Thursday, 15 October 2020

My Experiences with Borderline Personality Disorder

(Disclaimer: The information given here is mainly about my own experiences of Borderline Personality Disorder. The ways I act, react and feel are not necessarily universal to all people with BPD and this should not be used as medical advice or a replacement for formal assessment. If you feel you have any symptoms such as mine, and especially if you have been self harming or suicidal, I urge you to contact your GP as soon as you can. Please let someone know how you feel. You deserve to get help.)

(TRIGGER WARNING: Mentions of Poor mental health treatment, Stigma against BPD, Self harm, Suicide, Alcohol and Sexual behaviour)


It was World Mental Health Day a few days ago. A day where I always feel the obligation, as a person with multiple mental illnesses, to do something such as write a blog post. I try to vary the specific subjects such as talking about one of my illnesses, how I cope with various ones, and/or the importance of awareness days, as well as supporting people every day.

Unfortunately life got in the way this time (doesn't it always?!) and I didn't manage to write my blog post in time. Mental illness happens every day though, not just on awareness days, so any day is a good day to raise awareness, talk about the importance of support, reaching in as well as out, having appropriate services for anyone who needs them etc.

Today I want to talk about a mental health diagnosis I have that is often misunderstood and stigmatised; Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Let's start with the diagnostic criteria:

The following is found on the NHS website:

Assessment

Internationally recognised criteria are used to diagnose BPD. A diagnosis can usually be made if you answer "yes" to 5 or more of the following questions:

  • Do you have an intense fear of being left alone, which causes you to act in ways that, on reflection, seem out of the ordinary or extreme, such as constantly phoning somebody (but not including self-harming or suicidal behaviour)?
  • Do you have a pattern of intense and unstable relationships with other people that switch between thinking you love that person and they're wonderful to hating that person and thinking they're terrible?
  • Do you ever feel you do not have a strong sense of your own self and are unclear about your self-image?
  • Do you engage in impulsive activities in 2 areas that are potentially damaging, such as unsafe sex, drug misuse or reckless spending (but not including self-harming or suicidal behaviour)?
  • Have you made repeated suicide threats or attempts in your past and engaged in self-harming?
  • Do you have severe mood swings, such as feeling intensely depressed, anxious or irritable, which last from a few hours to a few days?
  • Do you have long-term feelings of emptiness and loneliness?
  • Do you have sudden and intense feelings of anger and aggression, and often find it difficult to control your anger?
  • When you find yourself in stressful situations, do you have feelings of paranoia, or do you feel like you're disconnected from the world or from your own body, thoughts and behaviour?
As well as talking about what BPD is, how it is diagnosed and treated etc, I want to speak about my experience of living with it. I have had symptoms of BPD for as long as I can remember, but I have been formally diagnosed since 2017. I have various mental illnesses, whose symptoms overlap, but the ones I think I can attribute to Borderline Personality Disorder are explained below:

  • I am terrified of being alone, as well as rejection. I have practically begged bullies to stay "friends" with me so that they wouldn't take away my real friends and leave me without anyone. I have constantly phoned a partner when they hadn't spoken to me for a few days, to find out why, in the hope I could convince them to not dump me. (It didn't work). I go through regular phases of reassurance seeking which I'm sure annoys my friends, no matter how kindly they respond. No matter how many times I try to get reassurance that my friends won't leave me however, I can never reassure myself. I go round in circles with this. I admit I have checked a partner's messages too,  to make sure they hadn't found someone else. I also wanted to find out what they "really" thought of me. What I found out upset me a lot, but honestly I should've just spoken to my partner. Communication is so important! There are probably more examples of seeking reassurance, avoiding rejection/perceived rejection etc but I think I've said enough on that subject.

  • In the past, I have gone from relationship to relationship, with not much of a break between them. I just couldn't bear being alone and single. A lot of the relationships I've been in have been pretty intense and unstable; not always through my fault though. I have been in at least one definitely abusive relationship, and although I made mistakes myself, I would never blame myself for how they treated me. Other relationships have involved love, marriage, and children being mentioned very quickly; burning out almost as soon as they began. I have also mistaken having feelings for someone, for being deeply in love with them. I have made everything about them and believed we had a future, even when it is pretty clear they didn't feel anywhere near the same way. 

  • I still don't know what kind of person I am. I can say that I believe I am kind, passionate, and determined, but even then, I doubt that. I always rely on other people to prove they know me, and to tell me what kind of person I am, what makes me "me", what I'm good at, what my trademark is etc. Any comments about my character, I feel deeply. Good and bad. I'm more likely to believe the bad ones of course, but that's not necessarily a BPD thing. My unstable sense of self can even get so rocky that I literally don't recognise my own reflection in the mirror. The person in the mirror could be anyone, but I do not feel they are me. I have days where I feel attractive, and days where I feel extremely ugly. Nothing has physically changed, only my moods. Again, not necessarily a BPD thing, but it's worth mentioning as a mental health thing. I would love to truly know who I am, and I often feel lost and not grounded because I don't know.

  • As for impulsive activities, I do engage in some, but not as many as I used to. At university in particular, I would engage in risky sexual behaviour. The only way I can explain why, is to say that I had very low self esteem, I often felt alone and unwanted, and that one night with someone I barely knew would make me feel wanted, if only for a few minutes. I would always feel guilty and ashamed afterwards, but I try not to now. As well as this, I am prone to drinking impulsively. It is a coping mechanism and although I know it is unlikely to lift my mood when I am particularly depressed, it feels like a good idea at the time! I drank a lot in my later teens and 20's. It was something I'd do to celebrate, commiserate, destress, forget, or just cope. It was binge drinking and thankfully I don't do it nearly as much now. It didn't help and I could've damaged myself. Right now, I don't self harm much, but I do still do it impulsively. A bad day, a bad comment, a low mood, a stressed mood, agitation, too many thought, too many mood swings. It doesn't take much. These are some of the most potentially dangerous impulses I have/had, but there are others that would take all day to talk about. 

  •   I am suicidal. I'd say passively nowadays (thanks to good antidepressants and mood stabilizers), but I have had plans, and almost-attempts in the past. I have made "threats" too, although I do not like the term. It feeds into the stigma (which I will explain below). As in the previous post, I self harm occasionally too (it used to be every day though). 

  • I used to have very severe mood swings, but thanks, again, to mood stabilizers, these are not so bad now. These mood swings can go on for hours, days, maybe even a week. They are very hard to cope with and when my moods are particularly high, I am scared about the comedown. Sometimes I can very rapidly go from deeply depressed, to anxious, angry, and hyper, then back down again. Sometimes I feel all these at once. For me, that is the worst and is often when I will feel more suicidal or self harm badly.

