Recently a friend reminded about me about an event that I went to last year which turns out was the best night of my life. It got me wondering, where have I been ever since that night? Why haven’t I felt as happy as I did back then? What’s changed?
Well, over the course of the last few months I have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and chondromalacia patella (dodgy knees), been through exams at university and some little event that I thought was a physical breakdown – just a couple of things happening in my life then. Though it got me thinking, how long have I been unhappy and why didn’t I recognise these feelings?
When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia I didn’t accept the illness as part of me and that I needed to make changes. I was studying full time at university and for some strange reason I felt that I had to carry on working part time at a homeless hostel too. I was researching the illness, finding out holistic ways of helping myself due to my medication for my cyclothymia reacts to the regular treatment for fibro, therefore I remain unmedicated for it.
So I carried on and didn’t change a thing and one day the illness came to get me. I remember coming home from work one afternoon and feeling as though it would be best to sit down and do nothing. I was exhausted and worn out, my brain needed to do nothing; no thinking, no stimulus, just alone with nothing going on. After a couple of hours I tried to move and it didn’t happen. My head was telling me to move my arm, my arm wasn’t doing anything. I was stuck there with my body refusing to do anything that my brain was telling it to. I got scared, but moving to find my phone to ring for help caused too much pain. I lay there for hours waiting for the pain to go away. I knew changes needed to be made.
I’ve always had problems with my knees, which turns out stems from flat feet which were not corrected as a child. This means that all the muscles and joints in my legs up through to my back are all out of alignment, and any extreme movement such as long walks or running causes extreme pain. My knees feel as though they are on fire from the inside to the out, and even putting ice on the joints seemed to do nothing. I finally spoke with my GP about this, after suffering in silence for years, and he diagnosed chondromalacia patella and referred me to physio for help in strengthening my knee muscles.
I think with both of these conditions affecting my life the way that they have, I’ve had to make some difficult decisions about my future. One of them being; can I make it through Med School to become a Psychiatrist with this form of pain and fatigue? In my heart of hearts I really don’t know whether this can be achieved anymore. I don’t want to give up the dream, but the pain I have been living with recently I doubt the dream will come true. That said, there is always a plan B – neuroscience. Let’s figure that out when the time comes eh?
I also made the decision to give up working, which is something I didn’t want to do as homelessness is part of me. I was there once upon a time and I know how difficult it can be for people to change their lives around after losing the roof over their heads. Of course I didn’t take this decision lightly. My GP understood that I needed time to research whether financially I could afford to stop working, meaning I live off student wages. After speaking with financial advisers at university and the CAB, I discovered that if I scrimp and save I can afford to give up work. Time to learn to live like a student now.
So all has not been well on the health front, but other things have been going on too. I have been on the receiving end of bullying by two different people. I don’t think it would be the best thing to talk about the incidences here, though I hope that the problems have been resolved and that those who need help and support get it. I have watched other peers in the mental health field flourish and grow, and deep down I may have felt a little jealous of their transformation because I felt as though I was not in a position to join them.
All this going on with university too, I seem to have slipped into a place that I don’t want to be in anymore. A self imposed dark corner of the world with little chance of escape. Though I want to be happy again, like I was last year. Sharing my story and my daily struggles; showing others that there is a future and a way of achieving the dreams that you want. I want to make a change, and I will. I’m reaching for that happiness and I’m going to achieve it.
I know the steps that I need to take and the direction that I want to go in and I will get to the happy side of my life again. I think a few posts before this Blog Topic: Obsession I said that I wanted to try that style of blogging more frequently. That’s the start of it I think, get that out of my system and see how it develops. I am planning to do more work for Mind, as you can see from my last blog regarding Stephen Fry speaking out about his suicide attempt last year I know in myself I still have what it takes to be recognised for talking about the right topics, topics that touch peoples’ lives and hearts. I also have a project with my local Mind over the summer which will help them achieve the Mind Quality Mark, something I helped them achieve three years ago and this time round it’s changed so there is a different challenge to tackle.
