In the light of the media storm that has erupted today it somehow became important to me to get some issues cleared regarding mental ill health. Noticeably there has been some sensationalism and exaggeration. Though more potently there has been a display of misunderstanding and ignorance. The best way to clear up confusion about this particular issue is to speak about it from the inside, which much to my dismay, I am able to do.
You see I know this girl. She is funny, caring, thoughtful and insightful. She is a good mother, a great friend and a happy wife. She can make you smile with just a look and she can always shed light on a bad situation. She can help you achieve your goals and will go through red lights to get you what you want. She is a nice girl. I quite like her.
She is also unpredictable. She tends to have no care for consequence and can be selfish. She is demanding and has problems with commitment. She gets bored easily and can often cause mischief for entertainment. She is sometimes childish in her response to situations and is almost always ‘stamping your feet’ spoilt. She is hard on herself though. She is her own biggest critic. She can find flaws in her personality that don’t really exist. She punishes herself far too much, but even then she apologises for the damage she thinks she has done to others. She would never apologise to herself because she doesn’t feel she is worth it.
I have known this girl for a long time, actually since the day she was conceived. I know her inside out, upside down and on her backside. The girl is me and I have a mental illness.
I’ve been sitting on writing about my mental health for a long time. I was waiting for inspiration or the need to change the way the public are receiving relevant information. I have had times in the past where I have been vexed by something that has been said, but it has never been enough to ‘light my spark.’ As I said earlier, recent events have pushed mental illness into the headlines so my spark has been lit, and now I want to tell you the truth about my fragile little mind.
It started millions of years ago when I was a young girl. I spent my childhood knowing that although I seemed to fit in, there was something slightly different about me. I had a lot of friends but could never form a bond with anyone to be ‘best friends.’ I was described as an extrovert, but I knew it was all an exhausting act that I put on day to day. I saw life as quite stressful and tiring and I never really enjoyed anything. But I still managed to make everyone else laugh. Quite early on I discovered that literature was a way of escaping. I immersed myself in my books. I found it so much simpler to develop relationships with the characters than I did with anyone in ‘real’ life. I didn’t think I was doing anything abnormal, but I knew I was different and did my best to cover it up.
During my childhood I endured some traumatic events at the age of six. I still have no idea how these events affected my mental development, but over the years it has become apparent they did. I have been led to believe that my mental defect is a direct result of that time in my life. But I am sceptical about that. It makes my psychiatrist’s job very easy to blame something external for my illness rather than stripping it back to biology, which I think he should do.
As I entered into my teens, I became a very good little actress. I used this skill to excel at school, but I also used it to hide behind. I began to develop a talent of adapting to my surroundings. Socially I would flit from group to group with a different version of myself to fit in where I wanted it to. It was around this time that I started to become a great manipulator. It seemed that I could get everything I wanted, by just flicking my personality switch. A lot of people may see this as a bonus talent, but for me it really wasn’t. Whilst I was developing in to these roles, I still desperately wanted to act naturally and fit in somewhere just for being myself. I knew by the time I was 14 that this was never going to happen. I didn’t even fit in to the comfort of my own home.
My home life was chaotic to say the least. On the surface we looked like an ideal family, but if you scratched, it was obvious that we were fragmented at best. My parents are difficult people. From being a young adult right up to now as I enter middle age, I still can’t get them to focus on anyone else but themselves. Between the four of us, which includes my younger sister, we have had daily conflicts to be centre of attention. To be honest my Mother always won. I didn’t really didn’t mind because the dynamics of these battles were killing me softly. During this teenage time of my life, my mental illness started to settle down some roots. My behaviour changed again and we, my mental health and I started to grow up together.
It was around the age of fourteen that I had my first real symptom. One that wasn’t just about feeling different and one that couldn’t be ignored. I had always been a little obsessive and a big control freak. This symptom of my illness encompassed both of those traits. I developed Anorexia and I did it so very successfully. Surprisingly it wasn’t for attention though, I had moved over to the complete opposite. I wanted to slim so I was no longer noticed, as if I was erasing myself one turned down meal at a time.
When I task myself with something, I rarely go into it without the need to be the best at what I am doing. I won’t accept credit for anything anyone else has done, though I don’t want to share my credit either. When a child psychologist suggested that my father’s obsession with fitness and health may have contributed to me becoming Anorexic, I was indignant about it and insisted it was all controlled by me. She also made the mistake of blaming my childhood trauma, which again made me annoyed and I started to withdraw from therapy. My need to be the best also manifested itself by how much weight I actually lost. At one point I was a 5ft 6inch girl weighing 4.5stone and I was hooked up to a drip to make sure I stayed alive.
In the end though, the Anorexia left as quickly as it arrived. My parents divorced around the time I was hospitalised. When I came home things were still chaotic, but the shining light was that there was going to be change.
After a few months of maintaining my weight at 5.5stone by calorie counting, I had a break through. Suddenly I was ready to move on. I started to eat more and then generally stopped watching what I ate. Within two years I had gone from a healthy 9stone to 4.5stone and back up to 9stone again. Everyone was happy, but I felt somewhat deflated. I think my goal was to make a point that home could not continue to be this chaotic. I used the anorexia to threaten my family that if the chaos continued, I would let my mental illness take control and throw whatever it had at them to make them see my way of thinking. In the end and although my parents divorced and there was a little change, It wasn’t enough for me. I had to make a decision ‘should I stay or go?’ At the tender age of seventeen I left, and I slammed the door behind me. In the end, I think everyone got what they wanted with me leaving. I know that I did.
