2 envelopes 8 years apart – from suicidal to survivor mum 

Trigger warning : please exercise self care. 

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This week I came upon an envelope, on the outside were handwritten instructions of desired funeral arrangements and the envelope was addressed to three young teenagers. Shaking I gripped hold of this envelope as thoughts raced through my mind. Was it wrong to read it, would it stir up memories and emotions I wouldn’t be able to deal with or was it best to leave this well alone. Yet as I sat transfixed my eyes focused on this emotional heartfelt letter I knew what I needed to do, it was time I read the words that I once had written to my own three dear children.

As I carefully unsealed the envelope I examined every word written on the outside, it hit me that these were my funeral plans, plans I had at one time felt so vital to record on paper. I hadn’t wanted my children to have to make those difficult choices so I told them simply what I would like. The letter was long, it started with an apology, and those familiar words of I love you, I am sure many people will never understand the thoughts that raced through my head when I had written this letter, but 8 years ago when I wrote it I didn’t feel like I could survive.

You see back then my trauma, my past were destroying me and I felt I could take no more, the turmoil and anguish I felt were basically consuming me. Each day was a torment, painful and soul destroying, it felt like I was being abused over and over again, as the flashbacks consumed every minute of every day. If not the actual flashback, the fallout from them filled every day and I couldn’t take anymore of this anguish. I can recall the feelings of desolation I had felt at that time, and then the decision which seemed like a rational, sensible one to me was made. I’d end my suffering, I’d end everyone’s suffering and instead of being the nuisance to my family; that I felt I was, I’d give them a fresh start. They wouldn’t have to worry about me anymore, they wouldn’t have to watch me being consumed by the past or see my torment; which was the result of my memories. Suicide I had felt gave me the best solution, best for me and most certainly best for my children.

That was my mind set the day I wrote lovingly to my children, fast forward 8 years and here I was sitting with this letter I had written them. I digested every line, each word and I sensed the anguish and the torment I had been in when I wrote to them. It seemed somehow to seep out from within the pages, it was palpable and so clearly evident that I was suffering. I recorded the distinguishing traits of each one of the children, the things that made me proud and their individual strengths. I told each one how much I loved them and why this was the best outcome for them. I apologised numerous times for all the pain I had caused them and how I just wanted to make things right for them and I  begged for their forgiveness. By the time I had finished reading it all, tears streamed down my face and my body was shaking as I sobbed and sobbed uncontrollably.

You see I know how close I had come, how close I was at that point to no longer being here with them. I had planned so much, it wouldn’t go wrong and yet somehow it did and somehow I’m still here looking back retrospectively at that dark time. No longer in that dark unforgiving place, that once overwhelmed me and made life seem impossible to live.

I couldn’t help think of all the things we had done as a family since that time, all the highs and the lows. This was written before my stay in forensic psychiatric care, before my being sectioned under the mental health act. But it was also before any of them had graduated, before I even began to study for my degree and before they had celebrated milestone birthdays. There is so much we have done since that time, so much I so nearly missed out on.

I have had the joy of watching these teenagers grow into amazing adults, seeing them all receive their degrees and feeling such motherly pride as they did. We have shared so many Christmases, birthdays and holidays together, things that I’m so glad I didn’t miss out on. I’ve enjoyed learning to have fun, to laugh at myself especially when I splash in the sea and I now gaze in awesome wonder at the beauty that I see in this world all around me. I appreciate it from a different viewpoint today, as I see things from the perspective of my little parts of me.

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But when I wrote that letter I didn’t see any light, I didn’t see any hope, just pain and I thought it was best for us all for me to not be here. Now looking back I see that whilst it hasn’t been an easy journey and I have a long way still to go, I’m aware that I’m stronger than I ever believed was possible. I’m now aware that you can with the right help overcome those dark days, learn to live with the pain of the past and carve a new way forward. I’m learning the skills I need to cope with my life, with the damage that was once done to me.

Looking back isn’t easy, but it was important to do, it reminded me of how far I’ve come and of how much I have achieved. It’s allowed me to reflect and be glad that I’m still here, that I can tomorrow open other envelopes this time address to me and not my children. These envelopes will contain cards to celebrate Mother’s Day and I have no doubt that I will cry with joy as my wonderful children’s card tell me how much they love me.