Keep your fingers crossed for me. I know I can do this, though your thoughts and prayers will help me achieve what I need to. Big hugs to you all x
Please feel free to read my blog around why we need to talk more about mental illness to remove the stigma and discrimination people face every day. It is available here: http://mind.org.uk/blog/8992_stephen_frys_story_shows_we_still_need_to_talk or keep scrolling down.
Today saw Stephen Fry talk openly about his suicide attempt in 2012, where he tells us how close he came to losing his life. He was asked why would someone who has everything try to end it all? His response of saying there is no why or a reason about why someone would try to commit suicide, sometimes it just is.
As the president of Mind, and I’m sure you can appreciate my thoughts here, for him to come out about having a mental health problem is strong and brave. Though to openly admit that he attempted suicide last year shows he understands the importance of allowing people to talk about suicide. To get the fear of suicide out in the open so people can discuss it and remove any fear surrounding it.
Listening to the radio this morning, a presenter questioned why would there still be stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness if you have so many celebrities talking about their experiences. There’sFrank Bruno, Ruby Wax, Stan Collymore and Stephen Fry all talking about their experiences of mental illness, so why are we still in a time or place where mental illness cannot be talked about as freely as say football. This question was answered by a listener saying that there is still fear around mental illness that needs to be removed, the only way for this fear to disappear is by educating people around mental illness.
When I was a child I was told that people with schizophrenia are dangerous and that if I ever met anyone with the illness then I should get away from them as soon as possible. That was nearly twenty years ago. I cannot explain to you how appreciative, understanding, empathic some of the people I have met who happen to have that label of schizophrenia. To me this just shows that you don’t know one person to the next unless you get to know them and understand their way of life. This is how you make new friends in the world, so why would this be any different when you meet someone with a mental illness.
So what is the way forward? Mind and Rethink have been working together to remove stigma and discrimination around mental illness for the last few years on a joint project called Time To Change. The project has already had great results in removing prejudice that mental health sufferers experience, which their main message being “It’s Time To Talk, It’s Time To Change”. All three organisations are aiming to educate people in mental illness. Not just educating those with a diagnosis, but also those who want to know more. For people who want to help their friends, family or neighbour.
There is loads of information on all three organisations websites around different mental illnesses, please take your time to have a look and do your part in help remove mental health stigmas and discrimination. You might be able to support someone who is going through a bad time. This one small conversation you have with them may make all the difference to their lives, whether you can see it or not, that person may be shown a small glimpse of happiness in their lives which may otherwise of stayed hidden.
As a rule I don’t normally talk about medications as they affect people in different ways and each person can have similar or dissimilar reactions to the same medication. So I’m not going to lecture anyone about the pros and cons of taking medication for mental health, or other, illnesses. I wanted to share this experience with you all about forgetting to take the medications that have been prescribed.
I have a condition called cyclothymia, which I take mood stabilisers for, and fibromyalgia which is unmedicated. On Friday night I forgot to take my mood stabilisers, a big mistake. Not only did I not sleep properly that night, but on Saturday I felt the full effects of withdrawals. I could not eat, and did not eat. I had cold sweats even though it seemed the hottest day of the year so far. I was manic and couldn’t sit still, enjoying the bouncing around the flat to lovely music. I couldn’t control my thoughts or what I was saying to people. I admit I said and done things that I really do feel ashamed for doing.
Anyway, knowing that it would be best not to take the meds once I had realised my error, I rode the withdrawals out until my Saturday night does was due. Usually it takes an hour or two for them to knock me out for the night; they contain a sedative in them. Within half an hour the meds were affecting my mood and body functions. The fog fell over my thinking and my body was telling me to get to bed as it didn’t want to let me walk anywhere for the remainder. My knees felt as though they were on fire, swollen and difficult to bend. My legs felt numb as though heavy weights were dragging them down. My whole body hurt until I finally fell to sleep.
Today, Sunday, I woke up in a majorly depressed mood, feeling lonely and unwanted. Even though I know it’s depression talking, it’s still hard not to listen to the ramblings in my head. My body hurts as the fibro has kicked in, with my knees still swollen and causing immense pain. I feel rotten and in a dark place that I have not been in for a long time. Slowly my mood is lifting.
I regret not taking my medication and this is why I am sharing this with you. I don’t want anyone else to feel the same as what I have over this last weekend.
