Friday, May 31, 2013

My Psychiatry Hell - the true fucking story

I'm writing this now when I am well and healthy enough to dive into this topic again. It's something that upsets me so badly that I avoid thinking about it. Still, it's something that needs to be talked about. I can only speak from my own experiences so that's what I'll do. These are my experiences, thoughts and feelings but I'll try to back up facts with scientific sources. I'm not making this shit up... unfortunately.

As it is now I do believe I am truly on the right track. I feel like a real, proper human being with a perfectly ordinary (but way more awesome than normal) mind. I'm choosing to write this now because unfortunately there are still a huge amount of people who suffer through this shit daily. Some of those people are dear friends of mine.

I am aware that in writing so openly and honestly about myself on the internet I may risk being a target of the classic internet shitstorm of idiocy. We're living in a society where people are told to go kill themselves, triggered online by insensitive jerks who have no idea what they are actually doing. Where people who suffer from mental illness are called attention whores. Where people who have already committed suicide are taunted and made to be jokes online to people who think it's "edgy" to laugh at the death of others. Yeah, that's the internet for ya. But guess wha? That part of the internet is kind of silly pathetic stupid and this blog is my part of the internet and I decide that I can write whatever I want here. I'm going to write honestly and openly about my life experiences with my mental illness. This is the first time I'm openly speaking about my periods of self harm and suicidal thoughts. At the bottom of this post you can find several useful links of information and also help and support in case you or a loved one is currently in the middle of the sad feels. This is a long read, so get a cup of coffee if you want to know my story.

Back then...
It started as early as when I first started school. I was insecure, shy, terrified of making mistakes and I didn't have any real friends to trust. Friends in fact was something I had a very strange relationship to. The girls I thought were my friends usually kept me around as a sidekick. I was ignored, bullied and manipulated more often than not. I thought this was perfectly normal.

I was quiet at school. I never wanted any attention. I never dared to ask for help in class. Math in particular was a huge problem for me and I never caught up with the others. I had to go through years of extra math hours where my teachers grew more and more frustrated over my inability to learn simple numbers. Much much later on in life I was diagnosed with dyscalculia which is exactly like dyslexia but with numbers. No wonder I never learned.

The first time I felt true anxiety and hopelessness was when I was 11 years old. I had no real concept of suicide but I remember that I tried to hold my breath in an attempt to kill myself. I thought that if I simply stopped breathing I would die and I wouldn't have to go back to school again. The second time I had those thoughts I was 13 and I wanted to put a kitchen knife through my own heart. I never told anyone back then. Luckily my methods of suicide weren't exactly effective or realistic since I barely knew what suicide was back then. There were a few years between 13 and 16 that I felt sort of calm. Normal. At least things didn't feel as bad as before.

And then things got worse...
I moved away from home when I was 16. I went to study animation in another part of Sweden and I was so excited. Everything was new and I really believed in myself. This could have been the start of something great but after one really happy year things started to spiral downward again. There were some reasons that might have triggered it but most of it felt irrational, even to me. It was just this creeping sadness. Anxiety and hopelessness. I had no energy at all and I didn't manage to handle school. I avoided other people. I was scared to go outside. I stayed in bed, crying most of the time.

For the first time I went to seek help and I really hoped it would change things. I realized it wasn't normal to feel the way I did. I was sent to psychiatric care for minors where I got to talk to some lady that wasn't a nurse, or a psychologist or a doctor. Just some lady that asked me about school and what I did in my spare time. Her advice to me was to stop playing video games... I told her that I often felt that I wanted to die. That nothing had meaning and that every little problem I encountered caused terrifying panic attacks. She mentioned medication and then she seemed to forget about it. I dropped out of school and moved back to my parents. I have very little memory of these years but I think that I mostly stayed in my room, sleeping. I wasn't offered any further medical treatment.

