Archive for the ‘ mental health ’ Category

When Your Body Takes Another Road

Statistically, there will come a point in nearly all our lives when our body stops behaving in a “normal” way and doesn’t stop. Sometimes it’ll be sudden, some times it will creep up on us, and for some it will have simply always been that way. The thing that we have in common is a sense of loss for that normality, and a completely human need to grieve for it. This post is going to be primarily aimed at those that have acquired a long-term condition/impairment or had one worsen, as that is an area I have experience in.

Loss can be categorized as either physical or abstract, the physical loss being related to something that the individual can touch or measure, such as losing a spouse through death, while other types of loss are abstract, and relate to aspects of a person’s social interactions.

We all grieve differently, it’s far more complex than just feeling sad. While yes, some do feel sad, some also get angry, some withdraw, some cling, some seek justice, some seek to keep the memory of the past alive, some hunt for meaning, some wish to campaign for better, some choose to support others, some try to make a new normal as quickly as possible. Most will travel through a mixture those different states before “recovering”. Of course recovery is an odd one when what you are grieving is an abstract loss of normalcy. Gone is the “normally” functioning body and/or mind, gone is the normal way of doing certain things, gone are the “normal” expectations about how you fit into the world be it with friends, family or with your paid/unpaid work, gone are you hopes of being “healthy”, gone are the ways you learned to navigate certain challenges, gone are the dreams you had that relied on being able to function “normally”, and most hurtfuly, gone (or at least severely dented), is the idea that you are “normal”. Continue reading

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It Hurts So Bad I Can’t Feel It

I’m going to talk a little bit about dissociation today, or more importantly I’m going to talk about dissociation when it gets out of control and becomes a problem in everyday life. I say this because we all dissociate, everyday, all the time and it’s important to remeber that it’s not always a problem.

What is dissociation?

In psychology, dissociation is any of a wide array of experiences from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experience. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality, rather than a loss of reality as in psychosis.

At the milder end of things we have the everyday dissociation;

  • drifting off while reading or listening
  • feeling numb when dealing with difficult news
  • going through rote motions with no thought
  • creating sub-personalities (this is work Bob, this is party Bob and so on)

At the more extreme end of things then it can take on more distressing forms;

  • finding yourself in a strange place, unaware of how you got there
  • amnesia
  • depersonalisation – feeling like you aren’t in, or fully in your body and you are watching it act
  • derealisation – feeling like the world around you has changed, be it in appearance or in deeply held feeling
  • identity disturbance – this can vary from not being sure who you are or what your feelings are (usually because of a mix of the above) through to fragmenting into multiple alternate personalities.

Why does it become so extreme in some people?

Continue reading

Falling into a Crisis

Mental health crises are an inevitable part of the course when you live with the after effects of trauma. PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), or EPCACE (Enduring Personality Change After Catastrophic Experience) as they are now calling it is something that is an everyday part of my life. As with most things, some days it’s bad, some days it’s alright and some days it’s average.

Some days however, it gets bad and then it stays that way. Well, it actually gets worse. You see, I get exhausted from a lack of sleep, from being constantly on edge, and from fighting to stay in the present day rather than slipping into the scary past. When I’m exhausted I can’t manage those symptoms as well so they get worse and I in turn find them harder to manage. At that point I spiral beyond “bad” and into crisis.

I’m in the crisis spiral again right now. I know the drill, take whatever drugs you need to ensure you get some sleep and rest. Do whatever you can to isolate yourself from sources of stress. Once I’ve got the rest it’ll reduce the severity of the symptoms, and I’ll have the strength to manage the ones that remain. It’ll all be easier. Right now it doesn’t feel like it’ll ever be easy again of course, that’s the problem. I’m struggling to have faith that things will ever feel better, and for all I tell myself that’s part of the viscous cycle I can’t quite grasp that it is. This time, my mind keeps telling me, it’s different. This is the time you don’t get better, this is the time you get drowned by it all. Continue reading

C-PTSD Flare, Stress & Compassion

I’ve been having a Complex PTSD flare, or EPCACE flare to go with the diagnosis on my medical records. Some new pills have managed to get the worst of the symptoms (somatic re-experiencing & full flashbacks) under control, which leaves me with some time to think about the other elements of the flare up.