Their words mean so much to me, because they know how close I came to not being here, they know we so nearly didn’t have this day. They have been through this nightmare with me and we have had to rebuild our relationships after the prolonged periods of my hospitalisation. I’ve kept the letter I wrote it’s hidden away in a box, I think one day when my treatments over I will burn it, till then it’s there and it’s my reminder of a time that once was desolate but now has beams of hope shining through it.

If I could have written to myself back then, it would have said quite simply ‘hang in there, it’s not going to be easy but you will get through this, you will get the help you need one day. Most of all you have a future, you will laugh again and even when you cry that’s ok, because often they will be tears of joy and of motherly pride.

 

Copyright DID Dispatches 2015

 

 

Rebuilding Relationships With My Children

 

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Part two…

Whilst this is a stand alone blog You may find it useful to read part 1  ‘parenting with mental health issues’

 

Five years ago I faced the realisation that my relationships with my children were no longer that of a parent and child. My children who had been teenagers when I was first admitted to psychiatric services were now adults, adults with their own lives without me.

They had developed a very strong sibling bond that had sustained them throughout my time in hospital and my sons saw their big sister as being more like a mum to them than me. I was no longer able to offer them the support and guidance I once had, I was discharged from hospital but that didn’t mean I was suddenly well. I still had complex issues and needs and I had become very institutionalised by the system.

When I came home from hospital that last time I was in truth still a mess, I carried a bear constantly and I was afraid of basic everyday things. I would ask if I was allowed to make a drink using the kettle because I hadn’t been given freedom to do that for what felt like forever. I was so drugged on medication that I napped in the day and I was switching rapidly and dissociating a great deal. I wasn’t that used to living in the community, it had been something I hadn’t done for a while and it felt alien to not have to seek permission to go out. Taking medication without having to queue at a hatch felt weird and the TV seemed like a frightening object which scared me.

Initially it was agreed that I would stay with the family, that wasn’t so straight forward as I was no longer in a relationship with the children’s dad. But I moved into what had been the dining room, everyone else arranging for a bed and other furniture to be provided. It felt alien in the house which now felt odd and not my home, the kitchen which had once been mine now felt like my daughters territory.

My sons were both away at university still, my youngest came home every weekend whilst my oldest son returned in the holidays. My daughter was working and my former partner was busy too so it was decided that in order for this to work I needed care in the daytime. My returning home caused disruption to everyone’s life’s, it meant my family once again had to accommodate me and my needs. I had support workers every day of the week in order to cope with life in the community, support workers who came each morning and invaded not just my home but the families too.

Initially I just felt strange and uncomfortable with the children, they were noisy, they interacted so well together and I felt detached. I soon realised that I knew very little about what was going on in their lives, despite regular contact during my time away. I only knew very basic information and not the things I felt I needed to, I didn’t know their favourite TV shows or who sat where on the sofa, day to day things that mattered now I was home.

It soon became apparent to me that we needed to rebuild our relationships, especially as they seemed to tip toe around me for fear of upsetting me. They worried about me self harming or trying to commit suicide to such an extent it frustrated me, I wanted them to trust me. I felt like they didn’t believe me when I said I wanted to live, to rebuild my life. We often talked about our feelings and frustrations with them but how could they trust me when the mum they last knew was on mission self destruct.

I suggested that they see me as a friend and not a mum because my sons especially seemed to have found a surrogate mum in their sister. I had to accept my daughter now ruled the kitchen and I needed to not get upset when my sons turned to their sister for advice and not me. It wasn’t easy but over time I think I adapted into my new role within the family.

I moved to my own flat a few months later which I think helped everyone, though I knew they worried frantically about me at times and I felt more detached from the family. Moving was the right step for everyone and gave me time to observe and rebuild my life as a mum. The toughest thing for me has been when my eldest son told me he wanted to get his sister a Mother’s Day card, because she was more like a mum to him than me. It was painful to hear but I know it was true too, she had been there when I wasn’t and he is grateful to her for that.

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Today my daughter is my best friend, she and I have now learnt to trust one another more and I believe she has learnt to let go and not worry about me as much. It’s taken time yet slowly we have found our way through a minefield of emotions and come safely out the other side. I feel like her her mum now, a mum who can offer advice and go shopping with her, a mum who can laugh with her too.  She lives nearby so visits or calls me every day and she no longer fears I will suddenly disappear never to return.

