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

How to keep your loved one’s memory alive after their passing: Guest blog by Nat Juchems

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The passing of a loved one is one of the hardest things most of us will have to go through. A huge element of the grief you feel is attributed to the worry that your late friend or family member will no longer exist in your life. 

The fear of losing the connection you once shared is a devastating prospect. But in reality, you simply need to realize that the power to keep your loved one’s memory alive is in your hands.

Although they may no longer be here physically, their legacy and your connection with them can live on. To a certain extent, letting your loved one go and acknowledging their passing is healthy but so is allowing yourself to remember and maintain a connection with them.

Creating a special way for you and others to remember your loved one member can go a long way to helping cope with grief. While it may be too painful to think about being proactive about keeping their memory alive in the immediate days and weeks following their death, when you’re ready, these ideas will help.

 

  1.     Include them in special occasions

After the death of a loved one, special occasions sometimes just don’t feel the same. You often feel the sense that someone is missing. In reality, they are missing and you don’t need to pretend that they are not. Instead, acknowledge their absence by making an effort to include them in celebrations like Christmas and Thanksgiving.

Creating a new tradition in their honour is a great way to do this. For example, if your late loved one liked to jog, go for a family jog on Christmas morning. Alternatively, you can visit your loved ones’ memorial as part of your celebrations.

The key here is to remember that you are including them, rather than dwelling on missing them. The first time, it will likely be harder than any subsequent occasions, but in time you will be able to do this with positivity in your heart, rather than extreme sorrow.

 

  1.     Celebrate their birthday

One surefire way to help keep your loved one’s memory alive is to celebrate their birthday. Unlike certain other events, their birthday is the one day of the year that is a celebration of them, and only them. You don’t need to throw a party but doing something small, like having an intimate dinner or buying a birthday cake and singing happy birthday as a family can really create a wonderful sense of remembrance.

 

  1.     Continue doing the things you loved together

So many people simply stop doing things that they used to do with their loved one, but it’s so important that you continue. If your loved one was still here, they would likely still be doing it. By carrying on for them, you help them live on through you. Not only that, doing this acts as a way to soothe your soul and help with your own grief; many happy memories will come up, reminding you of times you did the activity together.

 

  1.     Set up a memorial

Realistically, the very foundation of keeping your loved one’s memory alive relies upon you actually remembering them. Now, that’s not to say that you would ever forget them, but as time passes, you may forget to remember them. As unlikely as that may seem now, the frequency of flashes of them in your mind decreases with the passing years. By creating a permanent memorial to them, you will always have somewhere to go, to celebrate them, to remember them.

Your memorial site doesn’t necessarily need to be in the place where they were laid to rest, you can set up a special area in your home or even plant a tree in your garden. If your loved one was cremated, you can give a cremation urn pride of place within your memorial, or you can simply include their picture and other personal items.

 

  1.     Embrace their passions

One of the best ways to immortalize your loved one is to continue their passions or projects for them. If they were a volunteer, you could start to volunteer. If they loved the theatre, you could take some theatre classes. If they wanted to visit a certain destination, you could take a family vacation to that location. These gestures don’t have to be grand, but by acknowledging their passions and taking action to continue them to some extent in their honor, you will be actively creating a powerful way to help them live on.

Losing a loved one is never easy but keeping their memory alive can give you some semblance of peace. While it may feel that simply remembering pales in comparison to actually having them with you, it is vital that you don’t remain in that negative mindset. Grief manifests in a number of different ways and the ‘stages’ vary in length and intensity for each of us. Just remember, when you’re ready, the best way to remember them is to do the things which honor their memory and keep them alive within your heart. 

 

Nat Juchems is the Marketing Director at Green Meadow Memorials, Nat helps those grieving the loss of a loved find the right memorial to cherish.

Before becoming the Marketing Director at Green Meadow Memorials, Nat worked for six years in the memorials ecommerce industry as a Marketing Director and Ecommerce Director, using his skill set to manage powerful paid search and organic search campaigns as well as implement merchandising strategies and manage the software development teams that made everything work.

Dealing with Loss: Losing Grandma

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(image of Lady of Shalott Roses : Pinterest)

This blog post is really hard for me to write.

Many of you know, that my beloved Grandma passed away last week after a long battle with Parkinsons disease and dementia. Both are horrible conditions and it was very difficult to see her suffering.

I am happy that she is free from the severe symptoms she experienced. Grandma was bedbound for over a year and her mind was taken over by the dementia too.

I have such wonderful memories of my Grandma- she was kind, caring, loving, beautiful, glamourous, with a huge heart. She gave so much love to her friends and family and to us grandchildren. She believed in us, motivated us and was a second mother.

I know part of her will always lie within me.

We are Jewish and have just come out of the week of mourning. This is called shiva and friends and family come to support the family.

It was very helpful but I still can’t believe shes not here any more. Grandma was a light in my world and I will always, always miss her. The only comfort is that she is at peace and has relief from suffering.

The above picture is of the Lady of Shalott rose. The poem by Tennyson-  The Lady of Shalott- was one of my Grandmas favourites that we read to her in hospital. I am named after my Grandmas Mum, Rose. Our family found these Lady of Shalott roses at Kenwood, when they got up from their week of mourning during a walk there- a special and comforting sign.

I will love my Grandma always and I know she will be there with me on my wedding day next year. I take comfort from the fact she knew I was happy and settled and my last conversation with her was about my engagement.

We are still grieving for her. It takes time. We are trying to be there for my Grandpa too- they were married for 66 years.

Grandma- I will love you always and forever. You will be in my heart and never forgotten.