Doctor

Bravery, Pride and Cervical Smear Tests

Lovely readers, I’ll prewarn you now that this post will probably be full of all sorts of things where you think “too much information”, feel free to close and move on and wait for my next post which will probably be less “share-y”. You have been warned!

As many of you know, I’ve been really struggling this year with low confidence and very bad health anxiety that has been increasing week on week. Last week it got so bad and I was getting so many worrying symptoms that I finally looked into getting a smear test done at home as I’m 2 years overdue and have never had one before. A few people thought I’d definitely be able to have it done at home so I thought I’d find out and go from there. I sent Joe off to our doctor’s surgery because I was too scared to phone and ask and probably be told no. I had to wait until today to be contacted and as I expected, they don’t offer smear tests at home. At some point in the future I will write a post about all of the ways in which being housebound/agoraphobic has hindered me, from the mundane things like clothes shopping and getting haircuts to the serious stuff like not getting medical investigations or having dental appointments for 4 years, the list is long and probably surprising to those of you who’ve not experienced these conditions. I had luckily already prepared myself for being told today that I wouldn’t be allowed to have my test at home which would have been extremely difficult for me to cope with anyway but going to the doctors is significantly worse for me. My mum had very kindly offered to come over from the Isle of Wight, a 6 hour round trip, to go with me if I needed her to (I’m sure she must be very glad that I haven’t taken her up on this). I asked the receptionist what other options I had and if there were any quiet periods at the surgery as sitting in a waiting room full of sick people is extremely difficult for me (it’s actually my idea of hell but I didn’t want to sound dramatic on the phone). She wasn’t hugely helpful or understanding; this is probably the same receptionist who gave me completely incorrect information when I finally (after 10 months of psyching myself up) requested a telephone consultation to have my beta-blocker medication dose increased and refused to give me a telephone appointment, informing me those appointments don’t exist anymore. This caused me a huge amount of stress and panic and when I asked what a person with severe anxiety who’s virtually housebound is meant to do, she just reiterated the (incorrect) rules. I was lucky enough to speak to a different receptionist the next day who was absolutely lovely and so sympathetic and understanding and told me that I’d been told the wrong thing about the rules and had worried for 24 hours and barely slept or ate in that time for no reason and that telephone appointments do still exist and my medication increase had been approved. Anyway, the not so nice receptionist gave me a couple of different clinic options, all of which were getting further away from my flat (we don’t drive and my surgery is around the corner), I asked if there were any quiet periods at the surgery and she said no, it’s never quiet – this woman could really do with some teaching about sympathy and bending the truth a little rather than just scaring me silly when I’ve already said that I’m severely agoraphobic and socially anxious. She then mentioned that a cancellation had been made today with their senior nurse and I could be seen at 12.20 with enough time for the appointment to be over and done with before Joe had to go to work. I reluctantly agreed and decided that being anxious about it for the next 3.5 hours was preferable to booking on another day and worrying for significantly longer.

