Guest Blog - Jo's Story

I'm Jo. I'm a Mum to three beautiful children and I have three gorgeous grandchildren. I have a very close relationship with each of my children, I am lucky to have the most supportive and loving partner and I have a wonderful family and friends; so why am I so unhappy at times and why is each day such a struggle. 

For as long as I can remember I have had anxiety. As a child, however, this was seen by my parents as me being moody and over sensitive. I struggled to make friends as I was, and still am, very shy and I was always plagued by thoughts that I was never as clever, funny, pretty or popular as everyone else. There are some events that occurred during my childhood that also had a huge impact on me but these are not events that I share with many people so they are for the most part, locked away. 

I now know that I had my first panic attack during a school assembly although I had no idea that there was a name for my racing heart, laboured breathing and the overwhelming feeling that death was imminent. I just knew that from that day I would avoid being in those situations ever again. I also began self harming at this time, never as an means of attention seeking but as a way of releasing the feelings of anxiety, anger and frustration that came over me so often. 

College, jobs, marriage and children mapped my life out over the next few years but never did my anxiety leave me although I was able to lead a relatively normal life. In my late twenties I became ill during my second pregnancy with problems when swallowing food. Following the birth of my daughter I was seen by several doctors and various tests showed that nothing more than an inflamed gullet was the problem. My symptoms worsened however, and my weight dropped to six stone. My consultant said he believed I had post natal depression which had triggered bulimia and if I wasn't prepared to help myself then there was little that could be done. I knew my body and I knew that there was a physical rather than psychological reason for my problems and finally, eighteen months from the start of my illness, I was referred to a doctor in London who immediately diagnosed achalasia, a disease of the muscles in the gullet. I underwent major surgery within a month and have been able to eat without too much pain since. Everyone told me I should be grateful that I had been cured and that I should be happy and my life should move on. I however, found it incredibly difficult to trust anyone, especially the medical profession as I felt that if nobody believed how ill I was before, then who would believe me should another illness present itself. 

Over the next few years my daughter underwent several operations for a tumour in her mouth, my Mum was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and my Dad died three weeks after being diagnosed with bowel cancer. All these things increased my anxiety over my own health and my fear of doctors and hospitals became all consuming and terrifying. My marriage broke down, I was admitted to a psychiatric unit for the first time and my children went to live with their father. My first experience on a psychiatric ward was pretty horrific and I made little progress over two months and was just given different medications to try and lift the ‘upset about my marriage’ which is what was deemed to be my problem. A second stay in another hospital was a totally different experience and it was here I was diagnosed with Bipolar and started on Lithium. I self harmed regularly around this time too and the attitude towards me in the first hospital was so awful compared to the compassion that was shown to me in the second. 

When I finally left hospital I moved into a flat on my own. This was one of the hardest times of my life…..I'd gone from having a husband and a marriage, three children and a nice home to living alone. They say when you hit rock bottom, the only was is up and this was true… I got better. My children eventually came back to live with me, I held down a responsible job and I rented a lovely house. My anxiety never left me at all but I was able to function normally and to the outside world I was a happy, hardworking single Mum. Inside, I'd developed more phobias and an awful fear of medication. I wouldn't eat at friend's houses in case I was poisoned by the food they cooked, I couldn't touch plants or flowers in case I was allergic to them, I couldn't use many cleaning, hair or makeup products in case I was allergic to them. I couldn't take any medication that was prescribed in case the side effects were dangerous and/or fatal. I couldn't understand where these fears had come from but they took over my life. 

Ten years ago my daughter contracted meningitis, my Mum died two years later and within months, my son nearly died when his bowel perforated due to sudden onset colitis. He had to have an ileostomy bag and has been in and out of hospital since. Three months ago he became seriously ill with a recurrence of his symptoms and underwent emergency surgery in Liverpool. A few days later my youngest daughter who had been visiting returned home to Derbyshire and fell ill with flu. Within two days this developed into double pneumonia and life threatening sepsis. She was put into an induced coma and we were told she wouldn't survive the night. It was a devastating time for our family but we were incredibly lucky that she fought back and came back to us. For me it was coping with two children seriously ill, 100 miles apart and trying to hold myself together whilst feeling that I was falling apart. I coped and my amazing children are both getting better. I'm not. 

I have been unable to work for over two years and am still under the care of my local psychiatric unit. I have recently been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder not Bipolar, OCD and health anxiety. I am unable to leave the house on my own and even in company I don't feel safe. I suffer with panic attacks, palpitations and I am constantly on high alert waiting for the next crisis to happen to me or my family. There are days when I feel I can't cope anymore with my life and I wish it would end but then I think of my partner, my children and grandchildren and know I could never leave them. There are days when I'm happy, funny and good company and I wonder how I could have felt so desperately low just a few days before. Then that bubble bursts and my black dog returns. I am a passionate reader and love my music. I love to draw and write poetry and have had three poems published. These hobbies keep my mind active at times when I can't cope with the intrusive thoughts that permanently live in my head.

I have a mental illness which I will have for the rest of my life. I can't, however, let my mental illness take over, impact upon and devastate the rest of my life. It's done that before and I will try not to let it continue to do so.