‘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.)




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…

You can’t see me!

I can’t stand that all it takes is one moment to destroy my head. I was doing relatively well, and then I saw someone in the street, who saw me too, and that was it. (If you’re curious, that someone was Dr T. He smiled at me, and I couldn’t take it so I did the grown up thing and hid behind a bench and wondered if I’d ever be able to go back to therapy again).

Not an overreaction, no.

It was so awful I can’t even describe it. And yet it was just a moment – a few seconds – and an innocent interaction (diverted by my adverse reaction!).

I’m just left angry with myself. I can’t be normal. I can’t smile and say hello – I have to freak out. If you wanted a weapon against me, I’d direct you to a list of names; all you have to do is mention one of them, and it’s like you’ve punched me. Why is it so hard to have a normal relationship with someone?

I say that, but I get on with people at work, and I have retained my childhood friends. I just struggle to deal with relationships that don’t fall in those categories. Most of the people on the list are people I latched onto with misdirected attachment hopes, often with very bad results. Once you’re on the list, you don’t seem to come off it. I pretend you don’t exist, but I know you do, somewhere.

Dr T hasn’t made it onto the list (yet); he’s in a kind of grey area, which I’m maintaining with great effort. When/if he goes on the list I won’t be able to be anywhere near him ever again. For now, he just doesn’t exist outside the clinic. So if I see him in the street, like today, it’s like WOAH DANGER and I have to hide (I am embarrassed by this, because he saw me hide, but I couldn’t do anything different!)


Perspective is calming

It’s strange how gaining an understanding of something can alter your mood. Or maybe it isn’t. Either way, I worked out what was sending me over the edge, and now I know, I feel a bit more stable.

I think I knew all along, and yet at the same time, I wasn’t allowed to know. Dr T asked me what was bothering me, and I told him I didn’t know. We spent the next 50 minutes guessing. I genuinely participated in this, trying to figure it out. My brain was somehow split.

So now I’m still agitated as hell, but I don’t feel the need to harm myself; it feels sufficient to handle the energy by moving around. I feel like I need some me-time; to curl up in bed with old movies and hot tea, with no responsibilities. Life is pretty stressful at the moment on a couple of fronts, which has been bad timing really.

I might get Sunday to myself. I really hope I do.

MQ actually found her nerve

Well, the secret-sharing was anti-climatic, and I’m grateful. The words didn’t sound as awful as I had feared they would, and actually the secret was shown to be something that doesn’t really have to be a secret at all.

Pre-session I was ill with anxiety. It was almost funny watching each symptom appear in predictable order; needing to puke, shaking, feeling lightheaded, and then on the walk to centre, my legs turning to lead, slowing me to a laboured trudge. I imagine my muscles loyally insisting that they’re going to ‘save’ me by bringing me to a halt.

With a lot of effort, I made it there. In session, I hesitated and dithered for ages, before I finally found the courage to share. Think of it as sharing an unusual interest. Dr T was surprised, but not in a bad way, and I increasingly realised I wasn’t really saying anything bad or controversial. I just hadn’t said it aloud before. At an early age I learned my interest was ‘different’, and locked it away in the back of my brain, never to be spoken of. I suppose that allowed the sense of danger to build over time.

So there we are. I don’t know how this will affect therapy going forward, but there isn’t going to be a climatic shift. I wonder if that means we haven’t really hit a core issue, in which case, what else am I hiding??

New year, same crap

It’s a sorry state of affairs when someone is nice to you and your brain goes WARNING WARNING DON’T GET ATTACHED. That said, part of me is grateful for that warning, like I’ve just subverted a threat. A friendly woman (who I’ve known a little while) was caring towards me, and it becomes an attack. Stupid brain.

I’ve been reading through some of my old posts here, and current me seems pretty similar to old me so there’s a lot of solidarity high-fiving going on. In particular I’m drawn to that post I wrote when my old care-coordinator finally understood why I was suicidal (‘A strange kind of closure‘) – because I didn’t look forward to anything – and that’s something I said to Dr T yesterday.

Life is just endless cycles of stress. Get anxious about A, go through A, get anxious about B…etc etc. Even holidays make me stressed, so I don’t have any, which probably makes me ill.

I don’t expect to find a job I truly and thoroughly enjoy. Why should I? My one true, lifelong passion, to write science fiction, is over before it began; my creativity died long ago. I’m not interested in relationships.

I’m here because I have duties, to people like my parents, and I’m here because of the meds; the lithium dampens the suicide ideation, and the mirtazapine knocks me out so at least I can be unconscious if I’m not at work. Literally, I wake up, go to work, come home, and take the mirtazapine as soon as it’s socially acceptable for me to do so (I have housemates). I kill any time in-between with Tetris (I may not be cool, but I do have quick reflexes).

Is this a life at all?