What It Is Like To Be Taken Into Hospital Under A Section 136 Of The Mental Health Act

I honestly don’t know where to begin with this week’s blog, as lord knows it has been a fairly traumatic seven days.

I guess I will just have to start at the very beginning (a very good place to start according to a certain Maria Von Trapp), the beginning being Saturday afternoon when things with my mental health blew up like some atomic bomb (and by atomic bomb I mean a really massive nuclear weapon of mass destruction and total insanity. There was even a mushroom cloud). 

So, picture the scene, it is Saturday afternoon and I am with my mum in the car outside my house (as in the family home where I grew up, not the flat) and we were talking about the fact that from today, my parents are going on holiday for two and a half weeks. Now, I realise that I am 26 years old and should therefore feel fine about being left alone for two and a half weeks, but due to my issues I am incredibly reliant on my parents and in reality they are more like a pair of carers as opposed to members of my family. Indeed, as I may have mentioned before, my mum gave up work to look after me full time as my level of independence is quite low, especially when I am struggling as much as I am now, and in fact my level of independence has been rapidly falling in recent weeks because the noise in my head is so loud that I have been finding it hard to take care of myself properly. I also fear this holiday because due to my diagnosis of Borderline Personality disorder (or Emotionally unstable personality disorder as the kids are calling it these days), I have an extreme fear of abandonment, which manifests itself in me doing anything I can to keep people from leaving me alone. I want to write a full blog about this fear of abandonment thing one day but for now just know that the idea of being left by my parents strikes absolute terror into my very core.

When mum and I were talking about the holiday then, I became extremely anxious and things only got worse and worse as time went on. It was then after about ten minutes of conversation that it happened. I snapped. 

It is extremely difficult to explain what I mean by that but basically it was like a switch went off in my brain and I became so terrified of being left alone that I completely lost control, so the rest of the scene happened in a total blur with me sort of watching the action and what I was doing rather than taking part in it. As soon as the thing in my brain snapped I just started hysterically screaming and crying and then for some reason I started to lash out. Like I said, all that happened was a total blur but from what I have been told afterwards in this lashing out I ended up hurting my mum and then in an act of total wildness I grabbed her phone and smashed it in the road. Naturally, my mum was terrified so she ran into the house without me, at which point I was left alone in the garden and the screaming in my head got worse. As you know, I have OCD with an extreme fear of contamination and in my daily life I barely touch anything unless it has been antibacterialised before hand, yet at this point I was so out of control that I started actively tearing up plants from the garden, running my oh so perfectly washed hands through the filth and soil, ripping roots and flowers like a maniac. I could feel the dirt wedging itself in my fingernails as I grabbed at the earth but still I couldn’t stop until the point where the anxiety in my mind reached such a point that I realised I need to stop the noise and the only way I could see to do this was to end my life. At this realisation I ran from the house, sprinting faster than Usain Bolt on steroids, the only thought in my head being that I needed to end my life. I won’t tell you exactly how I planned to do this as I don’t think that is helpful for anyone, but just know that I ran and I ran, desperate to reach the moment where I could end it all and in turn end the terrible thoughts. 

