Tag Archives: PTSD

How I Feel About My Mental Health Diagnoses #Write31Days

31 Days of Mental Health

Welcome to day 6 of the 31 Days of Mental Health for #Write31Days. Today, I’m feeling very ill-inspired, so I checked out the 30 days of mental illness awareness master list. This is an awareness challenge in which mental health sufferers answer 30 questions about their experience of mental illness. I am going to combine day 1 and 2 of the challenge and share how I feel about the diagnoses I have been given over time.

The first mental health diagnosis I received was adjustment disorder. Okay, I received a diagnosis of autism before, but most mental health professionals do not consider this a mental illness and in truth, it isn’t. It’s a neurodevelopmental disorder.

I received the diagnosis of adjustment disorder upon my admission to the psychiatric hospital in 2007. An adjustment disorder basically means an extreme reaction to stress that doesn’t meet the criteria for any other mental disorder (eg. depression). Well, how could I not agree to thsi diagnosis? I was under a lot of stress from living independently and I reacted in an extreme way.

I was fortunate at the time that insurance still covered treatment for an adjustment disorder. It would do in my case under the current policy too, because I was suicidal, but many people with psychosocial problems related to even more severe stressors such as a life-threatening illness go untreated for their mental health problems.

As I said before, I then received a diagnosis of impulse control disorder NOS. I didn’t feel right about this diagnosis. It wasn’t that I didn’t agree I had impulse control issues, but I had so many more issues. Why not diagnose me with half a dozen other NOS disorders?

Years later, I was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To be very honest, these never sat right with me. Though I did feel validated that I had some dissociative experiences, I felt I may not meet the full criteria for DID. I did have a lot of identity confusion and depersonalization/derealization (feelings of unreality), but I didn’t have a lot of identity alteration (switching to different personalities) till after my diagnosis and never quite had amnesia (memory loss). Okay, let me clarify this: I did have a sense of identity alteration long before my diagnosis, but I tried to never show it on the outside. That changed after my diagnosis. Now I feel I might have dissociative disorder NOS, but I don’t want to bring up my experiences again for fear of being told that I imagine it all.

That was, after all, exactly what happened after a few years. I went to a dissociative disorders support group, where the support group leader, herself a DID sufferer, eventually kicked me out. Her reason was that she felt I had an imaginary dissociative disorder. My new therapist, who changed my diagnosis to BPD, didn’t exactly go along with this, but she did say that BPD better explained my symptoms than DID.

With regard to PTSD, I never felt I had the full classic PTSD symptom presentation. Though I did and do have flashbacks and nightmares, they aren’t necessarily specific to the trauma I survived. This is possible in PTSD with young children but not adults. I also did experience emotional numbing but not avoidance of triggers. In fact, I was often drawn to triggers. I still am. I did and do however experience many symptoms of complex PTSD. Then again, these are similar to those of BPD.

In 2013, I was finally diagnosed with borderline persoanlity disorder. I almost instantly agreed I have it, but then again, I did with most conditions I’d been diagnosed with. I do still feel I meet enough criteria for a diagnosis, though I don’t exhibit as many classic BPD behaviors as I used to when first coming to my current institution. This is possibly related to my autistic difficulty adjusting to change.

My #InvisibleFight for Mental Health #IIWK15

Today is the start of INvisible Illness Awareness Week. I already shared a post on ths year’s theme, my invisible fight, last week. This was about my fight for a correct diagnosis and treatment of my physical symptoms.

If all goes as planned, I will be participating in a 31-day writing challenge in October on the topic of mental health. I have lived with mental health problems pretty much all my life, though I didn’t get into the care system till 2007. In today’s post, I’m sharing my fight for proper mental health care.

I have had a number of diangoses for my mental health problems over the years. At first, in 2007, I was diagnosed with an adjustment disorder caused by the stress of my living independently while being multiply-dsabled. I was hospitalized on a locked psychiatric unit and stayed there for 1 1/2 years. An adjustment disorder can only persist for six months after the stressor has gone (so after I’d been hospitalized), so I had to be diagnosed with something else eventually. My new diagnosis was impulse control disorder nOS. Several years later, I got diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These finally got changed to borderline personality disorder in 2013.

