Drowning Not Sailing.

2016-05-03 20.30.38

Cartoon of the two Niamhs by my mother, circa 2012

Last Week I listened to broadcaster Olivia O’Leary talk about her experience of depression at the age of 24 on RTE Radio. At about 10 minutes in, she said something that made me need to lie down. When she realised she needed help, Olivia contacted her sister who brought her to a “terrific psychiatrist” and here’s where I needed resuscitation:”he used to take me out sailing”… “and god we had great fun”. Olivia O’Leary went sailing with her psychiatrist. This sentence just about summed up my entire experience of growing up in Ireland. Aged 24 she got the best and most personal treatment available and she recovered.

Since the interview went out Olivia O’Leary has been lauded for her bravery and praised for raising awareness. You know the script. We’ve heard it a lot lately.  Beautiful, successful people are queueing up to tell us all about their struggles and how if they can reach just one person then it’s been worth baring their soul. But you know how I feel after another inspirational interview, I feel worse. I feel inadequate. I feel that I’ve failed. Because guess what, I’m still unwell. I am not at the height of the glittering career I thought I had in front of me. I am surviving. I am alive.  I’ve been “battling” mental illness since I was 11 years old.  I thought I was an angsty hormonal teen, a misfit. I wasn’t. I was horribly intensely unwell. And 30 years later I am still not in full control of my mental health. And I have realised why. I thought I wasn’t brave enough. Not strong enough.  But that’s not it. The real reason I’m still here dreading every single day that comes to me is simple. I never went sailing with my psychiatrist. I wasn’t rich enough. I wasn’t connected enough.

By the time I had done my Leaving Cert I had managed to fix myself to such a degree that I achieved all A’s and B’s in my exams and had my pick of college courses. That ship however didn’t sail either. I hadn’t the money to take up the offers and aged 17 I can only say I spiralled into a mental fugue that worsened until I was in my mid thirties. By the time I sent myself to college I couldn’t even hold a conversation with another student. My most vivid college memory is hiding in the ladies toilets with a bottle of vodka, vomiting from stress and washing it back down with the alcohol because I had to go to a meeting with my thesis supervisor. I got an A. I have an Honours Degree but no college friends. No happy stories to tell. That’s what mental illness really looks like. It sucks the life out of you and leaves you covered in your own vomit.

For thirty years I have pushed myself through depression, severe anxiety, 2 and a half suicide attempts, and an eating disorder. Hi my name is Niamh and I’m a bulimic. I did not go sailing with any psychiatrists. I saw a counsellor who told me to go for walks and avoid cheesy food. Given that I can’t drive and hate cheese that advice wasn’t exactly top drawer. I have spent 30 years working on myself. I’ve walked, I’ve cried, I’ve done yoga, I’ve cycled, I’ve taken my medication ( the drugs do work), I’ve painted, I’ve worked, I’ve written poetry, I’ve been tattooed, I’ve drank, I’ve given up drink, I’ve shaved my head, I’ve run thousands of kilometres. But I’m still sick, unwell, mentally ill. Call it whatever you want, the words don’t bother me.

So when I see people like Olivia O’Leary or Niall Breslin telling me how to get better, I get mad (no laughing at the back) and I feel compelled to listen to angry rap music until I calm down.  I cried when I watched Bressie speak at the Lovin Dublin Live Show about his experiences with depression. Everything he said resonated. #JeSuisBressie and yet….. Bressie has become a much-needed advocate for mental health issues. We need reform, we need cash injected into services. We need education. There’s no arguing against that. What we also need are the opportunities for people to reach their full potential in this great country of ours. Not just the chance to make a viral video. Real chances. Education access for everyone. Jobs. Homes. Reasons to stay alive. The idea that somehow exercise and a chat will save your life is just demoralising. I could walk 500 miles and back and still be me. It’s like running away from a hump on your back. Would you tell me to go for a walk if I told you I had breast cancer. Would you tell me to join a running club or pick up that phone.  No you would not. #JeNeSuisPasBressie Because quite frankly these wellness campaigns, however well-intentioned, are making it too easy for our governments and health executives to dodge their responsibilities. It’s easy to back a popular campaign fronted by good looking successful men and women. It’s a lot harder to actually bring about real change in real people’s lives.  People like me, who have never gone sailing with their psychiatrist.

