So, I’ve been working with the Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (NUTH) for over a year (you can read all of our previous collaboration posts above) on their upcoming Mental Health Strategy and spending so long on this project, has really opened my eyes to so much that I thought I might confront, and so much that I hadn’t even imagined would come up from doing this! The main experience and huge benefit from this project, for me though, has been the recognition that in working together, so many thoughts and feelings I’d held against the Trust for saving my life when I made a suicide attempt were completely changed; and for so many different reasons…

Going through abuse can really leave you quite vulnerable in so many ways, but particularly when it comes to your thoughts, feelings, and opinions on hatred and resentment, and this can go on to affect so many instances and relationships in your future… So, for me – in the beginning – I held a lot of anger and hatred towards my abuser and was 100% confident of both the fact that he was worthy of it and that it was completely fine for me to feel this way. I didn’t foresee anything bad arising from it. If anything, to be honest, I thought it was a good thing – a healthy thing. I thought that anyone and everyone would be full of this amount of anger and spite if they had gone through what I had.

At two or three years after the abuse, I found myself feeling like a bit of a volcano. I felt the hatred and all the anger and notions of revenge building inside of me and the desperate urge to expel even just a small amount of it was so intense that I did – I exploded. Like a volcano. I threw rock and boiling hot lava at myself; and then, I threw it and burnt all those around me who tried to find out and wanted to understand the cause of my explosion and the actual original source of all that heat. In doing these things almost constantly for around three years, in 2012, I found myself waking up from life support in the Royal Victoria Infirmary’s (RVI – an NUTH site) Intensive Care after a suicide attempt.

Ironically, as my mental health recovered, I ended up resenting them for two opposing reasons… Firstly, I had a level of resentment towards them for saving my life in putting me on the ventilator and giving me the life-saving antidote treatment to what I had taken for my suicide attempt. When my mental health first took a nose-dive at that two- or three-year mark after the abuse, I held some hope that recovery was possible for quite a while; about a year or so to be exact. I felt reassured that services were trying to help and support me.

But then, it was almost like I slipped back into a habit… I had held that anger and hatred toward my abuser for so long that it had almost become a natural part of me. As though it was a defining quality. As though I wasn’t quite ‘me’ without those thoughts and feelings. And so, almost easily, I found myself holding a furious spite towards mental health and emergency services – against all those professionals who kept saving my life… I began to look at it as though they were thinking I deserved to go through all the hardship and upset that I was experiencing on a 24/7 basis. I felt sad, angry, disappointed, hopeless, I had memories of the abuse take over my head at inconvenient moments, and I fully believed that I was worthy of pain. The fact that professionals and staff were taking actions that meant I continued to experience these things, felt like an acknowledgement from them, that I should be punished in their agreement that I’d deserved the abuse.

So, when NUTH staff – namely the resuscitation department of A&E – made the decision to put me on a ventilator and force me to survive another day, I hated them for it. I think that whilst I thought them to be agreeing with me, the anger came from the fact that they very frequently professed to be keeping to their ‘duty of care’ and telling me time and time again that I should have hope because I could get better. It was like… Like they were saying these things for show because they would say that but, in my opinion, were actually doing the opposite.

The opposing resentment that I experienced towards NUTH as a Trust, was when I found out that when my Mum had come to see me in ICU and had spoken to the Psychiatric Liaison Team (PLT) at the RVI, she had told them she wanted me to be sectioned and admitted to a psychiatric hospital once I was physically well again. The PLT staff then told her that I would be being sent home as soon as I was conscious and well enough. My Mum had desperately tried to have them recognise I needed to be sectioned in asking what would happen if I couldn’t go home; PLT told her I’d be sent to a homeless shelter…

The resentment I developed around this aspect of the instance was born from the notion that their ‘duty of care’ seemed to only extend halfway… They’d do the most straight-forward actions like sedate someone and put a tube down their throat and attach them to a drip. but when it came to actually helping someone long-term, to change their life around, and to improve their mental health? They were busy and their ‘duty’ was gone. It also meant that my Mum went through added hardship to contact my Community Mental Health Team who ensured I was sectioned and admitted to a long-term, specialist psychiatric hospital over 100 miles away, where I found myself being an inpatient for over 2 years.

