It’s ok to feel angry

 

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This week I’ve learnt that it’s ok to be angry, to express anger in a positive way and that anger can have its uses, many people may already know these things, but for me it’s a bit of a breakthrough.  Whilst logically I know anger is ok, I tend to see myself as not an angry person and deep down I find anger quite a frightening emotion.

The breakthrough came as I talked in therapy, I realised I was upset and bothered about things and that yes I was angry, extremely angry at losing out on my past. Yet I tried really hard to just sideline the emotions as is my normal behaviour and so I belittled them as I tried to change the subject. But with a little help I was able to see that it’s ok to be angry, anger doesn’t have to be dangerous or bad in fact it can be a very healthy emotion to have.

Actually understanding how the anger I feel is helping to motivate me on my journey of recovery has been really helpful. It’s the first time I can accept anger might not be so scary after all, that if its expressed in the right way it can be a positive tool to help me. I still find this slightly weird and yet I can at least see that it may have a role to play and that it might not be so frightening an emotion.

I spoke to my Psychologist about how when I was angry before it always led to judgements and issues, and that as a child expressing any feelings was dangerous. In hospital staff would judge me based on my responses, so any sign of anger or even disagreement was seen in some way to be a big issue. I can recall so many incidents were my actions were misconstrued and I was labelled or judged in a totally unfair way.

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There was the time I challenged a nurse who had lost my medication tray from their massive metal cabinet, all I did was say it had to be there. This was construed as me challenging them, being aggressive and being uncooperative with staff. It was recorded that I shouted when I think the most I did was raise my voice a tiny amount and this was mainly because the nurse was shouting loudly at me. My records don’t show that the nurse failed to look for my medication, that they shouted at a patient or that they were rude.

Then there were times I declined my medication, now I know looking back it wasn’t the best decision I ever made, but then neither was filling me with so many pills that I couldn’t think. These times were construed as me being uncooperative and antagonistic, someone who failed to accept what was best for her. If I fought when I was restrained which I think any normal minded human being would, it was seen as aggressive behaviour. No wonder that I soon learnt that having opinions or showing signs of irritation, frustration or anger would just land me in more hot water.

Of course I wasn’t alone in being judged in this way and as I explained in my therapy session my hospital stays kind of made me hide my feelings even more. But now it’s different, now I can see that hiding away my feelings isn’t helpful, hiding away my anger is actually doing more harm than good. I’m not advocating people randomly go out and hit people or shout and scream, but anger when demonstrated in a sensible controlled way is actually beneficial.

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Telling someone I’m angry at them in a calm controlled way is ok, acknowledging I’m annoyed at something is fine too. Being able to request an apology, or ask for a time out, or for something to change these are all positive ways of expressing my anger. They can bring about positive change in a situation, as can channeling the anger that I hold from my past.

So from now on I’m going to try and allow my feelings to come through, no more blocking emotions for me, instead of slamming a door in frustration when someone annoys me I aim to tell people when I’m annoyed. My hope is that I can learn to no longer fear this emotion but instead utilise it to bring about change, change in others, in situations but most of all to motivate myself to change.

 

Copyright DID Dispatches 2015

 

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The impact of the Mental Health system on my life

 

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I sat this week just for a while and let my mind wander, wander back into that place I used to be, before I entered the mental health system. It was hard not to think of all those missed opportunities and long lost hopes and aspirations, those dreams I had of career promotions at a job I now no longer hold.

I also began to think of all the things I have learnt over this time and I realise how much I have changed as a result of my interactions too. I am far more sceptical of medical professionals, more willing to challenge and ask questions of those who are involved in my care. In truth I guess I’m a different person shaped by my experiences in a system that at times has felt more like an enemy than a friend who is trying to help me.

The reality is so much has changed since I first became unwell and so much of that change has been negative. I lost my job due to my mental health admission, it was it seemed impossible for my employer to employ someone who had been in a psychiatric ward. I can still remember being let go and thinking how unfair and unjust it was, I knew I wasn’t well and I knew it might be a while before I could work full time again and yet I so wanted to keep my job. It gave me hope and a future and something to hold on to and strive for and then suddenly it was gone.

