How It Feels To Be Recalled To Hospital Under A Community Treatment Order

If someone had asked me what it feels like to be recalled on a Community Treatment Order (part of the Mental Health Act), before it had ever happened to me, I am not sure what I would have said. Possible guess answers that I might have offered would have probably included things like “scary”, “shocking” or “dramatic”. Probably one of the last answers I would have given, would have been “it feels like having your car stolen by a band of incredibly apologetic thieves who are very sorry for your loss”. However, as it turns out, that is exactly what it feels like…

As you will all know from the fabulous explanation of the Mental Health Act that I posted last year and linked to again last week (hint…it is right here: Demystifying The Mental Health Act…With Penguins), when you have a CTO, you have a list of conditions hovering over your head which must be adhered to if you want to avoid being legally recalled to hospital. Rather than conditions hovering like ominous wasps at a picnic who like a look at your jam sandwiches though, I like to think of them as “things that hold you accountable” or “reasons to do things”.
Every time I was scared to challenge my eating disorder and follow my meal plan I had an argument I could use, that being, “you have to do this because otherwise you will lose weight and go back to hospital”. It was a system that worked but admittedly I felt really trapped by it.
Every day I would wake up and force myself to eat a number of calories that made me feel depressed, knowing that it would keep me at my CTO weight which felt equally depressing.

All I wanted to do was give up, give in and lose weight but I felt I couldn’t because that would only involve being recalled to hospital which was simply not an option. My CTO weight was the border to a war zone and I was not taking a single step into no man’s land.
Then however, the recent hospital surgery medical drama, naturally led me to lose weight and I crossed that barrier without even intending to. Before, that CTO number had held a power over me, every digit had felt significant, like a law from the gods that I would probably find carved into one of those massive rocks at Stonehenge if I visited and looked close enough (a lot of people have theories as to why those mysterious stones are there including “for religious reasons” and “rituals”…My theory is that they were simply put there by some cheeky prankster who wanted to leave a pile of stones lying around so that future generations would ask “why the hell are those stones there?”)

When I went under the weight however, the power of that number and the spell was broken. I had thought that one step over the border would have resulted in guns and tanks sending bullets and bombs flying all over the place…but nothing happened. Of course it would have had the weight loss been “my” fault, but I had an excuse, my appendix did it not me, so it was almost allowed. Obviously the CTO weight still mattered and I had to get back to it, but with this medical “it isn’t my fault” get out of jail free card, I knew that I could take advantage and lose more weight without getting into trouble.

Thus it was that, as you know, I ventured further into no man’s land, and it was a sudden surprise when after all this “oooh this feels quite safe and allowed” turned into the previously expected “guns and tanks and swords and back to hospital for you”. Unsurprisingly, it was pretty distressing and traumatic, so a lot of people have been very sympathetic which has been lovely. I really appreciated comments from people online who were not directly involved in the situation because they felt genuine, but it is when we get to the words of the people closest to me that we get to this whole “I feel like I have had my car stolen”.

To use another analogy, I suppose you could view my body as a car that the garage have been keeping very strict rules on. I may have owned the car but there were restrictions as to what I could do with it, what colour I could paint it and how far I could drive. Then, when the CTO barrier was broken, I suddenly regained control over that car, so I grabbed that wheel, painted it purple and zoomed off into the distance (I suppose if we are combining this with the other analogy I zoomed it off into former no man’s land…just like people did with BMWs in World War Two…I may need to retake GCSE history).
With the car all to myself I set my speed limit, I pumped the tyres to a level that I wanted and I filled every seat with penguins because that is what I wanted to do. I could chose…until I was ambushed by bandits who seized the car and stole it, meaning that it didn’t belong to me anymore. Suddenly they would decide how much petrol went in, how plump the tyres were and how many miles it could run and my opinion was irrelevant (the bandits in this analogy being all the doctors and psychiatrists who recalled me to hospital).
Naturally, having just had my car stolen, I was not best pleased. Thing is, when you ACTUALLY have your car stolen you never tend to see the thieves who are the new owners enjoying a trip around the block in what used to be your very own automobile, and they are unlikely to be very apologetic.

Being in hospital though, I am not only seeing the “thieves” every day, I am living with them, and watching them abuse my car. The doctors and therapists decide what I eat now, when I sit down, where I can go and it is all very hard so I try to talk and work through it with them. I say how scared I am to eat, how scared I am to gain weight, how scared I am of everything and like many people online said last week, they say things like “I am so sorry you are in this position”, “this must be very hard and scary for you” but unlike when people online say it, it makes me angry, and all I can think is “WELL YOU CAN’T BE THAT DAMN SORRY BECAUSE YOU ARE THE ONE DOING ALL THIS. YOU STOLE MY CAR, I AM UPSET ABOUT IT AND CRYING AND NOW YOU ARE SAYING HOW SORRY YOU ARE ABOUT THE SITUATION BUT YOU ARE THE THIEVING, HYPOCRITICAL VAGABOND! VAGABOND I SAY!”

