than it was
Maybe these are the moments
Maybe I've been missing what it's about
Been scared of the future, thinking about the past
While missing out on now
We've come so far, I guess I'm proud
And I ain't worried about the wrinkles around my smile
I've got some scars, I've been around
I've felt some pain, I've seen some things, but I'm here now
Macklemore ft. Ke$ha
One year ago, I was finally discharged from my local Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) after over twelve years in and out of their care. The plan was for me to have six months of stability outside their care before beginning trauma therapy but so much has happened in the past year that this plan hasn’t really been followed through. However, I’m so happy with the place I’m in now and everything/everyone I have in my life; so, I decided to go through the past year of blog posts and talk about the most important moments for my mental health since my discharge from services…
The Pharmacy’s Mistake
Unfortunately, not long after being discharged from CMHT, I was faced with a situation that really made me wish I still had their support and guidance…
I had begun to worry that maybe I needed to request my antipsychotic medication (Aripiprazole) be increased when the hallucinations seems to be coming back, but it wasn’t until I was showing physical symptoms that I called the non-emergency NHS 111. When they asked what medication, I took and I went to check my dosette box to list them all, I realised that the Aripiprazole was missing and the Doctor on the phone assured me that all my symptoms collated to those you might experience in withdrawal from that medication.
After numerous phone calls, it became apparent that a number of weeks ago and without being able to evidence why, a member of staff from the pharmacy had drawn a red line through the Aripiprazole on a list of my medication and the other staff assumed that meant they shouldn’t order it from my GP. Since my GP hadn’t given them the order to stop it, they were eager for me to start taking it again and I was put straight back on my small dose.
Unfortunately, having gone so long without the medication, meant that the hallucinations escalated and when it came to the time that the medication should have been working again, my GP decided to double the dosage. Within eight weeks, (August 2020) the hallucinations were literally gone and have remained gone!
The biggest challenge in this situation was that whilst the hallucinations were in full force and at their most powerful and influential, I self-harmed so significantly that I needed plastic surgery to repair a severed branch of the radial nerve. And whilst I was waiting for the medication to take effect, I had two surgeries before the surgeons finally said that they didn’t want to repair it in case I self-harmed again and basically ruined their work. It’s meant that I’ve been left with permanent nerve damage to my right hand, all because my pharmacy made a mistake and that initially left me with a lot of anger and frustration. In time though, I came to realise that my anger really had no benefit for anyone – it didn’t change the damage that had been done, and it didn’t influence them to apologise… So how was holding onto it productive in any way? If anything, it was destructive and when the hallucinations had gone, I was able to really see and understand this.
Delivering Suicide Awareness Training for BTP
Being asked by a Police Officer from the British Transport Police (BTP) to deliver a training session in suicide awareness for the rest of my local BTP Force, may seem not very relevant to being important for my mental health recovery, but it definitely is!
I remember how nervous I was the first time I helped a Northumbria Police Inspector and a Liaison Officer from CNTW, deliver a full day of mental health training for some new Police recruits. I was definitely nervous, but I also really enjoyed the experience and found it very rewarding. It meant a lot to me to have the opportunity to use my very poor and difficult experiences with the Police to be something positive and productive in using them to teach the recruits what not to do (and what to do!).
Having enjoyed it so much, I was asked to do a few more sessions and I gradually built the confidence and courage to take more control over the training and contribute to the parts that I wasn’t necessarily included in but where my thoughts were still valid and appropriate.
I think that developing my passion for delivering training, meant that I had the experience and knowledge to promote my agreement to facilitate the BTP awareness training completely solo. I mean, of course there were still some nerves, but after years of practice, I’ve come to learn coping mechanisms for my nervousness and any anxiety. Ultimately, though, it was more about excitement and contented, happy thoughts around the session which pushed me through the preparation of my PowerPoint, the additional notes, and then delivering the actual training.
This moment was really important to my mental health because it left me feeling so positive and hopeful that my words – the content of my presentation – could actually impact the response a person in a mental health crisis has where BTP are called out. It might mean that the person feels comforted and reassured in the response they get rather than feeling judged or dismissed.
It’s like I always say in the training sessions; the response a person receives – whether it be from the BTP or not – can make the difference between encouraging them to ‘step back from the edge’ or motivate them to ‘jump.’ So, having told them my experiences and my thoughts on how BTP can improve their response to mental health related call-outs, leaves me with an encouraged notion that more people will step back from the edge and into the arms of potentially life-saving help and support.
