I am a 36-year-old current service user and I was first introduced to the mental health services at the age of 13 and I have been in and out of services since, recovery is something I fight for daily.
I volunteer with the trust and have been involved with many opportunities, but the one I have the most passion for is sharing my own story in the hope that I can change people’s views, and show them the importance of how we should all be working with recovery as our main focus.
I also write a blog and own a large support group for mothers on Facebook.
Oh and I also have 6 children.
I have since bought some TVs and when people comment on how many children I have, with “are you crazy” I smile and nod.
Let me share my own story as a service user and why I believe recovery needs to be the main focus when treating us.
Almost 5 years ago I found myself standing on a bridge, I was also holding onto the hand of my 2-year-old daughter.
I don’t believe I wanted to die; I just didn’t want to hurt anymore
I couldn’t do it, no matter how low I felt I couldn’t kill my child, she saved me that day.
I will never forget the look on my husband’s face when I returned home and told him what I had almost done; it still haunts me to this day and I still struggle to bond with my daughter who I almost killed.
I became angry, why the hell was there no help out there?
I had asked for help, but there was nobody willing to listen.
And so I visited the GP again, I was given more antidepressants and made to feel this was all very normal. I had postnatal depression he told me, medication would help me.
I didn’t have much hope, I had been on antidepressants for most of my life.
I didn’t tell him about what had happened on the bridge, or about the voices I heard, mostly telling me to hurt my children. I didn’t tell him about the people and animals I saw or about the need to harm myself; he didn’t give me the chance too.
Part of me feared what they would do to me if I was honest, would they take my children away or would they section me?
To be honest looking back, that would have been the safest option for me and those around me.
But despite the fear I was at rock bottom and I was ready, to be honest, but nobody wanted to listen to me or give me a chance to speak.
He just placed yet another prescription in my hand
I didn’t return to the GP for a long time after that, what was the point?
It was during this time I was arrested, my first run in with the law. The shame of shoplifting is on my criminal records, but it wasn’t quite as simple as that.
I was manic; there is no doubt about that. I believed I was famous, even wore a disguise as such, my husband, of course, was out of his own mind with worry.
I had gone to Asda with my step mother, but once there the voice reminded me I could take whatever I fancied.
I was doing them a favour, because whatever I wore or bought, others would too, and it was great advertising for them. And so not only did I fill my trolley I filled my handbag, as ran out of room in my trolley.
Of course, when I got to the checkout and only put my weekly shopping through and not the items the security guards had watched me put into my bag, she called for security.
I just laughed and asked her if she knew who she was talking too.
You can imagine my step mother’s horror when the police arrived and I began singing “You can leave your hat on” from the Full Monty Movie to them, thinking they were strippers.
I was arrested
I also wonder now, looking back, how could they not have known I was seriously ill?
Anyway: I continued on a roller coaster ride and went on to have my 5th baby. The mania allowed me to stay afloat, 3 days after giving birth, I started my 4th business.
Voices and visions began hounding my waking hour and my nightmares became my reality. They criticised, threatened and wanted me to harm my children.
I was afraid, alone and failed by a system that was meant to help me.
Banging my head off the wall, watching as the blood ran from my nose, I felt relief. The physical pain I inflicted upon myself stopped the mental pain, if only for a few minutes.
Finding out I was pregnant again wasn’t a shock, I was hardly acting responsibly at this time. This would be my 3rd baby in 3 years.
I started to believe that I was being followed wherever I went; there was no rest from the torture, even in the bath I would feel that hand coming towards me, pushing me under the water, thrashing about and then gasping for air.
Was I trying to drown myself or had someone held me under?
My eldest daughter who would have been 12 at the time, had witnessed this a few times and to this day she still comes and sits in the bathroom when I go for a bath, she suffered horrific nightmares after these events and though she knows I was poorly at the time, she still worries.
I was angry at the world, at the system, at myself and I am not proud to admit that I became aggressive to my husband.
While most mothers prayer that the Lord keeps her children safe at night, I was praying that he would take me and end my pain.
My husband was at breaking point, he spoke with my health visitor.
Thanks to her I agreed to see a different GP, she promised to come with me, she did. I was referred to the mental health team finally.
She went above and beyond her job title; if guardian angels exist then she is mine.