I don’t believe that they can really be sorry because they have what they want, they have the car and are legally allowed to do whatever the hell they want with it. I feel the same way about professionals as I do about close family members like my mum, which I know is terrible and I know I shouldn’t feel that way, yet still as much as I love our visits and I would not be able to get through this place without her, what I get out of them is entertainment, love, company, kindness and knickers (she brings in my clean washing…thanks mum). What I do not want from my mother, is sympathy because in my eyes she is kind of like a thief. Admittedly she did not do the legal act of stealing the car, but she gets something out of it, she now has a say over the car and the thieves will take her views into account. If my mum insists on yellow wheels and the thieves like that idea, those wheels will be the colour of sunshine within 24 hours. She could not have stopped the legal act from taking place but she has more say in it than I think she has used, I am sure if the next of kin kicked up enough of a fuss someone would have to listen, but no fuss has been kicked. On top of that, by me eating and being forced to stay in this hell hole gaining weight, she has benefitted from the thieving.
Again it sounds AWFUL to describe it like that, to compare my mum to someone who is in cahoots with criminals and joyrides around with lemon wheels, when I know she would argue that all she has actually done is not try to stop the people attempting to save the life of her offspring by their actions. She isn’t joyriding (my mum is not a joyful driver…especially if there is a cyclist nearby), she is finally offloading this nightmare she has been living with to professionals who can look after it instead and she can finally sleep rather than stay up into the early hours arguing about sweetcorn. She is benefitting because she gets a break, because as I gain weight she will feel safer and therefore I assume happier yet again, any “I know this is hard and horrible and I am sorry” inspires that same “WELL MAKE THEM GIVE ME THE DAMN CAR BACK AND WHY DID YOU PAINT THE WHEELS YELLOW” rage.

That is why if you were to ask me “how does it feel to have been recalled on your CTO and sectioned back in hospital” I would tell you that it feels like some very apologetic thieves (some of whom are related me), have stolen my car.
Now I am just watching them all make the changes they want, implementing the modifications they have decided, desperate to run out and stop them but with my hands tied. I am just an observer watching people do things to my car, watching things happen to this body that I have had to disconnect from and pretend isn’t mine anymore for my own sanity. I guess a more accurate explanation/analogy then would be to say it is like having your car stolen and then having the thieves force you to be a mechanic carrying out every wish of theirs or risk being whacked on the head by a spanner, but that isn’t how it feels. It feels like things are being done to me, any movements I make are via the puppet strings that they hold, I have no say. When it comes to living with an eating disorder you don’t have much say or control either, but this feels different, this feels more stripped, more naked. This is not my body, it is just a body that I am trapped in, and I am witnessing it be torn to pieces every day. Every meal. Every bite.

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Why We Need To Keep Talking About Mental Health

Tomorrow is a very special day for this blog that you are oh so kindly reading in this moment (cheers for that), for tomorrow will mark the one year anniversary of Born Without Marbles being “a thing” on the internet as opposed to an idea in my head that I was too scared to carry out.
That means that I have been harping on about mental health, whether you have liked it or not, for an entire year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were people out there wondering why on earth I am still waffling on about illnesses that the majority of the population are well aware of by now.
Ok the general public may have misconceived ideas and perceptions as to what an illness may really be like, but everyone has a rough idea these days as to what things like OCD and Anorexia actually are, so why am I still talking about these things and why do I plan on continuing to talk about these things for the foreseeable future? Newton isn’t still harping on about the time that apple fell on his head (partly because Gravity is old news that doesn’t own the headlines these days and partly because he died in 1726 which somewhat limits his abilities to “harp on”), so why do I keep talking about what it is like to be mentally ill when the existence of mental illnesses is no longer breaking news. Well friends, whether you have been here from the beginning or whether this is your first experience of Born Without Marbles (Welcome. Please excuse the penguins I have left lying around in each post. They are kind of important), today I am going to answer that question and tell you why, even after a year of weekly waffling, I still feel that we all need to keep talking about mental health.

