As the New Year arrived I began to realise that for me 2014 will mean many things, but no matter my aspirations, hopes or dreams it will be hard not to look back and recollect the past decade.
This time 10 years ago I had never been an inpatient in a psychiatric unit, I didn’t have a formal diagnosis other than I was low, anxious and suffering from stress which to be fair seemed ‘normal’. I don’t wish to disparage these conditions, but it felt like an everyday diagnosis, lots of people had been treated for such symptoms; well that is what I thought.
I didn’t feel mentally unwell, at the start of my illness just not myself, that was back in the 1990’s and I coped with my episodes of mild depression quite well or at least I thought I did. But ten years ago things had changed, I was self harming, cutting and it was still a secret. A secret shame that I carried, I hid and I tried desperately to keep hidden from everybody and I mean everybody. My children who were teenagers hadn’t a clue, my husband had absolutely no idea and so I thought it could remain. Thinking back now I realise just how silly that idea was, I was cutting regularly and yet I thought I could hide this!
2004 was my turning point, or more accurately my breaking point, it was the time I ended up being admitted to a psychiatric facility and for the first time in my adult life I guess I wanted to die. Now I can imagine for most people who have never felt as desperate as I did then, such thoughts might seem unusual even odd, hard to comprehend maybe, it was a bit like that for me really. I had been unwell for a while my health affected by the lack of sleep and the memories that plagued my nights, and I had had a few months off work and yes I am clear now I was struggling. But like many people I tried to keep going, I was a wife, a mum, I had a role, responsibilities, I couldn’t be ill.
This time a decade ago, if anyone had suggested that I would encounter the roller coaster journey I have these last ten years, I would have laughed, I probably would have been a bit incredulous at the thought, this wouldn’t happen to me, would it? I knew I needed help, I knew things were worse than they had ever been and yet somehow I thought we would muddle through and come out the other side unscathed. But we are a very different person to the one who was admitted in 2004 to hospital, and we have travelled a road I wouldn’t wish for anyone.
2004 began in a comfortable normal way, with the reassurance I had a job to go back to, a future career, a husband and a family who cared. I was cutting but I could manage it, I was in control of it, not it in control of me or so I thought. I was low, my mood was flatter than a pancake and yes I felt so desolate and empty, but I still had a glimmer of hope.
The reality was in fact my self harming had control of me, I couldn’t stop it, it wasn’t for attention, nor for the pain though many healthcare professionals thought that was why I did it. I was cutting to get rid of the badness; the bad that I felt was inside of me because I had been abused, each time I cut I felt a little less bad but that feeling didn’t last long and thus I needed to cut again and again and again.
I kept going to my GP, she didn’t get me at all, I wanted to scream at her and tell her how I felt but I knew it would make no difference. I would go and say I felt low, she’d advise me to go for a walk or take time out, but walking didn’t make me feel better nor did anything else. Nothing could stop the fragments of memory that were slowly seeping into the consciousness of here and now, the fragments that made me feel bad, to blame.
I slowly slipped further and further down into the pit of despair and in the early part of 2004 I reached the point of knowing I couldn’t go on, but I didn’t have anywhere to turn or so I thought, and no one I could tell. Not my loving husband, my loving children, my uncaring GP…no one.
I watched a recent clip on you tube by the World Health Organisation about the ‘black dog of depression’ and I can honestly say its a very true reflection of how depression takes over a person.
I was at the point of rock bottom, I couldn’t think rationally anymore, yet I thought I was very rational. It seemed rational to me to need to cut, to scar deep into my arms and my legs, to want to stop the world and get off.
Yes a decade ago I was clinging to survival, but I soon felt as if survival wasn’t available and so I wanted to die, I was 38 and suddenly I wanted to end it all. I had a loving family, nice home, job, holidays, everything…but what I didn’t have was peace and I needed that so badly. At the start of 2004 things were falling apart, they very quickly did and by May of that year I was in hospital the first of many admissions.
Reflecting on that time now ten years on, I can’t help thinking what would have helped us not sink so low, was there anything anyone could have done to help, anything I could have done differently.
If I am honest having an understanding GP would have helped I think I might have opened up sooner, I believe that there is absolutely nothing more my family could have done, they were there and supportive, even when shocked by the self harm and frustrated by my desperation to die. But back in 2004, child abuse wasn’t discussed it was a closed book, today people are more open about the subject and I feel if I am honest that openness might have helped me to seek help sooner.
By the time I did seek help the black dog of depression had me firmly in its grip and I was in turmoil and in a mess, self harm was controlling me and so my journey into the world of psychiatric services began.
This year 2014 I know I will look back on those days, It would be impossible not to reflect and remember. But I want something good to come from this and so I will be trying to think of the things which didn’t help and those that did, in the hope that through this I can inform people, healthcare professionals, family members, friends, work colleagues so that they might be able to deal positively with those facing that situation today, perhaps respond sooner before they sink so low that life is no longer worth living.
I can see that by reflecting I will also learn more about me, I recognise just how far we have come in 2004 I was a victim and as 2014 dawns I stand as a survivor, that’s a huge difference and a huge journey to have made. I am still on my journey I am still taking one step at a time, therapy is still in progress and I am working hard to strive for the best outcome from it.
But today I am glad to be alive, I’m glad to have a purpose, I realise now none of this was my fault, my memories are not my fault, the blame belongs with those who hurt me a long time ago. I am not a bad person, I proud of who I am, proud of who I have become. I have so much to be grateful for, so many people to be thankful to, for their support, their love and their hope has carried me to this place. Most of all a decade on I realise that even in the darkest moments of depression, of my childhood trauma, of my time in psychiatric care…I was never alone. I am never alone.
If you need help, if you feel in the pit of despair please don’t be afraid to seek help, you will survive this journey and one day like me you will look back and realise just how high a mountain you can climb in the space of ten years. I feel like I have climbed Mount Everest and beyond.. Basically I faced a mountain and I overcame… believe me you can do the same, you’re stronger than you think.
Copyright DID Dispatches 2014