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Taking care of ones own mental health - an extract from my blog
Posted by Lauren1310
10th Mar 2015

It has been about 14 years now since the first episode of self harm and about five or six years nearly with no self harm ( a minor slip in between). At the start of a downward spiral I began with issues surrounding my body and binging/purging with food as well as restricting food intake on a two week cycle. I was never a regular self harmer, if I was to estimate how often I would suggest it was not even once a month but that is besides the point. Where my mental health went was almost, at least for me, an example of what happens when there is no intervention at all, the wrong intervention and continued trauma. It started with very rudimentary things, given how my health deteriorated the beginnings of all of it seem mild. At the beginning there was more me than illness at its peak there was less me than illness and now it is on the decline I can say there is more me than "illness". That is I have come to view myself and my experiences more as a particular way of being in this world as a result of my experiences. I am aware that when anything happens that does not appear to be normal within our particular experiences or experiences of those we know we quickly abnormalise the situation and along with this abnormal and not know territory comes fear. I remember or at least partly remember that basically my body seemed to behave in an unusual way, perhaps a new illness and along with this came fear rather than acceptance and curiosity. The fear evolves out of a lack of knowledge, a lack of predictability and fundamentally a lack of control. The issue with mental illness is it leaves one fundamentally feeling a lack of control over ones mind - you go to war with yourself split between who you were and who you are now, you ill and you well, you in control and you out of control - you become a living dichotomy. But I feel this is not just true of suddenly finding you have a mental illness, I believe it is also true for any unexpected events, events for which there is little information and event that drastically create a before and an after, a normal and an abnormal for example being diagnosed with M.E, Fibromyalgia, Epilepsy etc etc. The illness itself creates an problem with identity. Who am I now and how do I relate how do I belong now?

I spent a very large proportion of time denying that anything was particularly wrong with me, being angry there was something wrong with me, lamenting that I now could not do the things I could before. I spent time in therapy trying to grieve the traumas but little time grieving for the loss of me as I was before - yet surely this was a big feature. Reading a posters blog on SANE I was drawn to how she compared life limiting physical illness with mental illness, both of which cause a relating to yourself that is different than before yet this aspect is really fought as we fail to adjust our lives to what is now and how we are now. If I remember the how of what happened to me I can see that a large part of what was happening to me was a failure or rather a resistance against growth and change. A large part of me wished to live in the past where I felt I had potential and was going places. To a certain extent perhaps a large part or parts of me also remain stuck in the past and my mind tracks back to them again and again with the thought "if only". As I have mentioned before at 17 I had a promising future, I was on track for straight A's and on track to go to Cambridge but things had already started to go wrong with my mental health but this was being denied by my Mother and this fitted nicely into my own denial so instead I blamed myself and explained away my pain and misery as attention seeking. I started not being able to concentrate, to fear being around others, to feel isolated, to feel off track and I spent a vast majority of time travelling the trains around London to cope with my abnormal/normal life. On the one hand I was seen as high achieving, my Mother deemed to be perfect and doing a good job (by teachers and other parents), on the other hand I was going home to chaos everyday with my Mother drunk, emotionally abusive and sometimes physically violent. I was literally splitting with the assistance of others - I had two lives, the apparently normal and the abnormal - two tracks and one train.

This split continued to be a pattern and it was forced harder and me more apart by even more experiences, life experiences that meant I felt I had to deny them and then also deny the subsequent symptoms in me. I was not going crazy, I could not afford to be crazy, if I was crazy then was I like my Mother and if I was crazy then I must be out of control - these experiences, the symptoms all majorly out of line with who I thought I was which was perfect, in control, capable, competent, clever, intelligent and going places. My mind tracks back to the teens because it was here that the major shocks and upheavals happened that first triggered the beginnings of splitting my life into before and after except the after was never accepted and the before was always chased to happen again. It has been why it also always been hard to hear lines like "Your wasting your potential" or "Your so intelligent" as if they were voicing my own critical thoughts and my own irritation at not ending up in a professional career where I could have really made my voice heard. My problem has always been adjusting to where I am now and accepting it, then making the reasonable adjustments I need to make for the now to work. I believe my attitude has been grit your teeth and bare it, push through these bits and somehow it will all be OK except it is not. I have never sat down to grieve for the lost live that was caused by my Step Father's sudden death, my Mothers illness or my own illness. But this is the process I am in now and I am trying not to judge the then of back then by where I am at now, at least not too much.