It’s been a long fight to get the care I deserve and the fight is ongoing. In 2008, when on the locked unit, I was treated with seclusion or threatened seclusion whenever I acted even slightly irritable. I wasn’t told that, being an informally-admitted patient, I had to give consent for this treatment. My problems were treated like willful misbehavior, even though my diagnosis of impulse control disorder should suggest the behaviors were at least to an extent beyond my control.

I had a horribly authoritarian social worker at the time. She was mostly in charge of my care, because I was at this unit awaiting appropriate long-term residential care. At one point, when I objected to applying at a certain supported housing place because I didn’t meet half the admission criteria, she threatened to get me a guardian. Not that my parents, who would’ve been the most likely choice for guardianship, would’ve stood in the way of my making my own decisions. I have said many negative things about my parents, but one positive quality of theirs is that they allow me to be in charge of my own life.

I had to fight to be admitted to a resocialization unit in 2009. I first had to fight my social worker, who wanted to transfer me to a low-level supported housing placement instead. That was just too big a leap. I also had to fight the treatment team at the resocialization unit, who were skeptical I’d be able to cope on an open unit.

Once at the rsocialization unit, I got better treatment than I’d gotten at the locked unit. However, I didn’t get much better. Eventually, medicaiton was suggested. This was a huge step, as the doctor at the locked unit had always ignored my questions and suggestions about possibly going on medication. My antipsychotic is truly a lifesaver. Its dose had to be increased several times and an antidepressant had to be added, but now I’m quite stable.

In 2012, when I’d been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder for some years but was noticing my psychologist didn’t have a clue how to treat it, I took it upon myself to find a suited therapist. I E-mailed around, was rejected many times, but eventually found someone. Unfortunately, by the time she had a spot for me, I’d transferred to my current institution and my diagnosis had just been changed to borderline personality disorder.

As the years passed, I got to know and love my husband and we eventually married in 2011. We originally weren’t planning on living together, but early this year, I changed my mind. We’ve been working towards discharge for me ever since. Thankfully, my psychologist and social worker are quite cooperative. The fight is not yet over. In fact, now that my discharge is coming closer being probably around three to six months away, I have to fight my inner demons. In other words, I have to fight the fear that I’ll break down again, like I did in 2007. Thankfully, my psychologist and social worker are understanding of this. I am hoping that, once I am settled in at my and my husband’s apartment, I can finally get treatment for my emotion regulation problems.

Everyday Gyaan

Also linking up to Invisible Illness Awareness Week 2015: Your Invisble Fight.

Anxiety

One of the Friday Reflections prompts for this week is to write about anxiety. How does it affect me and what do I do to cope? I will write here about my experiences with various types of anxiety. It ties in nicely with last Monday’s post, in which I share tips for relaxation. However, throughout this post, I will share some coping strategies that have and haven’t worked for me too.

In the psychiatrist’s manual, DSM-5, there are various types of anxiety disorders. Now I don’t have a diagnosis of any of these disorders, but they are a good reference point for the various types of anxiety that people may experience.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a condition in which a person feels anxious or worried about a variety of situations. This worry is accompanied by a feeling of restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, sleep disturbance and/or muscle tension. Generalized anxiety disorder often co-occurs with depression.

Though I haven’t had a diagnosis of GAD, partly because my owrrying can be explained by my autism, I have been a chronic worrier all my life and experienced many of the associated symptoms I mentioned above. Antidepressants can help this type of anxiety and in fact are more effective for GAD than for depression. I have been taking the antidepressant Celexa since 2010 with moderate success.

Some people worry about specific things happening to them. For example, I have a lot of anxiety about getting a serious illness. This is called hypochondria or health anxiety. In the psychiatrist’s manual, it is classified as a somatic symptom disorder rather than an anxiety disorder, but the symptoms overlap with those of anxiety disorders. Some doctors have tried antidepressants for health anxiety and documented significant improvement in their patients. It is also commonly thought that people’s health anxiety lessens, ironically, when they do get seriously ill.

My health anxiety is associated with compulsive behaviors. For example, when I was a child, I was afraid of contracting leprosy. As a means of keeping my worry at bay, I’d count my fingers and toes, since I heard that people who had leprosy had those fall off.

