Month: February 2017

I don’t remember why – the guilt of my dissociative episodes

It is scary sorting through piles of possessions I do not remember buying.

As part of my recovery work I’m allocating time to take care of my home, household related tasks (bills, organisation, housework etc), in order to take responsibility for living an ordered life, to not get into trouble or overwhelmed with unpaid bills and tasks ignored until they become insurmountable, and to make a safe calm and even beautiful home. I had no home for many years, moving from room to room, moves often prompted by my mounting distress. When I was blessed to find this place, it took a long time to feel at all safe or dare to believe in any stability. Then gradually, it became an escape, flight not by constantly moving around but by means of a protective enclosure. Which is good in some ways and something I still need when things are too much, which is frequent, but now it is time for my home to be more than that; even a place and a life that supports my health.

Part of this is continuing what I’ve been trying to do for some time, which is clearing through accumulated items and clutter and organising the things I decide I do need. I’ve been working on this for some weeks or months on and off, tackling different areas. I’ve acknowledged for several months in therapy and with my support worker how I bought and accumulated items as a desperate attempt at escape, distraction and protection. I acknowledge how out of control my spending used to be and too often still is and how impulsively I buy things when in my dissociative episodes, apparently driven by some desperate need at the time that leaves me sick at myself and painfully empty afterwards when my consciousness returns, a massive blank missing in my memory and emotion, but the fallout of my actions apparent – money spent, arguments had, horrific things said, tablets taken, sometimes alcohol drunk and most of all items bought (usually clothes, makeup, accessories, things I’d never buy for myself “normally” or rationally). I hate myself then, most of all for the money spent on myself and the hurt I’ve caused other people.

I’m coming face to face with all this as I’m clearing through hoarded possessions. Much as I’ve been aware of and fighting these problems for months, it’s still very scary finding things I don’t remember purchasing and don’t know why I have. Perhaps it’s even scarier because I don’t really know why I do this when I’m dissociated. Why? Why do I buy things? Why do I become what the evidence means I am in these times – selfish, irrational, irresponsible, needy, childish, bad? What else am I doing in these times? The violent emotion that takes over and hurts people around me, but still I can’t control it – who am I and where is it leading? Why do I behave in ways I can’t remember, that people close to me say are terrible?

I’m scared. I want to take responsibility. I’m trying to carry on gradually sorting out my home. It occurs to me whether looking at items I bought in these dissociative states where there are huge memory gaps, will help me connect at all with what I was doing and who I was at these times. I don’t know.

Ginny xxx

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Ten dishes challenge #6: chicken stew and exploring wheat-free

Since the new year, actually I’ve been much better than usual at cooking meals, though usually I haven’t managed to remember to take a picture to add to this series, hence the lack of updates. A significant reason I’ve done better at cooking is that I was preparing food to share with a couple in my block who were in serious financial difficulty, and also cooking for another friend who is very unwell and struggles to eat at all let alone cook.

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I’m motivated to cook when I feel it’s to help or care for or simply for the enjoyment of someone else. This can help me overcome feeling too exhausted to do it. When I’m cooking for others, there is actually some joy in it even if I’m battling the chronic physical pain. The thoughts and voices that taunt me that I don’t deserve good food, must not eat, fill my head with repulsion at myself and greed and failure, do not come so loud when I’m cooking for others and sharing the meal. When I’m with others, I don’t binge eat and I cannot purge food. Perhaps it isn’t the ideal way out of these eating disorder symptoms – I have to be able to feed myself for myself in the end – but the more times I do cook, do share food, do manage not to binge eat and purge or restrict for long periods, the quieter the voices become even when I’m alone. It’s a very slow process and can still be awful but I think it’s a strength that will slowly grow.

