Wednesday 26 June 2019

Smear Tests - My Experience

(TW: details of a medical test)

I've been thinking about writing this blog post about my experience having a smear test. It is mostly targeted at people who are having/thinking about having their first test and they're not completely sure what to expect. There's information online about smear tests (aka Cervical Screening), on websites such as the NHS website. These tell you what one is, what it tests for, what will happen, when the results will come through, and what each result means. I do not feel by any means this blog post is something to read instead, but I find personal accounts of these tests can be a good supplement to "official" information. Some of what I say will be similar to the information on websites such as the NHS, but I hope to give more of a personal touch to my account.

(Disclaimer: My experience is by no means a universal one, and I do not want to insinuate that it is. People having a smear test may have very different needs to myself, for example, due to disability. Although I am disabled, my physical difficulties do not prevent me from getting onto the couch, in the examination room, unaided. I also use the term "people" rather than "women" as there are many genders where the person may have a cervix, and I would like to be as inclusive as possible.)

Yesterday was the second time in about 6 years that I have had a smear test/cervical screening. I had finished my period the week before, but was finding that I still had pains particularly round my cervix area. It was not debilitating, but was painful enough that it stopped me in my tracks for a minute or so. Because of this, I was nervous about the test and what it might find. I'm also very self conscious about my body, so was very aware of myself when undressing my bottom half.

I only had to wait a few minutes, before being called through by the nurse. She was someone I had seen (for other reasons) a few times before, so that put me more at ease. She asked me how I'd been recently, so I mentioned the throbbing cervix pain. I found that I played it down a bit (by saying it only happened now and again) possibly due to nerves. She took note of what I said, took me seriously, and was compassionate.

She also asked me some questions about my period ( the approximate date my latest one finished, whether it was regular, how heavy the bleeding was, how bad pains were etc) as well as the contraceptive pill I was on, any side effects etc. I told her I've been on Microgynon for a while, I had no side effects, and on this pill my periods are regular and usually not too heavy. My period pain is bad, but not agonising.

The nurse explained what would happen next. I was asked to undress my bottom half, lie down on the couch, bend my knees up then out; putting the soles of my feet together. I found little difficulty with getting onto the couch, as it was at a comfortable level (around hip level). I told her my hips might sublux in this position, as they are very hypermobile, but thankfully they stayed in place. She then explained what she would do next, before inserting a speculum into my vagina and opening it slowly, in order to gain access to my cervix.

It turned out that my cervix was higher up than normal, so a longer speculum was needed. (but the nurse reassured me this was nothing to worry about). She inserted the longer speculum (after removing the shorter one of course!) before opening it and inserting a thin instrument to take a sample from around my cervix. Due to my concerns about the pain I'd experienced after my period had finished, she took a larger sample than usual. She wanted to ensure that there was enough of a sample for thorough testing, to be on the safe side.

She told me that the outer and inner parts of my vagina did not look red or sore, and she wasn't concerned about them right now, but we'd see how the results are.

I found this second test much less uncomfortable than the first test I'd had. The thing I noticed most was the insertion of the speculum. I could feel the sample being taken, but it was barely uncomfortable at all, only lasted a few seconds, and I felt no pain.

Throughout the test, the nurse checked I was feeling alright, and she explained everything she was doing. I felt very at ease to be honest. The test itself only took about 5 minutes, and the nurse checked I was alright and didn't have any concerns or questions afterwards. I was quite dizzy after standing up from lying down, so I sat down to dress, but other than that, I was ok. She also told me that there may be some light bleeding and/or mild stomach pain later that day. The results of the test will be sent to me in about 4 weeks' time. Lastly, she said that if I had any abnormal heavy bleeding, or severe pain around my stomach, vaginal etc areas, to contact the surgery straight away.

I found my experience of this test, a very positive one, with a considerate nurse. I do hope your test, (whether it's your first one or your 10th one!) goes just as well.

Tuesday 18 June 2019

"It's a Process" : Counselling Session 7

(TW: Suicide mention, sexual assault details)

I've been extremely depressed this week, to the point of having suicidal thoughts again. Usually, the Sertraline helps calm these thoughts and urges (I'm on the highest dose, so it should be bloody doing something!), but recently, they have managed to break through. I know that there is about a 90% chance I won't actually attempt, but that's because my cat, Billie, is my safety net. He sees me as his mother, and he relies on me all of the time, so I need to be around to take care of him. In that sense, it doesn't matter how much I want to end my life, that option is not available to me.

As well as this, I told my counsellor about what happened at the pharmacy. (You can read about that here , if you want to.)

I told her how the feelings and thoughts, as well as the reactions I had were almost identical to the time I was sexually assaulted at the bus station. It was as if I was having a flashback. I knew that I was in the pharmacy, but I was taken right back to the bus station; having all the alarm-bells-ringing thoughts and feeling like everyone could see what was going on, but no one was doing anything. I felt like I was completely alone and cornered by this strange man. I felt like he could do whatever he wanted to me and I couldn't do anything about it, because I didn't feel strong enough to shout at him etc. All I could do was freeze, or flinch away, and hope the whole thing ended ASAP.