  • I feel very lonely and empty on a regular basis. Most of the time, this is how I feel when I'm not having mood swings. When I feel empty, I find it hard to respond to the question "how are you?". Sometimes I even think I'm doing ok, when I'm really not. 

  • I can feel intensely angry, but not very often. I act in rather than out too (punishing myself rather than lashing out at others). I can have kneejerk reactions to things but find it hard to express myself. Sometimes I will act without thinking but thankfully that has not involved me doing anything physical as a result. 

  • In stressful situations I often dissociate. This involves feeling as if nothing is real. I might not feel as if I am in my own body, or even that I am real. It can last from a few minutes to a few hours. The stressful day, or moment can go by like a blur and I'm often not sure of what I said during that time. I may have lashed out verbally, or had a big panic attack, and I just don't remember the details. There are a couple of times I can think of. One time, I was on holiday with a partner. He was threatened by someone in a bar. I knew I was shouting and swearing at this person but I honestly cannot remember what I said. I burst into tears and was shaking afterwards. Another time, I was at a Work Programme induction, where I was taken into a group session without my prior knowledge. At the time I found group situations terrifying and extremely stressful. I know I spoke over the person leading the session, and apparently had a panic attack that was severe enough for me to be led out of the room. I know I spent the rest of the session signing some documents a work advisor put in front of me. I couldn't even tell you at the time what they were about though. I managed to sign them but I didn't read them and it was as if I was on autopilot. I often found Work Programme appointments very stressful and if I wasn't dissociating, I was paranoid. I used to believe any unfamiliar car or van outside my drive was a government official spying on me. If a stranger looked at me for a few seconds longer than "normal", I would believe they were spying on me too. I still find myself getting paranoid about various things, but I am a little better at calming myself down. I can ground myself a little more effectively too.

Treatment

I feel like all these symptoms are a lot to cope with. I have been at crisis point on multiple occasions and you'd be forgiven for thinking I had somewhere to turn when things become too much. Unfortunately, a common misconception about BPD is that people with it are too reliant on services, so mental health teams often discharge us before we are ready. It is very hard to convince someone you need help, especially when you are in a distressed state. It can look like over-reliance even when you truly need that help because you are in crisis. If you look at some of my previous posts, you will know that I have been assessed multiple times by the Access (Crisis) team and Community Mental Health team, and discharged straight after, or after a few sessions of help, even when I clearly wasn't ready. I believe it would take something drastic before I would have any intense help. Due to lack of funding and resources, however, I don't think I will ever get enough appropriate help.

According to NICE, therapy for BPD may include Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) if self harm is a particular issue. Brief psychological interventions (less than 3 months) are not recommended specifically for BPD either. Choice of therapy should be tailored to the individual's needs. In theory, this sounds promising, but as someone who was only ever offered a few months of CBT in Primary Care, and 4 sessions each of Distress Tolerance, and Self Compassion Therapy, in practice the needs of an individual with BPD are not always met. I think it mainly depends on how much knowledge your healthcare professionals have of this condition, and what sort of resources are actually available in your local Mental Health Team (be that Primary Care / IAPT or Community Mental Health Team/Secondary Care). 

Medication

In my experience, various mental health professionals have said that, with BPD, medication rarely helps and certainly isn't the be all and end all of treatment. It can help though, and does have a place in treatment. For me, Duloxetine helps the depressive moods I have, and Aripiprazole helps my mood swings. It allows me to get to a level of mental wellbeing where I am able to actually engage with therapy. Without medication, I would simply be too unstable and suicidal to accept any help. This might sound drastic too, but I do believe I would be dead without mental health medication.

Myths

There are various myths about people with Borderline Personality Disorder. A big one is that we are seen as manipulative. The truth though, is that we struggle to reassure ourselves that people actually want to spend time with us. We are scared of being rejected and sometimes we will do seemingly drastic things to gain that reassurance. 

We are seen as "threatening" self harm and suicide too. Actually, many of us are suicidal and do self harm but we do not do this/talk about this as a threat. We may in fact be asking for help and trying to be honest about how ill we are. People often misconstrue this though, especially when we have the BPD label. 

Also, we are said to be over-reliant on mental health services. That is not necessarily true though, and certainly isn't a particular symptom of BPD. We ask for help because we need that help. Mental illness is invisible too. Someone can seem fine on the outside, when they desperately need assistance. It can take presenting with physical injury for a mental illness to be taken seriously. Even then, the person may just be patched up in A&E then sent on their way with little to no aftercare. Last time I overdosed, I had to specifically ask to be seen by the Psychiatry Liaison team. I feel I've had to fight and almost beg for any scrap of help I've received. 

You can read about other myths here but I would advise avoiding this, or at least being careful not to overload yourself if you find these triggering at all. I am careful to only go on the myth-busting sites, rather than exposing myself to places with very upsetting misinformation. 


How Do I Cope?

I do have some unhealthy coping mechanisms, which I certainly wouldn't recommend, but I am learning healthy coping mechanisms too, and trying to replace the not-so-healthy ones.

For me, talking to trusted friends and family helps, but being in therapy can give me space to vent my feelings without judgment or fear of a loved one's reaction. It all depends what you feel ready for but in my experience, bottling it all up is a very bad idea

Having distractions can help with coping too. Gaming, cross stitch, going for a short walk (only when not in an unstable, suicidal place in my head though), studying short courses, reading, watching an episode of something or even a short Youtube video can help. I find I get overloaded very easily, and that can lead to major stress and self harm. I may manage a film, but when it seems too long or too involving, a few simple funny or cute Youtube videos will at least get me through some of the day.

If I'm particularly agitated, keeping my hands busy can help calm me down or at least channel some of my frustration. I am a lover of baking, and focusing on a task such as this, and creating something delicious can help me get through if not boost my mood even! The result is a tasty treat and the fact that I haven't punished myself for however many minutes or hours that particular bake takes.

When dissociating, I have learnt two things that sometimes help. 

                    1. Grounding. This involves doing simple things to reconnect myself with the outside world. It intends to remind me that the world around me, the people around me, and myself are real. It also brings me to the present time. One way of grounding myself involves focusing on one thing that stimulates each of my senses i.e. something I can see, something I can hear, something I can smell, something I can feel, and something I can taste. Even focusing on just some of these senses can ground me slightly.

                   2. Safe Place. I'm still learning and practising this one, as I find it hard to focus and take myself away from whatever stressful situation has triggered my dissociation. It involves imagining a pleasant, calm place that can either be real or something completely made up. An example could be a quiet, sandy beach. I imagine myself there at night, with no one around. Again, I can focus on my senses in order to make that place as real for me as possible. I may think about the taste of a fruity cocktail, the smell of the sea, the sound of the waves or the feel of a gentle breeze through my hair. Once I feel calmer, I can gently bring my awareness back to the present moment in the hopes that I will have stopped dissociating and feel more able to deal with the situation I am in, or simply walk away from it if that is possible. 


