Quitting smoking- anyone want to join me?

Fnar fnar. I am six.

Fnar. I specialise in making mildly amusing images.

So I’m starting, once again, Allen Carr’s Easyway to Stop Smoking (which you can download for free as a PDF here). I’ve read it before and it was the closest I’ve come to being smoke-free. Then a very stressful few months hit and I started again. Then I enrolled in an NHS stop smoking group, took Champix, descended into terrifying suicidality within a week, and started smoking again because I figured it was better to smoke than to kill myself.

But I spend a fair whack of my waking hours thinking of how my 20 a day habit is going to kill me,  then paradoxically reach for the cigarettes to calm me down. I know this is bullshit- I know the cigarette is relieving the craving, that the simple, present and solvable anxiety of a lack of cigarette moves into to try to swallow the darker, irresolvable, unfixable and eternal anxiety about mortality.But then feeds it, and so on.

I want to stop. To be free of at least one anxiety.  I’m also ashamed of the fact that my husband started smoking when we first got together having never been more than a social smoker. I would never, ever forgive myself if he got sick because of his smoking. I want us to be around for each other as long as possible. Forever (that it can’t, it slays me). Yes, he’s a free person, but it is hard not to smoke when someone you’re close is constantly puffing away- when waking, after dinner, after breakfast, in the street, for celebration, for commiseration.

And that’s a fallacy, too.  I do something catch myself on the logic and go, “What the feck am I doing? Smoking a killing cigarette to celebrate this (anything)?” I feel like a total dick when I do, but then, I’m already smoking, so may as well just carry on.  It’s the same when I see people huddling under some awning in the rain (where I am, too) and just befuddle at our collective madness. And the stench of a heavy smoker in a lift and the realisation that this might be what I smell like (but I can smell bugger all anyway, thanks to cigarettes).

So does anyone want to join me? I know smoking and mental health stuff is a bit complex (which I wrote a lot about in March. MARCH?! How was that March?! It was yesterday! What the hell has happened to this year, it’s flipping terrifying). But I’d be happy to sticky this post or make it a page and we can chat and support each other, or if you’re on Facebook, I have a page for this blog or could make a group (Mentalists against Menthols?). And have a Twitter circle when we’re feeling cravey.

And if not, that’s fine, too, but I’m writing this statement of intent anyway, because it means I can have my arse kicked if I don’t. Hooray!

EDIT: Made a Facebook group here called the Secret Life Smoking is Rubbish Rabble.  Feel free to join in! It’s a closed group so I’ll approve membership and we can talk in super-secretness. And if not, then me and my sister will have our own cool group.

Remember Forever

Have a few things I want to blog about, including Lethal Discrimination:

For years we have been shouting about how people with severe mental illness are at risk of dying up to 20 years before the general population, often from preventable physical health problems.

Today we’ve published a new report to demand that the Government takes immediate action to stop Lethal Discrimination against people with mental illness. But we need your help – will you write and ask what is being done to turn the tide?

Which I’ll get round to and which you should go and read.

LOL at annual health check. I’ve been on antipsychotics since 2007- still waiting.

But I’m feeling quite low and have been all this week. I’ve been off work with the physical ills, so it’s probably a lot to do with that. Got so much I want to say and no energy to say it. Having that feeling of shyness when you’re up on a podium and you’ve forgotten your notes.

I just feel quite low and I hope it’s just a little thing, but I can’t help but glance at the calendar and sigh.  I went to see my GP on Wednesday and she had some interesting things to say. The CMHT didn’t do my CBT referral, but had sent a letter questioning whether I needed straightforward CBT or something more complex.  Just straightforward CBT, so she did the referral.  I hadn’t really explained things properly to the psychiatrist when I saw them (about actual moods- June last year, when I was fine) because I was in a good place. I forgot my entire history. Crisis teams, hospitals, being so depressed I dropped out of university.