For about half an hour I was running alongside a river, looking around in fear that someone was going to save me and it was at about this point that I saw the first policewoman. As I saw her I started to panic but she let me pass without a word so I thought I was “safe” and continued on. Soon however I reached a pub, and it was here that I spotted two police cars in the distance as well as two police officers coming towards me. It was then that I realised that they were here for me and I froze like a deer in the headlights. I wanted to run but as I turned I saw the other policewoman coming from the other way and I found that I was completely ambushed. Still I tried to escape, but the three of them managed to trap me in a corner where I stood crying and shaking uncontrollably. As we stood there they asked me a few questions and then told me that I had to go with them. Naturally, this was not what I wanted at all, I wanted to be left alone to die but I had no choice in the matter and after a few more words I was escorted by the police through a giant crowd of people in a beer garden, enjoying their drinks in the summer sun, and into a police car. It was quite possibly the most humiliating experience of my life. Once in the car I was then driven home, but as two police officers went into the house I was left locked in the vehicle with the third police woman who was trying to calm me down. I however could not calm down and this fact was only made worse when the other two police officers came back to the car and told me that I was being arrested for assault, and criminal damage against my mum’s phone and the garden. It was honestly like something out of a movie with the police officer saying that whole speech about how I didn’t have to say anything but anything I did say could be given in evidence etc etc. Desperately, I pleaded to be allowed to speak to my mum or at least give her a hug as I was so afraid, but the police officers refused and with that I was driven to a police station where I was supposed to be interviewed by a sergeant. I however, was far too distressed to talk, so I was taken into a police cell with a new policewoman, an extremely empty, cold and uncomfortable room with nothing in it other than a bench. Together we sat on the bench, me frantically asking questions and begging to go home but the woman would not talk to me. I don’t know how long we stayed in the police cell (it felt like forever) but eventually one of the previous police officers appeared to tell me that because all of my actions were due to mental health problems I was being “de-arrested” and instead sectioned under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. It is likely that if you have any mental health problems yourself you will know what a 136 is, but if you don’t it is basically a Section of the Mental Health Act under which police can detain you if they deem you to be at extreme risk of hurting yourself or other people. This then meant that I had to go to a hospital, so without further ado I was placed into an ambulance, driven to a 136 hospital and then I was escorted inside by the police. Once there a mental health nurse came out to ask me a lot of questions but I was still so distressed that I just cried and could barely speak. Questions over I was then escorted to my room, possibly the barest room other than the police cell that I have ever seen. Naturally, because a 136 suite is a hospital where people who are trying to end their own lives are taken, there is nothing in the room that you could hurt yourself with which basically meant that there was nothing at all. Ok I have been in mental hospitals before but this was an entirely different kettle of fish, with nothing other than a bed nailed to the floor and not even a door to the bathroom or a seat on the toilet. 

I am sure the place was clean (after all it was a hospital) but because I was in a new environment it was this point that OCD kicked in and I totally freaked out. As I had been picked up by the police I didn’t have any belongings (they had searched me and had taken everything away from me at the station) so without my trusty hand sanitiser I was at a loss and started having a panic attack. Thankfully the staff were absolutely amazing and a kind HCA talked to me to help me calm down. She then went to find some anti bacterial wipes as well as a mop and bucket and together we cleaned the whole room. Even when clean though I was still desperately suicidal and at risk of self harm, so she stayed with me and helped me to shower and get into some clean clothes . Naturally I continued to beg to be allowed home to see my mum, but obviously because I was sectioned I wasn’t allowed home for 24 hours or until a mental health team could come and assess me, so to my dismay I had to stay the night. Thankfully the staff there were completely amazing and kept me safe until I fell asleep around 3am. 

I must have been tired after all the drama because I slept then until 3pm (other than a few five minutes during the night where I was woken up by the screaming of other patients) and at 3pm I was awoken by a nurse telling me that the doctor was there to assess me. From there I went in pyjamas looking like a right scruff bag (not that I really cared at the time…I was so out of it and traumatised that I would have probably been assessed in a penguin suit and not been embarrassed) to another bare room with a few chairs to talk to a social worker, a doctor and a psychologist. Naturally their main goal was to assess how at risk I was to see if I needed to go to a longer term hospital, but I was so scared of that that I am ashamed to admit that I lied. They asked me if I felt in danger or suicidal so I told them that I felt safe over and over again. I must have been convincing because thankfully they agreed to not renew my section and said that I could go home, which I guess takes me to this point right here, writing this blog in my flat feeling as unsafe and at risk as ever, all alone and traumatised by the past 24 hours. On the plus side, if any of you out there have ever wanted to know what it is like to be picked up by the police and taken to a 136 suite, now you know! Hoorah for small mercies! 

I am not really sure how to end this blog other than to beg all of you out there not to see me as a terrible person for all that I have done and explained in this post. I will admit I have behaved disgracefully and I am extremely ashamed for all my actions (especially hurting my mum who like I said I love more than anyone in the world and would never hurt whenever in control of and feeling rational about my actions) but I really want you all to know that all that has happened has happened because I am really not well at the moment and am more out of control than ever. As you know I was un-arrested in the end and was taken from the police station to a hospital, so please do not think any less of me or assume me to be some kind of criminal, as when I am in my right mind I would never behave as I have done this past few days. I cannot control what any of you will think of me after admitting this (I hate admitting it but as I have always said on this blog I am nothing but honest) but if I could influence your way of thinking whatsoever please do not think of me as some violent, nasty person, but rather as a person who is very unwell and struggling with their mental health problems more than ever. 