The other major change in the last month is that since I was in hospital with stomach problems, I’m on a wheat-free diet because I was advised to try this. So I’m finding out new recipes or adaptations to recipes. As much as possible, I’m finding foods and ingredients that are naturally wheat free, because a lot of replacement products are very expensive, especially the processed ones. A very small loaf of gluten free bread will be £2.50 rather than 80p for a similar sized normal loaf; a packet of wheat free biscuits may be up to £3.00 rather than 75p or less for regular supermarket biscuits. I can’t have these things regularly on wheat free, at least not when I’m relying on Benefits whilst I’m signed off work. The plus side of this is that it leads me to cook more and eat more fruit, veg, beans, meat and dairy. My food bill will increase a bit nevertheless but I don’t think it will be unmanageable if I’m very careful to go for cost effective recipes. In fact, I’m often enjoying finding a new variety of foods and the altered diet. For example, I’m going to try making my own bread using wheat free flour. I discovered these funky coloured carrots that were tasty roasted:

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It’s not all saintly. Chocolate definitely still features in my diet! 🙂

For the first couple of weeks I was out of hospital, my stomach was very unsettled and I was mainly eating rice, rice crackers, cooked vegetables and fruit, peanut butter then gradually some egg and cheese as well. Most meals were looking something like this:

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Slowly, as my stomach is a bit better, I’ve wided my diet again with meats, yoghurt, various treats or desserts like chocolate, or fruit bars, and I’ve tried some wheat free cereal a couple of times. It’s a gradual process and I’m still feeling unsettling effects from the stomach problems I had.

I’ve also returned to using my Nutribullet, which I find most helpful for upping my vegetable and fruit intake with juices, ensuring I have high fibre intake and consuming things that can be harder to get into my diet. In the winter, I don’t enjoy eating a salad as I might in the summer, but I can make a yummy smoothie with some raw spinach and mixed leaves, avocado, banana, apple and a little lemon juice.

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The result does slightly resemble the bathroom suite my parents had in the 1990s, but I promise it tastes good. (Warning – in my experience, home made juices, whatever the ingredients even if you use brightly coloured fruits, tend to turn out green or brown. This may not look appetising however if you can overcome the colour they usually taste good.)

Yesterday I made a chicken stew with lots of veg and mashed potato, which I was very pleased with as I used not to be so confident cooking meat. I had the day at home so was able to pace the preparation better than usual. There was plenty left over that went in my freezer.

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Thanks be to God for helping me to rediscover some joy in food, some opportunities to share and eat with others and enjoy it, and gradually continue on the path to a more healthful diet and feelings around food and my body.

Ginny xxx

Talking with medical students (updated)

Particularly relevantly given my previous post, at the end of this week I’m going to be speaking with a group of medical students about stigma in mental health. The local university runs several of these small group sessions through the academic year. Attending one is compulsory for all final year students. The scheme was set up by someone from the Recovery College (which I must write the promised post about!) in conjunction with the university psychiatry department. Each session is led by two people with lived experience of mental health conditions and encountering stigma in healthcare environments. I volunteered to take part through a patient involvement network.

Most of the session will be question and answer and discussion, but first I have to speak for a few minutes about my personal experiences. I can think of many examples both good and bad of care I’ve received, stereotypes that affect me and those that care for me (especially specific to BPD), times my care and relationship with services has suffered because of discriminatory practices and rules, how often I’ve felt rejected and not believed when I’ve most needed help and the long lasting effects of this; also, I want to share times that have been good, such as the empathy I met with when I had my minor op last year which helped me cope with my panic and emotional instability at the time, and the encouragement I’ve found at the Recovery College in being valued for who I am and even for what I’ve been through.

This being my first time, it’s hard to know what the students will be interested in. What will they most want to hear about? What is most important for them to hear? What will they want to ask? I’ve had a little guidance from someone who has spoken at one of these sessions before and any more suggestions would be helpful. If you can think of anything particularly important to discuss, if you have your own lived experience for instance with your own mental health or as a friend, family or carer, or if you have a student or medic’s perspective, I’d be really grateful to hear any thoughts.

Thank you so much.