My eldest son has returned from university and together we have found mutual interests which have helped us forge new bonds. He now lives with me though he says that at times that’s hard because of my switching and my dissociative symptoms, I know he gets frustrated when I lose things and then panic looking for whatever I have lost, but we also laugh and have fun too. He is learning to seek my advice as well as his sisters, and he has slowly learnt to trust me again. He has got used to my alters and now understand which cartoons the littles like to watch.

My youngest son is a bit of a workaholic and very much like me in lots of ways, we have found mutual interests that have enabled us to spend time together. We both enjoy music and theatre so have been to a few concerts, having time with him is precious especially after so long apart. I know he sees me as mum again though I know he still seeks out his sisters advice too. Initially we struggled to find time together but now have found that it’s important for us both to make an effort to spend quality time one on one. Even though he works what sometimes feels like non stop he makes an effort to call or text most days.

The relationships I am now building with all my children are built on solid foundations, together we have all rebuilt our relationships. The children have been extremely forgiving and also very much appreciate that having Dissociative Identity Disorder isn’t easy for me. They understand D.I.D so well and are so sensitive to not only mine but other people’s mental well being. Carving out a new relationship with each of them hasn’t always been easy, but having maintained contact and visits during my admissions has helped so much with this process.

I know I am truly blessed to have 3 wonderful, compassionate children who understand me and my alters, their love, compassion and tenacity truly amazes me. I look forward to their calls and enjoy spending time with them and doing fun things with them, I know they feel the same way. We all could have let the experience of my long term hospitalisation destroy our relationships instead we have worked together to build better, stronger bonds with each other.

Being a parent is a blessing and I nearly lost that when I tried to end my life, I appreciate how much I hurt them when I self harmed or went missing. My children mean the world to me and being their mum is the greatest gift I have, reclaiming being their mum was a gift they gave me. For no matter how much I tried I couldn’t have reclaimed that role without their help, the fact they were able to be tolerant of my needs and understanding of my past was crucial.

Today we are no longer just friends, I am mum too, reclaiming that parental role has meant lots of changes for them and for me and yet today we are a secure family and we love each other very much.

 

Copyright DID Dispatches 2014

Parenting with mental health issues

 

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Yesterday I had time with my youngest son, we see him about once a week so usually try and do something together be that grab a pizza, go to a car festival or like last night just hang out. Each time we get some much needed one on one time and that seems crucial for both of us especially given the past and my mental health issues.

I try really hard to spend time with each of my children individually they need to know that despite my Dissociative Identity Disorder I am still their mum and that I love them unconditionally. I know that I am blessed to even have any kind of relationship with any of them, I mean I spent 4 years of their lives stuck in hospital. Time when in truth I should have been at home being their mum, doing all the things mums are meant to do but instead it wasn’t quite like that for us as a family.

Being a parent with any kind of long term illness makes things different but being a parent with mental health issues well that’s another story. My children have had to accommodate me and my bear, explain to their friends why their mum suddenly disappears without warning, for yet another hospital admission. I know it wasn’t easy for me, but I now realise it wasn’t easy for my children either to suddenly face all this extra turmoil.

I thought that for years I had hid my mental health issues from them, I didn’t realise I had Dissociative Identity Disorder but I knew I lost time and I knew I struggled. I knew my moods changed without warning and I knew I often struggled and hibernated. My main aim when my children were younger was that they grew up in safe and secure home, one were they knew they were loved. I thought I was doing quite well at hiding the truth from everyone, but looking back I realise the signs were all rather too evident.

The children tell me now that the diagnosis of D.I.D just made sense to how their life’s where growing up and that in truth they were glad that at last they knew why I had been as I had. They have recounted tales of the things they recall from their childhood that make me embarrassed and at times ashamed. Embarrassed because I can’t believe I did certain things and my attempts to hide the fact I was losing time didn’t really go as well as I thought. Ashamed because at times I wasn’t perfect, I did make their lives hard and I put them through such a lot.

Having a parent who self harms, isn’t easy for any child no matter what age and when they have to call for help because of the state they have found me in, that’s seems now looking back so unfair. Having a parent who disappeared without warning; as I attempted suicide, caused untold worry and stress, it wasn’t easy for them at those times too. As a family we faced some real difficulties because of my mental health and yet somehow today we are still a very strong family unit.

