I have been labelled with (or ‘diagnosed with’, as the doctors like to call it) Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder and Severe Depression. I agree with the latter, but not with the former. Ironically I used to be a Psychiatric Nurse until I had a breakdown in 2009. I remember my mentor telling me when I was a student nurse that I was potentially more likely to develop a mental health problem than the general public because I was exposed to it more than everyone else – I didn’t believe her until now I am on the receiving end of psychiatric treatment.
My story begins in 2008 – I was working in the community as a Community Psychiatric Nurse (‘CPN’) and work was stressful – more and more pressure was put upon us to achieve targets, see more patients, and to record everything by entering contacts with patients on the computer system, etc etc. I remember thinking I did not train to become a nurse in order to paper-push and sit in front of a computer; I trained to become a nurse to help people. Unfortunately in the end I found the pressure too much and was signed off sick by my GP.
My income stopped after 6-8 months, and at the same time my mother suddenly passed away. I was the eldest sibling and naturally took over organising what was necessary. The funeral came and went and that’s when it hit me. My mum was not only my mother but my best friend. I felt numb, upset and very angry about why she had suddenly been taken from me. She was also the main carer for my dad who had Parkinson’s disease, so my 2 brothers and I had to take it in turns to care for him. I couldn’t cope with travelling from home to dad’s every weekend (Thursday to Monday) in order to care for him, I couldn’t cope with his awkward behaviour, and I realised that what mum had said about how difficult he was to look after had been so true.
Despite the fact that I wasn’t coping, I decided to return to work - mainly as I had no money and I was unaware that I could have claimed benefits because of my mental health. I am a diabetic and on insulin. I was in a deeply depressive state and I hoarded about 50 pens of insulin. And one day I took the lot. I wanted to die, I wanted out of the world and I wanted to be with my mum.
My workmates were worried about me, and came to my home. I was assessed under the Mental Health Act 1983 after I was medically fit for discharge and reluctantly agreed to be admitted to my local psychiatric hospital as I knew that if I did not agree I would have been sectioned - and I thought this would affect my potential return to work. Thus, I agreed to an informal admission. My experience in hospital was not a nice one. I spent about 5 days in hospital and agreed to give up work and my flat and to go to live with my brothers as I knew I never wanted to return to hospital. Eventually I got back onto a rota to look after dad.
Sadly dad passed away 7 months after mum did following a major deterioration in his physical state. I had mourned his death whilst I was caring for him as he was not the dad I remembered. He needed total care and in my eyes he died of a broken heart.
After 2 bereavements within a short space of time I felt empty and turned to alcohol to cope with my feelings. My brothers kicked me out of their home in 2010 and I lived in a homelessness hostel until a place was found for me in a self-contained supported housing project where I lived for just over a year. I now have my own flat in a housing association and after a rocky 6 months where my mental state deteriorated after the sudden change from supported accommodation to “just me” I am getting my life in order.
I am still unsure what I want to do with my life, but I have recently been accepted onto a French GCSE course (I was a good linguist back in school) which I am starting at my local college in September. I have decided to brush up on my IT skills and I am going to sign up to do my European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) course next month. I have joined my local gym and although it’s tough going, it’s helping me to put some structure into my day and also to lose the 2 stone in weight I put on after I gave up smoking. I am engaging better with my local Community Mental Health Team (‘CMHT’) and I have now been allocated a care co-ordinator who I am going to meet soon. I now know that I cannot ever drink alcohol ever again – once I start drinking I cannot stop, and my behaviour changes when I am drunk.
As someone who has suffered depression, I sometimes experience the stigma related to mental illness, especially when people know that I suffer from a severe and enduring mental health problem – they assume that I am “mad” and that I must be dangerous. They don’t look beyond the diagnosis and see me as a person. I am just like them; I have issues and I am dealing with them. I find this stigma extremely frustrating. However, I have got back in touch with people I trust and meet up with them for a coffee – and my life is slowly getting back on track. I have been thinking about getting involved in mental health advocacy when I am 100% better, and I feel I want to fight for the rights of the mentally ill since I have been on both sides of the mental health fence.
Being on the ‘other side’ of the mental health system has been an eye-opener for a trained Psychiatric Nurse. I never thought I would become mentally ill. It used to be part of my job to force people to take medication under the Mental Health Act. Although I wasn’t formally detained in hospital, I felt I would end up being sectioned if I refused to take the medication the nurses and doctors were telling me to take. No-one likes being forced to take medication. When I took the medication, I didn’t feel it helped my depression. I really hate taking it due to the side-effects which are sleep problems, erectile dysfunction, and excessive sweating. In fact I had suffered from the former two difficulties when I had depression, which was the main reason why I decided to take medication. The medication has not only failed to solve these two problems, but it has also caused a further problem. It’s hard to fit in amongst other people if you’re dripping with sweat – people move away from you and don’t want to talk to you; it makes me embarrassed in social situations, particularly when I meet new people. I am now more consistent in taking the medication even though it still makes me sweat - but I’m trying to bear with it until its effects help me feel better.
I support Mental Health Research UK and what they are trying to do because of the difficulties I have experienced with medication and its stigmatising side-effects. I think more effort should be made to develop better treatments which don’t have these side-effects. I have found that the medication helps my depression, yet because of the side-effects even when I’m ‘well’ people still avoid me and I don’t have a ‘normal’ life. So many people suffer from mental illness, and my patients used to complain about their medications – that sometimes they didn’t help, or that the side-effects were horrible. Now I understand exactly what they meant and I think more should be invested in research to improve people’s lives.