Magic pills but no magic solution – experience of the mental health system Part 1

Today I want to give up my usual forum to a client of mine, Claire, who I recently treated for complex PTSD due to childhood trauma.  She is sufficiently recovered to be able to reflect back on the years of being within the standard NHSmental health service, which afforded her no relief whatsoever and, in fact made her condition worse. I suggested she write about her experience so that she could, in some way, help to highlight the utter inhumanity and bankruptcy of the current system which medicates far too much and without recourse to understanding the root causes which often lie in childhood experience. I have talked before about trauma and its effect on the mind and body, so I won’t repeat her. I want to give way now to Carlie and her experience (please be aware this makes for a somewhat harrowing read so please be warned):

Magic Pills from the Magic Psychiatrists

“I was diagnosed with mental health problems nine years ago and I have never looked back”.  I honestly wish that this was my reality through the support of the UK NHS Mental Health System, but sadly it couldn’t be any further from the truth.

I was taken to the doctors by my mum and was prescribed Fluoxetine anti-depressants from my GP.  These “mild” anti depressants emphasized my strange behaviour symptoms and made me so much worse; yet without being apparent to me.  All my family, friends and work colleagues surrounding me witnessed this.  I was suicidal1 every second, of every minute, of everyday, but didn’t know suicidal was the term for what I was experiencing.  I remember feeling absolute inner fear and terror constantly.  My mum took me back to the GP in a state of panic because of how I had worsened while taking these tablets.

I was then referred from the GP to my first psychiatrist, and was prescribed my initial taste of mental health medication Risperidone.  I had an allergic reaction to it and fell asleep at work, upright at my desk! I’ve been told since that I was dribbling too.  My mother was called to collect me as I was incapable of driving home and couldn’t be woken up. I slept solidly through 19 hours from when I had first swallowed it2.  I was not advised that there could be any side effects to look out for, or that I should not continue with the medication if I were to have a bad reaction.  Looking back now, the possible side effects of medications should have terrified me, but I was so unwell and my family was so desperate we continued listening to the psychiatrist’s medication recommendations for a further 6 years.  No other options were given to me, just medication.

I was given the diagnosis of Bipolar, based on a question and answer assessment conducted by the psychiatrist.  The questions related to my behaviours, thoughts and feelings.  I was asked if there was a history of suicides in my family, or if anyone was diagnosed with mental health conditions.  On the basis of my answers It  was confirmed, I had mental health problems.  I was not asked anything about any trauma experiences I might have had in my life or anything about my childhood***.

I was in my early twenties when I had my first experience of a modern day psychiatric ward.  My brother stayed awake in an Accident and Emergency ward against a room door for 24 hours, refusing to leave until something was done to help me.  My behaviour was chaotic and I was extremely suicidal and had been in trouble with the police again for trying to take my own life.  My psychiatrist had prescribed me Valium to take that week whilst he was aware I was consuming vast amounts of alcohol and taking illicit drugs.  I had even attended his appointment drunk when he wrote out the prescription for it4.   Eventually the staff at the Accident and Emergency agreed to get an out of hours psychiatrist to come and carry out  an assessment with me.  I was intoxicated, and this assessment shouldn’t have taken place until I was sober.  Apparently I lied though the whole assessment saying I was fine to all the questions given to me.  The lady said to my brother that she seems fine so she can be released.  He said she hasn’t answered any of those questions honestly and he said to me have you? Apparently, I said no and laughed.  He pushed for help and told her what had really been happening with me.  With that I was then taken to a psychiatric ward and detained for three weeks.

The first night I was there I tried hanging myself with my dressing gown belt over the fixed shower rail bar, it collapsed.  I fell in a heap on the floor crying my eyes out, knowing I was trapped in the room with no other means to try and do the job, there was nothing else.  A member of staff came in to do a routine check and found me, this must have been the norm for patients to try and do this because she didn’t even flinch and told me outright that I wouldn’t be able to hang myself in any of the bathrooms because all the shower rails were designed to collapse.  She said this so matter of factly, and didn’t ask me how I was feeling or give me any space to talk about my thoughts.  She just left.