Copyright 2016 myindoorvoice.wordpress.com

 

 

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44 comments

  1. Sue · May 7, 2016

    I was that soldier and some days I still am. Get excercise doc sez so I tryed running. I ran whilst the tears ran down my face. I ran whilst thoughts in my head told me stop sure your useless anyway. I tried meds ,when doctor was told I felt better he said I’m not prescribing them any more. With the scratch of a pen he took the meds away in case I got addicted. Left me to it.. Now he tells me to be mindful and talk. He’s left me high and dry with no trust in our health system. I’m waving but drowning.

    Like

    • neev.ie · May 9, 2016

      Oh god Sue. Can you get a new doctor? If meds are working no doctor should take them away. I’m really sorry to hear this. I would go back and demand to be heard.

      Like

    • bredas · May 9, 2016

      I have pasted below link to excellent article on this Drowning and not Sailing topic. I do so, so agree with everything he writes. And I really have noticed this chemical imbalance stuff creeping in and in, which is a great justification for the meds but I never, ever bought the blanket diagnosis that eschews any other factors, though no doubt it exists in the tiny minority kind of way. But in the vast majority of cases, psychological suffering is as and caused by what this article describes. I hope it’s okay to copy link here. The article nods in the affirmative to your (Niamh) excellent piece too. Breda http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/26/mental-illness-misery-childhood-traumas

      Liked by 2 people

  2. soundmigration · May 7, 2016

    Reblogged this on Soundmigration.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. bredas · May 8, 2016

    Yes I read her piece too and with anticipation, because I like her. But this is the worst thing she has ever written. So out of touch with the reality, as you describe so well.
    And one bout at 24 – fixed by a chat, a few pills and a sail!
    It’s a havock reaper and you only realise how much it has taken when you are older, I think. But it has its upsides too.
    Anyhow – appreciated your writing on it – The Big Black Dog.

    Breda Shannon

    Like

    • neev.ie · May 9, 2016

      Thank you Breda. I hear ya. It’s a curse and also a blessing in that you learn a lot about yourself and other people too.

      Like

      • bredas · May 15, 2016

        Posting another link. Sally Brampton who like Olivia was in and led a privileged material life but unlike Olivia, she really knew depression. I suppose it highlights how the beast does not necessarily discriminate. B

        Like

  4. annemarieoconnor · May 8, 2016

    Outstanding Niamh. There is bravery in expressing your thoughts, but the rawness, the reality, of what you have written is so profound and important. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • neev.ie · May 9, 2016

      Thank you so much for commenting Anne Marie. I was really scared to say this stuff but it was boiling away I had to write it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. C Finnan · May 8, 2016

    Excellent description of being left behind in the black hole of depression by everyone because of many factors, in particular social status. Noone talks about that aspect of health care – mental and physical. You are amazing to have achieved what you have, despite carrying the boulder of depression around for most of your life. That is what a hero is!

    Liked by 1 person

    • neev.ie · May 9, 2016

      Thank you. I wouldn’t see myself as a hero but I’ll sure take the compliment. Socio economic factors have been really absent from the recent campaigns and it’s been driving me mad! Thank you for reading

      Like

  6. Amy Lee · May 8, 2016

    As someone with depression and anxiety that hasn’t ‘gotten better yet’ despite medication and the same sorts of well meaning counselors this really resonated with me. I don’t think anyone else has been able to properly put down in words exactly how I feel when I see another awareness campaign launched by a successful celebrity. The amount of people who honestly couldn’t believe why I didn’t just ‘have a chat’ ‘try meditation’ or ‘start exercising’ before or after my latest suicide attempt was ridiculous. And it wasn’t to say that they weren’t well meaning or trying to hurt me, they had just assumed that if I wanted to get better I would be doing these things because they’d been told that all of these things help depression and anxiety.
    The fact of the matter is that not everybody is going to magically get better because they’re getting help and the process can be long and exhausting. It’s a long slew of different counselors and medications and advice and I’ve only been able to even get those services because I’m lucky enough to get a medical card. When I look at people like Olivia and Bressie I feel like shit. I’ve been in the system for 5 years and i’m still at a stage where I battle with depression everyday and I am in no way a success story.
    So thank you, it’s really nice to know for once that I’m not the only one 🙂

