Expecting more of ourselves than others.

One of the first things I remember thinking when I was first diagnosed was “Why me? This isn’t what was meant to happen.” It’s a thought I’ve found myself coming back to recently. It’s a thought I know others also think this when it comes to their health, whether it be physical or mental issues they suffer with.

“This isn’t what was meant to happen.”

Isn’t that just life? Isn’t life just a series of things happening that weren’t what you expected or what you laid out for yourself? My life has various different versions of what “should” have happened, and each one of them contradicts the other. I can tell you that none of those versions saw me as a recently single, nearly 25-year-old who is on a suspension from university on mental health grounds.

When it comes to mental health I think we end up expecting way more from ourselves than we expect from our friends and family. And that’s not because we underestimate them. It’s because we hold ourselves to an unfair, unobtainable standard because it’s us. The more we fail that standard the worse we feel, which makes us fall even shorter of that standard the next time, and so on and so forth.

This idea of “this wasn’t what was meant to happen” is not a helpful one. If we keep dwelling on that then we only do ourselves a disservice. We end up thinking “If I’d done x then this break up wouldn’t have happened” or “If only I’d worked harder even though I literally had no energy to do it then I would have got a better mark on that exam” or “If only I’d made 37 different choices when I was 16 then maybe things would be better”.

If I spoke to people the way I spoke to myself, no-one would want to be around me. And they’d be right to feel like that. Every time I sit and think “this isn’t what was meant to happen” I end up down dark paths in which everything that has ever gone wrong in my life has been my own fault, I blame myself for things I had no control over. If someone came to me with similar thoughts, which has happened in the past, I would not remotely consider blaming them. Because, hey guess what, your depression isn’t your fault. You couldn’t have done something years ago that would stop it. You aren’t weak for experiencing it. It’s ugly and it’s scary and it’s one of the worst things you can experience. The fact you have admitted to yourself that there’s a problem is amazing. If you’re getting the help you need now, that’s a great achievement. If you’re not quite ready to take that step, that’s okay too. The idea that this “wasn’t meant to happen” is meaningless. It’s happening, whether you expected it to happen or not. And, that’s okay.

At some point, I need to believe that for myself. I need to stop expecting things from me that I would never expect from anyone else. I’m getting there. And if you struggle with this too, know you’re not alone.

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Time’s up.

Every time you hear “it’s political correctness gone mad” or “it never used to be like this, people are so sensitive now” when the discussion of rape, sexual assault or sexual misconduct is brought up, remember that you’re hearing people literally say is “it used to be so much easier to sexually assault people”.

It’s 2018 and I turn 25 in 3 months time and I’m bored now. I’m bored of explaining to you what consent is. I’m bored of men who think this discussion about how you conduct yourself when it comes to sex is somehow a war on masculinity. I’m bored of anyone who takes a discussion on consent as a personal attack. If someone telling you that you need to get consent for everything you do that involves another person feels like an attack on you, change your behaviour because it’s clearly wrong.

For those of you who don’t know, I had my consent taken away from me when I was a child by someone unrelated to me and thankfully someone I never have to see again. That was the first time I realised there were people in this world who will take what they want without care or concern for another person. My story is one that I’ve only ever half told and I’ll likely ever tell it in its full state, and it’s one you don’t need to know in its entirety. It should never have happened.

But then again, I should never have been dragged down an alleyway by my hair when I was 17 on my way home from a gig only for the guy to let me go and walk away laughing like it was some joke. I should never at 20 had a job interview where the interviewer kissed me and said it was “for the part” and then later call me at 3am to tell he loved me and would kill himself if I didn’t take the job and play his girlfriend. At 21 I should never have had to involve the police when a person taking my tour threatened to rape me. At 22 I should never have had the groom-to-be on a stag do taking a tour push me against a wall and have to be dragged off me by his group. At 23 I shouldn’t have needed my boss to grab a guy by his collar and throw him off me when this guy kept stroking my costume and wouldn’t stop when I told him to, several times. And last week when I was in Dublin I shouldn’t have had a semi-well known comedian send me vulgar messages repeatedly despite making it clear I wasn’t interested in him because he thought I’d sleep with him because I knew who he was. But all that happened, and the sad thing is that’s mild. There are so many people – women and men – who have much worse stories.