Ginny xxx

24.o2.2017: By way of update, the meeting with medical students was cancelled as the psychiatrist who was due to facilitate the session was called away unexpectedly. I’m due to  speak at another session in the Spring and afterwards will post about how it went.

How long their words stay with us

I’m trying to persuade a friend who is very ill to go to A&E tonight, or at least call 111. I wish I was where he is and could take him.

He is not at all well in so many ways. He’s waiting for several operations.  The worst danger tonight is that he has unbearable pain and symptoms to do with blood clots he has; we know with these symptoms that there is a danger of a blood clot in his stomach. We know he should seek help urgently in these circumstances with these symptoms; medics have told him this.

The main reason he is very reluctant to get help is what was said to him by a doctor the last time he was admitted, a few days ago. The doctor made a range of sarcastic comments about him to nurses and another doctor and said outrageous things to him including that hospitals are for people who are really ill not timewasters like him! This was when he’d been admitted when he’d attended as he was instructed to for an ECG and scans. He was found to have three bloodclots in his leg, as well as the numerous other serious problems for which he is due to have operations.

I cannot conceive what would lead a doctor to say what this person did. I know anyone can have a bad day. Anyone can dislike someone. Doctors, nurses, HCAs and other staff in hospitals are under a critical amount of pressure, now more than ever. But what would lead someone to say such bitter, accusing, unsubstantiated, false things to a person they are specifically there to care for? Did the doctor actually believe it? Or was he somehow venting anger, hate, judgement, for some reason onto my friend?

Not only this but without asking any questions to determine his mental state and without advice from the psychiatry team at the hospital or the community mental health service my friend is seen in, the doctor said to my friend that he should be Sectioned, and started trying to arrange this. Was he assuming or insinuating that my friend’s physical health conditions didn’t exist and were delusions? In spite of countless scans and test results and reports? Had he branded my friend as attention seeking because that’s the stereotype he holds of people with the mental health problems my friend has? Did that stereotype have such a hold it negated the physical evidence in front of him? Or does he regard people with mental health problems as unworthy of help or care however much they need it and think instead we should be shut up in institutions out of the way of those who he thinks do deserve help?

I’ve been on the receiving end of this numerous times. I’m really hurting for my friend and knowing he’s been left in so much danger now. Whatever the reasons behind what that doctor said, his words have told my friend he’s unworthy of help and must not ask when he needs it. My friend struggled enough with that already. He has had enough abusive people telling him he deserves pain, deserves bad, is asking for it. I don’t know exactly how it is in my friend’s head of course, but I know from my own experience how much louder memories that tell us we are unworthy, that confirm what our abusers told us, scream at us than any fledgling sense of ourselves and our value can. Words like this doctor’s join with the voices accusing and taunting us and they do not fade; they take a grip of us and punish us if we do not obey them.

My friend is in unbearable pain now and potentially great danger, and I’m trying to persuade him to go to A&E or if he cannot bring himself to do that, to call 111 for advice. I’m praying that if he does speak to 111 – when he does, please God – the advisers that speak to him are compassionate and show him there are people that do want to help and do have compassion and will help and believe him.

What this doctor said to my friend was awful by any standard, I think. Still, I wonder do people, especially people in authority roles (such as those who determine the medical care we get), know how much difference their words make, for good and for bad? I think words do have greater power for those of us with BPD, with histories of trauma and abuse and rejection, and no doubt with many other health conditions too. This is our responsibility to be aware of and to try to learn ways to cope with and I’m starting to see that very gradually,  with a lot of time, we can. It would not be at all fair to demand that other people treat us more carefully than they treat others. Actually, this is one of the things I fear demanding of others. But when we are already in crisis, desperately needing help, it would help so much if those caring for us knew the lasting difference their words and actions can make.

Ginny xxx

 

 

Two hospital visits and “The Gas Man Cometh”!

The past week has been a mix of unexpected, scary, painful, exciting, relief and changes.