I lost my dignity the little that I held, the first time I was forcibly restrained and held against my will – it didn’t feel good, it felt disempowering and it hurt. Here I was a vulnerable person being treated like an animal to be caged, no one spoke to me they just seemed to shout orders. I felt like no one cared and no one understood.

Before I entered mental health services I knew nothing about mental health law, sections, forcible restraint, forced medication, deprivation of liberty or locked wards. I’d never had to live by the law of a hospital ward, those that dictate when you can and can’t have a drink and even then it’s from a machine. I learnt to tolerate powdered milk and powered tea from machines that gave patients lukewarm drinks, some days I use to beg for a hot drink like normal human beings have. I just wanted to be treated like a normal human being not some second or third class citizen.

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Time off the ward was a luxury and one which once on a section had to be negotiated, pre planned and approved, suddenly I became adept at forward planning my entire life. That’s what being in a mental health hospital does for you, it makes you an automotive robot who is controlled by others rules and commands.

Before I entered the system, I didn’t realise how scarce talking therapies were, how things were time limited no matter if you were well or not. I can recall my first therapy was CBT and once I had the maximum number of sessions allowed, no matter how well I was it stopped. What a waste of public money to withdraw a service before it’s had the desired outcome, it’s a bit like taking a cast of a broken limb before it’s healed.

During my time in mental health services I learnt that good old saying that seemed to come from mental health nurses I encountered, “in five minutes” of course I soon leant that meant not now, go away. I often wondered why these people couldn’t be honest and tell me they were too busy.

I also learnt that people judge by appearances, so if you happen to look clean and tidy then they assume your mentally well and coping. Though of course that may not be the case, but they had their rule that tidy means well. The number of times I have been told but you look tidy and that equals well, I might not have showered in a month but because I didn’t smell they thought I was ok, they never asked they just assumed.

Just like they assumed if you challenged them or asked questions you were deemed aggressive and labeled as having violent tendencies. Of course it couldn’t be the case you were just asking a question or challenging archaic rules and regulations which made no sense to anyone but the hospital staff.

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I soon learnt about labels too the ones which medical professionals use at will and stick on a person like some kind of post it note. The very first label I got was actually wrong, yet it’s still on my file for all to see. The doctor who gave it me had seen me for just a few minutes yet his skill was such he could diagnose so quickly and as it turned out so wrong!

Labels, judgements, assumptions all seem to be things I have learnt and in truth they are negatives I’d rather not have seen. I guess mental health services are an eye opener for those who suddenly find themselves thrown into this world of chaos and confusion.

Before I entered this system I wasn’t aware of so much disparity between mental and physical health existed. I also didn’t realise so many things about myself, I have faced many negatives and yes they have changed how I view the world and how it views me, but I have also learnt much too. Not just about the mental health system but about myself as well, I know now that I am a fighter, I want to learn to cope with dissociative Identity disorder and one day in the future I will get back to work. But it won’t be in the job I once did, oh no my aspirations have changed and I like to think for the better.

 

Copyright DID Dispatches 2014

The Life Sentence of Being Sectioned

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The other day I read a comment on social media which asked approved mental health professionals to think before they section someone in order to get them a hospital bed. It was stated that being detained under the Mental Health Act remains on a persons file for life, and suddenly it got me thinking about the impact of my time in mental health services.

You see I had assumed that having not been detained under the Mental Health Act for over 5 years, I was free of that part of my life. Indeed I haven’t been in secure services since that time either, so again I had assumed it was behind me. Yet if the comments are true and these things stay on file for life, I am in many ways doomed.

Doomed because no matter how long I keep myself out of a mental health bed when people look at my medical file, my past will jump out and hit them in the face. The professionals will see that I have been sectioned for more than a year and that I have spent time locked in a forensic medium secure unit. Will they then assume that I have a criminal record, because most people think you only get sent to these units if you have committed some type of heinous crime. Furthermore will they wrongly assume I must be dangerous, because believe me that’s what some misguided people think.