My counsellor wondered whether I could link my reactions etc to the abusive relationship I was in. After some thinking, I said I probably could. The sort of running theme was being connected with a man who felt he had some sort of ownership over my body. The abusive partner was a virgin before he met me, and he basically said that I was obligated to do things for him that he'd never experienced before. As if I was less of a person, and more of an object to fulfil his desires and need to learn about different sexual experiences. When a man treats me in this way, it makes me feel less like a person; as if my identity is either non-existent or doesn't matter to anyone (least of all, him).

I wonder whether my counsellor feels I have PTSD, as I have had traumatic things happen in my life, and the hypervigilance and flashbacks I have are very similar symptoms to what a person with PTSD would have. She asked me to talk more about the hypervigilance and flashbacks too. She seemed interested in learning more about my experiences. In our first session, she did say what I went through sounded like Post Traumatic Stress as well. Whether I pursue the diagnosis or not, I'm just not sure. Unless I can get NHS funded treatment, just having the label doesn't seem that helpful.

We then got onto the topic of identity, and how my mental health and disability blogging and advocacy, had become part of my identity. That isn't a problem in itself, it's just that my online identity, where most of my friends are, only tends to show part of me and my interests. I have occasionally let my friends and followers know about the other interests I have (gaming, cross stitch, singing, keyboard, guitar, flute, metal music, rare nights out, gigs etc) but I don't make them very apparent. I do find myself wondering how well my online friends know me as a whole person. I often see conversations between friends, about their favourite band, film, TV show, game etc and I wonder whether they know mine? I do mention things like Sims 3 (my favourite game), or share posts to do with cute animals or gothic clothing. I told my counsellor that I feel there's a lot to me, just like everyone else, but it's like I've not given myself the opportunity to express other parts of my personality, interests, and hobbies. I worry about losing part of my identity, and I am desperate to grab opportunities to express those parts. Blogging and advocacy are very important to me, but my other interests have their place too. If I spent all my time focusing on the lack of access for disabled people, in many areas of life, and the discrimination faced by people with disabilities, mental health problems etc, I don't think I would ever be happy. Regardless, I still think I don't advocate for my fellow disabled and mentally ill people enough. I want to be stronger, more assertive, more resilient against critical/abusive comments online.

I told my counsellor that I struggled to move forward in life, because of my mental and physical illnesses. I doubt myself, and I struggle to believe in my own abilities and talents. I never say "I play guitar", I say "I play guitar very badly". I still do need to improve my playing a hell of a lot, but I am still able to play, and I shouldn't put a negative spin on things.

I guess that's what Depression and Anxiety particularly do. They make you doubt yourself as a person, as well as the things you do. They enhance your perception of your faults, and minimise your perception of your abilities. It's very hard to fight against all the negative thoughts that tell you that you're failing, or not being good enough.

I'm so fed up of myself and my situation, and I want to do everything in my control to improve.

I asked my counsellor how I could move forward. I told her I was stuck, analysing my problems to a certain degree but not knowing what to do next. I told her what I tended to do in therapy, counselling etc is give the therapist as much information about me as possible, in the hopes they can take that, analyse it, and tell me what steps I need to take to feel better. My counsellor and I agreed that it's not as simple as that. She said that if she did that, and the steps I took didn't work, I'd never be able to trust her again, and the therapeutic relationship would break down.

She told me that therapy/counselling is a process. Throughout the sessions we do what we can to recognise my problems, link them to other things that've happened in my life, make connections, and then hopefully I will go away and think about these things, then come up with ideas for ways I feel ready to move forward. In a nutshell, the counsellor can't give me all the answers and steps to take, all she can do is help me to help myself.

I think these counselling sessions are making me think about the whole process in a different way. I know I'm still searching for answers, but I can't expect the counsellor/therapist/CPN/whoever to find them for me. I need to be patient with myself, and focus on my progress as well as my struggles. I can only be guided.

I'm still not entirely sure how to move forward (apart from joining a choir, or other class relevant to my interests) but I'm gathering information about myself, with the help of my counsellor. I did feel a little better when I came out of my counselling session though. I may not be able to completely control my health, but maybe I can shift my focus or include my interests a bit more, in order to improve my quality of life? I think my counsellor wants me to live in the moment, rather than worrying about the future (whether I'll get married, have children, work again etc) all the time.

My next session is in a couple of weeks, but I will try to write a different post in the meantime, so watch this space!

(I've also set up a Ko-fi page, as I'm needing money for disability based things. One big thing I need is private trauma therapy. If you like my writing and want to read more, please consider donating and I will try to write more often)


Counselling Session 6:

Symptoms of PTSD:

Amy's Ko-fi page

Friday 14 June 2019

Judgement and Entitlement: Counselling Session 6

(TW sexual assault)

My Depression wasn't as bad this week, but my Anxiety was pretty bad. I think this was due to some arguments my parents had been having, about moving house. We haven't found anywhere yet, but Mum doesn't feel ready. Unfortunately, Dad wants to move as soon as possible. Because of this, they argue whenever the topic arises.