As I go forward after this incident all I can do is hope that I can manage to keep myself safe even though when I told the psychologist this, it was a lie. The next two weeks are going to be extremely tough for me as my parents are away, but thankfully I do have friends who are coming in to look after me and the crisis team are visiting every day. I hope I can stay alive for them and equally I hope that I can stay alive for all of you too. For now though, I will end this post and simply hope that you have all had a good week. You all mean so much to me and I am eternally grateful for all the friends I have online who supported me during this “incident”. 

Take care everyone x 

Handcuffs

The Fear Of Moving Out With Mental Health Problems

So it has happened. My parents have finally had enough of my mental health problems and consequently I am being forced to move out this week on July 14th 2018 (it was supposed to be Friday the 13th but when I realised the date I, being a very superstitious bean, begged for an extra night at home.) I am absolutely dreading it and could not be more terrified if I tried (not that I imagine anyone would try to be more terrified than they were in any given situation…that would be weird). It is what I have been dreading my whole life, leaving home, especially now when things are particularly prickly in my old brain, but that is why I have to leave. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am not being kicked out with nothing more than a bag of my belongings and a tent, I am in fact going to live in a small flat my mum and I bought with some inheritance money (god bless Grandma and Grandad), but at this stage in my life I think I would be terrified even if I were moving into the Ritz. A lot of fellow 26 year olds may read this and think that there isn’t much to be afraid of, but I am not your average 26 year old and I don’t know how to do anything I should have learnt by now. Because of my OCD I have never done a load of washing nor do I know how to, I have never changed a bed sheet, done a weekly shop for food,  nor have I ever paid a bill. Ok my parents will be living five minutes away and will hopefully help me out a bit for the first few weeks but within a month of me moving in they will be jetting off to Malaysia for their summer holiday and consequently I will be all alone in my flat with no safety net for two and a half weeks. I don’t know quite what else to say other than that I am crying as I type this as I have never been so scared in all my life. I cannot believe it has actually come to this. 

My parents have mentioned that they couldn’t cope with me before, but I always figured that we would work it out like those previous times, yet this week there is no working out, I am actually going and it makes my stomach do all those fancy somersaults you see trapeze artists do in the circus just thinking about it. I just wish I could have recovered from all my illnesses before now so that it never had to come to this. To be fair I guess a lot of people my age are moving out from home, if not now then earlier, but i simply don’t feel ready. Maybe nobody ever feels ready to move away from home and maybe this is normal, but regardless I don’t like it at all. I want to stay at home in my childhood house where I grew up with my mum and dad. I want to live in my room that I have slept in for 26 years and I want to shower in the same shower I have used for all of that time too. I want to pour water from the same kitchen tap I have lived with all my life and I want to sit on the same sofa I have sat on for every movie marathon I have ever had with my mum. I am not ready to be alone, being alone is my biggest fear and now I am being forced to face it head on. I don’t know what I am going to do with myself. It is pathetic but because of my mental illnesses I have become so dependant on my parents that I seriously have no idea how to manage without them. How do I wake up without my mum there to help me get ready in the morning? How do I prepare food alone with all the voices screaming in my head? How do I avoid alcohol as I have been trying to and failing to do for the past month? How do I get through the day? How do I go to bed? How do I breathe? How on earth do I survive? 

I know I must sound extremely melodramatic and immature to be worrying about all these things at my age, but I think that when you have mental illnesses your ageing process slows down so in reality I am mentally nowhere near where I should be in comparison to other people my age. I have written about it before but I must reiterate the fact that when other people were growing up and learning to do all these things, I was too busy washing my hands or starving myself or crying into a pillow because I was so depressed. I never did the usual teenage rebellion of independence, I never snuck out of the house, dated people who were bad for me or got grounded, because I never had time to do anything wrong. I was mental, that was my identity and it still is and now I am going to have to live as this mental lunatic alone, with no idea how to cope. 