Whilst I was in the specialist hospital, I still had a number of medical issues (varying from when I broke my foot after trying to kick the locked doors open, to when my antipsychotic medication had my heartrate going at 153 bpm!) and that meant I occasionally attended their local A&E and medical hospital. In those instances, I very quickly recognised the difference in my levels of hesitance and general nervousness when faced with going to a hospital that I knew and which has staff I was familiar with, and going to one I didn’t have a clue about; especially where I didn’t know the way out if I wanted to make a run for it(!) and couldn’t recognise any of the staff. It was almost similar to one of those instances about not appreciating something you have until it’s gone… though, admittedly, in a bit more of an unusual way!

Change was a notion that I had seriously struggled with in those three years before this specialist admission because I still felt really de-stabilised by the abuse and rape. The person who hurt me had done so by earning a reputation for being a trusting, respectable professional who was dedicated to helping others and who appeared concerned about me but used that to gather numerous opportunities for us to be left alone together. He went from being someone I thought I could look up to and rely on, to being the person deserving of a ton of hatred that felt as though it was so powerful and intense that it darkened my heart and left it shivering, cold, and feeling completely hopeless. And the thing with abuse is… If it happens to you, it fills your life. It becomes a definition and engulfs anything positive or ridicules anything that you might have previously thought of as important. In doing this, it means that you can really struggle to imagine that anyone new can be different to your abuser. I mean, you have your memories with your family and your friends; and yes, there can be a resentment there if it feels like no one is seeing what it happening to you or no one is doing anything about it, but you still know who they are, and you can still differentiate between them and your abuser. But someone new coming into your life? How could you ever possibly trust someone to be the person they claim to be, ever again?

Then, coming out of the abuse, it was like the ground was unsettled and unstable. I felt shaky and I honestly feel like I’m still stumbling around trying to survive and desperately looking for solid, steady ground where I can be safe, still, and alive. And so, going to that specialist hospital all those miles away was terrifying and then going to their medical hospital just kind of added to the fear and unease. It’s like NUTH’s PLT were saying to me recently; if you’re speaking to a healthcare professional, it’s typically not for a good reason, and so the last thing you need is for anything to make that worse in whatever way possible.

As we all know, mental health recovery isn’t linear and so after a two-and-a-half-year admission to the specialist hospital, I moved back North, and there were still instances that resulted in me having to attend NUTH’s RVI in both their A&E department and their Plastic Surgery department. The one poor experience I had there since returning North in 2014 which really stands out for me, was in 2020 when one of the Plastic Surgeons voiced concerns about repairing a self-harm wound with the conviction that I was going to go and do it all over again (I actually blogged about it: “YOU’RE JUST GOING TO CUT AGAIN!” | THE IMPORTANCE OF BELIEF & HOPE IN MENTAL HEALTH | MY RECENT SURGERY | I'm NOT Disordered (imnotdisordered.co.uk)). I remember thinking ‘if he believes it – in a way that makes him confident enough to voice it – then how can people keep telling me to have hope and that this is all a ‘blip’ that will get better?’ He left me feeling pretty hopeless and that’s very obviously not a great notion to enhance in someone who is seeing you because they’ve self-harmed!

Fortunately, as you can see if you read that blog post, the Nursing staff had a helpful response for my upset at the comment and that helped me to not completely lose faith in NUTH and refuse to ever step foot in there again! And so, when the opportunity came up to work with their Patient Experience Team via the Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust’s (CNTW) Involvement Bank, I was more than willing to apply and see if I could be involved in their intention to create a mental health strategy that will operate across their services Trust-wide.

Now, in a way, it’s really sad that this project was so very incredible to me because it’s really something that all NHS Trusts should be kind of automatically doing; but it’s like the controversy around Awareness dates… Some people argue that it’s wrong to have this one day dedicated to an illness or a difficult issue, when it’s typically about something that can actually affect someone 24/7, 365 days a year! Whilst this is a notion and opinion I completely understand and can see sense in believing, I try to look at it as being grateful that at least there is an Awareness occasion for these important, life-changing – and, sometimes, defining – issues/illnesses etc. And again, this is sort of sad for that same reason – this shouldn’t be something a person is grateful for; it should just be the norm or some sort of given.