“You have to forget”, she says. “If you remembered all the time, how could you carry on living?” And a discussion about how

you can’t feel pain once it’s been felt. It only existed in those moments of feeling. You can remember the pain but never re-experience it.  I remember, vividly, the pain of riding my dad’s bike with him. It was a bloke’s bike, so had a crossbar. It went, “thump” down a kerb and impaled me onto it with such force, I stiffened and fell onto the ground and my dad had to hold me while I wailed. I can remember that pain, but I can’t relive it. I have almost 40 stitches in my leg and arse. Half torn apart by Lassie’s teeth (and it was, hilariously, Lassie.  A long-snouted collie). It hurt. I remember that it hurt. But I don’t remember how it hurt.

“If you could relive mania once it was over, then nobody would ever get the crushing lows that follow. If you could just will it, then you’d live there forever”.

Which is true if hypomania didn’t become the tearing destructive force of wandering the streets with a bottle of wine and talking endlessly and banging the walls screaming in rage and willing the vicious energy into the brick on your third day awake. And the same goes for depression. Once it’s passed, you can’t remember, not really, how it felt. At least for me.  A murky Other person. (Hypo)mania is remembered never by me, but by others. It’s probably the bullet loading the gun. The shame of not remembering, and of being remembered when you don’t. Of having a part of you not in your own possession. That doesn’t belong to you. Not again.

So she’s doing the referral, and we had a happy little conversation about death.  About the, “essence” of people.  I’ve never felt it. I wish I did. While she was talking, watching her face melt into beatific peace, I wondered if I’m just failing to feel the essence. Surrounded by little ghosts. Maybe there is part of me that still hasn’t come to terms with my dad’s death. And Brendan only a year later. And Vicky when I was 15, and it was my introduction to violent death, to what suicide really is, and now what I can’t forget.

I kept a grin and willed myself not to have a panic attack on the blue (always blue) chair. And dug my nails in. It’s an interesting intellectual conversation. Keep talking about you- not me.

And physical stuff.  A disbelief I’ve gained another stone. Sticking me on the scales (I wish doctors would just take my word) and measuring my height (I am 28- I have not grown). An acknowledgement it’s probably my medication (I have had to increase the dose of Seroquel). An investigation- mostly for my sake, I think. Not for my health, but for my vanity. Surely if I was really in control I wouldn’t now be 81kg? (And I’m 4ft 11″).  The medication is definitely a part of it. I ate a whole trifle in my sleep.  I woke up to its remains. I was quite impressed by that.

More blood tests. I’m an old pro with needles now.  And it’s not so horrible visiting the nurses with my arms as improved as they are. Four years! And yet, people still ask, as irrelevant as asking what your four year broken toe means. It means nothing now. It’s healed. The bone is back in its cradle.

Let me be.

Mentalism and Motherhood

I get emotional over the tree in our tiny garden in Peckham.  Which is silly.

But I watched it bloom into beautiful blossom in the spring…

and drizzle pink flowers every time the breeze blew…

…and, to my surprise, the delicate butterfly-blossoms became apples, which twatted me on the head every time I went to hang the washing up…

Not pictured: me swearing.

Not pictured: me swearing.

…and grew big enough to be picked (or picked up, as in this case) and eaten.

And the apples will disappear, and the tree become bare and anonymous like it was when we moved here last year, then it’ll blossom again and, again, become laden with fruit.  And the cycle will repeat. We didn’t do anything to make it happen. I thought the tree was dead when we moved in. All it’s had is rain and sun, and it lives on.

My friend Ben insisted it was just a useless little crab apple tree, but it wasn’t. (And crab apple trees aren’t useless anyway). 

I want to be part of a cycle.  Of that cycle: of renewal and birth and endlessness.  Even though I have PCOS, I just assume it’ll happen. Granted, those aren’t great reasons to have kids. But recently, I’d been broodier than usual (as has my husband). Awwing at the photos of babies my friends post on Facebook, wanting to be part of that seemingly perfectly imperfect life. My friend, a mother of two, wisely told me, “Having kids is like a bomb going off in your relationship”. But I want to be standing in that wreckage. Not the sometimes-inconsequential feeling neatness of now.

If you follow me on Twitter (I am there as brain_opera), I probably depressed you the other day by posting the heartbreaking Daksha Emson inquiry. Daksha Emson was a psychiatrist who committed suicide, in the violent way horrifyingly typical of women with postpartum psychosis, by stabbing herself and her baby daughter, Freya, then immolating both of them.  Daksha survived for 3 weeks before succumbing to her injuries, and Freya died at the scene. They were both found by her husband, David.

