My journey through psychotic depression – Part III

If you haven’t read Part I and Part II and you want to, you can find them here (Part I) and here (Part II).

If you see anything of yourself or your own experiences in this post, perhaps you’ll feel relieved that you are not alone. Maybe you’ll even recognise some of the symptoms in a friend or family member? Or it’s feasible you’ll gain insight into different mental health problems and see how difficult it is for people who experience mental ill health?

……….I was struggling desperately. I couldn’t see an end to the pain. I felt scared, worthless, hopeless and I honestly felt suicidal. It was then that I had my own ‘break down‘. And that’s exactly what it felt like; both physically and mentally, I was broken.

Panic attacks

I was having panic attacks throughout the day and particularly at night, keeping me awake. Alongside the huge purple sacks under my eyes, the weight loss, dizziness and nausea, I looked bloody awful and felt even worse.  It was torturous; twenty-four-seven, week on week and, with no end in sight, I wished I was dead.

Natural Stress Relief

Girl sitting on the rock by the peaceful sea at sunset.

I tried every natural and herbal stress relief, sleep inducing, over-the-counter remedy known to man, without effect. As an aromatherapist, I made up lots of pretty little bottles of stress relief oils then bathed in them and doused myself liberally. However, despite all the lovely citrusy, spicy and fruity oils, all I could smell was the lavender, reminiscent of my grannies old underwear drawers. This didn’t work either.

Soothing massage

As a qualified massage therapist, I was aware of the benefits so I booked massagemyself in for a few sessions. However, the first lady almost pecked at me like a small bird trying to feed itself for the first time; there was no pressure applied and she missed areas of my body out! The second time, I went for seated massage, which ought to involve sitting on the massagemassage seated chair with your upper body leaning forward, your arms on armrests and your face peeking through a hole. Looks comfortable, right? This lady, who’d attended the seated massage course with me, had me sit on a swivelling office chair! With my muscles tensing, I tried using my feet and legs to keep the chair from spinning, to no avail so told her to stop. She couldn’t understand why I refused to pay?

Exercise

running machinejpg

I joined the local gym and went seven days a week, twice on Sunday; pounding the treadmill and pedalling like fury on the exercise bike. I got so wound up if I couldn’t go to the gym for any reason but made up by jogging on the spot and running up and down our stairs. I tried most everything to relieve the constant anxiety and to wear myself out so I could sleep, but even the excessive exercise proved fruitless.

Hallucinations and paranoia

I was permanently exhausted and after three nights in a row without sleep, I started to hear, see and feel odd things. People (I didn’t recognise the voices – but they were very real) were talking to me and about me, saying I was no good, I was dirty, together with lots of other negative comments and expletives. I could see things; mice running along my wooden floorboards and unidentifiable faces at my windows. Worse still, one night I was wide awake curled up on my kitchen floor, with my back against the heater and it came to me – I’d killed someone.

I Big treeremembered how and where I’d buried that someone; by a huge tree outside my aunt’s flats, but I couldn’t think who it was that I’d killed. The next day, I saw a police car and thought ‘This is it. They’re coming for me.’ Jeez! I was terrified. For months, if I saw a police car down our street, I’d turn and retrace my steps or go round to my back door. If the police were in the square at the back, I’d whizz round the front. I sometimes wondered if I should just hand myself in and let them find out who this someone was that I’d killed. In hindsight, obviously if they were after me, they would have got me. 

Mad, nuts or crazy

Although close friends and family were aware of my break-up with thedepressed girl boys’ dad and knew how devastated I was, I couldn’t tell anyone what was going through my head. I was afraid they’d think I was mad, nuts, crazy and that I should be locked away. Seeing mice or rats scurrying under my sofa and the unknown ugly faces frightened me, but if I closed my eyes at least I would get some temporary relief. However, the voices were incessant and unbearable; the constant rabble of people discussing what only I knew as my fears. They played on them, they were cruel, repeating the negative thoughts I’d so often had myself. They knew which buttons to push.

