Saturday, October 22, 2011

Men Vs Women

I read a long time ago on Seaneen's blog that men are more likely to receive a diagnosis of Bipolar, whereas a woman is more likely to be diagnosed with a personality disorder, or told to pull themselves together (this is not a direct quote). I'm here to tell you today that this is absolutely true.

I suffered quite severe mood swings when Mr Man was in hospital, and for quite a few years afterwards as well. I would swing from feeling completely elated, like my heart would burst with love and joy, to feeling that heavy crushing pain in my chest, with unimaginable emotional anguish. I was confused. I didn't know what was wrong with me. I kept a mood diary and went to speak to my GP.

My GP literally dismissed how I was feeling with "We all feel like that" before I had even finished my sentence. He obviously wasn't going to take me seriously, so I dropped it.

I struggled on until eventually it got too much for me again. This time I spoke to a lovely nurse at the surgery, who unfortunately could do nothing to help me, but she took me seriously and urged me to see a different doctor. This time the doctor listened to me, but explained that we all suffer from mood swings (sound familiar?) of varying levels. He refused to increase my anti-depressants, but referred me for counselling, which I never received.

Fast forward another year or so, and I saw yet another GP who increased my medication and I finally got some counselling.

During this time Mr Man frequently spoke about how concerned he was about me to his Occupational Therapist, because he too had noticed my mood swings, and particularly my "angry phase" when I literally wanted to kill people. I can speak about this now that I have recovered, but at the time I was so ashamed, and I didn't think people would believe me or take me seriously. Well... they didn't did they?

Looking back, I now know that I definitely wasn't suffering from Bipolar. I didn't really believe I was at the time, but I was just so confused about what was happening to me. Post Traumatic Stress also causes mood swings, which is what I now believe I was suffering from, but of course no doctor will ever concede that. For the most part I have had to struggle through it on my own, and yes, considering the amount of times I asked for help, and the amount of times Mr Man asked for help for me, I am bitter about this.

Of course, it would all be very different if I was a man. Now don't get me wrong; I am not a feminist, and I don't usually go along with all this "Men Vs Women" baloney, and "Men are from Mars" etc. etc. But, I know of men who have "achieved" the Bipolar status, by simply being... Well, I can't actually think of a polite way of saying it.

Now, I'm not saying that I wanted to be diagnosed with Bipolar - far from it. I simply wanted to understand what was wrong with me and to get help for it. But it really winds me up when I struggled so hard for so long to get help and was never taken seriously, when these men who are manipulative control freaks with a bad temper get told "You can't help it, you have Bipolar".

Being married to someone with a serious mental health issue, I am usually very sympathetic to others in the same plight, but for the same reason, I cannot tolerate men acting like spoilt children and being excused for their behaviour by their wives or girlfriends (or even ex-girlfriends) because they have "Bipolar". Mr Man has his limitations, but his illness never causes him to behave like a spoilt child.

Please correct me if I'm wrong (and I'm sure Seaneen will) but my understanding of Bipolar is that the mood swings are unrelated to daily events in your life? And I don't believe that people with Bipolar use self harm to manipulate the feelings of others? And I always believed that people suffering from Bipolar needed more than just anti-depressants, but mood stabilisers too?

To my mind, a diagnosis of Bipolar for these men tells them that they are being taken seriously, and not just being fobbed off with anti-depressants. But it also tells them that it's ok to act like a spoilt child when you don't get your own way, and it's ok to use self harm to manipulate others, or scare them with violence. And again, doesn't this reinforce the idea that people with mental illness are dangerous and violent? When in fact these people are just bad tempered individuals with depression? (Meaning, the bad temper was present already)

Two things need to change: a) GP's need to stop diagnosing patients with illnesses which are clearly beyond their expertise, and b) men and women need to be treated equally in the area of mental health. Yes, women are generally more emotional than men, but that doesn't mean we can't have mental illness too! And on that thought - when a GP says "we all have mood swings" do they mean all women, or men and women? And if they mean men and women, why are men told they have Bipolar and women are told "we all feel like that"?

I can't say that the counselling I received ever helped with the trauma I was trying to recover from. Even the counsellor preferred to ignore those events and focus on other things in my life. I have slowly recovered with the help of medication, time, and prayer, but it's taken about 9 years.