Blank years...
From 17 to 19 I barely remember what I was doing. Those years are gone from my memory completely. I moved to Skövde along with my boyfriend at the time. I tried to get a job, got one but had to quit after just four days. My panic attacks were so severe at this point that I didn't dare to pick up a phone or go to the store to buy milk. I realized that I couldn't stay unemployed, depressed and hopeless. That wasn't me at all. I wanted to create, make things, go far in life. I decided to study game art at the University and really put my mind to it. I knew it was the right thing to do, but I didn't feel any better.

Each class was a struggle to focus and to fight against the anxiety that came as soon as I had to be amongst other people. I felt ugly, worthless, pathetic and I was so scared of failure that I spend a whole  night crying, screaming, shaking and hyperventilating the day before my first exam. Now I can look back at it and realize that the amount of panic I felt over one single school exam was irrational, but emotions aren't rational. My emotions weren't even normal. I was mentally ill but I didn't even know it myself.

Looking for help...
I got to see a doctor who asked me questions from a paper. Was I unhappy most of the time? Yes. Did life seem pointless? Yes. Had I ever considered taking my own life? Yes. Was I thinking about taking my own life almost daily? Yes.

His solution to this was a prescription for anti depressants and then half a year in line to wait for a psychologist to be able to see me.  He told me this: "You need help but since you're not really sick you'll have to wait until one of our doctors have time to see you." I wasn't sick enough...

It was after that meeting that I really felt hopeless. I had thoughts of suicide every single day but that wasn't "sick enough" to get help. I was 21 when I first started to harm myself physically to deal with the anxiety. I felt horrible shame while I did it. I told myself out loud how pathetic I was. That I was just one of those overly sensitive attention whores. That I exaggerated all of my problems. That I wasn't worthy of any help and now that I had made the first cut on my arm I should just continue. Truly be that stereotypical depressed young girl with first world problems and an ugly haircut.

It's my firm belief that nobody can ever be as cruel as you can be cruel to yourself. Every hurtful comment I had ever heard was repeated in my own head, over and over and it became truth to me. I knew that what I was doing was pointless, harmful, destructive and bad, but why should I care about that when I didn't even care about my own life?

I don't think a lot of people around me back then realized how I felt. During these years I finished several game projects. Participated in several extra classes at school. I joined teams out of school hours to develop Bloodline Champions and Sanctum. I smiled and laughed along with friends. Worked harder than ever. Improved my skills and won awards for my efforts but at home I fell asleep and I slept for days, weeks, years. When I didn't sleep I cried. My lovely now-ex-husband really helped me back then, as much as he could. I believe he saved my life several times over.

Some help please...?
The sad truth is that as soon as I called for help after I first started with self harm is that I did get help right away. I'm not afraid to blame the psychiatric care for driving my illness that far. They are educated to understand depression and anxiety but when I looked for help I had never cut myself. They turned me away. After three tiny cuts on my arm they suddenly reacted instantly and that was the start of several years of therapy. Before I go on to that I want to quote some facts about self harm.

*Self-Injury (SI) or self-harm (SH) is the act of physically hurting yourself on purpose without the intent of commiting suicide. It is a method of coping during an emotionally difficult time that helps some people temporarily feel better because they have a way to physically express and release the tension and the pain they hold inside.

*Both men and women hurt themselves. More often women are seen with this behavior in a therapist's office, a psychiatric hospital, etc. Wheras more men are seen with self-injury in prisons. Recent research has shown that the number of male and female self-injurers may be more equal than researchers originally thought was true.

*Therapy has proven a useful tool for some self-injurers but for some people who hurt themselves psychological treatment does not work out because of several reasons.
  - First, is because psychologists sometimes ignore self-injury out of inexperience, ignorance, or feelings of disgust.
  - Second, the reactions and strategies for self-injury by psychologists are often distasteful to the self-injurer. They may demand that the self-injurer stop hurting themselves or risk being sent to a psychiatric ward or hospital.