Trying to sleepRelaxing music

When I attempted to sleep in my bed the voices seemingly delighted in keeping me awake with their constant and irrepressible verbal abuse. One day, after work and before picking up my youngest, I bought a cd player, ear plugs and a few ‘out there’ cds with relaxing music, water sounds and dolphins in the background. I played these throughout the nights but still, my heart pounded in my chest and thundered in my ears, my breathing was irregular and the panic attacks raged.

By the time I got the boys up for school, I was a wreck; my eyes were red-rimmed and it felt like there sand in them. I was sluggish and jittery, but I somehow managed to hide it from the boys. My job at a high end clothing company was demanding, which helped abate the voices for a few hours but the anxiety, depression negative thoughts and panic remained. Colleagues at work noticed the 4 stone weight loss and saw how my clothes fell from my gaunt body. It certainly wasn’t a good image for the brand. Fortunately, a good friend in the sewing department kindly offered to take them in.

hypnosisHypnosis

I even tried extortionately priced hypnotherapy but I couldn’t relax enough to go into a trance-like state. However, I’d bought myself a Paul McKenna relaxation video and when the boys were I bed I’d get it out. I’d half sit, half lie in one of my padded beach chairs, directly in front of the t.v so I could get the full effects of both the visuals and the sounds. Amazingly, I managed to relax and as the video ended, I’d carefully take this relaxation up to bed with me and finally managed to get a few good hours sleep. Sometimes it didn’t work and I suffered the torture again but I was so grateful for the times it did work.

What’s the problem?

After a while, not sure how long as I was in a constant haze back then, I took the boys to see our GP about their asthma. Once he’d seen them he sent them out, turned to me and, with his hand resting lightly on my arm, he said “Tell me, what’s the problem? You so thin and though you smile, I think you very sad.” The floodgates opened and it all came tumbling out; I sobbed and wiped the tears and snot on my hand as I explained how the boys’ dad had been seeing someone else and about the breakup around eighteen months ago. He told me to let the boys go home, he would make some telephone calls and I was to come back in to see him.

Having spoken to a colleague who agreed to see me, like – now, at our local general hospital, Dr Nga was going to drop me off! I knew it was a general hospital, rather than a mental one, but I soon found out that there was one mental health ward there.

The asylum

I thought back to how, as kids we’d all say stupid things like “The men in white coats will come to get you.” or “You’ll end up in Stratheden, (our nearest asylum) you will.” We were all terrified just at the mention of the asylum.

Well, one day mum said my stepdad was taking her to hospital for a few days and I asked if I could go with them. Dad said no, mum said “Yes; she’ll be fine.” So off we went and when I noticed we’d gone past the hospital, I didn’t think too much of it – until I saw the huge sign looming up – Stratheden Hospital.

Stratheden Hospital
Stratheden Hospital –CC0 1.0 Universal

I assumed and hoped we’d just drive past that too. However, when we pulled up at the foreboding buildings and the grounds surrounded by high metal railings – and gates that were opened by the porter who otherwise sat in his wooden lodge, reading a paper. I was petrified and felt a certain shame; my mum was going into an asylum. Oh my God!

From the car park I could see people roaming around, some with an odd gait, others making strange utterances. A lady with long scraggly grey hair, wearing unusual clothing, waved at me frantically then cackled like an old witch. Not sure if it was designed to frighten me, but that she did! Mum and dad got out of the car but I wasn’t allowed to go into the building with them so was left sitting in the car and told not to open the doors to anyone. Ha, as if.

ECTIn later years I would learn that mum had been in an asylum once before and on both occasions she had ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy),  which is given under general anesthesia. Doctors use a course of ECT

  1. if you have severe or life-threatening depression where your life is at risk so you need urgent treatment
  2. and to treat severe depression where there’s a lack of response or intolerance to medication.

I’d say it looks barbaric but ECT is said to be one of the fastest and most effective ways to relieve symptoms in severely depressed or suicidal people. Some people find ECT helpful while others don’t and repeated ECT is only recommended if you have previously responded well to it, or if all other options have been considered.

Back to the future

Dr Nga had dropped me off at the hospital and fortunately, although I had suicidal thoughts, the Consultant Psychiatrist and the Psychology team were confident that I had no intention of killing myself – I’d said even though I felt suicidal, I knew I couldn’t do that to my sons. I couldn’t possibly leave them with that legacy. So, no admission was necessary and three years of weekly painful, gut-wrenching counselling followed – on and off, because sometimes I was too afraid of myself and my responses to the psychologist. I didn’t want to hear what I had to say, so how would the counsellor feel?

