in health, waffle

The worst day of my life

(This is a post I wrote years ago but never published. There’s so much talk about anxiety recently, that I thought I’d publish it)

It was one of the most painful experiences of my life but I remember that I didn’t scream. I was in too much pain to waste energy screaming. My face was contorted with pain and confusion. And I was listening for a snap, because my arms and legs were doing their best to break their own bones, bending into crazy angles totally out of my control. And the pain was unbearable.

Many years have passed since that night and there have been quite a few contenders for “Worst day of my life” but its right up there at the top of the list. I’d been sick for about a year. I had an extreme case of Social Anxiety. I had to stop working. I hardly left the house. I couldn’t use public transport. Interactions with most people was excruciating.  I was attending a Mental Health Clinic, and the doctors I saw, were unfortunately awful; terribly misinformed and part of a very flawed mental health system.

I was never properly diagnosed. They were just chucking all kinds of pills at me. Each dose of medication had a zero positive effect and many terrible side effects. Some were almost worse than the illness they were supposed to fix. One cursed me with blurred vision, stripping me of books, drawing, or TV, leaving me with little to distract me from my anxious thoughts.

Another pill counteracted the blurred vision but in turn made me restless. I say restless, like a say vinegar on an open wound is a little bit sore. It was a sickening restlessness. When you sat you had to stand and when you stood you had to walk and when you walked you wanted to sit again and when you sat again you’d just rock back and forth. You’ve seen it haven’t you? Well they’re not crazy people. They’ve just been given crazy medication. Update: I’ve just looked this up, and it has a name: Akathisia.

Next on the list was an injection to counteract the Akasthisia. But this one had a side-effect too. They don’t tell you that though. They don’t want to scare you. As it’s really bad and only happens to rare individuals.  So back to the attic…

My hand was the first to go, it started to bend forward at the wrist and I couldn’t get it back, then my whole arm twisted backward. My other arm had gone around my back and was doing its best to break. All my limbs started twisting and contorting. I had to use all my strength to stop my limbs from breaking themselves. It all happened so quickly. I’d collapsed onto the bed in a fight with myself, suddenly in a terrible horror movie.

After the initial shock, I dragged myself off the bed and somehow got down two flights of stairs, which isn’t easy when you’re busy trying to break all your major bones. I’d got to the phone and managed to dial 999 somehow but by the time someone answered I was just on the floor screaming with the phone dangling on its cord and I couldn’t manage to ask for an ambulance. The operator eventually hung up.

After maybe ten minutes it began to ease up. One of my brothers arrived home. I told him what had happened. He didn’t get it. And just looked at me as if I’d two heads.

I went back up to the attic to gather myself. Then my hand started twisting again. I shouted down the stairs ITS STARTING AGAIN. He ran up the stairs and when he saw me writhing around the floor doing my impression of Christie Brown going through an Exorcism, his jaw dropped and he turned white .

Our GP arrived very quickly. I was never happier to see a large syringe come out of a bag. Whatever he gave me stopped the side effect straight away. The next day, my medication was changed again. A month later, I voluntarily stopped all medication, and stopped attending the mental health clinic. Instead I started a very slow and long journey of accepting my condition and learning to cope with it. This acceptance led to a level of confidence that was enough to start my first job since I got sick, in a phone printing factory. My confidence grew, I got better jobs, I got on with the rest of my life. Social Phobia never fully went away, it just grew more manageable.  End of story.

Update: I’ve been looking this up again. And I’m pretty sure the medication was Mellaril. An extreme medication for Schizophrenia known to cause an “Acute Dystonic Reaction” which is what’s described above. NB: I had zero symptoms of Schizophrenia. I had a classic case of extreme Social Anxiety. Such was the state of mental health care in Ireland 20 years ago.

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  1. I’ve been meaning to respond to this since you linked it on Twitter, but life has a way of getting in the way…

    Starting at the top, yeah, mental health care in Ireland is a whole fucking mess unless you’re in the group of people with diagnosable, actionable brain dysfunctions. Serious mental illnesses (schizophrenia, etc) receive the lion’s share of resources.

    Below them are the many depressed and anxious and abused who benefit most from therapeutic support and medication. We’re there, and we’re the ones most let down by the current system. Pre-emptive mental health screenings aren’t a thing and community support is more miss than hit.

    After my first suicide attempt, I was referred to a community therapist who only asked me “well how does that make you feel?” over and over.

    After my second attempt, my (community) therapist told me to “appeal to a higher power for respite and salvation.” And that with a cross stuck up on the wall behind her. I’m an atheist.

    Eh, long-term, as much as I created the situations where I wound up stressed and depressed, I had the most success when I went to my doctor with a firm idea of where I stood and what I wanted.

    That I had to educate myself, prepare myself and do much of the leg work myself in order to secure successful and appropriate treatment speaks poorly of the resources granted to Ireland’s mental health services. I believe that doctors and nurses on the frontline do the most they can with resources given. What they aren’t given is the time to dig into patient problems, come up with better treatment plans for the depressed and anxious.

    Everyone else I know who’s interacted with public mental health services in Ireland has a similar story of awful mishandling and neglect on the part of health providers.

    • Hey Mark. A comment! I haven’t had an actual comment in years. (But I got lots of nice feedback about this post on Facebook).

      Very sorry to hear you got so bad it involved suicide attempts.

      I only hope the Health Services are better now than they were 20 years ago when I experienced them. They were pretty useless. Yes – at least there are a lot more resources these days for us to go and educate ourselves. I didn’t even have the right language to describe how I felt back then.