    Like

    • neev.ie · May 9, 2016

      I’m so glad to read that my writing this piece has helped somebody else. The isolation I felt for most of my life was crippling. The current campaigns have struck me as so light they’re unbearable. I have days when a chat with somebody in the supermarket makes me feel better but on another day if I won the lotto I wouldn’t care. It’s a long process. One step forward and 2 back and then 3 forward. I think the biggest thing for me is accepting it. This is me. And I’m finally not going to be ashamed anymore. Be well xx

      Liked by 1 person

      • bredas · May 9, 2016

        Yes – I sense too that the current campaigns are all fluff and no substance. But there’s allot of management involved for someone with mental health/depression issues and its causes are so varied as well as its effects on the individual. I think the search to understand oneself is really valuable – because owning up to or disinterring the reasons behind the depression allows the sufferer some relief from self blame and provides understanding. I remember the early days of my depressions – I was so frustrated with not understanding why they were happening to me. From there it’s a matter of sorting out things but invariably, still not easy, and to be honest it seems like a lifelong management job. But I have to say I am reasonably content enough about where I have landed now. It is good days and then some bad but I don’t panic anymore about black days and have confidence that I will tunnel along again into light. I am not successful in career and it is mainly due to the depressions which are due of course to other things! But I accept that now – though not without regret – it still hurts – but it has to be let go. I was more a bi polar type so I really enjoyed the good times but they were never productive of course. Re councellors – my personal preference for a councellor is one who has suffered in some way also. I may be wrong here – but I don’t trust the profession in general. I think think there are many out there who have the cert/degree/diploma, whatever, but have no empathy. I have been lucky in this respect – both councellors I found through recommendations,had their own personal traumas and knew suffering. They were excellent and am very grateful to have come upon them. I met three psychiatrists. The first one (I was in my twenties) wrote to my GP to say, he could find nothing wrong with me. I dressed well. I looked well and I held down a job, he proffered as his reasons for this non diagnosis. So he was useless and that delayed things quite a bit. The second one I met, when in my thirties prescribed EFFexorXL. Past prescribing he wasn’t that interested in me. The third psychiatrist was better – but she leaned heavy on the med side too, which I took for a while. I don’t take meds – I never found them useful but I know some people do.
        Good friendships though have provided me with the best sustenance throughout the years. Without these friends – doubt I would have made it at all.
        Anyhow this conversation is getting long. Just thought I’d share a bit more, in case it helps anyone. Thanks Niamh (Neev) for opening up the dialogue here. You sure are getting a lot of responses. I wonder if there is a big gap out there for good support groups with people like us sharing and listening? Breda

        Like

  7. franklparker · May 8, 2016

    “Would you tell me to go for a walk if I told you I had breast cancer?” Actually, yes,I would. https://franklparker.com/2016/04/22/strides-for-life-atozchallenge/
    Not that that should detract from the seriousness of your principal point. My son is a therapist working for the HSE in Kildare and knows only too well the problem with lack of resources for folk who don’t have the means to pay for professional support.

    Like

    • neev.ie · May 9, 2016

      I take your point. I’m a lover of the outdoors and a restorative walk is a great thing. My point being it’s not a cure and shouldn’t be used as a shortcut for governments too willing to leave the trivial stuff like mental health to celebrity campaigners

      Like

  8. carmel · May 8, 2016

    Amazing frankness on your part Niamh for this article. Trying to look for help is like looking for something that is not there as I have found. I feel that mental issues now are trendy, trendy for some but not for those battling and fighting to keep going each and every day. Her interview depressed me and I felt even more isolated, your article has given me a little light. Thank you and please keep on writing.

