Wednesday, 20 July 2011

STIGMA HAS TO STOP!




I HAVE been wanting to write a mental health feature for a long time and was waiting for the right opportunity to do so.  For the next few days I will be posting my own writing and that of others who have agreed to contribute to this feature in order to raise awareness about mental health and reduce stigma. 
If the writing touches you or if you work in mental health please pass the links on to others, retweet and share on social networking sites, we want stigma to STOP! Much of the writing on this feature is very personal and has taken a lot for people to take the time to write it.

 I WORK  in the field of mental health and am also training to be a counsellor. Day in and day out I see people who are terrified of feeling the way they do and who are doing the very best to recover and to manage their symptoms usually with very little support from the people around them. 

The biggest issue I notice in people struggling with mental health is the feeling of shame and guilt that they carry with them. There is such a stigma attached to mental health that for the people who are in it, the feeling of not being 'normal' is a heavy burden to carry and in my own opinion seriously impedes a persons ability to recover. This is true of any mental health condition whether that be bipolar, anxiety, psychosis or depression. 

I too have experienced acute mental health problems and struggled for a long time with the feelings of guilt and shame I had about my condition. I cannot tell the people I help in my work that I have experienced the same things, I cannot allude to the fact that I know how it feels, the isolation, the restriction, the terror. But what I can do, privately is use my writing voice to raise awareness of mental health and to help fight the stigma. 

I am not ashamed of what happened to me and I want to tell my story in the hope that somebody somewhere may take comfort in it and see that you can come out fighting, recover and go on to lead a fulfilling and useful life.
Though I have experienced several of the mental health conditions I want to focus primarily on the anxiety spectrum disorders here in this feature, I hope it helps somebody some where.

MENTAL, crazy, bonkers, off his head, weird, nuts, mad, these are but a few of the inane labels attributed to people who have experienced mental health disorders at one time or another. Acute mental illness is a disability just like any other physical disability, only you cannot see it, there is no physical clue to tell the outside world that a a person may be in extreme distress. Because you cannot see mental illness and because there has been a historical stigma attached to it in this country (you only have to do a small amount of research to see the absolutely disgusting abuse of 'mad people' in victorian asylums) people with mental illness can be subjected to pervasive discrimination in society and treated badly by family and peers. 

I have been on the receiving end of this type of treatment and I believe sincerely that stigma and the way a person is treated by those close to them when they are struggling, has a huge and profound impact on the psyche of that person, the way they view themselves and their problem and the ability to recover. As a few of you will know, I had a spectacular breakdown nine years ago which was preceded by years and years of high anxiety caused by persistent emotional and psychological abuse, not feeling safe in my own house, living with very little money, not eating well enough to function properly and a real lack of support from anyone in my life at that time.
There were other factors involved in my spiral into mental health but they are too personal and upsetting to discuss here, anyhow my personal experience of mental health and the way I was treated by people made me absolutely determined to recover despite the odds being stacked against me very highly. 

What started off with me having the odd panic panic attack here and there snowballed quickly into generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder. Both were mentally draining and physically gruelling, My body was in a constant state of fight or flight, adrenaline pumped through my body constantly but it had nowhere to go, the result was me feeling like I was dying every time I had a panic attack which was roughly 8 times a day, living in a constant state of fear and panic, not being able to eat or sleep and forgetting why I was doing something at any given time. My weight dropped considerably and I couldn't stop shaking, I looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights but nobody seemed to notice that there was anything wrong with me. It really is impossible to describe to someone who has never experienced acute anxiety what it makes you feel like physically and mentally. 

Because you feel so full of acute panic and fear all the time (imagine putting yourself in an extremely anxiety inducing situation for e.g being attacked and then times that fear by 100, that feeling may be close what anxiety is like) but you don't know why, you tend to attach reasons to the feeling of dread that you feel every minute of every waking day. 

If you are driving your car you dread that you may have a crash, if you have a headache you dread that it may be a brain tumour, if you haven't heard from your boyfriend who is driving home from a concert you dread he may have been in a serious car accident, all of these thoughts are very very real and extremely anxiety inducing.
They build up and up until you cannot rationalise that the anxiety is just a feeling anymore it becomes a reality, a precursor to something terrible happening, you have not slept in weeks or eaten properly, you are weak and skinny, you don't make sense and finally the toll on your body has become too much, it crumbles spectacularly before your eyes.



By this point I was in danger but still nobody was willing to acknowledge that I was suffering and to this day I don't know why. The danger was that I was becoming increasingly unwilling to leave the house because I thought I would have a series of panic attacks which I did and often and even more frighteningly I hadn't eaten anything for so long I was beginning to resemble somebody who was seriously malnourished and who should be in hospital. 

I was so absolutely consumed with the physical feeling of anxiety that my digestive system shut down, I couldn't swallow never mind eat a full plate of food. It became impossible for me to concentrate on anything, I had to leave my job, I couldn't socialise and i couldn't tell anyone.

 I had no peers who could relate to what I was going through, I was still only 19 and although I knew what anxiety was, I wasn't able to stop it gripping me with its intensity. I thought people would think I was crazy if i told them what was going on but inside I was screaming for help. The physical effects of my anxiety had begun to show in my body, I shook a lot of the time and my weight continued to plummet, in private i burst into tears regularly and could barely get dressed. I felt ignored by those closest to me and the fact that nobody bothered to help me led to me becoming depressed. 

I was alone in the world, sinking, terrified and left wandering hat I had done to deserve this awful illness. My break through came when I went to visit my G.P, he was new at the practice and luckily for me had specialised in mental health. I just about managed to get through the door before crumpling into a heap, sobbing. He stayed with me for half an hour, asking me reams of questions before telling me what he thought was wrong: GAD, Panic disorder, Displaying OCD symptoms, secondary depression and insomnia.

 It was quite a lot to take in and I felt ashamed. He looked at me earnestly and told me that I was not 'Crazy' and that he himself had had a breakdown the previous year. Here was this doctor, an educated and rational man who had had a breakdown himself! I was shocked but strangely relieved by this information. I was not alone, it could happen to anyone, he got better!

I left armed with information about my conditions, a very low dose sleeping tablet, an urgent refferral to a counsellor, anti depressants ( after being prescribed seroxat two years earlier for panic attacks, i had an awful and terrifying reaction to the tablets which left me no option but to throw them away) and the knowledge that my new doctor was just at the end of the phone if I needed to talk.



Part two of this feature to follow shortly
If you are struggling with anxiety or suspect you may be experiencing anxiety please do not suffer alone. Contact your G.P for advice or contact anxiety u.k for up to date information on all anxiety spectrum disorders and taliored support for your individual problems. You can contact them on this number 08444 775 774 or visit their website here.


All opinions expressed here re my own and are not attributed to anxiety uk or any other mental health charity or organisation.

5 comments:

Jules McVey said...

Great blog Lisa, personal and powerful. It's also a positive tale about how courage to speak against the stigma and disclose can lead to appropriate care and treatment. Very much looking forward to reading the rest in this specialist feature.

Jules McVey said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Doria said...

Very good post. Thank you for sharing. It's nice to read. I myself have a dear friend who also struggles with anxiety, depression and attempted suicide. I saddens me and I myself feel lost and scared that I just can't help enough. Im glad to read on this topic with hopes that it will help me and well I too suffer with very rare episodes of anxiety! *hugs* Stay strong!

Anonymous said...

I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

Anonymous said...

I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

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