My illness course was interesting, the track it took and most of the way along I didn't understand what was happening to me and mainly the "experts" either didn't have a clue and told me so or definitely had a clue and my opinion was not welcome but they never answered the full extent of what was happening to me. I thought that my experiences of struggling for answers was unique but I have found and do find that there are many out there who struggle with bizarre symptoms that many doctors cant figure out and are not willing to go the distance to find out about or many professionals who will diagnose an illness then readily admit to not being able to treat it and then go on to say they won't source funding for the experts who do know what they are talking about. What upset me was all of my symptoms being put down to one cause when I was fairly sure this was not the cause but being just a lay person and the one actually experiencing things my opinions did not count. I think the most frightening thing that ever happened to me and thankfully it has not happened for a while was experiencing depersonalisation/derealisation and this being to a certain extent a continual feature of my life. However, a few times I experienced these two things in the extreme form, a complete loss of identity and a complete loss of understanding who anyone around me was - my next step was being suicidal as a result. I had no idea what was happening to me and I leaped for the thing I could most understand which was psychosis, perhaps I was paranoid and psychotic? I explained several times to experts what was happening to me but they didn't seem to understand it - eventually I web searched and found mention of these two things. I would also have serious flashbacks but without the image content, instead it was a flood of emotions and fear not fear of what was happening to me but just being gripped by fear, not a panic attack just an intense emotion unlinked to anything in reality and then my mind on top would think up a solution for my fear something along the lines of "J is trying to kill you", since I had lost my relationship to reality this seemed a plausible explanation for unremitting fear. Unfortunately J did not know what he was dealing with either and both of us became loss within a situation that made little sense to either of us. The dreadful fear of not understanding what was happening to me drove me to overdose to end the situation now.

However, many years on I have come to accept that sometimes the above might happen to me but it is still me in there experiencing it. I may have experiences that cannot be explained but I don't have to be afraid of them. Not all things in life can be explained. Not all things in life can be shared as we will all go though different experiences. I cannot jump into anothers mind to see how normal it is or whether there is a part of there mind that experiences life abnormally. No one can look at me and work out how my mind is functioning, at least not in totality. These experiences I have had have been scary when they have had no name and no information attached to them but since getting the information for them I now feel I have some degree of control and some degree of acceptance. I keep working on the fact that I am person, I exist, I have reality and do have a past and a now and a future but I don't need to be controlling about it. I can look for the benefits in my experiences like my greater compassion for people who experience life and conciousness differently to the statistical norm. I can appreciate that what makes us different in terms of our brain functioning need not be looked at as a scary, unknown thing but perhaps an opportunity for Psychology, Psychotherapy, Neuroscience and so on to learn something new about differences in brain functioning. I can accept that in other cultures my loss of a sense of self may be viewed very differently. I can accept that my out of body experiences are due to trauma, are due to misallignments happening as I try to both maintain my old identity and negotiate a new identity. I can accept that the trauma meant I had a poor relationship with my body and perhaps with myself, in wanting so much to never have experienced trauma I believe I very much just wanted to be someone else and in someone elses body so I disowned the product of my experiences, my body and my identity. As I accept more of what has happened to me and my experiences I can be more compassionate to myself and I slowly make my way back to having an identity.

I think so much that when trauma happens it creates unreality. Something happens that is so beyond our understanding that it cannot be real and perhaps a large part of us, a large part of me at least, really wished it didn't happen so therefore it must be unreal. In a certain sense the trauma is real and it is too unreal, it did happen yet it is part of the past and not present reality yet this event did happen in our past. The shame connected to the event can have one running to the hills, running from the reality as if the event determined something about the self of the person. I felt shame, I felt tainted by the experience as if there was now something wrong and abnormal about me as if my past defined me in the now. But now I am learning to align the past with the present, I did have those experiences but they do not define me. As for dealing with the symptoms I still have I am not sure how much acceptance is there for all the symptoms, I still struggle with focus and concentration, I am still context sensitive, I can still suffer with overwhelm and sensory issues and this annoy me in terms of my career choice. However, if I just think about a different perspective I can move into being more appreciative and gentle, in terms of where I am I am nearly at the light at the end of the tunnel. I no longer self harm, I no longer have eating issues, I get low self esteem/low mood sometimes but it passes quite soon, depersonalisation/derealisation/dissociation ends much quicker these days and I am learning to assert myself and have boundaries. If I keep defining myself in terms of what I was at 17 and what I could have achieved I will nearly always be a failure by that model but if I look at what I experienced from then on and what I am now I am a success story. As for where I go, I am trying to remain creatively indifferent, or at least keep a loose model of what I am so that in the future I don't beat myself up for what I did not become - there is always the problem that I will regret my choices because I am making them based on now and not in the future. I don't know what future me will be like and maybe she will regret my choices whatever they are and however positive they seem now they may well change and be pushed into service in the future as examples of how I went wrong if I choose in the future to see my life as a failure rather than as a success.