Daksha died in the perfect storm.  A psychiatrist, she worked in a profession with stigmatises their own having mental illness.  Whose illness was downplayed, “doctor to doctor”. Daksha had bipolar disorder, and, although she experienced periods of unwellness where she was hospitalised (and had ECT, on one occasion), she managed to excel in her field. She took medication and didn’t have a relapse in the 8 years she and her husband were married until she became pregnant.

When I was a nursing student, I attended a conference on perinatal psychiatry.  If I’d stayed in nursing, it’s where I’d have liked to specialise. It was a fascinating day.  Firstly, we looked at how infants develop, and how vital those early attachments are.  It’s why mother and baby units, which keep them together and help support the mum and partner, are better than just chucking the mother into a psychiatric ward.

We watched a video of some mothers who were experiencing psychotic and depressive symptoms while caring for their children in a mother and baby unit.  We saw the baby’s increased agitation due to the lack of reaction from the mothers.  The Still Face experiment illustrates this:

Then, we saw the improvements, in both mum and baby, a few months later when the women had recovered.  We learned (or at least, I did), how peri/postnatal mental illness can often strike those who one would least expect; first time, middle class mothers in their thirties. And this in itself is where women like Daksha were let down. How could this high-achieving psychiatrist and mother become mentally ill?  As the inquiry says, isn’t mental illness for, “the great unwashed”? And when the great unwashed do get pregnant, they don’t experience the trauma those professional women do of becoming a mother, the role that’s been created for them since the universe began, which they must now inhabit fully, and which everyone is else is watching you shape yourself into. Surely?

Dr Margaret Oates (who has a mother and baby unit named after her) was there. She spoke acidly of cases where women, clearly unwell, were discharged from services with the label, “personality disorder”. One mother, who was previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was deemed to instead have a personality disorder and sent home with antidepressants.  “And what happens to a woman with bipolar when you just give her antidepressants?”, she snapped. She got worse, walked into incoming traffic and died.

Daksha Emson had bipolar disorder.  Postpartum psychosis is so closely linked that it’s sometimes called postpuerpal bipolar disorder. The inquiry into her death states that doctors must assume one will become ill, not the other way around. Therefore, it’s all about that lovely phrase we all know so well as patients and practitioners; risk management.

But that’s complex in itself. A woman who becomes unwell in pregnancy, or who was already taking medication for a pre-existing mental health problem, might be limited in her choice of treatment.  Then they may have to- or want to- stop taking medication so they can breastfeed their child. They can become unwell astonishingly quickly.  There’s also the shame factor. The shame factor that permeates all mental ill health, but especially mental ill health when it’s supposed to be the happiest, most wonderful, shiny, Mothercare advert time of your life.  Where do you even start with that? We’re shamed anyway for having mental health problems, then further shamed for being women- how much shame and guilt must a new mother feel?

Then the father of the child, if he’s employed and you’re with him, might have to go back to work after two weeks.  It becomes easier to hide how bad things have become. In the shadows, they disintegrate. And the stress of looking after a new life, utterly dependent on you, would take its toll on anyone- lack of sleep, worry about the infant, recovering from childbirth, financial implications, everything.

Afterwards, I asked to spend the day with the perinatal psychiatry team at a local hospital.  The nurse explained who was referred to their team.  I felt the blood rush to my head as I read:

Referrals are essential for women with:

  • Bipolar Affective Disorder
  • Schizophrenia / Schizoaffective disorder
  • Previous Postpartum Psychosis
  • Severe Depression
  • Other psychotic illness
  • Family History of Postpartum Psychosis

I have (or probably have, I haven’t had a hypo/manic episode for 2 years and my recent psychiatrist who has only seen me well and heard me speak with a very, “I’m okay” now spin on things) bipolar disorder and my mum had 2 episodes of postpartum psychosis. It was strange to see it in black and white.  Here is your future.  This is what your pregnancy is going to look like.  Someone asking you questions.  Somewhere, you’re going to be a file and they’re going to be watching you. Someone’s going to come and visit you and someone is going to know more about you that you’re comfortable telling them. They might take your baby away. They might take your baby away. They might take your baby away.