Over the next couple of years my behaviour was quite stable. I did the things that normal people did like get a job and find a decent home. I had managed to keep a long term boyfriend, but had only a handful of friends that I actually liked. I was still erratic, but people often mistook it for scatty, which is a lot easier to socially promote. My relationship with food improved massively, though I was still guilty of restricting it to make me feel better about some life events. At 19 I seemed to have most things boxed off and I wasn’t on any medication. But then I gave birth to my first son and things dramatically changed.
I loved being pregnant and couldn’t wait for my baby to appear. I worked full-time until I was into my eighth month and my then partner and I had bought a house. After giving birth, something shifted though. I no longer loved my son nor did I have anytime for his father. I spoke with a health visitor and she said I was being ‘dramatic.’ But, I also spoke to a friend of my Mothers and told her that my son did-not feel like my child. Some weeks flew by and the feelings magnified. At the peak of my problems, I physically wanted to hurt my son and his father. It was at that point I decided to take myself out of the equation. I had asked my Mother if I could stay with her temporarily (I was that desperate) though she said no. So, I turned to friend at my work that put me in touch with his friend who had a room spare. It was 40-50 miles away from my son, but I didn’t care because I had it firmly in my mind that I never wanted to see him again. So I left and I didn’t see him again for 3 years. I hadn’t heard of postnatal depression then. I knew about depression but the postnatal version is different. This is mainly as there are two main focus points, you and the baby. I genuinely thought I wasn’t cut out for motherhood and I disliked my son. It became clear that this depression and alienation was symptom number two of my mental illness and no-one could help make it better.
It took me a year to get over the shock that I didn’t like my baby. But I think it was more like it took a year to come out of the depression. Gradually I started to think that maybe I could still be a good mother. It was odd because I knew I didn’t like baby number one but I had a hole in my heart that was shaped like him. I had gotten into another steady relationship and I thought it would be a good idea to give pregnancy another shot. How bad could it be? It can only be an improvement on the last time because that was the worst that could happen. Unfortunately after another excellent pregnancy came symptom number three of my mental illness. Something called Postnatal Psychosis.
In the hospital after his birth, I quickly banned all visitors. I didn’t want to share him with anybody, least of all his father, who was still my partner. I came out of hospital on the 3rd day and went home feeling protective and loving, I was relieved. I seemed to be OK. Over the next couple of weeks, I started to become a Mum. I slept with my son, I allowed the odd visitor, I was a little quiet, but I put that down to tiredness. What I did notice was for the first time I started to want my first son very badly, I became exhausted with constant thoughts of him, but again, I simply thought this was normal. When my new baby was 6 weeks, I started to become occupied with cleanliness, washing, scrubbing, polishing, you name it. My son’s room was as sterile as a surgical ward and less and less would I let people near him. The climax happened on a Friday night. My partner had gone out with some friends. The minute he left, I started to get agitated. Within an hour I had planned to stab my son through the heart with a kitchen knife and was literally sitting on my hands screaming so I wouldn’t do it. The rest of that night is a blur to me. But what actually happened is that I bundled my son into his car seat, took him to a neighbour (who was also a friend thank god) and told her what I wanted to do, then I broke down. She removed my son from me, put me to bed in her spare room and waited for my partner to get home. When he did an ambulance was called because I was incoherent, pacing and panicking. I wouldn’t touch my son and screamed if anyone brought him near me. I was taken to A + E, where they left me alone in bare room. Then I was questioned by a psychiatric nurse. She released me to the care of my partner with an apt for the GP on the following Tuesday. From the moment I got released to that Tuesday I didn’t sleep once. I paced, screamed for my son to be taken away, threatened people with knives and couldn’t calm down.
Fortune would have it that the GP I saw had just come from a psychiatric rotation. He put me on Seroxat and then found me a place on the mental health ward at Broadgreen Hospital in Liverpool. For the first 6 weeks of me being there, I remember very little. I know that I was heavily medicated with Diazepam and explored by several doctors. Finally they diagnosed me with Puerperal Psychosis and to be honest were fascinated from that moment onwards. Being in hospital did have its perks. For one, I didn’t have to see my son and it was 8 weeks before I would have him in the room with me. I spoke very little, but what I did say was mostly babble although the nurses where kind to me and listened to my ramblings. At one point, I thought that my baby was my eldest son and that my partner was his father. I called them both by the others names and had no recollection of who they really were. My mother did come to visit me once, but she didn’t understand or care what was wrong so she left. She has since gone on to say ‘she couldn’t deal with it,’ which is to her detriment in my opinion. I stayed in hospital for 4 months, gradually getting better. After a while I started to accept short visits from my son, then with a little more time I started to be able to touch him and our relationship grew from there.
Luckily for me on my release I was able to stay with my partners parents. I had a regular CPN who explained what PP was and little by little I started to get better. It wasn’t all plain sailing; there were occasions where I sunk. But I did get better and after realising that I had been ill, I was able to make contact with my eldest son’s father, who agreed to give me some access to our child. Eventually he came to live with me fulltime. You could be tricked into thinking that all’s well that ends well, right? But it wasn’t to be and there was still more to come…….To be continued