I can't possibly have suffered from Post Traumatic Stress though - because I'm a woman.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Another Call for Help

Following the post "A Call for Help" I received a comment from another lady struggling to cope with her sick husband and the situation it had placed her in.

I also don't know what to do anymore, after three years struggling with my husband's sickness. I'm from Asia, well-educated, but was forced to move to Europe (in a matter of two days) because of his sickness. I basically abandoned everything I had for him.

But after three years, on top of his sickness, my troublesome mother-in-law is constantly causing problems by demanding way too much attention from her son all the time and bad-mouthing me whenever she can. My husband loves me, but he doesn't see what his mother is doing to me. He needs his family, he said, and his mother loves him and pampers him like a child all the time.

I am depressed and at the end of my strength. I lose my temper very easily these days. My friends and family are all in Asia. And here I can hardly have an independent life due to language barrier and qualification mismatch. I just want to get myself out of this whole mess. But a divorce will be a huge blow to him... yet I can't see myself living a life like this anymore...

I also want to ask, what should I do?

Anonymous, I really wish I knew what to advise. I'm sorry that life has become so unbearable for you. Unfortunately I have no solution for troublesome mother-in-laws! If he enjoys the attention she lavishes on him, I can see why it would be difficult to convince him to leave - but what about you? Don't you also deserve the attention of your family? Maybe you could reason this way with him.

Although he may need additional support due to his illness, it doesn't mean that he can have his own way all the time! Maybe he just doesn't realise how the situation is affecting you?

When Mr Man was in hospital I was at breaking point, and so exhausted. He wanted me to visit twice a day. It was hard, but I had to explain to him that although I loved him very much, I also had to look after myself, otherwise I would get to the point where I wouldn't be able to help him at all. It helped that a nurse explained this to him also, and he was very good about me not coming for a day while I got some much needed rest.

I think sometimes when you are caring for someone with mental illness, the whole situation can become about them, and how they feel. But it really doesn't hurt to let them know how you feel as well. I used to avoid crying in front of Mr Man, but actually, when I did cry he would look surprised, like he'd only just realised that other people feel distressed over things too, and then he would forget about his own feelings for a little while.

So the only thing I can recommend is that you discuss how you feel with your husband. I don't know how ill he is at the moment, but he may surprise you and be stronger than you think.

I would also recommend trying to get some support for yourself. You don't say which European country you are in, so I don't know what the services are like where you are, but maybe visit your GP, get some help with your depression, ask to see a counsellor, and ask if there are any support agencies for carers.

I really hope this helps.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Post Traumatic Stress

I saw my Carer Support Worker the other day. I haven't seen her in quite a long time, so there was an aspect of my demeanour which was very noticeable to her - she said I am less angry than before. She's right. I'm not sure when it happened. I suppose it's been a gradual process, but I definitely feel less angry than I did before. On the other hand, I feel I am struggling more with anxiety.

Now, I know previously I deleted all the posts relating to my own mental health, or parts of posts where I had described how I felt, but that was mainly due to the confusion I was feeling at the time and the fact that people were trivialising how I was feeling. But there's no point in denying it any longer because it is obvious for all to see - Mr Man has recovered from our ordeal better than I have. Interestingly, my Carer Support Worker tells me that this is not uncommon.

I have expressed on this blog before (and then deleted it) that I feel I am suffering from a form of Post Traumatic Stress. Some health workers agree that it is a possibility, whilst others won't even entertain the idea - probably because it would mean admitting the substandard care that Mr Man received, which put his life in danger and which caused me a great deal of anxiety. I don't want to enter into a debate over symptoms and who is right or wrong, but the fact is that I am "not right" and I haven't been "right" since 2002 when Mr Man was admitted. Frustratingly, I still get asked about my childhood. I don't understand how people can think that caring for someone you love, who was in danger of killing themselves at any moment over a period of several years, is not traumatic enough to cause PTS - and especially given that when he was in the care of others I had no way of protecting him and those caring for him didn't take the danger seriously. Honestly? Is it just too obvious to be true? Does it have to be something buried deep within my subconsciousness from my childhood?