Conclusion

So, I am in no way a success story, and I'm definitely not looking for sympathy (well, maybe a bit if I'm having a bad day?). I simply wrote this blog post to let you know about how Borderline Personality Disorder feels for me, and how my experiences of it compare to the diagnostic criteria, recommended treatments etc. 


Resources

Diagnostic Criteria - https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/borderline-personality-disorder/diagnosis/

NICE guidelines for Borderline Personality Disorder - https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg78/chapter/1-Guidance#general-principles-for-working-with-people-with-borderline-personality-disorder

MIND Dialectical Behaviour Therapy - https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/talking-therapy-and-counselling/dialectical-behaviour-therapy-dbt/

MIND About CBT - https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/cognitive-behavioural-therapy-cbt/about-cbt/

IAPT - https://www.nhs.uk/service-search/find-a-psychological-therapies-service/

Community Mental Health Teams - https://www.derbyshirehealthcareft.nhs.uk/services/mental-health-and-emotional-wellbeing/neighbourhood-community-support/cmht-adults-working-age

Five things people get wrong about BPD - https://www.sane.org/information-stories/the-sane-blog/mythbusters/five-things-people-get-wrong-about-bpd


If you feel you need to speak to someone, after reading this blog post, I am leaving some mental health links below. Please also comment below, if you know of any other links to inclusive mental health helplines.

Samaritans: https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/contact-samaritan/?gclid=CjwKCAjw5p_8BRBUEiwAPpJO61KYfF83b5CLcYslbI7Nz2_yJ-SwSqWHR31ZLgMF0nGpFFFqDv_VDRoCN9kQAvD_BwE

Mind: https://www.mind.org.uk/about-us/contact-us/

Stonewall: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/help-and-advice

(Please be aware that a lot of these links are for listening services. The people you speak to are unlikely to be allowed to advise you, and should not replace speaking to your GP, mental health professional, or even A&E if urgent. They do have a place in mental wellbeing however, and it can be helpful to hear a friendly, compassionate voice).


Saturday, 18 July 2020

"Square Peg....Round Hole"

(TRIGGER WARNING: Medication, including dosage and overdose, mentions of self harm, suicide, trauma, hallucinations, domestic abuse, and abortion)

For many months, I've been on Citalopram for my Depression. The past month or so, I've been on 40mg (the highest dose). At first, I seemed to be doing well but, especially since trying to contact some charities to help me with my trauma from the abusive relationship I was in, I relapsed badly.

My suicidal thoughts have returned, I am being more impulsive with drinking, self harm, and taking small overdoses to help me sleep. I have not been sleeping well recently, I have had very graphic nightmares and flashbacks, and my appetite has been all over the place. Getting out of bed has been very difficult, as I am either very distressed or extremely low. Everything seems pointless.

I finally decided to speak to my GP on the phone the other day. I was due to have my mental health medication reviewed anyway, and I guess I was just expecting her to put me onto something else and book another review in a few weeks' time.

When she rang, she asked me how I'd been getting on with the higher dose of Citalopram, and how I'd been feeling recently. I explained everything, and I think I sounded quite panicky. She was very concerned, especially about the suicidal thoughts. She told me to ring the Community Mental Health Team, to see if they would see me. She also said that I would need them to refer me to a psychiatrist to see what other medication I could be put on.

I guess I didn't realise how bad things had become. I suppose I've been so used to having suicidal thoughts, but no real help for them, that I'd given up fighting for support (especially immediate support from crisis team/access team etc). I told her about my previous experiences with CMHT and how the last time I went to A&E after an overdose, I spoke to the Psychiatry Liaison Team who said that I wasn't ill in the "right way" for CMHT. My GP still insisted I rang them though, and got back to her with what they'd decided.

I was very panicky by the time I rang access/crisis team (you ring them to be triaged and referred to CMHT) but I spoke to a very nice, compassionate person. They listened to what I had to say, asked about my mental health medication (40mg Citalopram, 10mg Aripiprazole), asked me how I'd been feeling, and went through the risk assessment with me (suicidal thoughts, plans, self harm history, hallucinations etc). I also mentioned the trauma I had experienced from a medical abortion at 19 and an abusive relationship soon after. I told them I'd spoken to some LGBTQ charities to try and get support for the trauma. I'm bisexual and agender. I didn't expect to come out as agender to this person, but it sort of slipped out when I was explaining why I'd decided to contact LGBTQ charities instead of Women's Aid (the place I was signposted to by my last therapist). I was quite worried that I'd come out so suddenly. In the past, I had come out as agender to a therapist/nurse who then proceeded to deliberately call me a "lady" multiple times. This set off my gender dysphoria, and I didn't feel mental health services would understand me being non binary.

The person on the phone acknowledged my gender (although I'm not sure if they understood or believed me). They then asked about my daily functioning, and whether my symptoms had affected that. I told them about the nightmares, flashbacks, lack of sleep due to feeling unsafe, distressed, and having a lot on my mind. My appetite has been quite bad recently too. I've eaten, but I haven't been very interested in it. Again, everything feels pointless. I'm extremely stressed about the future too. I'm on ESA and PIP (sickness and disability benefits) and at the age of 30, I really want to move on with my life and rent a place of my own. I would have to get a job if I am to afford it though. I really do want to get a job, but I'm not sure how I would manage it physically or mentally. If I can't move on with my life though, do I want a life at all?

The person asked a few more questions then told me they would speak to one of their colleagues and get back to me with their decision at lunchtime. They called soon after lunch and told me that they want me to have a telephone appointment with a CPN (mental health nurse). We booked the appointment, then they told me that I should ring anytime if I need them urgently. I thanked them for their time and for how kind they'd been.

Since then, I've been looking forward to the appointment, in a way. It's at least a crumb of support from mental health services, and for me to be referred for assessment at least means they feel my symptoms are complex and serious enough. My previous experiences of being assessed then discharged are making me pessimistic about it though. I remember the A&E Psychiatry Liaison Team trying to explain to me why I never seemed to be taken on by CMHT. They described me as a "square peg" and CMHT as a "round hole". I didn't fully understand why that was the case though.

What makes me so different as to not being right for CMHT? I have a history of self harm and suicidal thoughts (plans even, sometimes). I've suffered multiple trauma. I have experienced hypomania on rare occasions. Very very rarely I have had visual hallucinations (usually after an antidepressant overdose). I do not have psychosis, so I understand why I wouldn't fit the criteria for some of the CMHT pathways, but there's at least one pathway that I think I do fit the description for.

