Earlier this month (July 17th), it was eight years to the date of me being sectioned and beginning a two-and-a-half-year long admission in a psychiatric hospital which specialised in Personality Disorders...
For the three years previously to that admission, I’d been in and out of both psychiatric and medical hospitals because my local NHS mental health Trust had no services specifically for someone with a Personality Disorder diagnosis. The lack of understanding from the professionals who – in my opinion – should have actually been the most knowledgeable people in providing help and support, contributed to a number of other reasons why I had made two suicide attempts and self harmed on a number of occasions. The lack of services in my locality was also a reasons why, when I ended up on life support after a third suicide attempt, the professionals made the decision to admit me to a private hospital over 100 miles away from home, where the ‘average length of admission, was 12 – 18 months.
After around six or seven months in the hospital, I had a really positive 1:1 with my Key Nurse and it felt like such a productive step toward recovery, that I decided I wanted to document it in some way. And so, I’m NOT Disordered was born and my blogging career began.
Initially for this post, I was going to pick my eight favourite posts, but having over 1,000 published pieces, means it’d be pretty challenging to pick only eight from the entire nine years I’ve been blogging. Also, I’ve had so many incredible experiences and opportunities to work with some amazing and inspirational people and organisations, so how could I possibly label eight as being the ‘best?!’ So, I thought I’d concentrate on the very first few posts…
POST ONE: THE ONE WHERE I BEGIN BLOGGING
Whilst my very initial motivation to start blogging was about having somewhere I could document my journey through my mental health recovery; almost instantly after I started writing my first blog post, I found myself discovering more and more reasons to do it…
Firstly, I recognised that writing about everything going on in my life and inside my head was actually really helpful and comforting for my mental health. I liked the notion that I didn’t have to regulate my thoughts and feelings and words, when I’d felt for months like I could only tell the hospital staff half the story for fear of the consequences if they knew everything I was experiencing. With my blog, I could just write everything down and it would all leave my head; almost like a pressure being lifted, and a sudden quiet would fill my head, which felt completely drained from the constant buzz and frantic thinking I’d been overwhelmed by for years.
Unleashing all of these pent up thoughts, memories, and feelings through I’m NOT Disordered was helpful in another way too. It also provided my family and friends (who were my only target audience – my blog wasn’t started to be so public and popular!) with a better knowledge and understanding of my experiences, and this really aided them in grasping the reasons behind the things I did and the person I had become. Having spent the three years before this hospital admission completely secretive about my mental health (to the point where I would tell outright lies to my best friends to avoid telling them that I couldn’t go on a night out because I had self harmed and was in A&E) the honesty and openness of writing my blog posts was refreshing and enjoyable.
Another benefit of my new-found honesty came from the conversation that actually started the whole creation of I’m NOT Disordered! I had a 1:1 with my Key Nurse and was crying, saying that no one could ever help me because I could never tell anyone everything that had happened. And being the lovely lady she is, she encouraged me to try writing about all the pieces of the abuse that no one knew about even five years later! She offered to read what I had written and to communicate it to other staff with the hope that it would enable them to be better placed in providing me with more efficient and effective help and support when I was struggling.
In addition to these benefits of being honest, there’s one that has only recently occurred to me… By telling you all the truth and being 100% open about my life, there’s little to no chance of anyone spiteful being able to use something against me. And I like that this is especially true for my abuser. I mean, one large reason why I didn’t report the abuse immediately was a fear that he’d come out with all sorts of lies about me and since he was so well respected and admired, I felt fairly confident that he’d be believed no matter how furious or passionate my denials were. This way, I’m kind of beating people to the punch!
POST TWO: THE JUSTIN BIEBER #CUTFORBIEBER RANT
I think people were actually a bit surprised to discover that this post was only my second one… And their surprise likely comes from the thought that surely it would have taken me some time to build the confidence, courage, and awareness that it would presumably take to write a post so daring. Like, how could a brand new blogger feel able to speak their mind over such a controversial issue in a really honest way?