I watched "Dolphin Boy" tonight. Obviously this is an extreme case of Post Traumatic Stress and disassociation, but I could relate to some of the boy's feelings. The rage, the confusion, the avoidance, and the desire to live in a "bubble". It was a long process of four years before he was able to go back home and live a normal life again. My symptoms are obviously much less severe than his, but with no real help to work through my emotions, I am still struggling nine years later. I know I can't be the only one.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

The Baby Thing

Hello again readers. I know my posts have been few and far between for quite a while now. A lot of positive things have happened during that time. Mr Man is now back at work a couple of days a week, and he is driving again! His recovery is going really well, and things are really looking great for him and for us. We're even going on holiday this year!

But today I want to talk about the baby thing. A very long time ago a reader asked me how I felt about children and whether I ever wanted any, because for her it was a deciding factor in separating from her husband. Yes, I have wanted children, and this has been a painful issue for me, and not one I was ready to talk about at the time. So why now?

Tomorrow we shall be dining with a couple of friends who are expecting their second baby. (Yes, we have a social life now too!) I'm dreading it, and yet only yesterday I was telling friends how glad I am that I don't have children when I hear the struggles that other parents have. That statement is true; I only have to have my nieces and nephews over to know that I couldn't cope with being a full time parent, but I still find it difficult to manage my feelings when friends have babies. I tend to go the other way completely. In an unconscious attempt to manage my broodiness I avoid the subject altogether. I avoid pregnant friends, I avoid baby sections in shops, and I definitely avoid babies. Yes, I'm sure they're beautiful, but I don't really want to look to decide for myself, and I certainly don't want to hold them.

Mum's get a bit sensitive when people don't love their babies though don't they? And whilst it's acceptable for a man to completely ignore the fact that a woman is pregnant and not even mention it in conversation, for a woman it is not. And for a friend to do that?...

I've already done it, and I feel awful. One of my closest friends has had a baby recently and I hardly saw her throughout her pregnancy and I still haven't been round to offer my congratulations yet and to hold the baby. Being one of my closest friends, I can only hope that she knows and understands why, without me having to say a word.

Anyway, I haven't really explained why we don't have any children have I? Considering we chose our children's names before we even got married, I suppose it must seem a bit strange to some.

We had decided that we would enjoy five years together before we started a family. I always had health problems anyway, so it was always questionable as to whether I could cope with a young one. I got broody before the five years were up when I became the last one in my family to not have any children, but I agreed to wait. On our 5th wedding anniversary Mr Man was a patient in the psychiatric hospital. It had been just 3 weeks since his attempted suicide on the ward (which I have not written about in detail yet) and it was time for me to have my contraceptive injection, which I had every 12 weeks. I cried at the appointment, but obviously it wasn't the right time to start a family, and at that point, I didn't know if there ever would be a right time.

Later on down the line I became very broody again. In the past I had always said to Mr Man to just let me have my cry and I would get over it, but this time was different. It was the only thing I thought about. I spent sleepless nights crying. I would lie in the bath for hours until the water had gone cold, just lost in my thoughts and day dreams of having a child. Despite his illness, Mr Man agreed for us to try for a baby. But it just didn't happen.

Some doctors were helpful and supportive, and some doctors were not. One doctor suggested that if I wanted a family I should leave my husband - without even knowing which one of us was possibly infertile. Another doctor suggested a sperm donor, simply because of the risk of passing on Schizophrenia to our child. I wasn't happy with either of these suggestions, so with the support of our GP we started having investigations into why we were not conceiving.

There was quite a wait for those kinds of appointments, so in the meantime we just kept trying. To be honest, it got to the point where I just couldn't cope with the disappointment every month. Every month was the same. I felt like if I just crossed my legs to stop my period from starting that it would mean I had to be pregnant. Some months I was late, and I would convince myself that this was it. I would wait as long as I could possibly bear before buying a pregnancy testing kit - which was never very long at all - only to find that my period had started by the time I did the test. Every month it was the same crushing disappointment.

One month was different. I was late, but I was determined not to get my hopes up. Mr Man on the other hand needed to know one way or the other. I took the test, and the result was positive. I wrote about it at the time in my other blog:

Mr Man, on the other hand, was impatient for an answer. Saturday night I took a test, but the faint blue line which threw me into panic wasn’t even visible to Mr Man with his glasses in another room and with poor night lighting. He was satisfied enough to get a good nights sleep.