I had been feeling worse than usual physically but had put it down to all the flu bugs around, cold weather and the fact I had been very stressed in the preceding month. However, it wasn’t flu. Just over a week ago I had some horrible symptoms I won’t detail here. On calling 111 for advice they sent an ambulance straight away. At the hospital I was found to have [ahem alert don’t read whilst eating your dinner!] bowel obstruction. Thankfully they had caught it in time before things became more serious (if left, it can cause a rupture in the intestines). I had IVs and they erm, did what they had to to clear it, X-rays, then I had to have more IVs for fluids. I ended up being readmitted the next day because I was having symptoms again so it was a scary couple of days. They would have kept me in but there was a bed shortage. I’m home now with several medications and guidelines to follow about diet and drinking enough.

I am so thankful this was spotted in time and treated. The doctors, nurses and HCAs were all kind and caring and made some scary, nasty things as okay as possible, and reassured me. They were busy but still took time.

I have some changes to make now. I have had to stop several of my medications because their side effects could now cause problems with my bowels. I need to discuss this with the GP to find alternative medicines and ways to manage because I needed their beneficial effects (eg for pain relief). Fortunately I’m due to see a specialist pain clinic in a month’s time. Also, I’ve been told to cut out wheat from my diet to see if this makes a difference. Even though I don’t have celiacs, some people can have other problems with wheat. Bowel problems do occur as a complication in other conditions I have (fibromyalgia, POTS and hypermobility syndrome) and people can find going wheat free to be helpful. I’ve started this and so far thankfully I am not missing wheat too much at all, though I’m still only able to eat a little so that may be why.

I’m hopeful that with these changes I can keep things better, though we don’t really know exactly why the obstruction happened. In the meantime I’m fighting not to get too down through some of the difficult effects I’m still going through. I am very achy, pain is worse as I’ve had to stop some of the medications, and I’m still stupidly weak physically (the fibromyalgia is badly exacerbated which again is to be expected as after any illness). I have had bladder incontinence for years because of the fibromyalgia and nervous system problems; since the bowel obstruction this is much worse and now distressing bowel urgency and leaking if I can’t go right away, are added to that. I’m praying this is temporary or at least that the GP can refer me back for some help when I see her next wek. I used to be too disgusted and ashamed to admit to that side of things but now after everything that’s happened in the last few years it doesn’t seem such a horrendous thing to admit it, though I still get upset and feel horrible when I have worse incidents.

The other problem that has loomed large is I had no heating or hot water for 23 days! The most incredible saga unfolded between my landlord, the boiler maintenance people and the boiler manufacturer and fault after fault was found with my boiler and the flue.

This song seemed apt!*

Thanks be to God, as of this evening everything is fixed! I had a most enjoyable and appreciated shower. Boiling kettles to wash up, clean and have a wash was not the most fun, though it’s what my grandparents did daily as a matter of course. It has been very cold some of the days I was without heating and a friend very kindly lent me a portable electric radiator. On the plus side, I’m likely to be entitled to compensation for the multiple mistakes made and inconvenience caused. I have to apply for that from my housing association.

In more exciting news, today I attended the first session at the Recovery College, which I’ll post more on shortly. It was an introduction to how one can become involved in mental health research, bringing a service user or “lived experience” perspective. It was more inspiring than I’d expected and left me feeling I have something of value I could bring to shape research materials, methods and how research findings are communicated.

Another brilliant event this week is that my friend who has been homeless for a long time, has at long last got a place in a hostel. It’s a good hostel in a safe area. By no means is this an end to his difficulties but it is a blessed answer to prayers and struggles to navigate the way through the council, the housing list, support agencies, forms, waiting lists, assessments, phonecalls….it goes on. What he’s going through is terrible and scary however I pray this is the beginning of safety and a little stability. Thanks be to God, from the depths of my heart, thanks be to God.

Ginny xxx

*”The Gas Man Cometh” by Flanders & Swann. Thanks to Hawkmoon for the video.