Oh My Crazy Baby

Please be advised that this post discusses self-harm in some detail and may contain triggers. If you feel this subject matter may be upsetting to you, please be kind to your mind, and avoid reading.

If you or someone you care about are struggling with harming behaviour, visit Mind UK- Self Harm information

๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

I have spoken once before about the breakdown I suffered a couple of years ago. Like anyone who suffers from mental health problems, maintaining my equilibrium is something I have to work hard to achieve. Some days, most days now I’m thankful to say, I succeed. But other times are harder, particularly when physical illness, relationship stresses and frustration at work are added to the mix. After the various CBT sessions, mental health groups and one-to-one therapy I’ve been through, I have a “mental health toolbox” now. I have an increased awareness of my trigger points and warning signs. And I am acutely aware of how vulnerable I am to falling down the slippery slope again.

There is so much written about depression and anxiety, so many films and books and song lyrics. But I don’t think that these can ever truly capture the sense of confusion and fear that grips you when you are lost in darkness and just can’t climb out. If you’re a “control freak” like me, it is especially disconcerting. “My will is always so strong. I can make myself do anything I set my mind to. So why am I spiralling out of control all of a sudden? What the hell is happening to me?”

I’ve spoken before about how I lost hours one drunken night and possibly, probably, planned to launch myself out the fourth storey window of my flat. The days following that episode were scary, but not because I thought I was losing my mind. It was because I was embarrassed and horrified that people I knew would find out and would brand me an alcoholic. I never realised at the time that this had been a huge warning sign. And so, unfortunately, I continued on my not-so-merry way: I didn’t tell anyone, I didn’t seek help, and I didn’t stop to look at what was going on that made me drink more heavily than I had ever drunk before.

The catalyst for me finally seeking help was when, one morning, I was crippled with agoraphobia. I could not make myself open the door and go to work. I was terrified- of something? of everything? – I didn’t know what. I couldn’t make myself stop crying. For months I had been crying in the shower in the mornings, but I would snap myself out of it, plaster a fake grimace of a smile on my face, and go out there and do what I had to do. Why was it not working today?

I made an appointment with a gp, and spent the hours beforehand talking to myself and trying to build up enough courage to go outside. The gp put me straight onto a low dose of anti-depressants and told me to self-refer to CBT.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think CBT is an incredibly useful tool, and I think that there is a lot to be gained from it. But I’d had six sessions of CBT a few years previous and I felt like I had a fair idea of what it could and couldn’t do. I wasn’t convinced that CBT was right this time. This felt bigger. But, I was willing to take a chance, so I filled in the online referral form and took my place in the queue.

In the meantime, I started drinking again. Not only that, but I started to scratch at my skin with a sharp sewing needle; long, deep scratches that I would rake into my flesh until blood flowed freely. I’d never done such a thing before, and though I’d heard of self-harm, I mistakenly thought it was something that only teenage “emo” girls did. As a woman in her early 40’s surely I was too old for such behaviour. I was being a silly baby, I thought; regressing into childish behaviour. “Becoming an attention seeking brat,” I would scold myself. Just to prove to my “critical parent voice” that I wasn’t doing it for attention, I kept it entirely to myself for three weeks.

One weekend I drank half a bottle of tequila and a whole bottle of vodka, and the next day realised that I had cut up my legs horribly. I felt like I had no control and that I was going crazy. How long, I wondered to myself, before I do something even worse without realising it at the time?

I made an appointment with another gp at my local surgery and, following some very helpful advice I read about online, I wrote everything down in a letter. I knew that I would chicken out as soon as I sat down, and this was too important a conversation for me to baulk and shy away at the first hurdle. I knew now that something was very very wrong with me.

The gp, a doctor I don’t remember ever having visited previously, was incredible. To this day I credit her with a big part of my recovery (whilst not discounting my own achievement, of course. I know how hard I fought.) I handed her my letter, burst into tears, and sat there bawling while she read my words. When she’d finished reading, she thanked me for writing it all down and for being brave enough to ask for help. She didn’t judge me, as I feared someone would, or tell me I was stupid. She took control of the situation, whilst of course explaining options to me and keeping me involved in and informed about my own care. It was what I needed. I was sinking and floundering in deep dark waters, and I needed someone to throw me a life-preserver and pull me, semi-conscious, back to the shore.

It was a long road ahead. My dosage of Citalopram was gradually increased until I reached the maximum dose. I was also prescribed beta-blockers to help with the anxiety and panic attacks. CBT, when it finally arrived, was deemed “inadequate” for the severity of my problem, and so I was referred to a psychiatrist. The psychiatric assessment found that I had enough self-awareness that they didn’t feel I was an immediate danger to myself or anyone else, but I was registered with the local NHS mental health crisis team nonetheless.

