I’m invincible

I win every single game,

I’m so powerful,

I don’t need batteries to play,

I’m so confident

Yeah, I’m unstoppable today

Sia - Unstoppable

Her Majesty The Queen, has this year, become the first British Monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee which marked 70 years of her reign for the people of the UK, the Realms, and the Commonwealth. This enormous achievement and – in my opinion – a true sign of dedication, has really inspired this post about dedication and the impact mental health can have on it…

Dedicating my time to destroying him…

During the six months of abuse that I went through when I was younger, I remember feeling almost constantly angry and frustrated. Like, if someone gave me a pillow, I’d be able to scream into it for days on end without stopping – even just to take a breath! And I think the majority of that came from the fact that for so many reasons, I couldn’t tell anyone what was happening to me and so I put a lot of effort into my frantic and desperate attempts to somehow ‘show’ people instead. But no matter the height of the gravity behind my desperation, all the ‘signs’ I exhibited were either ignored, dismissed, or misinterpreted.

The anger and frustration of feeling so let down by the people who were trained and therefore supposed to be looking out for all of the changes in my behaviour and attitude that were listed as key signs of abuse; was only escalated by my abuser and some of the comments he made. I mean, he regularly pointed out the fact that he had a much better reputation than me amongst his colleagues and my peers. He said it as though I didn’t know full well that he was respected and admired when I was seen as a troublemaker because of the change in my behaviour. Ironic, really, that my actions to try to draw attention to the fact there was something wrong became the very reason why I felt even more unable to speak up properly!

The feeling of being ignored and my physical inability to stop my abuser led to my anger becoming so much more than screaming into a pillow. I had a pure and intense hatred in my heart. I mean I wished so many bad things on my abuser, and then I hated that I had those thoughts and feelings because they weren’t who I am. I wasn’t a spiteful, nasty person who held grudges… You know, people talk about forgiveness and if I say that I will never forgive my abuser, I always get the “that’s-completely-understandable” comment. And so, I know that me saying how angry I became, will likely leave others unsurprised and reassure me of the fact that the hatred I felt, didn’t mean I was a bad person.

The anger and hatred I experienced was so completely intense and all-consuming that I found – and still occasionally do – it difficult to put it into words that would effectively and efficiently explain just how it felt. It was one of those feelings where it’s almost as though no one can possibly even begin to understand it – even where the person has had similar experiences. And this is one huge reason why I felt completely lost and alone in it; and that was a massive influence on the impact of my coping mechanisms… I mean, to put it bluntly, if I were to self-harm just thinking of whatever I was upset about, I’d need a plaster and maybe steri-strips. If I self-harmed whilst thinking about my abuser, however, I’d need plastic surgery. 

This only exacerbated the anger towards him because why should I be the one struggling and in pain when he had started (I was still uncertain on the blame for the entire thing) the abuse?! Which meant that in finally reporting it to the Police two years after it had physically finished, I did so with the recognition that it would enhance the potential for him to finally suffer now too. And that had become so much more important to me because since the end of the abuse, he’d been given a promotion in his career! A promotion which allowed him greater opportunity to abuse more children. With me already questioning how much responsibility I should take for the abuse, meant that I was more vulnerable to blaming myself for the notion that not speaking up would increase the chance of him being able to hurt others. Whilst holding this blame wasn’t right or healthy, it did have the most right and healthy influence on me to speak to the Police and finally give my statement which led to his arrest.

To be honest, the nice and thoughtful side of me did wonder whether I would feel bad knowing that my words could have a hugely detrimental impact on him. I mean, his job, his friends, his colleagues, his reputation, his family… So many people would be faced with hugely difficult predicaments and emotional damage. But I found myself recognising that all of those challenges were his own doing; if he hadn’t done anything then none of it would have happened. He brought it all upon himself.

Being dedicated to ending my life

During the abuse, I remember one instance where I was looking out of my abuser’s first floor window in his office and really vividly imagining myself jumping out of it. And when the vision of me actually hitting the ground terrified me, I began considering other methods… But just as fast as they came, they blurred and became vague just as quickly; and I didn’t have another even remotely similar thoughts for the following two years.

To be honest, even when I first experienced auditory hallucinations in the form of voices in 2009, I genuinely didn’t envision things escalating into an actual suicide attempt just ten days later. In fairness, even in the middle of it, I didn’t properly consider it to be a suicide attempt. It wasn’t until I was rushed to hospital in an ambulance and being told I needed life-saving treatment, that I was actually faced with the opportunity to recognise it for what it was. And being confronted by that recognition… I ran. I ran until the Police found me and sectioned me under the 1983 Mental Health Act before taking me back to the hospital where some Psychiatrists properly sectioned me and ordered for the treatment to be forcibly administered.