So, I got to see two different psychologists. I barely remember the first one. I never trusted him and I didn't feel any better after a year of paying for his time to talk to me. The second one was incredible. She wrote down all my different thoughts and emotions for me to see clearly and then discussed with me how I could change those trails of thoughts to take away the destructive thought patterns that had gotten stuck as a permanent state of mental torture in me. After about a year of seeing her I actually felt much much better. Healthy and happy for the first time in ages. I went away from her office with a smile and new hope. I wish everyone who has these sad thoughts and destructive problems could get to meet someone like her.

My first diagnosis...
The psychologist that helped me was the first one to suspect I might have ADHD. I went through a series of tests, long interviews and seemingly endless questions before the diagnosis was confirmed. I didn't really understand it at the time since ADHD includes hyperactivity and I had never felt hyperactive in my entire life. Now I know that almost constant depression had hidden that side from me and just left the unfocused, absent-minded and easily triggered side of the diagnosis. I was 22 when I first got examined for this. A diagnosis most commonly recognized at a much earlier age. It's very likely that nobody ever suspected me to have these problems since I was a shy, quiet and well behaved little girl. Hiding all my problems.

I got medication to help me focus at work, something that actually helped me right away which was new to me. At that point I had been on anti depressants for years without any result. Suddenly I could actually keep focus throughout an entire day at work without having to hide away in the bathroom to fall asleep or cry out of pure exhaustion and stress. This too was something I never told anyone about back then. I don't think anyone realized.

Oh shit it's really going to hell now...
We're getting close to current time. If you look back a few months of this blog you'll probably be able to see the development of what became the biggest mental crash of my life. I can read back now and see all the signs I missed back then. I started this blog as a form of therapy for myself and now I'm happy I can read back on ancient memories and understand how things worked in my mind. You'll have to read between the lines though because I always tried to conceal my true emotions. I was ashamed to let people see how bad things actually were. I lied to others and most of all I lied to myself.

When I started working I felt horrible already. Months passed and since I enjoyed my job so much I actually felt kind of hopeful about things. Still, I was far from stable. Every little thing could trigger stress that caused severe anxiety attacks. I spent several hours hiding away, clawing at my own skin to "get myself together" in order to go back to my computer and handle my job. I went on my bike to work, crying each morning because I knew I wouldn't be able to focus. I knew I'd feel sad and panicky and I felt like I would let everyone down because I couldn't work fast enough. I wasn't good enough.

I had a boyfriend at this time that somehow had convinced me that I didn't need any medication and I was stupid enough to let him decide that for himself without even knowing what I was like off meds. Things just escalated and everything happened really fast. I knew myself better though and I went back to seek help from a doctor again. This time I was put in a waiting line again and I was told that there was only one doctor and he was too busy. I could expect help within a few months. I knew I wouldn't be able to handle my situation for that long and I really tried to get proper help faster. It didn't work. My problems with self harm came back worse than ever even though I had managed to not hurt myself for almost a year. I went from sad to gloomy to depressed in just a month. In the end I felt such guilt and panic that I had to work from home. That worked for a few days until I felt even more guilt for not being able to be at the office. I made one final desperate call to the doctor to ask for immediate help since I felt constant thoughts of suicide again which I knew wasn't rational. I had been there before and I knew it would get worse if I didn't get help.

I was sent to the hospital...
Oh shit, well... This is where everything goes REALLY crazy. I'll probably be able to fill an entire book about the two months that I was locked up in a psychiatric ward. So much happened in such a short amount of time that it felt like a lifetime. This is probably best told in short points to get all the different events down without y'know... making it into a book. This blog post is already long enough to make heads ache.

- After the call to the hospital (which is an emergency ward for people at severe risk of suicide attempt) I was told to find someone to drive me out to the hospital which was in another city. I was in tears and panic on the phone and the nurse told me to ask a friend who had a car...

-9 hours was spent in the waiting room before I got to see a doctor who simply asked me if I wanted to die. I said that I did want to die. I was admitted.

