The Road to Recovery: On PTSD, Trauma and the Future… by Eleanor for Mental Health Awareness Week

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(image: Eleanor Mandelstam (Segall))

 

Trigger Warning: sexual assault, details of assault and severe mental illness

 

Hi everyone,

Its been a while but I thought I would put type to keyboard and write a blog for more mental health awareness.

Since my book was published, I haven’t written many follow up personal blogs, purely because the launch of my life story into the public domain felt overwhelming and scary. 6 months on, I am used to it being out there but I have been working hard in EMDR trauma therapy to help myself.

See, the truth is that right now the Bipolar Disorder for me is stable and under control on my medicines. I still get side effects- weight gain, dry mouth and thirst, but my mind is generally healthy in terms of the Bipolar- no mania or depression. Anxiety and panic yes but Bipolar, not really at the moment.

Yet, almost lurking unseen after I left hospital in 2014 and began my recovery was the fact I was traumatised by my experiences of going into psychosis (losing touch with reality via delusions, false beliefs) and my experiences when being sectioned. I will just give an overview as the rest is in my book- but this included- being restrained, being attacked by other patients and seeing them self harm, being injected with Haloperidol (an anti psychotic) in front of both male and female nurses in a part of the body I didn’t want, being chased round A and E by security men in genuine fear of my life, dealing with lawyers and going to tribunals while ill, thinking I had been abused by family and was locked up by a criminal gang and fearing my family were against me. My bipolar mind could not cope.

Just before this all happened, I was very vulnerable and was sexually assaulted by a man I knew through friends and all of this trauma stayed with me.

I did what most of us with severe mental illness and assault survivors do- I tried to rebuild my life. I tried to work in schools helping children with special educational needs. I tried to work for a mental health charity as a peer support worker for people like me. I began to blog and write and share as therapy- from charities to national newspapers. Bit by bit, as I wrote out what I has been through, I started to slowly heal. But, the symptoms of the extreme panic remained. I lost jobs because of it. I became depressed. I started dating but I often had to cancel dates- (before I met Rob, my husband who listened to me talk about it all and didn’t bat too much of an eyelid.)

I was in a state of flux, a state of transition. I knew I had trauma still living in my brain and body. I had been physically and sexually assaulted, I had been mentally violated- I had been sectioned twice in a few months and now I was sent home to try and rebuild my life as a 25 year old single woman.

I share this important blog, not to share that I am a victim- because I am not. I want to share that I believe for about 5 years, I have been suffering with some of the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). My therapist believes the same.

The panic attacks that grip me with fear before work or the day ahead when I have to leave the house. The fear of going out or travelling at night alone. The fear of being taken advantage of and having to trust men again (thank you to my husband for helping ease this pain). The fear of exploitation, of losing my mind, of not trusting mental health professionals any more.

My panic attacks get triggered by certain events- it could be having to speak about my life or book, or seeing people I don’t feel comfortable with, of feeling exposed, of worrying about others judgement. I am still healing from all I have been through and experienced. The PTSD means that I have to take medication (Propranolol) to function sometimes. It means that I experience flashbacks in my body- I feel gripped with fear, I get chest pain and shallow breathing and I start to cry. I had one the other day at 4am….. thank the lord for meds so I could calm down and sleep.

My therapist is incredible and we have been working since October to process the roots of my trauma and panic disorder. We use a combination of rapid eye processing with talking therapy which helps to tackle each and every trauma- and we are still at the tip of the iceberg. It takes time to process the deep rooted experiences in my brain- we are getting there slowly.

For me, in many ways my future is uncertain. My medicines have long term physical side effects. Motherhood will be more of a challenge due to medication and my mental health- I am still processing the choices I will have to make, which I will write in another blog.

I want to end this blog by saying- if you know someone with anxiety, PTSD, another anxiety disorder or something like bipolar or schizophrenia- Be Kind. You never know what someone has gone through.

The NHS waiting lists for help are too long, services are too underfunded- all my treatment has been private provided by my family due to being stuck on a list for years. I am lucky, not everyone is. 

I hope this blog gives some information about my experiences of PTSD since leaving hospital 6 years ago. It is by far the most personal thing I have posted since publishing my book but I hope it helps you feel less alone.

Positivity and Hope are key.  Meeting my husband and my therapist changed my life for the better as I slowly rebuild and find an equilibrium again.

Love,

Eleanor x

Im not coping perfectly right now, but that’s OK: Lockdown Life by Eleanor

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(image: Pinterest)

Hope will carry you through. At the moment it feels like fear is taking over at times! Everything is so uncertain with the current global pandemic and routines changing, being unable to source certain freelance work, having to stay indoors a lot, not being able to see friends or family in person. People dying and being hospitalised. Everything is scary. Add to that the fear of death, the fear of the virus whenever I go out and you have…

Anxiety overdrive!

