Too Many Losses

After every death by suicide or misadventure comes an onslaught of familiar comments. Mostly well meaning and kind-hearted comments but ones that also make me want to scream.

Lately, a number of these types of losses have been close-to-home. The first, around a month ago was one link away via mutual friends that were left devastated, with circumstances that resonated a little too much. The second, quite close to heart that I am still struggling to comprehend. The third, most recently made the news of my small local home-town. All of them have me poignant somewhat numb, and extremely sad. All of them were individuals that seem precious and have left a space, an ache.

Everyone reacts differently to shock and grief. No way of trying to cope, adjust, regroup, is wrong or anything to be ashamed of under the circumstances. But there are some people that will understand the pull of mental illness, and some that just cannot. There is no fault here, but I want to offer some words of clarity. Words I feel the need to say.

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The fact is that depression does not care if you are young and full of promise and potential. It does not consider that you have so much more to experience in life or that throwing your future away is 'such a tragic waste'. Neither will it grasp that you have money, a good job, a loving family or privilege over others.

Crippling anxiety cannot rationalise that things can pass, get better, that those moments of sheer terror will not overwhelm you. It will not comprehend that there are GOOD sources of help to be found, sources of valuable support and health professionals willing to listen.

Eating disorders are blind to the concept of existing without starving or harming yourself in an attempt to shrink. At their worst they will not allow you to see that you you deserve anything more but that constant misery. Anorexia, bulimia, EDNOS, BED or Diabulimia: they all have the potential to diminish your sense of worth to dust and stamp all over it.

When mental illness is at it’s most unrelenting and ferocious, it simply does not give a shit about anything besides a destruction, whether that be a way to cope or an end goal. It will take any opportunity it can to knock you over, and with every swing and punch you fall further down, further away, until you're left with a bashed up broken brain that cannot think straight.

I can see how it can get to the point where somebody might feel like they've no other option, and no strength left to fight. That is not a sign of being flawed or any kind of weakness. Rather, it is the full-force impact of defeated by something too powerful and suffocating, like a lump of coal clogging your throat.

Most of all, a message to the moronic that at times like these seem to rise from the ground like clusters of worms with their oh-so-important utterances: suicide is not stupid or selfish or ungrateful. Those views are vile and completely ignorant. Also, media, please take note that in this age describing suicide or attempted suicide with the damnation of“commit” is unacceptable, as it is no longer a criminal offence and has not been classed as such since 1961.

To the aforementioned: you are not that person, you have no right to pass judgement on them. You have not stood where they have, seen or thought what they have, or rather been unable to see what they need to.

In essence, what it essentially comes down to is that severe mental illness can blot out facts like thickly splodged Tippex.

It's a fucking parasite of a thing to have to battle with. Some do it every single day, and it can hurt like hell.

If you are one of those people then try to hold on with the tightest grip you can, and try to remember despite that stalking cloud and the trailing whispers or smoke, that you are not doing it alone.

By Claire Kearns.

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Keep talking, but don't forget to listen

There’s a belief I want to challenge. One that prompts similarly phrased sayings that are tossed around frequently and readily, in an attempt to disrupt and ultimately lessen the stigma of mental illness.


“You wouldn’t feel ashamed of having cancer, the flu or diabetes!” “Taking antidepressants should be regarded the same guiltless way as a diabetic taking insulin!” “Physical illnesses hold no disgrace!”


Ring a bell? The medication one I hear most often. Taking insulin might be listed alongside treatments such as a cast on a broken leg, painkillers to nurse headaches, a plaster for an accidental wound. Offered as an aid that is seen as easy and without any questioning as to its need. 


I understand the perspective and the intention, but it’s so very inaccurate. 


Am I picking holes? What’s the harm, right? Wrong. It IS damaging. It adds to the mistaken regard of physical illness as entirely separate from psychological. While attempting to normalise conversations about mental illness, a regard for the emotional influence of some ‘physical’ conditions is being thrown under the bus. This is especially important in relation to ED-DMT1 and diabulimia. For those that struggle with an eating disorder and type-1-diabetes taking insulin is not an action that is thoughtlessly undertaken without fear or worry. In fact, it is far from, that fear can feel crippling.


The notion that there is no ignominy attached to physical conditions is a lie. This most related to the misconceptions attached to the presence of what are labelled ‘invisible illnesses’. Many people assume that if an ailment is not in plain sight it must not have any significant impact. This makes it harder to let some aspects of it be seen when they need to be. And honestly, the sheer principle that having a bodily malfunction that can never be fixed (unless there’s a cure) is not going to be mentally burdening is quite ridiculous.


There’s also the commonly held assumption that diabetes being like doing X and taking Y which will equal Z. This can often be based on interactions people have had with those that have type-2-diabetes which is treated by tablets and so rarely the cause of disabling erratic blood sugar levels. I mean, your friend tells you her grandfather is diabetic but it doesn’t let it affect him at all so why should it get you down!


Of course, it’s brilliant that the barriers around mental health stigma are being pushed through. Talking and overcoming our embarrassment over distress and anxiety and depression is a hugely positive thing, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of widening understanding of the link between chronic health conditions and emotional strain.


Moreover, if you don’t have direct experience of something you should always consider your words relating to it with care. Yes, we need to keep talking, but we also need to be listening more intently, with an acknowledgement that teaching is one success, but learning from others is another that is just as important.


By Claire Kearns.