I took my beta-blockers to slow my heart rate down and took some diazepam, reserved for emergency needs like this (I’ve been given a very limited supply that is closely monitored by my doctors so that I don’t end up relying on it or addicted to it). I’m never sure how well the diazepam will work. I almost never take it and so I forget its effects and they seem to come and go in waves and it’s relatively easy for my brain to fight off the effects if I allow it so I do have to kind of give in and relinquish control to the drug and let it work; I did that today and thankfully it worked. On the walk to the doctors I could feel my brain wanting to be anxious, wondering why I was fine when I was in one of my most feared situations but the medication blanketed over that nicely and while I didn’t feel great, I kind of didn’t care about anything and didn’t feel worried. Joe had agreed to come in with me but luckily, while I was waiting I realised I didn’t really need him in there and I’d like to retain some mystery in our relationship for as long as possible that doesn’t involve watching nurses shining a torch on my lady bits, putting things up there and then taking samples out of it. I was seen late but I managed to go in on my own and the nurse was just lovely! She hadn’t been told anything about me which was a bit of a shock but she saw instantly how nervous I was and knew from my notes it was my first test and when I explained about the agoraphobia and why I was 2 years late for the test and about the medication she seemed genuinely impressed that I was even there and just got what a big deal it was for me. This is in stark contrast to much of my previous experience and treatment where I’m often dismissed, disbelieved and treated with aggression for “behaving like a child” and “making a fuss”. I ended up crying, I think with relief, and also because the meds make my brain loopy. She told me everything she’d be doing, explained what all of the different types of results and consequences could be and then chatted to me while I got my kit off and she got the test stuff ready. I really can’t praise her enough. I hate not knowing what’s going on and I’m terrified of pain and it didn’t hurt at all, it wasn’t comfortable but having people sticking things up your lady bits when you’re not in the throes of passion never is but the test itself I barely felt and whenever my breathing was getting fast she got me to slow down and before I knew it it was done! I thanked her multiple times and I hope she knew just how much her treatment of me helped because it honestly couldn’t have gone better, thank goodness for wonder drugs and wonder nurses! She also assured me that unless she wins the lottery, she won’t be leaving anytime soon and so she’ll be around to do my future tests and I’m allowed to request her so that was a huge help. I even got a sticker as I mentioned that that should be a thing given that having a smear test is way more impressive than cleaning your teeth. I think smear stickers should be a thing – “I only cried once on the nurse”, “I looked after my cervix today”, that kind of thing! Mine had a snowflake on which was apt given that it was lightly snowing here today!

So, now I have the two week wait until my results come through. I’m not feeling calm but I am at least calmer than I was. I’m very worried about what to do if the results come back as anything other than my cervix is beautiful and healthy but I’m trying to just deal with that when it comes. Today at least, I’m very focused on how brave I’ve been and how proud I am that I managed to face my fears of doctors, invasive tests, showing people my lady bits, and sitting in a waiting room with sick people. None of those fears will go away, as you know, that’s not how my condition works but at least I fought through them today to get a test done that I needed to have. The nurse even said that I should be really proud of myself and that I’d done brilliantly so that was really nice, I definitely earnt my sticker. For anyone worrying about having their smear test, please try not to, it doesn’t hurt and it’s not even that uncomfortable, at least it wasn’t for me. I have an extremely low pain threshold and often get criticised for fussing too much and making a big deal out of things when they’re painful for me rather than uncomfortable but this honestly wasn’t painful and the nurse was so understanding and going at lunchtime was great because there were hardly any people there in the waiting room. Oh, and diazepam! I wouldn’t have got past my front door without that today and my lovely boyfriend. Get it booked ladies, if I can do it then anyone without a severe anxiety disorder can. Yes, it’s scary but it’s important and you might even get a sticker if you mention it while you’re there!

Before I disappear, I just want to say a huge thanks to my best friend Katie, my superstar online friend Claire and my mum, without whom I’d not have been brave enough to go for this test today. Huge apologies to them too for way oversharing and probably boring them senseless with my ridiculous worries and fears and obsessive thoughts but thanks to all of you, and my lovely boyfriend Joe who went with me to the doctors today, I was able to get tested and hopefully I’m now one step closer to being told I’m fine and that my brain is a massive overthinking hypochondriacal mess (I hope their letters don’t comment on your brain state but you know!).

10 Ways to Help Your Mentally Ill Child

This week is Children’s Mental Health week and with 1 in every 10 children displaying symptoms of mental illness and a great deal of adults (me included) starting their mentally ill journey in childhood, I thought I’d tackle the problem head on and explain what ways you as a parent can help your child who is, or may become, mentally ill. Here are 10 things to do when talking to your mentally ill, or possibly mentally ill child.