Continue reading

#FemSchool13 – A Quick Summary Of My Weekend

I spent this weekend at the annual UK Feminista Summer School. It’s a weekend where feminists/women’s rights activists come together to learn from each other, organise and get inspired. All in all I had a wonderful time. Contrary to the picture the media presented the weekend was not all about ending Page 3 and Lads Mags to the exclusion of all else. Rather it was a eclectic mix of intersectional workshops and talks covering subjects such as class, race, disability, sexuality, arts, campaigning, lobbying, the criminal justice system, economics and much more.

The main hall starting to fill up for the welcoming meeting.

I arrived on the Saturday morning to take part in the welcoming panel with Lara Bates from the Everyday Sexism project and Constance Nzeneu, Migrant & Refugee Woman of the Year winner. The panel was great fun, it was a bit odd to be sitting in front of all those people talking about my activism and why I campaign for change, but if it helped one other person realise that they could make a small difference I think it was worth it.

Myself & Laura Bates getting ready to sit on the panel.

My personal goal for the weekend was to try to get as many people as possible thinking about disability as both a part of feminism and a important civil rights movement on it’s own. I really do believe that the struggle for civil rights needs to be intersectional. We are all stronger if we work together while, of course, still respecting the need for our own spaces. After the welcoming panel I went to a Mental Health & Intersectionality workshop where we were urged to look at how various types of oppression can exacerbate and cause mental health problems.

I followed that up by going to a workshop I was personally interested in – Women in Prison – which looked at how the current system is not set up to deal effectively with women in the prison system or after release. We learned that the vast majority of female prisoners have mental health problems, many of them personality disorders, which stem from frequently traumatic/turbulent childhoods. We learned a bit about how the system can breed dependency as well as how there is little scope for meaningful rehabilitation without structured support outside of prisons. It was a fascinating session, one I’m really glad I went to.

Instead of going to a third workshop I offered to run a open space session* on disability and language entitled “That’s so lame!”. I chose that name because I wanted to take a word that is used everyday by people in all walks of life that has disableist connections and use it to challenge the audience. Over the last couple of years I’ve discovered that many people who use the word lame to mean rubbish often don’t realise that the word refers to someone who is physically disabled and has a impairment that effects the ability to walk or effects the use of a limb. So we discussed the institutional disableism that creates a language where words describing impairments become interchangeable with words like rubbish, pathetic, useless, defective, dull & stupid in the collective consciousness. We also talked about differences between US & UK ways of talking about disablism and more to boot. It was really enjoyable. I finished off the day by going to the disabled women’s safe space meeting.

On Sunday I was running (with the help of my friend, Jackie) a workshop on Disability, Feminism and Activism. Given how awesome the other workshops happening at the same time sounded I was really happy that we still got a decent sized group. We covered a lot in the hour we had; the basics of disability, the pro’s of intersectionality and a run down of the last 40 years worth of campaigning for disabled peoples rights. We did some group activities as well thinking about feminist areas of interest that strongly intersect with those of disabled people (like reproductive rights, abuse, education, body image, austerity etc..) and thinking about campaigns both movements could join together to in. The attendees were fantastic and I had a super morning chatting with them.

I had to leave after that point because I was a) almost out of spoons and b) had a family engagement that afternoon. It was a wonderful event and one that I’d recommend to anyone interested in meeting other feminists and/or learning some new skills and theory. I’m really sad that I didn’t get the chance to go to any of the workshops exploring other intersections like sexuality or race but hopefully I’ll get the chance next year.

*At open space sessions anyone can suggest a topic/plan they’d like to talk about and meet others who are interested in doing the same. 

