Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Explaining mental illness: Abuse and trauma

This is the third post in my short series about my mental health problems. I strongly believe that mental health problems need to get out of the taboo zone. It is not shameful to talk about your mental health problems. It is not shameful to admit to having them. No one is perfect and being open about such matters is only a result of strength.
On the other hand, if mental health issues are neglected, they can escalate to enormous heights (or should I say depths?). There are many famous examples of this and still I feel that the majority of people can't see how important it is. I think they need to get out of the taboo zone, because they can not only affect someone in the most horrible way, but they can drag others with him, as I have shown in the example in my previous post.

One other famous example about mental health neglect and the misunderstanding about it is the tragic death of Robin Williams, a long term sufferer of depression, who managed to keep up his appearance as the 'friendly uncle' for years and years. Who know how he must have felt under that smiling mask and humorous acting? Nobody seemed to know much about his actual feelings and to the whole world his death came as a shock. People blamed him for it. I've read so many posts online that cut him down because in their opinion, all people who commit suicide are selfish and stupid. That is not true. People who commit suicide often see no way out. No way of ever leading a happy and carefree life. I have felt that way. Robin Williams must have felt that way. Because being happy should be a universal right of mankind. And someone who has made so many others happy and has made so many children laugh, including me, should have had the basic human right to be happy himself. And if that's not possible, he should have the basic human right to be open about it, and he should have the basic human right to receive treatment and respect and understanding and support from his loved ones, and from everyone who ever enjoyed his acting.

This is probably going to be the most difficult post for me to write since it is still so painful to me. However, this is where most of my depressive and anxiety issues come from so I thought it was necessary to write about it. I have already mentioned it in my older posts.
Abuse and trauma. Abuse is slowly gaining more awareness. Of course, the form of abuse that gets the most attention is sexual abuse (of which I've had my share too), but the form of abuse that's often overlooked because it is harder to recognize as such, is emotional and verbal abuse. I will try to talk about both in this post.

I have a history of trauma and abuse. Most of it was inflicted upon me unknowingly by several different people, which is why it is so hard to blame anyone for it. I will therefore refrain from calling names and I hope these people will not blame me for writing about it and I will try to talk about them in a positive way. There is one person who I don't think of as positive in any way (I won't mention his name either), and you'll find out why if you read on.

One of my earlier posts tells you about anxiety. Due to the abuse and trauma I have endured I suffer from anxiety. As I have told earlier I was never really understood at home because some family members could not understand ADD; and since we all didn't know I had it we could never really pinpoint exactly what was wrong and how to cope with it. Due to this misunderstanding of one another that escalated for years I eventually found myself to be in an abusive home where I did not feel safe and tried to avoid at all times.
As I said earlier, this abuse was unintentional and escalated gradually over the years, to the point that I feared my own home and secluded myself from my classmates at school, leading to years of emotional and social neglect and arrears.

Because I still desperately longed for understanding and attention in a positive way, or in a way, someone to hug and a shoulder to cry on, I started to fall desperately and obsessively in love with every guy who was nice to me. This not only led to the loss of some (potential) truly great friends (which I greatly regret; if anyone from my past reads this, I am sorry and would really like to meet again, as friends!), but it also lead to other, bad things. You see, due to the years of emotional abuse social neglect and the arrears I developed from them I was unable to see someone's true intentions because I thought that everyone who was nice to me was actually nice. And when I had obsessively fallen in love I was completely blind to any flaws. I would practically do anything for them. That's dangerous!
My first desperate love lasted two years and it was a really nice and kind guy, even though I knew I never had a chance with him. Even though it was very very sad it was also kind of good, because we were good friends at some point and I had some wonderful times with him. I'm still sad I don't really see him anymore as I would have liked to keep in touch with him but I hope he's happy now anyway.