    Like

    • neev.ie · May 9, 2016

      Thank you so much for saying that. It’s genuinely amazing to know I’ve helped in some small way. That interview made me so angry I nearly blew up right there and then. It shouldn’t be about money. But it seems like everything is. I hope you feel better every day

      Like

      • carmel · May 9, 2016

        Yes it helped so much. I am going through a crisis point right now and I am shocked at how alone we can feel when in pain. I have tried to each out to three good friends in the past two days just to hear a voice but I was quickly shunned. It is something I never had to do and please God I never will have to again. People are not comfortable being in the company of a sad person as I have quickly learned. Why is it so hard for people to part with a kind word? Do they realise that one day they may need a little help?
        I know it is only a passing crisis and I will have to get through it but the pain….the pain in my brain is unbearable.
        I cannot turn to a professional to help like so many of these public people, but Niamh you acknowledged our illness and that means so much to me.
        Stay safe and carry on writing
        xx

        Like

      • neev.ie · May 9, 2016

        Aw Carmel I know how hard it is. Please stay strong. You’re obviously stronger than you realise.

        Like

  9. Sharon · May 8, 2016

    I applaud you for writing this, though my praise is not worth the paper they are written on. It is so easy to dismiss actually helping in a meaningful way by telling people to “talk”. Even that isn’t as easy as it sounds. Following the recent death of my brother and followed quickly by the death of our family pet my 16 year old was grief stricken, as you would expect. I was worried about him and arranged to make an appointment with a specialist grief councilor for children. I was told that we would be contacted when an appointment would come up, that was on the 19 April and still no appointment. Luckily, through our own conversations he seems to be doing much better but many others would not have the ability to wait.

    Like

    • neev.ie · May 9, 2016

      Thank you Sharon. I’ll take the applause. The new campaigns the last few years have been grating on my nerves a lot. Talking is great but it’s not always enough at all. The suicide figures demonstrate that as a fact. All we do in this country is talk.
      I’m so sorry to hear about your brother and obviously much loved pet. Grief is so physical it can be utterly overwhelming. Especially for a teen because they don’t have as many learned coping mechanisms. But can I just say that if you are who I think you are then your teen is lucky to have you. Honestly if I’d had a parent like you at that age I think my world would be a lot different

      Like

  10. mick · May 8, 2016

    great article, I kind of felt the same way when I read Olivia’s piece, my battle was and still is with alcohol, always thought good friendship/relationship, good food and good exercise was the cure, done the rehab, but its all still not working. people say alcohol causes depression but it also cures depression on the short term, till the next day, stopping the alcohol causes other issues, hallucinations, shakes, dry heaves and such, I have cost the health system much money and taken the money from people who are sick through no fault of their own, depression and its close relative, alcohol need to be taken more seriously.

    Like

    • neev.ie · May 9, 2016

      I have much sympathy for people dealing with alcohol problems. I think most Irish people have encountered somebody in their own lives. It’s such a tough old road. Don’t feel guilty for costing the health system. It’s an addiction and deserves proper treatment. I hope you find the help and care you need

      Like

  11. Sue · May 9, 2016

    I can 100% relate to this. I am going to show this to the next person who tells me to just use my mindfulness. Thank you for putting in words what I have for so long struggled to verbalise.

    Like

    • neev.ie · May 9, 2016

      Oh please do show it to them. I’ve been bloody mindful! And I’m still the way I am. All those things are lovely and can help on a normal day but when you’re really unwell you need real help. Thank you so much for reading. I hope you stay well

      Like

  12. Marvin · May 9, 2016

    As someone who has experienced “reactive” depression in response to a number of significant life events e.g. cancer, the death of close family members by suicide – I am amazed that there is not more effort made to distinguish between “reactive” and “clinical” depression.

    My bouts of “reactive” depression have brought me to some very, very dark places. As I result, I now struggle with a heightened sense of anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Whilst I know that I do not have clinical depression, my time living in the fog has allowed me to gain a level of empathy with the members of my own extended family and friendship group that live with a range of “clinical” conditions e.g. Bi-polar; schizophrenia.
    Firthermore, whilst I welcome the increased awareness of us all investing in our mental health – I do struggle with the message that is implicit in all of these campaigns – TAKE RESPONSIBILITY! When I was in the fog of depression, I needed the support of loving friends, family members and my medical team to support me to negotiate that space.
    Perhaps a more useful intervention would be to ask the person living with life limiting mental health issues to note the interventions that they have found the most beneficial.