The one pathway that seems to fit me is the one called the "Community Intervention Pathway". It says it "provides assessment and evidence based time limited interventions for people who have complex mental health difficulties that are significantly impacting on daily life. This would include mood disorders, anxiety disorders, trauma related conditions, and other severe emotional difficulties"

I have Depression, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These fit into various categories mentioned above and at least some of these affect my daily life significantly. I socialise rarely (especially since Covid of course), I am currently unable to work (although I want to try), my sleep and appetite are affected. I think some of my relationships with others have been affected too. I've certainly lost some friends anyway. Sometimes I freeze and dissociate, which can affect me for hours; as I'll be staring at whatever is in front of me. I'll be sort of "stuck", unable to take in conversation, or focus on anything else. When I'm very depressed or anxious, I cannot process anything that isn't to do with whatever is making me anxious or how I'm feeling when depressed.

I think my problems are complex and severe enough for intervention from Community Mental Health Team, and I know I need psychiatric input in order to sort out my medication. Past experience is making me worry that I will simply be discharged with no support whatsoever. People are telling me to be positive and "cross that bridge when I come to it". I don't want to get my hopes up though.

Resources

Amy's Mystery Illness blog: I'm a Survivor -  https://www.amysmysteryillness.co.uk/2018/07/im-survivor.html

Symptoms of PTSD: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/symptoms-of-ptsd/#:~:text=A%20flashback%20is%20a%20vivid,events%20from%20start%20to%20finish.

Rethink: What is a Community Mental Health Team? https://www.rethink.org/advice-and-information/living-with-mental-illness/treatment-and-support/community-mental-health-team-cmht/

Amy's Mystery Illness blog: A Mental Health Nightmare - https://www.amysmysteryillness.co.uk/2019/08/a-mental-health-nightmare.html

Amy's Mystery Illness blog: Am I Triggered? - https://www.amysmysteryillness.co.uk/2014/03/am-i-triggered.html

Mind Charity: About hypomania and mania - https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/hypomania-and-mania/about-hypomania-and-mania/#:~:text=What%20are%20hypomania%20and%20mania,period%20(usually%20a%20few%20days)

Mind Charity: About Psychosis - https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/psychosis/about-psychosis/

Mental Health Community Services: https://www.mpft.nhs.uk/services/mental-health-community-services

Dissociative Disorders: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/dissociative-disorders/#:~:text=Dissociation%20is%20a%20way%20the,longer%20(weeks%20or%20months).











Sunday, 24 May 2020

Trauma Focused CBT: Session Twelve

(TRIGGER WARNING: Details of early medical abortion, and mention of domestic abuse)

This was my last session with my therapist. I felt that I had come a long way, and although I still have the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnosis, my symptoms are much less severe and persistent, at least in relation to my traumatic abortion.

This session was just to check in on me really, and see how I'd been getting on. I had managed to do more tasks for facing my feared situations, and I was continuing journalling in order to monitor my moods.

One particular thing I needed to do was contact BPAS to voice my concerns about my abortion and ask their advice, or for reassurance at least. When having an early medical abortion, the process was that you would take an oral pill in clinic on your first visit, then a number (I thought 6 at the time) of vaginal pills in clinic on the second visit; in order to complete the abortion.

When looking at early medical abortion advice on the BPAS website, it said to take 4 vaginal pills in clinic, and then 2 a few hours later. I thought I'd taken all 6 at the time, so worried that there may have been complications, which then led to me worrying about potential fertility problems.

I emailed BPAS to tell them about my concerns, and a couple of days later I received a call. When I spoke to one of the BPAS managers, she put my mind at rest. She said that, as my abortion was 11 years ago, the process was slightly different. I would've only been given 4 vaginal pills back then, whereas now it is 4 to take at first, then 2 later on. She also told me that she had spoken to their medical director. She asked me a few questions about how I felt physically when having the abortion. I told her about the excruciating pain, and huge amount of blood at first. She asked if it lessened over the days and weeks I was recovering, and it had. She told me this was to be expected of a medical abortion without complications. As I had normal, regular periods nowadays too, fertility shouldn't be a problem.

We had a long chat, which was difficult and triggering in some parts but overall, I was actually glad to get it all off my chest and speak to someone in the know. She was so apologetic about the way the nurses had treated me, and assured me that training is much more stringent nowadays. Although there are very rare instances of nurses being less than kind, they are dealt with through further training and disciplinary action if needs be.

I felt surprisingly light and relieved after the conversation! It felt as if I'd had closure finally, and although my worries were not completely gone, I felt I had made massive progress and was able to cope with my PTSD over this (for the most part).

In the future, I would love to be a psychotherapist or a clinical psychologist. I would also like to help counsel people who have been through similar situations as me. I feel like I am almost ready to do that!

Back to therapy, I told my therapist about the phone call and my feelings during and after. She was so pleased to hear about the progress I had made! She asked if I felt I needed any more sessions regarding this, but I said I felt I could cope with my feelings etc about this on my own now, and had learnt enough skills for dealing with setbacks.

The next thing we spoke briefly about was the abusive relationship I'd been in. As it had happened at such a sensitive time for me (straight after the abortion in fact) it had become a double trauma, which needed dealing with. She reminded me that we had spoken last session about me contacting Women's Aid to see if they could help with counselling etc. I said I would leave it a month or two, as I felt I needed a break from therapy first. It's also the case that they are inundated with calls from domestic abuse survivors right now, who are in terrible situations (partly due to lockdown) that they need help to escape from. I do not want to take up the line with my feelings about something I am not in danger from anymore. I want to at least give a bit of time before ringing them.

My therapist recently sent me a form to fill in for my own resources, so I know what to do, who to contact etc should I have setbacks. This is very helpful because I often feel lost when in crisis, and need clear instructions.

Right now, I am doing ok though. I still have dreams and flashbacks, but I am able to distract myself most of the time. I'm trying to plan my days too, so I eat a bit better, exercise within my physical limits, and talk to friends too.

When/if I manage to get any counselling sessions with Women's Aid, I will blog about them.