1. Reassure them – The first thing that’s really important is to reassure yourself and your child that it’s really common to suffer from mental illness and it’s ok. People can and do recover from mental illness and many of us go on to lead perfectly normal lives either free from mental illness or managing its impact on us. We’re often perfectly capable of being at school, going to university, getting a job, getting married, having a family, and doing all of the things that are considered ‘normal’. 1 in 4 adults in the UK have a mental illness each year and 1 in 3 will in their lifetime – it’s really common and you can overcome it.

2. It’s not about you – The last thing your child needs is for you to blame yourself or start thinking about what you could have done to prevent it or how you might have caused it. If your child became diabetic or got cancer, you wouldn’t blame yourself, you’d just go into overdrive about how you could get treatment, this is the best way forward with mental health too – it’s an illness like any other. You’re not a terrible parent and having a child with a mental illness doesn’t mean anything about you. Keep focusing on them.

3. It’s not their fault – Their condition isn’t because of anything they have or haven’t done and no matter how much it looks like it, it’s not in their control. Telling them to cheer up, think positively, or just eat more, or telling them a list of all the things they have to live for won’t help them at all and will just alienate them further than their condition is already doing. Trust that they are doing their best to manage their condition and don’t EVER blame them!

4. Believe them – The most damaging thing I have experienced during my mental illnesses has been being disbelieved and accused of lying. Children do lie but it’s very rare that they’ll lie about mental illness for any length of time and if they’ve managed to pluck up the courage to tell you that they’re not ok, then you need to sit up and listen because they may not tell you again. Always believe them!

5. Take it seriously – This is not a phase. Mental illness is not the same as raging hormones or having a stroppy teenager. The things they’re going through may well not pass after a couple of rough months of sulking and door-slamming and you need to be prepared for this. Don’t play it down or dismiss it, listen to them and take action if necessary. Always take mental illness symptoms seriously.

6. Do something – If you notice changes in your child’s behaviour that you’re worried about, ask them about it. Don’t be afraid of discovering mental illness because the sooner you know what you’re battling, the sooner you can start fighting it with your child and the more likely they are to recover. Don’t wait, do something as soon as you have concerns!

7. Get help – If you or your child are concerned, go to your family doctor and make sure they believe your child and take them seriously. If they don’t listen, take them to another doctor until someone does. The sooner your child gets treatment, the better their chances of making a full recovery and learning coping strategies and management skills so they can go on to live a happy and fulfilled life. Children are often dismissed and fobbed off (I certainly was), don’t allow this to happen or treatment may be offered way too late. Don’t give up until they get the help they need.

8. Talk to them – Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away and if your child doesn’t have someone to talk to, they may deteriorate faster. It is likely to be very difficult and painful for you to hear that your child is suffering and hurting, but it’s much better for them to be able to confide in someone and for you to be kept up to date with how they’re doing so that you can get more help for them if it becomes necessary. Mental illness is utterly isolating and this is made so much worse when people around you are scared of talking about the feelings that you’re struggling so much with. Try to put your own feelings aside and listen to your child in a non-judgemental way so that they feel safe and able to express themselves. Just talk to them!

9. Research – Read about mental illness and when doing so, ignore everything the media tells you, mentally ill people are not often rampaging serial killers, they’re not crying in a heap constantly, mental illness has many faces and takes many forms and media representations are almost always wrong. Read real-life accounts of mental illness so that you can gain understanding about what it’s like to live with on a day-to-day basis (you can read about my own experiences of mental illness here). Find out about the symptoms and warning signs of the most common conditions so that you can be prepared and know what to look out for (links to useful websites below). Research, research, research – knowing what you’re fighting make it so much easier to fight effectively!

10. You can do it! – Mental illness is scary and unknown, and when you’re thrown into the midst of it, it can be terrifying, but by talking to your child about it, you will empower yourself and them to deal with it in the best way possible, as quickly as possible. Your child will be equipped to help their friends who might start displaying symptoms or confide in them that they’re feeling something different and they will also know that mental illness isn’t a taboo subject in your household so they can talk to you about it if something’s worrying them about themselves or someone else. Most of all, remember that anything you do off this list will be better than nothing and you can become a team with your child to tackle this together. You may not believe it but You CAN Do It!