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When my admissions began they were teenagers, but that’s a time when children need extra security and stability because life is complicated enough. But I spent long periods in hospital and that catapulted my children into a cycle of hospital visits and long journeys. It meant my daughter had to grow up quickly and my sons had to deal with things their peers knew nothing about. They dealt with the fears of visiting me in various psychiatric units so well, but I know it wasn’t easy for them. In the secure units they faced air locks and security measures that seemed alien to us all, handing over their phones and keys and being frisked on the odd occasion. Their visits to mum were challenging and time consuming, driving for over 5 hours each way just to see me for 2 hours. Having our visits observed and their gifts scrutinised, these were not things my children deserved and yet they came regularly to see me.

My daughter she visited the most frequent, in fact in the local units probably every other day and when I was far away once a month. She’d sometimes come on her own or bring others to visit too and we would speak every day on the phone. My sons visited the local units a couple of times each week mainly because under 18 they couldn’t visit on their own. But once I was at the secure units and they were in university it became harder for visits to take place. Though they did visit at least once every 3 months and sometimes more frequently if they could, but we spoke regularly on the phone. In fact at times it was nearly every day and yet here they were studying hard for their degrees and I was miles away.

I never faced that empty nest syndrome parents talk about when their children fly the nest and go to university. I left my children before they left home, I left for that round of hospital admissions that took me out of their daily lives.

None of this was easy for any of us, and it meant that by the latter part of that cycle of hospital admissions my relationship with my children was strained and struggling, it certainly wasn’t that of a parent and child. But we knew we loved one another, and we cared deeply about each other, I wanted to know what was happening in their lives and I wanted to be a part of it. So we talked about my mental health openly especially after my diagnosis because it felt necessary if we were going to have any kind of relationship going forward. I suggested at first we just try and be friends, rather than them seeing me as mum. I think that’s helped I believe it’s given us all space to move forward comfortably assured that there are no expectations from one another.

The regular contact I had in those dark years meant I knew what was going on in their lives, well the basics. I knew the names of their friends and I knew the courses they were studying and where they lived. But there was still a lot we had to try and resolve and I needed to understand and accept, life wasn’t going to allow me to catch up the lost time, it wasn’t going to allow me to put everything right. But there was a chance of rebuilding our relationships and I guess that’s another part of this story.

I will write about our lives after my discharge from hospital in part 2.

Copyright DID Dispatches

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

 

 

 

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

(In)Secure Mental Health Units

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I have shared about my entry into secure services previously but I thought it might be good to share a little more of my experience.  This experience is why I passionately believe that inpatient mental health services have to improve.

Secure services are unlike anything most people can image, it’s certainly not conducive to recovery and well-being.  To take away a persons liberty is one thing, but to then deny them basic human rights and treat them like a prisoner is another.

There is an assumption that secure units provide safety, safety for the patient who needs something more than a normal acute ward. I would say that isn’t necessarily a true reflection of the safety these units offer.

I transferred from an unlocked open acute ward, where people self harmed,  walked off the ward, took part in negative behaviours and often struggled with low staff levels and limited support. The secure unit for all its locks, security measures and perceived safety encountered many of these things, and while people couldn’t just walk off the ward the levels of aggression were higher.

There are many moments I recall, but some stand out in my mind more than others these blog is about one incident that impacted my view on such units greatly. At the secure unit one day the majority of people were particularly agitated. It had been a day of low staffing and the atmosphere was very tense. As the evening came so did the chaos, the staffing for the ward was just 3 staff and not all of them were qualified nurses.

I remember sitting and reading in the communal area I was still not allowed into my bedroom unobserved, that was a privilege I still had to earn.  Some of the women were allowed in their rooms and one by one they self harmed. This was serious stuff, incidents that needed medical  intervention, there were some who harmed due to being in a distressing mental state and others who just seemed to copy. I’d already realised that for some being on 1 to 1 observation gave them the attention they needed. I personally hated it so couldn’t fathom out why they’d harm to get put on close obs. but they did.

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In the space of less than a few hours I sat as one after the other the self harm incidents mounted up, they brought in a extra staff member from the other wards but even that didn’t stem the tide. As I sat and listened to the staff frantically try and resuscitate one of the young vulnerable women who in desperation had tried to take her life I was willing her to live. Meanwhile patients were attending to other patients who had harmed, there wasn’t any free staff. People were verbally attacking each other and yet the staff who were simply under-resourced were trying to save a life. I remember some of the girls getting very angry with those harming, it was extremely tense and volatile.

