Last night I had a wonderful dream , that I didn't want to end. The starring roles were taken by two hamsters, my late, beloved step Dad and my youngest daughter. In the words of Julie Andrews these are some of my favourite things. So very different from the dreams, that plagued me at the time when my children were placed with my ex husband. These were terrifying, mainly about my children being in danger, I was powerless to help them. If I was lucky I would force myself awake and exit one as quick as possible.
I had not been prone to nightmares before, of course I had the odd one, but this was a reoccurring pattern and I was struggling to sleep as it was without the added burden.
I was also very anxious around men especially those that looked at all like my ex husband. I literally could not stand the sight of them and my flight response would kick in.
After my children were taken from me, I tried to commit suicide. I had simply had enough, by that time the police had been called five times over his abuse ,including by three independent eye witnesses. I had years of abuse and had lost the ability to think straight. This had been on top of the abuse I had suffered as a child from step siblings, which I can now see led directly to being in an adult abusive relationship.
Six weeks later
You think in the circumstances, I would have been prioritised by the mental health services, but I eventually was offered an appointment with a CPN some six weeks later , by which time I was also involved with a case in the Family Court.This was in fact the first time I had ever seen a CPN, I had seen a psychiatrist twice, aged 15 alongside a gynaecologist as I had dreadful hormonal mood swings,for which I was prescribed the pill. I had a few sessions counselling after a previous relationship breakdown. I have never been an in patient, had addiction issues or in fact had any other contact with mental health services. I once had a GP suggest that I had depression, when struggling with my baby son, who slept very fitfully, actually 20 minutes at a time ( later diagnosed as ASD) , when I told him I just needed sleep and refused his suggestion of anti depressants.
I stopped seeing the CPN after weeks, because she said I was mentally well: I had been traumatised and reacted. I also saw a psychiatrist , appointed by the court, he saw me for two hours and had access to my medical records. He did not see me as well , he said I had a personality disorder (PD). Well of course he had more experience, than a CPN , but since then another two mental health professionals including a clinical psychologist have seen me as a recovered victim of trauma. The latter actually said I was one of her most mentally well patients and had given her hope for other victims of domestic violence she was working with.
So why do I think I was labelled? Obviously I cannot see into the mind of the psychiatrist, but I do have some ideas:
. I had been a victim of sexual abuse as a child
. I complained about the agencies that failed me and would not acknowledge their concerns
. I had no learning difficulties or psychosis
. I was extremely stressed and of course displaying symptoms including reacting erratically
What he missed:
. There was a history of domestic violence within the medical records , which my GP recognised and gave a letter so I could apply for legal aid in separate proceedings.
. He never asked specific questions to rule out PTSD, including about triggers or nightmares.
. I was right to have concerns about agencies, I was not externalising,they supported my ex husband rather than listen to me.
. I had a history of PMS
I obviously not say whether or not I have a personality disorder, but I can say that if I had I have recovered from it without the therapy that the psychiatrist indicated that I needed.
It was not a miracle, it was hard work , with a few lucky breakthroughs. My first was this book , given to my by my best friend who has known me since we were both 11, incidentally a person with a PD is not supposed to be able to have long term friendships. I found out I completely related to the label of codependents . Here is my explanation,written before . She then directed me to a support group for codependents, who understood trauma and how to recover.
How it works:
. It was a safe place , what is said in the room stays there
. The members understand and believe your story
. There is no criticism, as most can already criticise themselves without others adding to it
. There is a vast amount of knowledge around trauma, the mental,physical and spiritual consequences and how to heal.
. There is no time frame to get well, it is down to the individual, it is their responsibility and their choice
.You learn the difference between shame and guilt.
.You are not responsible for another person's behaviour.
I learnt, that I may have some mental health issues, but then who wouldn't after going through what I had. I was not a bad person. Triggers, night terrors and the after effects of PTSD were explained. I was given tools, such as writing my feelings down or ringing someone up when I got overwhelmed. Another useful tip was to try and keep my thoughts in the moment, rather than in the past.
As well as this group, I attended various courses, made new friends, kept old ones, learnt assertion,took CBT online, did voluntary work then went onto paid work. All the time I had this diagnosis of PD hanging over me. and I was dealing with the stress of court , plus being separated from my children. It took three years to rise up the NHS waiting list for the therapy the expert psychiatrist said I needed, only to be diagnosed as mentally well by the clinical psychologist.
Compassion not condemnation
Dr Jay Watts Sees those labelled with PD as being re victimised and that rather they should be seen as trauma victims. I completely agree. Back in the 1960's and 70's women were labelled as having nerves and given Valium or something stronger to calm them down. Rather than looking at the circumstances that led to their supposedly neurotic state. For me PD is just an updated method, to dismiss the traumatised.If I did have PD, what worked was unconditional acceptance, active listening, explanation of my symptoms and tools to act rather than react to whatever life throws at me. Of course on the NHS that would cost in monetary terms short term, but perhaps not as much as year on year intervention. More importantly why should a victim of abuse ,then have further condemnation heaped upon them by being classified as difficult to treat.
The real cost
For me the real cost has been having the man who abused me bringing up my children. They too will be traumatised. The broader picture is that I am not the only one. I do not believe that judges have sufficient understanding to differentiate between PTSD and PD or indeed other mental health conditions. I would like them to be able to screen for trauma before they make their judgements, especially as it is so very stressful just attending court, which will trigger trauma responses . I have never seen a diagnosis of PTSD mentioned in a family court judgement, even though a significant percentage of proceedings contain allegations of domestic and/or sexual abuse. Those who assess in family court need to have specialist skills in trauma.
Not only do judges ( in my view) not have knowledge, nor do others agencies, such as the police and even some mental health professionals. There is undoubtedly discrimination, I have experienced it myself. It really is about time it stopped and victims were provided with non judgemental,effective help.