Trauma

Trauma

This morning I received a text message that convinced me I was going to die. It was a perfectly innocuous message from a courier company telling me that Colin would deliver my package between 2 and 3. What was threatening about that? I was convinced that this man was going to deliver my parcel of dresses. During our time together he was a courier driver and my brain made the illogical step of making him today’s courier. That’s PTSD for you. It makes no sense to anyone but me that a message about a delivery could send me on a thought spiral which ended with me being murdered on my doorstep. I was terrified, shaking and crying and felt sick knowing I would be alone when he arrived.

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Speaking About My Broken Brain

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At 17 I left home, by 22 I was married, divorced at 26 but I never truly felt grown up until I was 30. That was the age I decided to (wo)man up and ask for help with my failing mental health. I had been experiencing bouts of depression, anxiety and insomnia since my teens but when the issue came up with my GP it was always by accident. Luckily my doctor wasn’t clueless and when I would say “Oh, I have a twisted ankle and by the way I haven’t slept properly in three weeks” he would always probe me on the insomnia rather than the ankle. I fell into a cycle of taking some tablets, being referred for counselling that I inevitably cancelled after one session and eventually feeling “better”.

In early 2012 I turned 30 and had everything I could possibly need: a job I enjoyed, good friends, a loving family, money in the bank and a roof over my head. I had nothing to be sad about but I felt completely and utterly empty. I was given good news by people I loved and I couldn’t raise a smile. I didn’t suffer from low mood – I had no mood. I couldn’t concentrate on anything and would find myself reading the same article in a magazine repeatedly and not absorbing the words. I became so forgetful it scared me. I would look at people I know and struggle to recall their names and forgot my PIN number so many times I had to save it in my phone to avoid embarrassment in the supermarket.

In March 2012, I made an emergency appointment at the doctor after I realised that I had been subconsciously stockpiling paracetamol. I wasn’t sure if this was because of genuine forgetfulness or if I was planning a suicide attempt. My appointment was due to last 10 minutes but I left after half an hour with a puffy tearstained face, two prescriptions and an urgent referral to the local mental health assessment centre. I had completed the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) and was found to be severely depressed. I remember my doctor asked if I planned to take my own life I said that I had no real plans but every night I went to bed hoping I wouldn’t wake up. That’s when the tears started. It was the first time I had ever said that out loud.

I would love to say that after that day everything fell into place and I was miraculously well again. Unfortunately that was not the case. My depression wasn’t triggered by anything specific and I didn’t gel with the counsellor I saw. I took the medication and whilst this helped with the depression my anxiety increased. My insomnia spiralled out of control and I had a constant sense of impending doom. I was convinced horrific things would happen to my family and had nightmares about car accidents, fires and violent deaths. But rather than give up, every time I felt worse I kept going back to my GP. My medication was changed, I self-referred to a work place counselling service which was much better suited to me and I started talking to people about how I was feeling. My mental health issues were always my dirty little secret, I was ashamed to tell people I was close to how I was feeling because I didn’t want to be judged.

I just started to feel a little lighter in mood then my mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer in June 2012. It was as if all the nightmares had come true. In my head I felt like all my anxiety had been justified and that I was somehow right to be so paranoid and pessimistic. I now realise this was my broken brain speaking. What happened to my physical and mental health during the period of mum’s illness and the time following her death were devastating but I truly believe that I wouldn’t be alive right now if I hadn’t sought help before the shit hit the fan. I don’t believe in psychic abilities but I have always had a decent sense of intuition. Maybe in the months before mum’s diagnosis my brain started sending me signals that I was going to need all the help I could get.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and I am saddened that in 2017 many people still can’t talk openly about their mental health. They are ashamed, disgusted with themselves, misunderstood and maligned. I have been called selfish, lazy, an attention seeker and a psycho (that last one was from an ex-boyfriend, charming fellow). But the more we talk about mental health, the more normal it becomes. The more I talk to people about what I am experiencing, the more they understand. If you keep cancelling plans because you are too anxious to leave the house, tell someone that rather than make up a bullshit excuse, they are more likely to offer to help or come to you. Some of the best friends came to see me when I couldn’t face the outside world.

I am not “cured” as mental illness is something I will always have in some form. I deal with life one day at a time, take medication as anyone with a long-term health condition would and just try to be as kind to myself as possible. Remember, asking for help isn’t a sign of failure. It’s scary and the process may suck sometimes but talking about how you feel may just save your life.

If you or anyone you know may be suffering from mental illness please seek professional help. I found the following websites and podcasts helpful:

Mental Health Foundation – Practical advice to help with your mental health and well-being
https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/

Mind – A-Z of mental health, an online community and tips for everyday living are just some of the excellent resources
https://mind.org.uk/

Samaritans – if you are in the UK or Republic of Ireland you can call Samaritans on 116 123, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This number is FREE to call. You don’t have to be suicidal to call.
http://www.samaritans.org/

Bryony Gordon’s Mad World Podcast – A ten part podcast series in which Telegraph journalist and OCD sufferer Bryony discusses mental illness with a different guest every week. The Prince Harry episode gained worldwide attention and started a lot of important discussions around mental health.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/bryony-gordons-mad-world-podcast/

Dear CC

broken-heartI am so sorry I didn’t say goodbye properly. I found out you were really sick on Friday and by Saturday night you were gone. I wrote a short message that didn’t even begin to explain how much I wanted the news about your failing health to be an ugly rumour. I needed to tell you how much you meant to me and how much you will be missed. You were my first real friend. Two doors down the street and born three weeks apart, it was almost inevitable that we would be buddies, especially given how close our parents were. Inseparable during their pregnancies, our mothers were delighted to give birth to two daughters in the same month that would grow up together.