Sometime later (I had never actually been out of love and had various unanswered loves and driven away good friends because of my obsessive behaviour) I met another guy when I had just turned 18. He seemed nice and was one of the few people I could draw and paint with. And he was sort of romantically interested in me, until I fell in love with him. We kissed a few times. His behaviour changed radically and he would be nice sometimes and super angry and verbally abusive at other times. His changing behaviour and the fact that I was so desperately obsessed with him took my depression to the deepest depth it had ever been, complete with suicidal thoughts, and one night when I was absolutely panicking, he told me over chat that the world would be better off if I killed myself. So I grabbed the first sharp object I could find in my room (fabric scissors) and started cutting my wrists in blind fear and panic. When the blood started to come out I passed out from hyperventilation, only to wake up sometime later, still in my room. The cuts weren't deep enough to inflict actual damage, but it was a turning point for me.
I blocked the guy everywhere and tried to get better, but it didn't really work out. I started going out. And it was a good distraction from being locked up in my room at all times. I started to feel a bit more confident but the years of ongoing emotional abuse at home and the unanswered loves had left me with a horrible separation anxiety. After about five months of going out and messing around without actually getting into a serious relationship, I found a nice guy. He was really nice and sweet and I was more or less happy with him. However, my separation anxiety still acted up, and even though I wasn't jealous I couldn't give him any personal space because I was too afraid to end up alone again, which eventually drove us away from one another, and he broke up after six months.
Stricken with grief I latched myself on the first new guy I could find to distract myself, and two weeks after the first relationship ended I already had another.

And here is where the (unintended) sexual abuse comes into the picture.
Again, I do not blame this guy. He didn't mean for it to happen in that way, and he didn't mean to cause me so much trauma. It was a misunderstanding, but one of such extent that my therapist has treated it as if it was actual rape.
You see, I kind of started to get to know myself. I knew about my tendency to fall desperately, obsessively and irrevocably in love, which is why I set myself some clear and distinct rules, especially concerning sex. I had promised myself I'd only have sex with someone if we could both honestly say we loved each other, and if we were in a relationship with one another.
We were together for about a year and he was a good distraction from my mental health problems. We joked and partied and had a lot of sex without really going into depth, not on both sides anyway. He, just like me, had issues he didn't want to talk about. And that kind of made our relationship less meaningful. I tried to talk about my issues and I put a lot of effort in him, biking 1 1/2 hours three times a week to see him, but as the months went by, he put less and less effort into me (or at least, that's what I felt, even though I didn't want to see it). We broke up for a week, then got back together, and on his birthday party shortly after we got back together, he got drunk and told one of his friends that he only liked me and made me believe he loved me because of the sex. He knew about my 'rules', and in my mind he would never say such a thing if he loved me and knew me, if only out of respect for the rules I had set for myself.
And because of that, I felt that what he said had to be true.

I broke my own rules, without knowing about it when it had actually happened. I felt as if I had been consequently raped for a year. I fell back into my depression again and didn't dare to touch anyone for months. An unexpected pat on the back by one of my colleagues resulted in a panic attack I could only just keep in. A hug from a friend could get me hyperventilating. It lasted for months, only until I met someone who could calm me down a bit and with whom I ended up in a 2.5 year long relationship.
It was years ago. I recently met up with him and talked about it and about the therapy I'd had (he'd gotten therapy as well), and it turned out to be a stupid drunk boast to avoid difficult questions about why we were back together. He didn't mean any of it and he would rather die than rape anyone.
And it's so stupid but I still have issues with it and I am still trying to deal with what happened, even though it was never actual rape and it has been nearly five years ago. I used to blame him for it but I don't anymore. I can't really blame anyone for it.

The only guy I can blame for deliberately taking part in my history of abuse is the one who talked me into committing suicide.

I am doing ok now. I have my own place and I have talked things out with my family and we understand each other now. I have a loving boyfriend but I do believe I can manage on my own if I didn't. But I do feel that the scars of the abuse will never truly go away. They made me who I am today and they have made me wise and strong, even though I still can't always deal with the consequences. I would not wish any of this to anyone.

I would again want to ask parents of children who are hitting puberty to listen to them and understand them from their own point of view as well as them trying to understand yours. Problematic behaviour doesn't come from out of nowhere. Yes, puberty is a difficult and trying time for both parents and children but only in a relationship of mutual trust and love, and not fear, you can truly help each other grow up. Don't assume that problematic behaviour is a result of laziness or inobedience but try to figure out what is really going on and find a solution for it or help your kid to find one himself.
This also counts for friendships, both in kids and adults. I try to be open about my feelings to my friends and my boyfriend but not everyone does. A relationship of mutual trust and understanding is a relationship where you can build from. Misunderstanding can lead to awful things if you neglect it, so always be open and honest to one another, and don't try to blame anyone or talk them down unless you have a really really good reason for it. It can be difficult to talk about your thoughts and feelings and be honest and open about them, but understanding and support is a huge step towards happiness of any kind.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Explaining mental illness: ADHD-predominantly inattentive type/ADD

This is going to be my second post about my personal experience with mental illness and about the taboo on mental illness in general.