Resources

NHS website: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/

Amys Mystery Illness- Am I Triggered?: https://www.amysmysteryillness.co.uk/2014/03/am-i-triggered.html

British Pregnancy Advisory Service: https://www.bpas.org/

Medical Abortion Up to 10 Weeks: https://www.bpas.org/abortion-care/abortion-treatments/the-abortion-pill/abortion-pill-up-to-10-weeks/

Amys Mystery Illness: I'm a Survivor: https://www.amysmysteryillness.co.uk/2018/07/im-survivor.html

Amys Mystery Illness- Trauma Focused CBT: Session Eleven: https://www.amysmysteryillness.co.uk/2020/04/trauma-focused-cbt-session-eleven.html

Women's Aid: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Trauma Focused CBT: Session Eleven

(TRIGGER WARNING: Description of medical abortion, pregnancy, and sexual domestic abuse)

Although my moods (mainly due to Coronavirus) have been fairly bad, my moods overall (and specific to my abortion trauma) have improved. I thought this session might be my last one.

I was very overwhelmed on the day of this phone CBT session, as I'd been catching up on my homework. The things I needed to do for this session were to watch a programme about abortion, and to look up information about the process of medical abortion.

The week before this session, I'd seen a news piece about the change in abortion laws in Northern Ireland. From what I remember, it'd been legalised but the problem was that there was a distinct lack of services that actually offered abortion treatment. A woman in the piece had to travel to England for her surgical abortion and if I remember correctly, she'd been under anaesthetic but rules meant she had to travel back home that evening. It sounded extremely distressing. I thought I'd dissociate straight away or I'd avoid the news item altogether, but I found myself fixated on it. I did dissociate afterwards, after getting quite upset. It did stay with me for the rest of that day, even when I'd grounded myself. Even though this was pretty bad though, it wasn't as bad a reaction as I expected.

The day of the session, I'd been on the BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service) website, looking through the process of medical abortion specifically (When I was 19, I had a medical abortion at 5 weeks pregnant). I did find it very upsetting and particularly triggering when looking up the physical effects of termination. It was very descriptive and brought on flashbacks of my trauma.

My scores on the PHQ-9 , GAD-7 , phobias and lifestyle effects questionnaires were a little better than the previous fortnight, so my therapist was pleased about that. I did tell her that I felt I reacted less extremely to topics of abortion too, although I still got triggered by descriptions of the physical effects. She asked if there was anything else I needed to talk about or ask that day. I explained about what happens when having a medical abortion. The first visit for the treatment itself, you take one oral pill. The second visit, you are given 6 vaginal pills to take. According to the BPAS website, you are only supposed to take 4 though (I said I think the spare 2 were for if any fell out). When I went though, I got confused and took all 6. Because of this, I was now worried that I may have caused complications and maybe that was why I was so ill/in horrendous pain so soon after treatment and for so long.

I got a bit worked up, when talking about the physical side of things. I also blamed myself a lot for doing things incorrectly. My therapist said I don't need to be so harsh on myself though. On the second day of the abortion, I had a lot of information to take in, and it was no wonder that I couldn't remember everything. It was a really distressing time for me throughout. The nurses should've been more compassionate and clearer with their instructions.

My therapist asked if there was a number I could contact BPAS from, in order to ask about what happens if I take all 6 pills instead of just the 4. Of course she couldn't give me medical advice, but maybe someone from BPAS could tell me, or signpost me to an organisation that could advise. I told her I wasn't sure if 11 years post abortion was too late to ring them, but we decided it would be worth ringing. Even if they couldn't offer me support, they most likely could signpost me to somewhere that could. 

After this discussion, my therapist asked about the abusive relationship I'd been in, after my abortion. She wanted to know whether I felt I needed help with that too. I said I reacted to storylines, information etc about it in the same way as I used to, about the abortion, so yes I did need help. I explained how the sexual abuse affected me the most, and I found that I would feel like I needed to scrub myself "clean" when thinking back to it. I reminded her that she'd told me to contact Women's Aid for support. I told her that I'd be calling them in about a month, as I felt I needed at least that much time for a break from therapy. I felt I'd be overwhelmed if I went from one form of therapy, straight to another, especially when discussing such traumatic things. She agreed that this would be a sensible idea, and that I needed time to process things, carry on with practising the skills I'd learnt etc.

At the end of this session, we booked me in for another phone session. As I had improved so much and I felt that I'd had enough therapy recently, I asked whether this could be the last or penultimate one. I explained I felt I am starting to depend less on therapy for this particular trauma, and I have improved enough to cope with the homework on my own. The therapist was fine with this, and was pleased that I felt this way.

I feel really pleased too. Not just because of improving so much, but because of how helpful and supportive my therapist has been. She has been encouraging, empowering, and has never rushed me. We have focused on my strengths as well as my struggles, and any homework etc has been discussed between us (mainly led by me to be honest) instead of her pushing me to do things I don't feel ready for. I would recommend this therapist to anyone struggling with trauma.

My homework for next session is to call BPAS and ask about the pills. At least then I won't be dwelling too much on the mistake I made in how many pills I took. It could be that it wouldn't cause any complications, but even if there was a risk, at least I'd know.


UPDATE: After reading the advice on the BPAS website again (probably with a clearer head too!) it recommends taking 4 of the 6 pills straight away, then the remaining 2 a few hours afterwards. I still don't know if taking 6 all at once would cause problems, but I will update this blog post again once I have contacted BPAS.



Resources

British Pregnancy Advisory Service: https://www.bpas.org/

Depression Test PHQ-9: https://patient.info/doctor/patient-health-questionnaire-phq-9

Generalised Anxiety Disorder Assessment: https://patient.info/doctor/generalised-anxiety-disorder-assessment-gad-7

Medical Abortion Up to 10 weeks: https://www.bpas.org/abortion-care/abortion-treatments/the-abortion-pill/abortion-pill-up-to-10-weeks/

Amy's Mystery Illness - I'm a Survivor: https://www.amysmysteryillness.co.uk/2018/07/im-survivor.html

Women's Aid: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/



Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Trauma Focused CBT: Session Ten

(TRIGGER WARNING: Covid-19, Mentions of abortion, trauma, domestic abuse, physical, psychological, and sexual abuse)

In the week leading up to this therapy appointment, a lot had happened in the news. Coronavirus became a pandemic, hundreds of people dying from the virus, places (like cafes, bars, cinemas etc) closing, people urged to stay at home unless needing supplies from the supermarket, and lockdown was looking very likely. It's a very worrying time for everyone, even without an anxiety disorder on top.

Amongst other things, I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have found these have all flared up in different ways. I worry about everything more, I'm doing my checking rituals more often, and I have these thoughts that I am unsafe and something really dangerous is about to happen to myself or my loved ones. As well as this, my flashbacks have increased.

I am coming to the end of Trauma Focused CBT for my traumatic abortion specifically. My therapist and I have come to realise that my abusive relationship with an ex brought up traumatic symptoms for me too, but this lot of therapy is nearly over so I'd have to re-refer myself or find some other therapy or counselling to help.