I guess my message this week then is that if you are mentally ill and are still living at home, seek help now before it gets to the stage where you have to leave home and figure it out alone too. Seek help now and learn to be independent before it is too late, cherish living with loved ones before they run out of patience and cherish knowing that there are people there when you struggle. Hopefully within the next few weeks I will be getting a carer from social services to help me figure all of this out in my flat, but for now that carer isn’t available so like I said I will be trying to do it all myself. Just please seek help out there even if you have the most loving parents in the world as I have, because at some point, with mental illness, everybody breaks down and gets to the point where they cannot manage. It feels weird to think that the next time I post a blog it will be from inside my new flat. I still cannot quite believe it, although I am sure reality will kick in and I will realise what is happening soon enough. Until then I hope you are all well and are keeping yourselves safe. 

Take care everyone x 

LifeChange

Why I Am A Hypocrite

So I have a confession to make. 

I am a hypocrite. 

Since I am confessing things, I suppose I should also tell you that sometimes I like to sit in the bath waving a fork in the air pretending I am Neptune, king of the sea, wielding his trident, but that confession is slightly less relevant to this blog post and perhaps we can discuss that more at another time. 

So yeah, I am a hypocrite, and this is something that has been pointed out to me multiple times by a number of psychologists, friends, fellow mental health warriors and, of course, my mother. To be fair to all of these potentially rude sounding people, none of them have actually stomped over to me, looked me straight in the eyes, and said “you are a hypocrite”, but it is something that is (quite rightly) implied when people ask me questions like “do you even read your blog?” 

In answer to this question, of course I read my own blog (I write it too funnily enough…MULTITASKING), yet I think this question is less a question as to whether or not I actually read the articles I hope other people will be reading somewhere else across the globe, and more a question of do I take note of any of the advice I often spout in my attempts to help other sufferers of mental health problems. Sometimes my posts are about misconceptions that I want to tackle, some are personal insights into my own experience, but there are a fair few tips of ways to manage mental health problems…tips that I tend to broadcast for everyone else and then ignore in my own life. To quote Lewis Carrol in his novel Alice in Wonderland, “Off with their heads!”…no wait that’s the wrong quote…what was I saying? Ah yes! “I give very good advice but I very seldom follow it”. 

In fact I think this is the case with a lot of people around the world, but it is something I have noticed is extremely prevalent in people with mental health problems, and on paper, a lot of my friends with mental health problems are very much sitting beside me on the “hypocrite” train. 

Trust me, if you want advice as to how to deal with eating disordered thoughts or a lie that OCD is trying to convince you is the truth, talk to someone who experiences them too and it is likely they will have the answer that will logically solve all your problems. Indeed, most of the best advice I have ever received is from people with mental health problems, and in hospital it was a daily occurrence for me, or another patient, to turn to someone struggling before a meal, tell them that it was ok to eat, that their body needed the food and that they weren’t greedy, before immediately walking through to the dining room, plunging their face into their bran flakes and sobbing about how they couldn’t eat because of all the reasons they had just spent time telling someone else they didn’t need to worry about (to any people who visited me in hospital and wondered why I had bran flakes in my hair, now you will know why. It was all of the face plunging). This kind of thing can be quite baffling in its blatant hypocrisy to a passer by who may assume that the hypocrite in question is some kind of fool, so I thought that I would try and provide an explanation as to why this happens and why so many people with mental health problems are, when it comes to their own advice, hypocrites. 

A lot of it is probably due to the whole “it’s different for me” thing that we all tend to feel a lot of the time, that ability we often have to feel like “the only one” in all of human history. For example I strongly believe that other people need food. Obviously people need to eat, doing so isn’t greedy, it is the only way to sustain life, yet when it comes to me I feel guilty and gluttonous no matter what I eat because I don’t deserve food, I am different, a person so horrible and disgusting that they cannot possible be considered in the same category as other people. 

That said, I don’t think it is this “it’s different for me” thing that is the main issue, I think the real issue is that when people are confused as to how someone can give advice but not follow it themselves, it is because they do not realise or cannot see the level of control the disorder has over their abilities to do what they may know is the right thing. 

If I had to explain it in an analogy (lord knows how much I like analogies), I would simply explain the issue by asking you to imagine a plumber named Mario (not THE Mario. This is a different plumber called Mario who hasn’t got a whole Nintendo franchise or a moustache. This Mario is in fact hairless and hates video games.)

