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Sandra Dean – Registered Member


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Depression, hope, self help, CBT, BPD, OCD, anxiety, writing and recovery for me!

I originally wrote this article for ‘Journeys Online’ the brilliant depression support charity…

When I was fifteen I repeatedly had anxiety and sobbing attacks, feeling hopeless and physically unwell. Not long before I had been raped. At sixteen I was diagnosed with depression and offered counselling but it was not followed up. I began self harming with compasses on my arms and piercing my ears in secret. I became obsessed with having a flat stomach and found myself losing two stone in 3 months by binging, purging, starving teamed with high intensity exercise routines. I got a flat stomach then I felt fat. I lost my periods and felt that it was a good thing despite my school friends telling me it wasn’t right.

I was born as fourth child, and only female to my mum during one of her remission periods of catatonic schizophrenia, my dad caring for her to his best abilities, and having to placate and put up with her bad ‘moods’ which were very difficult moods indeed.

Amongst all of this, I still enjoyed my parents most of the time and had a fairly normal upbringing, but behind it all, my issues were increasing. Sweating, embarrassing public acts and bullying from home and school, took their toll but I kept going, creating various sides to my personality to cope with all those around me. Fitting in with everyone was my goal.

I grew up and indulged in lots of travel, not realising that it was an escapism technique, and of course I took my troubles with me, wherever I went.

By 2008, aged 34, I had built up a varied group of ill mental health labels – Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Anxiety and the possibility of Bipolar Disorder, but not confirmed.

I had been living with depression for a long time, but I was branded with these other, more chronic, disorders, much later, in my 30’s. It was hard to work out, most likely, as I have always had such a bright, smiley persona on the outside, and have also had a lot of fun in my life, so these issues were easily ignored for some time. At first, a psychiatrist confirming my problems had names was a good feeling, as he seemed to be able to understand what I had been going through, and if there were names and titles, then there must be a cure right? Alas, no.

As I researched each of these disorders, particularly Borderline Personality Disorder, and read the prognoses, I realised there was not a ‘cure all’ available. On the contrary, it would indeed take a long time to heal oneself, and with so many different disorders, the prognosis was not good. At the end of the day, the more negative symptoms you have to fight, all at the same time, it is obvious that the fight would be harder and the battle may well not be won. That is what the expert books on BPD were suggesting to its readers, including me.

Since my problems have not been with me all the time, there was plenty of space in between that was full of fun, career choices and travel and following a trip to Borneo to find out more about the loves of my life, the Orang-utan and the terrible situation with their habitat disappearing. I felt temporarily much better. I think this was because I had something I was passionate about to concentrate on, that wasn’t mental health issues. But I relapsed again.

Unable to get help from the NHS at the time, apart from medications, and fed up with these symptoms ruining my life and relationships, I decided to write my life story, as a kind of self therapy and take the long journey of realisation on by myself, to try to find out when my problems started, how they started, and perhaps some ways in which I could reverse the processes that caused them in the first place. Since I was still in denial a lot of the time about my issues, this would be the way to face it head on and take responsibility for my own actions and thoughts.

It was very hard. First of all, when people talk about ‘stigma of mental health’ there really is one. The more I tried to ‘come out’ and talk to people about my problems, the more alienated I seemed to get. People preferred to glaze over it, telling me to get a grip, a job, or that I shouldn’t hide behind illness. Charming! Since this was a very difficult obstacle to overcome, as I wanted to share my experiences, but was unable to find the right platform for it, I felt even more alone with my problems. No one seemed to understand or even want to. It was almost like I was making it all up.

Secondly, since dissecting and writing my life dredged up memories and experiences that were well forgotten about or dissociated from, it made me start to hate myself for who I was. Compounded by a lifetime of bad decisions, risky behaviours, and clear vulnerability, I felt lonelier than ever. What was I to do with all this information? I had the tools of knowledge, but not the instructions to get myself better and back to the confident and happier person that I had also been in earlier years. It took 2 and half years to complete my life story, up to date in detail, and all that day to day constant immersion into my shocking and sad at times, previous experiences, made me feel desolate and hopeless. Of course, whilst I delved into all these experiences, they made me feel unhappy, and it made my current life even worse than ever. I would have been better off doing something happier, but this was not a happy job. I decided that I would write my journey as a memoir, to help others to understand mental illness and show my path to self therapy. Of course, I had to get better first, and that was not looking possible at times, but it gave me even more reason to try very hard.

