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Being dismissed by mental health professionals

TW This post mentions self-harm, suicidal thoughts and eating disorders. 

Just because you don't have the help you need, doesn't mean you don't deserve it. Everyone deserves help. — @TalkingAboutBPD) July 13, 2017

I have recently been able to access help from mental health services. This is momentous for me, as someone who has had either a difficult or a non-existent relationship with mental health services.

I have multiple experiences of being refused help from mental health staff in Accident and Emergency. Being told to leave theA&E department without any help when I was overwhelmingly suicidal was probably the most frightening experience of my life. I ended up feeling so distressed, out of control and helpless that I fell on the floor sobbing, yelling and begging staff for help.

The nurses that night told me that my behaviour was 'frightening the patients'. They told me that they would call the police unless I left the premises. So somehow I dragged my degraded, shaken, terrified body off the floor and walked out into the dark hospital car park. 

Yes, that kind of thing really does happen. I really did get turned away by mental health nurses with no help when I was actively suicidal. It happens to many people, many times, sometimes over and over again. It's not right. No one should have to go through that.

I naturally lost trust in mental health services from that moment. I didn't dare ask for help when I was repeatedly suicidal.

[From my sketchbook. Illustration of a person with the captions 'I hate myself', 'I am a shameful human', 'All is lost', 'Help', 'Argh' and 'Emotions scream through me'.

It is so scary to be told there is no help at the moment you need it the most.

Secondly, I didn't dare engage with services because the nurses had threatened to call the police on me. The thought of police involvement absolutely and utterly terrified me- I didn't want anything jeopardising my dream career plans of working with children.

Perhaps most of all, however, being turned away by mental health staff affirmed the belief that I didn't deserve help. That I wasn't worthy of help, that I didn't need help, that I was just (that horribly stigmatising word) an 'attention seeker'.

Growing up, I always held the insidious idea that maybe I was 'just an attention seeker'. I used to call myself horrible names over and over again to myself in the mirror. I believed my feelings were some kind of disgusting joke that I was playing on those around me.

I felt that there was something deeply disgusting and flawed about me, because I had huge mood swings where I felt suicidal, self-harmed and tried to starve myself. I told myself that 'someone like me' shouldn't be feeling and behaving that way.

It wouldn't be too far to say that at times, as a teenager, I thought I was evil for feeling suicidal. That's how deep my shame and guilt had sunk into me.

I told myself for years that there was no reason for the way I felt. I never felt entitled to my feelings. I hid them. I felt deeply, deeply embarrassed and ashamed.

I always felt like I deserved to suffer, so asking for help didn't feel right to me. I felt like suffering way of making myself into a 'better person', seeing as I believed I was so flawed and disgusting.

There were times as child, from age about nine, that I attempted to ask for help. But I was so confused and scared that my attempts to ask for help were hesitant, garbled, unconfident. The help I needed never came.

But lately, as I have been receiving compassionate care from mental health services, I have realised that I have always been deserving of help- even if I needed help and then help didn't come. I have always been worthy of help. My pain has always been real.

It has been really painful to look back and realise that I was suffering as a child and teenager and that it wasn't my fault or a 'character flaw'. I wasn't a 'bad person', instead I was a young person who needed--- and deserved--- help.

It has been upsetting to look back and see my past self blaming herself. The more she criticised herself for wanting help, the more desperately she needed that help. 


Recently, I received a letter outlining my history of self-harm since childhood, the anorexia-like eating disorder I had for a couple of years during my late teens and my experiences with suicide as a young adult.

I read that letter as if I were reading about another person and not myself. I was struck by the child and young person in pain and needing help, rather than the attention-seeking demon I believed I was.

Since realising that I have always been deserving of help, I have been having some episodes of extreme distress. Talking about this in therapy for the last two weeks has left me in extreme distress after the therapy session:

Distress of the inconsolable, sobbing, non-verbal, crushed, puffed-up face, crying in the street, talking to myself on the train, sitting on a wall because I can't walk, shaking kind of distress. 

The kind of distress that hits wave-like in the street and I feel out of control, sobbing behind my sunglasses, barely caring if strangers stop and stare, struggling to breathe, feeling on the brink of collapse, not knowing if I can make it home safely.

It seems like the kind that happens to people who have been through things that are too difficult to comprehend at the time, but are repeating through the mind in the hope of being understood. It's a raw and vulnerable experience, makes me feel like an open wound, trapped in that moment and feeling only that pain. 

Living through these episodes is teaching me to see myself as someone who deserves compassion. Each time I survive an episode, I learn that I can get through it. I can see their intensity and length decreasing each time I get through one without self-harming or acting on suicidal feelings. 

I have needed a lot of professional help with all of this, it's not something that I could come to terms with by myself. It's a cliche, but if I am compassionate to others, then perhaps, in time, I can learn to be compassionate to myself? One thing that strikes me as I unfold my life out, is that I needed help as a child.

Help that didn't come, but which I did deserve.

Thank you everyone for your support via Twitter @TalkingAboutBPD. The dialogue and community have been fantastic.


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