Thursday, 13 July 2017

My Psychosis and me: Memories, the things I thought I was'

 Trigger warning: please be aware that this blog post contains descriptions of some of my darkest times, if you don't want to read personal details about me or feel you might be triggered by its content then please read no further. 

I want to thank everyone so much for the really lovely messages people have been writing me since I wrote my last blog post, it has really impacted me positively that people are interested and do want to know more about my personal experiences and more about the illness, I feel encouraged to write more as I go on this blogging journey.

I was just having a rummage through my 'Psychosis Box', this is a pale blue cardboard gift box full of my own notes, scribbles, doctors letters, care plans and diary entries from when I was ill or recovering, I kept it because I knew I would want to look in it some day but haven't really felt strong enough to look properly until now.
One of the interesting things I found was a list of notes I had written entitled 'Memories from phsycosis' it must have been from early on because I obviously still hadn't learned how to spell Psychosis yet! 
It is a very raw and honest list of all the delusions I had that I could remember at the time, I feel it is a real and very clear insight into what my state of mind was and how the worst of Postpartum Psychosis had its grip on me. By sharing this list I hope to raise people's awareness of just how lost you can get with this illness:
  • Thought I was our neighbour.
  • Thought I was a friend and had kidnapped our baby.
  • Thought I was a man and had imagined having a baby.
  • Thought I was a person with multiple personalities who was stuck on 'Claire Griffiths' and wouldn't move on from that 'fantasy'.
  • Thought I was in coma and could only communicate with my eyes.
  • Thought I was in a strange sort of game where I had to pass levels to give birth.
  • Thought my baby would die soon.
  • Thought a neighbour had killed my partner and baby and hit me on the head with something heavy but I survived.
  • Thought my partner was poisoning me in my food.
  • Thought my partner was giving me my medicine wrong on purpose.
  • Thought my partner was trying to kill me and my baby.
Although it might not seem like it I haven't included some of my darkest and most painful memories. It must seem very strange that I thought all of these things were true even though they all completely contradict each other, this is the form the illness took with me, lots of constantly changing devastating realities on a very linear route, believing each of them and not questioning that any of them were not my reality at the time, throughout this time I was just trying to figure out who the real me was, I just didn't know at all, I had completely and utterly lost my sense of identity.

Monday, 10 July 2017

My Psychosis and me part two: The beginning of my madness.

Trigger warning: please be aware that this blog post contains descriptions of my both my darkest times and of my birth story,  if you don't want to read personal details about me or feel you might be triggered by its content then please read no further, this is a very honest account.

Part two: The beginning of my madness.

It's taken me more than two weeks to write this blog post, editing and re-editing, how much to share? What to say? Is it too much? Is anyone even interested? I was reminded yesterday after reading an inspiring PP blog that the reason I'm passionate about writing these blog posts of my own story is to raise awareness of Postpartum Psychosis, because if nobody is talking about it then how are you or other people supposed to realise that something out of the ordinary is happening to you? who can flag up those warning symptoms in order to keep you safe? It is an illness that very quickly spirals out of control, the longer it is left the more psychotic, distressed and dangerous you can become, which in turn can effect both your own and your friends and families health.

 My theory is that the more people that know about it the more chance that women suffering from the illness can quickly get the appropriate care that they seriously need. I need to do everything I can in my power to help other women not go through such a traumatic time.

So here goes:

My gorgeously perfect daughter was born at 2am on valentines day 2016, I
 suffered a 
seriously sleep deprived build up to the labour due to immense pain in my hips at night, I had not slept more than a couple of hours in 10-20 days and was already completely exhausted with nothing left to give. 

My waters broke prematurely and because labour didn’t start within the time allowed this led to an induction (which was delayed due to an emergency), then a failed epidural after prolonged labour pain and exhaustion (delayed due to another emergency), then finally a lot of bleeding after giving birth and also a suspected infection. Basically I had plenty of medical interventions which I hadn't realised I would find traumatic.

This seriously toxic mixture of severe sleep deprivation, trauma and post-birth hormones caused my mind to become an open vessel for all nightmarish thoughts and feelings possible. 

Unfortunately we had to stay in the hospital a few extra nights because I was having intravenous antibiotics due to the high-temperature and suspected infection. Both of my hands had cannulas and I had a catheter, which I found incredibly restrictive and invasive, because of this I just couldn't hold my baby properly or comfortably and breast feeding became just impossible! I was obsessed with pumping or hand expressing for her, it felt like it was the only thing I could do to help as she was loosing weight and my quest to breastfeed just didn't seem possible, every time I tried it was just so difficult.