As I described earlier, mental illness is taboo. And it desperately, desperately needs to stop being taboo because it wreaks havoc on people and society, and is also a danger to 'healthy' people.
In my previous post I have refrained from using direct examples for this, but there are many to be found, all over the world. I realise that I am probably not going to be applauded for expressing my opinion about this now and using direct examples to illustrate this but I strongly feel like this taboo should be broken and mental illnesses should be treated shamelessly and with the same importance and respect as physical illnesses. I will use more examples as I go along with this series of posts but I will start with (in my opinion) the worst one.

One of the most heartbreaking and painful examples of the results of the mental health taboo is the recent German Wings plane crash. To my understanding, the copilot who was responsible for this terrible event was a long time sufferer of mental health issues but had desperately (and successfully) managed to hide his mental illnesses from both his employer and his friends and family. Refusing to be open about such matters and never talking about them only makes matters worse long term and, as apparently happened with this copilot, can drive you completely insane to the point that apparently, he felt the desperate urge to kill himself and hundreds of innocent people with him. I have not read every article about this but to my recollection no one knew about his mental health problems and after a lot of digging they could only find some evidence from years ago that proved he actually had problems. He managed to hide his true self for so long and apparently felt overlooked and unappreciated for so long that his illness escalated in the most terrible way possible.
Of course, this event is unspokeably heartbreaking and so horrible that I think there no words to describe the pain it had caused. But it is also a very clear cry for help. A cry to end the taboo on mental illness. Because this event is a direct result of the taboo on mental illness. If this man had been allowed or encourages to speak openly about his mental illness without fear or shame for being misunderstood or laughed at or losing his job, then he could have had the accurate care and therapy that he needed and not only would we have a far happier co-pilot but we could also have prevented the hundreds of innocent deaths that he caused by his insane and desperate cry for help.
In memory to this terrible event and out of respect to both this co-pilot and all the others that have died, let this be a lesson to us and reach out to our friends and neighbours, and never be ashamed to talk about your feelings or asking for help. And if someone is asking you for help, be it friend or stranger, reach out to them yourself and treat them with the respect they deserve.

So now, let me start by talking about my own experiences with mental health problems. Today I want to talk about my ADHD-predominantly inattentive type, or the more commonly used term ADD.
ADD is not exactly a mental illness but a neurological illness/disorder. Since people often don't really understand what it is I will try to explain what it is like nonetheless.
ADD can only be treated with cognitive behavioural therapy and medication, and cannot be cured. You simply just have to live with it. Luckily, it also happens to have a perfectly scientific explanation.

In short, ADD/ADHD is a deficiency of certain neurotransmitters (specifically dopamine and noradrenaline) in the frontal lobe of your brain. These neurotransmitters help process all the information that enters your brain through your senses (and thoughts). They basically filter out the unimportant stuff, allowing you to focus on what's important and prevent your brain from getting overstimulated. Because you receive a LOT of information at any given point of the day. You are bombarded by it.
If you are deficient in these neurotransmitters, then.. kaboom! this filtering and processing of information doesn't really work that well anymore. Which basically means that ADD/ADHD sufferers are constantly, day and night, bombarded with information which most of the time is completely irrelevant. This leads to all kinds of problems in daily functioning. In the case of ADHD, it leads, among others, to hyperactivity, due to the constant overstimulation of the brain. I have the non-hyperactive kind which means it is less visible in my behaviour, but it is a constant pain in the ass nonetheless.
Like every deficiency, it can be more or less severe. I have a quite severe deficiency but I am able to more or less lead a normal life, despite the symptoms I experience. The symptoms also vary between people so no one is exactly the same. This is my experience with it.

