So, I was looking up awareness dates and found Blue Monday and Winnie the Pooh Day… Now, as a mental health blogger you’d assume that in having to choose between the two (at fear of overwhelming you all with one post after another), that I’d have chosen Blue Monday. That’s the obvious one. But, if you’ve read, I’m NOT Disordered for a while now, you’ll know that I like to do things a bit differently – I actually really enjoy making seemingly un-related topics, relevant to my blog’s typical genre of mental health! And so, to celebrate Winnie the Pooh Day, here are a few quotes that have fit in really well (in my opinion!) with particular elements of mental health…
My mental health has taught me so much, but one key area I’ve learnt the difference between has been ‘hearing’ and ‘listening.’
When I was fifteen and the abuse started, it felt like overnight, a part of me changed. And I don’t just mean my thoughts, my feelings, and my beliefs. Literally everything! Every cell and every hair and every pore… I felt like my abuser had created a whole other person who began taking control of my body and my brain, but that meant there was still a bit of the original ‘me’ there – like a blurred and fragile memory. It was almost as though that part was outnumbered; like it was struggling for the ability to have an influence on my actions. It gave me a definite notion of silently screaming. Like, that small, real ‘me’ was desperate to be free of the angry, hurt, scared Aimee that my abuser had created; but it was like screaming into a pillow – it was muffled and powerless.
Unconsciously, that small part of me became very sly and it almost adapted to being squashed down; in that its desperation to get help for what was happening became sneaky and creative. It became the reason why I started exhibiting behaviours that can very fairly be assumed to be reactions to abuse e.g., regular showers, change in attitude, deteriorating grades at school, self-harming… It was to a degree where when people who were in my life at that time found out what had been happening to me, they voiced almost experiencing a lightbulb moment with the thought ‘well, that makes sense now!’ Yet, at the time, I think that me being fifteen just contributed to everyone’s assumption that my behaviours were just your average example of teenage rebellion; and so, any thought of someone taking action upon the change were dismissed or forgotten.
At the time, as much as the part of me wanting help was small, it was very aware that it was being ignored and that just added to the anger (because why wasn’t anyone helping me?!) and the fear (because if no one stepped in, all of this was just going to continue). And so eventually, on April 20th 2007 (exactly six months after it started), I reported the abuse to my abuser’s boss. Well, it wasn’t as tidy as me going to find his boss and sitting down and talking about it – it was an entire mess! My abuser and I had been arguing in an otherwise empty corridor when his boss – hearing the shouting – came out of his office just as I told my abuser to think of his wife and children. His boss – shocked that I had spoken to my abuser like that – asked why I had said that and it just all spilled out.
When his boss branded me a ‘manipulative liar’ and banished me from the building, I was instantly left with the conviction that I couldn’t say another word to anyone about this ever again. I mean, how could I want to make myself vulnerable like that for all of this to happen all over again?! So, I kept quiet and the next time these words came out of my mouth was over two years later when I had been sectioned under the 1983 Mental Health Act and admitted to a psychiatric hospital after attempting suicide.
Which leads me onto the next thing that came to mind with this quote; the thing that influenced my suicide attempt – the hallucinations.
In 2009, I was leaving the retail store I had a weekend job in when this hushed male voice almost whispered in my ear that I was ‘useless’ and that I should kill myself. Obviously my first instinct was to look to the right and see who had said it; but when there was no one there I looked all around the store and saw that the only man was a security guard standing at the store’s entrance, at least twenty feet away. It wasn’t him. So, who the heck was it?! I remember feeling my eyes widen and my shoulders almost automatically and audibly shrug with the quiet and unassuming thought; ‘must have imagined it!’
Of course, I hadn’t; and so, over the following ten days, the auditory hallucinations continued to escalate. They became more constant, louder, sharper, more spiteful and commanding, and eventually, I was fed up; I was drained, felt hopeless, and was desperate for some sort of escape from it. And so, I made my first suicide attempt. Everyone was so caught off-guard and surprised because no one knew about the abuse or the hallucinations, that I was immediately sectioned and after being given the lifesaving medical treatment against my will, I was transferred to a psychiatric hospital for the first time.
When I was at my most poorly from 2009 to 2013, one of the strongest beliefs I held around the hallucinations were that they came from people who had died and whose ‘souls’ had been trapped in my body. I was convinced that either people weren’t listening close enough to hear the voices, or they could hear them and were lying about it. But no matter what I believed (it was usually dependant on who I was talking to and the situation I was in), the hallucinations turned my life upside down and flipped it back to front!
It’s over ten years since the hallucinations started and whilst I had a relapse a few months ago, the increase in my antipsychotic medication was the cure and once it was in my system, the voices were completely gone. However, whilst the voices played a massive part in the fact, I’ll likely have very obvious self-harm scars for the rest of my life, one of the most upsetting long-term impacts has actually been that hallucinating has left me forever questioning each of my five senses. I mean, I was with a support worker in her car once and there was a person dressed up in a cow costume outside a new Butcher’s shop. And whilst it was a strange sight, it would be totally understandable for a lot of people who recognise the Butcher’s relevance. For me though, I questioned the validity of it. I doubted my eyesight and I asked my support worker if she could see the dancing cow too! It’s a simple, unassuming luxury – to not wonder whether what you’re experiencing is actually happening.