When I was studying for my degree I had to challenge the course lecturer on the issue of forensic services, it was stated in course material that these units were for criminals with serious Mental Health issues. It also stated that they had to have demonstrated a high degree of risk to others to be sent to these places. I knew of course this wasn’t always the case, I was living proof of that and yet it took a lot of determination and challenges to prove to them their views, their facts were both flawed and inaccurate.

I doubt that I could change or remove these medical facts about my section from my file, they are truthful and accurate statements, the difficulties lie of course in people’s interpretation of those facts. I have always wondered what people would think of me having being detained, would professionals treat me differently.

I know in the early days post discharge I feared being re-sectioned, I worried that at the sign of any small crisis I’d be locked up and send miles away. I was certain if I needed hospital I would be send back to secure services and yet my then CPN told me I was being silly, no one would judge me. But that fear remained and I think that fear has led me to fight steadfastly to never need a mental hospital bed again. That’s why I find it hard to call for help when I’m struggling, I have self harmed before because I was so desperate and yet I wouldn’t, I couldn’t call crisis services.

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Now it seems that these facts will stay on my file for life and I can’t help wondering if that’s already led to changes in how people deal with me. Do professionals already treat me with more caution, do they pre-judge me when they see my history. Will they pre-determined who they think I am, instead of coming and seeing me as blank canvas and judging me on my merits.

What about if I seek employment will these facts be available to prospective employers and if so how will that impact me, I doubt it’s going to help. What if I want to volunteer and need a DBS check (police check), will these things come up in that. There are so many unanswered questions that I have, so many fears that my past will taint my future. The powers that be need to allow this data to be removed from a persons health file after a certain number of years.

To those Approved Mental Health professionals (AMHP) who now hold the power to take away a persons liberty, I’d ask them to consider their actions. I feel I was sectioned initially to off load cost implications of a specialist bed from one team to another. I know my later sections were done by the very people whose living depended upon me filling their beds, operating in the private sector that was funded by the NHS.

The fact AMHP’s today are placing people on a section because that’s the only way to find a bed is deeply worrying. Do they realise the impact they make on that persons life, not just at that moment of taking away someone’s liberty but the longer term implications. It seems now those implications last a lifetime, and my records are duly marked. As I said before it feels a bit like I’m doomed, this life sentence is hanging over my head forever and there little I can do to change that.

The sad thing is I was sectioned because I was unwell, I didn’t ask to be unwell it wasn’t even of my doing. Yet it seems being unwell is punishable in this country and probably many others too with a life sentence of being labelled, pre-judged, disadvantaged and treated differently.

copyright DID Dispatches 2014

Self harm and the attitudes of medical professionals

Self harm and the attitudes of medical professionals

 

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This week I heard from a friend who had to attend her local hospital to receive treatment as a result of self harm and her treatment was unfortunately not very helpful. This led me to thinking about the times I either attended A & E or was taken there by the police for treatment, usually as a result of self harming or being deemed mentally unwell and requiring treatment.

It is nearly ten years since my first ever hospital admission, but for many months before I had hidden the self harm that was taking place. I tried hard to wear long sleeves to hide the cuts and dressings which I needed to stem bleeding etc. I was determined not to require anyone to know that I felt so desperate and confused that I could only survive by self harming. This was in the form of cuts, burns, starvation, restricting my fluid intake or overdoses, by the time I was admitted to hospital my self harm was a daily occurrence such was the turmoil I found myself in.

I hid my self harm from medical professionals, my family and my friends no one but me; I thought, knew I was living this life. I can recall going out for days with the children carrying implements in my bag ready to harm, and hibernating in bathrooms and cutting during these days out. I would feel myself getting so distressed during the day that I couldn’t survive any longer and so self harm took place. Yet once it was done and I felt a wave of release that I had punished myself which I felt I deserved I could then calmly walk back out and carry on with life.

I was confused to such an extent that I believed I needed to punish myself because that way I would be safe from others hurting me, and I was terrified that past abusers would come and hunt me down and hurt me. I even had a notion that because one of my abusers was my mother that I was bad as I had her blood inside me, thus if I bled enough I would rid myself of her badness.