The following morning my wake up call was by a male member of staff who ripped my duvet off then opened curtains shouting get up.  A female in a single room, wearing nothing but a nightie and no underwear, with everything exposed. During my stay I was issued with medication at around 8 am in the morning with breakfast which used to make me go back to sleep again until lunch time.  I  would then be woken for lunch and given more sedatives which made me fall asleep again for a few hours.  When I woke up early evening, I would muster up all my energy to get washed and dressed.  It was then time for our evening meals and again I was given sedatives to go to sleep.  These would make me sleep all night long, and the joyful process would start over the following day.  When my mum came in for a review with the doctors and psychiatrist, they stated that they had seen no evidence of my diagnosed bipolar condition.  My mum expressed her concerns that anytime she tried to call the hospital line to speak to me I was asleep and anytime she came to visit during the visiting times I was asleep too.  She said she thought I was over medicated so how could they see any symptoms if I was asleep for the majority of the day and all night? The psychiatrists there gave me an additional diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder which could be treated with guess what?  You guessed right, more medications. My mum sat in the meeting trying to explain my extreme behaviours when I was in the outside world, but they were dismissed and not taken into account because they weren’t being exhibited on the ward.  I was prescribed Quetiapine for the first time in this hospital and continued being given it for some years after5.  I was so unbelievably groggy on this and it makes you ravenous, and with all the hours I was clocking up sleeping and  not moving I put on over a stone(14ibs) in the ward.

For the final week I refused the sedatives at the three intervals of the day to the on duty nurses’ disgust which they had no hesitation in voicing when everyone else was taking theirs.  To watch a queue of people waiting at a drugs room to take their pills and be watched by the staff to make sure they have swallowed them is something I would only expect to watch in a film.  I didn’t think I would ever be living this.  That final week was a real eye opener.  The way staff treated and spoke to the patients was horrendous.  I saw patients physically abuse an extremely unwell vulnerable patient with Post Natal Depression with walking sticks and staff didn’t intervene.  The lady suffering with Post Natal Depression was left to wander around in just her dressing gown and nightie, permanently with food stains on and wasn’t encouraged to ever wash so her body odour smell was unbearable.  There were two men doing alcohol detoxes there in a psychiatric ward because there was no where else for them to go and do it.  The staff were in the main reception office laughing at a dementia patient stripping off naked in front of everyone and didn’t come out to stop it.  There was a man who spent every waking moment pacing up an down all the corridors in just shorts and socks with holes in where he had walked the holes in them.  A lady was released as she was deemed well and three days later brought back in after trying to hang herself from a bridge.  I heard the term “revolving door patient” when staff referred to her.

One afternoon I managed to break out and ran away to the city centre, this was approximately three in the afternoon.  No one contacted my next of kin or called the police.  I went into the bank and could remember my sort code and account number to withdraw some money and claimed to the staff I had lost my bank card.  I booked a room in a bed and breakfast above a pub in the city centre.  I went to three shops to buy enough paracetamol between them to overcome the allowances you can buy in one go and bought a litre bottle of vodka from an off license to take them with.  I knew I would be safe to drink and consume the tablets in the bath in the bathroom and no one would find me in enough time.  I was always looking for the window of opportunity where I would have enough time without being found.

Writing this now, it makes me very sad that my head space was like this, but my reality was actually worse than the prospect of being dead. I decided to go into the bar to have a couple of drinks before going back to my bathroom.  Unbeknown to me my mum had made her usual call at 7pm to the psychiatric ward to speak to me.  It was then they told her I wasn’t there.  She said what do you mean she’s not there?  She escaped was the manager’s response.  She asked if anyone was looking for me or if the police had been contacted.  The manager told her no and I had left maybe about two hours ago.  My mum immediately rang the Police for the area and with two other people she drove the hour’s journey to try and find me.  The Police met my mother and they split with her to search pubs and bars in the City Centre. The psychiatric staff hadn’t been able to give a description of what I was wearing either.  Miraculously I was found by my mum and taken back to the ward.

Not long after this, I started being prescribed large quantities of diazepam6.  I ended up so addicted to Diazepam 5mg tablets that my mum used to have to try and hide them from me and dispense as per the guidelines.  I did however discover that I could get the maximum amount prescribed from my psychiatrist and then visit my GP at the doctors to get the same amount prescribed again because there was no cross over on the computer system of what I had been given.  How very dangerous to people that are renowned for overdosing!