To me personally ADD displays itself in a whole range of symptoms that greatly vary. I basically think about twenty different things at the same time, which is confusing and tiring and distracting. Due to the overprocessing of my senses I am extremely vulnerable to incentives. Because my brain thinks the random lamp in the corner or the interesting dirt pattern on the wall is equally as important as the essay I should be typing for university, I basically have no focus whatsoever. This leads to a whole range of problems I have to face in daily life. I am unable to clean my house. I am unable to keep a schedule or a weekplanner. I have great difficulty studying and I have great difficulty finishing things. This means I usually have about 10 creative projects running at the same time and am unable to actually finish any of them. When my brain gets fried due to overprocessing, which usually happens at least one time every day, I get heavy moodswings, nausea and sometimes even panic attacks.

The overprocessing of my brain also causes my short term memory to be nearly inexistent because my brain can't keep up with all the information. I constantly forget everything. I can forget what I was talking about mid-sentence, I lose my keys everywhere and when something else catches my attention I am able to just drop anything I am holding at that time and completely forget about it.
Another nasty side effect is that I have a lot of trouble sleeping. Because yep, I am unable to remove the triggers at night or even when I close my eyes, because my eyes get distracted by the wonky blotches at the back of my eyelids, or I suddenly get extremely annoyed with my sleeping position, or I have an itchy spot, or whatever else. When I do sleep my sleep is usually light and I have super weird and vivid dreams out of which I often awake in total confusion while at the same time being super tired.
I am tired all the time. And confused. I honestly cannot remember a moment when I was not tired. Social contact exhausts me, especially in a group, because then I don't only have to respond to my own overprocessing brain but also have to pay attention to other brains. I have days when I am so tired I am unable to get out of the house and it sometimes takes an entire day for me to recover from a weekend of social gatherings. It drains the life out of me sometimes.
There is one thing though that I think is kind of cool, though it can be annoying sometimes.
I have the ability (I call it my super power) to hyperfocus. It comes in randomly and I don't have a lot of control over it but it mostly happens when I am painting. I can paint for 10 hours straight and forget everything around me. I forget to eat, forget to sleep, forget to drink, forget to go to the toilet or forget to run that super important errand I need to do. And then at the end of the day, suddenly the sky is dark, I have to pee and am super hungry, and wondering where my day suddenly went.

Basically, ADD is really really frustrating and distracting. A friend of mine once tried to describe it as having a loud radio turned on that switches channel every ten seconds while ten people around you are constantly throwing ping pong balls at your head, with multicolored flickering lights all around you. That description is probably pretty accurate.

Because of the constant frustration and the inability and/or difficulty to perform normal daily tasks, and because it was never recognised as such and never understood until very recently, I also dare to say that my ADD is the biggest cause of my other mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, of which I have talked earlier about. In my childhood and puberty, my inability to focus was often dismissed as laziness and unwillingness. My inability to clean my shit up behind my back was also dismissed as lazy, unattentive and rude. After a while, I started to believe those things, which is easy when they're constantly yelled at you. I felt worthless. I felt lazy and guilty for being so, even though I did want to complete household tasks and I did want to finish my homework and be able to study properly for my exams without constantly being distracted. There was just an unexplainable thing that made it a hundred times more difficult for me than for other kids. Since I have always been pretty silent and drawn back when I'm with others (probably in an attempt to minimise the incentives I am bombarded with), there had never been an explanation for it in my youth. I was tested for autism once but it was inconclusive, and that was that. This misunderstanding and the accusations that followed, together with the bullying kids at my primary school (where I had never fitted in), would eventually trigger the first signs of my 13-year long chronic depression, and the misunderstandings built up and up, and eventually escalated enormously up to the point of suicide attempts. But more on that in my next post! Yippee!

So basically, when I suddenly get confused or irritated, or when I lash out at someone a lot angrier than I intended, or when I leave early at parties because I am too tired and overstimulated, remember that I'm not mad at you or not trying to insult you or attack you. It's just.. all this.

One last thing.
I have finally gotten an official diagnosis for my ADD last month, and am currently figuring out the right type of medication. Methylphenidate (Ritalin) does not really have the desired effect (yet). I am going to try out Dexamphetamine (speed) next week. Once I have the type of medication and the dose right I am going to start cognitive behavioural therapy and I can hopefully learn to live with this terribly frustrating and confusing disorder.

