It's Depression Awareness Week and I figured it was time to blow this mental health stigma shit high out of the water.
I hadn't known there was an official event this week, I'm so used to seeing memes on social media I meet with a sage nod or wry smile as we all 'like' a post telling us it's nothing to be ashamed of - but we don't stick our heads above the parapet and yell "yes, I'm the nut in the fruit-cake!", but today after another run-in with inadequate mental health services I posted on my Facebook timeline about how I was being let down. I've always held it in, this dark and shameful secret - figuring that if anyone ditched me today or decided to distance themselves from me, they were unable to hurt me more than my own mind already does.
In 2002 I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and was told I should not refer to it directly in naice company, but instead allude to bipolar - or some other form of more socially-acceptable illness.
I got as lucky as anyone diagnosed with a severe mental illness can be. I was at the time living in The Netherlands, Maastricht to be precise, and they just happened to have a university research team who were world leaders in the research and treatment of BPD - I even had MRI tests and pretty pictures of my brain to try and figure out if my neurons were firing the way they were supposed to in response to triggers in picture format.
I got 4+ years of weekly 1:1 therapy with a clinical psychologist and a whopping array of psychiatric medicine until the therapy kicked in and I could be weaned off. In 2008 my therapy ended and I was released back into the big, bad world - mostly stable but aware of my limitations.
Life trundled on, I got married, had two children and the time came to move back to the UK just over two years ago, to Shetland. I don't know whether I started to relapse before we moved or shortly after - but the cost of desperately trying to 'hold my shit together' meant that I essentially shut out the world, shut down - and eventually ran away from my husband taking our children, rather than talking to him and so my marriage collapsed.
I reached crisis point one night last October when I sent pictures to my ex-husband of blood pouring from self-inflicted wounds on my arms demanding to know if he was "happy now". He called the police and an hour later the cavalry arrived - GP, police, ambulance, Shetland Pony parade, etc. As I live on a small island far from the coast of mainland Scotland this involved an emergency ferry being laid on in the middle of the night to get me to the hospital in Lerwick. The paramedics were kind as I sobbed the whole 50 miles and boat trip to hospital. When I was admitted to A&E I asked if I could go out for a smoke - they're not supposed to, but I laughed and asked "where would I go?" - at 2am in Lerwick, there aren't too many options to abscond unless you're lucky enough to hitch a ride on a trawler heading for Stavenger.
The following morning I had a brief visit from a mental health nurse and was discharged - I didn't want to be, I told him I wouldn't be safe alone. My ex-husband collected me and my shoulders heaved in the drive to his house, my bandaged arms throbbing and my children confused as to why mummy was sick.
A few weeks later I was called to an official meeting with the psychiatrist. By this point I was more able to articulate what was going on - BIG mistake. I told them (the same MH nurse from the hospital was present also) I'd been diagnosed more than a decade ago - it struck me as odd that nobody asked for proof - a mental health nurse friend told me since, it was because nobody would just claim such a diagnosis - and my Dutch psychiatric team have since sent notes.
I was told I was a "clever girl", given the name of a book about depression to buy from Amazon and given the URL of the Royal College of Psychiatrists website and told I'd "figure it out" - had I known that I could cure myself through reading medical websites, perhaps I could've performed my own c-sections using tools I'd purchased on Amazon - I digress.
I was asked about self-harm and suicidal thoughts - I told them I had a plan, had researched it and even made notes on how the children should be dealt with. I was informed I spoke in a "clinical manner" - I am not prone to snotty-nosed histrionics on the floor. Once again, my mistake.
Again I was sent away without medication and without hope. There is no clinical psychologist on Shetland so I am not able to get help there, but we do have chemists and prescription pads.
My GP left that week and since then I've seen a series of locums to beg for help. The usual response is a shrug of the shoulders, showing of the palms and the reply of "I'm just the locum". Eventually I persuaded one to write a letter to the MH team referring me back.
Today I went to see another locum to beg for medication (he's the fourth or fifth I think - we still have no GP). He told me that the practice had heard back from the MH team and my referral had been denied. He is not allowed to prescribe psychiatric medication - his solution is to write back and ask for advice/permission on what he can prescribe.
Apparently I gave new evidence today - what that means is that I gave up and told him I nearly flung myself off the cliff when out walking a few weeks ago, and that I've had to ask my ex to remove the hammer from the cupboard before I smash it through my frontal lobe.
It appears I'd not quite been explicit enough before when saying "I'm not coping". But then that's the beauty of mental illness - we tend not to smile at you at the school gates and say "I want to put the hammer right here!" - we don't talk about the pros and cons of a DIY lobotomy. Instead we sit alone in the dark crying into our vodka, numb, blood-soaking through towels and tomorrow that smile will be right where it was yesterday.
That's when I lost the plot (ha!) and outed myself on Facebook.
Being intelligent and articulate goes against me. I have a cut-glass accent, I make small talk and jokes, I'm well-educated and speak several languages. You might find me stand-offish and think I'm rude as I don't hang around long at social gatherings. That's because my nails are cutting into my palms and my teeth feel like they're going to break off because I'm clenching them so hard. But I'm still smiling - still playing the socially acceptable game - and such is the nature of my illness - I'll tell you anything I think you'll want to hear - as long as you'll like me.
So in the spirit of 'physician, heal thyself - thank goodness you can buy medications online these days! Chin chin!
Useful websites and helplines:
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41