He is however a great plumber, with all the knowledge in the world about pipes and water and…plumbing things. 

Now imagine Mario standing behind his apprentice Luigi (again, different Luigi, they are not related), and giving him specific instructions on how to fit a shower. In a booming voice of authority Mario tells Luigi exactly what to do, which pipe should be at which angle, what spanner is required and he knows the second it is time to do something with the stopcock (suffice it to say I know very little about plumbing). Every time Luigi makes a mistake Mario yells something like “that is not what I said! You have to do exactly as I say because I know exactly how to do it.” 

Were someone to overhear Mario yelling at Luigi from the next room, they may ask “why the hell doesn’t Mario stop telling Luigi what to do and follow his instructions himself”. Indeed, Mario looks rather bad and lazy on face value. However, were the person overhearing the scene to become so frustrated that they stomped upstairs and swung open the bathroom door to bring justice to the situation, they would see something that paints Mario’s inaction or inability to follow his own instructions in a different light. 

Mario it turns out, is not ignoring his advice because he is lazy or because he is a fool, rather it is because he is caught up in the arms of a giant octopus who somehow escaped from the local aquarium, burst into the bathroom and proceeded to entangle Mario amongst its many flailing limbs. Mario knows that the big spanner needs to be used first and he knows that it would be best for Luigi in the long term if he turned the stop cock (can you turn a stopcock?), but knowing what to do logically, doesn’t mean he can physically perform the actions himself due to the aforementioned octopus entanglement issue. His arms are glued to his side, his legs bound together, and there is a large sucker covering his left eye. What he knows or doesn’t know is not relevant to his situation, because the situation is being controlled by that damn octopus, and that is how I feel whenever I give advice to other people. 

In real life, I AM Mario. The majority of people with mental health problems ARE Mario. 

They have read all of the self help books available, know more about their disorders and have filled out more healthcare questionnaires about their condition than a potential doctor in medical school could hope to, but it is hard for them to use all this knowledge because of the control their disorders have over them, much like that octopus had over Mario. I can watch someone else wash their hands and tell them to stop after one squirt of soap, yet when I try to do it, the OCD steps in, and regardless of the physical possibility of turning the tap off, it feels like I can’t. OCD will not let me leave the sink because it has me in its grasp and it can’t hear my rational thoughts or cries for help because one of its many tentacles is wrapped around my brain. I cannot get to the information I have cleverly gathered over time no matter how much I wiggle, there is a massive tentacle in the way, and OCD is in control. 

Maybe it is different for other people, maybe you will read this and angrily disagree with me by stating that people with mental health problems aren’t all hypocrites and that it is just me being rude and making baseless generalisations (though I would like to believe that there are a lot of people out there reading this and thinking “OMG YOU ARE RIGHT, ME TOO!”) 

Nevertheless, this is the best way I could explain the fact and reasons as to why I am often a hypocrite, and if you know someone similar to me in that respect, then maybe it is why they are a hypocrite too. 

People with mental health problems who do not follow their own advice don’t act in such a way because they are being silly or give out fake advice they don’t really believe to other people just for fun. Instead, it is because knowing every trick in the book as to what should be done in a situation doesn’t always solve a problem when an octopus or mental health disorder has you in its grasp.  

Take care everyone x

Octopus

What Do People With Anorexia Eat?

Over a year ago I wrote a post about how people with eating disorders were misrepresented in the media via their use of skeletal pictures when interviewing or discussing someone with the disorders, yet lately I have noticed there is another stereotypical image being promoted that drives me equally round the bend, that being the idea that people with anorexia do not eat anything at all, and it is this myth I really want to tackle in this post as it is simply not true and is unhelpful to everyone.

You see when you come across articles in the paper interviewing someone with an eating disorder, they always make it sound as if the person has gone years without ever letting a morsel of food pass their lips. 

I am often reading pieces stating that someone lived on half a cornflake for three years or something ridiculous, a statement that is physically impossible and that must be taken with a pinch of salt as everyone knows journalists will often exaggerate or make things sound worse by picking and choosing details from an interview to make a good story. If an article makes it sounds like someone interviewed supposedly hasn’t eaten more than half a cornflake for three years, it is most definitely false and cannot be taken as a fact in general or by which other sufferers can be measured. 

