Friday, 17 October 2014

Don't Assume

Friday, 17 October 2014

Before writing this post, I want to make it clear that I’m in no way seeking attention, pity or anything like that, I just felt like it was something I wanted to write about in my own wee space.

It’s kind of therapeutic I guess.

I will be going into detail about something extremely personal to me but that’s just what I want to do.

Basically the point in this is not only to raise awareness for young carers, but also about how a person can be judged through social media, or even by their peers, when something else could be going on.

Ever since the age of 15, I’ve thought about how I come across, online in particular, because of this.

At that age, my mother was diagnosed with a number of mental health conditions. She is to this day, Bi-Polar and Schizophrenic, suffers from depression, anxiety and what is commonly known as ‘psychotic episodes’. Now, over 6 years after diagnosis and the beginnings of medical treatment, she still suffers through each of these illnesses, which I suppose could be divided up by good days and bad days.

When I was very young, following the estrangement and court proceedings with my father, my mum married and separated and her personality began to change. The man she married was in no way a fitting husband and I was always against it in the first place. Emotional blackmail and constantly being put down are things I think led to my mum’s depression in the first place, alongside underlying issues from before even I was born.

I’m an only child and so, because my mother is French and moved to Scotland with my father before I was born, she really only had me to rely on when growing up. She had a couple of friends, but due to the continuing depression and anxiety that surfaced, she became isolated, with only me for company.

I didn’t really know ‘what was wrong with her’ for lack of a better phrase. Throughout the years she became more and more depressed and though since becoming a teenager I knew what depression was, I didn’t really know what to do.

The worst time of my life was during the summer before going back to school for my 5th year.

One day I just came home and my mum was telling me a very far-fetched story. She told me that she had visited the Scottish Parliament the week before and was stuck in an elevator where Gordon Brown then appeared and tried to choke her by sticking a ruby down her throat.

Of course, my initial reactions where either to laugh or assume she was drunk, but that wasn’t the case. I could see she was terrified, completely sober, and totally believed what she was saying. I was clueless at how to handle the situation, I thought maybe she was having a breakdown or something.

The next few days seem blurry to me, I can’t even remember what happened, but I was constantly worried and unsure of how to proceed. Our family doctor initially thought that she had suffered a psychotic breakdown, where she wasn’t able to tell what was real from what’s not. I just knew there was something more. I was worried about going back to school as there was no one to look after her.
In the last 6 years, my mum has tried to commit suicide three times.
It’s one of those things that you just can’t really believe would happen to anyone you know, until it happens to you.

At 15, the day before going back to school and a while since my mum had ‘acted weird’ I came home from a friends’ house down the road, to silence. I thought she was sleeping and so I went about my business and was watching something on TV when I heard a strange screaming.

We then lived in one of those areas of town where people were constantly shouting and drunkenly fighting in the street so at first I thought nothing of it, but then upon turning the telly down, I recognised my mum’s voice.

I went into her room to see her sitting on the window ledge, threatening to jump.

Everything else is a blur of tears, panic, screaming and getting her off of that ledge.

There was nothing I could do except call NHS 24 at the time. I had no idea what kind of situation I was in. Someone else, a neighbour, or passer-by I assume, had called the police.

Because I was under 16 and not fit to stay in the house alone, I stayed at my friends’ house that night whilst my mum was taken away by ambulance to the Royal Victoria’s mental health unit. She went through a full psychiatric analysis – something I couldn’t help but feel could have been done before – and I pretty much cried through the night without getting any sleep, in disbelief that the police had told me that I should just go to school the next day.

In the next year, two more suicide attempts would come, both by overdose. One, early enough that my mum came to my bedroom straight after to ‘say goodbye’ and the second, landing her in hospital for the sixth time in some months.

Throughout the rest of 2009, I pretty much kept to myself other than being with my best friends who knew some of what was happening at home, slacked on schoolwork and started to become anxious myself.