I was in self isolation a few weeks ago for what could have been mild Covid 19- I had a dry cough, sweats and fatigue. I recovered and am fine and still don’t know if it was Coronavirus or something else.

Then, the UK went into a form of lockdown.

I am not coping perfectly with all this. I’m trying my best to put routine and structure into my days. Some days I am so tired from it all, I need an afternoon nap in order to be more productive. I wake some days feeling anxious about what is to come, it all feels so surreal. One night, I sat and cried as everything felt too much with trying to balance work and life.

But, I wiped my tears, talked it out with family and felt better.

One thing I have started is a project called Corona Cards which sends handmade cards to people feeling lonely or needing cheering up in isolation. I now have 3 other team members (Bex, Donna and Abigail) making cards and its been really enjoyable. We send them by post to UK residents at no cost to them and you can follow us on Twitter @corona_cards and Instagram @coronacards1.

We have sent about 30-35 cards already and you can request them by asking me or messaging our pages. We hope it helps people’s mental health, particularly anyone very low or suicidal.

Crafting and focusing on the project has helped me a lot, I go for a short walk to the postbox to post them and therefore have a purpose to my walks! To know it is helping people also means a lot, and I have had 2 back in return which is lovely.

Thankfully, I can still have sessions with my therapist by Zoom and I have family support too. It is such a strange time in all our lives and it is understandable that anxiety and fear will creep back in. Especially if we have loved ones who are ill or we have existing mental health conditions.

I am thinking of those who are ill, particularly the ones I know about personally and wish them a full recovery.

A wise friend of mine told me this week that it is OK to take time for yourself. To just be, to look after your mental health. She is right.

So right now, despite feeling like I should be constantly working or busy with Pesach cleaning, I will be looking out for self care and I hope you will too. Keep focusing on gratitude.

Wishing all my Jewish friends a happy Pesach and everyone else a good Easter break.

How are you feeling?

Eleanor x

Looking to the Future and Life Dreams: by Eleanor

 

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(image: 123RF.com)

Hi friends,

It has been a while since I have written a personal blog as there has been so much going on here that I was just focusing on getting through it all. Robs dad had surgery to remove a second brain tumour and is thankfully recovering well, the surgeon amazingly got all the cancer. Success.

Alongside this, I have been in therapy since November with a wonderful therapist and we are doing EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing therapy). This therapy helps to process trauma that can get ‘stuck’ in the brain if not processed. That trauma can stem from childhood upwards- I was an anxious child from an early age even though I had a good childhood! I have also been through a lot due to my bipolar episodes and hospitalisations. So, I am working with my therapist to process memories and we are doing it slowly.

My therapist will either ‘tap’ on the side of my legs while I recall the memory to help process it or my eyes will follow a light or her finger as we process. Understandably, there has to be a lot of trust in this type of relationship as well as me being protected and not triggered by the therapy. For this, we have developed a ‘safe place’ memory that I go to when we bring up anything too distressing. We have just started to go deeper with this and I will update you with our progress. I am far less anxious than I was and it has been really helpful to build a positive, working relationship with my therapist.

The reason I started therapy was because I was having intense panic attacks and finding it difficult to manage my life due to it. I hope that by working on these triggers that I can react differently and live a healthier and better life. Stay tuned!

A month or so ago, I also went to see my psychiatrist for the first time in 2 years, mainly as I had worries about my weight and physical health. My medications means I have put on a substantial amount of weight and this is worrying me health wise more than anything. I have been advised to diet and exercise and maybe work with a nutritionist. So, this will also be a new journey and I will try my best with this, not easy as the meds may stop me losing weight due to slowing metabolism or encouraging cravings. We considered reducing my Quetaipine, a mood stabiliser and anti psychotic to help but because I have been more mentally stable, I have decided to keep it at the same dose for now.

Rob and I have also started to look at new homes, which has been good. There is a lot happening right now and important that I rest, look after myself and keep calm.

Life with bipolar disorder can be uncertain. I have some fears about the future, which I will talk about in another more detailed post. My medicines thankfully keep me mentally well, but coming off them for future life changes eg pregnancy could be a big risk for me and one I am not sure I should take due to being bipolar 1 (risk of mania and psychosis). This is not currently imminent, but is still a future fear, especially as I love children. A decision for a later date.

Overall though I am hopeful and excited about life and will keep you all updated with my therapy and health journey and news.