After that admission, I spent the following three years (2009 – 2012) in and out of both medical and psychiatric hospitals to the regularity where my records state I was admitted over 60 times during those years. Because it just kept escalating… I mean, at the very worst/most difficult time, I was self-harming in a way that could have killed me (though it wasn’t my intention to do so) about two or three times a week. And I began to find that I was going in a circle… I would feel terrible and be overwhelmed by the hallucinations so I’d self-harm but then that – the response I’d get from professionals and the disappointment of the hallucinations when I got help for what I had done – would make me feel even worse and I’d do something else.

It was almost inevitable that in June 2012, I made a third suicide attempt and it resulted in me being put on life support in Intensive Care. My last words before I was sedated were “I hope something goes wrong and I die anyway.” Of course, nothing did and so, when I was woken from the coma, I was admitted to a specialist (in Personality Disorders) psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away from home and it was definitely a ‘gets-worse-before-it-gets-better’ kind of thing… I mean, for the first year or so of my admission there, I was pretty reluctant to engage in the Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) that was the recommended ‘treatment’ for someone with a diagnosis of a Personality Disorder. I was also really hesitant to take the medication I was prescribed and when I realised that no matter how much I refused to adhere to things, they weren’t going to give up and discharge me anyway – as most hospitals back home would – I began planning.

I made another suicide attempt as an inpatient when I was granted unescorted leave from the hospital and managed to jump over two fences and a gate to get to a taxi I had booked in advance. When the Police found me in a nearby city later that day, I refused the treatment I required for my attempt, but I was already sectioned under Section 3 of the 1983 Mental Health Act and so the professionals were allowed to force it upon me. I remember being so desperate to die and escape everything that when they put a cannula in one of my feet, I used the toes on my other foot to pull it out. And doing that, really motivates my response when someone labels suicide as an ‘easy way out’ because at no point was it ‘easy’ to fight against the restraints and sedatives! And I think that seeing me managing to defy all their efforts, was the point when the Doctors realised that I needed to be put on a ventilator for the duration of the treatment.

Whilst I was in the coma, apparently my liver function deteriorated, and I needed extra doses of the antidote treatment over a few days before I could be woken up. When I was, the psychiatric hospital staff were sat beside me and when we arrived back at that hospital, I was promptly taken to the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) rather than the ward I’d spent over one year on. Whilst I was on the PICU, I honestly can’t remember ever feeling more suicidal…

My first life-saving dedication: I’m NOT Disordered

Whilst in the specialist psychiatric hospital, I had a really productive 1:1 with my Key Nurse (who I began to see as a second Mum!) in which we devised a care plan for me to start doing some writing about the abuse every evening as a means of being able to feel that the staff were fully aware of everything that had happened to me. Agreeing to do this felt like a massive step forward and a big symbol of me finally working towards recovery and the biggest goal of being discharged from hospital. This notion gave me the idea to start documenting things so that I could really see my progress and for some reason, I decided that creating a blog (something which I’d not done before) would be the best way to do this.

Not only had I never tried blogging, but there was also no publicity about the industry. I think there was around three or four well-known mental health blogs when I created, I’m NOT Disordered in January 2013. With none of these pre-existing blogs being written by a current psychiatric inpatient, I’m NOT Disordered had instantly filled a niche; but that wasn’t something I really cared about in those early days. My target audience was purely my friends and family on my private Facebook account because it was their understanding and support that was the priority in the beginning. I was hoping that by providing my loved ones with more details of what I was going through it would enable them to have better knowledge of mental health in general and that having that education might mean they can either better support me and anyone else struggling, or that it would give them the confidence to speak up about their own mental health.

Whilst it took a long time until I began to see I’m NOT Disordered as a career, I very quickly recognised it to be beneficial for my own mental health. I mean, with the psychiatric ward I was on only having women with a diagnosis of Personality Disorder, it would be fair to say that it made for a very volatile and dramatic environment. And, being detained under Section 3 of the 1983 Mental Health Act, meant that my freedom was so controlled and rare that I couldn’t just walk away when things on the ward got tense. I couldn’t just leave when there was screaming and arguments and restraints and alarms… But what I could do, was turn my laptop on (during the hours we were permitted to have access to them) and write a blog post. And doing that – getting all the words out and seeing them on the screen? Well, it felt like a huge relief – both emotionally and physically. It was like that saying about having a weight lifted from your shoulders. I found that having a space (even though it was virtual) where I could offload and, in all honesty, basically just have a moan about life in hospital, was really therapeutic and comforting.

