Monday, 10 June 2013

M.E and mental health

In my last post I talked about some past physical aspects that may have contributed to my M.E diagnosis. Notice how I say 'may' as I have already explained there is no conclusive evidence to say for definite why someone contracts M.E. So in this post I am going to focus on the mental health factors or psychology. I'm not saying I'm a nut job but I have had my share of depression and anxiety as can only be expected from someone who's also had much physical bad health. And because everyone is sussepible to mental health issues, it's part of life. I think though that people associate the term mental health with the more serious conditions such as paranoid schizophrenia, or brain damage and being locked away, given electric shock therapy and labotomies and therefore it conjures bad images. However put simply it just means the state of your thoughts or emotional wellbeing. For example how much do we revere people like Stephen Fry for their intellect and yet he is dogged by bipolar disorder and has recently admitted to attempting suicide last year. Or cyclist Victoria Pendleton, who after winning her first meddle at the Beijing Olympics still felt the need to self harm. In layman's terms 1 in 4 people who experience mental health issues at any given time so why is it still a stigma? For more info on mental health and for advise is really helpul and is a registered charity that aims to help those in need and break that stigma.

Before they found the ovarian cyst and subsequent bowel troubles I led a very active lifestyle. I actually never stopped (only sometimes during the summer holidays) and was a very competitive sports woman. Maybe even a bit of a big head but you kind of need to have that mindset when you're competing, as long as you know when to tone it down. After that first hospital stay though everything stopped. I was in too much pain to go to school let alone do any sport. So basically I was cut off from everything socially, as well as not being able to do what I loved. In high school I think it's true that everyone is bracketed into categories or roles, as sad as that is. My role had been the sporty, competitive one who'd always have a tale to tell of where I'd been competing that weekend but when I couldn't do that anymore I think people struggled to 'reclassify' me. Let's face it although you are supposed to spend your teens 'experimenting' and finding your feet in life if you step too far you're likely to be outcast, even though you're still the same on the inside. Eventually my role became 'the ill one' who people would try and get an electric shock from my tens machine from, and then I became 'the one that's hardly ever in.' In this time people move on, especially at that age where life is very much about being in the moment. I certainly wasn't the same person anymore and neither were they and when it's a group it's much more intimidating. In no way am I saying that I was bullied just that when I did go into school I would feel completely out of the loop, there was even another girl sitting where I always sat. I felt so alienated and of course when you're a teenage girl with bowel problems could it be anymore embarrassing?

Soon enough it all got too much for me and looking back it's understandable why. It got so bad that I couldn't even be anywhere near school because I 'd panic and when I was there I'd shake and imagine that the walls were sweating. I was lucky that I got my head of year on side and she did evedything in her power to make sure I got through my GCSE's. Everyone used to call her Hitler beacuse she was so awful but in the end even she shed a tear when I got my results. During this time I saw a few councellors at the National Children's Home and a children's psychiatrist who tried to convince me that the way I sat on the toilet was affecting my mood. Seriously! As you can tell I don't seem to have much luck with psychiatrists. I begged to never see him again and although the hospital were a bit cheesed off I didn't. The councelling did help though and they helped me try to start enjoying life again and to help me deal with the panic attacks, so that I could at least spend a few hours in school. The problem with councelling though is that there is often a waiting list and sometimes it's only as good as during the time you're recieving help and of course whether you get along with your councellor. This is why it took me a few attempts but even just talking to someone that doesn't know you personally can help you understand. But of course between the ages of 14- 18 summing up your feelings and the reasons behind them can be difficult.

I think though that what I owe most of all for my change in confidence was starting drama classes, because although it was scary it was also liberating and I got to meet a new group of people that didn't know me; they could just accept me as I was. I was lucky that it wasn't a class that has 'stars' or 'favourites' and therefore everyone was allowed to contribute and work as a team and therefore my confidence really lifted. Too me theatre is underrated, it is actually magical and I owe a lot to it. Maybe I am being a luvie but then again Attraction have just won Britain's Got Talent. Consequently by the time I reached sixth form I was attending all my lessons. The only thing I couldn't do was stay there all day or be in the common room for too long but as long as I had a definite aim I was ok. All I wanted was to try and be as normal as possible and this included wanting to go to university to study drama so that I could pursue it as a career. Let me just add that whilst I was in sixth form the sole emphasis seemed to be on getting into university, it's like you had to go and look now most people even with degrees can't get a job never mind a decent job.

