It’s been a while since I wrote something. So here we go. Let’s jump right in.
Today I had a Facebook messenger chat with a very lovely friend. My friend who we will call Jay for the purpose of this article expressed that they were in an episode of painful anxiety. Our conversation progressed and Jay was clearly anxious about being anxious and afraid to ask for help.
I was really touched that Jay was being so brave as to admit that they were struggling. It’s really important for Jay to maintain a buoyant level of mental health for work and also we ALL need that just to function the way we want.
The overriding tone of the conversation was:
“I know I am struggling”
“I know I need help”
“I’m afraid to ask for help and I’m afraid to even talk about this”
“The stigma surrounding mental health is crippling”
I think we can distill that last comment down to a universal:
“The stigma surrounding any taboo issue is crippling for anyone experiencing that issue”
One thing I have learned over my 36 years and particularly over the last year is that no one likes or responds well to being ‘told’ what they ‘should’ do. I actively try my hardest not to use the word ‘should’ or instruct people. Instead I find asking questions and sharing my own experiences are the best I can offer.
I realised that I was going to take a plunge here with Jay.
I was sectioned a few years ago.
There you go. I said it.
I could hear how frightened Jay was to ask for help and I was trying to explain that the alternative to asking for help (as difficult as asking might be) is always worse. I figured that in a round about way not sharing my own history of bumpy mental health was in effect compounding the issue currently being faced by Jay and by many other LGBTQI people in the same situation as Jay.
So let’s just talk about that whole ‘being sectioned’ thing.
I talk about a lot of very personal things. But disclosing that I had being sectioned, until today, was not something that I was comfortable discussing.
Very few people know I went through that experience and it is probably one of the very few things in my life that I have (had) shame about. I’m using had in brackets because part of this disclosure is an attempt to alleviate that shame. I was also embarrassed about the experience and I was worried that people would judge me. I was concerned that people would observe me differently and perceive my current actions today through the tint of ‘mentally unwell’. Mental health is fluid.
I think I have arrived at a point now in my life where I don’t give a shit about that anymore. I simply don’t care about what other people think of me and what my lived experience has been. I cannot change it. Sometimes life is a bit shit. I can tell you this though: opening up and sharing and discussing the shitty bits of your life when you think they might be of use or comfort to your friends really does help take the sting out of the shit.
Here’s the story as an overview….
I was in a very toxic relationship and found myself on the receiving end of quite a lot of mental and emotional abuse…the abuse wasn’t limited to that…it became physical abuse and in one particularly bad episode I sustained a broken collar bone which required surgery and some metal work. A hook, a plate and 3 screws to join the collar bone back to the shoulder.
Even at the hospital I wouldn’t admit to what was going on and covered for him. Social services were alerted despite my protests and again I lied to them.
In the run up to this I had being lying to everyone around me so much that I became exhausted lying and just hid myself away from friends and family so I wouldn’t have to waste my energy lying.
A dangerous position to put yourself in if you are experiencing domestic abuse!
When I was released from hospital the next day after my surgery I was in an excruciating amount of pain. I went to my doctor and was prescribed Tramadol. Then a whole load of shitty things happened.
I think in a nutshell I just broke.
I didn’t sleep for 4 days as I was having what I suspect was anxiety driven gastro problems and was throwing up every hour or so. I didn’t react too well to the Tramadol either. In fact the Tramadol lowered my epileptic threshold and I had a seizure on day 5. I don’t remember any of it.
I woke up in Guys and St Thomas, again in agony. The lactic acid in my muscles from the seizure felt as though I’d been hit by a truck. I had also broken one of my front teeth/veneers.
I was still unbelievably trying to front the whole “I’m OK” routine. I quite obviously was as far from OK as you can be!
And I was about to get a whole lot less OK!!!!
At that time I had a severe phobia of sorts of hospitals. My brother lost both of his legs in Afghanistan in the February of that year (2011). My fracture and seizure occurred in the December of the same year and I associated any hospital or clinic with the trauma of going through that experience with my brother. At first sitting with him in critical condition in the ICU and then the even more intense experience of finding myself on a whole ward with other very young men (100’s) all in a similar or worse condition than my brother. It was extreme.
So to wake up and find myself bedridden in a hospital was breaking point. A few hours after waking up I started to experience post seizure psychosis. On reflection, it was much more. It was the start of a total breakdown.
The psychosis and paranoia got rapidly worse and things escalated very quickly. I tried to leave the hospital was but restrained by 2 security guards. I was dripping with sweat and trembling. I was contained in a psychiatrist’s office while a 2nd psychiatrist was summoned from another ward or hospital to approve my being sectioned under the mental health act. It requires 2 doctors to do this.
I was then sedated and sent via ambulance to Lambeth Hospital. To wake up in a psychiatric ward was possibly one of the most terrifying experiences of my life!
I was so fucking confused and I remembered only flashes of what had happened and I couldn’t tell if my recollections were dreams or reality. Incredibly frightening.
I know we are not supposed to use the word ‘crazy’ as it is a stigmatising word. But all I could think of as soon as I was aware enough is….I am not crazy.
I was on the ward for about 5 days. The details of those 5 days are a bit too much for this article. Suffice to say it was not an enjoyable 5 days. And I was still fronting. Every visiting session with my family and my fiance or the consultants were spent convincing them that I was OK. At that point though it was survival instinct. Anything to speed up my discharge. Of course none of those people were buying my act. In fact the quote that sticks in my head from one of the doctors was
“Yes, he is making a great recovery and seems to be displaying signs of his true personality and person. He is getting better but he is displaying signs of being ‘a little too well’. He does seems to be an ‘other people focused person’. He is expressing distress at having put his family and partner through this experience. It this usual for him?”
So I wasn’t fooling anyone. I’m going to wrap up this piece now. I’ve had a sudden pang of reconnecting with the intense emotion of that experience.
This is kind of a cautionary tale I suppose but more than that, it is a message. Do not be afraid to ask for help.
Do not be afraid to say “I’m not OK right now and I’m struggling”.
It has taken me a long time to learn how to say those words and ask for help. I haven’t fully arrived there yet but I’m getting there.
I will end with the scholarly words of Jessie J.
“It’s OK not to be OK”
Thank you Jay for inspiring me to be a little more honest today. x