When I was deemed unfit for work, it really was the beginning of the end for me.  I had tried my utmost to hold down full time employment, both before being diagnosed and after.  I had an extremely supportive employer at the time all of this happening.  I had time out of work for appointments with both psychiatrists and Community Psychiatric Nurses (CPNs) during work hours, and I had to have time out for psychiatric ward admissions.  I had struggled to do any work when I was at work, I was more zombie like because of the medications and could hardly talk let alone function at work.  My colleagues even supported me when I took an overdose at work and ended up in Accident and Emergency.  I actually have no recollection of this happening.  No more work, I was then not allowed to drive, no more attempts at a normality, no routine, no leaving the house for a purpose, no meeting people, it was ground hog day everyday.  Long term sick, no prospects in life apart from popping different prescribed medications.   I was always introduced with additional ones to put into the mix by my psychiatrist.  I never had anything to talk about at family events, I would always leave a room when the conversation of work was brought up.  I felt like the damaged black sheep of the family.

I had my license revoked numerous times for three months at a time before I had it fully revoked.  The only “benefit” to this was being issued with a bus pass on medical grounds because I wasn’t deemed fit to drive.  Please excuse my sarcasm using the word “benefit”, I shall explain.   As I was in a permanent medicated state I was so unaware of everyone and everything around me.  I would leave my front door keys in my door, frequently lose belongings such as bank cards, purses, mobile phones etc. I would let people in my house I didn’t even know who would steal from it.  I would leave the gas hob on, put food in the oven but not actually turn it on and could even burn boil-in-the-bag rice.  I went for a bus pass renewal photo at the local library and got dressed in trousers and a strapless top.  I had my photo taken which would be valid for a full five years.  I look like a naked Fiona from the film Shrek, and that’s putting it mildly.  I was so overweight and looked like I had forgotten to dress for my photo.  I hadn’t thought about what the photo would show of me when getting dressed that day, I hadn’t comprehended what the photo looked like when they showed me it in the library after taking it (in hindsight they were probably trying to help rescue me) and it still didn’t register anytime I took it out and showed it to any poor unsuspecting bus driver.  Talking of using public transport, my brain couldn’t seem to process the most basic of things, such as being able to read a bus timetable.  I would end up on the wrong buses constantly.  Once it took me six full hours to complete what should have been a twenty-minute journey one bus!  I went on several buses and ended up going all around a city, even doing some of the same roads twice.  Trains were considerably  worse, I could get stranded a lot further a lot quicker from my hoped destination.

I was prescribed with Olazapine, I was advised by the psychiatrist that he had had extremely good results from the drug for the treatment of Bipolar7.   I wish I had fallen asleep for the reaction I had to this drug like I did with that of Rispiridome. Within minutes of swallowing Olazapine I started to feel dizzy.  Then my whole body was sweating, and I began to feel really faint.  However, I could not pass out or fall asleep as I began to be violently sick.  I was then crashed out on the bathroom floor, I didn’t have the energy to get up and stayed there for several hours unable to physically move.  It took a good three days to lose the lethargic, body sweating symptoms from initially taking that drug. contd  here. Also see the interview I recorded with her on her new lease of

1 One of the possible side effects listed for Fluoxetine is suicidal thoughts

2 Risperidone is an antipsychotic medication, mainly used to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and irritability in people with autism

3 we now know that most if not all of these psychiatric ‘diagnoses’ are in fact the logical outcome of trauma. Any treatment that ignores this cause is likely ineffective.

4 Valium is a medicine of the benzodiazepine family that typically produces a calming effect.  It is commonly used to treat a wide range of conditions including anxiety, alcohol withdrawal syndrome, benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome, muscle spasms, seizures, trouble sleeping, and restless leg syndrome.

5 Quetiapine is marketed as Seroquel among other names, it is an atypical antipsychotic used for the treatment of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder

6 Diazepam is a benzodiazepine that affects chemicals in the brain that may be unbalanced in people with anxiety.  Diazepam is used to treat anxiety disorders, alcohol withdrawal symptoms, or muscle spasms.  Diazepam can be used with other medications to treat seizures

7 Olanzapine (originally branded Zyprexa) is an anti psychotic medication used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Part 2 here