Thursday, 23 April 2015


I was thinking about how to continue with this blog.

I would really like to talk more about mental health in itself and however I want this place to be predominantly positive I would also like to talk about all aspects of it and go a bit further than just outfit posts and recipes.

Some recent encounters and events had me thinking about some aspects of my own mental health problems and how I try to deal with them so I wanted to talk about that. I have experienced that there is still so much misunderstanding about mental health problems. It is a huge taboo. I see it every day - mental illnesses can be as deadly and devastating as any physical illness and need to be treated with the same respect and understanding. Just as you can't cure a broken leg by simply 'cheering up', you can't cure depression by cheering up. You can't cure psychosis by 'just stop acting weirdly', you can't cure ADHD by 'just calming down a bit', and you can't cure ADD simply by 'trying to focus'.  Each one of these examples needs to be treated with the same respect as a physical illness. I could go on and on with this, and I'm sure everyone with a mental or neurological illness has experienced comments like these as soon as they opened up about their mental health.
This taboo on mental illness extends to the fact that most therapy is not or only partly being included in health insurance. It is expressed in the denigrating comments on newspaper articles about suicides. It is carried out by people who do desperate and devastating things by having to conceal their issues for so long that they turn completely insane. It is created by a tendency of talking each other down and demonizing each others feelings. It is created by the inability of people to live compassionately and who fail or do not try to understand the people around them.

I hope I can contribute a bit by creating more awareness for mental illnesses by trying to help people understand what it is like to live with them, and help others to understand them and take their problems into account when interacting with sufferers. Therefore I want to be a bit more open about mine.

Today I want to talk about anxieties and how they have affected and still affect my life.

I have anxieties. My anxieties used to be a full blown anxiety disorder, now they are just regular anxieties (which is a good thing compared to what it was before, but still!). Anxieties are not the same as being afraid of something. Having to deal with anxiety sometimes gives you the feeling that you are going to die. I have hyperventilated so many times that I would keep a plastic bag in my room at all times to be able to reach for that when it would happen. The racing heartbeat and the results of the hyperventilating can actually make you panic worse and really give you the feeling that you are about to die, which can worsen the symptoms, and so on and so on.

One of my major triggers for anxiety attacks are moments when I feel verbally attacked. I am really really bad at fighting, or even general discussing, especially when discussions/fights are personal and I have the feeling I have to defend myself or my opinion. Fights make me want to scream my lungs out, cover my eyes and ears and curl up in a corner. Their results can keep me awake for nights. I can feel guilty about a fight for years. I still keep myself awake sometimes thinking about some disagreement I had with someone years ago.
This is an incredibly unpopular trigger and so much less understandable to 'normal' people than for example arachnophobia. People's first reaction is 'you just can't handle criticism'. Which is true. I wish I could. But my years of depression have made me extremely aware of my flaws. If someone points them out to me or discovers a new one, then I am able to blow it up in my head to incredible sizes, blocking out all things that I actually like about myself and leaving me with only that. My ADD mind also makes hundreds of associations to related situations in my past in the blink of an eye, making the anxiety and guilt spin out of control in mere moments.

So yeah, my anxiety used to sometimes wreck me completely in seconds. In the past I used to avoid triggers (and contact with people close to me in general) as much as possible. At high school I managed to secure a seat in every class just out of reach from the teachers eye, on my own, with a bunch of empty tables around me, and the rest of the class in the other corners of the room. That way I could avoid people talking to me and I could avoid to be picked out by a teacher to answer a question, of which I usually didn't know the answer anyway because I was too unfocused and anxious (yep, performance anxiety too!) to be able to do my homework, and in a way of not having to deal with it, I just avoided doing homework.
At home I stayed inside my room as much as possible, often only coming out when it was time for dinner, when I absolutely had to. Unfortunately certain members of my family get really witty and mouthy once they have taken a few bites so dinner time was usually the loudest time of the day. I was a popular subject to make fun of, which I usually just tried to ignore as much as possible, hold in my panic attack, and would disappear to my room or the toilet as soon as I had the chance, where I was able to let my panic attacks go without anyone noticing, and was able to freely loathe myself for what other people said about me.
If I didn't have the chance to remove myself from the room I would try to cope by getting overly defensive and yell, scream and bite around like a distressed animal driven in a corner. This usually happened at home where it wasn't always possible to avoid some people, but it has also happened at school a few times, causing my fellow classmates to think I am weird or mad or to make fun of me.