I do hope you’ll continue to read My story, Part IV (The finale) which will follow shortly. You’ll learn about my suicide attempt and the hell I went through during my Psychotic Depression.  Thank you for staying with me.

 

 

My journey through a psychotic depression – part I

The World Health Organisation recognises World Mental Health Day on 10 October every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health. This year’s theme set by the World Federation for Mental Health is suicide prevention.

Today, in recognition of World Mental Health Day I’m going to tell you my story – publicly – for the very first time and already it’s unsettling me. I didn’t realise how difficult writing it all down and seeing it in print would be. However, I want to do this in the hope that it will help others to open up and raise awareness of how mental ill health can happen to any of us at any time.

My relationship breakdown

The first time I split up with my ex, after almost nine years, I was thirty and our sons were seven and five. I was absolutely devastated as I hadn’t seen it coming. I believed we were happy and everyone thought we were the perfect couple. However, one thing always came between us. He’d regularly smoked cannabis and by this time he was taking E’s (Ecstasy)* which I totally disagreed with and I didn’t like being out with him when he was under the influence. I also detested his ‘come down’ from the E’s which could last for days. It’s said that regular ecstasy use may lead to sleep problems, lack of energy and feeling depressed or anxious and along with these he was moody and angry.

We were with friends in a bar one night and I could see his mouth twitching, his jaw muscles tightening and moving and I told him I wasn’t happy that he’d taken E’s while out with me. He laughed and said “You need to take something Babes. Come on, lighten up a bit Darlin’. I was just saying to Lucy, we should go clubbing more.” Clubbing? More? We’d never been clubbing. Oosh! It hit me like a physical blow to my guts! I was rooted to the spot as I remembered – he’d been on the phone (landline, before mobiles) a lot recently, female workmates had called him and he’d called them all darlin’ and he’d been out at least once a week (on lads nights) wearing suits I’d had cleaned for him, the shirts I’d ironed and the aftershave I’d given him for his birthday.

Walking from one bar to the next I said “You’re seeing someone?” and Tony replied “Eh? Sorry, what did you say?” giving himself time to form an answer. I knew then that he was cheating though he denied it. With my head spinning and my heart breaking we spent the rest of the evening with friends in our local, all the while desperately hoping that it wasn’t true. When we got home I calmly said “You’d best pack cos you’re not staying here.” More to see what he would say or do. He laughed nervously and thought I was joking. “Where will I go? I can’t leave now.”

“It’s not my problem. Go to your mum’s,”

“Babes, look, we’ll talk in the morning. Come on let’s go to bed.”

Pft. I told him I wouldn’t be sleeping with him, “You might have caught something.” I’d sleep in the one of the boys’ rooms as they were at their grandparents round the corner. The effects of his drugs were wearing off because he started yelling “Your effin’ frigid you are.” and “I ain’t going nowhere you stroppy cow. You’re an effin’ nutter. Effin’ nuts just like your mother!” he spat. Ouch! He really knew how to hurt. I’d told him some time ago that my mum had been in Stratheden (an old asylum in Scotland) many years ago and had Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)** as she had severe depression. The nasty imbecile, trying to detract from the real issue here, just threw this confidence right back in my face. Stomping up the stairs and banging doors he eventually went to bed and within minutes I could hearing him snoring like the damn pig he was, not a bloody care in the world!

I sat awake on the sofa unable to sleep all night, crushed and sobbing uncontrollably, thinking about what to to do next and what to say to people. My mood swung wildly from sad to angry, anxious and confused, fear and denial as I drank one coffee after another and smoked too many cigarettes.

Tony was mostly a good guy

Tony wasn’t always a monster. He was actually a good guy (without the drugs). He made me laugh, he was affectionate, kind and generous, he was popular and had lots of long-term friends who adored him. He was a great dad; he did most of the night feeds and loved playing with the boys, taking them to all their activities and to the Arsenal games. He loved a clean house and enjoyed decorating our home, he’d often wash the windows and blinds without prompting. He came from a huge loving family (Indian and Spanish) who thankfully adored me and thought I was a good influence on Tony.

