PhoenixCove - Etsy UK

Welcome to Blogmas Unboxed!!

So, the first piece I’m going to share with you from the wonderful and talented Cleo from Phoenix Cove – a popular Etsy store – is this cute little decoration marking that this Christmas is the first one for one of my mini-Lionhead bunny’s; Gracie. So, inspired by this item, I thought I’d write a little piece about her, and I’ve created a reel of some of my favourite moments and photos of both her, and my other mini-Lionhead; Luna (who I got one of the wooden letters for)…  

When I was younger, I had two rabbits (Happy and Thumper) and they ended up having babies and without realising the dangers of doing so, everyone interfered with the nest trying to check on and have a look at the kits (baby rabbits). Unfortunately, and sadly, the kits were killed by their parents.

Fast forward to Summer 2012: I’ve talked many times on I’m NOT Disordered, in the media, and on social media, that during that time, I made a suicide attempt and after refusing the potentially life-saving medical treatment for it, I was held under the Capacity Act and ended up on life support in Intensive Care. One thing about that hospitalisation that I don’t often talk about is that it was caused by my first experience of a visual hallucination… And it took the form of a rabbit.

I realise that sounds pretty harmless – like it’s not as though it was something scary or nasty; but for me, it wasn’t about what the hallucination was; I was terrified because of simply the fact that I was experiencing it! It left me feeling so completely hopeless because for the previous six years (I went through abuse when I was younger, which started in 2006) I had – on so many occasions – felt like I had hit absolute rock bottom. I felt things couldn’t possibly get any worse than what they were, and yet they continued to! And so, having already been massively struggling with auditory hallucinations for just over three years, and still being unable to cope with them at all; so, to now being seeing things that weren’t even there? It sent me totally off-track!

I think that a lot of people misunderstand hallucinations and what that can be like for the person experiencing them. Firstly, even if you have five people each saying that they “hear voices,” that can mean something completely different for each person. People can hear the voices in different ways – for some people they’re coming from inside their head, for others, they hear them as faint or distant like an out-of-tune radio... For me, I experienced them as though listening to music on headphones so that the voices were coming through my ears, but they seemed to fill up my entire head.

I actually didn’t think of that analogy until 2013, and it was motivated by my distinct sensation of feeling completely lost because I had just learnt this fact about hearing voices being different for everyone. So even though, at that point, I was an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital and that meant I was surrounded by other patients and staff 24/7, I felt totally alone! Out of my desperation to feel that at least one other person understood what I was experiencing, I thought hard about it and having started blogging just a few months earlier, I think that it meant that my passion around creativity was really prominent and that this then really helped me to think of the headphones analogy. And telling staff about it helped me to feel more confident and hopeful that they’d be better placed in helping and supporting me now that they could have an increased understanding that might hopefully inspire some empathy too.

Another misunderstanding of hallucinations can be the meaning of it all for the person who is actually experiencing them… Typically, I think it would be fair to say that if someone were to say to you “I’m hallucinating” you will almost always just naturally or instinctively assume this means something negative – that this is almost definitely an unpleasant experience for the person. However, this also isn’t always true or applicable to someone and their version or specific instances of hallucinations. I know that some people will actually say that they are comforted by auditory hallucinations in the forms of voices and that they can feel some sort of reassurance that they aren’t alone. In all honesty, despite even genuinely knowing people who say this, it is still kind of an alien concept for me because there hasn’t been a single moment when I considered the auditory hallucinations I used to experience as anything even remotely positive… And the same goes for the visual rabbit hallucinations – and, actually, the ‘psychotic beliefs’ that I’ve experienced more commonly recently too!

I think that because I truly appreciate and hold validation so highly in terms of helpful responses for me, it’s meant that I’ve become someone who also really makes desperate – and often creative! – attempts to be able to empathise with someone, their thoughts, opinions, feelings, and experiences. And so, in thinking about someone experiencing something others would typically be viewed by the majority of people to be negative, I relate through the fact that there were so many occasions when I voiced being able to see the hallucinations and professionals have made comments ranging from; “aw, how cute are they?” to “I love rabbits; how many is there?” to “well that can’t be a bad thing!” So, I know how it feels to not only feel alone being the only one experiencing something, but also being completely alone in your thoughts, feelings, and mindset of that thing! As though the first bit wasn’t isolating enough?!

So, I had two reasons why I viewed the rabbit hallucinations as bad; the first was that the rabbits were often covered in mud and dirt, and this meant that I often ended up feeling unclean after any sort of interaction with them or even just from looking at them! Whilst I recognise that feeling like you need a good bath or shower can be a universally – or at least a somewhat common – dislike for a lot of people, the largest reason why I struggled with it was because during the abuse when I was younger, a huge feeling I contended with was that I was dirty. I mean, I literally would spend over an hour in the shower just scrubbing every bit of my body thoroughly as though I could wipe what had happened off me like an etch-a-sketch! And so, seeing these rabbits covered in dirt; I was reminded of that sensation, and this obviously attributed to my failure to cope safely with the hallucinations.