Being Put Under the Care of The Crisis Team
During the weeks I was waiting for the Aripiprazole to kick back in and get rid of the hallucinations, I had a really difficult time when it began to feel as though my head wasn’t entirely my own. I only controlled 5% of it and the rest was under the influence of the hallucinations who were convinced and determined that I should commit suicide.
After finding myself on the way to the harbour, I decided to harness that 5% and use it to call the Crisis Team asking for someone to tell me ‘down.’ Even though that part of my brain was so small, it was powerful enough to be desperate for help and eager for support which would prevent me from reaching the harbour. When the Crisis Team heard my situation though, they called the Police and Officers found me just metres away from the wooden edge of the pier in the harbour. After taking me home, the Crisis Team called and eventually, an assessment was arranged with two members of their staff coming to see me later that day.
My almost instinctual thought when they decided to put me on caseload, was that things were becoming kind of hopeless with me still waiting for my medication to work, the suicidal ideation coming and going, and the self-harm thoughts being acted upon. I felt that since this ‘relapse’ had been induced by the Pharmacy’s mistake with the Aripiprazole, my Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) coping skills were less than useful. I mean, they could benefit me if I were having flashbacks of the abuse; but when it comes to the hallucinations and the lack of safety I have around them, then it was apparent that me – and me alone – couldn’t keep myself safe.
Recognising that I needed help and support was an improvement though. And when the Crisis Team agreed with me that the relapse was due to the medication error, it meant that perhaps stabilising my mental health would be a whole lot ‘easier’ – or at least more straightforward because the only real requirement would be for some sort of support until the medication started taking effect. And this brought hope…
Seeing My Godchildren
Visiting my three godchildren in Edinburgh in September last year was really positive for my mental health – as it always is when I see them!
With my mental health journey being as up and down as it has over the years; I’ve unfortunately missed quite a few years from different stages of each of my godchildren growing up. Whilst that’s sometimes difficult to accept and recognise, I try to look on the bright side and concentrate on the fact that because all of that happened – or didn’t happen! – I now strive to make up for lost time. And I’d like to think that this way of thinking is beneficial for my godchildren in so many different ways.
Having children in my life really helps my mental health because I enjoy their innocence and their obsession with fun! Having had – in my opinion – such an idyllic childhood, I’m very much passionate about promoting that others have the same. Though I think there needs to be a balance between keeping the child innocent but without leaving them oblivious to hardship of any sort.
This was confirmed when I asked my autistic eldest godson if his knee was ok after falling over in the farm we had visited. He replied with “yes, but do you know what the worst kind of pain is?” I asked ‘what’, “emotional pain” he replied. In that instant I felt so happy that he had an idea around something about mental health at the age of 10! And it made me so confident that he won’t be a judgemental person. To have that reassurance, is something really special.
Facing the Fourteenth Abuse Anniversary
Over the years, I’ve blogged about previous abuse anniversaries but with me being in such a stable place mentally this November, it felt like something would be different in writing a post now. And I think it was.
Having not self-harmed in November 2020 since the August, I felt able to produce a more understandable, clearer blog post which might have a larger balance to it than previous ones on the same subject/anniversary.
Blogging about the abuse I experienced aged 15 to 16, has almost never been completely off limits. From the first day of I’m NOT Disordered January 6th, 2013, I knew I’d be talking about the abuse throughout my blogging career (though at that point, I didn’t imagine my career to last as long as it has!). I don’t think it was even really a discussion point – I can’t remember ever doing a pros and cons exercise to help me to decide whether to include it.
I think that a huge reason for this was that in starting to blog, my intention was always to show readers more insight into mental health. Whether that meant – as it originally did – helping my friends and family to understand what I was going through or providing the general public with more information so as to minimise mental health stigma and discrimination. I always felt determined not to shield anything from anyone because I believed that if I was going to do this – if I was going to blog about my mental health – I might as well do it as genuinely as possible.
My one difficulty in talking about the abuse over the years of blogging, has been the fact that for legal reasons I can’t disclose the name of my abuser. I’ve also been advised not to give details about him such as his profession and place of work because it is believed so many people would correctly guess who I was referring to. Honestly? It makes me a bit angry and I’m very keen to show that if me talking about those two aspects would lead to his identification, then that should say a whole lot more about him! I mean, surely those two details would leave people questioning, but surely if he’s as innocent as he claims to be, it shouldn’t be that easy to leave suspicion in people’s minds!