Admittedly, people with anorexia frequently do not eat enough, it is after all one of the symptoms, the classic restricting of calories to lose or prevent weight gain. Indeed people with anorexia often eat very little, nowhere near as much as they need to keep themselves alive, but that still doesn’t mean they don’t eat anything at all and spend years living on air. In addition to those in relapse  who still eat at least something (regardless as to whether it be enough or not), when people are in recovery and on a weight gain meal plan they may actually eat more than some “normal” people. I know I have certainly followed meal plans that exceed the “government guidelines” irrelevant calorie limit, which have been prescribed to me both in and out of hospital. People in relapse and recovery are still considered as having “anorexia” if their mental state dictates that diagnosis, no matter how much they eat, and they should all be counted and taken seriously as a voice for people with eating disorders without being discriminated against for (brace yourselves)…having breakfast. What about the people who have severe anorexia but eat to keep their families off their back or to maintain a job? The ones who eat purely to stay out of hospital or the ones who are trying their best to eat to get better yet are still in as much mental pain as anyone else and hating every second? The ones who want to scream and shout every time they eat but force themselves on anyway because they don’t want their kids to see them worrying about food in fear that they may also pick up on the anxiety? That image, of people with anorexia eating, is never represented in the media, as equally valid or not it isn’t a dramatic image that would sell a story in a magazine. After all, headlines of “anorexic eats an appropriate number of calories, not because they are better but because they don’t want to scare the children” are never going to sell or create as much drama as “anorexic eats nothing and only licks a blade of grass once a month for 10 years”.

I am pretty sure that every member of my family is aware that I have anorexia and in a way I find this helpful. With them knowing, it means I don’t have to lie all the time, if I disappear for a few months to go into hospital it isn’t a big secret and I don’t have to pretend I have been off travelling, climbing Kilimanjaro or building schools for orphaned penguins in the Arctic, but in a way it actually makes things harder because I feel there is an expectation of the way I should behave at family gatherings. I am currently unable to eat outside of my house or with family anyway, but even if I were able to I would find attempting it incredibly intimidating as I imagine if I were to eat anything, people would be confused. If a person without an eating disorder goes out for a meal and eats, nobody raises an eyebrow, but if someone who is known to have an eating disorder goes out for a meal, when they eat people start to question whether there is anything actually wrong with that person in the first place. If you hear someone has to go into hospital for a new leg and then you see them prior to admission dancing the tango pretty happily using their old one, you might wonder why on earth the new leg is needed as clearly there is no problem. The issue is of course that though someone may appear to be eating happily on the surface, they could still be going through mental torture inside and may be just trying not to make a fuss and embarrass themselves or draw attention.

The dangers of this misconception that “anorexics don’t eat” are very similar to the ones created by the idea that people with anorexia are underweight. Again, family members or professionals may not be concerned about someone they suspected may have an eating disorder because the person often sits down for a family meal. Sufferers also might find themselves in situations where they don’t eat, not because of their disorder in particular, but because they feel they can’t incase people suspect that they are faking the whole thing. Much like images of skeletal bodies, people hearing the myth that people with anorexia don’t eat can cause people to think that they are not “that bad”, “not ill enough to warrant help” or even worse it can trigger them to restrict their intake further because they think there is some “anorexic standard” they have to live up to. You cannot compare the severity of a person’s illness with that of someone else’s just by looking at what they look like or how much they eat without having any idea of what is going on inside their heads. 

Overall I guess the message of this post is that when it comes to the portrayal of people with eating disorders in the media, take all the pictures and interviews as pieces of journalism to sell a paper with the nuggets of truth inside partially skewed or not representative of eating disorder patients as a whole. Making judgements based on accounts that are for the purpose of selling papers rather than truly giving a voice to people with no ulterior motive is never going to provide an unbiased piece that one can make conclusions from. Basically what I want to say is do not trust the media at all, instead you should trust strangers on the internet like me…actually don’t trust strangers on the internet…that isn’t the message I want to promote at all…. just don’t think that people with anorexia don’t eat. 