I, on the other hand, was awake for a good deal longer, worrying about how he would react once he realised the truth.

I had to confess my concerns to him the following day, and after the initial shock and panic had worn off he seemed fine. The line was very faint though, and I needed to be sure. I took another test this morning… actually I’ve taken five in all over this weekend, and the only test to give a positive result was the first one I took, which was what started all this confusion in the first place.

I can't remember why I was in a panic, considering it was what I had wanted for so long. Mr Man was never very keen though, and only ever agreed to it for my happiness. By the end of this little episode I was an emotional wreck. My period started, and then it stopped again. I didn't know what to think. I was clinging on to every bit of hope there was. Finally my period started properly and I knew it was over. As disappointed as I was, I was also relieved. I couldn't cope with the emotional roller coaster that trying for a baby caused. As strange as it sounds, I actually found it easier to come to terms with the thought of never having a baby than the continual disappointment every month from not falling pregnant. In a way, I gained strength from making the decision to remain childless, instead of the choice being taken from me every month. Besides, Mr Man and I have both suffered relapses since then, and I know we wouldn't cope with the responsibility of raising a child. So I found hobbies.

Hobbies? That sounds like such a shallow replacement. But I also enjoy the company of my nieces and nephews as often as I can, and I tell them that I wouldn't be able to love them as much as I do if I had children of my own. I do love my nieces and nephews, and seeing them doesn't cause me pain, only joy. But babies... there's just something about babies.

Coping with being childless has meant that my brain has switched off all maternal instincts. I'm not interested in pretty baby clothes, and I find I have to remind myself to even look at the baby and say something nice when I bump into someone I know in town pushing a pram. My brain is obviously trying to protect me, and it does a very good job of it; I hardly ever think about babies these days. But then there are those times when I just can't avoid it, and it's painful. Life would be so much easier if everyone I knew just stopped having babies.

Related post: Under Pressure

Thursday, January 06, 2011

A Call for Help

I just received this anonymous comment on the post "Why Do People Stop Taking Medication?" If anyone has any advice for this reader please leave your comments in the comments section below.

I don't know where to turn and I cry everyday trying to find help for my brother. You see he was in prison for 18 yrs and when he came out he was on Risperidone. Everything was fine until he stopped taking it. I asked why and his reasons were the weight gain (about 80pds) loss of sexual function and he said his thoughts were not his own. He was not long before seeing a jail cell after stopping his meds. They kept in jail just long enough that his disability was cut off and now he is about to loose his apt. He thinks he is God. He has not had a meal in so long now and I am over a grand in debt trying to cloth and look after him, financially I can do it anymore and don't know what to do. He is now anorexic, if I were to guess I would say he weighs about 120 and he is six feet tall. This weight loss took just 3mths. When he was arrested it was because he was yelling in his apt and so I gather people called because they were afraid. They jailed him for over 2 mths trying to get a bed in the mental ward for an assessment. Well apparently the time ran out for the legal limit of holding him and that was three days after they got him in the hospital and the just released him. Everyone in the family has turned their back on him because they are afraid of him.
I don't want to see him end up on the street but what can I do to prevent it. I can't make him take the meds not can I write the letter to disability to get him reinstated. The local mental health association is of no help as I have called the worker that we saw when he first got out. So I am asking here on this forum if anyone has any suggestions.

Anonymous, is your brother agreeable to seeing a doctor? I'm not sure which country you are in, but I'm pretty sure that in the UK a person can be detained on a psychiatric ward under a section of the mental health act for the treatment of anorexia, as he is obviously a danger to himself (not eating = death). If he will see a doctor then maybe he could have his medication changed to something that doesn't affect his sexual function - Abilify seems to be one that doesn't have this effect. Unfortunately I think many, if not all, antipsychotics increase weight gain. Of course, although these side effects were the original reason for him stopping his medication, there is now the added problem that he probably doesn't believe he even needs them anymore, since he believes he is God.

Just out of curiosity, has he said why he won't eat? Or is it simply that he doesn't take care of himself? Either way, this is a burden too heavy for you to carry alone. Is there an advocacy service where you live? Any doctors surgery should be able to give you the details of one. They should be able to advise you on how best to get help for your brother, and may even make calls etc. for you. I hope this helps.