Beating the mental health system!
As I walked, exhausted, in to the small GP consulting room just three days before Christmas 2000, the doctor greeted me with a friendly ‘Hello Mrs Palmer, how can I help you today’? Half collapsing into the chair facing her, I whispered ‘I’m a shell. A walking, breathing shell but me…I have gone’. A couple of hours on I was seen by a psychiatrist and a little later that same day, aware of my heart pounding and the sound of clunking keys and the odd scream as I walked, I was led down the stark, anaesthetically clean corridor of the local psychiatric hospital. That was my introduction to the mental health service. I didn’t know it then, but it was the first of thirteen hospital admissions which would happen over the next twelve years.
There is no one thing in particular that caused me to be so depressed, more a cumulative effect of many I would say. I didn’t know I was depressed when I went to see the doctor but realised it wasn’t right that each step felt like wading through an ocean of treacle whilst also trying to pull a stationary tractor. I also realised that putting on smiles and a happy face for my three beautiful children each morning, only to go back to bed as soon as I had dropped them off at school wasn’t great. My bedside alarm clock resounding at 3:15pm each weekday was another tell-tale sign that I wasn’t in a good place. It was an unwanted reminder I had to get up again, put on my happy face mask once more and go to the school gate. Don’t get me wrong, I love my children and I loved seeing their beautiful souls when they cheerfully ran out the school gate to see me. I was just so tired you see, just so tired from trying to cope for so long.
I was in hospital for three months that first time, in a room divided in to four with hospital curtains. I had a bed, wardrobe, chair, chest of drawers and no window to look out of. It was scary, yet I knew I needed help. I was immediately started on an anti-depressant, attempted suicide after six weeks and discharged a few weeks after that. When discharged I felt numb, drained, disorientated and as though still wading through treacle. But I no longer felt like just a shell! I still couldn’t cope though I sure tried, so a few weeks later I was readmitted and given a course of six ECT. But I was still numb and disorientated after that. My memory isn’t so great now, maybe an effect of ECT and years of medication, but at some stage towards the beginning of the thirteen hospital admissions, therapeutic interventions and psychology sessions my diagnosis went from clinical depression to bipolar affective disorder both with and without traits of a personality disorder. As my diagnosis changed, the frequency and duration of admissions changed too, and the types and quantity of medications just kept on multiplying.
Not once did I feel well at discharge. Going straight home in to family life with husband, kids, dog and other pets, after weeks or months with little or no stimuli was very demanding on my unwell mind and body. Over the years I gained weight, lost confidence and still was not well. I attempted suicide three times during those years, each time having given up on all hope of ever feeling happy. My daughter reminded me recently of one such attempt where she came to see me in intensive care when she was 16 years old. I had somehow blocked the event from my mind and felt such shame and guilt for having put her and her younger twin brothers through so much. I’ve also been handcuffed and caged in the back of a police van for being ill and placed on suicide watch in a police custody suite for many hours with only a blanket and metal toilet for company. Unsurprisingly my marriage ended and holding down jobs long term was difficult. I remember feeling so incredibly alone, unheard and misunderstood.
But 2022 marks ten years since my last hospital admission of a little over four months and nine years being off all medication, discharged from services and deemed to be fully recovered. My psychiatrist back then even said I had experienced a ‘miracle’.
In February 2013, after months of an alternative treatment, I experienced a life transforming night when I was highly suicidal. At that time I was drinking heavily to suppress unwanted flashbacks and psychotic. I hadn’t washed for several weeks and was living predominantly in my bedroom. The night in question I had written letters to my kids saying sorry and explaining I loved them but could not carry on anymore. I had a cocktail of lethal medication on the bed next to me. As I finished off my last cigarette I had an angry go at a God I didn’t even really believe in, crying out in my mind, why me? Not only did I surprisingly get an answer in my mind, but the next one to two hours had me energetically pinned on my bed experiencing wave upon wave of an increasing blissfulness followed by wave upon wave of intense fear. It was the intense fear that showed me I couldn’t move because it was then I wanted to get up and run away from myself! The experience ended as suddenly as it started and I fell asleep. But when I woke next morning all I can say is I had fundamentally transformed at my core. My mind was still chaotic but there was an awareness, or a knowing unknown to me the night before. It felt like something inside had come on line, so to speak, and had, thankfully, stepped into the driving seat of my life! For the first time in a good while I ventured downstairs, poured all alcohol down the sink and started to dramatically change.
Within eight months I had come off all medication, lost six stone in weight, and been discharged from mental health services, having been told I was in full recovery. Within a year I had quit smoking too. It was not an easy time as medication withdrawal came with unwanted side effects, my mind (thoughts) attempted to self-sabotage and often times I felt like a frightened mouse caught within the cat like claws of a mental health system concerned for my wellbeing.
A few days before my twin sons 18th birthday, one of my sons, thankfully, alerted me to the fact at 5pm on that particular day, two doctors and police were coming with a search warrant to enter my home and section me. He went on to say my daughter, who was away at university, had been called as my next of kin and told to make sure I was at home. My son said he couldn’t bear to think of me cooking tea, totally unaware of what was going to happen, adding how he knew first-hand just how hard I was trying to work out was me, medication or illness. Oh no, I thought. Please…NO. Fear rippled through me as I thanked my son and explained I had to disappear for a while.
That transformational night I now realise, was an awakening, or shift into a deeper sense of myself. Some call this soul, buddha nature, consciousness, universe to name a few. In order to understand what had happened and to understand myself more deeply I dived head first in to the traditional teachings of yoga and meditation and have since spent a good deal of time in the UK, India, Spain and Canada learning from the patience, guidance and wisdom of some great teachers.
Before my transformation I thought I was a mess, a waste of space, a failure, to name but a few. That night a space, a quiet, a stillness arose inside giving me the opportunity to see my thoughts, rather than believe them to be true as I had previously. Watching my thoughts more and more, through regular meditative practice, yoga, painting and self-reflection, I’ve realised being able to observe the thoughts in my mind clearly means I am not and cannot be them. Knowing this has been and still is incredibly liberating. For if I am not my thoughts, then I do not have to believe them. I do not have to listen to them. And if I am not my thoughts then who am I? Am I perhaps way more than once thought. Can I trust my own innate intuitive nature rather than the conditioned beliefs I thought were so real? That night when I was going to end my life was indeed the end of an old way of looking at things. My perspective shifted and taught me I am worthy, I can change and the empowering force to do so is within each and every one of us. My answers were not out there in the world, but inside my own being. Nowadays I can watch my thoughts come and go like clouds in the sky rather than always succumb to their gravitational pull. It means I can add new positive thoughts. It means I can release limiting beliefs and ideas I have had, both about myself and others that have held me down for so long. It means I can choose to practice yoga, to meditate, to get creative, to move my body, to eat well, or not. That is empowerment.
If I had been taught about the yogic and eastern philosophical workings of mind, body and soul years ago then maybe, just maybe I would not have had to suffer so much. It has been an intense few years, but so too is living with mental illness! The difference is it has been so liberating. Now I can even say I am happy. I couldn’t do that before.