Thing is, my mum brought me up to always speak my mind and not to let others quieten my voice, my thoughts, and my opinions. And she taught me this in the same way she taught me to always be respectful and considerate of others and to treat them and their views how I would like me and mine to be treat. And these important life lessons (which are things I’d want to tell my own children) have meant that I felt so torn when I couldn’t report the abuse… I was so used to being honest and standing up for myself when I felt slighted in any way, and so to have this ‘person’ leave me so speechless? Even though he was causing me the most pain I’d ever had inflicted on me? How was I – a naïve, fifteen year old – meant to understand that? Meant to make sense of it?
So, for the entirety of the abuse (all six months of it) I kept quiet… But then, two years later, I found myself pouring my heart out to another psychiatric hospital inpatient and her encouraging me to finally report all that had happened, to the ‘right’ people. And whilst talking to the police, giving my statement, going through a video interview, and having to delve into details I’d 100% rather not think about, was traumatising; I have never regretted it. Regardless of my mental health still deteriorating, my level of safety continuing to go up and down, and the memories of the abuse feeling more and more challenging in the time from talking to the Police in 2009 and being deemed to be in recovery in 2014; I have never felt as though reporting the abuse was a backwards step.
Finally talking about the abuse was obviously very beneficial to me… I mean, it meant professionals were better placed for helping and supporting me with my mental health. It also meant that my Mum knew everything and that gave her an increased understanding of why I would do the things that I did e.g. self-harm etc. And, I finally became confident that I had done everything in my power to stop the chance of him doing the same thing to more children. However, it wasn’t all about me; it also meant that when I created I’m NOT Disordered, I was immediately able to talk about reporting abuse. I could not only tell my story and my experience of the process I went through in making the report, but I could also use it as encouragement. To help reassure any readers who were yet to report their own experience of abuse that it was the best thing to do – even if it sometimes it feels like the complete opposite. It would always be right, brave, and inspirational.
I think I – and, as a result, I’m NOT Disordered also did – hit a real turning point after I received an email, in response to a blog post about reporting abuse, from a lady stating that my post had given her the support and motivation to finally report the abuse she’d experienced in her childhood. This feedback really opened my eyes and illustrated the power of the influence I could harness through my blog posts. And recognising this, gave me the determination and passion to help others. To use my terrible experiences as a means for both comforting others who are going through similar things that they aren’t alone, and showing those people that there’s hope. That there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
In addition to helping others in that way, I also hope that my blog, the detail I go into on it, and the honesty I use in my content will also benefit those with little to no, personal experience of mental illness… Having a great amount of knowledge on the existence of mental health stigma, I of the belief that a huge contributor to people having such a negative, spiteful, arrogant, and rude attitude toward some of the most vulnerable members of society, is a lack of education and understanding. They are ignorant and discriminatory because they haven’t comprehended or appreciated how the person they’re treating poorly is feeling and what they are thinking. And I hope that I’m NOT Disordered provides some level of insight for those people to mean they are better informed and more compassionate.
The influence my blog has, is something I’ve been able to harness to allow me to both secure, and be offered, amazing collaborations with well-known individuals and huge organisations. Initially, I actually wasn’t too keen on the idea of featuring collaborations on I’m NOT Disordered. This was mostly because for the early days, my target audience was simply friends and family, and I knew that working with others on content would likely earn my blog more attention from the addition of the partner’s followers.
What changed my mind and led to my now, enormous, love for working with others was the recognition that in doubling my blog’s publicity, I was also doubling the opportunity for my content to help others. And as the blog’s popularity grew, I found myself realising that it’s ability to have influence – mostly in the mental health world – meant that a collaboration could be beneficial for the partner too. This has proven to be particularly useful in spreading the word of a campaign or the existence of an organisation or product, because it can mean my blog provides access to an audience that the partner might not typically consider or target.