I really hate arguments. They make me panic, and sometimes dissociate. When I was very young, I used to worry that my parents would divorce and I would be made to live some time in one house, and some time in another. I also used to worry about how they would be able to afford a place to live each. Nowadays, I know that they have a strong relationship and only argue as much as any other married couple would.

Raised voices make me panic too, and I'm not entirely sure why. If I remember correctly, I was shouted at my bullies, but that didn't affect me as much as being jeered at, judged, left out of play, humiliated etc. My abusive ex used to shout too, but again, that wasn't the worst thing about the things he did.

Apart from this, I had been (and still am) feeling very emotional. It's not taken much to make me cry, and things have overwhelmed me far too easily. Because of this, I've found it hard to concentrate and the only thing I've been able to focus on at least a little, is watching the "Chernobyl" series on Now TV.

We then went back to talking about my abusive ex, as well as times I have been sexually assaulted by other men. It has happened a few times, but I've not reported it for various reasons (being drunk, feeling like I led someone on etc). It has really affected my ability to trust most men. If they act in a flirty way towards me, and I don't feel attracted to them, I become hypervigilant but will find it hard to make it clear to them that I do not want anything apart from friendship. I will avoid them if they persist. Men who do not get the message make me feel unsafe. It feels as if they have no regard for consent, and will do what they want. It has even gone so far as to feel as if they feel they have ownership over women's (or people they perceive to be women, I am non binary for instance) bodies.

From there, I don't remember how we got onto this topic, but we discussed society's judgement of people who cannot work; specifically due to chronic illness/disability. I still feel as if society judges me for not working, and for claiming sickness and disability benefits. I also feel they judge how disabled or sick I really am. I get so scared about being contradictory, having a fluctuating illness, and being able to prove my disabilities.

I have said in previous blogs, and I explained to my counsellor how I think about my inability to work. I try to think of the least amount I could manage in a workplace, and the least taxing job I've had in the past. I struggle to sit up for long, concentration is a big problem, pain and fatigue (as well as dizziness when sitting for a while) affect my productivity, and I would be in agony by the end of even a part time shift working at a desk.

My illnesses fluctuate but even on my best days, I simply could not be productive throughout a shift, even with some breaks. I would have many days where I could not get to work either, because of being too exhausted, in pain, or nauseous even. I would have to call in sick so many times that I would lose my job within months. I know this because this has happened even when my illnesses weren't so bad.

And that's not to even mention my mental health problems. The OCD that makes me feel the need to control everything, know what people are thinking and gain reassurance constantly, so I can be prepared, coupled with the Generalised Anxiety that makes me worry about everything, and fixate on things to such an amount that I cannot focus on anything else, finally, the Depression and BPD that affect my moods vastly, that zap my motivation and either slow me right down, or make me so agitated I cannot concentrate.

Even in my blog posts, I feel the need to justify why I am not working. People may assume I do nothing with my day, but that is not true. I try to socialise, clean when I'm able, bake on very rare occasions. The rest of the time, I am managing my illnesses. Managing chronic physical and mental illnesses is a full time job. You have to balance exerting yourself, with resting. You have to pace everything you do. If you move too much, it flares up various symptoms. If you don't move enough, your joints stiffen and your mood is affected. You have to do something each day to feel some sense of purpose and achievement, but not put too much pressure on yourself as it will make you feel mentally and physically drained and overwhelmed. You have to try and attend every appointment, ordering prescriptions, collecting prescriptions, chasing up test results etc. It's a lot to cope with!

This counselling session didn't include an exercise. It just involved a lot of chatting and venting. My brainfog kicked in unfortunately, and I had to keep stopping to remember what I was talking about/what my point was. I became very dizzy and fatigued towards the end too. My counsellor had to get me a glass of water, and let me rest for a few minutes before continuing. Even talking can be exhausting and overwhelming!

After my session, I had to go and collect a prescription. In the pharmacy, I'd just queued up when I felt a breeze on the back of my neck. I turned round, then felt a hand on my shoulder. It was a creepy old man who was standing far too close. He apologised for accidentally blowing on my neck. He continued to touch my shoulder while saying he could see my ponytail moving in the breeze. I forgave him, smiled politely, then stepped away. I flinched until he let go of my shoulder, but he continued to stand far too close for a while, before sitting by the consultation room and staring at me. I got a really bad vibe from this man, and I actually got a flashback to a time when I was sexually assaulted by a strange middle-aged man in the bus station. I had been sitting, waiting for a bus, when I noticed this man staring at me as he approached me. He sat down next to me and told me to give him a hug. I was scared of what he'd do if I said no, so I gave him a quick hug, then tried to ignore him. He then put his hand on my leg as he told me his name was Everton and he was going to Stourbridge. I flinched away when his hand starting moving up my leg. He eventually went away, but the next day, I saw him in town. He commented on me being "sexy" and this sent a shiver down my spine. I didn't want to see him ever again.

The main points of this post are about society feeling entitled to do some things, and judgemental of people who don't do certain things (primarily, working). Consent needs to be respected much more in my opinion. It is so important and can mean the difference between someone trusting you or never again.