We weren’t just friends, we were family. We called each other’s mothers “Mum” and became the sisters we both craved so much (I was big sister, you were little sis). We spent weekdays together at nursery, then school and at weekends had sleepovers at each other’s homes. You had a Christmas stocking and an Easter egg to look forward to every year at my house. I put more time and effort into our friendship than I have with any subsequent romantic relationship. Although we looked so different we always dressed alike and I laugh now looking back at pictures of your long slim body in the same outfits as my short round frame.

I still remember the day 26 years ago when I broke your heart (your words, you always had a flair for the dramatic). I told you I was moving house. Not very far away but enough of a distance to move school and for everything to change. We both wept and vowed to be friends forever, in a way that only nine year olds can. I promised to phone every day and write letters every week to tell you what I was up to. You told me that no one would ever replace me. We continued to have sleepovers, although they went from weekly to monthly and eventually stopped altogether.

Neither of us wanted to admit we’d outgrown each other. When we met up things seemed strained and we couldn’t just pick up a conversation where we’d left off, there was so much explanation of “who’s who” in stories that it was too much effort. Also, the differences in our personalities became more apparent as we got older; you loved a party and I loved staying in with a book, you looked like a model and loved fashion, I looked like a hobbit and was sporting hand me downs (from my brother).

We went years without speaking and I regret not making more of an effort. There were times I would see you on a bus or on the street and I would hide behind a book or scarf to avoid your gaze. Your life always seemed so fabulous and glamourous. You travelled for a living and I was stuck in the same city in a dead end job. I thought being around you would make me feel like a lesser human.

I thought of you often and when I joined Facebook in 2009 you were one of my first friends, just like when we were born. You ended up amassing 10 times as many friends as me and I do admit to the odd pang of jealousy. We exchanged the occasional message, particularly in times of crisis. When your dad passed away I had to let you know I was there if you needed to chat and you were one of the first people I heard from when my mum was diagnosed with cancer. I will never forget the kindness of you coming to mum’s funeral when you didn’t even live in the same country as us anymore.

I was speaking to dad about you just over a week ago. We were both wondering aloud how you were, you had been uncharacteristically quiet on social media and I hoped it was because you were loved up and enjoying life offline. I didn’t know you were fighting for your life. When I found out on Friday night what was happening I wanted to give you the biggest hug. I wanted to kiss your forehead the way our mums did when we were sleeping over at each other’s houses. Or I wanted to make you laugh, you had a bloody ridiculous snorting laugh and I can’t believe I’ll never hear it again. I also can’t believe I am referring to you in the past tense. I am so sorry.

Love always, BS (Big Sister)

Last Goodbye

The landline rang on Saturday afternoon. No good news is ever delivered via the home phone. It’s the hotline for cold callers and bad news. But I already knew, I’d seen the news online. I held the mobile in my hand with my Twitter feed still open as I picked up the receiver. It was my sister in law: “Have you heard?”  A small groan escaped from my lips. “He died this morning, it was sudden, are you ok?” She’s talking about my ex husband and the answer is no. I’m not ok.Read More »

Before and After

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Monday 4th June 2012, an entirely forgettable day. The country was in the grip of Golden Jubilee fever but I was at work and ridiculously busy. I don’t remember what I wore, what I ate, if I did anything after work. It was just Monday.

Why am I fixated on this date? Because it was the Day Before. The day before life changed forever. On Tuesday 5th June my mum was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. Within 10 days we would find out the cancer was terminal.

What do I remember about 5th June? Everything. I remember the perfume I was wearing, the songs I heard on the radio at work, the facial expression of the consultant when he asked to speak to my mum after her endoscopy, I remember the kind of sandwich my dad was eating in the waiting room while my mum heard the news. It’s almost like until that day I was in darkness and on that Tuesday morning someone switched the light on. I could see everything with the most amazing clarity.Read More »

18 Months

September 15th 2013: the day I became a member of the Dead Mums Club. It’s a day that’s still so vivid it’s tattooed on my soul. Every sight, every sound, every smell is still with me. I threw away the clothes I wore that day because every time I looked at them I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut.

I have been through so many emotions from the day of the cancer diagnosis to this; the most consistent is anger. I get angry over the stupidest things. I cry, I throw things, I swear, I rant and rave. I know it wasn’t mum’s fault, no one expected her seemingly innocuous stomach problems to be cancer but I am angry that she had symptoms for months before she saw a doctor. I am angry that even after her diagnosis she always put everyone else’s needs before her own.Read More »

Nobody told me

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Image source: http://www.bloggersforhope.com/2012/06/grief-mathematically-speaking.html

I lost my Mum to cancer in September 2013. I wish someone had warned me about the range of emotions and reactions I would go through in the subsequent days, months and years so I knew that what I was experiencing was perfectly normal. Information on grieving can be conflicting and confusing so I decided to detail my own experience.Read More »