Later on, when I lived independently, obsessive worrying and the resulting compulsive behaviors extended to other situations. For example, I’d be afraid of carbon monoxide poisoning and would have to check that my heating was off and windows open at night. I often checked this twenty or thirty times a night.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is classified in DSM-5 under its own category separate from anxiety disorders. The obsessive compulsive spectrum also includes disorders that aren’t commonly seen as anxiety disorders, such as hoardng and trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling). However, OCD used to be seen as an anxiety disorder. Antidepressants can help, but so can exposure and response prevention. In this type of psychotherapy, the patient is gradually taught to lessen the compulsive response (eg. checking) to a feared scenario. For example, people who have hygiene-related compulsions gradually move from say a three-hour shower down to normal shower time, decreasing their time under the shower by one minute a day. For me personally, my obsessions and compulsions related to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning decreased dramatically when I was hospitalized.

Another type of anxiety disorder is specific phobia. Everyone probably has something they are fearful of, but a specific phobia is only diagnosed when the fear and resulting avoidance of situations greatly impairs the person’s daily functioning. Similar to OCD, specific phobias are treated with exposure therapy, where the person is gradually intrduced to the feared situation or object and learns to endure the fear. For example, a person with a spider phobia might be first intrduced to pictures of spiders, then videos, then look at a live spider, etc. You can also be asked to simply imagine the feared scenario (eg. looking at a spider). After all, with certain phobias, it is not feasible for the therapist to take the client on to the real experience.

A final type of anxiety is social phobia. A person with social phobia is extremely fearful of social situations because of the fear of making mistakes or being criticized. As a result, people with social phobia avoid certain or all social situations. Many autistic people develop social anxiety as a result of their real social ineptness. I for one do not consider myself that socially anxious, but when I filled out a social phobia questionnaire online, it said I had very sevre social phobia. This is probably because I get overwhelmd by social situations easily and avoid them because of this.

People with social phobia, often children, may also suffer from a co-existing condition called selective mutism. This is an inability to talk in certain situations (eg. at school) while the child has adequate speech in other situations (eg. with parents). I displayed signs of selective mutism as a teen. Though this was in part anxiety-related, it also related to my autism.

There are still many other types of anxiety and related disorders, such as panic disorder and agoraphobia. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also used to be classified as an anxiety disorder. I used to have a diagnosis of PTSD and still have some of its symptoms, but I may discuss this at a later time.

Reflections From Me

Ten Achievements of the Past Decade

Today in Blog Everyday in May, the prompt is to list ten achievements of the past ten years. Now I already did my 28 Before 28 post in February, so it’s an extra challenge not to repeat myself. I am just going to write, and if I don’t get to ten, well, screw it.

1. Graduated from high school. This happened just shy of a decade ago. I am not particularly proud of myself for graduating, probably because my parents were super over the top proud of me and I still can’t let go of a little parent-defying. I forgot most of what I learned in high school anyway.

2. Learned to clean and cook semi-independently. I went to an independence training home for the disabled in 2006 and 2007, where I learned many skilsl ncessary for independent living. I lost most of these skills again, but the fact that I learned them once, makes me confident that I can relearn them.

3. Overcame a mental crisis. It surprises me that, in the 28 Before 28 list, though I did include my diagnoses, I didn’t include the actual achievement of overcoming the darkest of aspects of mental illness. In all honesty, and I hope this doesn’t get me kicked out of care before I’m ready, I can say I’m much better able to cope than I was back when I was first hospitalized in 2007.

4. Finished two Open University psychology courses with a passing grade. IN 28 Before 28, I did mention that I took five courses in total, but the achievement of passing two of them in 2009 was largely overshadowed by the fact of the three that I didn’t pass.

5. Was able to let go of some of the darker trauma-based emotions and perceptions. As regular readers might know, I’m a childhood trauma survivor, which largely came to the surface when I was at my old rehabilitation unit in 2010. Though I got no evidence-based treatment for PTSD or dissociation, through a lot of talking and some work done on my own, I overcame most of the classic PTSD symptoms. I still have attachment issues, emotion regulation difficulties, etc., but I am confident that I will overcome the debilitating effects of these too.

6. Got married. I don’t usually credit myself for our relationship success, but then again it’s a mutual effort I guess, so I should deserve half the credit. If not, then well, I’m still happy I got married, so this fact still belongs here!

7. Started and restarted yoga. I took yoga classes in 2009 or 2010, but eventually quit because the emotions it brought on were too overwhelming. I recetnly restarted and am becoming quite successful at basic poses and exercises.