Eventually, I started Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). I had many therapies in the past (Adlerian, Hypnotherapy, CBT and psychotherapy), over many years, to treat my depression and mood issues, and although they were very helpful at the time, I wasn’t ready to come out of denial completely and immerse myself in the therapies, so they hadn’t worked to their fullest extent. This time, it did work though. Together with what I had found out from going through my entire life, we could work out the progress I had made so far, and the psychologist could guide me further to help change thought patterns and vicious circles, in order to make positive changes permanently.

Since depression had been with me for so long, it was a topic to concentrate on. I had already worked out that it started when I was 15 years old, 3 months after a traumatic event that I had dissociated from instead of dealing with at the time. Then OCD took over, in the form of a precisely planned eating disorder. Time went on, and I got worse and worse, in a secret world that I was ashamed of in a way, yet couldn’t get out of. Since I had such a happy go lucky and bright persona, and a strong self will, it would have been hard to know that there was anything wrong, and I certainly wasn’t unhappy all the time. In fact, I had a lot of fun and laughs throughout.

When older, my depression would come in waves. Crying and hopelessness would begin, and then, as a way to cope, I would make a big change in my life; running away abroad for months on end, changing jobs, changing where I lived changing my style, but always running away. There is no doubt that this behaviour brought much happiness and excitement with it too, as constant change stopped me from wallowing and new cultures and people were interesting and a breath of fresh air. What I was failing to see was that, by running away every time there was a difficult situation or feeling, meant that I was not actually dealing with those situations or my issues. Friends would say of my travels alone across Asia in the 90’s, ‘You are so brave’ I would reply ‘I’m not brave, I’m running away’ I knew it was cowardice, but it was much easier, and I always had the funds to do so.

However, years later, I took the biggest risk of all – all of my money into one business. For many reasons, outside of my control, the business failed and I was left penniless and unable to run. Depression, hate, jealousy, resentment, and more vulnerability followed, and I made my life worse and worse. Thus, this journey started to try to help myself and write myself better.

My CBT therapy (over a 6 month period) helped mostly with my symptoms of depression, and crushing OCD tendencies, but it became clear that by tackling those symptoms, I was reducing the intensity of how the symptoms of the other disorders affected me. It was like finding one piece of the jigsaw, then quickly seeing two more pieces that would fit next to it. Some symptoms also overlapped, such as core beliefs.

One of my core beliefs was:

‘I cannot cope on my own – I need others’ attention to feel secure and happy’ (Amazing that this belief formed so late on, since I had spent my life very independent and reliant on myself and happy with my own company)

Fear of abandonment is one of the symptoms of BPD, yet it also occurs when I am depressed. I feel I need others to cheer me up or do something for me. When I don’t get the support, I feel angry. Anger leads to feeling guilty for the anger. Guilt leads to feeling worthless and that leads back to depression. It is a circle of depression.

To tackle this, we talked of the times when I had no-one there to help me, and I had to sort myself out. Unable to get out of the house for a day or two, I was eventually able to push myself to do something.

Being able to cope on my own with episodes of depression has allowed me the breathing space to tackle the other symptoms and disorders, but what I found was that, by concentrating on them all separately made it easier to see when I had overcome one of them, and then I could look to the next symptom and so forth.

There is little doubt that each disorder has compounded the others, but by dissecting them, the job has been made much easier to deal with and acknowledge. Changing the thought process, and original thought, as outlined in cognitive behavioural therapy, allows the behaviour that follows the thoughts, to change with it. So, more positive thinking, leads to more positive behaviours. Depressive episodes will most likely come and go for me for life, but being able to shorten the timescale and intensity of each one will definitely help and eventually I should be able to overcome them much more easily, with practise.

I was scared to leave my boyfriend of four and half years to live on my own…

That was one and half years ago in the winter of 2010/2011 and my life has moved on a lot since then, in a very positive way.  I will not detail it here as I do not want it to be a spoiler for anyone reading my memoir ‘My Alien Self: My Journey Back to Me’ or who will read it in the future.

I now want to raise as much awareness to beat the stigma of mental illness, I want to raise awareness of what mental illness feels like, and I have published my memoir in order to share my journey and inner experiences with others.

Coming out of denial in order to get help, and pushing to be taken seriously are my two most important tips to getting the help we need.

 

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