My Mental Illness Story

disindetification1

 

My Mental Illness Story

 

I thought it was probably time to give my blog readers a bit more of an introduction to my mental illness and were it comes from. When I began this blog, I intended it to be a platform for my writing. I do share my poems and stories, but I’ve gravitated toward writing about mental health. I guess this is my passion. I wasn’t sure what it would be when I started out, but mental health (and women’s rights and safety) has come to the front. So. Here is my introduction. (There are parts I’ve left out for reasons I don’t really want to go into right now. Maybe later.)

I’m rubbish at introductions. I either clam up, or speak incessantly about nothing and freak the other person right out. At least, I get to write this one down.

Where to start? I guess my main mental illness is depression. That’s the one that’s suffocated me since I was a child. Although, today, PTSD is the beast that slashes at my heels. Anxiety became a huge problem after my Dad died in 2007. He had cancer, and I was with him for every appointment, and at the end. When he died, fear took over every aspect of my world. My long-standing, fluctuating OCD kicked in, and I saw germs in everything. I almost drove myself out of my mind with this fear. I still have problems and germs today.

There are lots of things from my childhood that contributed to my mental health issues. I was abused by my grandfather and a couple of other men. My relationship with my parents was complicated. That’s not to say it was all bad. I had some happy times with Mum and Dad and my friends. But the overwhelming sense that I would never be happy just kind of strangled everything else. 

I’ve been hospitalised a couple of times on a psych ward. The last time, they persuaded me to have ECT. I didn’t want to, but they (doctors, nurses, NAs) told me I was so ill, it was the only thing that could bring me back from the edge (or some other such nonsense!). I had two sessions that went okay. Just a headache and a little loss of memory afterwards. The third time, the anaesthetic didn’t work properly. I awoke in the middle of it. I couldn’t move because of the muscle relaxant they gave me. There was something in my mouth and nudging my throat, so it felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was terrified! Somehow, I managed to move my little finger on my right hand and one of the NAs noticed and they put me further under. After this, I refused to have any more ECT. But they all worked on me (doctors, nurses, NAs) saying it had never happened before, and it wouldn’t happen again. I gave in. It happened again. After this, I flat out refused to have any more. The result was that I was kicked out of hospital as I clearly didn’t want to get better. The psychiatrist said, “There is nothing more hospital can do for you.” His exact words. I did wonder why keeping me safe from myself wasn’t important, but I was just glad to get away from that terrible place. I swore, as I exited the main doors, I will die before I go back there again. 

Dad was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in June 2005. It devastated Dad, Mum, and me. My Mum was disabled since before I was born. I spent most of my childhood looking after her in one way or another. When Dad was ill, I found myself caring for both of them, taking him to all his appointments, and holding down a full time job. I burned myself out. So when Dad died, I crashed. 

This is when I met a man online. Sounds dodgy, no? He lived in Tucson, AZ. I lived in South West England. But we clicked. Instantly. After a few months of emailing and speaking on the phone, then Skyping, he flew over here so we could meet. This year, we will have been married eight years. He is the most wonderful man, and he’s made a big difference to everything. He loves me, you know? Just, loves me. I’ve never had that before.

I thought I would be “all cured” when I met him. That my past would be erased and the darkness brightened. But it would appear that aint gonna happen. My mental illness is part of me. I have to live with it, rather than keep fighting it. Easy to say . . .

Where I’m at right now is dependent upon the day. PTSD, depression, anxiety, agoraphobia. They all stick to me whatever I do. Somedays (rare days), I can shake them off a little and take the dog out on my own. Not far, but on my own, nonetheless. Other days—or weeks—I can’t leave the house at all. Writing helps. But, when I’m ill, I can’t concentrate enough. 