Now all this time no one knew how much I was struggling, the GP knew I wasn’t too great but all they kept saying was ‘take time out and relax more’, and ‘all women go through these phases’.
They never asked if I felt suicidal or what scale my mood was, they did eventually arrange for me to see a doctor and thereafter just told me I was on a waiting list to see a psychiatrist. Yet in the meantime I was continually told to ‘hang in there’, occasionally they’d tell me things would improve.

Of course things just kept getting worse and when I attended the GP one day and I saw a different doctor who asked to test my blood pressure; because I looked like I was going to faint, he saw the wounds that by now littered my arms. Recent cuts had been deeper and the blood loss alongside starving myself wasn’t helping me feel any better. It was then that he made the call and I was suddenly being sent to the local psychiatric unit for assessment. At this time I realised my eldest child had sensed something was wrong and had suspected I was self injuring, but we had both said nothing until I was en-route to the unit.

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A & E staff from the start were slightly arrogant and mainly uncaring, if I had to attend as a result of cutting I lost count of the times I felt to blame by their attitude towards me. It was as if they weren’t best pleased to be treating me after all in their eyes I had self inflicted this injury upon myself, they never looked beyond the injury to the person. On only one occasion can I recall a doctor being helpful, he was actually concerned for me wanting to know why I hurt and was I getting help for my mental health. He treated me like a human being and not an attention seeking time waster which is what many other medical professionals seemed to treat me as.

The sad fact is the attitudes that I faced ten years ago still exist today, that means the medical profession has failed to learn about or understand self harming behaviours in a decade. That concerns me because I am aware of the efforts of so many different groups including government health organisations whose aim was to educate about self harm and improve outcomes for patients. A decade ago these organisation were trying to produce guidance to end the stigma that exists around those who self harm, if attitudes haven’t changed does that mean their efforts failed?

Self harm is not something we should ignore or take for granted for behind every scar, every injury there is human suffering. I didn’t harm for the fun of it and if I wanted to seek attention believe me I can think of lots of better ways of doing that. I wasn’t time wasting either, I was in acute emotional distress and I needed help. I couldn’t explain the anguish I was going through, the only way I could find to deal with the turmoil that was my life was to inflict injuries upon my own body.

Be that cutting, burning, overdosing or restricting the amount of food or fluids I took in, each act was either an attempt to deal with intense pain and turmoil, or the result of irrational thoughts. I wasn’t doing this because I enjoyed it, truth be known I hated myself for doing it, in fact I loathed my scars. The reality was I tried so desperately to avoid seeking medical attention as the last place I wanted to go to was A & E where I would be made to feel even more ashamed and be stigmatised.

Self harm controlled me a decade ago and at times of crisis it can still take control of my life today, it is sadly my default position when the pain is too much. Now when I lapse back into self harming I tend to injure in other ways in the hope it’s less visual, but it’s still harming all the same. Now I am not proud of the fact I self harm and I don’t want these feelings either, I would like to be free of self harm and yet I now understand it is a symptom of the life I lived as a child. A life which caused untold damage and will take a long time to deal with and heal from, my self harming is a symptom of my mental health not the cause.

The cause is my past and today I am having to face the harsh reality that I was betrayed, abused and psychologically damaged. Currently I am feeling emotions for the first time and I am starting to grieve over the fact I was hurt, I’m starting to come to terms with the dawning realisation that the horrific memories I hold and continue to recall don’t belong to my alters at all. They just carry my memories, and it was this body, it was me as a child and a teenager who the abusers defiled. Believe me that’s tough, it’s a harsh journey survivors walk there is a lot of pain and anguish that has to be processed and dealt with.

Perhaps when dealing with a person who is self harming instead of vilifying them and judging them medical professionals should remember to gently seek out the cause of this symptom. They should in my opinion treat those who self harm with the dignity, care and respect they so badly need, and they should afford them the right treatment to help them move forwards.