 The midwives were aware I was exhausted and took my daughter to their office at night to try and help me get some rest but I just couldn't sleep at all, I've always been a bad sleeper and struggled in places that were not my own bed, my neighbour snored very loudly and if it wasn't her it was a baby or a mother crying that kept me awake. I tried ear plugs and an eye mask but the vacuous silence and feeling of being cut off was when I started to notice my racing thoughts and became quite terrified.

 I believe I was acting strangely from day two or three, I could not sleep at all, my thoughts were racing, I became uncharacteristicslly free of inhibitions and started to get help from staff for other women on the post-natal ward when they were ringing their buzzers repeatedly and getting no response, it was so under-staffed the midwives barely had a moment for anyone but it was definitely not appropriate that I was ‘supporting’ the other mothers. I hallucinated during the night and convinced myself that my daughter was going to die (I told a healthcare assistant about this happening but nobody flagged it up as worrying!).

Once possible I was given a side room and my partner could stay the night. My moods frequently fluctuated between a buzzy and hyperactive high and feeling absolutely rock bottom and completely exhausted, I just wanted to get home, I thought that there I would be able to sleep and that was all I needed, so I jumped through all the hoops to do so, telling them that I was absolutely fine even though I felt awful.

My partner had noticed that I was different, behaving out of character and using a really nasty tone of voice with him (something I just wouldn't  do) he wasn't at any point asked how he thought I was doing and so he figured I was just a tired new mum. We eventually got discharged to come home, a friend gave us a lift in her car, I remember everything feeling incredibly surreal, I literally felt like I was the baby in the back seat of the car whilst my partner and good friend were the parents in the front.

It took until day 7 for my increasing irratic behaviour to be taken seriously enough for intervention. All of my symptoms had exacerbated, everything felt quite strange but I somehow convinced myself that this was just being a new mum! I started having horrible delusions about different people doing me harm, one such delusion was that I was convinced that my partner was trying to poison and imprison me, this is something he would never ever do, he is such an amazing supportive partner and this was clearly a sign of how warped my mind had become!

 I was in a manic energised state, suffering extreme paranoia and complete insomnia. I even sometimes believed that my daughter wasn't born yet. My partner said that I would repeatedly ask him the same question again and again, even when he had just answered me. I remember obsessively getting up at night on my own to try and pump more milk from my glowing medela machine.

I would also find time at night to obsessively write my delusional ideas down, I remember knowing that 'things got darker at night' and dreading the build up to bedtime. I was writing scribbled notes all over my birth plan papers and anything else I could find so that I would not forget the things that I thought were happening and so I could tell the midwives the next day, this writing became habitual and something that I believe may have helped me in recovery.

My sensory experience of the world became very very heightened, I became acutely aware of light and sound both inside and outside the house, I remember the boiler clicking on and off all night as I was secretly switching the heating on high at night, convinced that the cold would kill us. I remember all the sounds that I heard every morning when the sun came up, birds chirping, a motorbike revving up, a dog barking, these sounds all happened every day in exactly the same order, it was like a pattern of sound on a loop!

 The mornings became subtley euphoric after the nighttimes of complete terror, I remember taking a photo of the beautiful morning light through our curtains before anyone else was up, to me it was an amazingly bright, glowing, warm scene with striking vivid orangey tones, I look back at the image now and although pretty the tones are really not all that glowy:

I had daily visits at home from midwives who could tell that something was going on with me and so were desperately trying to get me to sleep, including giving me drugs that would knock out an elephant, after taking those I managed just two hours kip! It was that day that I thought everyone was turning against me, I felt like they were hiding something from me (and of course in a way they were, they knew I was ill!).

That evening my partner called the crisis team for the second time and described what was going on, I snatched the phone off of him to speak to them too, and by then things had got to a point were I was constantly hearing voices and happy to tell them that, I was also convinced my partner was a bad man that I needed to escape from, It was then that a plan was formed for me to be taken to a&e in an ambulance.

Imagine all of your worst ever nightmares coming true, not knowing who you are; questioning those loved ones around you- and thinking that you or they are going to seriously harm yourself or your baby. This was my experience of PP, I lost all trust in everyone including myself and I thought I would never find my way back. 
The wait in A&E was just horrifying, a close friend of mine had come along with me in the ambulance and she was amazing, I am so lucky to have such a supportive and non-judgemental friend, I owe her the world! I was petrified of everyone around me in the hospital, it felt as though I was in a TV set from casualty, like everyone was an actor, but evil and out to get me! At this point I had some insight and I knew I was unwell, apparently I  began to ask my friend to remember events for me as I knew I would forget! However I soon was delusional again and I started to get up and randomly wonder down corridors of the hospital trying to get away from the situation but it just got worse, everyone was someone I knew, but an evil version of them! 