I should have felt relieved.  Isn’t for the best that I’d be referred if I was pregnant?  Isn’t it good I’d be looked after and had some support? But it still scares me because it feels like an intrusion- another intrusion in a lifetime of intrusions- by mental health services into my life.  Resenting bitterly that mental illness may steal another part of my life, that mental health services may be the ones who define it at all.

When I was initially diagnosed, I was advised to think twice before even becoming pregnant. I did, briefly, a few years ago and I did become unwell, first with depression, then with hypomania, but that could have been the circumstances of the pregnancy rather than any sort of organic reason. What would happen now?  No matter what has gone before, I have imagined myself pregnant and beaming with a wanted child. Well, happy, blooming then fruitful.  I blot out the fact that pregnancy and having children is one of the most stressful things a couple can do and that a quite shocking amount of partners have affairs during these periods.  And that my husband isn’t great at coping with me when I’m not very well (but he’s getting better, and I know he’d be an amazing dad).  And that I live in a tiny flat and I’d have no money and wouldn’t be able to cover the rent on SMP. And that I take antipsychotic and antidepressant and mood stabilising medication and have tried to kill myself. And suicide is the leading cause of maternal death.

Oh, that.

But then I wish someone had been there when my mum was suffering when she had my brother and sister. I can’t remember what happened (particularly when my sister was born, because I was still a far-off idea at the time), but I do remember she thought there were rats in the bath, blood, that my brother was some sort of god and that she was mad for years after- still is, really- and that my dad’s drinking got worse and worse until it killed him.  I try to tell myself that just because it happened to her, it doesn’t mean it will happen to me.  I’m not married to my father, and my father was an alcoholic, and I’m not. I’m not living her life, in her circumstances. I’m not her. I’m not her.

And even if I was, how badly did having two parents with a mental illness affect me?  On a good day, I’d say, “Ach, hardly at all”. On a bad, I’d be flung back into a cobwebby corner of my memory where I’m hiding behind a door with my hands over my ears listening to my parents scream at each other, and the years that followed where I spun in my mother’s confused untruths, not sure what was true, not sure what wasn’t and remember my joyful time in CAMHS.

I have my brother and sister, though. I have them.

On balance, though, I think my experiences have had a positive impact on my personality rather than a negative one. I grew up to be compassionate, to want to help people, to be independent since we largely had to look after ourselves, to value creativity as a way to express myself when I lived with people who could be wordless, and to be someone who stands up for themselves and for others. On the downside, I’m one of those people who struggles to make close relationships (and this scares me about having kids- who would help me? Who could I ask?), who runs away when people try to get close to her, who is super-sensitive, who seeks validation too often, who feels overburdened with a sense of responsibility and guilt for things I can’t control, and who shuts down if someone shouts at me as it throws me back into the centrifugal force of my parents rage. (And yes, I’m aware that my traumatic upbringing and subsequent traumas have probably contributed a fair bit to me being mentally interesting. But I certainly don’t blame my parents for that. They’re people, first). But those things don’t hold me back to any huge degree and the slightly reclusive part of my personality is one I’d miss having, too.

And they weren’t always like that. Sometimes, my parents were wonderful.  It was something I was wildly jealous of when my dad died- other peoples’ memories of their parents. I had friends who lost their parents to cancer at similarly young ages to when I lost my dad.  But their parent, “battled”, was, “brave”. Was proud, was strong, had friends, were blissfully and memorably ordinary. They had coffee with their parents and bought them places, to events that didn’t end with them screaming at them to stop, slumping into sobs.  I was so jealous that, then, all I had left of my dad were horrible memories.  They were the ones that floated to my mind when I thought of him. Memories that drenched me in shame and regret, regret of such a short, wasted life, and shame that we weren’t enough for him to want to live for.

But as time has passed, I remember more good about him.