BREAKING NEWS: NOT ALL THOSE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS ARE CRAZED MURDERERS

This is an old piece I wrote for DWED's past website which centres on the dire state of some newspaper reports on mental health. Sadly this is still a very relevant topic which is why I am re-publishing for Mental Health Awareness Week 2017:

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Monday’s disgusting front page article from The Sun Newspaper has been quite rightfully blasted from all corners. It’s scathing headline “1,200 KILLED BY MENTAL PATIENTS” is glaringly unsettling and sensationalist on first impact. The article that follows reads as damaging and woefully inaccurate. Social network users were responding to the tabloid in force last night, with many calling for a full apology from the paper.

A response penned collectively by charities Time to Change, Rethink Mental Illness and Mind condemns The Sun piece as ‘disappointing’ and ‘damageable’. They state that it “will only fuel the stigma and prevent more people from seeking help and support when they need it.”

Information that The Sun article is based upon is twisted to suit a scaremongering, screaming agenda. Their headline, while based on the message that many people have been let down by mental health provision, is distorted into an attack and focuses on minority details. First of all there is no such thing as ‘mental patients’ but instead individuals that struggle with poor mental health – sorry to break your monstrous and unstable, axe-wielding image there Mr Murdoch. True figures reveal that the number of homicides carried out by those with mental health issues, including those experiencing psychosis has decreased.

The Sun also conveniently failed to mention that suffers are in fact ten times more likely to be victim’s, rather than perpetrators of crime and violence than anyone else. They are also a much larger risk to themselves through self-harm, neglect or suicidal intentions than they are to others. Mental illness can quite often be secretive and contained with many sufferers going about their lives without ever harming anybody else. With the right treatment many can go on to fully recover.

In spite of the reality, sadly the stigma against those suffering from mental illness is still rife. Research by YouGov revealed that people with mental health problems are regarded as the most discriminated-against group in Britain.

A petition has been started by Twitter user and psychology teacher Rhiannon Lockley at Change.org. Miss Lockley requests that The Sun “Recognise that they have acted unethically in misrepresenting information about the mentally ill in this harmful way, and to print a full correction to this effect.” while also asking them to “Make a donation to mental health charities to cover any profit made from this story and to apologise to those misrepresented.”

By Claire Kearns.

 

Early Intervention - NEDAW musings

Today is officially the last day of Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Before it passes over I feel the need to talk about the focus for 2017 as set by B-eat which is Early Intervention.


The topic is a difficult one for me, most of all because any focus on early intervention felt very lacking all those years ago when I became ill. It was more of case of waiting for sufferers of eating disorders to reach a point of acute danger before offering any substantial help, sometimes pushing so far that there was no in between from being given no care to then suddenly passing a line whereby you are an emergency  case. Weight was always the quantifier, and so often it felt like you had to lose more in order to get any kind of recognition or treatment. Messed up is having to push yourself to get worse just so you can get better.


This is still happening. But I have also noticed progress, with some being taken seriously at an early stage, where the outcome of recovery is more likely. The sooner the better, as more quality of life can be preserved. Unfortunately despite the change of direction funds are still being squeezed, with the NHS budget out of breath and gasping. Mental health beds are continuing to be cut, and so it’s still a struggle for many treatment facilities to take anyone beyond those at great medical risk. It’s further down that some head-way can be made I feel, using outpatient and day patient resources to stop further admissions down the line if at all possible.


I can’t stress how much those with diabetes and eating disorders need early intervention. The danger that someone omitting insulin can be in despite presenting as a normal weight is immediately life threatening. This HAS to be recognised. So often I hear that anorexia has the highest mortality rate out of any psychiatric condition, yet I’d take a wager that ED-DMT1, particularly involving insulin omission would overtake if it had an official diagnosis and the appropriate studies and statistics were available.


The need for early intervention AND timely recognition of ‘diabulimia’ symptoms alongside understanding of its seriousness must go hand in hand. Recently updated NICE guidelines are definitely a step towards that as type 1 diabetics are now listed as in need of urgent attention under eating disorder care guidelines.  If untreated the long term complications of ED-DMT1 can be so devastating, I won’t list them as we all know, the end of the line being loss of sight of limbs.


I do wonder where I might be now if I’d had help earlier. It’s hard not to dwell on that somewhat, 15 or so years down the line. I am definitely not the only one either. 


They have two patients with type 1 diabetes in the day-patient program I attended 3 years back now. They are getting trained up on the right way to deal with them, the NICE guidelines nipping at ankles with the worry they could get into trouble. This is the same unit that would hear nothing about that kind of specialist input while I was there. They told me they did not need training, and I felt like they were collectively sighing whenever I spoke of diabetes. I came out of that program far worse than when I went in. So yeah, that’s difficult to swallow. 


But I’m trying to let it go. 


Looking at younger people that are so vulnerable these days makes my heart sink. Even more so those I spot dabbling in eating disorder behaviours. I want to shake them or hug them and tell them to stop, but of course that would sound completely patronising and it’s not my place. I worry about the increasing coverage of diabulimia in the news being used as the catalyst for ‘ah maybe I will try that?’ thinking, but that’s the underside of creating awareness. Sensationalist reporting that focuses on weight and pounds lost certainly have a lot to answer for there, EDAW has once again shown that the media will never learn.


The emphasis needs to be on saving those years, months, hours that can be eaten away by an eating disorder. Of the lives that have been lost because help has come too late. 


Early intervention. To those who can act, make it mean something, please.