That evening all bar 3 of the patients self harmed, and the ward was in utter chaos.  We didn’t have the staffing needed and the ward was anything but safe. Thankfully on that night no one lost their life but it was a shock to listen and see how staff reacted. The on call doctor visited and they brought in another healthcare assistant, I remember thinking how did this happen. I was told I was being sent to secure services as they could provide the safety others felt I needed I realised that was a false assumption. I also realised if I didn’t know already, that  I was not like most of the women/girls on the ward I wanted to get out of there and I wanted my life back.

That night somehow we were given our medication and sent to bed, I was taken off my 1 to 1 observations for that night, they couldn’t have done them there wasn’t enough staff.

That incident has stuck with me through the years, I think perhaps that’s due to the impact it had upon me. I had never wanted someone to live so much as that night, she was a young women the same age as my own daughter.

When I hear today of cases of vulnerable  people being sent to secure units in the name of therapy, or perhaps keeping them safe I think back to that time and wonder  if people realise how much self-harm, aggression and suicide takes place in secure services.

In my time at the unit I know of two deaths within the hospital, shortly after I left there was another these were someone’s daughters, and every week I was aware of more self harming incidents than in any acute ward I had ever been.  There were violent outbursts and attacks against fellow patients and staff, and  someone even  managed to abscond. Truth be known I think if the door of my acute ward had been locked I would have been just as safe there. The problem is we take the terminology and assume secure means exactly that, secure, safe, maybe even supportive; I can honestly say the secure units I experienced were anything but.

suicide wreath

I want to dedicate this blog to the young women from that night, as sadly she died in that unit 6 months later, at her inquest the unit was found to have failed her, low staffing levels was one of the failures identified.   I wonder how many more they failed.

DID Dispatches 2014

My life as a parent with D.I.D

family blog

Having D.I.D. has many challenges for me and for my family, long before I was diagnosed as a multiple I married and had three children, as a young parent I was never sure of the things I was meant to do in order to be a good mum yet I did know what I wasn’t meant to do. It wasn’t easy being a parent even back then, but with help from the children’s Dad and other relatives we managed to raise our children.  Some of my parenting difficulties resulted from a lack of parenting experience, and from the lack of nurture I had encountered as a child, alongside I guess the impact of the abuse I had hidden away in my mind as a young child.  Its hard to parent when you have no real experience or role model upon which to base your actions, and I had no role model on how to be a mum, so the whole concept was alien to me.

Somehow though for many years we muddled through, I had support in daily living from either family or social services, the more natural parental nurture came mainly from seeing how others parented their children. But many things seemed hard for me to grasp, I couldn’t somehow just be a mum and enjoy the little things in life such as playing in the sand with my children. So I buried myself in work and community activities anything to fill my time and my days, and which allowed me  to feel like I was coping even when we weren’t.

Deep down I knew that I was struggling, when we began losing time, forgetting things, realising we had said or done things without any recollection of doing so, my moods were fluctuating so much I realise now I was probably switching alters at this time. I just didn’t realise it back then, in fact I thought I managed to keep most of my difficulties well hidden from everyone, including the children.

When I became an in-patient in a psychiatric unit my children were all teenagers, the day I was admitted my daughter drove me to the hospital for an assessment and she returned home alone. In the weeks that followed the children all realised I had been harming and wanted to die, and yet they came regularly to visit, never judged me and showed real care and compassion. As time progressed and one hospital stay led to another the children learnt to deal with my absence from home.

judged blog

Because of the decline in my mental health there was a time I was judged by some to not be able to live with my children, people felt that I wasn’t safe enough as a self-harmer to be around them unsupervised. It split our family apart, it meant I couldn’t live at home, it also meant I was judged and watched at every turn by people who knew nothing more about me than the fact I was unwell and had tried to end my life. I was deemed unfit to be a parent, yet the fact was I would never have hurt the children, they meant more to be than words can ever say and I would have died trying to protect them. But mental health carries a stigma, and that is at times used to judge those of us who are ill and to deny us the right to family life, the right to be a  mother to our  own children. I was only allowed to be with my children alone once each of them turned 18, despite the fact they felt safe with me, that their Dad was happy for me to be with them and I was capable of being safe around them.  It caused huge damage to our relationships which were strained , by 2007 I felt more useless and a burden to them than I had ever felt.