As for the traumatic abortion, I think my PTSD symptoms have lessened slightly (overall, I mean) but the physical pain etc from it still crops up as vivid flashbacks. I may need the odd couple of sessions to give me tools to work on my feelings about this, but I think I am coping well enough to deal with this trauma generally, and use the skills I have been taught for this.

My therapist and I did talk about the abusive relationship, and how memories of that affect me now. It was a long conversation with lots of questions about how my ex partner treated me, how I reacted, and how I feel about it now. I spoke about a few things he had said and done, that affected me badly. I know that I'm not coping well with it, I do get intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, bad dreams etc and I find it very hard to trust men who are interested in me.

This relationship started just as I'd had my abortion, and I believe I was looking for a fresh start, as well as someone to look after me and support me. (You can read more about my abusive relationship here, but I will mention a few things that he said and did.)

My ex partner was very nice and gentlemanly at first. He bought me flowers, took me to nice restaurants, said lovely things and didn't push me to do too much. This soon changed though. I thought he understood that my abortion had been very distressing for me and this is why I was so depressed and quiet. In later arguments, he would bring this up and tell me that I (and others) should've focused on how he was feeling and paid attention to him more.

I found that everything was ok, as long as I agreed with him and everything was on his terms. As soon as I didn't, or they weren't, he would be cold, callous, and cruel. He would push and push me to do things I didn't want to do. On one occasion in particular, he tricked/forced me into doing something sexual that I wasn't comfortable with. Straight after, he acted as if nothing was wrong. I was left feeling confused, violated, and as if I was overreacting.

He would use the old cliche "you'd do this if you really loved me".

As well as this, he was psychologically controlling, he gaslit me, and tried to keep me away from my friends. It was as if he wanted to control any situation we were in. It took me a while to realise that he was so toxic. I tried to break up with him at one point, and he wrote me a long letter to supposedly apologise and promise to change. I foolishly took him back and things had unfortunately not changed.

When we did finally break up, we would still argue, and at one point he followed me back to my student house to "talk". I didn't want to, but he wouldn't take no for an answer (a running theme in our relationship...). I tried to walk away from him, but he grabbed me hard. At this point, I was scared that he would hit me. I couldn't get away because his grip was too strong. It was only when my housemate walked by and saw, that he let me go and ran off. I was understandably really distressed and it took a while for me to calm down. 

I told my therapist about this (amongst other things that had occurred in our relationship) and she confirmed that my ex was very abusive and toxic. She also believed that although he made me feel vulnerable, I was actually very strong for arguing back despite my fears about the consequences.

She told me that although these sessions of CBT were for the abortion specifically, after a break I could get re-referred so we could focus on this abusive relationship. She did recommend I contacted Women's Aid though, as they are apparently very good at providing support to do with domestic abuse. I could even get some counselling from them.

After this telephone therapy session, I felt very uncomfortable, unsafe, and as if I was being violated all over again. The psychological control was personally very hard to cope with, but I seem to be most affected by the sexual abuse I experienced. I feel so uncomfortable in my own skin, as if I want to scrub it all away?

I have decided that once these therapy sessions are finished, I will take a month or two's break, then I will contact Women's Aid to see what they could offer. I guess any counselling will be done over the phone for now (because of Covid-19 restrictions).

In the meantime, I aim to use my time to distract myself with games, movies, cross stitch even. I also want to be very kind to myself and as supportive as I can be towards my friends and family.

Resources

Lockdown: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockdown

Symptoms of PTSD- What are flashbacks?: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/symptoms-of-ptsd/#WhatAreFlashbacks

Amys Mystery Illness- I'm a Survivor: https://www.amysmysteryillness.co.uk/2018/07/im-survivor.html

11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201701/11-warning-signs-gaslighting

Women's Aid: https://www.womensaid.org.uk/




Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Trauma Focused CBT: Session Nine

(TRIGGER WARNING: Abortion details, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, mental health stigma)

"Double Trauma"

I'd been in quite a good mood; leading up to this latest session. At baseline, my moods have been stable and rarely very low. I'd even had some days where I could say I felt happy, or at least calm. I'd not reacted so severely to things that usually upset or anger me either. Generally, I think I'd been coping well.

I've been feeling that I'm coping with people's attitudes to abortion because I finally believe I made the right decision at the time. The thing I've been struggling most with is the physical side of things. The blood, tissue etc, distressed me because they were so graphic and result in such vivid flashbacks.

At this latest session, I explained all of this, and my therapist was pleased. She left it up to me to talk about what I wanted to, and the abortion appointments cropped up in conversation. She asked me some in depth questions, in order to gently expose me to my most feared memories. I coped, but I did get very worked up and shaky as I explained everything.

When asking about support from friends etc, my abusive ex partner came up in conversation. He appeared to be supportive and gentlemanly at first, but only when I was doing what he wanted/agreeing with him.

When things didn't go his way, he would be very cold and controlling. He made everything about him, rather than considering my feelings. He made digs in conversations and arguments. He also forced and tricked me into doing things he wanted sexually. I found that he expected me to do what he wanted because he was the virgin and I was experienced; so it was (in his eyes) my "duty" to teach him and let him experience new things with me.

I described a time he tricked me into doing something I didn't want to do, then carried on as if nothing had happened. I felt violated and confused. Did I let him? Was it my fault or his? Was this normal or abusive?

I got quite distressed when describing this relationship, and my therapist said it seems like being in the abusive relationship straight after the abortion made this a double trauma for me.

I thought about it a bit, then agreed. I thought I'd moved on from it, but it still affects me now and I'd buried it for a while.

Overall, I've been coping with my trauma from the abortion, but I have not really dealt with the trauma from the abusive relationship. I did feel I had to hide it from people for a while, in case I wasn't believed. My ex partner made sure lots of people thought I was "crazy" when we broke up. He called me many different names and turned people against me. Even when we broke up, he wanted to control some of my life.

The friends that stayed by my side were invaluable though. They defended me, and made sure I was ok. I thought I was at the time, but years on I realise how it has affected my trust in men especially. I feel scared to disagree or say I'm not comfortable doing certain things. Hopefully, in time, I will be able to be more assertive and be part of a more equal partnership.

Thankfully he's also halfway across the world from me now. I just wish I could move on from this, but I know it will take time.

I was hoping to finish my Trauma Focused CBT sessions very soon, but I think I will need a few more with a focus on this.

Friday, 6 March 2020

I Decided to take a Social Media Break

As of last Monday, I decided to take a Social Media break.

I'd been scrolling on Facebook and Twitter particularly, and had noticed symptoms of my mental illnesses flaring up, as well as a general sheer drop in mood. The kinds of anxieties I had were about friends. I'd found that not many people were replying to me and some were replying in a more blunt way than usual. Naturally, I thought that they were finally getting fed up of me, and as much as I tried to believe that maybe they were having a bad day/week etc themselves, I couldn't help but place the blame on myself and criticise myself for "pushing them away".