Copyright DID Dispatches 2014

 

 

 

Feeling labelled and judged

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There are many things that I; a person living with Dissociative Identity Disorder, finds difficult some of the difficult areas are as direct result of my condition, whilst others are a direct result of my past and my own self image.

Living life with a label isn’t easy, nor is it easy to live with the pressures that stem from society, a society that at times seems to view people who like me have endured a period of mental instability and illness in a different way.

If you look at my arms for instance they are littered with the scars of pain, I did at one point self harm on a daily basis it was how I survived. Today though my scars are faded there are times when peoples gaze is fixated upon them, they give an awkward inquisitive kind of frown and sometimes ask those questions that I wish they’d never ask. “Have you been in a fight with a cat” was the strangest question I ever had, but the usual is ‘”oh! did you do that yourself'”.

I’m not sure what people want me to say in these circumstances, but I have learnt over the years honesty is the best approach, yes occasionally it leaves others slightly shocked but I am in all truth no longer ashamed of the scars, they just reflect a period of my life. Yet I do find it hard that I am judged, often by those who have no idea what it’s like to be in that kind of intolerable pain that leads to self harm.

The same awkwardness can happen when I lose time, personally I get frustrated with myself its something I really hate doing and yet what’s worse is often the fact that people don’t always understand, I can’t help the fact I lose time or say the same thing over and over again in a slightly different way. Yet it means we stand out from the norm as as such are open to criticism and judgement.

When I was an in-patient in a locked rehab unit, a secure facility with an airlock as standard, the local taxi firm wouldn’t collect people from the unit, they judged without any real information. Ignorance I guess led people to hold a view that was without foundation and based upon stigma. The patients, well we were judged, it was as if we some how became pariahs just because we needed help and were being detained in this unit.

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As an informal patient there I regularly attended a local community group if a new person asked me where I lived I would just say the street name and not the place, I’d tolerate the comments of sympathy at having “those people as my neighbours”. they meant me of course but I never told them I was one of the patients.  I regret now not being brave enough to face them to let them say their piece and then reply “oh you mean me, I’m a patient.”.

Yet sadly medical people judged me too, some still do, I can recall countless times when I was judged and labelled those times when no matter what I said my views didn’t count, or they were ignored. I can recall being asked more than  once to undergo a breath test in one hospital, I hadn’t been drinking in fact I’d been on an Alpha course and had permission to attend. But it often over ran and thus they judged I must have been drinking or doing something I shouldn’t. It irritated me to be treated in such a demeaning way, undergoing breath tests, drugs tests, searches etc and all I had done was attend a local group, yet I knew complying was the only answer and so I accepted what was needed to be done to appease my jailers. I say jailers because they held the keys to the air lock and they dictated if and when I could go out even though I was a voluntary patient.

I am sure that I’m not alone in feeling judged or labelled, we are after all a society fixated on labels and psychiatry is full of them, we don’t seem to treat causes just a set of symptoms. We treat people as objects rather than human beings with feelings and emotions, can this be right. One of things I have found helpful recently has to be the fact that when I discussed how I was judged in my first psychiatric hospital with my psychologist he seemed to understand why I had done what I had.

If a patient acts out in a psychiatric unit they are seen and judged as aggressive or troublesome rather than as someone who is distressed and trying to demonstrate their feelings, their hurt and at times their frustration. Looking back I can see how if instead of labelling me, judging me and drugging me they had offered me help to understand and explore why I had reacted in the way I had it would have been far more beneficial to me, my alters and to the staff.

Today whilst I live in society and I’m a free person and no longer a patient I still find at times that I feel judged, now it maybe the case I am over sensitive to feeling this though perhaps it’s more likely that unfortunately some members of society find it impossible to not judged others.  Many people know I have had a difficult past, some even know I have D.I.D but at times it can feel that others don’t understand what it’s like being me, this person with many parts.

Yes it’s chaotic at times, life for me and my alters is never easy some days are better than others, but easy isn’t something we experience.  I don’t want people to give me sympathy, I am not asking for people to give me special treatment, I’d just like that they wouldn’t judged us when they haven’t walked even one hour in my shoes.