But there are these lyrics that I love from a song called Praying by Ke$ha that go ‘by the time I’m finished, they won’t even know your name.’ And I’d like to think these apply here. That by the time I’ve finished a blog post, or a collaboration is done or some other important aspect of I’m NOT Disordered, people won’t give two hoots about the name of my abuser. It’ll be my name that matters.
Doing Another Blogmas
In starting to blog, I looked for inspiration and came across Zoe Sugg of Zoella. She was one of the first YouTubers/bloggers to really make marks in the world and be offered so many more powerful and influential opportunities including releasing a beauty line and a few books. In watching videos, I discovered Vlogmas!
A ‘Vlog’ is basically a video blog and so Vlogmas is publishing one Vlog for each day of December until Christmas. After a while, some who were more concentrated in writing blog posts, began turning it into Blogmas and producing a written piece every day of December. And being a very ‘Christmassy’ person, I absolutely loved the idea and, after doing a few years of ’12 days of Christmas’ type series to slowly introduce myself to the prospect of daily blog posts, released my first full Blogmas in 2019.
I learned a lot from that year and realised that to produce twenty-five pieces of a decent quality, I needed to start preparing the content – thinking things through and making plans – in September! And for so many reasons, I absolutely loved the thought of taking so much time and putting so much effort into producing a lot of content around Christmastime.
I was particularly grateful to just simply have the ability to be doing this. I mean., for so long, Christmas had lost its importance. Its level of special-ness! My mental health was so powerful that it seemed to take over everything else in life. It became the most important thing to me, and it had the biggest impact over all the things that other people found enjoyable – Christmas, Birthdays, New Years, even just weekends…
Now that my mental health was so stable, I could finally celebrate so many occasions I’d previously missed or had found to be of less importance in comparison with my thoughts and feelings. And being able to celebrate and enjoy this time? Well, it was another reason I was grateful to still be alive.
My Thirtieth Birthday
Honestly? Every Birthday from the age of fifteen, has either felt like an achievement or a failure and punishment!
My sixteenth Birthday really set the standards when my abuser nearly completely ruined my trip to Disney Land Paris with my Mum. Initially, I’d imagined the trip to be a very welcome and much needed break from the abuse and to finally be in an environment that wasn’t actually controlled by my abuser. But my abuser was in a position of power from day one and from day one, he has abused that power. It meant that I kind of felt stupid when he ruined things – stupid for not expecting him to. Stupid for being surprised by his actions. I guess I had been naively hopeful that he wouldn’t stoop so low as to ruin a sixteenth Birthday… I was clearly wrong!
From that Birthday, I can remember my eighteenth and twenty-first being really happy, celebratory times. Being the Birthdays, they should always be. Birthdays that are deserving of celebration because it’s a marker of the fact that you’ve enjoyed another year and that you have another year to look forward to.
I’d say that during the most challenging years with my mental health, each Birthday began to feel like a failure. As though it illustrated and was evidence to the fact that I was so useless, I couldn’t even ‘succeed’ in my suicide attempts! And some years this failure felt as though my Birthday was a punishment. That to have a day which concentrated on me being alive for another year, was embarrassing in highlighting that I still couldn’t find stability and recovery.
Having so many Birthdays feel that way, meant that turning 30 and finally being in a good position with my mental health, felt really special. And even the saddening factor that because of the pandemic and social distancing regulations I couldn’t celebrate the way I had envisioned with a huge party with all of my friends, didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment. I recognised – probably for the first time – that this Birthday was an achievement. I had successfully come through ill mental health. I had stopped self-harming; I had no hallucinations… I’d made it and I was so excited to make more memories.
Getting A Job
Having been a Digital Volunteer with St Oswald’s Hospice for a while, my Communications boss suggested I apply for a staff role as Kickstart Project Coordinator.
Having not been in paid employment for over ten years, I attempted to put a lot of thought into my decision to apply for the position, but after reading the job description, I found myself feeling a natural sort of pull to the job, so I applied.
Since I was already within the organisation, I didn’t have to complete an application form, just write a letter of application. Honestly? I felt kind of confident hearing that because I obviously enjoy writing so much and I thought that with the possibility of an interview relying on the letter, I probably had a fair chance. And another supporting factor to this was that my Communications boss offered to read it through but submitting it.
When I was offered an interview, my Comms boss went on to give me more advice and it proved really useful when something she’d recommended, I consider, ended up being an entire question! It was almost like fate was on my side and I left the interview feeling happy and content with it; I knew I’d put in my best effort and the thought that there was nothing I regretted, really promoted my confidence. Being so happy didn’t mean though, that I wasn’t surprised and over the moon when my current boss from the Volunteer Department called to offer me the position.
