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

Talking for the Jami Mental Health Awareness Shabbat 2020 by Eleanor

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As some of you will be aware, back in 2017-2018, I helped as a volunteer with fellow volunteers (Lisa Coffman and others) to found the Mental Health Awareness Shabbat (Jewish sabbath) in our communities across the country here in the UK. The initiative, led by the mental health charity Jami and conceived by Rabbi Daniel Epstein, now runs in 150 Jewish communities.

This year, my dad Mike and I were delighted to be asked to share our father and daughter journey with bipolar disorder to Chigwell and Hainault Synagogue.

I have social anxiety- which includes at times a fear of public speaking. In December, I had a breakthrough, where I spoke for a short time at a conference called Limmud alongside my Dad and read from my book Bring me to Light. So, when we were asked to do this talk at Chigwell, I felt it could be possible.

I armed myself with the fact that I knew kind people in the community including the Rabbi and his wife and friends of my husband Rob (its the community he grew up in). I also wanted to share my story to help other people.

So, we stayed with a lovely lady in the community and had friday night dinner with the Rabbi and his family. On Saturday morning, I woke up feeling a little nervous but took my trusted anxiety medication for when I need it- Propranolol, and walked to the synagogue with Dad.

I managed not to have a panic attack and the thought of speaking to help others got me through (as did distraction, deep breathing and drinking a glass of water).

So, at the end of the service, we were called up to speak. Dad went first and talked about his journey with bipolar disorder from when it started for him in 1991 to finding recovery. Then, it was my turn.

I stood up there in the pulpit speaking to a packed audience with a prepared speech. I felt scared but also empowered and began to relax into the talk. I knew that by sharing what happened to me, being sectioned and so ill and talking openly, that I could break stigma and touch others. I was also so proud of my Dad for speaking so openly.

It was only after, when talking to people after the service, that we realised that about 150 people came to listen to our talk! We had some important conversations with people after our talk including someone very newly diagnosed and someone else whose niece had bipolar and is currently very ill.

I couldn’t and still can’t believe I was able to do that. However, since I have been very tired so trying to de-stress and rest as much as I can!

We just want to thank everyone who came to hear our talk and supported us, to every person who thanked us for coming and shared their stories with us. We are so grateful for such a positive reception and thank Rabbi Davis and the Chigwell community for having us.

The Mental Health Awareness Shabbat has had events in communities all across the country. It runs yearly and you can find out more here