Monthly Archives: April 2013

A New Leap Into the Unknown

Today was another meeting with my psych, and a new medication, after the last one gave me the wonderful gift of hyperprolactinaemia, which can apparently increase your risk of various girly cancers and osteoporosis. Not a fan of those things, so we try again.

I’m being started on buproprion, another antidepressant, this time affecting norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake. It’s a completely different mechanism of action from anything I’ve tried, so this really is a step into the unknown.

Additionally, I’ve been started on vitamin B supplements, after my blood tests showed a relatively low level of vitamin B12 in my blood. Not deficiency-low, but low enough that supplementation might help. It can’t hurt at least – B vitamins are water-soluble, so any excess will just be excreted.

All in all, I have a bit of hope for a different outcome, combined with a general weariness with this entire process. I just want to feel normal and well again, and it’s wearing me down to be battling with trying to find medication and therapy that might help.


Today, when it was time to start making dinner, my partner wasn’t in a good mood. This happens sometimes, to everyone. But what was interesting was my reaction to it.

I’m not good with tension, but I’ve never really analysed my reaction before. Today, in light of the diagnosis of PTSD, I thought a bit more about what was happening inside me when there was tension around me.

I tend to withdraw, and I get very quiet, and try to get on with what I’m doing with minimal noise. I realised that this is a throw-back to my early teens, when it was dangerous to disturb my stepmother if she was moody. I learned to be as quiet and efficient as I could be in hope of not becoming the subject of her ire.

I still do this, and I still feel all the fear that I did back then, even though I know I am safe now. There’s no logic to how I feel and react. I’m safe, I’m loved, and I’m never going to be hurt the way I was back then, but the experiences of my youth have coloured how I deal with my world.

Screaming For Help

When I was fourteen years old, I tried to kill myself for the first time. My home life was so intolerable that I just wanted out. I couldn’t cope with it any more. I’d heard from a friend that a whole pack of paracetamol could kill you, so I swallowed a full pack of it at my school play cast afterparty.

My boyfriend of the time knew something was wrong, and he managed to get out of me what I’d done. So I pretended to throw them back up, and he let me go to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, he’d stayed the night with me to keep an eye on me. I started throwing up repeatedly, and he called his dad and got me to the hospital. I was very sick.

The only clear memory I have of that bit is that I begged and begged not to have my father and stepmother called. I didn’t win that fight – I was a minor after all – and when they came down to the hospital I begged for my boyfriend to stay because I didn’t want to be alone with them. Eventually he left – I don’t remember when or why.

My only other clear memory of that time is terror. Terror that my stepmother would do something to me in revenge for me messing up her day. Never mind that I was very unwell, my only fear was that I wouldn’t die and that she would punish me in some way.

At some point I was sent home, and I think it was maybe a week before sI was back to anywhere near normal. And then, the letter came from CAFS.

CAFS is the child, adolescent, and family service at the hospital. They deal with child mental health and abuse, among other things. They also have a very similar acronym to CYFS – Child, Youth, and Family Services – our child protection agency.

When that letter came, my stepmother went nuts at me for getting CYFS involved with our family. It took her a while to figure out it was the hospital, not the dreaded child services. And even then, she was still furious at me for bringing outsiders into our lives.

The CAFS interview was one of those moments where I have no idea why we weren’t saved in some way. It was a family interview, they never talked to me alone, and through the entire interview my stepmother held my wrist, digging her nails into me every time I had to answer a question. I lied through my teeth, I told them it was an accident, that I never meant to hurt myself. Inside I was screaming ‘save us, please save us’ – my little brother and I were struggling to hold it together in the face of her abuse. But I lied heroically, because she was there and I was so scared.

If they’d just talked to me alone, made me safe so I could tell, I would have told. Maybe there would have been something done. I will forever regret lying that day and not saving my little brother and me from more abuse. But I was so afraid of her that I couldn’t tell.

No fourteen-year old ‘accidentally’ swallows a whole packet of paracetamol. They had to know something was wrong. But they never gave me a safe way to tell, and so I didn’t. I couldn’t. I will always feel guilt for not telling. But I’m not sure they would have done anything, even if I had said something.

Asking For Help

I was abused as an adolescent. Even when it was happening, I knew it wasn’t normal, but I was scared to ask for help. Reading this¬†reminded me of the only time I ever tried to get help.

