‘Despair to Deliverance’ by Sharon DeVinney & Robin Personette

This post is a special one that’s been a couple of years in the making. It’s time to talk about ‘Despair to Deliverance’, a collaboration between Robin and Dr DeVinney. Up until recently this was a series of blog posts released teasingly slowly on Sharon’s website, and now I’ve discovered the book it has become. Discovered, and devoured.

Hey MQ. You read a lot. What’s the big deal over this one?

It had me at the concept. A collaborative work between patient and therapist, describing Robin’s mental health difficulties and the efforts of her therapist to keep her alive, and keep her healthy. Who doesn’t want to know what their therapist is thinking? What motivates them, what lingers with them beyond a session? And at the same time, to read Robin’s take on her experience and her treatment – to actually find an answer to the question of ‘is this normal?’/’is it just my therapy that’s like this…?’

How often are we invited to see inside the therapeutic relationship, from both angles?

The concept had me hooked, and the content kept me there. I could relate to a lot of what Robin describes. Intense depression, anxiety, but then faking normality in front of everyone to try and maintain the life she has at the time. Been there, failed that too. Bipolar symptoms. Impulsive self-destruction. A stubborn refusal to try groups. More medications than you could shake a stick at. Biological depression and psychological depression. I could go on…

I’ve read a fair few first person accounts of mental illness, but not many that I’ve really connected with. I instinctively feel I understand parts of Robin’s journey so well that I trust her to teach me things about the parts that we don’t share – e.g. she makes me question my refusals of ECT. Robin’s descriptions aren’t anything like the scary stories we’re led to believe. In fact, she makes ECT sound less like torture and more like…treatment! I never trusted those assurances coming from my psychiatrist, but I trust it in Robin’s accounts. Her writing comes across as so honest, so thoughtful but still concise…what more can you ask for? On a side note, I think it asked a lot of Robin, and it’s amazing that she’s been able to share her story like this. In consenting to and participating in writing this book, I think it’s fair to say Robin’s inspirational.

As for Dr DeVinney’s part in this…where do I start? I stumbled across Sharon’s blog in the depths of my biological depression, when my issues with Dr T were at their most intense, and I read and re-read Sharon’s posts, desperate for anything that might better help me understand my own situation. Sharon’s writing has reminded me on more than one occasion that Dr T is a person. A revelation, I know! And at times, I can admit that I’ve been jealous of the level of support Sharon gave Robin. I’m getting by at the moment, which is a lot more than I was a couple of years ago so it’s not like there’s a real problem here – more that Sharon really knew Robin; she could join the dots or hear the words going unsaid, she knew what Robin needed, and if she could, she gave it to her. That’s priceless, and I find it comforting to know that it’s possible.

 “Despair to Deliverance” stands out from almost everything I’ve read in another way too – that Robin’s battle with mental illness is messy. She is hospitalised on multiple occasions, sometimes when you were just thinking she was doing better. Her diagnoses change with time. It takes many, many attempts to find the right medications for Robin – and sometimes the mistakes have a dangerous impact on her health. Driven to keep working (and be ‘normal’), she forces herself to take jobs when she isn’t ready, only to crash and burn after a few weeks. This all stands out to me because in other books I’ve read, there seems to be a formula of person gets (correctly) diagnosed, person is given (correct) treatment, person gets better, and I don’t think that’s the typical pathway for a lot of people. The expectation that is it is normal just amps up the pressure. 

This has turned into a bit of an essay, but I think deservedly so. I thoroughly recommend “Despair to Deliverance” for the following:

  • If you suffer from depression and/or anxiety, and might find comfort in reading about someone else’s journey.
  • If you want to read first person accounts of psychiatric hospitalisation, ECT and medication regimes.
  • If you’re curious about psychotherapy from the therapist’s perspective.
  • If you live in the UK and want to rediscover some gratitude for the NHS – financial worries play a huge part in Robin’s account, and that’s one stress I was much less exposed to.