Please share this as widely as possible so that parents and other adults who children might confide in can be equipped to deal with it. One of my favourite quotes comes from Bill Clinton who said “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all”.

If you need more help, information or advice, please visit the following links.

http://www.mind.org.uk/

https://www.rethink.org/

http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealth/Pages/Mentalhealthhome.aspx

 

 

Dignity and Respect – Being Treated Like a Human Being (World Mental Health Day)

October the 10th was World Mental Health Day and this year’s theme was dignity. I originally thought this didn’t apply to my situation because I am, mostly, dignified whilst being ill and treated with dignity, or so I thought. I started this post by looking up the definition which I found to be as follows:
Dignity – The state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect.
As soon as I read that, I realised that I was wrong – while I may behave in a dignified manner, I’ve certainly not always been treated in a dignified way and have often not felt worthy of honour or respect because of the way I’ve been behaved towards.

Dignity is something that is often overlooked when treating people with mental health problems and we are often not given the respect we deserve. Sadly, this behaviour is often directed towards us by the very people who we have sought help from, who are trained to deal with our conditions and who we are reliant upon to offer or refer us for treatment. Is it any wonder then that it takes most people such a long time to even go to their GP when they suspect they may be mentally ill? Stigma is still rife within our society and while it is improving and openly stigmatic behaviour is starting to reduce, there is still a really long way to go and unfortunately, nowhere is this more necessary than within the medical community.

My experience of seeking treatment has been very varied and it’s often a very lengthy process. Even when I’ve gone to my GP about physical problems, I’m often disbelieved or it’s assumed that my symptoms are psychosomatic or even made up – all because I have a mental illness. I’m regularly talked down to, patronised and treated with condescension and this has very much put me off doctors and seeking help unless I really have to because I simply don’t have the energy to fight for someone, who should be understanding and sympathetic, to even believe me. Couple with this, the responses I’ve had from doctors when attempting to get a diagnosis or treatment for my mental illnesses and we’ve got one hell of a problem.

A month before I turned 16, circumstances in my life led to me feeling incredibly sad and low and unable to cope anymore, pretty much over night. Mental illness was not something that had featured in my life up until that point – none of my relatives or friends were ill to my knowledge and my only experience was that of over-hyped and dramatized portrayals in the media of violent offenders and people muttering to themselves and rocking whilst strapped into straight-jackets in padded cells. So when I started feeling low and it didn’t go away, I didn’t know what to do. I thought people would think I was silly and that I should just be able to cheer myself up because nothing terrible had happened, no one had died, I hadn’t been attacked, things were just going wrong at home. Eventually, after 2 months of never feeling better, I finally plucked up the courage to go to the doctors. I thought I was going to get sectioned or medicated but I didn’t know what else to do and the thoughts I was having were starting to scare me. I explained to my GP what was wrong and that this wasn’t normal for me. After 10 minutes she told me that it was “January Blues” and “every teenager in the country is feeling like this at the moment”. I said to her at the time that there would be a lot of suicides if that were the case but I was sent home and she did nothing. Two months later I went back, I’d started self-harming and was feeling suicidal every day, she took one look at me and referred me to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service because I was very ill and needed help. The first doctor I met there was great, he treated me like a person and was very respectful and understanding about how bad I was feeling and that something needed to be done about it. I wasn’t so lucky with any of the other staff I met there. I was allocated a nurse who I saw once a week who spoke to me like a child and contradicted me every time I said I was feeling worse. I was put on medication more than once and never monitored properly and then told off and admonished when I took myself off it because it was making me suicidal and I felt unsafe. I felt like a naughty child, not a 16-year-old who clearly knew their own mind and felt in danger.