I was maybe fourteen. I’d done¬†something wrong the night before (I don’t remember what, but I think it had something to do with washing my clothes) and it had lead to a beating. This wasn’t common – most of the abuse was psychological and emotional – but it did happen now and then. I ended up with a line of bruises on each side of my spine, where my stepmother punched me. She was smart – she never hit where it would be seen while I was wearing clothes.

What she didn’t know was that I was one of the few girls my age that wasn’t ashamed of their body, and so I would just strip down and then kit up for PE. That day, I lifted my shirt over my head and squeaked a bit in pain. A friend who was changing beside me looked over and saw the bruises, and that was it. I was taken to see the assistant principal, and made to tell her what happened.

The next bit it a blur. My father was called in, and he made excuses for my stepmother. My little brother was picked up from school, by one of my teachers I think. There was a lot of fuss going on . . . and then nothing. We were taken home by my father. Nothing further happened.

I was terrified. It had taken all my strength to tell, and nothing had come of it. And now my stepmother was furious. She didn’t beat me again, but for weeks afterward she would terrorise me in whatever ways she could come up with.

You’re supposed to tell when bad things go on in your life. If you tell a teacher they’re supposed to make you safe. But no-one made me and my little brother safe.

I’m left with PTSD from what happened to me in the five or six years between when my father married and when my stepmother threw me out. I don’t remember much of it, but sometimes, I’ll do something, or see something, or smell something, and it all just comes back. It paralyses me.

I asked for help. I did what I was supposed to do. But no-one took it seriously enough to make me safe.

Back On The Merry-Go-Round

After less than a week on venlafaxine, my body decided that the coolest idea ever was to have a repeat performance of the hyperprolactinaemia. Swollen, heavy breasts dripping milk periodically is not anyone’s idea of fun, and so I’m off the venlafaxine.

Of course, this means another rather expensive visit to the psychiatrist, but I guess that’s just all part of the game. Maybe I’ll get lucky on the next experiment. It’s kind of frustrating, because other than the galactorrhea, I was tolerating the venlafaxine better than most of the meds I’ve tried so far. I’m not winning here.

It’s six months since the crippling depression hit, and today’s my one-year anniversary with my wonderful partner. He;s stuck with me through this hellish time, when a lot of others would have cut out and run. I don’t know what I would do without him. And my mum. She’s awesome too.

Without a good support network, mental health issues can be devastating, especially to people with young children. I’m lucky to have the people I have in my life.

Lapses in Concentration

I’m trying to write a decently large (2000-word) assignment at the moment, and my concentration is just rubbish. I can write a couple of sentences, maybe a paragraph, before my mind wanders off on a tangent.

This seems to be a growing pattern – I can’t do anything for long without my brain haring off on its own. I miss chunks of conversation because something that was said made me think of something else, and off I go into my own little world.

Typing is a struggle because I can’t concentrate on the word I’m trying to type, and other words spill out instead. They’re still words, so the spell-checker doesn’t catch them, but on reading over what I’ve written, ‘the’ would have come out as ‘that’, or ‘something’ as ‘sometimes’. Or ‘inculcate’ as ‘intubate’.

All this makes me worry about what is going to happen at exam time. Will I be able to write coherent exam essays? I have no idea, to be honest. I’m going to apply for impaired performance if I don’t feel like I did well, since my essay work is usually good enough for me to be considered. But still, I feel pretty bad not being able to work to the best of my usual ability.

Success! . . . maybe.

Today I actually managed to join a gym! It’s a major part of the treatment plan that my doctor has laid out for me, and I can see why it’s a good idea. Plus, it will help with the weight I’ve gained – 18kg! I was horrified to step on the scales there, but I need a baseline to look at my progress against.

I spent an hour there, did a weights round and thirty-five minutes of cardio work. Had a lovely shower, came home. Problem is, now I feel . . . I don’t know. Flat. Empty. Sad.

Going to the gym always used to make me feel good, but right now I feel pretty down. I feel guilty for going out instead of working on the assignment that’s due tomorrow. I don’t have the ‘high’ that going to the gym used to give me, and that makes me feel even more guilty, for reasons I can’t even begin to fathom.

I’m going to keep going – I’m not paying $15 a week to not go! – and maybe it will get better. But right now, I just feel like I’m going to cry.

Too Many Options

Today I had my weekly meeting with my CMH case manager. She’s heard from my new psychiatrist, and we started talking about my options on where to go from here.