Finding the consistently intensifying benefits from blogging, I found myself making it accessible for more and more people and started to watch the size of its audience grow and grow. And when I began receiving emails and feedback from readers talking about how my blog had given them hope or had made them feel less alone, or even just that they’d enjoyed reading the content, I found myself becoming more and more dedicated to maintaining it. Feeling as though I had committed to providing blog posts and helping others through them, was a great motivation on the rare occasions when I used to lose that. 

These last few years though… Well, in terms of I’m NOT Disordered, they’ve been the best! Finding that dedication has meant I’ve been able to have some incredible experiences, I’ve been given a lot of amazing opportunities, and have had a number of collaborations with hugely important organisations and individuals. And doing these things have really boosted my mental health at times when I’ve been struggling.

Dedicating myself to recovery

In the summer of 2012, whilst I was sectioned in my local psychiatric h, a Psychiatrist I’d met many times before said that he thought I should be referred to a hospital specialising in Personality Disorders. He explained that after three years in and out of hospital, he thought it clear that there wasn’t the right help available in my locality and that if I didn’t get that specialist care then I would very likely end up killing myself.

So, whilst in the psychiatric hospital, I had an assessment with a specialist hospital, but they concluded that they couldn’t accept me because they thought that with my flight risk I needed to be in a secure unit – which they weren’t. And with my willingness to sit through the assessments for these other hospitals being seen as me engaging with services, I was discharged from my local hospital.

In the community, I had another assessment with a secure psychiatric hospital for their all-female ward specialising in Borderline Personality Disorder. This time, even though they agreed to admit me, I refused to go. During my assessment the Ward Manager and her Deputy told me about the ‘therapeutic timetable’ and the general ward rules, and I grew more and more reluctant to go into such an environment that I saw as strict and therefore completely unappealing. And for a while, that appeared to be the end of it…

Then, in summer 2012, I attempted suicide and was put on life support in Intensive Care. When I was woken from the coma, I was immediately told that I’d be going to that last hospital whether I agreed or not. In all honesty, my decision-making process went with two main thoughts:

1.       If I agreed and went voluntarily and the hospital admission made things worse, at least I – and others – could say that I’d tried

2.       If I voluntarily went then I’d have the right to leave when I wanted and make another attempt, but this time knowing I’d be far away from my loved ones so they couldn’t stop it

Turns out, at one point when I was in the hospital, I found out there’d been a massive, elaborate plan to have me sectioned and brought there if I’d refused. So, even though I was in the hospital for a matter of hours before trying to escape and being sectioned anyway, I was kind of grateful I had avoided the drama of the plan back home – and having gone there willingly, it meant I’d been able to pack my own bags and have what I wanted with me.

After being sectioned, the hospital staff waited until I was more settled and on medication before finally introducing me to Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). My first instinct when the Therapist started talking about ‘Mindfulness’ and ‘Emotion Regulation’ was to squirm awkwardly and thoroughly rebel against the worksheets we have to complete and the ‘homework’ we’d be given to ensure we were using the new DBT skills on a day-to-day basis.

Everything changed when I went AWOL in 2013 – around a year after being admitted – and managed to make a suicide attempt before the Police found me. Once again, I ended up on life support; but this time for longer as my liver function began deteriorating. When I was woken, I was put on the ward above the one I’d ran from, the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). I remember that regardless of feeling really nauseous and sleepy, I was terrified because there had been so many instances of hearing screaming from the PICU and there was a lot of horror stories circulating.

Fortunately, instead of the situation completely knocking me back and leaving me feeling totally resigned and hopeless, it was the very positive kick-up-the-bum that I’d needed! Being sick on this plastic mattress on a bed attached to the floor, whilst having a complete stranger watch me the entire time (I was put on eyesight observations) and with a ton of screaming and alarms providing the background noise; I reached the conclusion that I didn’t want this to be my life. It was strange because it wasn’t as though I had wanted that, just that I’d been indifferent to it because I hadn’t cared what happened to me.

From that moment, I complied with everything and was eventually transferred back down to my ward where I finally began engaging in DBT, became honest about the impact the medication I was being prescribed was having/not having, and found that when I needed to ‘escape,’ I could do so in reading and blogging.

And, it turns out, putting all of the energy that I’d previously used in my self-harm and suicide attempts, into working towards my recovery got me kinda far and kinda fast!

Exciting, future dedications

As you may have seen/read, there are plans for more collaborations with the North East Ambulance Service in the pipeline (mainly for World Mental Health Day in October).

Other projects in discussion and planning are an event with Cumbria, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust around Personality Disorder, disassociation and trauma, and some work with Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals.

Finally, the dedication creeping into my mind for consideration and ideas, is Blogmas 2022! I like to think that I can do bigger and better each year so this is why the planning stage begins so early in the year!

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