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Copyright DID Dispatches 2014

Reconnecting with an old psychiatrist – friends reunited?

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The envelope dropped onto the mat and I knew the moment it was in my hands that it was from my local Community Mental Health Team, they are good they send every communication in a marked envelope so not only do I know who it’s from, but I guess if he’s clever so does my postman. I often wonder what my postie must think delivering these envelopes marked mental health team through my door, it’s certainly a conversation starter.

This particular letter was from the appointments secretary, requesting my attendance at an appointment next week with the newly appointed locum psychiatrist. Now I don’t mind seeing a psychiatrist it’s not something that I am ashamed of after all he or she is just another human being of equal but no less importance than myself, but there are times when these appointments can be challenging.  I have had a number of different psychiatrists over the past decade and they have varied in their competency from the good, understanding partnership approach to the extremely arrogant and officious I know best.

Having a diagnosis of D.I.D can make this even more fun, I have had those who are  accepting to those who are beyond  sceptical  and somewhere on another planet. Yet each of them has had the ultimate power to detain me, take away my rights and  submit me to things I really don’t like, this makes it always stressful therefore to see them.

My last psychiatrist was in the end not too bad, we had our disagreements, I didn’t like his approach to my diagnosis or to me, but he did at least respect that by not making me see him very often and in fact he never once forced me to take medication I didn’t want to or spend a single day as an inpatient. So overall he rated ok, he wasn’t the best but boy he wasn’t the worst either.

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The letter that came though this week has opened up some challenges, the locum psychiatrist who I am to see, previously worked for the local health trust in fact he was the doctor who against my wishes detained me under the mental health act. What joy will it be to see him again after what seems like an age and probably is I guess, our last major encounter was in 2007.

So at the moment I am slightly apprehensive, but I am also quite looking forward to the challenge that our meeting will bring, you see in 2007 no one had diagnosed me as having dissociative identity disorder and so I was just labelled with a variety of different things. I wasn’t as strong as perhaps I am now, I hadn’t been in secure services nor faced the trials that come with fighting a Mental Health Act Tribunal.

This meeting will allow me an opportunity to tell him just how we are today, that I am not bitter that his actions set me on a journey that took me hundreds of miles from my family, that back in 2007 what I needed was understanding and not enforcement. I’m actually looking forward to telling him how I have reduced my medication regime, that I no longer feel suicidal and that I am working hard to deal with my past and the damage it has caused to my life.

I am hoping he will see my name and remember me, think he is going to see the person who he saw in 2007, the women who was suicidal, in pain and confused. A person who had given up on life and wasn’t able to express to anyone what was causing all this hurt, because then he will be even more surprised when I walk in his room transformed in part  from those dark days.

Now don’t get me wrong I am not at the end of my journey  I still have difficult challenging days, but I don’t feel suicidal anymore  in fact now I just want to work hard with guidance from my psychologist to repair the damage my childhood caused. My desire today is not to self destruct but to understand the different parts of me, my alters, that doesn’t mean all days are great, that I  don’t feel down sometimes. Some days I can’t stop crying others I find sleep hard to come by, there are flashbacks and memories which aren’t easy to live with, but then no one has ever said having Dissociative Identity Disorder was easy. The fact is having any mental health condition is a challenge and having a difficult childhood leaves a lasting legacy from which a person needs to heal.

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My forthcoming psychiatry appointment will be on mind this week, and I will want to try to hold it together for the appointment, not to be tearful or having a tough day. But if there is one thing I have learnt during the past decade it is the mental health services have changed, cuts have been drastic especially in the number of inpatient beds available, thus my psychiatrist will still hold the power to section me, the difference is the goalposts to do that have changed.

As my care coordinator kindly told me this past week getting into hospital locally today you have to not only be suicidal but  much worse and even then they’ll do everything to keep from admitting someone. They have too few beds to go around and they can’t afford to detain me, so suddenly the power balance held by psychiatry for me at least has lessened. Now that is something to celebrate isn’t it, it certainly makes this forthcoming appointment less daunting.

Copyright DID Dispatches 2014