8. Was able to participate in group recreational therapy. In my old institution, I used to get individual day activities only. Due to budget cuts, I couldn’t get these for a long while in my current institution so I tried the day activity group. It’s still quite hard, but I can at least usually keep up.

9. Was able to enter the recovery stage with regards to my eating disorder. That is, I comletely stopped purging and recently was able to reduce my binge eating significantly too. I gained lots of weight in the past decade and have only started losing it again little by little over the past couple of months, but at least I’m improving. I also haven’t self-harmed in a few months, but that has not been a conscious effort as much.

10. Am generally much happier than I was ten years ago. This pretty much sums up all of my achievements. I didn’t earn the Ph.D. or get the high-profile job I thought I envisioned for myself ten years ago, but so what? I’m generaly less angry, less hostile and also less anxious than I was in 2005. I’m still not the shiniest example of positivity on the planet, but I’m trying to keep a positive outlook, and that’s what matters!

Found Love. Now What?
The List

Things People Don’t Tell You (or Even Know) about Borderline Personality Disorder

Having borderline personality disorder, I have severe and rapid mood swings. Usually, people with BPD experience chronic, low-grade depression, but it can worsen or spiral down into anxiety, paranoia or anger at the drop of a hat. I have experienced that during severe mood episodes, I have similar experiences that are listed as those common in mood or anxiety episodes for people with depression, bipolar or anxiety disorders. The difference is the episodes are usually more severe but last shorter.

Today, I came across a list of things people don’t tell you (or even know) about depression. I can relate to many of these and could add a few that apply to my BPD moods specifically.

1. Most of the things people tell you, are not going to register with you and/or aren’t helpful at the time. “Just accept that you feel like crap”, “just act happier”, or “it will get better”. When I’m in a BPD mood episode, I usually can’t see beyond this episode and am utterly overcome with emotion. Telling me to “just” accept it or “just” act ahppier will seem totally unhelpful, even though it is particularly the “just” bit that is making it unhelpful. It’s not easy, but acting opposite to emotions and acceptance of one’s emotional state do help.

2. It physically hurts. Particularly depression and anxiety can cause physical symptoms. I often experience a heavy weight on my body when in a depressed state. Intense fatigue is another symptom. Anxiety can come with a lot of physical symptoms, such as a racing heartbeat, chest pains, lightheadedness, etc. When you experience these symptoms for the first time, do see your doctor to make sure it’s indeed anxiety and not a physical health condition.

3. Your relationship with food changes to “it’s complicated”. Many people with BPD also experience eating disorders, usually of the not otherwise specified type, where they alternate between anorexic and bulimic or binge eating episodes. Mood episodes can, as the author of the article I linked to says, also cause you to overeat or forget to eat.

4. Some “friends” will let you down, and that’s okay. Being BPD, we often tend to cling to people and have severe fears of abandonment. However, those friends who let us down during a mood episode, probably aren’t worth our frantic efforts to keep them. Friendships are generally hard for borderlines, so especially when not in a severe mood episode, it may be helfpul to invest in interpersonal skills.

5. You feel like you’re absolutely losing your mind. When in a severe mood episode, I can’t see beyond this episode and usually think it is worse than it is. Even if I do recognize that my symptoms are mood symptoms and I’m not going to die of a physical health condition, I often do feel like I’m going crazy. I could’ve been fine hours or even minutes before, but in such a severe emotional state, all there is, is depression, anxiety or paranoia.

6. Everything will start to annoy you. Even you will start to annoy you. My sensory overreactivity gets a lot worse when I’m in a mood episode. So does my general irritabilty. Unfortunately, irritability in BPD is commonly seen as a behavior problem rather than a mood problem./P>

7. Everyday tasks will feel overwhelming. As I said, most people with BPD experience chronic, low-grade depression. For this reason, everyday tasks feeling overwhelming is not just a symptomom of a severe mood episode for me. It could also be related to autism in my case. However, it is true that, when in a severe mood episode, I find everyday tasks even mroe overwhelming than usual. It is important to keep some level of activity even when in an episode.

8. It’s nearly impossible to tell when it’s “just your BPD talking”. With BPD being a chronic mental health condition, we often get used to our irrational beliefs. They however do become worse when in a dysregulated state. At the same time, it is extremely hard to see beyond this mood to our (still distorted) everyday sense of reality.