So when I hear of men and women taking a stand against sexual misconduct, no matter what it is. I’m incredibly in awe of the strength it takes to do that. When I hear you say “People are too sensitive” in response I hear you say that everything I’ve experienced is totally acceptable and should be allowed to continue unchecked in society.

We constantly dehumanise women when it comes to sexual assault. We say things like “This is someone’s mother, sister or daughter” as if women only exist in relation to someone else. How about don’t assault a woman because she’s a human being? How about be an adult and wait until you have the green light to go forward with anything?

How about we realise that consent means permission? When we change the word consent for permission, it’s so evident that it’s a ridiculous thing to question. Can a child give you permission to have sex with them? No. Can someone who is drunk give you permission to have sex with them? No. Can someone who is unconscious give you permission to have sex with them? No. If someone says “No” when you ask permission, does that mean anything other than no? No. If someone says “Actually, I said yes. But I’ve changed my mind” when you ask permission, does that mean continue? Funnily enough, no. Is it appropriate to just assume you have permission to touch, kiss or have sex with someone? Absolutely not.

There are likely other consent scenarios that I’ve failed to include there. So don’t assume I think that’s the definitive list of when consent – or permission – is important.

It’s 2018 and I’ve had nearly two decades of people thinking my bodily autonomy is worth less than their own wants. Time’s up.

Giving yourself credit.

As is so often with my posts I’ve been listening to Fall Out Boy and that triggers my want to write. 

In their song ‘Champion’ they have a line that says “If I can live through this, I can do anything.” It made me think about how much I’ve done in the last 6 years. If you’re an avid reader of this blog or you know me personally you know the last 6 years or so have been rough. Leaving school with subpar qualifications and a nasty breakup seemed to be what opened the gates on what was to become one hell of a rollercoaster. 
I ended up on a handful of different medications, each one a rung on the rope ladder extending down into the pit I’d fallen into. But it wasn’t enough. I ended up in crisis counselling with a counsellor untrained to deal with my specific issues. In my sessions with her I’d learned what I’d put down to being a shy person were actually panic attacks. In those sessions I learned that the brain can suppress horrific events. Those sessions ended with her saying “I’m sorry but I’m not trained to deal with sexual abuse victims.”

That word rang in my head. Victim. It stuck in my throat, choking me when I tried to speak out. Who wants to associate with damaged goods? It was around that time my aunt Jennifer passed away and I felt the cycle starting again. 

I muddled on. I got into NHS psychiatric sessions which were starting to help. And then a family friend was arrested and jailed for over 600 counts of child pornography. At that point the rope ladder began to snag and seem to lower me again, despite the effort in climbing that far. 

I got into university and my psychiatric counselling ended and I was passed to student services. Where, in creating my personal learning plan, they detailed my sexual assault and made it a document any of my lecturers could access. A lecturer then told me I needed to fight harder as a woman with my life experiences to be taken seriously. Unprompted. At the end of semester one of my first year of university my uncle Graham died and I checked out mentally, and sometimes it still feels like I’m waiting to check back in. 
My second year came and went and everything seemed to be on an even keel. I was doing well. Life was “normal” for once. If such a term exists. 

Then third year happened and all my exam provisions were removed. I almost failed because I had my arrangements changed and was not told until walking into the room and had no time to prepare. Then I was diagnosed with endometriosis and PCOS. Both conditions that limit your fertility significantly. Mid 2nd semester my dog died and then within a matter of weeks my uncle Chris died.