The fact is, though, these things aren’t being done all the time and so there comes a point where I think this inadequacy and injustice and inequality needs to be accepted – not in a way of defeat – more in an effort to feel more peaceful and less tense and not lost in the notion that you have to fight for these things to happen. There’s only so much fighting a person can do. And so, I’m enjoying all the positive and productive thoughts and feelings that I’m filled with at the idea of NUTH engaging in the creation of this strategy and – perhaps more importantly – in their methods of involving actual patients(!), mental health service users, and carers at every level in the entirety of the development, design, and overall creation of it. I believe that in doing this, they’re showing a real gesture of respect and dedication. They’re illustrating that they appreciate the thoughts and feelings of those who use their services and that they value their opinions and genuinely want to work alongside them in bettering their Trust and all that they do.

My mental health has taken another huge dip for these past few weeks, and I’ve found myself in the midst of being labelled as having ‘psychotic beliefs’ or ‘psychotic episodes’, being added to the caseload of the Northumberland CNTW Crisis Team and attending NUTH to be treat for two dangerous actions I’d taken and to have a wound operated on (though, unfortunately, in my recent surgery with them they were unable to repair my Superficial Radial Nerve – obviously not without trying!). For each of these instances, the staff were so lovely, in particular though; were two of their PLT staff whose names I’ve ashamedly forgotten already (to be fair, there’s so much going on right now though, and I’ve seen so many professionals recently that it’s kind of hard to keep track of all the names buzzing around!) who assessed me in a horrible and completely depressing little room (something that needs improving!) on the Assessment Suite of NUTH’s RVI!

The PLT staff talked through a leaflet they had that you could fill in together and one of the staff ended up mentioning Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) which I’d never heard of and with her conviction that I might benefit from learning about it, she told me and the other staff about it and we all actually did an EFT exercise right there in that room! Initially, I was making jokes and messing around, but then I found myself concentrating on it for just a little while, and within minutes I was crying! Now, I had sort of known that could happen because they told me it was like acupuncture but without the needles and I know someone who had acupuncture and got really emotional during it because it’s meant to be a bit of a natural release. But I honestly didn’t think it would actually happen to me because I’ve never been one to use – or even practice! – breathing/mindfulness exercises; mostly because I’ve felt 100% confident, they wouldn’t work or help me and also because they’re just not something that I think I would make a habit of doing…

I was massively appreciative of doing this with NUTH’S PLT and that meant being very thankful to the two staff who’d done it, but I also recognise that professionals aren’t always, necessarily seen as individuals… So, when a Psychiatrist or Nurse has been negative or terrible towards/with me in some way, I often recognise them as representing the Trust, organisation, or team they are working for. And, for me, this has typically meant that their wrongful attitude or actions have shaped my view of the entire rest of the staff from their same employer. Now, I recognise that this might seem like a bad attitude to have, but I’d like to think it can be somewhat appreciated why I would think and feel this way. And the way this comes into things is that I realised if I think one professional should cloud my judgement of all the others, why shouldn’t it work in a more positive way? Like, why shouldn’t the entire organisation be seen in a better light when one – or hopefully more – of their staff are amazing and helpful? It’s like I say about credit where credit’s due – so many organisations only hear about when they’ve done something wrong and receive complaints, but surely, they should equally receive praise and compliments when they do a good job?

So, in having that thought process, it means that because NUTH’s PLT were so helpful, I now feel more hopeful that if I were to have to see the Team again, I would be more reassured and positive in thinking that they might provide me with some good and useful support. This has also meant that I’m even more excited about their mental health strategy because I feel confident that the additional guidance etc to come from it for all their staff (not just PLT) can literally only improve things! And with that being said, I’d like to say a massive thank you to everyone at NUTH who have acknowledged there is this room for improvement and for caring enough to do all that they can to make it happen!

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