The entire application process felt like a real journey for my mental health and whilst I was obviously so proud with the end result, I noticed that some of the stages of applying might have been difficult for others. And it was this that inspired my blog post.
I’m now over three months into six-month contract in my staff role with the Hospice and whilst the initial nerves and then excitement has muted, I feel as though I learn something new with each shift. And I believe that all those new things will be helpful and beneficial to my future career life.
Releasing Everything Disordered
I began writing my book; Everything Disordered over a year ago and whilst it was ready for publication earlier in the year, I wanted its release to be on a significant date…
I chose April 20th because it marked the ‘end’ of the abuse, and I thought that in releasing my book for sale on Amazon on that date, it would render the day out of my abuser’s influence. That it would no longer be a reminder of a day when I had to wrestle the control from my abuser. No longer a day that would always remind me of the worst moments of my life.
With Everything Disordered being more of a practical guide to blogging than it was about my ‘journey’ and my ‘story,’ it made the day all the more special because it even took it out of the grasp of my mental ill health. It meant that even putting my abuser to one side (as though that’s easy to do!) the day didn’t particularly mark a moment in my mental health. It was no longer the date where yes, the abuse ended; but also, where my mental health began to deteriorate.
Having my book be all about blogging, also meant that the day would become a reminder of the importance of the impact I’m NOT Disordered has had on my life and my mental health in particular. Blogging is something I’m so obviously passionate about and eager to promote in the hope that more people will turn to it as a coping strategy too and benefit from it as well as I have.
Losing my bunny Pixie, a little while ago was an – unfortunate – important moment in my life and for my mental health.
Having added Pixie to the family not just because I loved her the second, I held her in the Pets at Home store, but also because I had the instinct that she would be so helpful for my visual hallucinations of rabbits. Honestly? I didn’t consider or question whether bringing her to my home for that reason is ‘right’ because I was so convinced that this felt natural. That she just seemed to ‘fit’ in my life. As though my heart had been made for her.
With the coping with hallucinations things being the primary reason for getting Pixie, in losing her, my worries were very obviously and understandably that even though my medication had gotten rid of the hallucinations, if – for any reason – they came back, how would I cope? Would I even be able to cope safely? But then, if I didn’t; would that be fair on Pixie’s memory? As though I were using her death as some kind of ‘excuse’ to self-harm or to feel suicidal.
Fortunately, having Pixie for those lovely few years had really given me the strength to do as well as I could and now that I was stable, as difficult and horrific as Pixie’s death was, I coped with it safely.
I still remember the day one of my best friends; Lauren, messaged me with a baby scan picture to tell me she was pregnant. I remember crying and immediately facetiming her to check she was serious!
Having three godchildren (who I talked about earlier) meant that I’ve really learnt how beneficial children are to my life in general and for my mental health in particular. I love their fun and innocence and with my youngest godson being two (at the time of Lauren’s announcement!), it meant that I hadn’t had a baby in my life for a few years.
Unfortunately, as I said earlier, because of my mental illness I missed a few milestones in my godchildren’s lives so I knew it would be special to be so stable from the very beginning of Greylan’s life. And even with him now being just over three weeks old, having the ability to go meet him with Lauren’s parents meant so much to me.
Meeting a baby this young was a first and having the opportunity to do it was almost like validation of my stability and recovery. A testament to how well I was doing. I mean, firstly I was physically capable of going – I wasn’t in hospital or busy self-harming… Secondly, I was trusted with a baby and not assumed to be ‘unsafe’ or ‘unreliable.’ And third, I was so happy and positive that I actually wanted to go!
My Final Tendon Surgery
One thing she didn’t warn me about, and which has happened since I wrote the above blog post is, that when I had my first cast taken off and the wounds checked (she made three incisions), my thumb made some ‘involuntary movements.’ It was kind of like a twitch in that I could feel it but I was aware that I definitely hadn’t told it to move! It kind of sounds funny but the very not so funny part is that if it’s permanent it would affect my writing… Something which I obviously really enjoy and since being unable to I’ve found myself wanting to simply ‘make notes’ on so many instances! Even just writing down a phone number or a reminder for a meeting.
Thankfully, this has come at a time when my mental health is so stable and well, which means it really hasn’t had a hugely detrimental impact. It has been a challenge though, and I find that battling challenges and difficulties is what makes me stronger. And that’s how I see it.