The rope ladder seemed not to be getting any shorter. It would sway and seem unstable. It would get caught and twist. It made it feel like I wasn’t meant to be climbing it.

The last few weeks before I enter my final year have been weird. I’ve had my diagnosis removed and left with chronic pain and no answer. I’ve been anxious. I’ve cried for no reason more times than I can count.

But in all this time, on the ladder, I never dared look down. For what reason, I’m not sure. But when I did, I noticed that I’d been focussing on not being out of the pit yet. When I looked I noticed that the bed of pity and despair and depression and self hatred that I lived in is nothing but a tiny dot, almost undetectable. I haven’t resorted to self harm in nearly 5 of the last 6 years, despite wanting to on countless occasions.

So what I’m saying is give yourself credit. Any small accomplishment is a win. So take it as one. Recovery isn’t a magic “Boom, you’re cured.” It’s tiny little steps that seem insignificant. But when you look back on 6 years of them, it’s a huge distance covered.

And if I can live through this? Well I can do anything. 

The Politics of Mental Health Care

It’s been a while, folks. I hope you’re all well. Since we last spoke a lot has happened. I’m currently a parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats in the upcoming Scottish elections. As part of this I attended a hustings last night. This involved myself and representatives from other parties being on a panel and having members of the audience ask us questions about our manifestos and what we would do if elected to the Scottish parliament. In discussion with folk afterwards I had one individual come to me and tell me they were particularly sick of “politicians like you[me]” politicising mental health and using it as a way to point score and make empty promises to gain support from the electorate.

I’ll be honest with you, it floored me. What this individual couldn’t know was that from that event I was heading straight to a friend’s house to spend the night because she was having a really bad day with her depression and asked if I’d come to her because she needed someone who just “got it”. I had two emails waiting for responses from people asking how I’d maneuvered the current mental health system because they were struggling and I had an ongoing facebook conversation with someone requiring support causing my phone to silently go off in my bag the entire evening.

They couldn’t know I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety after leaving school at the age of 18, after having gone to the doctor repeatedly since I was about 15. Having missed more days of school than I should have for feigning other illnesses because the reality of ‘I don’t actually want to exist right now’ wasn’t enough to warrant a permitted absence from the school.

I developed a self harm addiction after my diagnosis because the current system left me to my own devices and I couldn’t find a safe coping mechanism.

I was diagnosed in September of 2011. I was put on a waiting list for psychiatry shortly after that. I was seen for the first time by a psychiatrist in February of 2013.

I was told by the psychiatrist I needed to see the psychologist as well as regular meetings with him. He also told me the psychologist had no space so I was seeing the community psychiatric nurse. The CPN who told me I ‘failed’ every day I didn’t get changed out of pyjamas. Who gave me weird homework as part of cognitive behaviour therapy and screamed “THIS WILL WORK FOR YOU. YOU AREN’T TRYING HARD ENOUGH” when I told her I didn’t find it helpful. The CPN  who then asked if she could discuss my ‘lack of co-operation’ with my mother because she knew my her. I eventually saw the psychologist when I told my psychiatrist that I would not see the CPN again after how I’d been treated.

I have lost count of the times I seriously contemplated suicide. I was taken to hospital because of self harm. I phoned 999 because I knew I’d attempt to kill myself if I didn’t get help in that moment. I got taken to A&E where I was told I was a drain on the NHS.

I’m passionate about this and it’ll be a very long time before I’m quiet on the issue. I don’t want my future children to grow up in a world where any mental health issue is considered anything less than on par with physical conditions. If I had tonsillitis I could go to the doctor tomorrow and if the situation warranted it get medication to help. I wouldn’t need to wait until my tonsils were necrotic and posing a threat to my life. Yet I waited a year and a half to be seen by a professional for a condition that gave me compelling urges to kill myself. If I can help even one person have a less horrible time then I’ll have done something important. Is this a political issue? Yes. Is that the only reason I talk about it at length and will continue to do so? Absolutely not.