The more I ruminated over this, the worse I felt. That, coupled with my worries over getting more ill and having no help from the Community Mental Health team, meant that I was heading towards crisis point. I broke down in my last CBT session and stayed that way for days afterwards. Eventually I decided I had the choice of either returning to a very dark scary place in my mind, where I actually am pushing everyone away and making dangerous decisions, or I could make a vow to change my mindset.

Of course, this is easier said than done, but I was at a point where I could "catch" myself before I went over the edge, At this point, choosing was difficult, but possible.

I decided that because the Community Mental Health Team wouldn't save me, I had to try and save myself. I started with a social media break. I needed to stop scrolling through my timelines; letting everything get to me and being bombarded with bad news and more people to "cancel".

I have taken social media breaks before, but usually this was with the ulterior motive of seeing if anyone noticed and would message me. I often feel like people would barely remember me if I was gone. I also worry no one sees me as close a friend as I see them.

The main reasons for this break were to have time in the "real world", take time for myself to reassess how I feel about friendship, reassurance, and myself. I need to become more self compassionate and self reliant especially.

Although I wasn't necessarily expecting messages, I did get some from a couple of friends. I've missed talking to people (barely anyone texts me these days), so getting some messages has helped.

I've also recently been reading a book called "The Compassionate Mind" by Paul Gilbert. I've been finding it very useful. I can relate to a lot of things in the book (my mindset, things I worry about, things I do etc) and it has a lot of exercises I can do. These exercises aim to conjure up self compassion and compassion for others. It involves a lot of meditative mindfulness tasks too.

Since reading this book, and completing some of the exercises, I have found I've had times where I feel peaceful. I still have a long way to go, but I am doing better than I was. I think I've managed to pull myself further away from a crisis; which is such a relief.

In case I do get to crisis point again, a friend helped me to plan what I could do. This would involve letting my parents know so they could get in touch with the GP who I find is most helpful for my mental health. He would possibly see me for an urgent appointment, and I would get advice and/or emergency medication (depending on what he felt was appropriate). Alongside this, I could also talk to trusted friends and ring my local mental health helpline. They may be able to advise me as to what to do, or help me calm down and think more clearly. The problem with being at crisis point is that you often don't feel in control of your thoughts, feelings, or actions. It can be a very risky time and it is important to have a plan that is easy to follow.

For now, thankfully, I'm not at that point though. I also don't feel as worried about friends who don't contact me much/at all. I know that the true friends will stick by my side and it is important to concentrate on them, as well as being reliant on myself.

I will continue to read the compassion book and complete the exercises every day. I seem to be using it as a guide, and maybe that is what I need right now. My next CBT session is on Monday, and I'm hoping I can give some positive news to my therapist then. I do not feel I made much progress in the last session, but I think I needed to get to that point in order for something to change within me.

So right now, I can't say I'm exactly happy, but I'm OK and I think I'm making slow but steady progress. My next blog post will be about my next Trauma Focused CBT session.

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Trauma Focused CBT: Session Eight

(TRIGGER WARNING: Mentions of abortion, self harm, and details of attempted suicide)

I felt very on edge, leading up to this latest appointment. I think it was for various reasons. Firstly, I was waiting on results of some scans and a possible follow up appointment with my Rheumatologist. Secondly, it'd been a while since my previous session, and I felt I hadn't done enough homework in that time. Thirdly, I'd been very down recently and felt I'd lost some of the progress I'd made with my PTSD. There were probably other reasons too, but the above states the main ones.

As expected, I scored highly on the Anxiety, Depression etc questionnaires. My moods had affected my behaviours and functioning, and they weren't helping my ability to keep myself occupied and maintain relationships either. I felt disappointed in myself and as if I'd failed my therapist. She asked me how things had been recently and if anything had happened in particular.

I explained that I had been very low and anxious recently, about various things including friendship. I felt very alone and distant from people I loved. I'd been very quiet recently and have felt that even when I have interacted with friends etc, I'd been saying all the wrong things.

My therapist wanted me to see how my moods were linked to the trauma from the abortion. I told her how I'd spoken to a friend who'd helped me through the abortion, and one who had an abortion herself a while back.

The main topic, surrounding my abortion, that I spoke about with the first friend. were the attitudes experienced from the nurses involved in my care, as well as the man who would've been the father of my child, and the new boyfriend I had at the time. I felt I'd had very little support from them, and judgement more than anything. The nurses judged my resulting in becoming pregnant, and my decision to have the abortion. The father-to-be also judged my decision to have the abortion, and treated it as a tragic loss (even lighting a candle to "mourn" when we were speaking via video call online). The new boyfriend judged my sexual history as well as my becoming pregnant, although he was all for me having an abortion (I don't think he wanted children).

When we spoke about the father-to-be, we discussed what might've happened had I carried on the pregnancy. My friend believed that he probably wouldn't have stuck by me, especially going by our on/off relationship. He seemed to find any excuse to dump me to be honest. The more I think about him, and our relationship, the more I realise that maybe he wasn't the right man for me after all. I think part of me never really got over him, and even saw the pregnancy as a bond between us (even after it was over). I feel I have moved on from him, if not the trauma however.

The friend I spoke to, who had experienced an abortion too, had similar judgement from the nurses involved in her care. In time, and with a lot of therapy, she had managed to move on as much as possible, and did not find memories of this traumatic anymore. I found it eye opening that the nurses had been just as unprofessional towards her, and I felt angry and upset for her. To know that she could move past this gave me hope though. Maybe I could do this too, in time?

We spoke about how I hadn't gone into much detail about the abortion, and that I find it hard to face. I'm still avoiding a fair amount of things, including carrying on conversations about abortions, reading views on them etc. I explained that I was scared of being badly triggered and becoming very unwell again as I felt I wouldn't be able to get any help.

I then talked about how my thoughts still go to self harm/suicide when I find myself in a situation I cannot/easily get out of. She asked if I remembered a time in the past when that happened. We spoke about a time I was threatened with sanction on the Work Programme (Part of Work Related Activity for Employment and Support Allowance), for a situation I could not help. Basically, at that time I was too anxious to travel places on my own. My dad worked shifts at that time, and his shift patterns changed so that he would not be able to take me to appointments with the Work Programme. No one else I trusted could take me, so I suggested having telephone appointments, but was refused. Being in this catch-22 situation, worrying about loss of income, I became so suicidal I nearly ran into traffic.

I got very upset in this therapy session, as I explained how scared I am of going back to that point.