Thanks for reading and following Be Ur Own Light as we come up to our 4th anniversary,

With love,

Eleanor x

 

 

Anxiety, Low mood,Winter and Me. By Eleanor

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(image: Istock)

I have sat down many times in the past few weeks to try and compose this blog and I havn’t felt able, the weight of it felt too much to put down on ‘paper’. The past month has been a lot more challenging for me, I have had an increase in my anxiety, particularly the social anxiety, fear of judgement and the world in general.

This has meant I have had to cancel media appearances and my book launch for friends and family and I sadly missed an old friend’s beautiful wedding and another old friend’s hen weekend 😦  (as well as missing going to the theatre to see Waitress with a wonderful friend). I have been having panic attacks again about socialising when feeling so vulnerable. This has been really, really hard because I hate letting anyone down, I have just been feeling ill at times and having to cope with the heightened anxiety and its ‘fun’  accompaniment (insomnia, racing thoughts, negative thoughts and chest pain).

My book got published and while that was amazing and a lifelong dream, it also felt exposing as I revealed a lot about my life that many wouldn’t know. So I felt like hiding away because it felt scary (social anxiety again).

Additionally, I started therapy 7 weeks ago to give me tools to a) understand but b) deal with the underlying anxiety about life and while it is helping (I am doing a type of trauma therapy called EMDR), I think it might be bringing issues I have buried to the surface from past trauma. This could be why I am getting triggered in social situations at present. I have a fear of negative judgement and also of crowds. I am working on this in therapy as I have been through a lot so far in my 31 years on this planet!

This time of year is also not helping me at all- the nights drawing in and the gloomy mornings. I struggle with SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and I start feeling lower this time of year. I am well medicated so my depression is mild in comparison to what it gets like when my medication doesn’t work but it is the anxiety I need to work on and expose myself to feared situations slowly.

To my friends, thank you for your kindness and for trying to support me (and coax me out) through this difficult patch again- you know who you are. If anyone wants to come round for a Disney night with chocolate- please do! 

Despite the negatives, there have been some successes in the past few weeks- seeing family, going to the cinema with Rob to see Last Christmas, going to the garden centre with my sister and bro in law, attending my therapy sessions, promoting the book online, job applying (exhausting but I’ve been doing it), speaking to friends regularly and trying to socialise even if I don’t always make it. I am working on that.

Oh and I have been volunteering for Christmas4CAMHS charity- that provide presents for ill children on mental health wards. I have been helping them gain awareness and raise funds via social media. This has been one of the most rewarding things I have managed to do in the past 2 weeks. Thank you Ro for letting me be involved and giving me some purpose to help others.

Social anxiety and depression are hard things to live with, but I know it will pass again in time and to reach for support if I need it. I am already on anti depressants and anti anxiety meds (as well as the therapy), so will have to wait and see what helps. I have an SAD lamp so need to use it when I wake in the mornings. Perhaps I should push myself to go for walks, although I am currently enjoying being a doormouse. If anyone else is struggling, please reach out- we are stronger together.

 

Why I wrote my book, ‘Bring me to Light: Embracing my Bipolar and Social Anxiety’ by Eleanor

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(image: Trigger Publishing)

This blog has been a long time coming. I have been so busy promoting my book on social media and in the press that I havn’t actually sat here and told you WHY I decided to write this book. So, here goes.

Firstly, can I just express so much gratitude to this here WordPress blog because without it, I would not have got commissioned at Metro.co.uk (thank you Yvette) or for other places online. This blog gave me the confidence to write and to expand my writing’s reach and for that I will be forever grateful.

In 2013/ early 2014, I sat on the couch, crying and living with a suicidal depression. My bipolar was unstable and all over the place- I felt so low and like there was no way out. However, as I sat and cried- a friend of mine’s face peered up from the newspaper. He was looking for the man that saved him from suicide and was launching a campaign called Find Mike to find him. That man was Jonny Benjamin (who now has an MBE). I had known Jonny for many years as a teenager through friends, but he became my inspiration and my hope that I too could do good things despite having mental illness. He very kindly has provided an endorsement too for my book- thank you Jonny!

With the help of my psychiatrist, I recovered temporarily from the depression but then spun very fast into mania and psychosis (possible due to a large dose of anti depressant). I was sectioned and in hospital for 4 months as an inpatient and a further 4 as an outpatient.

Throughout this time, I could not think about writing because my mind wasn’t stable enough. But as I pieced my life back together, started taking a new mood stabiliser to help control the bipolar episodes and started to recover slowly, I found the power of blogging about my social anxiety due to trauma of the bipolar, to be so helpful. I found that others would share their stories and would reach out to me about their mental health too.

