‘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.


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!)


Guess what: therapists are human

I’m reading a collection of stories put together by a therapist, telling the anonymised tales of his encounters with a number of patients*. Let me share some quotes ** from this psychotherapist:

  • “Bob claimed he was happy, but his appearance betrayed him; how could happiness shape such a withered old body, or dress it in that baggy polyester tracksuit?”
  • “My work with Alana was long, hard, and rarely constructive for either of us.”
  • “Not AGAIN! He was rabbiting on, distancing himself, and I couldn’t stand it.”
  • “Heather was loud and boring.”

And most shockingly:

I’ve always hated fat women. They are disgusting. The way their fat ripples and wobbles as they move, the clothes that either hang like tents or scream ‘inappropriate’ because massive thighs are bursting out from a mini skirt. I don’t understand them. In a way, I can better accept a murderer to my therapy room, as he has committed the one awful deed, whereas the obese hippo continues to shove troughs full of food down her throat almost constantly. It appals me.

I’m actually finding it really hard to keep reading, because it’s challenging the way I think about Dr T. I think the clearest message I’m receiving is a reminder that therapists are people too. They have thoughts, feelings, opinions just like anyone else, in which case its obvious that sometimes patients will annoy them, or frustrate them, or bore them. It’s not nice to think about Dr T feeling that towards me, but it must happen.

What’s harder to square with is the rant in this book about fat women, although it could be anything. This psychotherapist goes on and on about how awful they are, and thanks the heavens that the fat patients are unaware of these views, but my heart goes out to them – I’d bet they did have a sense of their therapist’s attitude.

At the same time, part of me wants to say ‘if you’re going to acknowledge that therapists are regular people, you can’t ignore the fact that likes and dislikes, love and hatred are all going to be part of that package’. The level of dishonesty though, that sees a therapist sitting across from a patient and thinking ‘Ugh Fred is disgusting. Ew’….my gut tells me that’s not right.

And yes, that’s my oversized gut, because I can all to easily empathise with the patient in this case. Dr T has commented on my weight before, and Dr T himself is always in good shape. There is always a moment in every session where I wonder if Dr T is looking at me with repulsion, and the only way I can deal with this is to force myself into a distraction; song lyrics, or a memory game. I suppose this book is reinforcing all of this.

I think I might need to stop reading.

*For now I need to withhold the title/authoring info – I will update when I can

** Slightly altered to protect *

Here’s what I didn’t say

(in therapy, of course)

I wish I hadn’t opened my mouth. I wish I could rewind and suck the words back in.

I know I feel horrible lately, and yeah that sucks, but you don’t have to humour me. Actually, I’d rather you didn’t. I know it’s nothing. I know me feeling miserable is a 0.000001 on the scale of bad things in reality, and pretending otherwise is just embarrassing for both of us.

I’m not an idiot. I know you have a multitude of other patients, and I suspect most, if not all, of them feel worse and have good reason to. In a sick way I’m jealous, but hey, I already said I’m broken. Again, I know my woe is nothing. It’s probably pathetic.

So please, please, don’t pity me, or sympathise. Don’t say you know I’m having a hard time. I can’t take it.



Bleak view

I freaked out on the way to therapy yesterday. As I approached the building, I saw Dr T in the window, watching me. For some reason that made me feel massively uncomfortable, and I had to walk round the corner (out of sight) and take a few minutes to calm down. I was very strongly tempted to send Dr T an email saying I wasn’t going to make it today. But self-ridicule kicked in and I made myself move.

Therapy is broken, as I mentioned earlier. I wish it wasn’t. It honestly breaks my heart. It’s not useless – if I can shut out all the bad vibes, both real and imagined, and force myself not to think about the situation too much, Dr T can help me with less-sensitive things. But it’s not what it was, not by a long shot, and therapy is definitely not a safe place anymore.

I don’t think Dr T is aware of this, even if I do think his behaviour has changed. In yesterday’s session I was about to say ‘nowhere feels safe’, and I had to stop myself and hold it in, because I didn’t want Dr T to realise his office falls under that umbrella.

Really, nowhere is safe, and it’s terrifying. Work, ‘home’, therapy, social places, even the old go-to-places-for-hard-times, NO WHERE is safe. And now I don’t feel like I have therapy on my side, I feel very alone in this mess.