I was assessed by the crisis team and passed to someone else, who told me he couldn’t help me as I needed secondary services.
And so I waited for another appointment
I saw a perinatal psychiatrist a number of times during my pregnancy, she believed I had Cyclothymia; I didn’t hear the L in the word and thought she said I had PSYCHO THEMIA and I was horrified that I was indeed a Psycho after all.
I refused to take the Lithium and preferred to be drug-free during the pregnancy.
But despite being honest about the voices and the visions when I was admitted to hospital with exhaustion I was placed in a maternity ward with 5 other women.
The voices told me to hurt the other women and their babies.
When I asked a midwife for a knife so I could cut out my own baby, she went to fetch someone. After a little chat he deemed me safe and suggested something to help me sleep, I took his word for it, I mean you trust the health professionals to don’t you?
My baby was born and I was discharged. My father and stepmother moved in with us for 3 months. I wasn’t able to look after myself let alone 6 children.
I was assigned my first CPN, I would arrive for appointments and sit in reception for what felt like a lifetime before the receptionist would come and tell me that she off sick that day.
I had a case open with social services at this time over access arrangements for my 3 eldest children to see their father.
CaffCass had reported him to be a danger if left unsupervised with them, yet the social worker believed my mental health was clouding my judgement of him and questioned whether I was meeting the emotional needs of my children.
I had spent 11 years being beaten, raped and mentally tortured by this man. The Social worker took none of the police and medical reports into account.
My CPN knew about the abusive history and I had begged her to come with me. She never turned up for the final meeting and I sat there alone, humiliated and unable to speak out for myself. He won unsupervised access.
On the 3rd weekend of unsupervised contact taking place the police returned my children, they were too traumatised to even speak. They have not seen their father in over a year now.
That social worker had used my mental illness against me and put my children in danger and yes I was angry at my CPN, but I never had a chance to tell her because, at my next appointment, a new CPN was there.
She liked cats – that’s all I can really tell you about our 6-month professional relationship.
I didn’t have the strength to go through it all again to get nowhere. I had lost my faith in the system. I pretended everything was fine. She discharged me.
I returned to the mental health team some months later, I was informed I would see a new CPN who had joined the local team, this time, I disliked him before I even met him, he was just going to let me down, like all the others had.
I arrived at that appointment and you guessed it, this new CPN wasn’t able to see me, he had been called away due to an emergency.
I remember a “ small drama” followed, resulting in me screaming and shouting at the poor receptionist, telling her how useless the mental health system was, she nodded and smiled at me, the first person to smile at me for a long time.
Most people feared me, my moods and behaviour were unpredictable.
I had lost my career, some family members had turned their backs on me because I embarrassed them and my best friend at the time didn’t want her children around me.
I had drained the bank account and had to be supervised at all times.
But that receptionist didn’t fear me, she saw a vulnerable women screaming out for help and she found someone who would see me. There was a physiatrist available and she asked him to see me immediately and he agreed.
I don’t really remember what happened, I was pretty much hysterical, but he made a phone call to the psychiatrist who had previously described me medication, I wasn’t to take that again. I would become his patient from then on in and I’m so glad I met him that day.
I was fast-tracked an appointment with this new CPN and he did turn up and has done ever since. It took a long time for me to trust him, but he was patient and I learned to respect him.
Not only has he given me back my faith in the mental health system, he saved my life.
He didn’t judge me; he actually listened and advised, but allowed me to voice my own opinion.
I told him about the voices and visions, how I self-harmed and self-starved myself and how I self-medicated with Tramadol.
He didn’t look at me in disgust as many friends had; he explained that it was all part of my illness.
I wasn’t a Psycho, after all, I had bipolar
Strangely as it turned out I had many female relatives diagnosed with manic depression, it’s a huge taboo in my family and now I know why they turned their backs on me, they were afraid.
I told my CPN about my fear of medications and he talked through everything with me. I no longer felt a freak; I actually started to believe that I could live with this condition after all, with the correct support in place.
And this is where my recovery began
He told me that recovery was not only possible, but it would happen for me, but I had to do that part for myself.
But as my recovery began, the devastation I had caused was soul-destroying, I almost lost everything.