POST THREE: IMAGERY EXERCISE IN PSYCHOLOGY
Mental health is such a minefield of assumptions and stigmas and in light of me just talking about the importance of honesty, I won’t lie and say that I’ve never made assumptions nor held stigma around mental health. And the one most relevant (but I wouldn’t deem it the worst) to this part of the post was around therapy and the skills taught in it. Primarily, the thought of mindfulness and imagery exercises were what really put me off the idea of engaging or cooperating with any professionals trying to encourage or teach me to use these as coping mechanisms when I was struggling.
I think that my biggest reason for being hesitant at the thought of trying these, was because my assumptions had meant I actually thought them to be condescending. As though the professionals recommending them were being insulting by thinking that something as mundane or as simple as imagining a ‘safe place’ would make a difference to my suicidal thoughts and the hallucinations I was experiencing. I was left thinking ‘if it were that easy, surely I would have tried it by now?’ Like the age-old banter about how the Crisis Team are really well known to suggest you take a bath or make a hot drink when you ring them. I mean, you could be so unsafe and bawling your eyes out and that could still be something they would say! But, in fairness, I understand that there might be occasions where someone is so caught up in their terrible thoughts and feelings that they struggle to think of trying such activities out as a means of coping. My mum used to say that when I was poorly – and particularly if I was planning to self harm – I would go into a sort of tunnel that would zap me of being reasonable and considering any safe, alternative coping skills. So prompting someone to remember the other ways they can manage their thoughts and feelings safely can be useful, especially when the gravity of those thoughts and feelings are validated first and foremost.
Now, the reason I’ve added in ‘safe’ with ‘recommended coping mechanisms’ is because it’s no great secret that in the mental health world, there can be so many unsafe and negative recommended coping methods… And that wasn’t always about the professionals suggesting things that leave you feeling patronised. It was mostly about other service users or inpatients.
In all honesty, I don’t know whether my first memory of inpatients inspiring others in this way, is only my first because my mental health was much better by then. So, there may have been many more examples and instances that I don’t recall because I was so poorly and generally unaware of a lot of the things going on around me… But, in my opinion, nothing could have topped the instance I can remember.
I was in the specialist psychiatric hospital and had been for some time (over a year I think), when the staff came around saying we all had to go into the communal sitting room while a search of all the bedrooms and en-suite bathrooms was conducted. At one point during the hours of searching, staff came in and told us that the reason for the ward lockdown was that after numerous instances of the girls (it was a woman’s only ward) ending up with similar self harm injuries, someone had handed a blade in. The staff explained they were ensuring no more contraband items had been snuck in and that even if the search came up with nothing, we wouldn’t be allowed to return to our rooms until someone admitted to being the person who’d brought the blade in.
I remember being literally sickened by the realisation that people having similar injuries from the same object meant that each of the girls with those wounds had done so and then passed the blade onto the next girl knowing full well what that other girl was going to do with it! In my opinion, it was worse than encouraging someone to self harm as a coping mechanism because the tool to do so was also being supplied. It meant that these girls – who claimed to feel like a family (and there was a point where I agreed and felt that way too) – were providing each other with the ability to do something that had proven harmful for themselves… Like, if self harming had led to so many bad consequences in your own life, why would you want someone you love to engage in that behaviour?
You know, I always try to see a balance in things, so I try to understand that there might be an element of desperation here. That the person who passes on the blade to another, is doing so because they’re desperate to help them and they focus on the tiniest, most minor relief they receive in self harming and want someone to experience that. It might not be about self harm at all, it might simply be a completely warped and unsafe desperate attempt to help another person. To me, even trying to balance it, it feels quite alien and I struggled to keep quiet (no real surprise if you know me) when we were all cooped up in that awful sitting room. I remember saying that the person who’d started this entire thing needed to own up and take responsibility for it because since the moment they’d snuck that blade in, they hadn’t had any consequences. And the fact that the object they’d brought in had to led to girls needing to go to hospital and get stitches…?! Well, how can someone walk away from that with no real punishment and without even simply apologising for the entire drama they had caused and which we were all suffering from?