    In my case, I have found different things work at different times, however, the support of a “constant” family friend who has survived her own demons does help enormously.

    Finally, we live in a time that believes that the solution to all known problems can be found on Google.

    Good luck with
    Opening the
    Orifice that
    Generates
    Loads and loads of in-
    Effective solutions!!

    God bless xx

    Like

    • neev.ie · May 9, 2016

      Yes . I totally relate to this. There are so many issues just bunched together . A lot of what I suffer has been reactive I think but the results have then become hard wired so that I can’t extricate myself. I wasn’t born this way. And also yes different cures for different times totally resonates with me too. And also medication. God bless science! Thank you so much for reading

      Like

    • Sharon · May 9, 2016

      This is something that is not often spoken about but you are so right there is a clear difference between “reactive” and “clinical” issues and to treat them both the same is a disservice to both. I know after my brother died I was offered a course of antidepressants by me doctor which I refused as I was not “depressed” I was grieving and to medicate me attempting to fix issues I didn’t have as my state in that moment was “reactive” to the situation I was in. Luckily I was aware enough of my own being to know what was right for me but I can understand how someone who is in that “reactive” state could easily become entangled in a course of treatment that is not dealing with the core issue but the symptom.

      Like

      • neev.ie · May 9, 2016

        Totally agree also a lot of the conversation on suicide has revolved around depression . I genuinely believe a significant number of suicides are a reactive event. Like a crime of passion but against the self. The whole area is so wide and so poorly funded that all they have are drugs to offer. And they have no idea if theyll work or not.

        Like

  13. my messy world · May 9, 2016

    …wow… your post has left me speechless… Utterly well written! I can totally understand… Thank you for your honesty and for writing and sharing this – I urge people to read it…! Keep strong ❤

    Like

  14. hse_victim · May 9, 2016

    I myself have been a victim of mental health services and am facing prison sentence because of ruckus with their staff over repeatedly refusing me access to psychologist.

    2 friends took their lives while in care of HSE mental health services so I have absolutely no respect for any of them considering the way they treat people privately and how they portray themselves publicly. I’ve been trying to discover what the hell is going on within the service and did make some progress but it’s still not entirely clear because most staff usually just pass the buck. Nobody is responsible for anything.

    The problems are multifaceted. You will hear staff complain about lack of money, lack of resources but I can tell you from my own experience that they’re incredibly disorganized, dishonest, incompetent and lazy, inexperienced, there’s little to no communication and coordination among staff but most importantly of all, they don’t use any evidence based approach to diagnosis of mental health problems and I think this is crucial.

    Because there’s no evidence used in diagnosis, people will often be misdiagnosed and consequently mistreated, like I was. They will overprescribe drugs like SSRI/SNRI and psychotropic drugs which are highly dangerous.

    What other area of health care in HSE would allow nurses to make an assessment? I don’t know of any, but that’s exactly what happens in mental health. Nurses who like to think of themselves as “counsellors” will report their opinions back to consultant psychiatrists in weekly meetings and that’s essentially how you’re diagnosed..crazy!!

    You mentioned only seeing a psychiatrist for 3 minutes each visit, that’s normal. If you’re referred to a “counsellor” they may spend up to an hour or so with you and report observations back to the consultant psychiatrist. Some of the nurses are themselves mentally ill but the doctors rely on their observations to make a diagnosis.

    There’s a hierarchy in HSE mental health services. You have the clinical lead/director who’s consulted by your psychiatrist (usually on a contract) who is then consulted by a psychiatric nurse. You also have clinical leads/directors for other departments such as psychology and nursing. The clinical lead/director will decide on what treatment you should receive, not the consultant psychiatrist assigned to you…why? I don’t know, money I suppose.

    So if you’re not getting help from the consultant psychiatrist or fake “counsellors” who are nothing but glorified psychiatric nurses, you need to write to the clinical lead/director and demand answers to why you’re not getting the help asked for.

    The only thing I can suggest to people that have mental health problems is try to pay for it privately and stay away from HSE because they will only lead you down a path to an early grave or a prison cell (as is case for me)

    People that have been lucky to survive encounter with mental health services should start writing online about their experience because the services are only going to get worse…sorry, but it really has been since 2006 despite all the additional money.