When I first started hallucinating in 2009, there was either stories in the media that painted mental illness in a terrible, murderous light, or no stories and a lack of publicity to raise awareness or educate the general public to avoid stigma and discrimination. Ultimately, the stark contrast left me extremely frightened that I was ‘going crazy’ when I started hearing voices. And horror stories of my local psychiatric hospital meant that I was completely ambivalent to the idea of telling someone about it to get help or support. Ironically, that refusal to get help from the early days, was probably one of the main factors that contributed to me reaching a point where I had to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
I vaguely remember having a Mental Health Act assessment with two psychiatrists and a social worker in a little room near my local A&E department and them asking me why I’d attempted suicide. When I refused to talk about it, the decision was made to section me, and I was repeatedly restrained and sedated until the day-long medical treatment for my attempt was administered. At the time, I was bewildered as to how this was meant to be ‘helpful’ or ‘supportive’ because I felt so suicidal that having my life saved felt like a punishment if anything. And so, from then, most professionals (varying from Doctors to Police) became my enemy and the us vs them culture entered my life.
For my first few hospital admissions, everyone seemed to respond… dramatically, maybe? I mean, they all veered on the side of caution and some enormous measures were put in place to maintain my safety. But then, the attitudes changed… To be honest, I think it came after I disclosed the abuse. I think that it left people sceptical that there was any sort of chemical imbalance going on and that led to the ‘attention-seeking’ attitude and discriminatory actions of professionals. I mean, a Police Officer once actually said “why do you like attention so much?!” And the medical staff began questioning my capacity to refuse treatment for any self-harm or suicide attempts.
Those behaviours were so isolating, and I felt completely forgotten about and ignored to an extent that it ended up worsening my mental health. I’d self-harm because I felt terrible, and then I’d be treated terribly so I’d self-harm again. It was a dangerous, vicious cycle. And one that was almost inevitably going to end the way it did… With me on life support in intensive care.
Whilst I took that instance as an all-time low, professionals seemed to take it as a wake-up call, and I was admitted to a specialist psychiatric hospital for two and a half years. To be honest, I only agreed to go into the hospital because I was convinced that I’d be able run away from it, but when I tried, I was promptly sectioned and detained there against my will. And for the following six or seven months I put my energy into being uncooperative in refusing to engage in both therapy and the medication I was prescribed.
I had a turning point on the night I started blogging though, and whilst things were still very much up and down for the majority of 2013, I felt as though I’d really made a start on my journey to recovery. A huge influence on this was the staff. I really noticed a difference in staff who were specifically trained to look after someone with my (at the time) primary diagnosis of Personality Disorder, and all the professionals back home who had wrongly judged my symptoms and my responses to them.
The hospital staff seemed to appreciate that the trauma I’d experienced wasn’t a reason to dismiss me, but to actually regard things as much more serious. They understood that abuse can be extremely powerful and influential on a person’s mental health and that this should be seen as just as dangerous as Schizophrenia and other mental health illnesses that are more ‘easily’ understood. I honestly believe that whether you understand a person’s mental health difficulties or not, can be difference between treating someone with stigma and assumptions to showing care and compassion. And those differences in response, can be the causes for a person to feel more or less unwell or unsafe.
It was strange because being treat so well by the specialist staff felt like a luxury. Like it was really special, and I was so grateful for it; but it was treatment that I should have been receiving the entire time. It was an attitude and behaviour that I should have been shown from all professionals. It shouldn’t have mattered whether they’d done a course on Personality Disorders or not. I should have been treated with kindness. I shouldn’t have felt judged and criticised for the ways I had ended up using to cope with how I was thinking, what I was feeling, and with memories of what I had been through.
Looking back, I can sometimes recognise that perhaps the staff in my locality struggled to appreciate my behaviours and attitude because I found it difficult to explain them. I mean, they just saw me self-harm, ask for help, and then when help was offered run off and cause a massive scene/drama. When actually, it was about the hallucinations talking me into hurting myself and once I’d done it, they’d go quiet so I’d get help, and then they’d get loud and angry with me so I’d take off. But then, should I have had to? Shouldn’t they have helped and supported me to gain that insight rather than ignoring and dismissing me because they were too busy or lacking in empathy too much to put the effort in that required more than a signature on a prescription?!
When I moved back to my hometown from my two-and-a-half-year long admission, I was wary about facing the professionals who – I felt – had only worsened my mental health, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that they’d made some huge changes during the time I’d been away. My local Crisis Team had gone from two staff with one phone line to an entire mini call centre and a whole team of staff who were able to conduct simultaneous assessments.
There were also big changes in my local medical hospitals and my local Police force; and whilst these changes seemingly haven’t applied to all their staff, the majority seemed to have taken a lesson in ‘How To Show Compassion and Empathy.’ And their change in response to me – because recovery isn’t linear so just because I was out of hospital, it didn’t mean it plain sailing – have been hugely influential in my recovery.