The main thing I struggle with is PTSD. I have the voice of my grandfather in my head all the time. He mocks me, shouts at me, instructs me to do things. On good days, I can dial him down so that he’s background noise. Bad days, it’s not possible. I also have a lot of issues with sleep. Going to bed scares me. I have horrible nightmares every single night, and when I wake, sometimes I don’t know whether I’m awake or not. The dreams are real, and he’s in my room. It’s not just in my sleep that I remember. Flashbacks plague me, especially when I’m not so well. It’s like my childhood is stuck on a loop in my head. I don’t know how to make it disappear. I don’t think it will. 

All of this affects me physically as well as mentally. My body acts like it’s constantly on alert for some kind of incoming danger. It’s ready to help me to survive the attack, which I know will come. At least, my body knows it will. I know—rationally—that’s not going to happen. Just as I know my grandfather isn’t really in my head or in my bedroom. It doesn’t stop the fear, though. 

I think I’ll leave it there for today. I just really wanted to talk about this a little. I wanted to talk about PTSD a little. 

The Shock of the Fall

Shock

 

Write about a fictional book or movie character that represents mental illness well.

The Shock Of The Fall by Nathan Filer

When I read this prompt, I knew immediately I had to write about Matthew Homes in ‘The Shock Of The Fall’ by Nathan Filer. This is one of the most heartbreaking novels I’ve ever read. It’s Filer’s debut, and he has done an extraordinary job of creating a character who stays with the reader long after they finish reading his words.

Matthew is a nineteen year old schizophrenic, and this book is narrated through a series of typed and handwritten accounts of Matthew’s life. He flits from childhood to present day, to time spent in psychiatric wards, and the disorder with which he writes—actually—with great clarity is really clever. The book uses different formats and fonts throughout and even includes drawings which Matthew has done. These varying styles follow the ups and downs of Matthew’s mental illness. They reflect the constant turmoil of his mind. In addition, the chapters are all relatively short, which kind of shows his short attention span.

“I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.” This is at the start of the book. Upon reading this, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop reading. And I didn’t.

The book follows Matthew from the heartbreaking accident at the seaside, where his older brother who has special needs tragically dies. Matthew blames himself, and the trigger for his illness is flicked. We see his difficult teenage years, when he fights with his parents all the time. As he gets older, his mother is a fusser. She doesn’t stop talking, but it’s all pointless. His father withdraws and doesn’t speak to him. The family is broken because of the accident at the beach and, increasingly, because of Matthew’s erratic behaviour.

The one constant in his life is his Nan (Nanny Noo). Their relationship is beautiful. She checks on him every week. She isn’t afraid of or in denial of his mental illness. She accepts him and loves him, and it’s the most touching relationship. It’s Nanny Noo who gives him the type writer on which he begins to write his story. He wants to write it in an attempt to gain some kind of order in his life, in an attempt to understand what is happening to him.

Here’s another quote from the book: “I have an illness, a disease with the shape and sound of a snake. Whenever I learn something new it learns it too…………………..My illness knows everything I know.”

It’s interesting to see how much less coherent Matthew becomes as his illness deteriorates. Simon (his brother) is always with him, in his head. He talks to him a lot. This relationship is more real, in a way, than those with his one friend and parents. Those relationships aren’t trustworthy. But Simon is.

The thing that struck me the most about the narrative is how innocent and child-like Matthew is. Whilst at the same time being capable of great rage. The reader feels protective toward him, and we desperately want him to get better. But that’s not how it works. Schizophrenia is a lifelong illness, a lifelong struggle, and the author leaves the reader with this knowledge. Matthew can’t be fixed overnight, and he knows and accepts this.

It is just so moving. (Did I say that already?) The author, Nathan Filer, is a qualified psychiatric nurse with lots of experience of working with psychiatric patients. This experience he has gives him first-hand knowledge of how mental illness affects a sufferer and their loved ones. We see the pain for both the patient and his family. But, in the end, it’s Matthew who carries this book. His accounts of life are disturbing, unsettling. But he is so endearing. This book really tugged at my heart. I first read it a couple of years ago, and it’s stayed with me ever since. It’s definitely not a book to read if you want to be uplifted. It’s a book that makes you think. It makes you feel. It’s just brilliant.