We’d often go out in the summer on huge family picnics where there’d be up to fifty of us all in Regents Park, Hyde Park, Kenwood Park, at Alexander Palace or at the beach. Friends who joined us couldn’t believe how many people were there and were amazed at the range of food; tortilla’s, croquetas, paella, Russian salad, whole chickens and hams, breads, cheeses, samosas, onion bhajis. We’d be there until it got dark, playing swingball, cricket and football with the all kids. We regularly had Christmas dinner for around twenty people where Tony would keep everyone entertained and all the New Year parties were held at out house along with the boys’ birthday parties which went on way into the night.

“Cor, it stinks down here. You been up all night?” rasped Tony as he wearily descended the stairs in the morning, still with his stupid nervous smile. I almost felt sorry for him. He made us both coffee then slumped on one of the two sofas and reached for the television controls. Too slow. I grabbed it first and put it out of his reach, behind my back on the other sofa. “Have you nothing to say?”

“Aaww, this ain’t one of them ‘we have to talk’ thingy’s is it? Anyway what do you want to talk about?”

“Last night.”

“Last night. What was we saying? I can’t remember.” To be fair, he probably couldn’t remember too much after the fog of drugs and copious pints of beer. But I didn’t believe he could remember nothing and I knew he was just playing for time. “What’s her name?” I asked. He giggled anxiously and didn’t answer me – a sure sign he was cheating. “Ah, it’s one of those girls from the office.” I said. “Which one?” He still refused to answer so I told him to start packing, still foolishly hoping he’d tell me it wasn’t true. The fact that he went upstairs to pack, so easily, with no arguing just confirmed it was. He packed some bits saying he’d come back for the rest, then he left and I watched from the kitchen window as he walked away without a backward glance. As he disappeared from view I locked the door. I turned, slid down and with my head in my hands I cried as I’ve never cried before, snot mingling with my salty tears.

When I eventually stopped crying my thoughts turned to the boys and off I went, howling again. How on earth was I going to tell them? I couldn’t bear to think of their gorgeous little faces, big brown eyes made even wider with disbelief as the life they knew would be turned upside down – just like that. That selfish b*stard, I hated him! What was worse, I knew he’d be down the pub laughing and joking with his pals.

Aaarrgghhh! I wanted to scream from the rooftops. Instead, I called his mum and dad to tell them the news and asked them to keep the boys for another night as I couldn’t face them right now. Not with my red-rimmed piggy eyes and blotchy face. I didn’t want them to see me so upset and I honestly hoped Tony would come back and tell me he’d made a mistake. His mum and dad didn’t believe he’d leave and thought this would just blow over, bless them. Then I cried again. The thought of not seeing all my lovely family, missing out on weddings, picnics, celebrations and family gatherings. See it’s not just the couple involved in a breakup; think – when you throw a pebble into a lake and you see the water ripple outwards – it affects the bigger family and friends circle.

Ripple Effect

It makes no sense to consider
a life where we never met.
We met and that’s it.
Whatever pebbles we disturbed
started rolling down life’s mountain,
either missing other stones altogether
or eventually triggering landslides
where I always seemed to be standing.
But these avalanches of angst,
or anxiety, never touched you,
just the anger at all my dust
drifting by, obscuring your view
of what you found most important.
Your reflection may not look like
it once did in that mirror pool.
No, age didn’t cause the change.
It’s really the ripples
of concentric circles that your
fleet of pebbles set off now that
they’ve finally come to rest
upon what might’ve always mattered
to you most.

JOSEPH HESCH, FEBRUARY 20, 2019 / 

My story, Part II will follow shortly. You’ll learn about my hell during a Psychotic Depression; symptoms, effects and recovery.

*Ecstacy makes people feel very happy – hence the name, ‘loved up’ – users often feel love and affection for the people they’re with and the strangers around them, they feel energised and alert.

**ECT is an invasive type of brain stimulation that’s sometimes recommended for severe depression if all other treatment options have failed, or when the situation is thought to be life threatening. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/clinical-depression/treatment/