The thing is we can’t wait. Mental health funding in Scotland falling every year since 2009 and the Scottish Government’s mental health strategy expiring at the end of last year it’ll be months before a new plan is in place.

The other day my dad said to me “The thing is most people aren’t as vocal as you are on mental health” and I was reminded of Willie Rennie’s speech to Conference in February. He said “We cannot wait any longer for change. For thousands of people who are crying out for help and for the many who cannot be heard anymore because we were simply too late.”

 

(Also because I’d be a bad candidate if I didn’t mention it, if you’re interested in exactly what the Scottish Liberal Democrats are proposing please check out http://www.scotlibdems.org.uk/manifesto. If you’d like to email me to discuss anything you can do so at r.l.plenderleith@gmail.com)

Decide for yourself.

Last night the Buddy Project posted on Twitter the reasons why you shouldn’t go and see the new horror film “The Forest”. The Buddy Project is something that operates out of Philadelphia and pairs people as ‘buddies’ for support and awareness of mental health issues. Now, I have a lot of love in my heart for projects and organisations like this. If it wasn’t for a non-government support organisation I’d have probably been in a much worse place mentally than I am today – if I was here at all. However, I’m struggling to understand why they would try and take the decision away from sufferers on whether or not they go and see this film.

The Buddy Project says that you should not go see this film because it’s profiting on the long string of suicides at the Aokigahara Forest in Japan. This forest has been nicknamed the “suicide forest” because for years people have gone there to take their own life. It’s vast and if you stray from the marked paths you will soon find yourself lost. Now, this is a tragic area with a lot of lost lives there. Many of whom never had their bodies recovered because they simply couldn’t be found. It’s the perfect basis for a horror film. Myths and legends have floated about around this forest because of it’s fateful history and continuing use. The Buddy Project then says it’s disrespectful to make a horror film from that and you wouldn’t make a film based on the Jonestown Massacre. Only in 2013 that’s exactly what happened. It was called The Sacrament.

Horror films profiting from real life events are not a new phenomenon. Hell, even Dracula has its base in reality. “The Zodiac Killer”? A film and a real life event. “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”? Yeah, that was based on a real girl called Anneliese Michel who was subjected to an exorcism that lasted 10 months because she was believed to be demonically possessed. Even “The Hills Have Eyes” was based of a 16th Century story of a Sawney Bean, the patriarch of a cannibal family in Scotland! Cannibalism, murder, exorcisms. All real life events. All horrendous. All something which if we were to apply the same logic to shouldn’t be used for profit. Part of a horror film’s psychological thrill is that it’s based on real events. You can tell yourself over and over whilst watching it “It’s not real, it’s a film.” but at the same time in the back of your mind you know that it’s at least inspired by real life events.

I hate to say this because it sounds cruel and I’ll most likely get a lot of flack for it but unfortunately the world is not going to bend to you. I’m aware that for a lot of people The Forest would be a highly triggering piece of cinema but if that’s the case of course use your judgement on whether or not it’s a good idea for you to watch it. The storylines of Game of Thrones are something I’m aware would be particularly triggering for me which is why I avoid it. I don’t try and prevent those around me from watching it however. I also don’t prevent people who’ve had similar experiences to me from watching it either. The Forest is no different to any other horror film based – even loosely – on reality. Horror films are something that people enjoy – although maybe that’s the wrong word – and just because you disagree with the content doesn’t make it wrong.

My main concern with the likes of the Buddy Project putting this out there is that it’ll only reinforce the stigma surrounding mental health issues and suicide. Complaining about something that doesn’t fit your world ideals doesn’t open up the channel of communication about it. It shuts it down. You complaining about the themes of The Forest only adds to the whole “suicide is something we shouldn’t talk about” notion that we seem to have in our world. You putting out that feeling will make someone less likely to want to talk to you about how they feel.