I was referred to various counselling services, but as soon as the harming came up, they would apologise and tell me that they weren’t really that kind of service. They weren’t equipped to deal with something like this. Several assessments came and went with nothing to show but a “sorry, we don’t think we’re right for you.”

In the meantime, the harming genie was well and truly out of the bottle, and I progressed to buying pencil sharpeners and removing the blades. I had a little “cutting” kit, as well as a first-aid box full of antiseptics and bandages. Medical and mental health professionals asked me what cutting gave to me, and to explain what I felt before, during and after. I struggled to articulate it, but the best I could come up with was that it felt like I was holding my breath so tightly that I was choking and gasping for air, and that when the blood emerged, it felt like an exhalation. (My therapist later made an analogy with orgasm – a pent up feeling that finds release through sexual climax. She asked me whether I felt there was something orgasmic in the bleeding. I hadn’t really considered it, but on reflection I think this is another good analogy, in fact.)

My gp never gave up, nor did the psychiatrist I saw at the local hospital and, eventually, I was referred to a mental health service and to long-term talking therapy with Mind. Eventually, I learned to recognise my triggers, I learned what to do when I felt the urge to cut, or to drink to excess; how to distract myself, how to rebuild my self-confidence, how to find my way back to myself, how to be vulnerable and accept that vulnerability and feeling of loss of control.

To see it written in a few short lines makes it seem much simpler than it was. I fell off the wagon a few times, but I climbed back on more quickly now. I was a shell of who I used to be, but I learned how to integrate this new reality into my life. Yes, I have a mental illness. No, I am not a failure. I am doing my best in a very difficult situation.

I am better these days, but some days I really have to work hard at it. I still feel immense guilt for the fact that I couldn’t go into work for a year. I still struggle with the financial burden of that, although I am fortunate to work for a public sector employer with a superlative long term sickness allowance policy and terrific Occupational Health care. Others are nowhere near so lucky in that respect, and I can only imagine how difficult it must be for them to have to face the risk of losing their job while they’re trying desperately not to lose their mind.

I don’t know that there is any great wisdom I can impart in closing this account of my own experience of going “crazy”, other than to say to anyone who is going through it now that it is possible to get to the other end, though it is hard, and scary, and you need to be prepared to be vulnerable. But if you are willing to ask for help, there are people who know what to do and how to take some of that unbearable weight from you. At the risk of proselytising, don’t try to carry the burden of your struggle on your own; we all need to rest sometimes and, if you’ve been carrying a huge, terrifying weight for as long as you probably have, you deserve to have someone who can reassure you that it’s okay to stop and steady your feet.

๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน๐ŸŒน

Oh, you know you’re getting really hard to be with,

And you’re cryin’ everytime you turn around.

And you wonder why you cannot pick your head up

Off the ground.

Oh my crazy baby, try to hold on tight.

Oh my crazy baby, don’t put out the light.

Crazy Baby- Joan Osborne

From the album “Relish” (1995: Blue Gorilla Records/Mercury)

Illustration from “CRAZY BRAINEDโ€: MENTAL ILLNESS IN COLONIAL AMERICA”, (Johns Hopkins Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Volume 70, Number 3). Artist unknown. Click picture to visit original source article.
Food For Thought Friday – Prompt 106- Crazy
Sex Bloggers for Mental Health

27 thoughts on “Oh My Crazy Baby

  1. Thank you for sharing this frank and personal experience. Iโ€™ve never been a cutter (I feel queezy at the sight of blood) so I canโ€™t fully understand what you have been through and I wonโ€™t pretend I do… but the other symptoms you have experienced I have… Iโ€™m so glad you had a supportive GP who got you the right help โค๏ธ I also hope you keep finding the strength to battle on ๐Ÿ˜Š

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for the first person perspective, hopefully someone out there fighting a similar battle will find some hope in it. Glad you are doing better now. Keep up the good work. The fight never ends but it does get easier.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Thank you for sharing Jupiter. Self harm is not something we just get over. It takes work every day to not fall back on those vices. I never thought about the release like an orgasm before, it’s so accurate though.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for sharing this piece of you and your past. It sounds like a long and difficult journey which has, and still does, take a lot of work but I am really pleased that you are getting better and hope that you are able to keep going with your recovery ๐Ÿ˜Š

