Sunday, 2 July 2017

Living with Chronic Mental Health Problems - An Update

It’s been a while since I’ve posted – over a month to be precise – and I wanted to try and explain why. I’ve got other posts I want to get up; my third week at Stanmore and a review of a photo printing service, but I didn’t feel able to just jump straight back in without talking to you about why I’ve been so quiet. I’ve been trying to think about how to write this post for a few weeks, and every time I’ve thought about it I’ve just put it off and hidden myself away more. I guess sometimes it just feels easier to push everyone away, stop talking and hibernate because then you don’t have to face the real world and deal with things.

If you’re a regular reader then you will probably be aware that I struggle with both physical and mental health problems. I try to be open about them, but at the same time try not to let them take over everything. But sometimes it’s incredibly hard to stop them. For the last month or so, my mental health has basically got to crisis point. I don’t want this post to turn into a ‘woe is me’ monologue or a giant moan, but I do want to be honest. I want people to understand what having a long-term mental illness is like and I want other people out there who are going through something similar to not feel alone.

I’ve felt my mental health dipping for the last few months if I’m really honest with myself, but it’s only the last month or so that it’s really crashed. My mood has been incredibly low – I keep crying, I’ve shut myself off from friends and family, negative thoughts have been racing round my head and I’ve been suicidal. It’s scary, it really is. No matter how long you deal with these symptoms, it doesn’t get any easier. Yes, I’ve learnt things along my journey, but when those suicidal thoughts start kicking in, I feel powerless against them. Going through scenarios in my head of how I will end my life is distressing. It’s terrifying because it feels so real and I feel so close to actually doing something. All I want is for the pain to stop – to stop feeling like I’m drowning, sinking through quicksand. I want to be able to breathe freely and to go to bed without crying myself to sleep. I’ve gone from seeing life in colour, to having that vibrancy drained so that everything looks gloomy and grey. It’s a struggle to get out of bed in the morning and to find the motivation to do anything productive. My anxiety is through the roof. Just leaving the house fills me with dread in case I see someone and have to talk to them. But I keep pushing myself because if I stop, I don’t think I’ll ever start again. Even when I try to sleep, nightmares plague me. I self-harm to try and cope with things – it helps for a bit, and then it all just starts again.

It’s really hard to describe what it’s like to be mentally unwell because sometimes there just aren’t the words to explain how rubbish things can be. I first accessed help for my mental health at the age of 15, but looking back I can see I was struggling for years before that. I’ve been through a whole list of diagnoses – clinical depression, anxiety, anorexia, bulimia, borderline personality disorder and cyclothymia. At the moment they’ve decided to call it a mixed personality disorder, because apparently I don’t fit into a typical box. Along the way, I’ve tried different treatments and interventions – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Inpatient treatment, medication, psychology, counselling, STEPPS group and probably more that I can’t remember. And although outwardly things might seem better, inside it’s just as much of a struggle as it has always been.

Unfortunately, because I’ve had all of this help in the past, it is now becoming increasingly difficult to get help. The system just doesn’t seem to be set up to support people with complex, long-term mental health conditions. When things went downhill I reached out for help – I told my GP I didn’t feel safe, but she didn’t know what to do to help. I was already in the process of being assessed for psychotherapy, so told the psychotherapist I was suicidal and she referred me to the rapid response mental health team. But they didn’t even assess me, and instead discharged me saying they couldn’t provide any more help than they had already. I went to a place called The Safe Haven, which is an alternative to A&E for people in a mental health crisis. They’ve probably been the most helpful in all of this, in that they give me a safe space to go where I can sit and colour or at least talk to a psychiatric nurse. But they can’t provide long-term treatment.

My psychotherapy assessment has now been completed, and they have said they can offer me group therapy, but they don’t know how long the wait will be. I don’t want to be ungrateful because I know how hard it is to get any kind of treatment, but there are things I need to work through that I can’t possibly talk about in a group. I told the psychotherapist this, but felt like my views weren’t listened to, which left me feeling frustrated and alone. I had an appointment with the psychologist at Stanmore recently, and he was disappointed that they hadn’t been able to offer some individual support, as he believes it’s what I really need to move forwards. But he admitted that because of mental health funding issues, it’s unlikely the NHS will be able to offer the treatment I need. So he’s suggested that I see a private therapist.