Take care everyone x

Sandwich

Why Boundaries Are Important When Living With Mental Health Problems

A few weeks ago when I was talking about the fact that I am getting discharged from an inpatient setting on the 20th of February/tomorrow if you are reading this on the day of upload, (handy link to that blog post here: The Pressure To “Get Better” When You Are Struggling With Mental Health Problems), I mentioned that there were going to be a lot of rules and boundaries in place regarding my mental illness that I would have to follow back home.
Seeing as these boundaries were set by my parents you might think I live in a particularly strict household with rules and regulations more often seen in a school rather than a home setting, but actually, I am starting to think that when you are living with mental health problems, it is vital for everyone to set some boundaries.

Thing is, when you have a mental illness bobbing along with you through life, you can guarantee that it is going to do all it can to interfere with any plans you had prepared. Thought you were going out for a night with friends? Surprise! Depression has crossed that out of the calendar and scheduled you in for a good old evening of crying into a pillow and thinking about what a terrible person you are. Decided to spend several hours working on that novel and actually being productive with your life? Nope! Instead OCD would like you to waste those hours antibacterialising various objects in the house that were already clean to begin with. No matter what illness you have, it is obviously going to impact your daily routine, and if left with total freedom, it is likely that it will impact your daily routine more and more as time goes on until you find yourself looking back and wondering how on earth things managed to get so out of control. Now when you are in an inpatient setting this aspect of mental health problems is managed somewhat by the rigid structure of your day to day life on the ward, but on the outside it is a hell of a lot easier to get carried away with your own rigid routines.

The reason for this is that I have started to realise that mental illnesses are much like dinosaurs, and living with them is analogous to being that professor that Richard Attenborough plays in Jurassic Park and it is that analogy (to be fair it has been a while since we settled in for a good old traditional Born without Marbles analogy) that I want to talk about today.

Maybe some of you out there haven’t actually seen Jurassic Park (and if you haven’t you really should, it is fabulous), but basically in Jurassic Park there is this guy called Professor Hammond (that’s the person with mental health problems in this analogy), and he owns this safari park of dinosaurs he created out of some blood that has been hiding inside of a mosquito for several thousand years (in the analogy the park is your brain and the dinosaurs are your mental illnesses, except obviously in the mental health version you did not create your dinosaurs/illnesses, rather they appeared one day and as a result you found yourself as keeper of this prehistoric zoo of insanity).

Having the dinosaurs there is obviously dangerous, so Professor Hammond does all he can to keep that danger to a minimum. In order to keep the visitors safe, he has a whole team of keepers helping him to keep an eye on his dinosaurs (aka psychologists and other mental health professionals), and there are physical boundaries/electrified fences set up all over the island around the dinosaurs to keep them in check. They are still dangerous dinosaurs, but when confined by their boundaries, their level of threat is somewhat controlled.

However in the film, before long, this idiotic man with absolutely no common sense turns off all the electric fences and cages that were housing the dinosaurs, and utter chaos ensues.
Without the fences, the dinosaurs do not remain in their neat little pens, they run amok and cause a hell of a lot of destruction and noise when doing so. That image (aka that of dinosaurs running madly all over the place eating people and crashing into everything), pretty much illustrates the importance of boundaries when living with mental health problems and why I have so many regulations in coming home.

For example, whilst I have been in hospital at my local eating disorder unit, there have been very definite rules set out to govern my behaviour. These rules are numerous and I cannot list them all for fear of boring you all to floods of uncontrollable tears, but as an example they have been things like the fact that if I do not eat my meal, there will be a replacement issued which if not completed will lead to consequences in ward round, or the rule that meal times take place at set points throughout the day with no option to delay that peanut butter sandwich for another five minutes. Meal times are meal times, you eat your meals in meal times, end of discussion.