Although life is not perfect and I am still living with an anxiety disorder, I have found a way to write and speak about mental illness. I was diagnosed with bipolar at 16 and there was a lot of shame for me about it back then in 2004. These days, I tell my story for other scared 16 year olds newly diagnosed but also to break down barriers and stigma against mental illness. To explain you can have bipolar or be sectioned or have psychosis but you can recover and you don’t need to spend life in hospital forever. To explain that while this cruel illness runs in families, that with the right healthcare, staying more stable is possible.

I started writing my book with Trigger Publishing because they believed in my story when I sent them my proposal. They are part of the mental health charity the Shaw Mind Foundation and royalties go towards the charity as well as some to me.

I hope that when you read my story, you won’t see it as a despairing ramble- but rather a story of hope, of life, of light triumphing over the darkness- but the darkness making the good times shine brighter. I also bring my bipolar to light, I share it with the world- as scary as this is, so that others can also tell theirs.

I wrote this book too provide a place to talk, start conversation and help heal myself through writing it but sharing that feeling of hope with others too. The book cannot change things that are so needed like urgent mental health funding of the NHS so we have parity of esteem. Yet, i hope it is a starting point about how important mental health treatment is for people to move forward in their lives.

Bring me to Light is out on 5th November 2019 in the UK and is available worldwide. It will be out in the USA in 2020. It can be purchased on Amazon, in book shops and at triggerpublishing.com

I will be sharing press articles and more about the book as it happens, but I hope this blog explains why I wrote my book. Thank you all for your ongoing love and see some of you at the book launch!

Love,

Eleanor x

 

Dear NHS: The Search for EMDR Therapy by Eleanor

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(image: Freepik)

Today I am writing because I have had enough with the NHS mental health services.  Firstly, I was told that in my area of London, the NHS- national health service doesn’t fund EMDR (rapid eye movement processing therapy- for trauma and PTSD). Why, I have no idea as it is desperately needed. However, I was referred to IAPT wellbeing service (still under NHS), who do have EMDR therapists. Some telephone questionnaires later and I have found that I have been discharged from IAPT – to another team that doesn’t provide the therapy I so dearly need.

I have had years of therapy- CBT x3 and psychodynamic- most had to be privately funded due to the waiting lists in NHS. I need vital treatment for the trauma I faced of becoming so unwell,being in hospital and all I faced during mania and psychosis. My trauma comes out in anxiety and panic attacks which disrupt my daily living. EMDR helps process trauma and I am hoping it will help me to live fully again.

Due to this, the only option with therapy may be to go privately- which is expensive and not ideal for me- I can’t afford it alone. However, I have found an accredited therapist online so this will have to be the route I go down I think. I will speak to the psychiatrist in the other team but don’t hold out any hope as they don’t fund EMDR and there is a 2 year psychology waiting list. Yup, you heard that correctly, 2 years.

I am not doing so well- I have been feeling lower in the mornings and more anxious since having to leave my job. This was another blow today.

Yet….

I am trying to keep myself positive and focused and going. But some days, I just feel like hiding away.

Some positives- I am grateful for:

  1. My new bright pink cardigan is making me smile
  2. Our wedding photos and video come back today
  3. Finding a therapist
  4. Bipolar UK sharing about my book
  5. Love and support from others
  6. Job interviews and book promotion

When people say fund our NHS mental health services, they mean it. People like me are denied access to vital support and put on waiting lists or fobbed off. Its not OK.

Eleanor x

 

Looking to the future: Life and Positivity by Eleanor

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(image: Pinterest)

‘The only thing constant in the world is change‘- India Arie

In the past few weeks, it hasn’t been the easiest of times. My anxiety has come back on some days, leaving me feeling pretty low and unable to do certain tasks. However, as each day passes it is slowly improving and I am looking towards the future, both in my life and career.

I am making the transition again to being self employed. For me, this is difficult to blog about- but as we look towards the Jewish New Year, I am holding on to hope.

Hope that all will improve.

Hope that good things are on their way.

Hope that the light is coming back again.

My book will be published in just over a month’s time and I am so excited to hold the paperback in my hands! Thank you everyone who pre ordered the book and made it into a best seller.

I am grateful for every blessing that has come my way. I also have more writing projects planned, stay tuned for further details :). I know it all will lead to good in the end.

I’m currently looking into therapy and further support- EMDR therapy if possible, which helps to process trauma through rapid eye movements and images.

Everything will work out for the good, just some days it is hard to see. A note to self: keep positive and keep going. Good, happiness and dreams are on it’s way even if temporarily hidden.