The second reason for me seeing the rabbits as bad was due to the fact that on that very first occasion, I ended up on life support and so – even just that one occurrence – led me to the certain and distinct belief and conviction that whenever I would see these hallucinations, it meant that something bad was going to happen… Of course, at the time, my mental health being as poorly as it was; it meant that I genuinely didn’t – and couldn’t – recognise that these rabbits were only a precursor to something bad because I made them so. And so, if I had responded differently to them – if I deemed them as positive in some way and wasn’t so terrified that I became suicidal – and viewed them in a more positive light and with a better tolerance and the opposite attitude, it was very likely that actually, something bad would not happen.

Of course, a massive contributor to the way I coped with these hallucinations was the attitude and response I received from professionals. I mean, there was this one instance that – when I worked and collaborated a lot with my local Police force – I was always encouraged to share in the hope it would provide the perfect example of how helpful Police Officers have the potential to be in a mental health crisis. I had been detained under section 136 of the 1983 Mental Health Act (the Police’s power to – in particular situations and in meeting a particular criteria – take a person with a mental illness to a ‘place of safety’ against their will/without their permission) and so I was sat in a room in A&E with a Police Officer and I saw a rabbit underneath a plastic chair that was opposite me. I guess the Police Officer noticed me staring at this blank space because I just heard her voice (kind of distanced) saying “what can you see?” And then my voice sounded all distorted telling her there was a filthy rabbit under the chair and before I knew it, I had snapped out of the daze because the Officer lifted the chair and stamped her enormous black, shiny boots on the space that had been underneath it!

To me, her response was a huge illustration of validation – something which, at that point, I felt that I had never really experienced in terms of these hallucinations – and so, this was massively reassuring and actually, kind of comforting. It was good to know that despite not being able to see it herself, she trusted me when I said that I could; and she appreciated that I was so upset that she found it reason enough – worthy enough – to be creative in finding a way to help me. Because this Officer was ‘thinking outside the box’ to support me, I felt indebted to her and so, after being sectioned under section 2 of the 1983 Mental Health Act at my assessment, I agreed to cooperate in my transfer from A&E to the psychiatric hospital in the Police car. I have a huge belief in treating others how you want to be treated and so, if someone shows me respect and kindness, I’m 100% going to treat them with equal courtesy and provide just as useful support as they are providing me.  

The other memory that has really stood out for me in terms of mental health professionals responding to my experiences of the rabbit hallucinations was when I was in the psychiatrist hospital over 100 miles from home, shortly after the Intensive Care admission in 2012… I remember being in my hospital bedroom by myself and suddenly realising my bed was surrounded by mud-covered rabbits and so, I jumped off of it and ran from the room screaming. Almost immediately outside my room, was a Support Worker who had been about to do the regular checks that – at the very ‘best’ – were hourly on me and so she asked what was wrong and as I told her, the girl two doors down from my room who I’d become really close to, came out and hugged me whilst the Support Worker said that she would take a net into my room and get them all out. And so, she went backwards and forwards between my room and out of the fire exit next to it saying that she was chasing all the rabbits out that way. Finally, she asked me to check the room and they had all gone(!) and I honestly and literally could not have been more grateful!

A few hours later though, I was stood outside the staff office waiting for one of them to emerge from the back space where you couldn’t see into from the window in the office door and the glass pane beside it, and I could hear them talking to each other but couldn’t actually make out what they were saying. Then suddenly, the voices grew louder and sounded more annoyed and frustrated and I found myself realising one belonged to the Support Worker who had helped me with the bunnies, and the other sounded like one of the Nurses. And sure enough, it turned out they were arguing about me. The Nurse was saying that the Support Worker had ‘played into’ the hallucinations and that instead, she should have stayed adamant in promoting the fact that they really weren’t there. The Support Worker, however, defended herself in saying that she felt that if I was so convinced of them that I was screaming out of sheer terror; telling me “they aren’t there” would do nothing to help in that instance/situation.

Fortunately, due to a mixture of therapy and medication – namely Aripiprazole – the rabbit hallucinations came to an end and with my other mental illness symptoms also recovering and my safety improving, I was discharged from the psychiatric hospital two and a half years later (in 2014). However, in 2017; the rabbits came back but out of fear of being sectioned and hospitalised again, I didn’t tell anyone; and I’m a huge believer in that saying, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ and so I believe that in mental health, if you don’t talk things through or ask for help, it’ll be incredibly difficult and challenging to make any sort of improvement. So, with that in mind, from the moment they turned back up, I was desperately searching for some sort of encouragement or support that would provide me with some sort of courage to enable me to tell someone.