I also lied about everything that could be a potential trigger for someone to say or think something bad about me. I became a compulsive liar because of my anxiety and I am not proud of that. I lied about everything; my grades, what I had eaten at school, my homework, my school, my home situation, and I even lied about minor things such as forgetting to brush my teeth. And when these lies began to come out, they would lead to much bigger conflicts and eventually I was never believed by anyone even if I told the truth.

The constant lying and avoiding of social interaction has led to years of emotional neglect; not only because no one really understood me (this is partly my fault, because I used to be so secretive, and well, lied about everything, including to myself), but also because eventually every form of social contact with my family and class mates made me feel incredibly awful about myself, to the point that even the idea of social contact with someone I had 'bad experience' with could give me a panic attack and even suicidal thoughts. I have even had to hold in panic attacks on my way home from school because I dreaded to face the people inside my own house.

True fear makes you do terrible things. True fear can be tongue-tying, dreadful and can render you unable to speak or think or even move. It can render you utterly hopeless and defenseless, control your life and resonate in your every thought. It keeps you awake day and night and turn you into a completely different person. Fear is like a monster holding you so tight on the inside and the outside that you struggle to breathe.

This above example is just one of my anxieties. Other anxieties that I have are performance anxiety (which is probably in direct correlation with the above), I have slight claustrophobia due to locking myself up in a tiny messy bedroom for years, and I also have a fear for unexpected social situations, which probably also has something to do with the above. I also used to have an enormous fear of losing people I cared about, especially boyfriends. This was due to the fact that I had locked myself into a social confinement for years and desperately wanted to hold onto any social contact that I trusted, even if I still did not dare to truly confide in them. This usually rendered me completely dependant and there are many people who have abused that. But more on that in a later post.

I am able to speak about this much more openly now than I used to, and I don't get as many panic attacks anymore. I haven't had a true one for some time and I now only get close to it when I feel overstrung due to my ADD. I don't lie anymore either.
Over the past years I have managed to loosen the airtight grip fear used to have on me.
I still however have to deal with the consequences of this anxiety every day, which is usually the guilt part. I feel guilty that I am still not really able to handle criticism directed to me as a person. When I feel triggered I usually try to explain to the person what is happening inside my head; but I feel guilty and whiny for doing that because not being able to handle criticism is stupid, right? I'm doing my best to keep my head up high and continue my life, but I am not sure if the guilt is ever going to go away. I understand and recognize my thought patterns now and they have lessened a lot during the past few years because being able to see them from a different perspective can sometimes calm me down a bit internally. Even though I understand my thought patterns I am not always able to shut them out, which truly sucks sometimes. It is still very easy for me to fall back in those patterns of guilt and fear. I don't know if it will ever be truly gone, but I am working hard on it.

Dedicating my time to the things that I love help me deal with the bad stuff and give me something to brood and think about and look forward to instead of getting lost in thought spirals of guilt. Which is probably the reason that this blog is so full of things that I love. I am certainly going to continue to post about things I love, because I love them and I still firmly believe that dedicating your life to do the things you truly love and be aware of them is the absolute best cure for anxiety and depression, because they help you distract from the negative and focus on the positive.

I do not blame my family for what happened. They are good people and I love and care about them very much, probably more than anything in my life. They never meant to cause destruction in this way. This giant black hole in my puberty is the result of an enormous escalation that originated from misunderstanding one another. I have a really good relationship with my family since I moved out and there is some more distance between us. I have come out of the closet about my mental health issues and we have built up a wonderful relatonship of mutual understanding and trust.

I would advise to any parent to try to listen to your kids and be open to them. Try to recognize problematic behaviour and realise where it comes from instead of thinking of it as a result of laziness and arrogance, disobedience or simply puberty. And, I can't stress this enough: Listen. Understand. Empathise. Learn from each other. Understanding, believing in, taking care of and helping each other is the key to happiness; together with pursuing the things you love most in this world.