Links to the blog posts and book are at the top of the post.

(And no, this isn’t a sponsored post or anything like that. I think that when we read something that moves us, we should share it in case it can move others.)

  

 

The ghosts of words unsaid

Oh boy, therapy was difficult. I pride myself on being an emotionless robot, but my body betrays me. I took paperclips to fiddle with (I like to untangle them when I’m anxious), but I had to keep putting them down so I wouldn’t throw them. They wouldn’t have done any damage, but I might have died of embarrassment.

It was the first session since Dr T announced he’s leaving at the end of the year, and I could barely look at him. It was awful. All I could do was say that I was fine, when it was obvious I wasn’t. A personal plea more than anything else. There was this massive elephant in the room that his announcement had managed to upset me, but each time Dr T tried to talk about it I had such a strong mentally-allergic reaction that I shut it right down.

I did manage to tell him about the auditory hallucinations though, which was good because he re-assured me that it wasn’t as big a deal as I’d thought. I think I just need to be vigilant – if it happens again it may need a medication adjustment (*groan*).

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go bury my head in the sand.

 

Did it re-write my DNA?

Sometimes I wonder, who would I be without depression and anxiety?

I think the expected answer is that I’d be this amazing confident person, living life to the full, always laughing or smiling. Happy-go-lucky.

In reality though, I have to ask if it all boils down to nothing. Strip out all the meds. The psychotherapy. The time spent every day obsessing about little things, stressing over the smallest parts of the daily routine, internally triaging unstable moods. Take out the illness itself…what’s left?

I think what I’m really wondering is this – have I been ‘mentally ill’ for so long now that it defines me? Maybe it isn’t even a question of time. I don’t know the statistics, but it can’t be too great an assumption to say that my six years is nothing compared to the majority of sufferers. I’m looking at it from an age point of view. I was 19 when I was first diagnosed. I’m 25 now. I haven’t been an ‘adult’ without mental illness. When I was a kid I was generally pretty happy, kind of popular, and sure of my myself. I don’t know that it would translate. Are the ingredients still there? It could have been luck.

Given the current circumstances, perhaps this is all irrelevant. But surely I’m not the only person who sometimes thinks about jacking in all the meds? Or the support? To see what’s left underneath it all.

Here’s a scary proposition. Maybe my life has been about mental illness for long enough now that I have become my illness. And THAT is why I can’t shake it off. It follows that I’m unlikely to do so in future.

Up to speed

“So MQ, tell me how the hell you ended up back here again…?”

I don’t know. Actually, I’ll tell you a secret – the truth is that I’m terrified I DO know why my brain is exploding.

Dr T is leaving.

He told me last week. Oh how we laughed at the prospect of pastures new. It’s not immediate – he’s here til Christmas. Hey look, there’s a bird outside! Just look at those feathers!

I’m fine with it. It doesn’t bother me at all. I knew this would come sooner or later, so no big surprise. It’s cool.

I’m not fine with it. I’m actually increasingly angry and anxious. I told myself from day 1 Dr T would disappear, and somehow I’m still hurt by it. Wtf. My therapist-shaped-safety-net of 5/6 years wants to do something different, and it feels like someone’s whipped out a crash mat from under me to reveal a gaping hole.

This can’t be the reason I’m in meltdown. I refuse. I am a robot, and I am not affected by the actions of other people. I don’t get attached to people who aren’t family because I know their presence in my life is likely temporary.

Someone remind me where my off-switch is. Oh yeah, it’s the slot that says ‘Insert sleeping tablet here’.

(I’m not ODing. I don’t need to. My med combo knocks me out no problem.)

At the risk of sounding whine-y, LIFE SUCKS SOMETIMES. Maybe if I yell it loud enough I won’t feel the need to keep saying it…

Shreds

I’d forgotten how this feels. I guess I was doing much better than I thought. This low mood feels almost unbearable, to the point that I’m completely restless and agitated, but there’s a quiet voice in the back of my head saying ‘it’s no big deal. You used to feel like this everyday.’