Of course there are all the obvious things like the fact that the more we talk about mental illness, the more research there will be and in turn the more likely we are to find a cure. To explain why I personally have such a passion for the subject however, I need to take you back to 2003, and, more specifically, eleven year old Katie (to set the scene I looked exactly the same as I do now only shorter).
As the name of this blog suggests, I can see that I have shown signs of mental illness from the moment I was born, but it was in 2003 that things really began to become a problem, that I became afraid and ashamed for the first time of the thoughts going on in my head. It was the first time that I didn’t feel normal, and feared that I was different from everyone else.

Every day at school I would watch other pupils in awe. I would see them eating school dinners, opening doors and shaking hands with each other as if it was the easiest thing in the world, and I would wonder how on earth they did it all. For some reason when I tried to open a door, I would find myself frozen in fear, unable to touch the handle as if someone was holding my arms behind my back. When I was in the queue for school dinners, my head was screaming at me to run away because I wasn’t allowed to eat, and no matter how hard I tried to concentrate in lessons about ox bow lakes, all I could see in my mind were images of terrible things happening to all the people I loved, and hear threats that the only way to stop those things happening was to repeat some kind of ritual. This would have been rubbish enough, but the worst bit was that I had no idea what this meant or why this was happening. I thought long and hard, trying to come up with an explanation but the whole thing made very little sense to me. What was so scary about the germs on a door handle when I had evidence all around me showing that nothing bad was happening to people “contaminated” with them? Why couldn’t I go to lunch, even on pasta days? Logically I knew that I loved pasta (pasta is flipping awesome), so why did the idea of eating a steaming bowlful topped with as much cheese as I could get away with before a disapproving dinner lady grasped my cheddar filled palm, scare me so much?
These things went on for months, and I said nothing to anyone because I was too afraid. Maybe mental health wasn’t as widely discussed in 2003 or maybe I was just unaware of what mental illnesses were, but I had never heard of anyone experiencing these things so I kept silent and hoped they would go away. Spoiler alert: they didn’t. Of all the awkward situations I found myself in however, there is one in particular that sticks in my mind and one that continues to motivate me and my dedication to this blog today.

“It” happened at the end of a music lesson. Now, in my school, music was taught in a separate building to all others, ditto art, drama, and DT who all had their own individual buildings (something tells me the staff members of the more creative subjects did not get on well…this explanation of the separate buildings certainly correlates with the time I saw the head of drama pelting the art teacher’s studio with water balloons anyway…)

On the day in which our story occurred, our class had been taken to a room on the top floor of the music building where there were a lot of computers and keyboards set up for us to spend a few hours learning how to play the theme tune from Titanic (a vital part to any eleven year old’s education). Then, the lesson ended and we were dismissed, a fact that meant we were going to have to leave the room and therefore, someone was going to have to open the door. Usually I was very good at avoiding such a responsibility, and at the end of every lesson I would fumble around with my bag until someone else had done the job so that I could scoot on after them without touching anything. This technique worked perfectly for every lesson, but today, for some reason, the teacher wanted us to lead out in single file from the nearest computer to the door. I think maybe someone had been messing about with a keyboard, playing Celine Dion’s soundtrack with a little too much gusto, so in the exit of the classroom, the teacher wanted to establish some serious authority. I felt sick. I was at the computer nearest the door. I was to be the first to leave, I was to lead my fellow students to freedom. I was to open the door. When I saw that it was a push door then, I was thrilled. Happily I nudged the door with my foot and led my classmates out, but the relief was short lived as I realised we were headed for another door, a pull one with a handle…AND AN EXIT CODE KEYPAD.
I thought about pausing in the corridor to let someone overtake but the corridor was too narrow, it was single file, there was no escape, and as I walked down the stair case to the door I genuinely felt like I was walking to the gallows. This was it. I was going to have to touch a door handle, and it was going to be the end of the world. When I reached the door I stopped. The time had come to raise my hand, but I couldn’t move. Instead, I just found myself stuck, panic building as the queue of students eager to go home started forming behind me. Luckily everyone was talking about the day too much to notice my embarrassing situation at first, but after a few minutes of standing in a line waiting, understandably, people started wondering what the hell was going on, and from the back of the line I heard a voice ask perfectly reasonably “is there something wrong with the door?” From then it went silent and all I could hear was the response in my head of “no actually, there is nothing wrong with the door, there is something wrong with me and I have no idea what it is”.

Eventually, after what felt like 34 years, the person behind me became impatient, reached around and opened the door, and from there I ran sobbing to the medical centre with shame, fear and embarrassment. I didn’t want to see anyone ever again, I had to hide, so I decided to take refuge in the sanitarium. When the nurse asked me what was wrong, I lied and told her that I had a tummy ache. I spent the rest of the day curled up on the sofa with a hot wheat bag watching episodes of the Simpsons, feeling more alone than I knew it was possible to feel. There were hundreds of other pupils in the school, but for some reason I was different, I couldn’t open doors or eat meals like they appeared to, and there was nobody, least of all me, who understood why.