My message to you is; if you are prescribed medication then please remember to take it. If you are low on your supply of medication then please get fresh supplies before you run out. If you want to reduce/stop taking your medication for any reason, talk to your healthcare professional before taking action into your own hands. Medication can have nasty side effects, but seek professional help if you are having any problems.
I missed one day and am feeling the effect two days later, and I know that the fibro is not going to be forgiving for at least another few days, even a week. Please don’t make the same mistake I did.
What a lovely letter, Go Mr Fry
I pledge my commitment to the Blog For Mental Health 2013 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.
I was proudly pledged by Sheri who can be found here at Reality Hide and Seek who blogs about mental health, in particular bipolar disorder and also her love of baking.
My own story follows years of struggling with mental health though having a recent diagnosis of cyclothymia, a form of bipolar, has enabled me to live my life the best that I can. I have been through the mill a little with homelessness, drug dependency, domestic violence, fibromyalgia all at the same time as dealing with my mental health. Since my diagnosis I have found the medication and therapy which suits me and have successfully turned my life around. I am just about to complete my first year at Med School, an achievement I never thought possible before diagnosis, and have the pleasure of working with Mind, the UK’s leading mental health charity.
My goal within my blog is to show the world that you can live a fulfilling life with a mental health diagnosis and that you can still achieve your dreams. Although I have had more bad times than most in my life, I have been able to make the best out of it. By blogging about my experiences I hope that others will see that they too can achieve something worthwhile. By openly talking about mental health we can all work together to end the stigma and discrimination associated to it.
I would like to pledge five of my dearest blogging friends to this project as they do a worthy job of working towards removing stigma. Here’s to you guys.
Garry Williams AKA The Depressed Moose
Fiona AKA Fiona Art Fighting The Stigma
Anna AKA In My Own Little Bubble
Charlotte AKA Purple Persuasion
Mental Health Cop @ Mental Health Cop
Blog Topic: Obsession
I wanted to try something different with my blog so have decided that every week (uni work permitting) I shall pick a mental health topic, or you guys can suggest one, that I’ll research and explore. I want to find out what actually causes these illnesses and how they affect people’s lives, so I’ll be looking in my usual haunts for perspectives, tips and how people manage with them. I would love to have your feedback as to whether this is a good direction to go in, so please feel free to leave comments below. Good or bad, I will take them all on board.
Today’s topic is obsession. This was chosen by my obsessive thoughts and wanting to know why I feel them and what I can do to reduce them. My obsessive thoughts are;
“Wanting someone or something that you can’t have yet it’s all you can think about” – anonymous
“Can have devastating consequences on the subject or the obsessed.” – anonymous
I have no understanding of where this obsession comes from for me. I crave hugs to the point that all I don’t want to go to bed with a man for sex I just want to curl up close with a certain person each night and fall asleep in his arms. It could be that I had loads of hugs in my childhood and I don’t get them now, but I never had hugs as a child so how can I miss them. All I can rely on is knowing that I have a big cuddly hippo that gives unconditional hugs as and when I need them.
Though obsessive thoughts can be attributed to a range of different subject matters, for example hand washing, eating, impulsiveness and perfectionism. They can also manifest differently from person to person. Let’s look at impulsiveness, which personally I can relate to with my bipolar, where there may be an urge to go shopping for a specific item and then getting rather angry when the shop doesn’t sell that item or that after purchasing you realise that you bank really didn’t want you to do that. Or it can be related to the need for sex and will go out of your way to find someone who will help you complete the act; regardless of safety and other consequences that may follow.
“[The act] ceases to be enjoyable, becoming something you ‘have to’ do.” – anonymous
What actually causes these obsessive thoughts; is it psychological or chemical? Starting with potential psychological causes which could be put down to ensuring that something bad doesn’t happen again. For me I become obsessed with making sure all of my bills were paid, especially my rent, as I was once upon a time homeless and refused point blank to become homeless again – not so bad. Though for some;
“It’s when it starts to have a detrimental effect on your life” – anonymous
Imagine that you can’t leave your house each day to go to work without checking that you have locked the front door; for some this may mean they have a ‘safe’ number where it must be checked specifically that amount of times and if interrupted they have to start again. For this person it could be seen as a ritual and is part of their life; that they allow extra time to leave the house for this to take place. Another example being:
“All coffee cup handles have to face the same way when making drinks” – anonymous
So how can you help someone whose obsession has a psychological cause? Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) seems to be the favourite form of treatment where a person can discuss the reasons why the behaviour takes place to learn that their fears may not be true.