    Like

    • neev.ie · May 9, 2016

      So sorry to hear of this terrible experience. I truly hope it resolves itself for you. Personally I opted out of the counselling model offered to me years ago. I felt too much like a patient. The word I’d use now is my personhood disappeared. I felt I was being categorised and most mental health issues are too diverse and complex to fit any neat box or diagnosis which is part of the problem I think. They don’t know what to do with us. I have coped mostly on my own with the help of my GP and family. Wishing you well.

      Like

      • hse_victim · May 9, 2016

        There was a report published by the HSE last month in collobaration with NSRF which showed most suicide victims lived on their own. I think support of family is far more important than support of HSE but for a lot of people, there’s no support there.

        My 2 friends lived on their own without support of family since they were physically abused as kids by parents so they had nobody else (as I was). They obviously had addiction issues (as I do) but the HSE don’t have any proper addiction services. They will refer you to Cuan Mhuire which is a charity… or they’ll refer you to some rehabilitation center that uses confrontational treatment (addict is to blame)

        Even with the HSE report and recommendations, the problems within mental health services will persist. It’s not about money to me, it’s lack of communication among staff. HSE model is really outdated.

        You’re right about having connections/money does help …unfortunately you get what you pay for.

        I suffered health problems from medication prescribed by HSE because I had faith in them to help me ..and now because I won’t consume any more, they’re going ahead with court case against me.

        You’ll hear about my story in future. I’m not letting HSE take me down without a fight.

        Like

  15. Catherine · May 9, 2016

    Brave, courageous & inciteful writing… You have a gift, Niamh.
    Keep on shining your light on one of life’s heaviest & invisible burdens.
    I don’t know you – but wish you Blessings, Healing & Courage (which you have in abundance)
    and look forward to seeing some of your poetry…

    Catherine X

    Like

    • neev.ie · May 9, 2016

      Thank you so much. What a lovely comment

      Like

  16. K2 · May 9, 2016

    Thanks for what I would like to call a “Touch of Sanity”!!

    Like

  17. Tony Whelan · May 11, 2016

    Thank you for writing and sharing. Depth, courage and thoughtfulness are rare bedfellows.

    Tony

    Like

  18. d · May 12, 2016

    I have accessed therapy, GP, psychiatrist privately and I got 15 mins with the psychiatrist..that was it. I certainly wasn’t taken sailing. Most psychiatrists are in private practice as well as working in hospitals and basically, they make the most money from the private consultations. No consultant will keep you in for long because they all work on a business model nowadays..shorter consultations mean more patients and that equals more money. So even being a private patient doesn’t guarantee good care.

    I’d actually worry about a psychiatrist taking a patient sailing because that would constitute a massive breach in professional boundaries. Ryan Tubridy’s late father was a psychiatrist and I think Ryan was trying to tell you that psychiatry has become more regulated…that, yeah, Olivia O’Leary went sailing with her psychiatrist but that was such a long time ago…nowadays, all doctors are worried about being sued.

    That being said, I completely take your point that access to mental health services is a huge issue. It is easier to get better when you’ve got money…of course it is. You get quicker access to services. But I haven’t found the therapy all that helpful…yes, I got to access it but there’s still not enough evidence based therapies widely available throughout the country. And I was put on tons of medications which didn’t help my symptoms one bit. So I still think mental health services, both public and private, lag severely behind other countries.

    Like

  19. anna murphy · May 14, 2016

    What irritated me about Olivia O’Learys sailing comment, is not that it implied privilege, but that it came across to me as a kind of boastfulness. (As in…subtext…even though I was depressed and needed treatment, and was in bits, I still had something special and fun, that made my therapist want to hang out with me.) I think it was the tone too, the casual glib throwaway remark, that was in fact not casual at all- “folks dont get me wrong, I still stood out!”
    A lot of depression is connected with insecurity and low self esteem.
    I think we can all be vulnerable in trying to show we are liked, approved of etc.,
    but that she didnt know herself enough to know how offensive that could be.
    I mean who gets to hang out with their therapist? (I did hear a funny song about “Would my therapist want to be my friend if she wasn’t my therapist, but I cant find it online!)

    Like

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