It is for that Katie sitting on that sofa with that smelly hot wheat bag that I started this blog, and it is for all the smelly hot wheat bag holding people out there pretending to be fine, pretending to have tummy aches to cover up the fact they are terrified of their own minds and too scared to speak out for fear that other people won’t believe them, that I write this blog. Had I heard about mental health problems sooner, maybe I would have asked for support sooner, but what I would have found more helpful than any of the symptoms listed in the millions of health care packs, would have been the knowledge that there was at least someone out there who struggled with the same things, who let me know I wasn’t crazy, that I wasn’t alone. It is for that reason that, no matter how much awareness there is about the existence of mental illnesses, I will keep talking about my experiences with mental health problems in public spaces. This isn’t a blog to just give information, in my eyes, this blog is a friend, both to me, to the readers and to anyone out there who comments to say that they can relate to my problems and thus remind me once again that none of us are alone.

So happy birthday Born Without Marbles, and thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the support anyone reading this has ever provided. Here’s to another year, another 52 weeks of my ramblings, another 365 days of friendship.

Take care everyone x

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5 Tips For Managing A Job Interview When You Have Mental Health Problems

A couple of weeks ago, I had a job interview. Much like most people before an interview, I was terrified, but not exactly for any of the usual reasons for pre-interview nerves. Of course the normal worries like “Am I going to look like an idiot?” “What if I can’t remember my own name?” “What if I can’t answer any of the questions?” were there, yet the leading racers in the anxiety Olympics were all mental health related. My main concerns were things like “Are they going to want to shake hands?” “What if I have a panic attack?” “What if they offer me a biscuit?” and “Is it socially acceptable to go into this interview with a hot water bottle shoved down my trousers?” (admittedly that last one isn’t exactly mental health related but I think we can all agree it isn’t on the list of the most common interview worries…I was just very cold…still, my mother confiscated the hot water bottle because it would make me “look weird”…yeah…I am sure they saw the icicles forming on my chin as totally normal…I’m not bitter at all…)
Prior to the interview then, I had a lot on my mind, and in turn a lot of preparations to make to ensure that I was going to be able to actually get through the interview. This meant that over the course of the experience I learnt a few things, so I thought I would pass them onto you now in case anyone else out there is struggling with the “please hire me by the way I am insane” issue. I can’t say these tips are going to make your job interview a jolly occasion, but in the end, I got the job which the interview was for, so I guess these tips have their uses…

1. Anticipate parts of the interview that are going to cause particular problems: Prior to an interview, there are several things that everyone will think about in preparation. Maybe they will research the company in which they are seeking employment, think about potential questions, or have a google search of the latest updates in the business world so they are prepared for any topic up for discussion. In the same way then, it is important to think about and prepare for any potential events that could be difficult. For example, I was worried about hand shaking, so in preparation I spent the days before the interview anticipating the touching of palms and speaking to people about it to get through some of the anxiety. In practical terms I also found an anti bacterial foam that supposedly lasts for six hours, so I was sure to pack that in order for me to be able to use it before the interview as a sort of protection glove. I then made sure I knew where the nearest bathrooms were for post interview washing. I even prepared how to turn down a biscuit incase one was offered, so anticipate potential mental health hiccups and solve them before they arise. (Thankfully water was the only refreshment offered so I never had to turn down a biscuit…I accepted the water and really wanted to drink it, yet never got a chance because I was too scared of making a slurpy noise. Had it been a job interview for a position as professional slurper I would have drunk the water as fast as I could and been sure to demonstrate all the slurping noises possible but alas, my interviews was not located in an institution that advocated slurping…or hot water bottles stuffed down one’s trousers apparently…)

2. Be realistic: In job interviews, it is sort of an unwritten rule that you say “yes” to everything and worry about consequences later. Can you speak french? Of course you can! You have a french dictionary at home and 24 hours to learn it…what could go wrong? Can you fly? Of course you can! How hard can it be to sprout wings /morph into a sparrow overnight (from experience I can assure you that is VERY hard indeed). As great as it is to say whatever you can to get the job though, it is important to be realistic and not agree to things that your mental health is going to make impossible and that you are consequently going to go home fretting about. If you have social anxiety and can’t speak publicly to a crowd of thousands, do not agree to do so and then regret it later. If there are things you are not going to be able to do, let the people know right away to avoid getting into a difficult situation further down the line. Yes it will be awkward and maybe you won’t get the job if there is a key part of it that your mental health makes impossible, but then again if that is the case, maybe that job isn’t the one for you. In terms of being realistic about actions you can perform, it is also important to be realistic concerning what you can manage when it comes to hours. Accepting a job 24 hours a day 7 days a week when you know it will overwhelm you, interfere with medical appointments and leave you no time to take care of yourself, is never a good idea. Getting the job is important, but taking care of your needs is vital as without looking after yourself you wont be able to perform at work and getting the job will not be a success you can celebrate for long. I for example know that there are multiple aspects to this job that are going to be extremely challenging and on the surface, if I am honest with myself, the hours are more than I think I can realistically handle. However, I made sure only to apply for a Christmas job for 6 weeks so that if I get overwhelmed/it is detrimental, there is at least an end goal in sight.