-I was told that there were too many patients at the ward and I had to sleep on a spare bed in the TV-room.

-In the morning I had no clue what to expect. The smoking balcony had bars. Patients dragged themselves along the corridors without saying a word. Nurses and doctors walked around and nobody told me anything. I was so scared and out of my mind that it took me a whole day before I dared to ask someone what was going to happen. The nurse I spoke to seemed surprised that nobody had told me I was supposed to have a contact person and a doctors appointment to get medication. She arranged it.

-I got to see a doctor for 15 minutes who prescribed anti depressants.

-During my first day I got to witness another patient suffer a horrible anxiety attack. He was wrestled down by four male nurses and then strapped to a bed, sedated for the rest of the day while the other patients were told not to worry and that there was coffee in the dining room.

-I got to share a room with three other patients. Different people came and went so I never got used to the other women who I shared room with. One of them was psychotic and had random fits of rage. Another talked to herself constantly. One talked to -me- constantly and chewed candy as if it would save her life. One poor lady couldn't even speak but she cried just a few feet away from me. Day and night. I once asked a nurse to go check on her and was told that she always cried and that I shouldn't worry. I don't know if that woman ever got any help at all.

-On several occasions I was crying openly in front of medical professionals who walked by me. I was ignored. This was common and all the patients I spoke to had experienced the same thing. Once I went to ask for medication for a friend who had a panic attack and was told to wait for 15 minutes since the nurses had to finish their coffee break first.

-Since I was suicidal and considered a "high risk patient" I was to be checked on every 20 minutes to make sure I was.. well, still alive. This check was performed by various nurses who came into my room. Looked at me and then walked out without a word.

-I wasn't allowed to have my headphones because I could hang myself with the cable. I pointed out that I had shoelaces I could hang myself with just to make a point out of how stupid their rules were. I didn't get to have my headphones. I got to keep the shoelaces.

-I attempted suicide by hanging. Using a shoelace. After one hour I realized that it was impossible because the limitations in the hospital bathroom. There was simply no way to hang myself with my feet off the floor and my body reacted against asphyxiation. My reflexes didn't like the lack of oxygen and saved my life.

-I told the doctor the day after about my suicide attempt and was put back as a "high risk patient"

-A few hours later I had a panic attack in that same bathroom. My nose started bleeding and I was close to passing out due to hyperventilating. They were supposed to check me every 20 minutes. I was lying on that bathroom floor, bleeding severely for three hours before they found me in a pool of my own blood. They panicked until they realized my skull wasn't cracked. It was "just a nosebleed". They washed me off in the shower and told me to go to bed. I did.

-I asked for the doctors to consider the fact that I might have other problems than just my ADHD since I had been depressed since early childhood without recovery. They were hesitant and it took me two weeks before I had convinced them to let me fill out a few papers of yes/no questions. I filled them out truthfully and I had to sit in an hour long meeting where they went through the questions and asked me again if I really filled them out correctly. Almost every question was answered with a yes.

-I was diagnosed with major depression, Bipolar type 2, Emotionally unstable personality disorder (borderline type), social anxiety disorder and ADHD. They seemed surprised. I was not surprised. I got the proper medication for these diagnoses. Finally.

-I had to stay for another month to make sure the medication didn't kill me. During this time I witnessed two suicide attempts by other patients. Got the life-changing advice "you need to change your attitude" by a doctor who wasn't even out of school (she hadn't finished the course on depression yet). I witnessed one desperately crying patient be told that she wouldn't get any help since she was just "trying to provoke the staff with her tears" I saw another patient go through ETC-treatment (electro shock therapy) and lose almost all of her memory. I witnessed several upset patients get strapped to their beds and others who were released from the hospital just hours after serious suicide attempts simply because the ward was full and couldn't afford more beds.

-I reported the hospital for malpractice and was promised a meeting with the people in charge of my ward. They never called.