The list was six items long. The items were:

  • Meds
  • Psychologist/CBT
  • DBT
  • Exercise
  • Mood Management therapy group
  • Distress Tolerance/Resilience group

I looked at that list, and I felt utterly overwhelmed. So many options, and I just don’t know where to start. Well, that’s not quite true, I’m working on getting my meds right and on getting more exercise, so that cut the list down to four items.

Four items. That’s not too bad, right? A reasonable number to talk about so I can figure out what’s next on my path to becoming well again. But I couldn’t cope with it. It was just too much. The more information I was given, the less I could think. It ended up with my partner and the case manager coming to a decent plan, and me agreeing to it.

This is a recurring theme in my life. When I’m down, giving me too many options just leaves me confused and unable to think. When I’m really unwell, even two choices is too many. “Do you want a drink” produces a weeping mess because I can’t decide between ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

I don’t know what causes this. Why does making a decision mess me up so much? When I’m well I can just do these things without thinking. Why is it so different when I’m not well?

Mental Illness and University Life

In addition to being a parent and a mental health patient, I’m also working my way through a Bachelor’s degree at the moment. It’s a bit of a struggle.

For three years I was a fulltime student, and I even dealt with some pretty severe ups and downs – my daughter needing surgery in another city, my relationship of nearly five years breaking up and leaving me a single parent, and then my mother having a stroke. I was riding the highs and lows of my illness, and still managing a B+/A- average. I honestly don’t know how, but I was managing.

Last year I switched universities, having moved cities to be nearer my mum so we could help support each other. The first semester went ok and I pulled 3 A- grades out of the hat. I went into the second semester, and all was ok. Then, halfway through, I moved in with my new partner. It was a good thing, and I was happy with it, but the depression hit, and it hit HARD. I stopped going to Uni. I stopped leaving the house. I lost my way.

This breakdown in functioning sent me back into the mental health system, and gave me the diagnoses of bipolar (maybe) and PTSD with treatment resistant depression (maybe). I felt like I lost my way, that my dreams were fading. But damn it, I am going to get my degree! It doesn’t matter how long it takes, I’ve worked far too hard to give up.

I’ve switched back to my old university, which offers distance learning options. This has been an excellent thing for me, it means that when I am well, I can work ahead, so that if things go wrong I can take a day or three off and not worry about it.

I’ve also dropped down to part-time, taking only two papers per semester. I need to keep myself stable, and that means not putting myself under too much pressure. It’s going to take longer that it would have if I were well, but I’m more focused on completing my degree to the best of my ability than I am on doing it quickly.

My dream of going into teaching has fallen by the wayside at the moment. I don’t think I would be able to teach five or six classes of teenagers every day and keep myself well at the moment. There’s always the option of going back and doing it later.

My new ambition is to complete my degree, get myself well, and then go overseas, probably to London, and do either a Classics or an Archaeology masters. It’s a very long-term goal, but if I get good grades, and get myself stable and well, then maybe five or six years’ time, it can become a reality. I need something to work towards, and this seems like a reasonable goal.

Being a student, a mother, and mentally ill is a huge challenge. I want to make it work, to achieve everything I possibly can, to prove to my old English teacher that I haven’t wasted my life. I am bright, determined, and I will not let my mental illness stop me.

Parenting Throught Mental Illness

I’m a mother of two girls, currently aged 5 and 9. My struggles with mental illness have been going on longer than they’ve been around. They’ve always had a mum who has mental health problems.

When I’m well, raising them is pretty easy. They’re amazing kids, most of the time they’re very well-behaved, self-sufficient, and generally ‘easy’. Even their rougher patches are fairly easy to deal with – more often than not, problems are resolved with a quiet chat and a hug, or a wee bit of time out.

When I’m not so well, things are harder. Sometimes I’m so on edge that I snap at the smallest of things. Sometimes I can’t cope with anything, and the only way to deal with life is to withdraw for a while. Sometimes I just can’t get myself up off the couch to do anything. None of these things is any good when you’ve got two little girls to care for.

There are two things that make it manageable. The first is good support and help with their needs – these days this is from my partner, but before we were together this came from my mum or my friends. The second is talking to the girls. Much as I don’t want their lives to be marred by my mental illness the way mine was by my stepmother’s, I can’t change who I am. But if I talk to them, tell them what is going on (in an age-appropriate way), and apologise for the things I do wrong (snapping at them, or collapsing in tears for no reason), then maybe they won’t be scarred by it the way I was.

Parenting through mental illness is a unique challenge, but I have two lovely girls that I can be very proud of, despite my own illness. We’re making it work.