I understand he couldn’t, “just” stop drinking. I thank him for the good influence he had on me. To be silly, to be strong, to read. I mourn that my children won’t have him as a grandad, to be bounced on his leg like he used to do me.  Now whenever I talk to my somewhat transformed mum on the phone, I ask her to think about getting herself a wee fella.  I hate the thought of another life not being lived, being wasted without love, without someone, even a good friend, to share with.

And on the plus side of me not really being close to many people, I have a lot of love.  Tons of it, pouring out of me, for anyone to have if they want it.  So that’s something.

But my parents were never really helped for their problems.  No-one really supported them when they needed it, when we needed it. How different things might have been if someone had recognised they needed help. These somewhat self-regarding entries are a protection.  A way of acknowledging what could happen.  Save yourself by being self-aware in case there comes a time when you can’t be.  So it doesn’t come.

So I think I need to give up any expectations I have of pregnancy or motherhood, both good and bad. I may not suddenly have a giant gleaming kitchen and long, russet hair (it’s purple right now, but for some reason, when I think of my hair when pregnant, it’s long and not falling out like it does during pregnancy and russet and smells of apples, the latter being a probability considering we are currently buried in them) and have that kind of flattering slimness that accentuates my bountiful bump (I’m newly obese again, so that’s not going to happen anyway).  I may not have a husband who’s endlessly patient with me and who listens to my stomach like a shell for the sea and sings to me (I fucking hope not- he’s the most effortfully bad singer I’ve ever heard) and keeps everything clean and is never bad tempered and never misses sex or the nights out with his previously young wife and the nights in with his previously girlfriend. He won’t become depressed himself and will continue to bring me coffee and breakfast and call me beautiful.

Likewise, I may not go mad and may not end up struggling to bond with my baby, and may not be like my mother, and may not spend every waking minute thinking I’m a shit mother and a shit person and shit feminist, and may not have to come off my medication and if I do, I may be fine, and it may, may be, just a gloriously ordinary time of my life, like it is in the lives of lots of women, like it is for lots of women with mental health problems, too. Apart from panic attacks, I’m fine now. I may continue to be fine. And even if I wasn’t, it’ll all be worth it in the end.

I hope so.

P.S: I’m not pregnant, don’t worry.

P.P.S: Daksha Emson is an exceptional case, hence the inquiry.  Although women can be so unwell they commit suicide and take their children with them, it’s incredibly rare.  And what has changed since they inquiry?  Not much.

P.P.P.S: If I’ve depressed the shite out of you with this entry, here’s some Eddie Izzard:

Mind Media Awards/You Take It With You


Firstly, hooray! This blog was nominated for a Mind Media Award in the digital category! Thanks so much to whoever nominated me, it’s lovely.  I feel a bit awkward and have that Irish tendency to shrug off praise with, “Aaaah” then starting a conversation about how grand the weather’s being, so I’ll leave it at that, but thank you.  Thanks to the shortlisters, too, for not printing out a copy of this blog and then setting it on fire to show your displeasure.  It’s a bit nervewracking as aceness abounds on the shortlist, such as Purple Personage. They’re new, exciting, well-written and switched on, whereas this blog is now six.  Six, in digital terms, is when t’was all fields around here.  Things have changed so much in the digital world, in such wonderful ways.  I’m glad, somewhere, my increasingly mumbular witterings still resonate with someone, and, hopefully, help others who are stumbling on their way.

So thank you!

If I don’t win, I have awarded myself this. I thought these were a myth. But they’re a crispy, slightly off-tasting reality.

If you want to read more mental health blogs, go to the World of Mentalists where there’s a weekly round up and a generous, afternoon-sucking blogroll.

The nomination has prodded me to update this blog. I continue to stumble a bit meself.

I wish when we haul the overstuffed suitcase out the door, we left the mentals hidden and small somewhere under the clothes strewn across the floor, to gather fluff and dust while we saunter, tanned and trouble free, in a Somewhere Else. (I am aware, too, of the ridiculous privilege in being able to go Somewhere Else, even just for a few days).