9. Moods will wreak havoc on your sleep schedule. When depressed, people often experience disrupted sleep. They may sleep more during the day and less at night. On the other hand, borderlines can have periods of hyperactivity similar to bipolar (hypo)mania, when they seem to need less sleep. Sleeping pills may have opposite effects in BPD, causing agitaton and even aggression.

10. Sometimes, you will not feel anything at all. Feeling nothign at all may be a sign of depression, but it is also common in BPD (“chronic feelings of emptiness” is one of the criteria). I personally don’t feel empty or numb that often, but when I do, it’s often the “calm before the storm” and I run an increased risk of falling into a dysregulated mood episode.

11. Your dreams get weird. Both changing moods and the medications many borderlines take can cause you to start having weird, intense or scary dreams. I felt a wave of recognition when I read this in the article I linked to. When I was admitted to the psychiatric hospital in 2007, the psychiatrist asked whether I had scary dreams. I said “No”, but I did say I had these really weird, intense dreams. They quieted for a while and then came back when I went on an anitpsychotic. PTSD is also common among those with BPD, and one of the symptoms of this is recurrent nightmares about the trauma you endured.

12. Your mood will seem totally “logical”. As I said, it is hard when in a severe mood state to look beyond this state. Your mood will also make you feel like it’s the most normal, or even the only state to be in. Some research shows that depressed people lack healthy but unrealistic optimism. Therefore, your thoughts may seem or even be close to reality, but they aren’t helpful.

13. You won’t be able to think clearly about your future. When I was in my worst mood epsiode, even looking a day ahead seemed impossible. I not only had no hope, but no image of even the short-term future whatsoever.

14. Mood episodes distort your view of the past, too. When I am in a severe mood episode, I can not only not see that it will ever get better, but I exaggerate how long I’ve been in this state. This doesn’t happen consciously or with a purpose, but it’s impossible to look not only beyond this state, but also to the past before this state started.

15. BPD makes you feel like you’re alone. You’re not. I often feel like no-one has similar experiences to mine. Of course, it is true that no-one is in my head so no-one has the same expeirneces, but many people do have similar experiences. You are not alone with BPD.

To My Baby Self

I have been thinking a lot about my life in the context of premature birth. It may be because I’m currently reading For the Love of Babies by Sue Hall, a neonatologist writing about her experiences treating preemies and other sick babies.

Today I also came across a writing prompt for PTSD survivors, to write to yourself before any trauma occurred. Since my trauma started right with my NICU experience, and I’m over most PTSD symptoms now, I will instead write to my baby self reassuring her that things’ll be okay in the end.

Little baby, born too soon
You feel so insecure
But let me tell you, you’ll be fine
Of that I am sure

You are too young to realize
That you are here to stay
In this world that may be harsh
You will be okay

Times are hard on you, you feel
So often in pain
If you could tell me, would you say
That your life is in vain?

I will tell you, it is not
Your life is worth the fight
I am your older self and feel
That you and I came out alright

Some people may think of you
That you should not survive
But guess what, you did exactly that
And I am here and thrive

You will have many hardships ahead
But please persist and cope
I will wait here to remind you
Not to give up hope

PTSD Is…

I have been part of a writing/art group for PTSD sufferers for about a week now. A few days ago, one of the prompts was to describe what your particular experience of PTSD is like. Now I don’t have a diagnosis of PTSD anymore, but I do have symptoms of what could be complex PTSD, although it is currently diagnosed as borderline personality disorder. I have, however, experienced PTSD in the past and sometimes still experinece its symptoms.

Rather than writing a lengthy description of what PTSD is like for me, I’m going to sum it up in some bullet points.


  • PTSD is a constant feeling of being unsafe, wherever I go, with whomever I am. Even with my own husband I don’t feel fully safe. It is a constant feeling that someone, somehow, is going to hurt me any moment.

  • PTSD is not knowing about boundaries. Not respecting my own limits. It is constantly feeling pushed beyond my limits no matter how well-intentioned people are. It is overstepping my own boundaries then feeling violated by others.

  • PTSD is reliving the same few moments of my childhood over and over again. Some were among the worse of traumatic experiences, while others were simply the clearest or easiest to fathom.