I honestly didn’t – not even for one second – imagine that I would find this motivation on a random visit to my local Pets at Home store! My Mum and I had gone in and as I watched all the bunnies chase each other in their little pen in the middle of the store, I got this warm, calming sensation and almost out of nowhere, I found myself asking one of the staff if I could hold one of the rabbits. And when they said yes, for seemingly no reason in particular, I picked a brown fluffy one with lop ears. The second she was put into my arms, and I held her close, I started crying. I felt like my heart was literally being mended right at the very second and so, without even taking a minute to think about it, I was telling my Mum that the hallucinations were back, and then promptly started asking how much the bunny and all the bits and pieces I’d need would be and saying that I would come back the next day and buy her!

I named my first bunny Pixie and I honestly believe that – at that point – she was the most lifechanging pet I’d ever had! She was really the answer in helping me to tell the difference between reality and the hallucinations. I mean, I could look at her and I could touch her every single time I found myself even remotely or slightly questioning where I was and whether I was imagining everything I could see… This is the thing when you’ve experienced a visual hallucination – it can leave you questioning everything else you see. I mean, I believe that your five senses are like the most basic and fundamental elements to a person, so for one of these to stop working correctly? Well, it can have a huge knock-on effect… Like, if my body can mess with me in such a horrifically scary way one time, why would I trust it to never ever do that again?!

In April 2021, Pixie had her fourth bout of Gut Stasis (a potentially fatal condition for a rabbit where their gut and digestive system stops working properly) resulted in the Vet warning me that Pixie would likely continue to suffer episodes of it that would become harder and harder to recover from and so, recognising that this was no quality of life for her, I made the decision to have put to sleep. Some people were surprised that despite how helpful and crucial to my mental health having Pixie was, I didn’t jump straight into getting another bunny when she passed away. I think that it was strange – the thought that I’d had something really supportive, lost it, and even though I was completely able to get that same ‘thing’ again, I was choosing not to. However, the decision wasn’t – and couldn’t be – all about me because I had a cat called Emmy at the time too and so I really had to consider her in making any sort of decisions on adding a new fluffy one to the family/house too. I felt fairly certain that getting a new bunny soon after losing Pixie would be really unsettling for her and that seeing her like that, would only worsen my mental health and my own grief.

So, I actually didn’t get my first Mini Lionhead (Pixie was a full-grown Lionhead) Luna, until September 2021 and she and Emmy immediately clicked upon first meeting – I actually had a video from the night of the day I got Luna and Emmy was lying on the bed washing herself and Luna was just sat on the bed watching her for ages and then she started washing herself too! As if she was copying! It felt like an enormous sign and illustration that I had definitely made the right decisions both in my timing of waiting those few months before getting her, and in introducing them to each other straight away.

The one and only downside to Luna and Emmy’s bond was that it meant when Emmy was put to sleep in 2022 after a lengthy time of illness that was finally diagnosed as Cancer, Luna was heartbroken. And I think that having Luna and seeing her searching all around the house in the places where Emmy usually slept and then following me everywhere and constantly wanting cuddles and attention, actually both worsened and helped(!) my own grief… I mean, on the one hand, I absolutely hated seeing another little soul miss Emmy as much as I did. On the other hand, though, this helped in meaning two things: firstly, it meant that I didn’t feel alone, and secondly; it meant that I could concentrate on Luna rather than wallow in my own sadness and heartbreak.

When Emmy was put to sleep, I asked the Vet what the best way would be to help Luna and she said to get her a friend and I figured that it would be easier to introduce her to another bunny than a new kitten, and so, in January 2023, Gracie came along! Once again, she and Luna took to each other so quickly that I felt incredibly reassured that I’d made the right decision in getting her. The one drawback to getting Gracie was that Luna spent all her time with her – typically in a completely different room to me – so it went from her being so clingy and loveable to barely seeing her unless I were to go into the same room and then I’d find her, and Gracie cuddled together sleeping or washing each other. I started to feel quite lonely, and that’s why I got my kitten; Ruby (who I’ll be blogging about in a few days’ time!), but I haven’t – not even for one second – felt regretful of adding Gracie to the family because I love her, and I think she has done Luna the absolute world of good! Seeing them together makes me so happy – it’s like a warmth just spreads through my body and all around my heart, and they honestly never fail to amuse me!

So, I’m absolutely chuffed to bits to celebrate Christmas this year with Gracie now part of the family…

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