Looking back I realise that I was a good parent, even in the dark days and no one should have ever used my mental health to attack my fitness to parent. It wasn’t as if they had done assessments to make such horrendous decisions they were based on stigma influenced judgement’s and yet still I know parents with D.I.D fear people finding out the diagnosis in case it leads to similar issues regarding fitness. Shouldn’t we be able to treat people with compassion and care and help families to remain as families, now don’t get me wrong if there is any suspicion of abuse I would want the services to protect children, but in the cases involving mental health we need to be cautious that its not stigma based decisions that are being taken. I know the cost of those ill informed decisions as do my children sadly as I wasn’t really able to be mum properly from 2005.

So by the time I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder in 2008, I had spent  a total of over 2 years in hospital, I had been away from our home area  in the secure units  for nearly a year and out of their day to day lives as a result. But I had contact with my daughter nearly every day via telephone and letter, she’d visit every month travelling for 10 hours to spend just a couple with me. My sons would come to visit less frequently, but we would speak  a couple of times a week if not more and they did keep me up to date with their lives and what was going on for them.

So when I was diagnosed I remember thinking how would I tell these very special people in my life the people who I loved and cherish and I worried frantically about it. In the end I recall telling the diagnosis to my daughter first, her words were simply “that makes sense”. I was initially annoyed and alarmed at this response; I thought  the diagnosis would shock and surprise her but it didn’t, and that meant that I had not hidden all the struggles with dissociation as well as I thought. that was a hard pill to swallow.

But I soon realised that in my children I had three allies who all cared, understood and accepted me for who I was, their mum first and foremost and the fact I just happened to be a multiple was a secondary issue for them.

Today sometimes I am aware that our roles are reversed, if my young alters are present my children will ensure our safety and well-being,  its at these times they provide care for me.  It is in every way a full on role reversal, but it isn’t an all day situation, my daily life is one that is very fluid as we switch from alter to alter this means my children’s  lives are fluid too and they have become very adaptable to this changing situation.

The children have also gained their own expertise in dissociative disorders, and they deal with our D.I.D in their own individual unique ways. The switching which is unpredictable can be draining on the family, especially for my son who lives with me, it isn’t easy being a multiple but it isn’t easy on the family either. My trauma, my past, my dissociative disorder impacts all of our lives and yet it also makes us stronger people.

2011-06-05_16.16.14

My children have come to terms with the fact that I their mum have a teddy as a best friend, who has to come on holiday with us and at one point was carried every minute of every day. They have learnt to have a mum who is forgetful, loses things, buys things and doesn’t remember, at times gets very distressed and whose mood will fluctuate depending upon which alter is present.

My youngest son once told me after he and I had been away for a week that he felt like he had been on a coach trip as he had in reality taken a whole group of people on our trip, one mum, one body but a whole host of identities. My son who lives with me is honest and has recently asked for  a couple of days a week rest and so he know spends a couple of nights each week with his Dad, now it would be easy to take offence but  I don’t I know its not easy for me or them.  My daughter is often the person who reins me in if younger alters want to go toy shopping and if I get overwhelmed she helps me to rationalise life again, she also attends all my Care plan meetings and is good at fighting my corner now if its needed.

I realise today that as a mum I have missed out on so much, but that despite everything I am blessed with three truly awesome children who I love so much and who I know love me no matter what. I see each of them as unique individuals who bring me immense pride and enjoyment, they all have their own talents and I can see some of me in each of them. Yes we may have been through a lot as a family, but our honesty with each other, our openness and understanding has allowed us to move forward with hope. We are able to accept each other for who we are, accept each others strengths and weaknesses and accept and acknowledge each others differences.

I may not have been able to be the best mum in the world, but my children are secure and happy, they know I am there for them no matter what, that my love is unconditional. We have rebuilt our relationships, we have shared laughter and a few tears but most of all we have created our own memories of life post diagnosis, holidays together, days out enjoying shared interests and fun at home be that baking or just having a simple family meal.  Most of all we are building a future full of happiness, hope and opportunity one that involves all of us, the children and me their mum their multiple mum.

 

Copyright DID Dispatches 2014