Similarly there are rules to govern my OCD such as time limits for showers because without this kind of rule, my OCD tends to grab hold of all control over how long I take to shower and run with it a lot faster than I can chase after it (I was never one for athletics in school.)
When I have a time limit however, I have something to aim for, and though my OCD will still be present in my behaviours for the duration of the shower, it is my attempt at controlling it as best I can. If in hospital I weren’t to shower within the allocated time, I would be removed from the shower, so I sort of had to reason with my little OCD dinosaur to get through it. My dinosaur wanted to spend the next three years washing yet the rules meant this was impossible, so we had to work together and compromise. I would shower and do all the rituals I was told to, but only for a certain length of time. Having a time limit obviously didn’t always work and there are times where I still couldn’t stick to it, but like I said, it gave something to aim for and consequently I will still have that shower time limit now that I am heading back home again. Again it is unlikely that I will always be able to keep myself in check, but I know that without any rules in the shower things would be a lot worse than they often are and if I didn’t have a boundary set in place, then I doubt I would ever be able to get out of the shower at all.
I can of course tell my OCD that I have finished washing but OCD will always come back with “just another five minutes”, a request that, when given into, will be repeated every five minutes leaving me stuck in a ritual with no way out. With my rule, I at least have an argument against that. In the shower the OCD still dictates behaviours, but when it is time to leave the shower, I at least have the statement of “time is up and we must leave now to avoid consequences” to come back at any “five more minute” suggestions that should arise.

If you are living with mental health problems then, it is important to have your own rules in place to try and keep track of the interference it causes. You can’t control whether or not you have a disorder, but there are some things you do have control of that can help lessen the impact. Say you have an eating disorder and, as I will be attempting when I get home, you are trying to give yourself enough nutrition.
If you say to your eating disorder “I am going to eat better today”, then it is unlikely that you will achieve much, as “better” is a negotiable, subjective term that you will find yourself debating. Instead, hard and fast rules like “I am going to eat three meals and three snacks today” are more likely to merit results. They won’t necessarily mean you achieve what you want, yet again, like the shower time limit, it gives you something to aim for rather than a wishy washy “I will eat something” or “I will shower quicker” which without specifics don’t really mean anything and give too much control to your illness. I know that especially with eating disorders, giving into little things are a sure fire way of letting them spiral completely.
Whenever I have a bowl of cereal for example, I weigh out exactly the same number of grams each day without question. This is disordered of course, and one day I would like to pour cereal with all the gay abandon of a cereal pouring professional, but I know that if I don’t have a weight from my dietician to stick to, aka a boundary, then my portions will just get smaller and smaller. My eating disorder won’t ask for anything dramatic at first, just little requests like “just one flake less today” or “one gram less”, which doesn’t sound much but if you keep listening to that you will end up a few weeks down the line staring at a solitary rice crispy in the bottom of a bowl wondering where all the others went (and possibly hearing a very quiet pitiful sobbing from the rice crispy as they are very social creatures who, when portioned out individually, often get rather lonely. Rice has feelings too kids.)

You don’t have to make loads of rules and they can be small rules to start off, but no matter what the size it is vital that the rules are there. If you have depression, that sucks and you cannot control the effect depression will have on your mood. What you can control however, is things like taking any medication you have been prescribed or attending any appointments to try and keep it in check. If you have an eating disorder and a meal plan you have been told to stick to, make that meal plan your rule, your boundary that cannot be negotiated. Ok the eating disorder will still be there screaming and it may interfere with your behaviours, but having that meal plan there is a non negotiable that is not up for debate. With OCD rituals put time limits on how long they can take so that a quick five minute tidy doesn’t descend into a five hour mass organisation mission or at least put a limit in place as to how many times you are allowed to do something simply to give you something to aim for.
Like I said, this is not going to cure you of any mental health problems nor is it going to stop them interfering/being dangerous beasts much like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. In or out of a cage, a T-rex is a T-rex (unless it is a bunny in disguise), and you cannot control the existence of that T-rex or its nature/behaviour as a stomping, roaring, chomping scaly thing. What you can do however, is put boundaries in place to try and limit the destruction that dinosaur can cause, to do the best you can to take control of something that otherwise will take lack of rules as a chance to run amok to see what it can get away with, and that is why, as I go home tomorrow, I go with a set of rules and boundaries in place.

Coincidentally, that is also why mental health problems are like dinosaurs and why it is vital to have boundaries when living with them in your head/prehistoric safari park. Rules may be broken, but having certain rules in place at home does often help me to manage typically unmanageable situations a little better. If you have been in hospital, take hospital rules back home when you are discharged so that the illness doesn’t have the total freedom to reinvade, and if you haven’t been in hospital then maybe come up with some rules with friends and family who are willing to support you in your battle for sanity. Remember, a dinosaur is always going to be a wild destructive interference, but with boundaries, that destruction can at least be controlled as much as possible…I hope…

Take care everyone x

BoundariesDinosaur