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That illustration is so perfect for what so many of us feel and go through, and I think lends itself well to a wide variety of issues, what a great share. As for your personal story, once again I found myself relating, even though our stories and journeys are very different. I don’t know if this is because I watched a parent have a breakdown or because my own mental health was a little bit closer to your journey than I realise, just with a different way of expressing it (I used BDSM in a very unhealthy way, similar to abuse of alcohol and definitely similar to self-harm). I know I was edging closer to a place where I wouldn’t be able to see a way out, thankfully things changed and better people came my way and I was able to make a cataclysmic shift in my life. If I’d continued the way I was though, I think my story would be very different. Thank you again for sharing, I truly believe these insights are an important share and spreading the word about a wide range of mental health issues is definitely a huge positive x

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for this, Floss. I’m very sorry that you found yourself in similar struggles, and I’m glad that things turned around for you in time to avoid the cliff-edge.
      It’s interesting the observation you make about using BDSM as a type of harming behaviour; because my BDSM kink has really taken flight post-breakdown (although it was always there to an extent), I do find myself wondering, and worrying, if part of my kink is just my self-harm under an alternate name, you know?
      I really appreciate your comments, Floss. I totally agree that sharing experiences are beneficial for others who are facing/ have faced similar struggles themselves, and also for us as those who have been through it, or are going through it now. There is a catharsis about it that I am certainly finding helpful, and I know that I have benefitted from knowing I’m not alone, so I hope others feel that same relief. Hugsxx ๐Ÿ’๐Ÿ’–

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This must have been as difficult to write as your previous one. Thank you so much for sharing.

    The descent into darkness is terrible when you feel you’ve lost control. The GP does sound to have been a life saver. Very brave to have written that letter and sit there as some stranger absorbs all your fears. That moment reaching out for help. Knowing, perhaps expecting, that help could be denied.

    I have little knowledge of self harm beyond the clique of girls at school. I can see the analogy to the release of pent up orgasmic energy. How we learn to visualise these things becomes important. The visualisation may not make sense to anyone else but our own visualisation gives us a way to get a handle on something.

    It’s obviously a daily struggle with some days better than others, but you do seem to know yourself very well and what works as coping strategies.

    melody x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much melody ๐Ÿ’–
      You are so right – one of the fears that comes with asking for help is the fear of rejection or denial. I was so lucky with the gp I saw ; my stars were clearly well aligned that day.

      I really appreciate your comments. Thank you so much again ๐Ÿ’–

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is how we should support each other in this crazy world. Posts like this – telling of our plights and sharing the experience so another may not feel so alone when going through something similar…
    Great post JG – necessary post too. x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you May. I agree, it’s important to share our experiences in order to 1) fight against stigma and 2) reassure others that it’s possible to get through, even although it feels impossible at the time.
      Thank you for your comments, May. I really appreciate it ๐Ÿ’–

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I hate the stigma around self-harm so very much. There are the ideas that it is about attention, that it is only a cry for help, that it is a sign of weakness. People can not grasp that someone decides to physically harm themselves.. To me, the stigma comes from that people do not understand those moments of absolute despair where nothing helps to stop the feeling or to actually feel something. Self-harm ifs often likened to addiction, and I think there is very much a truth to it. There are very little things that can bring the same kind of instant and intense release that self-harm can bring. The endorphins and adrenaline spreading through our bodies, making us able to breathe again.
    I started self-harming in my early 30s. I also thought that I was digressing and was so very much ashamed of myself. There is this idea that only teenage girls self-harm and it is not true. Gender has nothing to do with it. Age has nothing to do with it. It is all about despair and a need for relief.
    Thank you for sharing your journey to and out of that kind of self-destructive behaviour. You are a strong and inspiring woman.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re so right. It is very much an addiction, and in the same way as trying to give up drugs or alcohol, the effort to “stay clean” becomes all-consuming at first. Although I haven’t cut in almost a year (a year come September), I will freely admit that I still have days where the urge is incredibly powerful.
      I can absolutely agree with what you say about the stereotypes that abound around self-harm can make you feel even more aberrant. In our instances, our age at the onset causes the added shame of feeling that “I should be grown out of this kind of thing”. I can imagine also that men who harm feel the same way in regard to the gender stereotypes.
      Thank you so much for your kind words, DS, and your excellent points.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I hate how there is such a stigma around mental health and self harm issues. Took a lot of courage and we need all the help we can get. I myself have never self harmed, so I can’t relate in that regard but in response to mental health I definitely understand.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s incredible how hostile people can be when it comes to mental illness, accusing sufferers of imagining it, or malingering. Whereas if it were a broken leg, or some other visible ailment that would be taken seriously. I wish you good mental health and progress on your particular journey. ๐Ÿ’

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s