“Thoughts are not facts” – My CBT therapist.
It also allows the person to discover gradual desensitisation or flooding of the obsession. These methods work by allowing the person to either be ‘weaned off the behaviour’ or face the fear head on. For example, a person who has an obsession that birds are going to attack them while they walk down a street can go through the flooding option where they walk down a street heavily crowded by birds and stay there until they feel calm and relaxed. This does work, not always first time around, as the body goes into fight or flight mode upon reaching the birds but it can only be sustained for a certain amount of time as the body cannot continue to create the adrenalin for long periods of time. Gradual desensitisation works in a similar way though by only introducing the birds slowly as opposed to a full on bird street party.
There is another theory behind obsession and that is relating to faulty neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are little chemicals in the brain with pass messages from one neurone to the next which help with actions, behaviours and can control voluntary or involuntary actions. Communication between neurones is responsible for you moving your hand away from a hot object to stop you from burning yourself, or they send messages from your brain to your lungs to tell them when to breathe in and when to breathe out.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for many things, it is more commonly known as the ‘Happy Chemical’ as it is related to a person feeling depressed. When serotonin cannot pass from one cell to the next it causes the serotonin to be taken back by the cell sending the message instead of the cell meant to be receiving it; known as reuptake.
“Some [cell] receptors are thought to block serotonin from entering the cell” – BBC Science
In brain terms, it is the occipital cortex which notices that there is something wrong and informs the thalamus that something needs to doing to rectify the problem. As the thalamus is the control centre of the brain it tries to send impulses to other areas of the brain requesting that something is changed to take away the problem. However, this rectifying signal has to pass through another region on the brain called the caudate nucleus which does not work well if it’s receptors are damaged stopping the uptake of important neurotransmitters such as serotonin. This fault in the caudate nucleus and reduction in serotonin stops effective communication and allows the occipital cortex to become overwhelmed; seeing the problem as being bigger than it actually is. Hence why someone with a cleaning obsession, as an example, see germs that are not there and have to clean to remove them until the occipital cortex calms down.
This problem can usually be rectified by taking anti-depressants; selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s), they enable a better flow between cells and making sure that more serotonin is being absorbed by the cells that need it. The more serotonin the happier we should be, the less we should obsess.
But is it really as easy as identifying the potential causes of obsession that would make us ‘recover’? It takes a lot more than that. It’s like the adverts say about giving up smoking; yes these quit smoking aids will help reduce the cravings but it requires will power – and from my experience(s) of giving up smoking a hell of a lot of will power is required.
It is believed that by increasing Omega 3 levels can help improve brain power. Though when I first heard about this I did think it would increase my IQ. That’s not quite how Omega 3 works. They work by helping the cells remain healthy enough for messages to pass through them, ensuring the stability of the cell structure, and by helping reduce any inflammation the cell may be experiencing. Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid which means that it is a fatty acid that the body does not produce naturally so needs to be taken in through diet or supplements to make sure we have the correct levels within us. These fatty acids are mainly found in oily fish and some nuts, which if you’re a vegetarian like me may find the fish thing a little hard. Luckily you can also get this supplement in capsule form to be taken every day. Here is a study that has been carried out on the efficacy of Omega 3 with anxiety disorders, which lists obsession as one of them.
Though, light heartedly, and I say this only after researching the bigger picture of obsession, as long as my obsession doesn’t get in the way of my life, which I believe it isn’t, then what harm is it doing? I know that I need to stay in control of these emotions and feelings so that no one gets harmed. I know that if it ever gets to the point where I need professional help I will seek it and embrace it with both hands.
You are the judge of whether your obsession is affecting your life, or others’ lives, so ultimately you can make the decision as to whether you need help. Though remember that the first step to recovery is accepting that there is a problem that needs changing. You can then do something to bring about change.