When I was 18 however I was simply not ready to go to university and it was hardly surprising really. I hadn't spent my time gaining more independence and learning how to handle my drink like normal sixth formers. I lasted one term at a university bout 2 hours from home; I tried to make a go of it but everything was wrong. There was 200 people,on my course alone, so I was overwhelmed and swallowed up. I also hated my flat mates and they found me boring because I hardy drank and wasn't sleeping around. In the end I was making excuses to prolong my weekends at home and when I was there I'd hide in my room, curled up in a ball listening to my flatmate play James Blount "Goodbye my Lover"at full blast, I still cringe when I hear him.  I was scared to go in the kitchen. In hindsight this might not have been a bad thing as if I had done I probably would have contracted septicemia or some nasty fungal disease and would be typing this blog with my mouth and a stick. It was hideous. There wasn't even much point in me going in there anyway as they'd used my dishes which were festering in a sea of what looked like vomit and cheese toasties and most my food had been eaten. I completely broke down and all it took was for my Mum to take one look at the kitchen for her to drag me home. I thought I would feel like a total failure but at first all I felt was relief and badly shaken up so I went back for more councelling and was put on fluxloxitine.

Over the next two years I started to embrace life again (sorry for the cheese). I accepted that it hadn't been the right time for me to go to university and nor was it my fault that I had to come home or was bullied. I could always go back to university when I was ready and if it's what I wanted but for now I had time to build myself back up and try new things. After a short time I got a part time office job and then the following September I started at a University close to home where I grew even more in confidence and happiness. Even managing to go away on city breaks with friends, which was a feat in itself as I could cope in the hussle and bussle and not even feel a bit panicky.

I've been told by many people that it's very common to feel lost once you leave university and so it was with me. At the time I had not gained a place on a postgraduate course and and after 3 years of working towards a goal, especially the last year in which I knew that I wanted to be a stage manager I felt completely at sea. I have never experienced depression like it and neither do I want to again. It was completely overwhelming and rendered me completely bed ridden too scared to leave my bed or I'd be hyper and wouldn't be able to stop moving, even to the point of shaking violently. My thoughts were just so dark, which scared me all the more. I even self harmed, which completely terrified me. Why did I hurt myself? Why did I even want to hurt myself when previously I'd been happy with who I was and who I was becoming? I just needed to do it. It's really strange because knowing that you're going to harm yourself brings a sense of calmness, but in no way is it a solution to an anxiety attack it only creates more problems and physical pain and you can also guarantee that it will be the one day that you want to roll up your sleaves because we're experiencing a tiny bit of summer. For more information on self harming then visit It is something that I never thought that I would do and yet I did and luckily there is help out there. It does not make you odd or a goth it means you're hurting.

 Because of this I had to have a fair few psyh evaluations, luckily with nicer psychiatrists than I'd had in the past, there was no judgemet they just wanted to listen and help me get better. They arranged for the home treatment team to come visit me everyday and then once a week to help me deal with my emotions in the moment and work on a long term solution. This is a great service as it really helps you understand why you're feeling that way and gives you advice on how to deal with anxiety etc. For example snapping an elastic band against your skin when you feel the need to self harm as it has the same affect but is much safer while you learn to deal witb tbe underlying reasons. If you suffered with social anxiety then they can also help you to get out of the house and be there with you. It really is an excellent service as it means more people can be cared for at home if possible, for example anyone that they feel needs additional care but being committed would hinder their progress, as it means you can learn to face your problems directly and not have to readjust after being in hospital and breaking the routine of being institutionalised. And then of course you get the extra help of friends and family. Of course there are too many tales of the system letting people down and people not getting the help that they need but there is much good too. It just the good news doesn't make for as exciting news coverage. I did warn you all I was a keen advocate for good mental health. During this time I was also put on citalopram after going a bit loopy on fluxloxitine and I had some diazepam for when I got really panicky and I would see my GP and councellor once a week.

Just after I'd finished at university I had applied for a masters degree in stage management and no matter how depressed I was somewhere inside me I was still determined that I had to do it; and I did, I got in! This is just what I wanted and so I fought to beat the depression, even though some professionals told me it was too much. The only thing that I could think of was that this was what I'd worked so hard for and I'd achieved, of course I had to grab it. Yes I knew that I was still fragile but now I had the perfect incentive to want to get better and I would only risk feeling worse if I didn't take up this opportunity. I was armed with the tools now to help me and I'd stopped self harming. Please don't get me wrong depression is not a quick fix solution, some people can achieve what they thought they wanted and still be depressed, such as Stephen Fry or Victoria Pendleton. I think maybe a part of me will always have that tendency but you can get better with support and understanding the reasons why you're depressed.

As I have said I still have days now when I am utterly miserable because of the M.E and once again missing out but I've learnt that it's perfectly okay to feel that way; as long as you don't let it embitter you and takeover, which can be very difficult. Again it's about having that support system, talking and learning from the past. I never want to be that depressed again ever.

So what does this have to do with the potential of someone being an M.E candidate, or myself inparticularly as I'm not saying you too will get M.E if you've had depression. Well psychological distress can be just as taxing, if not more so than physical pain. Leaving you vulnerable. Anyway apologies if the last 2 posts have seemed like a sob story. I'm not after sympathy, because honestly the most important thing is that from each experience I've took something from and they have helped make me who I am today. No not just the girl that falls asleep on buses and has the leg strength of a new born foal, but someone who will always try to find the best and keep laughing through it all and most importantly a person that I like being. Not having M.E would be lovely though.

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