So... what then?
During this time I had been left by my boyfriend who just couldn't handle me anymore. I was almost replaced at work which would mean that I would lose the biggest career opportunity of my life. Writing the story and making the in game comic for Sanctum2. Almost all of my money had been spent on medication and hospital bills. I was alone, broke and just released from the hospital but...

Something had changed. I can't really say when or how but during those months when I felt as if I would die just out of pure apathy, it was as if my mind didn't have the energy to be depressed anymore. The medication and the knowledge about my mental illness helped me understand that I wasn't stupid or pathetic. I was sick and now I had medication to help my brain produce the chemicals I needed to function like a normal person.

After witnessing so much abuse and unfair treatment at the hospital, my panic and severe sadness and fear was somehow replaced by sheer anger. I've never been an angry person. I've been terrified of conflict actually but during this time I just sort of... had enough. I yelled at a nurse so fiercely that she almost burst into tears and apologized for the way she had dealt with a certain situation. I wrote letters to report the hospital, called my ex boyfriend to tell him exactly how I felt about him dumping me at a psychiatric ward after he had been living off of my money for almost a year. I came back to work, determined not to let anyone touch the work assignments that meant so much to me. I got support from friends I had almost forgotten about. I was welcomed back so warmly at work that it felt like coming home. I learned how to live alone for the first time in my life. I wasn't scared anymore.

I stopped asking for permission or peoples opinions. I started living for myself. For me. The most important person in my own life. I dyed my hair pink. I got those piercings I've always wanted but never dared to get. I started to get creative with my clothes again. Got back to really making plans for the future again, now actually believing it could come true.

I can truly, honestly say now, almost a year after my major breakdown started, that I've never felt this happy in my entire life. Except for a few, explainable downs and episodes of sad feels, I've been going about life with a whole new personality it seems. I feel like myself for the first time ever. When I get sad it's a normal kind of sad. When I get happy I shout it out to the entire world. I've started painting, drawing, writing, socializing. I dare to travel again. I dare to meet new people. I love living on my own which used to be something I was terrified of. I can walk in the street and feel fukkin #swag and awesome, and I used to be scared to show myself at the local grocery store just a year ago. When I get upset I say it out loud instead of hiding in a bathroom, cutting myself. I laugh now. I make friends. I enjoy movies. I dance around like a hyperactive baby hippo on speed and I have so much friggin' HOPE! I would never give that hospital credit for how good I feel today, but somehow I managed to get the help I needed. Appropriate diagnosis, the medication I needed and the will to fight for my fucking life.

It might be easy to say, for someone who has never experienced episodes of really bad mental health problems, that it's just a matter of thinking positive thoughts. Stop being sensitive. Stop over reacting and deal with it. To you I want to say: Just shut the fuck up until you've truly felt so worthless that you'd try to hang yourself in a filthy hospital bathroom with an old shoelace. In that moment you are not yourself. These are very real, very serious cases of mental illness. It can't be wished away or cured with some simple positive thinking. There is so much stigma, so many stereotypes and a disgusting amount of prejudice surrounding mental illness and I'm so tired of the same tired insults being thrown at those who really are the last people on earth that need more abuse.

If you are currently suffering from depression, anxiety or other mental problems, don't let this text scare you from seeking medical care. There is help to be found, but be prepared to fight for it. Fight hard. You have the right to proper treatment even if you might not think so at the time. Nurses and doctors might hate their jobs, be awful or stupid, but it is YOUR rights that matters. Fight for them or ask someone close to you to help you in this war against the often horrible psychiatry and against the bad shit in your mind.

Take care of the people around you and take care of yourself. Treat yourself as if you were your own best friend. Refuse to take crap, especially from your own mind. If you catch yourself calling yourself pathetic or worthless, shake your head and REFUSE to listen to that mean bastard that lives in your head.

Links of good information and serious facts:

You're strong. Fuck world. Be unicorn.