First of all, a massive disclaimer: I am ONLY speaking about my own experience with mental health in our glorious republic’s state healthcare system, and I am very aware that this does not translate to everybody else’s experiences.
I have mental health issues. I have had three points in my life where these intersected with the NHS. The first, chronologically, is the hardest to talk about, so it’s good that I get it over with.
When I was 14, I was clinically depressed like a lot of 14-year-olds. I gossiped about friends, like a lot of 14-year-olds. One day, I talked shit about one of my friends to another of my friends. I do not remember whether the things I said were true; it is possible that they were not. One night, the mother of the friend about whom I had said shit rang my house and threatened to kill me. I went to bed, took an absolutely massive overdose of various painkillers, then after about an hour I chickened out and told my parents what I had done. The night ended in a blur of A&E, drugs to make me sick (as I was still conscious albeit high as a kite) and blood tests on the hour to make sure my kidneys had not failed. They hadn’t.
The next day, I had to speak with a psychologist before I could be allowed home. I was asked nothing about the events that precipitated this crisis; instead, I was asked a lot about my family history and it was strongly suggested that either my parents or my brother was sexually abusing me. Just for the record, no. I had to go to two appointments after that before my records could be sealed, but by this time I knew their agenda, so I just smiled and said the right things and never told them how I really felt. They wrote me off as just another stupid teenage girl looking for attention, to my great relief.
Round 2, age 22. My father had very abruptly left my mum for someone else. I had just found the courage to break it off with my abusive boyfriend. I went back to college to find that my ex and I not only lived in the same halls at his request, but that he was determined to exclude me from college activities because he was fucking one of the other girls on our floor. So he would knock on my door at all hours, push creepy notes under it, tell people weird stories about me. At the same time my father, who was now living with his mistress three miles from my college, started writing me letters saying “I’M WATCHING YOU”.
I ended up dyeing my hair green and slashing the shit out of my arms and breasts with a pencil sharpener blade. I went to the doctor and told him I thought I was depressed and not coping. He asked me if I had had suicidal thoughts and when I said that I had, tried to push drugs on me without asking me anything else about my circumstances or offering me any other options. I didn’t submit the prescription. I fled home in the middle of the night, and spent the next few months trying to get well. I was given diazepam, I don’t know who by as I don’t remember the appointment. I took two of them but they knocked me out so I stopped taking them. I have a three month gap in my otherwise excellent memory here. I was given temazepam and that helped with the insomnia and the sleepwalking. I don’t really remember but I did get better and I didn’t get addicted and I went back to college and got a first so fuck you dad, and fuck you ex-boyfriend.
So, Round 3. It had been coming for years actually, with no support at work and a seriously toxic culture that I didn’t even recognise until I was out of it. Then I got sent to work down on the Olympics and that ended up as a shitstorm, as after having been heralded as the second coming of Christ by our Ops director, he abruptly veered into calling me a lazy cunt in front of the client (still no idea what I did wrong, the only reason I was out of mobile range that day was because your dumbass contracts managers hadn’t done the site visit for the wildflower turf, Lee). God I hated it. My one experience of working full-time on a really exciting project and it’s ruined by the incompetence of one stupid director out of his depth. I worked 72 days in a fucking row without a break for that man. ANYWAY.
I got really sick. The only way I managed to get on that train every Monday morning was by fantasising about throwing myself in front of it. I put on weight, was drinking far too much. Even when I got back, it was hanging over me and I was making mistake after mistake. Eventually it precipitated a crisis at work, at which point I admitted that I was suicidal and needed help. Work were utterly shit about it, and I was made redundant a couple of months later, which was an unexpected relief. But in the meantime, I had moved house and registered with a new doctor and when I finally went to ask for help, everything changed.
Because my doctors were fucking wonderful, y’all.
I went to see my new doctor and stutteringly admitted that I thought I might be depressed. She stated that she specialised in depression, and ran me through a checklist of symptoms, at which point I was tempted to burn her as a witch because ARE YOU READING MY MIND WOMAN??? She was reassuringly matter-of-fact and went through my treatment options. She agreed that stuffing me on anti-depressants and then abandoning me (which had been my fear) was not the best choice. She thought CBT would work for me as I was very goal-orientated in my professional life. She told me that we could review this and that drugs might be an option later on. I was referred in two weeks.
My CBT therapist was lovely. She batted nary an eyelid as I told her about my redundancy and how good it felt. She didn’t care that I had a new girlfriend and it was causing problems with my mum. She gave me homework. I felt very safe and, gradually, I got better. After only four months of therapy, she signed me off as being in remission and I knew it was right because I actually was better. She gave me her card because we both knew it would come back. I haven’t called that number yet, but I will someday maybe.
Since then I have had a low point caused by being on the pill. The doctor I went to (a locum, same practice but different person) gave me excellent advice about the hormones and was completely non-judgemental. I will be going back soon to see if I can go on the low-dose version, and I already know they will tell me yes, but as a trial, let’s just see how you feel. That is very soothing.
I guess what I wanted to say with this post is that yes, treating mental health sucks, and that it varies hugely on who you see. I do believe that it is getting better and the visibility I have seen in the press on this issue is very encouraging. But please, please, if you are not comfortable with the advice you’re being given, don’t assume it’s just because you’re a loser who wants to be coddled: it could be that (well it could) but you are entitled to ask for a second opinion. Doctors are just people after all, and some of them are ignorant/insensitive/oversensitive just like the rest of us.
Most importantly, you are not alone. Yes, icky platitude, but it’s true. What, you think you’re so important that no-one understands your suffering? Pfffft, get over yourself. WE ARE LEGION. And we can be helped, and we are worth saving. Yes, even you.