  • PSD is intense isolation, feeling that no-one can relate to what it’s like to feel what I feel.

  • PTSD is having nightmares about the most insignificant of experiences yet feeling an intense fear about them. For example, having recurrent nightmares of high school graduation. Like, well, who doesn’t have these? At the same time, they scare the crap out of me.

  • PTSD is constant self-doubt. It is doubting my own experiences, my own feelings, my own qualities even. It is not just low self-esteem, but being clueless about who I am. And then, it is doubting whether these experiences are not just normal for everyone my age, my gender, my …

  • PTSD is having constant intrusive thoughts of experiences that I didn’t endure but could have.

  • PTSD is an inability to feel certain emotions. These could be positive, like joy, but also negeative, like sadness. It is expressing every strong emotion as anger.

  • PTSD is perceiving others as having total control over my life.

  • PTSD is being triggered by the slightest thing, yet being fascinated by these same triggers.

  • PTSD is constantly feeling on guard, on the edge, hypervigilant and anxious.

  • PTSD is intense psychological pain and emptiness at the same time.

In this list, I tried to cover all three symptom domains of regular PTSD – reliving the traumatic experience, avoidance or emotinal number and hypervigilance – as experienced by me. I also tried to cover some of the symptoms of complex PTSD, which include alterations in self-perception, perception of others, affect regulation, etc. For me the key symptom of PTSD is a constant feeling of being unsafe and on guard. For others, the relviing of the trauma or the avoidance of triggers might be the core symptom. Everyone’s PTSD experiaence is different.

The List

Birthday

My birthday is over. Now I’m 28 and it’s back to normal life I guess. The entire week was really largely about my birthday and the memories it triggers for me. That’s why I’m linking up with Word of the Week with my word for this week being “birthday”.

I wrote already earlier this week that it’s 28 years since I entered the world and the neonatal intensive care unit. When they came to visit today, my parents gave me a CD by Jan Henk de Groot with music on it about the singer’s son, who spent a large part of his first year in hospital because of a birth defect. My mother said it’s appropriate, and I agree. Incidentally, a few days ago I saw there’s a group for PTSD related to NICU experience on Facebook. It’s for parents, of course, and, while I applied, I may’ve been denied.

My sister already visited last week and brought some nice presents: a T-shirt, storage bins and bottles. The bins were intended for herbal tea, but I stored cereal in one of them, then the bin fell from a shelf and my entire floor was covered in cereal. The bottles are for blending massage oils or lotions in. I have a collection of essential oils already and got sweet almond oil, which is a carrier oil, from my sister, too. In addition to the CD, my parents gave me a nice collection of glass beads for my jewelry-making.

My birthday itself was largely a day like any other. At the acitivity room, I made a collage with butterflies, hearts and flowers, which are both things that make me happy and symbolize things I wish for myself for the coming year: love, transformation and bloom. My husband came at 3:30 PM to pick me up and drive us to the city, where we went shoppping for a skirt for me and went to eat out. I can judge from the skirt size that I’ve gained a lot of weight lately. Not good. I really need to look back at my theme for this year, which was self-care, and make sure I start eating more healthfully. Tomorrow.

Post Comment Love
The Reading Residence

Reflections on NICU Trauma

My birthday is coming up on Friday. It was another Friday 28 years ago that I was born at somewhere around 26 weeks gestation. The doctors determined my gestational age to be 26 weeks four days based on what my mother told them and whatever measurements they took. Based on my date of conception, my gestational age may’ve been as young as 25 weeks two days. When I was a teen, this “mistake” led to extreme turmoil, for I thought babies before 26 weeks gestation were at the time not treated. The reality of my birth story is that the neonatologist, now a proponent of leaving micropreemies to die, informed my parents that they were simply keeping me alive and not to interfere.

Times have changed since 1986. For one thing, more is known about the effects of premature birth on health and development. For another, more attention is paid to parents’ and babies’ mental health. This doesn’t mean that PTSD doesn’t rear its ugly head at times. Today, I read a story by a mother of a 23-weeker, who clearly says it does. Then again, 28 years ago PTSD was unheard of in NICU parents. Attachment issues were unheard of in preemies. Today, we know better.

