This week's guest blog is from an old school friend of mine, Ashleigh Stanley-Oakes.
Ashleigh's blog is an incredibly open and honest insight into some things a lot of people don't like to talk about, but I need to say that Ashleigh's blog contains sensitive content that some readers may find very upsetting.
If you're interested in guest blogging, sharing your views or your story, please get in contact with me. Always looking for people with different experiences to share!
Twitter - @letstalkmhealth
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/letstalkaboutmentalhealth
Ashleigh Stanley-Oakes is a 21 year old artist based in Cheltenham, UK. She makes greeting cards, prints, postcards and cross-stitch dinosaurs. She is going through the process of being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
"Since I was 14 I’ve been in and out of mental health services. I am finally no longer ashamed of my illness, and I want to open up a dialogue because it is the only way to remove the stigma and improve the health care patients receive. It is an honour to be able to write for Suzy’s blog as it is a space for brave and frank accounts of mental illness. I have written more about my experiences over at bertillustration.com and I am more than happy to answer questions, comments or to hear your stories, so feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’d also like to pop a little disclaimer in here that my experiences have been disturbing and could be upsetting to read.
“I want to sew up my eyes so what I see is no longer an issue”
I keep a journal. I use it to document my highs and lows so that I can keep track of my mood. It’s incredibly difficult to read because I have felt the biggest range of emotion possible to imagine these last few months. I have gone from knowing beyond all doubt that I am the sun, the reason the world is still spinning, to feeling like a waste of a person, unworthy of happiness.
I have also suffered my first ever psychotic episode (I know it sounds super scary but bear with me). It began when I was in the car travelling from Rugby to Cheltenham. I got home and I didn’t know how I’d gotten there, where I was or who my husband was. It turned out that the three weeks of my life before this car journey were a mix of reality and fiction. I believed that I had had three driving lessons and on the very last one had tried to drive into oncoming traffic. This is perhaps what made the earth fall from beneath me that evening, as I struggled to remember how I got home after that driving lesson and was confronted with the idea that something I’d done had put other people in danger as well.
Something in me snapped and whatever was keeping me tied to reality crumbled. I can’t remember much of that evening, but I remember feeling that I was in water and I believed that I was a whale, swimming in the sea. When on-call doctors came to visit me, I was not sure if they were really there or not. When I was eventually left on my own a human-like figure with a face like a Venetian mask lounged on top of the door and stared at me whilst I tried to sleep. The doctors were real, the figure was not.
From this point onwards, my mind couldn’t accept what it had done. I lost three weeks of my memory. I had no idea what was true or false. I saw this figure again. I saw it staring at me when I was in the bath, I saw it in the windows of houses as we drove by them, I saw it in my own face when I couldn’t recognise myself in the mirror.
Then the worst began to happen as the medication wasn’t at the right dosage. I felt an itch on my shoulder. When I scratched it, the skin did not feel smooth. I looked, and it was rotting. I was assured this wasn’t actually happening, but I could see it sure as day. I couldn’t stop scratching myself. It appeared in different areas. One night I felt it rotting between my toes, my scalp was cracking open to let black fibres into my blood stream and I went to the shower and all over my skin was beginning to rot away. There were maggots and puss coming from my legs and so I scrubbed and scraped and burned my skin until it passed.
By the time I got back upstairs to my bedroom, I had no idea where I was. For some reason my legs, hips and shoulders were in a huge amount of pain. They were red and I worried that they were rotting away like I’d been seeing days ago. I was told I’d been hallucinating, that I’d hurt myself and when I was on my own I took as many of my tablets as I could. I needed these hallucinations to stop and the only way that would happen was to end my own life.
Luckily, I did no serious damage to myself. I was seen by mental health teams immediately and I’m now on a high enough dosage of medication that I no longer hallucinate (touch wood).
But here’s the thing, I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone who’s been through a psychotic episode. I’ve never read anything about it. I’ve always, despite having suffered with mental illness my whole life, assumed it was for the really “crazy” people. In fact, even now, after being incredibly open about the last few months, I have barely spoken about my hallucinations. I feel like it makes me weak, like people will view me in a completely different light and that, more so than my mood disorder, there’s a real taboo that still exists about people experiencing this.
But let me put it into perspective: I’m getting a First in my degree, I’m married with a beautiful little puppy, I’m starting to sell art work, I have little brothers that come to me for advice and I still see my friends. I had a psychotic episode – so what? I’m still successful, I still have meaningful relationships and I can still have a normal life.
Was it horrendous? Yes. But does it make me really “crazy”? I take tablets every day, like people with high blood pressure or vitamin deficiencies, I stay away from alcohol like people who are teetotal and I see doctors every few weeks like hypochondriacs, parents and old people.
So maybe we need to publish more stories about people suffering these episodes. It would mean that people like me, experiencing hallucinations for the very first time, don’t feel like they have to hang their head in shame or stay in the dark about what their own mind is doing to them. I also hope that it will show that it doesn’t mean the end of your life and it doesn’t make you any less than anybody else. "
Stay strong. Keep fighting. It will get better.
All images are Ashleigh's own - http://www.bertillustration.com/