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Service Users’ Stories and Artwork


Service users’ stories

When I look back over the last four years since I first became ‘unwell’ I can’t quite believe I’ve come so far. But I have and I’m proud, and very excited about that oyster they call the world. It hadn’t always been that way. When I first became unwell I was having panic attacks. I was in a violent relationship at the time with a stressful job too. So my days were filled with worry, at first I blamed the panicked attacks on an ear infection causing dizziness. It wasn’t clear to me at the time what anxiety might be, until I spent days in the house scared to go out, scared to watch the news, scared of everything. I always have a memory of sitting watching a hospital programme and someone had cut themselves on a knife, suddenly my thoughts were rushing, I was even scared of the knifes in the kitchen.

My thoughts would really run away with me, everything was centred on my anxiety, I spent days drawing to push out the thoughts, generally drawing cartoons and anything that wasn’t deemed dangerous. I used to go to the GP weekly convinced there was something physically wrong with me to cause e to feel dizzy etc. but she referred me to be assessed by a Mental Health Team.

My determination kept me functioning to some degree, my mum would drive me to the local library where I would sit and look at art books and remember times when I didn’t feel this way. I didn’t like going out as I constantly didn’t feel quite in my body, it’s a feeling a don’t have any more and so it’s now hard to describe, but I remember how it made me feel, it made me feel that I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything in case I wasn’t really doing it.

I went to the mental health team assessment and explained my symptoms etc., but they discharged me back to the GP with information on anxiety and said I was perhaps getting better on my own. I think that if they had picked up some of the psychosis symptoms at this time then maybe I wouldn’t have been hospitalised, but I took my information on anxiety and began to read…

I started to work part time in a nursing home, which made me feel really good to help people, but for me I couldn’t forget the people that died. It’s a natural part of getting old but it only fuelled my fear of illnesses and death. And when my granddad died too it became unbearable. This is the point I started to become severely unwell.

I wasn’t sleeping well anyway perhaps waking every hour, but then thoughts of people dying at the nursing home filled my mind as I tried to sleep. I began to think of ghosts at night which made me feel too scared to sleep.

At first I busied myself with books and games to distract me and avoiding all those fears. But then as I tried to work as well I was tired and emotional. I thought I was upsetting everyone, my concentration was low and I was rushing around trying to get things done at work, sweating. This was a Friday as I remember and so I had the weekend off. Over the weekend I continued not to sleep and by the third night of no sleep I began to become really distressed thinking I was dying myself, this of course wasn’t true but I was convinced as I could even smell rotting. I began to hallucinate too, all I can remember now from that time at home is seeing people on TV changing from young to old in front of my eyes, and I remember thinking that this wasn’t logical, but vision is a powerful thing and it’s hard not to believe something you see.

After a period of five days with no sleep I was voluntarily admitted to hospital at a mental health unit. I was so desperate to be helped as not sleeping for so long was one of the hardest experiences of my life up until then. I felt so irritable and every single sound distracted me, even the ticking of a clock.

The first week I was admitted to hospital is quite patchy in my mind. I have memories that don’t fit together and I’m not sure what order they are in. But it was a combination of distress, happiness, and thankfulness all rolled into one.

I didn’t know where I was at first, in fact I thought I was in heaven, I thought everyone were ghosts and there were angels. During the first night I was in hospital I was extremely distressed and tried to get out of the ward as I was quite terrified of all these people roaming around in the dark, I was sectioned and secluded overnight. 

I remember feeling that everyone was talking about me, not in a bad way but just in a joking kind of way. This felt both comforting and overwhelming for me. It was another two days before I slept properly. But when I did sleep for the first time I felt really good. I started to enjoy things again that I hadn’t for almost a year before. I enjoyed drawing, clothes, going out for walks and seeing my family so much during this time. It was a very distressing time for my family too, they felt helpless.

During my hospital admittance I told doctors about my violent relationship and they acted quickly to protect me, banning all contact from my ex-boyfriend. It is this that makes me glad I went into hospital, it really was, looking back, a pivotal moment for my life in a positive way.

After six weeks in hospital I was discharged and went back to my parents. It took months for my brain to recover physically. I can remember thinking I’m never going to be able to concentrate on anything for more than ten minutes again. But thankfully the doctors were right and my concentration returned. I began to have flashbacks about my hospital admission, at first and thought that if I thought about it that it might happen again.

But after seeing a psychologist for CBT these fears were addressed. CBT has worked really well for me. It was hard work but worth it as it has re trained my brain to think and address bad thought patterns. I use the techniques I learnt to this day. Slowly my confidence in not getting ill again grew, I began a University course which really gave me something to get excited about. I had also moved into my own flat in a supported housing which made me feel so much more independent, I could finally decorate my bedroom floor with scattered clothes and drink milk straight from the bottle!

I’m now coming to the end of my degree and looking to do a masters and PHD in the future too. And the really good thing that my experience has given me is to appreciate everything. I never thought I would live on my own or do a degree but with continued support from the MHT I have become the person I was before all this began.

I’ve got anxiety by the short and curlies and I’m not going to let it stop me doing what I want to do. With my CBT techniques my anxiety doesn’t stand a chance and I’ve been doing Thai boxing classes at the gym just in case!

I think if I was to give advice to anyone who has been through, or is going through what I have been through I would say; Take every piece of support that is available through the pier team, I have never been afraid to take all the support available and I’ve always followed my consultant’s advice on medication, these are factors that inevitably have made my recovery so successful.

Also believe in yourself and never give up. There have been endless times that I thought I could relapse or that the anxiety was coming back but guess what it didn’t happen. Thoughts are merely thoughts and it’s what we do with them that count. I would also say just try and push yourself slightly out of that comfort zone, I have done that a lot over the last three years and it really has got me where I am today. I hope that my journey inspires others to see that Mental illness doesn’t have to be disabling, I have had what would be described as Severe Mental Illness and I’m living a ‘normal’ happy and successful life. I have been taken off my medication for the last 10 months and all is well. I think it’s quite important to exercise as this has also really improved my confidence. I still keep a diary as I find it not only therapeutic but it enables me to see how far I’ve come.

I would also like to thank the PIER team for all their support throughout the last three years. Without such a specialised team available I may not have had such a smooth transition to well-being. 

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