The main thing throughout all this, was how I felt I and my mum were being perceived by other people. I downloaded my Twitter archive last year and looked at tweets from around my mum’s worst days… Sometimes there was nothing and sometimes I would tweet things where people could obviously have no idea about what was going on in my life.

The main thing about depression in particular is that, not every day is awful. Sometimes you can feel happy or look happy, or say something happy, but that doesn’t mean you’re ‘over it’.

Not many people really knew at school about what had been happening at home, in fact, I’m pretty sure most of my former classmates still have no idea, but it was the smallest things that would bother me. I guess I was bullied by a few people who had nothing better to do, but I’ve always been the type of person to not care what others said to me. I could get over that in an instant. But when it was something relating to my mum, or even just during that time, it was more difficult to cope.

My attendance was probably about 47% during the last two years of school. A lot of people, including many teachers and so-called ‘support’ staff just assumed that I was lazy and uninterested in finishing my education.

The truth was that I was shit-scared of going to school and being away for the 8 hours of the day where my mum could have made a 4th attempt on her life.

My guidance teacher knew of problems at home and was very supportive of my situation, I caught a few breaks that I was very grateful for. It was most of the people that I felt it was harder to handle. Sometimes when being harassed or told “why didn’t you hand this in on time” you just want to shout about how you have far more important things to worry about.

In the last six years since that time of my life, my mum was diagnosed with Schizophrenia, Bi-Polar Disorder, Psychotic Episodes (which explained stories of the Gordon Brown-esque variety) and continuing depression and anxiety.

A few years back, one of her episodes caused her to convince herself that she was going to be recording an album in London with ex-members of Iron Maiden and the former Beatles manager. So followed a heart-breaking phone call to her priest (who apparently was going to London with her) at 3am, who knew nothing about it whatsoever.

One time, she had convinced herself that she had left the oven on and that there was going to be a fire - and so called 4 fire brigades to our house in advance.

To this day, she constantly talks to herself, finds day-to-day activities a struggle and still has very bad days. A few symptoms that have been the hardest to deal with is the empty feeling - a side effect of her Bi-Polar medication, her non-committal attitude to everything and her grasp of reality in every day tasks, such as food shopping or cleaning.

She'll disappear for ages and you'll find her sitting in a cafe from 10am 'til 5pm, just sitting and staring out at the world around her.

It kills me that there's nothing more I can do to bring her out of this state of mind.

There’s no cure for what she goes through, but there are ways to improve how she feels each day.

When she was at her worst, she feared the colour red. It's apparently quite common a symptom in mental health disorders and I had to get rid of all of my red clothes and anything coloured red in my house. Now, she owns a red cardigan (that I borrow often). I guess it's the small things.

When you look at someone’s Facebook, Twitter profile, Instagram or whatever and see people smiling, laughing, joking around – it doesn’t mean something else might be going on behind closed doors.

The hardest thing about dealing with real struggle in your life is how other people judge you because of it. Sometimes when you want to say something but can’t, for fear of looking ‘attention-seeking’ you end up keeping things to yourself.

I’ve become quite a closed-off person and don’t like to talk about my feelings much, which I guess stems from bottling up about other things for a long time.

It could be your friend, a family member, a neighbour, or someone you just follow on Twitter. The point is, don’t assume their life is perfect.

Don’t assume they’re having a good day so everything must be fine.

Don’t assume that they’ll get over it.

Don’t assume they don’t need anyone to talk to.

Don’t assume you can’t help.

Just don’t assume.

NHS 24: 111

Mind0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm)

Samaritans116 123 (24-hour Helpline)

Rethink Mental Illness0300 5000 927 (Monday to Friday, 10am-2pm) 

PAPYRUSHOPElineUK 0800 068 4141 (Monday to Friday,10am-5pm & 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm)

Sane0845 767 8000 (daily, 6pm-11pm)

Young Minds Parent's Helpline: 0808 802 5544 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am-4pm)

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