Fast forward to 18 months ago and dignity was thrown out the window by my new GP who decided that telling me to “try harder” whilst dealing with crippling side effects from medications that were later described by a psychiatrist as “virtually poisoning you”, was the best way forward. I practically had to beg her to even refer me to a psychiatrist despite having a history of medication-resistant depression because she felt that I didn’t need one and she was doing a “perfectly good job of treating me herself”. Eventually she conceded and I was able to see a psychiatrist. This has been a good and bad experience. I’ve been lied to, fobbed off, ignored, disbelieved and dismissed. At points I’ve been spoken to like the knowledgeable, well-educated adult that I am who is well aware of the limitations of the NHS and who has studied, worked in and experienced as a patient, the mental health services in this country. But that has been rare. Instead of treating me with dignity and respect, most decisions about my treatment are made without me, often without my knowledge and my very character is often questioned when it’s assumed that my conditions simply can’t be as bad as I’m describing. I highly doubt cancer patients are treated like this when vomiting because of chemo or dealing with hair loss – are they told by doctors to just “try harder” or “stop focusing on the negative thoughts”? I think not! So why am I? Why am I dismissed and treated with so little respect?

It’s clear that many doctors have never been mentally ill, and they’re very lucky. But for those of us that are, it’s hard enough trying to deal with the conditions we have and the things that go hand-in-hand with that like low self-esteem and self-worth without having to deal with doctors judging us, accusing us of faking it, exaggerating, or causing it ourselves. It’s so hard to pluck up the courage to even go to the GP and admit that there’s a problem that you can no longer cope with or hide, without fearing how they might react to you. In an ideal world, we would all be treated as human beings, with dignity and respect, regardless of what symptoms or conditions we have. But currently, this isn’t the case. Something has got to change. Medical professionals, especially those that don’t work in frontline mental health services, are vastly ill-equipped and under-trained to deal with mental illness and instead of seeing people like me as people who are ill, they just seem to see us as walking labels. They still seem to have hugely stigmatic beliefs about us being in control of our conditions and able to just “snap out of it” or “pull ourselves together” and we’re treated accordingly, with disdain, coldness and even aggression sometimes.

First and foremost I’m a human being. After that, I’m many many things – I’m Lucy, I’m female, I’m 24 years old, I’m kind and caring, I’m creative, I’m a great friend. I’m also mentally ill but I’m not those conditions. I’m not anxiety, I’m not depression – I have those, but I’m not them. I am a human being and that entitles me to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of what conditions I might have. The sooner I’m viewed as a person rather than a list of symptoms, the sooner I’ll be viewed as someone who is suffering and should be treated with dignity rather than a problem that needs to fixed or made to “see sense”. I might be mentally ill but I’m not mad, I don’t lie, I don’t make things up, I’m completely rational. If I say I’m ill, if I say I’m suffering then I’m not trying to gain another label or diagnosis for fun – I don’t get points for it, they certainly don’t convert to prizes. The only reason I seek diagnosis is in the vain hope that it might lead to treatment. Being spoken to in such a dismissive way has stopped me seeking help for most of my conditions and has had a major impact on my self-esteem because it makes me feel less of a person to have a doctor questioning me and treating me with so little respect.

Finally, while I’ve focused on the medical profession within this post, they are certainly not the only people that have not treated me with the dignity and respect I deserve. As you’ll have read in previous blog posts, I’ve been treated disrespectfully by a whole host of people throughout my time as an ill person and this has got to change. You can be that change. Next time you’re talking to someone who’s mentally ill, really listen to what they’re saying, don’t try to fix it, dismiss it, or make them see the positive – just listen. Then think about how you would want someone to respond if you’d just said all of that and were feeling that way. Chances are, you’d just want to be acknowledged, to be accepted and to feel heard. Most of all, you’d want to be treated with Dignity and Respect – you’d want to be Treated Like a Human Being. Be that change today!

N.B – A huge thanks goes to Steve “Squidoodle” Turner for his amazing Breast Cancer Awareness Ribbon Colouring Page which I coloured in green for Mental Health Awareness. If you’d like to get a copy to colour yourself, he’s generously offered it as a free download on his Facebook Page which can be found here. Enjoy and help raise awareness!