She asked what would happen if I got to that point. I explained about my experiences with CMHT assessing then discharging me because I'd already had help from them in the past, and they felt there was nothing more they could do. I also told her what the A&E Psych Liaison team had said (They described me as a square peg, and the CMHT as a round hole. This implied that I was simply too different to be helped by them) and that I felt the door was permanently shut to me even though I couldn't understand why I should be any different to anyone else when I need that sort of help.

The session came to an end soon after this, once I had calmed down. My therapist gave me homework to be kinder to myself, read bits of the self compassion book she had recommended (I can't remember the exact name, but it is by Paul Gilbert) and try to talk to friends more directly.

I still feel affected by this session, but having a good cry and venting my fears has helped. I know that I need to make a change, for the sake of myself and my loved ones. I need to be much kinder to myself; practising self acceptance and forgiveness.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Trauma Focused CBT: Session Seven

(Trigger Warning: Mentions of Abortion, Stillbirth, and Miscarriage)

I felt quite down leading up to, and during session seven. My homework was to pick some of the feared situations from the list I'd made in my last session . I decided I would try to look at some pregnancy scans on Facebook, as well as watch some story lines on television, of stillbirth and miscarriage. I was also to carry on using the term "Abortion" rather than "Termination". As well as this, I was to keep on journalling and noting down how putting myself in these situations made me feel and how I coped with that.

I find using the term "abortion" isn't so fearful now. My feelings about the term are more the way someone would react when a word makes them cringe (e.g. "moist"). For the record, this does not mean I am against abortion, it's just that the traumatic one I had makes certain things affect me in different ways. So saying the word brings me back to that time, but not so intensely that I panic and get particularly triggered.

I can also cope better with seeing pregnancy scans. Before I exposed myself therapeutically to this, I found being faced with any pregnancy scan triggered me and would bring back flashbacks of being told I'm pregnant and feeling scared about what was to come next. I can separate other people's scans from my own now, and am not brought back to that time so uncontrollably.

Watching story lines about any kind of baby/fetal loss is still very difficult though. I'm forcing myself to stop avoiding these story lines, or zoning out (although I do still find myself dissociating sometimes). Stillbirth isn't as triggering, although it upsets me as much as it would upset anyone, if not slightly more. The physical side of miscarriage and the attitudes towards abortion that you see on medical dramas for example can be very triggering however. It can trigger flashbacks of the most graphic parts of my traumatic abortion; including the sickness and pain. The attitudes also remind me of the judgmental attitudes of some of the nurses I saw at that time. I was made to feel like an irresponsible teenager. I was also made to feel guilty by the potential father (he lit a candle to "mourn our loss") and made to feel like a burden by my partner at the time, in subsequent arguments around this subject.

I explained all of this at my latest session, and my therapist helped me to understand that although I had made the decision to have the abortion, the attitudes of those around me and the physical pain etc was not my fault. I had made the right decision for me at the time, even if I thought I may have coped if I'd kept the baby. It still would've affected a lot of my life.

My next piece of homework was to go through more feared situations. This time, I decided to try and talk to the best friend who supported me throughout, about my abortion. I also decided, if appropriate and carefully planned, to talk to a friend of mine who has also had an abortion. This would hopefully help open me up to other perspectives, their views on what I/they went through, and importantly, to feel less alone and more connected with people who have been through similar.

So far I have managed a short talk with the best friend; where we mainly spoke about the attitudes of people around me at the time. I found this very helpful, validating, and eye-opening. I won't go into much detail but we discussed the potential father and how flaky he could be when it came to supporting me. I hadn't fully realised this at the time, but I know now that it was true. I was so in love with him, but I'm glad to have moved on. I don't know what the future will bring, but I do hope I find the right partner for me, who would like to have children too. I also hope it is not too late to have children by the time I am ready.


Resources

Amys Mystery Illness - Trauma Focused CBT: Session Six: https://www.amysmysteryillness.co.uk/2020/01/trauma-focused-cbt-session-six.html

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Trauma Focused CBT: Session Six

(Trigger Warning: Mentions of Abortion, Miscarriage, and Stillbirth)

I went into session six feeling quite positive, after seeing a friend the day before. I'm finding making plans with friends gives me something to look forward to, and distracts me from things. I'm trying to talk about abortion more with close friends too (and actually use the term "abortion" rather than "termination", in order to face my fear of using that term).

My last piece of homework for CBT was to list my 10 most to least feared situations related to my trauma. For me, these include saying the word "abortion" out loud, looking at a pregnancy scan, conversations/television storylines about other people's abortions, miscarriages, or stillbirths, conversations about my traumatic abortion (especially details), and hearing an anti-choice person's opinion of abortion. The latter one is my most feared as it challenges a very personal decision and puts the blame of my trauma on me.

I have recently managed to say "abortion" out loud and pregnancy scans don't make me feel as down now. I can't totally explain why certain things trigger me, but some make more sense than others I suppose.

I decided to focus more on the positive side of things in this latest session, as I wanted to remind myself what I'd actually achieved and I wanted to see for myself if I had progressed. I'm definitely taking baby steps, but there is a definite improvement in how I react to certain things. My therapist was so pleased to hear this, which made me worry that she would make this the last session (I'm so used to mental health professionals cutting off support at the slightest hint of progress) but thankfully she does want to see me again and hasn't even mentioned bringing these sessions to an end.

My homework for the next session is to go through 2 or 3 of the "feared situations" and try to face them. We discussed which ones I could manage, and which I would struggle too much with. We decided that I would watch a storyline about baby loss or abortion, look at a pregnancy scan, and try to talk more about my abortion. So far I've managed to do these without too much panic. I'm finding it so helpful to have learnt skills to help cope with the feelings I have when exposed to these situations. If I'm properly triggered by something, it's very hard to use the skills (Safe Place, Breathing Exercises, Grounding etc) but if I can "nip it in the bud" so to say, then I can avoid or minimise the triggered feelings.

So overall I'm finding I am very slowly progressing, but I do still need at least a few more sessions of therapy. I'm being realistic too. My therapist and I agree that I'll never be totally desensitised to talk of/memories of my abortion, but I will be able to get to a point where I can still function with these things on my mind. Maybe I can even lessen/stop the flashbacks I get.

My next session is on Monday, and I will try not to leave it so long before I blog about it.

Resources:

What Does It Mean to be Triggered? https://www.verywellmind.com/what-does-it-mean-to-be-triggered-4175432

Amy's Mystery Illness- Trauma Focused CBT: Sessions 3-5 https://www.amysmysteryillness.co.uk/2019/12/trauma-focused-cbt-sessions-3-5.html

Symptoms of PTSD https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/symptoms-of-ptsd/#b