Our second guest blog is written by Abi!
I can accurately describe this year as being taken to hell and dragged by my hair through it. Imagine the famous bear scene from The Revenant. That’s right, I fell in love. Terrible thing… I wouldn’t recommend it. I have in fact been in love before, for many years, 3 of which were spent on a high dose of Prozac to make the process slightly more tolerable, yet not totally smooth.
I’ll set up some context: My mother’s life was inundated with trauma causing her to suffer clinical depression, and on top of that came a spinal injury, leaving her with multiple health complications.
My early years were spent in a consent state of anxiety for losing my mum. She was often hospitalised and I have clear memories of crying inconsolably at the thought of losing her. My later childhood/adolescence was more characterised by my mum’s mental health; she wasn’t happy and she had me and my Dad to blame, and didn’t we know it. I was never good enough, I could never make her happy and slight normal teenage behaviours made my mum spiral out of control resulting in hospitalised breakdowns, suicide threats, running away from home, self-harm and various other terrifying behaviours for someone who didn’t understand why the person who was supposed to love her and care for her the most in the world, wanted to end her life.
In psychology, a child can be securely attached or insecurely attached to their primary caregiver, types of insecure attachments have also been classified into sub categories (http://www.psychalive.org/how-your-attachment-style-impacts-your-relationship/) however I have firmly come to the conclusion that I am ‘anxious preoccupied attachment’ (https://jebkinnison.com/bad-boyfriends-the-book/type-anxious-preoccupied/).
Essentially I find peoples’ love untrustworthy and I live with a constant anxiety that I will lose those who love me. I don’t see the world as a secure, reliable place when it comes to relationships; I become overwhelmed very easily when I am close to someone and I have periods of severe low self-esteem. And all of the usual things that a person has to go through like financial poverty, bullying in the playground and gossipy girls in high school, housemates from hell, exam or career stress, unemployment, break-ups, grief; became a world I couldn’t cope with because I wasn’t given secure foundations. Instability and unpredictability of those closest to me was something I became accustomed to, and something I’ve come to expect in adult relationships, meaning I have developed many (mainly unhealthy) coping mechanisms.
A second factor, and something undeniably linked to my mum as it is likely genetic, is that I have a condition called PMDD (http://www.webmd.boots.com/mental-health/premenstrual-dysphoric-disorder) which in short, means my body is dysfunctional when processing hormones. The normal hormonal changes that every woman experiences, I experience to an extreme level. Every month I suffer severe psychological problems accompanied by acne, weight influxes, migraines and tormenting abdominal pain. It’s PMS but worse.
The most prominent of all of these are the psychological problems however. Anxiety, fatigue and energy problems, insomnia, depression and suicidal thoughts, anger, feelings of rejection and social negativity, concentration difficulty and crying at every moment possible. I also become overwhelmed with a feeling that I have no control, that I can’t get out of my bad thoughts and that I have no hope for the future. All of these feelings accompanied by the anxiety of a close attachment figure have dragged me down to rock bottom in the past months and I’ve become mentally and physically very ill. A huge complication of this is that I can’t take any artificial hormones and am limited to the iud copper coil which I had for 5 years. This however was also not totally successful; I suffered with bleeding for three weeks of the month (not really practical…) Despite a chemical war going on inside of me, there is something deep which keeps fighting back. I don’t believe I am pre-determined to a life with this.
Medication is the primary treatment of PMDD, however psychological therapy can improve the condition tenfold. By learning to deal with psychological trauma it can even effect the hormone release causing the psychological issues (it is even suggested that psychological trauma can cause the condition). Other factors can be certain – nutritional deficiencies and ovary or thyroid problems, all of which I am awaiting checks on and I am seeking the psychological treatment I need. My primary goal now is to help people understand mental health and women’s health, to raise awareness and encourage people to get the help they need. I am currently training to become a psychologist and help others. Being honest about my story to the world is something which will help me accept it myself.
Ruby Wax’s story is inspiring to me; she would describe herself as the 1 in 4 of us with mental illness:
Since suffering herself she has studied neuroscience and now works to change the stigma and fear of mental illness, to promote hope to those suffering and to generally help society understand something which cannot be seen. She says: “how come every other organ in your body can get sick, and you’d get sympathy, except the brain.”
My hormones and neurotransmitters have deformed me mentally, my personality has been taken away. I’ve lost myself and now I have to fight to find myself again, although sometimes it’s hard not to feel like the damage is done. Mental illness is like living asleep, you aren’t really there, the world seems blurry and your reactions are like someone else is in control of you. Imagine being exhausted all the time. Imagine seeing everything in the world as a negative experience, that everyone is against you; I see basic interactions with my partner as life threatening, and my physical reactions match those thoughts. I see everything as much of a threat today as I would have when faced with predators in our evolutionary past. I know in my head who I want to be, and in many ways I believe that is who I really am.
People think you are just sad, crazy, unstable, they judge you for the surface of your illness, because mental health masks what’s underneath. Underneath the face covering me when I’m sick is a Lord of the Rings book nerd who wants to see the world and make my own adventures.
Of course this is all just a brief overview of my life and problems, and in no way represents a deeper reality, however it is the first step for me in embracing my story and I intend to continue to face my life, head on, honestly and fearlessly. In the end I’d be lying to say it was all bad. This year I also hit the jackpot by meeting a caring and supportive partner. He has helped me realise and understand so much about myself I have suppressed for years of my life and encouraged me to get the help I need. I am now more serious about tackling my personal issues to remain strong and eventually be able to be in a healthy, loving relationship, without all that Prozac.
Here are some links which have provided me with help. I’d recommend everyone read the basics of attachment and mental health as without a doubt every one of us will at some point suffer, or encounter someone suffering from these psychological interruptions.