I know better. It isn’t my job to diagnose my parents, but they certainly experienced the effects the Mom in the above story describes. Time and time again, they’d re-experience the memories surrounding my birth. They shared with me, and that was mostly good. Some of it was not so good. Knowing my parents had questioned my quality of life and whether I should be kept alive at all, well, that certainly left some scars on my soul.

I learned about the possibility of the NICU experience being traumatic to the baby from another former preemie in like 2006. She was born in the 1970s, and much had changed between than and the mid-80s. Still, when I checked out the “About” page for the above blog, I was astonished to read that Jax, born in 2012, wasn’t first held till he was nearly two weeks old. I probably didn’t have it any better. I don’t mean this to whine, but it is a possible explanation, along with others, for my severe attachment issues. I know that attachment disorders can’t be diagnosed unless there is evidence of pathological care, such as abuse or neglect. The NICU isn’t pathological, but it most certainly is not a normal environment to spend the last three months of your would-have-been-preborn life or the first three months of your life out in the world in.

Mental Health Awareness: Living with Significant Mental Illness

Today, I’m linking up with Vicky’s mental health linky for Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. As regular readers will know, I’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness for years. My original diagnosis was adjustment disorder, because I had landed in a psychiatric crisis when living indpendently and just didn’t meet the criteria for depression. My parents joke that I just didn’t wake up at the right time, because my doctor told me when I had sleep disturbances, that they weren’t typical of depression. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t clinically depressed.

Then came impulse control disorder NOS, which was basically an extension of the adjustment disorder I suppose, except that it reflected just my behaviors and not my moods.

In 2010, I was diagnosed wit dissociative identity disorder and PTSD. I want to tell anyone with a diagnosis of PTSD that it’s not a life sentence. I had a mild case as far as the regular symptoms were concerned (I also had symptoms of complex PTSD, and still do). EMDR treatment was suggested a few times, which can be very effective. However, because I had such a mild version of PTSD, the symptoms lessened to the point where I no longer needed the diagnosis with a lot of talking about my traumatic experiences. I later found out that talking and talking on about your trauma under a therapist’s guidance until it doesn’t hurt as much anymore may in fact be effective in people not responding ot EMDR. I don’t know the specifics of this therpay, which is called imaginary exposure, and I didn’t get any formal form of treatment for the PTSD myself.

As for the DID, I have or had a mild version of that too, probably more dissociative disorder NOS, and was able to hide the symptooms when people weren’t accepting of them anymore. There are many people, mostly peers, who believe my diagnosis of DID was incorrect. As for my therapist, she changed it to borderline personality disorder and feels this includes mild versions of DID too, so that I don’t need an additional diagnosis.

What is it like living with a mental illness? Well, for me, it is one confusing experience. I am very suggestible and have a poor sense of self. This means that I absorb many emotions from other people, and yet I do not know how to handle these emotions. I can have rapidly shifting, dramatic mood swings. One momnet, I’m fine; the next, i’m raging. Then again, my definition of “fine” is probably not the same as a currenlty mentally healthy person’s, because I’m always somewhat anxious and/or depressed.

Borderline personality disorder often co-occurs with other disorders. I have no additional diagnoses (other than autism, which I don’t consider a psychiatric disorder), but I could likely have been diagnosed with a range of disorders if this would make a difference. As I said, I have dissociative symptoms. I also have suffered from chronic, low-grade depressive moods since my teens, and likely had what is now called disruptive mood dysregulation disorder as a child. I also have some level of anxiety and used to have quite bad obsessive-compulsive symptoms in my teens and early twenties. They however went away witout treatment when I was hospitalized, so were likely a response to stress. Same with many of my somatic symptoms.

There is treatment for most of my mental health symptoms. In fact, I have improved a great deal over the years. That doesn’t mean my mental illness can be cured. I strive for recovery, which means living a meaningful life in spite of my mental illness.

Living a meaningful life, for clarity’s sake, does not necessarily mean not needing mental health support. It is a common misconception, which I fight even with my therapist, that needing less support is the ultimate measure of quality of life. I, for one, am likely to need support for the rest of my life. This doesn’t mean I can’t find joy or even happiness. I find joy in my hobbies, which include blogging, crafting and reading. I find happiness through my relationship with my husband. I do still have significant mental health problems, and I won’t say they don’t limit me. Then again, I’m more limited by the idea that needing less support is more important than feeling better.