3. Get there early: Everyone knows you should get to a job interview early purely because being late is not the best way to promote the “great time keeping skills” you bragged about in your CV. Nevertheless, with mental health problems I would always advise not just getting there early enough to ensure you are on time and make a good impression, but getting there super early to allow for potential disaster/to allow you to remove the hot water bottle shoved down your trousers. Obviously you can’t plan what your brain is going to do in advance and it would be unrealistic to decide that you are going to schedule a panic attack for 11:15 so you have time to calm down in time for the interview, but if there is a risk of that kind of thing happening, get there with the time such an event would take spare. If you often have panic attacks, get to the interview with enough time to have one. Even if you don’t have panic attacks but suffer with anxiety, still get there early just to allow yourself to gather your thoughts and carry out any coping mechanisms like listening to a certain song or practicing mindfulness if needed.

4. Do not take rejection personally: One thing I really struggle with when it comes to job interviews/anything in life, is the fact that I take rejection extremely personally. My main worries about not getting the job weren’t about not getting the job in itself, rather they were worries about the effect it would have on my self esteem. For example I know that getting rejected from roles in school plays/not performing as well as I wanted in a test, has always led to difficulties with self harm, self hatred and general feelings of “everyone hates me and this is a sign that they don’t want me to be alive anymore because I am so terrible”. Before you go for the job interview then, try not to build it up to be this majorly important thing on which your value as a person and entire future happiness depends. Don’t see it as something on which your life rests, as ultimately no job is worth that. Maybe even write out some bullet points in case rejection does come to remind you of the rational facts in the situation. When the rejection comes it is likely your thoughts will spiral into the irrational emotional side of the brain so get your pre-rejection rational thoughts in order first. If you don’t get a job it doesn’t mean you are a terrible person/rubbish at everything/doomed to fail in life. It likely means that there were a hell of a lot of applicants and even if you were more than skilled enough, perhaps you just weren’t right for the role or someone else was better suited. If you are a doughnut maker and don’t get a job as a doughnut advocacy speaker it doesn’t mean you don’t make good doughnuts. It might just mean that you were up against a talking doughnut, and lets be real, who is better to speak for doughnut advocacy than a talking doughnut? Nobody, thats who.

5. Be honest: This is the final tip I have to offer but it is also THE most important. When I used to be preparing for interviews I would debate whether or not to tell the potential employer about my mental health problems/how much to say. I always wanted to hide it incase my mental health would stand in my way, yet ultimately that just meant that by hiding my difficulties I made life more difficult for everyone involved. Eventually the truth would always come out, and it would have been a hell of a lot better simply to be honest in the first place. If your mental health affects your life in terms of abilities or availability, let the employer know. Otherwise you will find yourself lying about reasons you need a day off to go to an appointment and having to invent mythical physical diseases to request time off work when really you are having a mental health crisis. For the past few years I have even put my mental health problems somewhere on my CV or within any applications so that everyone is on the same page before I even get an interview. This then makes it easier to talk about in the interview and by being honest both I and the employer can see if the job will be possible/work out ways to make it possible. When I worked in a coffee shop I was open about my fear of touching the hoover and thus allowed to use it whilst wearing rubber gloves saving me a lot of anxiety and excuses to get out of having to use a hoover. Again, like the tip about being realistic, there is always a chance that being honest will affect your chances of getting the job, but if it affects your life so much that it will inevitably cause problems at work, again, maybe that is a job you shouldn’t be applying for.

So there you have it! My top tips for managing job interviews with mental health problems. Now of course I have the mission of managing the actual job itself… To be honest I haven’t figured out how to manage that bit yet, but I guess that is something I will learn along the way. If my experience over these next few weeks does teach me anything about mental health in the workplace though, I will be sure to pass on any helpful lessons to you later.

Take care everyone and good luck with any potential job opportunities. YOU CAN DO IT!

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