Being Female: A Form of Madness?

The crazy cat lady from The Simpsons to Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, we all love a hysterical female character. The word hysteria originates from the Greek for uterus and unsurprisingly was the first mental disorder to be exclusive to females. This early suggestion that behaviour in women may be different to that in men has been followed by caricatured feminine fragility and lability of mood that has often become the butt of jokes and caused damaging stereotyping to all genders. Perhaps because of this, women are more likely than men to suffer from common mental illness and more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder though as my time of the month approaches once more, I am beginning to wonder if being a woman is a form of madness in itself.

When I say madness I am not meaning to suggest that all women have a psychopathology, but I am attempting to convey the dramatic effects that monthly hormone fluctuations can have on a female’s mental health. I am only able to talk from personal experience and I find periods a bloody nightmare in more ways then one. Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) and the less common but more debilitating pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) have symptoms that shadow that of depression and anxiety but with the main differentiation that these symptoms occur at the same time in the menstrual cycle each month. Nearly all women of childbearing age experience symptoms of PMS and 1 in 20 suffer to the extent that it interferes with their lives, PMDD. So throw a mental health problem in with a monthly hurricane of hormones and you may get a disaster!

I fear my periods; genuinely. I am not one of the fortunate ones who is as regular as clockwork, mine tend to surprise me every so often. I would attempt to use oral contraception to regulate and minimise my PMS symptoms, but even these have been linked to higher incidences of depression. There just is no winning.

All I can say is that I can not wait for these monthly monsters to disappear. Oh wait, that means the”joys” (very sarcastic) of the menopause!crazy-cat-lady-color

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Scarred

Trigger warning: Talks about self-harm and romanticizes and glorifies scars from cutting. It describes scars and cuts in detail. Read the trigger warning page here. Take care of yourself first and foremost. And remember that self-harm is NOT a competition. It’s dead serious. I remember the summer one and a half years ago. I was […]

via The zebra girl — On my way

Beautifully  articulate. I wish that I wasn’t able to relate so well to this post but admire marieolivia. Much love

5 Steps to Bring About Positive Change

Alright, it is time for me to admit that none of my New Year’s resolutions have stuck it out this far into 2017. I am not religious but I do take advantage of Christianity’s festivities such as Easter and Christmas so this year I am going to try again for Lent.

Instead of giving something up, which for me is always bound to fail, I am going to attempt to make positive changes instead. So here goes my second attempt but this time I am going to follow some simple advice.

  1. Write your goals down on a piece of paper or on your phone or laptop. By doing this, these goals will become more tangible and more importantly you will be reminded of them.
  2. Make them achievable! Create short-term changes that will work towards your final long-term goal. Don’t bother saying to yourself “I’m not going to drink for a month” because after that month is over, you will be back to the same place that you were before. Instead, try to set yourself the task of reducing the amount you drink by only drinking one alcoholic drink max on week-days.
  3. Avoid all or nothing goals. This way, if you do have a slip up, you won’t be as discouraged and you are more likely to stick to it. If you want to lay off the crisps or the blocks or cheese (yup that is what I need to do), don’t give it up cold-turkey, try and say to yourself “when I fancy cheese, I will have a banana instead” or put a bag of nuts in the same place as the cheese would normally be in the fridge.
  4. Tell your friends and family. By doing this, they can encourage you and perhaps join in. You may also be discouraged from quitting!
  5. And most obviously, you’ve got to make changes that you actually want to do! Don’t make yourself run 5K if you get bored 1K-in. Get to know yourself so that you work to your strengths and preferences.

I think that I might be able to do it this time; if not then I will just have to go back to the
drawing boarpancakesd! Hopefully in a months time, I will be able to look back at this post having reduced my drinking, started to deal with my issues with self-harm, gained control over my eating and having started a new job. In short a happier,healthier me 😀

Enjoy pancake day tomorrow!

The Problem With Mothers’ Day

flowers

March 26th. This time of year returns. Mothers’ day is like Valentine’s day as in it deceives us into thinking that by neglecting to appreciate people the rest of the year, we can make up for it with an empty gesture. What it further fails to grasp is that people all have flaws and make mistakes. But of course we must idolise mothers every spring. After all, they must be super-human and faultless. Their elevated yearly status not only causes stress to parents as they aspire to meet the advertisements’ image of perfection but also to the children of parents who haven’t always been there.