I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place – if I don’t get the help I need then I’m really not sure how much longer I can continue, but I’m not sure where I’m going to find the money to pay for it. Being unwell for so long has worn me down and it’s difficult to picture things ever getting better. I’m constantly overwhelmed by thoughts like ‘What if I never feel any better?’ or ‘What am I doing wrong?’ I’ve tried so many different things over the years, and it’s really disheartening when nothing seems to work. It’s very easy to feel worthless and undeserving of getting better when you’re continually turned away from help and support, even when I try and remind myself that a lot of it comes down to funding and availability. But my brain just won’t listen to reasoning sometimes, and instead just tells me that if the NHS won’t help me through this crisis then I don’t deserve support. It is really hard when you’re told to ask for help if you’re feeling so low you want to end your life, but when you do reach out you’re told no one will help you. I can’t stop myself feeling like you only get taken seriously when it’s too late.

Recently I have just felt very alone and not known where else to turn. And that’s one of the reasons I wanted to share all this, because I know there are other people out there going through similar experiences. Feeling like no one cares, listens, understands or even notices that you’re falling apart inside. I want those people to know that they’re not alone in feeling like this. Although I can’t fix the things that are making you struggle, I can understand and walk through the journey with you. There’s a lot of power in peer support – unlike a psychiatrist or a doctor, we know exactly what it’s like to want to die and to struggle to see through the fog. And that empathy allows us to give each other a kind of love and support that professionals simply cannot provide.

This crisis has got me thinking a lot about my life and myself. I’ve started colouring when I feel really bad – it definitely doesn’t take away the struggles I’m having, but it does distract and calm me, especially if I go to the Safe Haven to do it. I’m trying to take things a day at a time, and even little things like getting dressed or brushing my teeth I’m trying to see as an achievement. I’ve also been thinking a lot about my blog and YouTube channel. I think I needed the time away, but I do miss them and really want to push myself to get back to them. But I want to make a few changes. I want to shake up my Sunday posts a bit and would also like to focus a lot more on mental and physical health issues, tips, advice and information. I’m not going to stop posting about beauty, fashion and various other lifestyle things (like tea!) but I do want to bring in more of the health stuff too, because it’s such a big part of my life and I’d like to try and help others. I want to raise awareness and I want to improve services – the only way that will happen is by us talking.

I’m sorry this has been quite a long, all over the place post! I hope it’s made some sense, explained where I’m at right now and perhaps helped you if you struggle with mental health problems as well. I’d like to finish by signposting you to The Samaritans ( who have been a real lifesaver to me recently. You can phone or email them any time, day or night, and they will listen without judgement to anything you have to say.

How have you been recently? Do you struggle with mental health problems and relate to what I’ve written?

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  1. Hey Jenny, where is this safe haven place located?

    1. The one I've been going to is in Aldershot, but I believe there are a few in my area xx

  2. I've never commented on your blog before but I just wanted to share some love and say that I'm thinking of you and I really hope you are able to get some support. I've had depression as long as I can remember and I also have CFS/M.E and I've just been told my depression isn't severe enough for our local counselling service and I was suggested private. I can only work 12 hours a week and I'm going through a lengthy application for benefits so I barely make ends meet let alone have enough to pay for counselling. I feel very let down by the NHS, I get no ongoing support for my physical health anyway and now I've been refused mental health support too and I feel like I'm just stuck in this barely surviving life and nobody wants to know. I hope you have friends and family around you to give you love and help you through each day. Stay safe xxx

    1. Thank you Shayla that's really sweet of you. I'm sorry to hear that you've been told your depression isn't severe enough for your local counselling service. It's awful how little support there is out there for people with mental health problems, and when you've got something like M.E. the 'support' is non-existent too. I know some charities offer counselling either for free or at a reduced rate, so it might be worth looking into that in your local area. I really hope you can find the support you need soon xx