A Response To Philip Hensher’s Article

Dear Philip,

I read your article (Some people on disability benefits are fit to work) yesterday and I saw the backlash on twitter. I have some thoughts on it and I wanted to share them, as a disabled woman with both physical and mental health problems who has been through the wringer with the DWP and it’s WCA process plenty of times.
I read every word and upon finishing was struck by two things. Firstly, that whilst apparently arguing for  some form continuing assessments of sick & disabled benefit claimants you were against the Work Capability Assessment in it’s current form. That is something I applaud. I too am against the current WCA’s. I’m very glad to hear you speaking out against them and I would love more voices to join the throng. 
The second is that whilst suggesting that there is some need for assessment you (I assume accidentally) propped up some rather pernicious myths about people claiming disability benefits. I hope you can understand that for many of the people that will have been attracted to read your article that might have made pretty painful reading. I will just go through some of those myths now as I assume you might not be well versed with them.
That there is a high percentage of people claiming these benefits that shouldn’t be.
You devote about 50% of your article to talking about people who defraud the system. I would argue that this is providing false balance to these stories. The DWP’s own statistics show that less than 1% of claims are fraudulent. You are not the first person to cover the issue in this manner (either to make it seem more contentious or exciting, or simply because you believed it to be true because of the media coverage you have ingested) and nor will you be that last. The problem is that many of us are suffering, I personally believe, in a huge part to the false balance given to these stories.
As a wheelchair user I have noticed the abuse I receive in the street has changed over the last few years. It’s no longer about how I look (funny, disgusting) or about how I might be “catching”. Instead it is about how I am probably a lazy, workshy, scrounger and a benefit fraud. People feel free to approach me in car parks and ask if I really need the blue badge parking space or if I just use the chair to get a free car. It’s painful and it’s part of my day-to-day existence. It’s part of many other peoples too. There has been a huge rise in disability hate crime over the last few years. I assume from what you have written it is not part of your everyday life, but I don’t know. When people for whom this is their day-to-day reality read articles like yours they often have an (understandable) emotional response which can vary from sadness to anger. I became pretty despondent personally as what I thought was a very promising piece propped up the “scrounger rhetoric” as many of us call it. I hope you can see that when people in the media spend as much, if not more time talking about scroungers the effects on the vast majority of disabled people 
That mental health conditions are not as debilitating as physical health ones.
The way (or tone) you take when talking about people who claim benefits for mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression seems pretty sceptical to say the least. This reader at least felt like you were either ignorant of the how severe these conditions need to be to claim ESA or you were suggesting they weren’t really very debilitating. As I hope you are aware many people who live with mental health conditions are routinely told to “snap out of it” or are treated as if it is something they could just “get over it” with the right motivation and the way they were talked about in your article felt like you too were propping up this myth. I know that many people who responded angrily to reading your article were most hurt by this sentiment.
But, I can’t talk about other people. that’s not my place and those aren’t my stories. I can however talk to you about myself. I have a mental health condition, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in fact. I also have a chronic pain condition stemming from a lot of damage to my abdomen and the nerves within. I have quite a bit of personal experience of dealing with both kinds of health issues. Thanks to the PTSD I can’t manage 15 mins in a whole host of seemingly innocuous environments (for example; being near petrol or the sound of breaking glass) because they trigger flashbacks during which I relive experiences that were so horrific the first time around they left me with a mental health disorder. I would often describe this, to those I would really rather not have a huge conversation about this stuff with as panic. In my experience panic can be as debilitating, if not more so than severe physical pain at times. Panic, fear, terror, fight or flight responses, what ever you want to call it is extremely unpleasant and can govern a persons life. We need to remember that when we talk of claiming ESA for anxiety or panic disorders we are not talking about people who experience panic on a once a month basis, if we were then they would not be getting ESA. We are talking about people who often experience it multiple times daily to the point it may stop them talking to strangers, leaving the house or wearing certain colours. It will also often have physical manifestations such as uncontrolled shaking, nausea, pain & high blood pressure. Someone who can cycle for over 15mins but can’t talk to people without crying and shaking in fear isn’t very likely to be employed. All because it is a mental health disorder does not mean it’s any less likely to be disabling than a physical health problem. 
That some conditions are more worthy than others
You mention obesity in your article and say that “The only possible purpose for public expenditure there is to help them back into fitness for work.” I feel the same way reading this I did when the Daily Mail published it’s bogus article about the parents of lots of children with ADHD being given free BMWs. There is a gulf of misunderstanding when it comes to these statistics which list which disorders people have and what they are claiming. Many people claiming ESA or DLA have more than one condition but the DWP only bothers to record the first condition listed on it’s forms. So, for example someone with ADHD, Obesity & EDS will only be recorded as claiming one of those conditions, possibly ADHD or obesity. It’s hardly ever as simple as black and white as it looks.
I also was disappointed that you used your platform to in many ways make it seem as if obesity (to a disabling enough level one would be able to claim ESA) is a lifestyle choice/moral failing and that people shouldn’t be supported. I hope you realise that obesity is often a side effect of many medications (steroids, beta blockers, anti-seizure medications etc…) as well as medical conditions  either directly (such as PCOS, Cushings & Prader-Willi syndromes) or indirectly by limiting activity or changing diet (such as arthritis & drepression). Even forgetting all of this I personally believe that if someone can’t mobilise, breathe, manage continence of anything else similar then regardless of the reason behind it those people deserve support. If we start deciding what conditions are worthy of being disabling rather than looking at the effects of conditions upon individuals we risk leaving a lot of vulnerable people behind.
I believe that you could have written the same article, which I believe can be summed up as “The WCAs as they stand need to stop but that we should talk about what will replace them that will be fair to everyone”, without using the afore mentioned problematic dialogue.
I’m going to leave it there, because I’m tired of writing and I’m sure you are growing tired of reading criticism. I do really respect you for having tried to take a stand against the WCA’s and I’d love to see you continue to write about these issues in the future but I’d also like it if you could try and consider how you talk about sickness, mental health problems & disability when you do so.  
Warm Regards