I’ve titled this post “Decide for yourself” but I’m not talking solely about whether or not you go and see this film. I’m talking about not letting organisations make your mind up about something, your ability to think for yourself is one that is important. It’s important in general but it’s incredibly important in your mental health recovery. Take the control back, don’t just pass it to someone else.

Also I’m aware a lot of people find my blog in search of mental health coping strategies and for help with suicidal thoughts. Here are helpines for the top 3 countries that visit my blog on a regular basis

UK – 116 123 (Samaritans)
0800 838587 (Breathing Space)

USA – 1-800-273-8255 (Suicide Prevention Lifeline)

Australia – 13 11 14 (Lifeline)

Dear Ken Livingstone

Let me tell you a story.  It’s a story of someone deeply disturbed. He’s the former mayor of London and he believes it’s perfectly okay to lash out at health concerns of people who disagree with him…. oh wait… that’s you.

I was 18 when I was diagnosed with depression. The following couple of years are ones I hope to never have the equal of. I got addicted to self harm. I spent hours staring vacantly at the television from the moment my parents left for work til they came home, at least I did the days I could even get out of bed. The only thing I would watch would be America’s Next Top Model. I’ve no idea why but I think I must have watched almost every episode there is of it. Not that I’d remember since depression has robbed me of parts of my memory.

I’d go walking at 3am once everyone was asleep, in the rain, just so I could feel something. And I got ill then so be it. I didn’t care. I didn’t care about looking before I crossed the road. I didn’t care when I got horrendous oil burns up my arm from cooking. I didn’t care when I was sat in the back of an ambulance with a paramedic attending to my wrist because I’d snapped one day when I was in the house by myself.

I still have depression. It sits on my shoulder and it sucks away at the accomplishment I feel for still being alive. It’s been 3 years since I last hurt myself intentionally. Though as much as I hate to say it, there are flickers of time when I hear such moronic comments like yours, Ken, that I wonder why the hell did I bother to get clean in the first place.

The days of me sitting on my stairs in the dark, crying, bleeding and telling my mother I wanted to be dead may be over. But the impact of depression on my life is what I deal with every single day and will continue to deal with for the rest of my life. But I have a job, I’m in university and I have healthy relationships and friendships. So how dare you suggest that simply because someone has disagreed with you that their illness is behind that?

The old saying of “sticks and stones may hurt my bones but words will never hurt me” is a load of bull. Your words carry weight, regardless of who you are.

Sincerely,

Obviously disturbed and should probably see her GP (even though we have regular progress update meetings)

Mental Health – Scotland’s Massive Failure

‘CAMHS referral targets state that no child should wait more than 18 weeks to be seen. Only 78.9% of children are seen within that time frame. When you look at the statistics for 26 weeks only 7% more are seen by then. That means that 14% of children are not seen by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services after half a year. Here’s the response I received on behalf of our First Minister:

“Some successes to date can be seen in the improvement to Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS), where Scottish Government introduced a waiting times target that stated that from March 2013, no one will wait longer than 26 weeks from referral to treatment for specialist CAMHS – and no longer than 18 weeks from December 2014….We appreciate that there is still much room for improvement and we are working with NHS Boards to support their working in this area.”‘

This is an extract from my blog post after I got a response from someone on behalf of our first minister. Continue reading it here.

It’s World Mental Health day so once again I highlight the huge issues Scotland is facing. Not just in its services for children but across the board. Out of a cross section of 100,000, 14% of adults admit to having a mental health problem. That’s those who have been diagnosed. 10% admit to being alcohol dependent and 18% admit to having attempted suicide.

That’s almost 1 in 5 adults in Scotland having attempted suicide if these statistics are accurate. Once again I call for the Scottish Government to seriously look at mental health care in this country and for Nicola Sturgeon to think before she says things like “If you don’t think we’re doing enough in regards to mental health I have to convince you we are.”

Convince me then. As it certainly doesn’t look like we’re doing enough to me.