My friend told me that because I kept wondering about I was finally given a bed with curtains and from then on my memory of events in reality are completely gone, I was completely in another world; the many counter contradictions of my very lost mind meant that I actually believed I was in labour and having contractions! 

I thought my partner was there, and I was secretly telling doctors and nurses that he wanted to kill me and my baby so I was trying to hide the contractions and tell him I was fine in order to get him arrested and taken away. I was pointing to a scribbled note written in black marker pen on my hand that said "my partner tried to poison me with red wine and kill my baby" nonsense! I also vaguely remember thinking that I was in a coma, that I could not talk but could only use Sign language to communicate.

After this I don't remember much, apart from maybe the staff were wearing fluorescent yellow clothes! (I've no idea if this is true or not!) I would love to see my medical notes from this point in time to see what was really going on, I want to file a data protection act request for them, I'm going to start the process of that very soon.

I'll stop here as the in the next post I will write about my experience of the acute adult psychiatric ward. Please note that I am recovered now and very much out of this dark place, just to give a little hope to the end of this horrid fearful post!

Monday, 19 June 2017

My Psychosis and me: part one

Trigger warning: this blog post and the next few contain descriptions of dark times, also if you don't want to read personal details about me then go no further, this is a very honest account of hard times.

Part one: Introduction.

So many things have happened since I wrote my last post back in 2015, experiences both traumatic and wonderful, I want to start sharing these things in a format that could help other women and what better way than blog posts! (And maybe vlogs at some point).

So what happened? Well I  became  a mother last February, it was inevitable that this would change me, I love our daughter River more than I could ever imagine and I'm so happy we were able to expand our family by one amazing, inspiring little girl, she's now 16 months old and Im loving this stage, she's learning new things every day and we have such fun together it's  like I've got this little best friend/side-kick who is  always up for being silly and having a laugh (like most of my good adult friends!) it's all gone so fast though, and I'm sure it will keep going fast from now on!

Motherhood is only part of the journey I've been on, the other big event in my life that coincided with River's birth was that I suffered Post Partum Psychosis, it's not something I had ever heard of or knew to be looking out for as I've never had any major previous mental health issues, it's reasonably rare and happens to 'one to two' women in every thousand births. In this short series of blog posts I'd like to write a bit about what it is, how it affected me personally and how I've come to a point where I feel pretty much recovered (whatever that means!).

What is Post Partum Psychosis?

"Postpartum Psychosis (also known as 'Puerperal Psychosis’ or PP) is a debilitating form of postnatal mental illness that follows one to two in 1,000 deliveries (Kendell et al. 1987). Episodes onset in the days following childbirth and should be regarded by health professionals as a psychiatric emer- gency. Symptoms include the rapid onset of hallucinations, delusions, mania, bizarre behaviour, severe confusion, elated mood, and depression (Brockington 1996; Heron et al. 2008). PP can affect women from all social classes, education levels, and occupational backgrounds. Many episodes occur out of the blue’ to women without previous psychiatric history, but women with a history of bipolar disorder are at particularly high risk, with PP episodes following around 25% of deliveries (Jones and Craddock 2005)."

But this is just a medical description, a list of signs and symptoms with none of the realness, the harshness, how it actually feels, the way it effects you, the way it can effect your life and turn what is meant to be a joyful time into a very dark and very, very scary time! I've come through what has been the hardest time in my life, I am recovered but it has been such a tough journey with lots of hard work, I have ended up with some residual anxiety and maternal OCD but both are managed well with medication at the moment.

On Saturday 17th of June I did some training for the amazing charity 'Action on Postpartum Psychosis' I'm now one of their peer supporters in an online help forum and will also be giving support through 1-1 emails to mums who might be struggling, I just want to do everything I can to make other people's experiences of PP as easy as possible by giving hope that there is life after PP, that you can get through it no matter how dark or lost you feel.

In my experience it's better to learn about things from a first person account, so in the next few blog posts I will be sharing my lived experience to raise awareness of Postpartum Psychosis, the more people we reach the better chance someone might have of being diagnosed sooner and given the support they need before it gets to a critical level so please feel free to share my blog posts about the illness.