Misery. Anger at the misery – how is this fair? What did I do?! The uncomfortable feeling that you’re dealing with the equivalent of a car accident, and yet for the rest of the world it’s business as usual. That said, I don’t want people to know. Far from it. But I’d like the sky to change colour. Or for all the cars in the world to suddenly stop. That would do it.

Days become trials. Time passes too slowly, and I stare at spreadsheets with glazed eyes, unreasonably incredulous that I have to do work. I’m falling apart in here!


Off into the sunset

Guess who’s back.

I’m back because I’m not okay. My journey isn’t over – if I ever thought that, it was wishful thinking.

Last night I dreamt that I committed suicide. I dodged various people around me on a beach, ran into the sea, and swam away, fast enough and far enough that I wouldn’t have the energy to make it back.

I don’t think that’s normal.

What’s changed? Physically, nothing. Medically, nothing. I haven’t done anything *stupid*, but I notice I’m thinking about it more. My mood is volatile – it takes only the smallest of negative triggers for me to feel like throwing something.

I’m not a physical kind of person. To anyone else, I look fine. Sitting at my desk, doing my job, same old same old. Inside, it’s like I’m fizzing. I can’t really talk to anyone about it – if I try, I can’t find the words, and then I’m so overwhelmed that I stop trying out of frustration.

I guess that’s why I’m back. This blog always helped me find the words.

Alternatives to short term self-harm (TW)

I have a history of DSH in response to feeling emotionally overwhelmed; when I cut/burn/overdose, I effectively shut myself down. A year ago, my (now) ex-CPN was the first to address this, and she introduced me to two techniques: 1) wearing a rubber band around my wrist to ping myself with if I felt the need to self harm, and 2) delaying: if I want to self harm, I have to wait five minutes and see if I still want to do it (and repeat until the urge goes away).

These are good ideas in theory, and I found they worked for a while, but eventually they weren’t enough. My CPN couldn’t understand why my DSH persisted, and apparently decided that since she ‘wasn’t helping’ (her interpretation, not mine) she might as well discharge me.

Since then I’ve been relatively un-supported regarding my DSH, until today at my weekly ‘Reasons Not to Kill Yourself’ session at the psych hospital. First off, Nurse L identified that my DSH methods are intense and short term, (as compared to alternatives like denying food/drink etc), so she wanted to give me alternatives that would have the same kind of immediate impact but without any lasting damage. She came up with the following, adapted from techniques used with adolescents:

1) Ice bowl: Fill a bowl with water and ice, and then dunk your face in it for 15 seconds. Come up to breathe, and then repeat until you’ve done this 5 times.

2) Cold shower: As it sounds, turn the shower to the coldest setting, and jump in WITH your clothes on. Stay there until you’ve counted to 60.

Nurse L explained the theory behind these suggestions; primarily that they are painful, and will cause an adrenaline rush, but they won’t actually harm you (in fact, the ice bowl is apparently really good for your skin). After the temperature shock from both of these, you’ll be freezing, and all those overwhelming emotions will be dampened for the time being – all you’ll want to do is wrap up warm and sleep. This is what they used to do before tranquillising patients in psychiatric hospitals: put them under a cold shower, and a minute later they’ll calmly go to bed.

I like that Nurse L explained to me how and why these techniques work. I like that they’re private, and relatively easy to do. The trick is turning to these methods before your brain goes for the old (and more damaging) ones; that’s why you have to get in the shower with your clothes on – in the time it would take to undress, you might change your mind and do something harmful to yourself.

People aren’t born with tendencies to self-harm; it’s a learned behaviour. I don’t remember where I learnt it, so I would guess I must have seen it on TV, or read it in a book. There’s something really sad in that, but there’s a positive to take away too – if self harm is a learned behaviour, it can be unlearned, or altered.

That’s what I need to remember now. It may be a long time before I lose the urges altogether, but I can learn better ways of acting on them.