[Edited to correct typo]

The Perils Of Being Emotionally Unstable

It’s 2013, January is steadily disappearing and I haven’t written a new blog post in a little while. I’ve been struggling quite a bit with mental health issues lately and it’s made writing on my blog quite difficult, but I think it’s time to give it ago.

Trigger warning for after the cut; talk of domestic abuse, stalking, harassment, courts and mental health

Taking my abusive ex-partner to court was a really difficult thing to do. He was being charged with harassment because of the following;

  • Kept standing outside of my place of employment and watching whilst I worked in a manner that was very intimidating given our past.
  • Occasionally he’d come in and flip out of control, shouting and making threats – eventually I lost my job because he kept doing that and scaring away customers.
  • After I passed one of his friends on the street or saw them in a bar he’d be there in no time calling me names and making threats.
  • He made a fair few threats to kill me and I believe he would have on a couple of occasions if police sirens (called by witnesses) hadn’t scared him off.
  • He kept sending letters telling me about things he knew I’d brought for my (ground floor) flat which he could have only known about by looking through the windows.

The police were very supportive and arranged for me to give my evidence via a video link because the idea of ever seeing his face again was making me break down completely, I’d been living in fear of it for so long. The court date was pushed back by the defence at the last minute and I spent another 3 months telling myself it would all be better after the hearing.

At the hearing I gave my testimony and spent much of the time in tears as I had to relive what had happened. It was hard as the magistrates frequently had to tell him to “be quiet”, “stop banging the wall” and to “sit down” which really intimidated me at the time. It was all going as well as these things can until I was asked by the prosecutor why I was so scared of him and I tried to explain it was because of the abuse I’d lived through. The magistrates stopped me and told me they couldn’t hear about any events that happened before a certain date (which included our entire relationship, criminal damage to my property, sending the police to my home for no reason simply to scare me and more death threats). How do you explain why you are completely terrified of someone who breached pretty much every basic human right you had until you no longer believed you were a proper human being any more, when you can’t say anything about the way they treated you? I couldn’t find a way. When I left everyone was very nice and explained that because of his behaviour in the dock, the two outright lies he’d told that had been contrary to other statements he’d made, the testimony of the witnesses and the fact they couldn’t find one witness for the defence he was finally going to get what he deserved.

After the hearing  I got a phone call to tell me that he had been found ‘Not Guilty’ and given a serious warning that if he did anything else it would come straight back to court and he’d be charged. The reasons the magistrate gave for this verdict was because I had been “overly emotional” given what he had done (that they had been able to hear about) whilst giving my evidence which threw my testimony into doubt. I was the reason he got off. My emotions were the reason he was able to tell everyone he was innocent of *everything*. I was branded another lying woman by everyone that knew about it and my world fell apart. Things got so bad I had to move to a new city. All because of my emotions.

So when I saw my psychiatrist and she told me that as well as depression, anxiety and PTSD they were adding a diagnosis of emotionally unstable personality disorder I crumbled. Of course, that apparently just made me look more emotionally unstable because “the diagnosis shouldn’t have made [me] cry, most people find it very empowering”. It brought back all the feelings of pain when the abuse I suffered was dismissed because of my emotions. It made me feel like they were saying I was a broken person and therefore brought it upon myself/was over exaggerating things. I became scared that by my activism, blogging and tweeting was me unhealthily engaging in confrontations so I cut it right down.

It gave me time to think and to talk to those close to me about it. I have come to realise the diagnosis is clearly incorrect. I really don’t fit the diagnostic criteria at all. So, I am trying to challenge the diagnosis. It’s been taking up a lot of time and energy and it’s really thrown me back into a similar head space to that which I was in after the court case. In an effort to get past this blip I thought I’d write it down and draw a line under  it all. 

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