Whilst I had no real involvement in the actual situation – I hadn’t been passed the blade and actually had no idea it was even happening until being locked in the sitting room! – it definitely contributed to my desire to help others and my passion to talk about the safe, healthy, and positive coping mechanisms I have learnt over my years of recovery. I’m no fool though; I know there will be others out there who are encouraging coping in this way, I just hope the people they’re influencing are smart and brave enough to recognise whose recommendations they really should be following.
POST FOUR: THE BAD TRIBUNAL
In this blog post, I had appealed the decision of the professionals to detain me under section 3 of the 1983 Mental Health Act and keep me in the specialist psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away from home, against my will. In this post, I talked about how my argument on why discharging me would be a good idea revolved around the promise and belief that if I felt suicidal when I was back home, I would get help. But, if they kept me in hospital and I managed to escape, I could assure them that there’d be no opportunity for the professionals to save me.
Looking back? Of course I can see why that mindset wasn’t, ultimately, in my best interests but I’m 100% certain that at the time, I was fully convinced that it was exactly what I needed and wanted. I mean, at that time in my mental health journey, I thought of life as a punishment and so I resented all of the professionals trying to save me. I would think ‘if they really believed just how hard things were, they wouldn’t keep forcing treatment on me and admitting me to hospital.’ And that motivation for my refusal to cooperate meant that I’ve been incredibly lucky that all of my rebellious acts have not been ‘successful’ because if they had, I would have never seen that my thought process was only there because I was poorly. I could have ended the chance of things getting better – because they definitely have!
You know, my first suicide attempt wasn’t the first time I felt suicidal… The first time was actually during the abuse when I found myself in my abuser’s office when he had called my Mum in (and my Nana came) and was playing the caring, thoughtful role he’d led people to believe. I remembered looking out of his window and thinking ‘that’s the only way to make this stop. It’s the only way to really end this.’ I honestly believed that dying was in my best interests. And before I knew it, those thoughts had me crying and shaking and running from the office with my Nana coming after me. And of course I didn’t tell her what was really wrong.
All my reasons not to report the abuse meant that it physically continued for six months and by that point, I’d grown so angry at trying to stay silent that I blurted the entire thing out to my abuser’s boss. After being called a manipulative liar, I knew I could never speak about it again. But that continued silence that felt almost compulsory meant that I was left to struggle with the memories and myself and think up coping skills. Coping skills that, if I’d had support and someone to turn to for advice, definitely wouldn’t have been recommended. But again, I honestly thought that they were helping save my life. I thought that if I didn’t do these things, I would end up suicidal again.
I think that it really wasn’t until shortly after I created I’m NOT Disordered in 2013 that I finally began to reconsider my thoughts and views on what would be best for me. For my mental health. For my life. This was partly because I was sectioned and in a psychiatric hospital when I started blogging, so that enabled me to be safer in general. However, the progress into a healthier outlook, mostly resulted from all of the benefits blogging brought me. I mean, from near the very beginning, I just knew that it was going to help me through the hospital admission – in all honesty, I definitely didn’t foresee or expect I’m NOT Disordered to become all that it is today. But, I was confident that it was the best thing for me to be dedicating my time and effort to when it came to the free time there was outside of the therapeutic timetable that was built up of activities, groups, and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) sessions.
Since starting to blog, I’ve discovered so many things, but I think one of the greatest has been the influence it (blogging/writing) can have on a person – whether that be the person writing it or the person who is reading it… And this has meant I’m NOT Disordered has proven to be such a useful reflection tool in providing me with a great opportunity to process my thoughts, feelings, and experiences more efficiently and safely. Doing so, has meant I’ve felt there to be so many less chances of me being wrong about what is best for me.