The path through any illness is not easy, any long term illness with sudden onset or a slow crawl on like a mental health condition forces a renegotiation in terms of identity. Along the way professionals may be helpful, may not be helpful, may be confusing or may not have a clue but throughout it all one can depend on their own instinct and fight to get themselves through. Many people I know with mental health conditions fight despite their illness in various different forms, some for their own health care, others through a blog, some by maintaining a career and in many other ways too. Sometimes I feel that mental illness does not have to be a curse or a secret in the closet although it can really feel that way. Because of the perceived stigma it feels as if it is easier to deny the problem and shove it away somewhere but the problem with that is that it is a kind of self hate/self denial, it increases societies negativity towards mental health because they only have stereotypes to rely on, it denies any care that might be given, it denies others the opportunity to let you know they embrace you and it denies others their opportunity to open up about their own vulnerabilities or illnesses. I have little by little opened up about my experiences and in a large way exposed the majority of my experiences to a group of training Psychotherapist to let them know about my own experiences with mental illness and they were very embracing as I told the more difficult parts of how my illness/me back then had caused me to behave - I was not afraid or ashamed, it was part of me

I am at the end of my experiences, the most difficult ones, with mental illness. I had little belief that I would get there but I did. I defied the odds of recovery and now I am at the end my crescendo - my parting, the final piece and stage of acceptance as well as forgiveness. I am accepting that in order to change I must first accept where I am now and who I am now the rest will follow and in ten years or 20 years time this me will be part of history. I can be proud of the fact that I always in some form or another trusted my own instinct and own judgement (not bad for low self esteem) all throughout the years of being treated and also suporting someone else in their treatment. I can be proud of the fact that my inability to quit on myself saw me going through five years of therapy, 10 years in the mental health system, reading a huge number of books and taking an active approach to my own recovery through various methods like writing a blog. In going through my own healing journey I believe I have now read around 40 books on Psychotherapy, Psychology and Neuroscience along with many articles and forums. Sometimes you need the help of someone else, but I firmly believe that at the end of it all you are the best expert in you and if the treatment or explanations don't fit, if you feel judged, if you feel misheard or misseen then its time to move on for better answers and maybe find some of your own. So many new cases have been abnormal, very few people have experienced a syndrome, for example Capgras syndrome and many experts will have said they have no idea to these people whilst another expert in the field is trying to chase down more people with this particular way of experiencing life in order to study and help that person as well as wider humanity. Mental illness or mental difference does not have to be a life sentence and uncontrollable or a black spot on your otherwise flawless identity, it can be embraced as a unique feature of you with some gifts even if there is also suffering.

Where I am now is completely in stark contrast to where I was. I cannot reinforce enough how important acceptance and compassion are to your own journey of change. Reaching out for support is critical, particularly those who can understand and embrace your particular difficulties and therefore help you to be more compassionate towards yourself. Getting through mental illness is not about gritting your teeth and baring it, it is about taking a breath, self love, self care and accepting that change will happen but it cannot be forced. A large part of my journey was accepting there were no quick fixes and removing myself from others who felt that quick fixes would work, healing from anything that has caused you pain takes time and how much time is very much like asking the question how long is a piece of string. There are likely to be fall backs but this is all part of the process, there are days when self compassion disappears and that is fine you just get back on track and keep going. I know it can be really hard to accept that the root to healing comes from self love and self acceptance but it really is, it is the root back to or the root to self respect and the expectation that you will be treated with respect and dignity.

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