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Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Realising that I've always been deserving of help

TW This post mentions self-harm, suicidality and eating disorders. 
I have recently been able to access help from mental health services. This is momentous for me, as someone who has had either a difficult or a non-existent relationship with mental health services.

You can read here how A&E staff refused to help me when I was extremely distressed and about as suicidal as you can get without actually being in the middle of dying. How being told to leave the A&E department without any help was so frightening to me that I became even more distressed, and ended up on the floor screaming and begging staff for help.

Drawing by me. 

And then how how staff told me I was 'scaring the patients' and that they would call the police unless I left the premises. So somehow I dragged my degraded, shaken, abandoned, terrified body off the floor and walked out into the dark hospital car park. 

No one can ever say I am not a strong person.

Yes, that kind of thing really does happen. To many people, many times. It is not right.

Drawing by me

I naturally lost trust in services from that moment. I didn't dare ask for help for fear of it being affirmed to me again that there was no help. Secondly, I didn't dare because the thought of police involvement absolutely and utterly terrified me- I didn't want anything jeopardising my career plans of working with children. Thirdly, it affirmed the belief that I didn't deserve help.

Page from one of my sketchbooks. It can be scary to ask for help. 

Growing up, I always held the insidious and destructive idea that maybe I was just an attention seeker. That I was was feeling the way I felt as some kind of disgusting joke. It wouldn't be too far to say that at times as a teenager I felt like an evil monster for feeling the way I felt. 

I felt that there was something deeply disgusting about me, because I had huge mood swings where I felt suicidal, self-harmed and tried to starve myself. I told myself that 'someone like me' shouldn't be doing that / feeling that. I told myself there was no reason for the way I felt. I never felt entitled to my feelings. I hid them. I felt deeply, deeply embarrassed and ashamed.

Drawing by me. 

There were times as child, from age about nine, and as a teenager, that I attempted to ask for help. But I was confused, scared and I always felt like I deserved to suffer. I always felt like suffering was what I deserved and was a way of making myself into a 'better person'.  The help I needed never came.

But receiving compassionate care from mental health services has made me realise now that I have always been deserving of help, even if I asked for it and it never came. 

Drawing by me. 

It has been painful to look back and realise that I was suffering and that it wasn't my fault or a 'character flaw'. I wasn't a 'bad person', instead I was a young person who needed- and deserved- help. It can hurt to look back and see my past self blaming herself and in need of help. 

Recently, I received a letter outlining my history of self-harm since childhood, my anorexia-like eating disorder I had for a couple of years during my late teens and my suicidality. Whilst reading that letter, it struck me that I was a child and young person in pain and needing help, rather than the attention-seeking demon I believed I was. It was like reading a life story from the perspective of someone else- and it was extremely upsetting and I felt very, very sad about what I read. 

Drawing by me. 

Since that change in perspective, I have been having some episodes of extreme distress. Talking about this in therapy for the last two weeks has left me in extreme distress:

Distress of the inconsolable, sobbing, non-verbal, crushed, puffed-up face, crying in the street, talking to myself on the train, shaking kind. 

The wave that hits in the street and I feel out of control, sobbing behind my sunglasses, barely caring if strangers stop and stare, struggling to breathe, feeling on the brink of collapse. 

I can liken it to a flashback like the kind the happens in PTSD and it's like you are re-living a distressing memory. It's a feeling of being incredibly vulnerable, an open wound, trapped in that moment and that pain. 
My drawing of what an 'episode' feels like. 

Living through these episodes is teaching me to see myself as someone who deserves compassion. Each time I survive one, I learn that I can get through it. I can see their intensity and length decreasing each time I get through one without self-harming or acting on suicidal feelings. 

It's a cliche, but if I am compassionate to others, then why not to myself? I think all of this a key stepping stone towards being able to deal with my emotional dysregulation and in particular, shame. 

Drawing by me. Me and one of my best friends. 

Thank you everyone for your support via Twitter @TalkingAboutBPD. The dialogue and empathy has been absolutely amazing and I appreciate it so much

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