"I prefer to look at the positives of my illness" – Debra’s story
Debra reflects on her journey, from her first inpatient stay to life during retirement. Though she has accumulated many diagnoses over the years, like depression and schizoaffective disorder, she has been able to qualify as an accountant, start a happy family and keep an optimistic outlook on life.
Looking back, over nearly 40 years since I was first admitted to a psychiatric ward with depression, I can hardly believe I am still here! At times, it has been a tough and harrowing journey.
Prior to this first admission, I had experienced intense and changeable emotions for all of my adult life. However, I’d been able to complete a degree, marry and qualify as a chartered accountant.
After the admission, I spent many months going in and out of hospital. This period was before the introduction of the ‘Care in the Community’ approach. It was difficult to adapt to life outside of hospital after a spell as an inpatient, when there was little available support, with many people relapsing.
My depression did not go away but instead I began to experience psychotic symptoms. Eventually I was diagnosed with schizophrenia; never a nice diagnosis and there seemed little hope. My marriage was struggling and it was suggested that I would never be well enough to have children. These factors were upsetting in themselves.
Having lived a life of mental illness, I struggle with how to ensure it doesn’t define who I am.
I was very emotionally flat and retreated to bed for 20 hours a day for several months. I cannot remember why, but I gradually came to the realisation that only I could improve my situation. Doctors appeared unwilling to change my medication. I am sorry to say I came off of my meds and, against all advice, went on to have my first child.
A hospital admission when my child was three months old led to a diagnosis of puerperal psychosis – my third diagnosis. A wonderful consultant and their team helped me immensely and I will be forever grateful to them. After a five month stay, I went on to enjoy my child’s early years and have another child four years later.
My diagnosis had now changed to schizoaffective disorder and my symptoms were well controlled on a regular depot injection. Life moved along with bumps along the way, but only one brief further hospital admission.
I have met the most amazing people who have cared so wonderfully and shown me a way back to health.
When my youngest started secondary school, I went out to work, previously having done a small amount of home work. This return to office-based work, against my doctor’s advice, led to more stresses; frequent and intense mental health episodes. I also began experiencing pressured speech and wildly racing thoughts along with depressive and psychotic episodes. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Throughout my experiences, I have had the benefits of a solid and happy childhood, a steady relationship and the joy of children. I have also had great care from a significant number of doctors, nurses and occupational therapists (OTs).
I had very noticeable side effects from medication, such as tremors, head nodding, dribbling and the dreaded weight gain. I was diagnosed with Tardive dyskinesia in the early 2000’s. However, I’d take these issues over being unstable and self-harming for much of my life. My family do not deserve that and neither do I!
I also know when I experience episodes that feel as if they have lasted forever, that all things pass.
As I have reached retirement, I still have periods – too many - of being unwell. I’ve found that issues I have never been concerned about before now trouble me. In my memory are incidents and treatments dating back to the 1980’s, which cause me anguish and sleepless nights.
Having lived a life of mental illness, I struggle with how to ensure it doesn’t define who I am. Of course stigma is still rife. I have many aids to help me, such as swimming, cooking, cross-stitching and a strong faith. I also know when I experience episodes that feel as if they have lasted forever, that all things pass – they just need time, sometimes lots of it!
I prefer to look at the positives of my illness and I am daily thankful for the medications which have enabled me to live a good life, if not the one I envisaged in my twenty’s.
I have now been married 43 years and my children are grown up and settled. I have met the most amazing people who have cared so wonderfully and shown me a way back to health. I often think of a line in a Neil Diamond song which refers to ”human kindness overflowing”. My illness has given me the opportunity to experience this.
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