As a daughter that was routinely locked-out of the family home and sent to live with my dad, mothers’ day has always been a time of trepidation. It is not that I don’t love my mother, it is that I struggle congratulate her on a job well-done as it was on a pretty part-time basis. Months would go by without any contact from her and yet I would always send a card and put on a façade to hide my inner conflict. I often thought about why I should display affection publically to someone who declared their hatred for me the last time we spoke. But still I did.

I feel that we need to address how our society chooses to celebrate these special day’s. By creating this image of perfection nobody wins, and it only serves to alienate those whose childhood didn’t conform and a large proportion of self-doubting and vulnerable mothers.

 

Finding a Purpose

purposeI wake up every morning wondering if today will be the day that I achieve more than getting dressed and walking the dog. Every night I go to sleep thinking of how I have let another day pass me by. Somewhere along the line I have lost my way and have resorted to meandering through the days, weeks and months of my existence. I have lost my purpose.

That may not be completely true as have the goal of getting back to medical school but this is long term and  currently intangible. I have created excuses for everything and convinced myself that it is alright to be passive for a while to see where my life will take me. I have turned into the back-seat driver of my own life; nervous and overly cautious but abstaining from any responsibility.

I am slowly attempting to destroy the excuses for my idleness. For one, I have booked a skin camouflage appointment to hopefully cover the purple-slug scars on my forearms. Not permanently or completely as I am realistic as to how much make-up can do but this might give me the confidence to get a job without the fear of my long-sleeved tops rising even a centimetre when reaching for things.  I am however conflicted as though the NHS commonly refer people to the service it is a charity that was primarily set up to help those with facial disfigurements and scarring from childhood accidents. Despite it saying explicitly on the website that they provide the same service regardless of whether the disfigurement was self-inflicted or not I still feel undeserving. The appointment is tomorrow and I am slightly dreading it.

I have also found a support group for those who self-harm. It is local but will still require two buses and a two mile walk to get there. I want to give it a go to see if it will help. I am sceptical. I don’t know how much I will have in common with the others who attend and if they will judge me because I fit the stereotype of the young female cutter. I know that I am my harshest critic and that no-one could be as biting and cruel as my thoughts but I still worry. I am motivating myself to go with the knowledge that they provide free tea and biscuits, that should be reason enough to turn up if I were a true Brit!

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Just Breathe

 After 20-years I would have thought that I’d have mastered the skill by now. Apparently not. Over the last few months I have got progressively worse at this breathing malarkey and at times I appeared to forget how to do it all together. How can I get something that is fundamental to my survival so wrong?! Well that is the beauty of the panic attack.

It was only last night that the latest one pounced when I was unaware and unprepared. They seem to have some sort of omniscience so that they know when to strike so that they will cause the most damage. I remember watching a Frozen Planet episode that showed a pod of killer whales successfully submerge a seal that was perched on a slab of ice. It was a bit dramatic but I feel as if it does have some relevance to my relationship with these episodes of panic.

That seal’s face kills me! Those literal waves which I am using metaphorically as anxiety are a bit of cliche but that is because it rings true. That poor bloody seal. The whales outnumber and outsmart it in a way that leaves it with no way of escape and that is often how I feel when I am left alone with my thoughts.

Mindfulness has been recommended to help stem the anxiety but I can’t get it to work for me. As a sceptic, I had foolishly not invested myself into mindfulness until recently and despite it not improving my anxiety, it has helped with my sleep. Previously it would have taken 3+ hours to drift off but now I can get to sleep on most nights in under two. I have found that sleep deprivation plays a large part in my general mental health so would highly recommend for anyone else who initially dismissed it to give it a go. There’s nothing to lose! Here is a link to an article that shows the simple steps that can be taken to help with sleep that I found really beneficial.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/15/meditation-in-action-mindfulness-sleep_n_3586716.html

A Disordered Personality

In all honesty, I found it insulting at first when my Psychiatrist first mentioned the words personality disorder. Then I read into the diagnosis of BPD and realised that it described me; or at least aspects of me. Currently I don’t know how to feel about it or how to react to it. It seems confusing that I am me yet at the same time an illness. Most other diagnosis’ in the DSM go through acute phases with periods of remission or are one off episodes. To me that would be simpler to come to terms with; you can separate the illness from the person. But by definition with personality disorders, you and the illness become one and the same.