I had 6 children who I had no idea how to interact with, I felt such a failure. I had no idea how to begin to explain how I had become a stranger to them. My husband had raised them alone for 3 years, with me in the background.
Have you any idea how it feels to have your children ask you why you don’t love them anymore?
I had spent so long pushing them away, locking myself away for weeks at a time.
I needed to make them not need me so I was able to take my own life without feeling guilty. If they didn’t love me then my death wouldn’t hurt them and they wouldn’t miss me.
The truth is I resented them, they prevented my suicide.
I blamed them for the pain I felt, I wanted that pain to end, but I couldn’t end it because of them.
My CPN involved a service who were amazing and gave us family therapy and I am pleased to say my relationship with my children is stronger than ever.
My husband and I are no longer together.
You see it’s all good and well treating the diagnosis but so much more happens in a service user’s life.
My friendships were destroyed, career over, my marriage was torn to shreds, finances crumbled and I no longer had any sense of my own identity.
I had to pick up the prices and begin to rebuild my life
And medication can only do so much.
Now I have been far from the model patient, I have pushed health professionals to their limits so many times. But my CPN earned my respect and trust and we have a great professional relationship.
When I told him I was joining the trust to save the world, he just tutted, he’s used to my grand gestures these days.
But he was surprised when I told him I had spent a week working with my own psychiatrist on a project.
All the anger I felt towards the mental health system faded when my own psychiatrist personally apologised for the way the system had failed me. Although it was not his doing, he admitted there were many faults.
He also suggested I get more involved because he believed I would be a great asset to the trust.
I began writing about my personal journey 4 years ago. I have met so many service users and carers who share their own experiences on the blog too.
I am sorry that my recovery took so long; so many health professionals failed me when I needed them most.
I lost 3 years of life
I have no idea what my youngest children’s first words were, how old they were when they first crawled or walked, those are moments I will never get back.
I, of course, would prefer to live a life without a mental illness yet it’s who and what I am and I have finally accepted that I can now laugh at my “quirkiness traits”.
And I have learned that I can stay bitter and angry or I can use my experience in a positive way to help others and that is what I am now doing.
I am living proof that we can recovery and recovery should have been the focus for me at the very start.
I was made to feel that I was stuck this way, that nothing would ever change for me and I would be this way for life, no wonder I stood on that bridge.
It took years and numerous health professionals to find one who believed in me and saw me as a person and not just a diagnosis, he didn’t believe that just medicating me was the answer; he taught me and gave me the tools I needed to live with my illness.
I should have been helped sooner
I do wish I had met him sooner, all staff should be this way, is it really just a job to them? Didn’t they choose this career to help people recover and live a happy and fulfilled life?
While I agree medication plays a big part in recovery, it cannot be the only option.
Learning to accept your diagnosis can be traumatic and peer support should be introduced to the service, being given a key worker who can truly relate to you would be a lifesaving tool.
Sometimes all we need is an ear to listen and shoulder to lean on.
Speaking to other service users and carers is what has personally helped me, knowing I am not alone and have someone to talk too who really does understand, means I no longer have to go to that dark place again.
You can recover from mental illness and recovery means different things to different people.
For me, it means I am no longer afraid to wake each morning. I now have hopes and dreams and I can plan for my future.
I have learned that recovery is something you have to achieve for yourself. It is not something that someone else does for you, but you do need support from health professionals along this journey.
And that’s the thing with recovery there is no destination, you don’t suddenly become well again, it truly is a journey.
For me, I will always have bipolar and the voices and visions are still very present.
I have not self-harmed for over 18 months now and I know that self-starving myself isn’t the answer, I do have more control now.
I am still addicted to tramadol and that’s another battle I have to face, but I am no longer a victim, I am a survivor and I have a great support system in place now.
I know my journey will still come across bumps in the roads and I still have a few mountains to climb, I just hope to avoid the bridges along the way.
Recovery is a way of living a satisfying, hopeful and contributing life even with the limitations caused by illness.
Don’t we deserve that?
I hope but sharing my own experience, at least, one of you will begin to look at recovery as being the most important aspect of our treatment.
To support recovery, professionals need to work in partnership with service users and carers, making joint decisions about what treatment is appropriate, rather than ‘knowing what is best.’
We can recover; we just need someone to help us and someone to believe in us. This is our life we place in their hands.