I hadn’t slept before we left and my anxiety kicked in at the train station.  A man was being frisked down by security, then his bag popped open.  It contained at least 50 bottles of shampoo and 20 tubes of toothpaste.  Robert tried to reason with me that maybe he just really liked being clean, but I was convinced (irrationally) he must be a terrorist with bombs in the tubes, some squirty, white bombs. I’d been looking forward to the surrealness going through a tunnel into Paris on my birthday for ages but it was ruined by my white knuckling paranoia and almost having to be forced onto the train.  The whole time I was hypervigilant and almost fainted in relief when we got to Paris unblownup.

I panic-checked my bags for my medication- another thing you can’t leave behind.  It meant that we didn’t do anything til late afternoon every day, which was okay as it was incredibly hot. I had to keep pretty much the same routine as home- being hoisted awake by Robert and fed coffee under I was marginally more coherent, then waiting another hour or two before being able to walk and talk in public without being hit by a car or mistaken for being drunk. I’m used to this by now as it’s been my life for 5 years, but on holiday, I just want to be normal. I want to be like everyone else and not drugged and exhausted and floaty from anxiety.  I wanted to fall asleep listening to the sounds of the Parisien night, and not to whatever I’d put on my laptop to stare fixedly at to stave off a panic attack.  It’s why I find Christmas, Easter, birthdays and every holiday hard, and I know I’m not alone in that.

My actual birthday, for all I worried, was fantastic though (and only one panic attack, hooray). I was awoken by a lovely pastry, we went to the park and drank beer in the sun, got lost in the Marais and were then led by a kindly French man to a restaurant he liked, had dinner, went back to Montmartre and opened the fizzy wine Robert had sneaked earlier, sat on the steps of the Sacre Coeur and Robert put candles in an eclair, kept aflame by Parisien youths singing, Joyeux Anniversaire, then met an artist and went back to his flat and listened to music, then asleep by 6am. It was a good ‘un.

31 and 28

31 and 28 and stupid faces.


I am trying to make a conscious effort to will myself into the present so I don’t just let myself float away on anxiety. If I think too much I start to panic (or not at all- if my brain empties, panic moves in to take the space, because my brain’s a total dick) and I feel completely exhausted by it.  I’m also trying to keep myself a bit present as I’m entering my mood-danger zone.  This time of year I always become depressed, and I don’t think I can handle that on top of the panic stuff, so I am trying very very very hard to keep my head above quicksand.  This week hasn’t been so great as I’ve been tearful and hypersensitive but we’ll see eh.  I’m sure you’ll all be riveted when you read my yearly depressive breakdown post.

Otherwise, though, things are good.  I’m still waiting for therapy and beginning to think it’ll never materialise.  It’s the panacea of CBT, which, although is the first thing tried for panic and phobia, I’m inherently cynical about as it seems to be the psychiatric version of paracetamol, just chucked at everyone, for every ache, no matter how sharp, no matter how persistent.

I’ve known people who’ve had fantastic experiences and people who’ve had dreadful ones.  What worries me if that the model is is making sense of the irrational, whereas my problem is I have rationalised myself- rightly- into a corner. So, I’m not sure how it’ll go.

Anyway, just wanted to say, “hello” and thanks.  Excuse the listlesness of this post but I feel a bit listless today, it’s been a weird (nicely so) one.

And if you’ve followed a link and it’s your first time here, hello, and here’s some posts to have a read of.

Time marches on

I’m 28 in 2 days.  Or possibly tomorrow, since nobody knows when my birthday is. (I was not, contrary to rumour, found in a bin).

Me running towards my daddy, behind the camera that was his 5th limb for a decade.

27 has defined, “the best of times, the worst of times”.  Absolute aceness mixed with arseness. I’ll be glad to see the back of it, though things have been looking up. And yet, to see the back of any year fills me with dread.  I sat today in the park near my house and read (Primo Levi- cheerful stuff!) and cursed myself for not appreciating the summer sooner. How many we will see? And etc. But I’ll be in Paris with Robert so shall enjoy that.  And have had a lovely few days celebrating our first wedding anniversary. One year already! What the hell.  Life is brief and strange.

I’m a ray of sunshine, me.

I feel quite apprehensive about this one, due to my recent freakouts.  Is 28 old? Oldish? How was 28 for you?

And I have been writing this blog since I was 20. OH DEAR. This blog is older than some little people I know.

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