Then how come there are treatments and cures for personality disorders??! My internal monologue screams.

Fuck knows is my answer to that but apparently DBT, MBT and medications can do the job. I am at the very start of my journey to sanity and but I am not sure what sanity is. What does recovery look like? I guess it would mean less trips to minor injury units and trips to A&E. Maybe I would no longer visit the pharmacy and spend £30+ in steri-strips, antiseptic wipes and large dressings. I would like it to mean that my own self-hatred and subsequent self-sabotaging behaviour would stop dragging me away from success and fulfilment but what if that is just me and not the BPD label? What will happen if I discover that those negative aspects of myself are just inherent?

I can’t stand these uncertainties and unanswerable questions. I am more comfortable dealing with black and white, right and wrong. That’s why I studied Maths, Further Maths, Biology and Chemistry at A level. There are set answers and only a limited number of solutions. I stupidly also decided to sign up for English Literature A level and it was nearly the end of me. My poor family now shudder at the thought of all those sleepless nights over course-work and practise essays. It took up a disproportionate amount of my time as well as my stress load. Yet another one of my poor life choices. I think my perfectionistic tendencies have rather ironically caused most of my failures. Between September and early December of the first module of my medical degree, I made sure that I knew everything and more that I could on the lectures and practical sessions. By itself this was a great thing but chuck in chronic insomnia, excess alcohol and a desire to excel in the social sphere of university and I crumbled. Well more like imploded. It was messy. I reverted to my 16-year-old self and to my mal-adaptive problem solving and mind-set. What hurt most was not the embarrassment of dropping-out of Uni, but that my irrational behaviour that I had put down to teenage angst had returned and multiplied. I’ve realised that I am yet to discover who I am and I am now forecast for another tragic, teenage identity crisis and much more before I reach a state of recovery.

Wish me luck!

Coming out of hiding… or not

Borderline fits. Not necessarily in the medical sense of BPD but in terms of where I am in my life. I am on the border of true independence having spent the last few months living at Uni and then having the crushing disappointment of returning home. This has left me as still a medical student but at the same time not. I am stuck in this hole that is 9 months deep waiting for the new academic year to begin and to start afresh. I had thought that maybe this time would be best suited to procreating because as a future junior doctor (touch wood) I won’t have the time for my own family for at least 10 years. Bit of a stupid idea really, but it entertained me over the Christmas holidays as I spent family gatherings talking about how great Uni was going. I have realised that very few people are genuinely interested in honest answers to questions of “How are you?” and “How are you getting on at University?” especially over festive meet-ups.

 

This borderline existence has left me in a bit of a tight spot. Only five months ago people were waving me off as I flew the nest. I don’t think I can face the awkward questions that will come when they’ve realised that I have boomeranged right back again. Because of this I have stayed put and effectively resorted to a state of hibernation. Perhaps if nobody realises I’m back, I can pretend that this year never happened. If I am going to be honest with myself I am not hiding from other people but trying to delay accepting that I royally screwed up; and not for the first time. It is now that I am fully able to appreciate all those 12-hour shifts that I worked at the nursing home to pour money into my savings as I am now relying on those funds. At some point, I am going to have to buck up my ideas and find a job but today I am just going to hit the snooze button and bury my head in the pillow for a little longer.

 

In all fairness, I am stuck as I’m on the waiting list for treatment. As much as I love the NHS and everything it stands for it infuriates me when it only seems able to deal with physical illness. It is coming up to 12 weeks since I was referred to see a psychologist to start an unspecified form of therapy and I have still heard nothing. I understand that 12 weeks isn’t a horrendous wait for an in-demand service yet I feel as if given the circumstances of my referral there should have been a bit more urgency. When I presented at A&E hallucinating and seizing after a potentially fatal overdose, the staff where great; I am still alive! Their intervention was timely and compassionate and whether I needed treatment was not questioned. Since returning home, I have had to fight to get referred for therapy and am under the impression that I am just a financial burden to the local psychiatric services. I don’t know if this is something that others struggle with too, but it took a lot to admit to myself that I required support and even more to ask for it. I can’t help but feel that my struggles have been invalidated. If anything, this whole situation has made want to retreat further away from the mental health services, into my bed, under my duvet and hope that the mattress will swallow me whole.