Anastasia Vesperman - About 450 Word Salads: A Basic Primer on My Psychoses

This week we're joined by Anastasia Vesperman. From today through to Thursday, Anastasia is giving us an incredibly open insight into her life with mental illness. Here is part one of her 3-part piece:

"I was a child, and my mother was psychotic. She loved me, but I didn't really feel I had a mother. And when you live with somebody who is paranoid and thinks you're trying to kill them all the time, you tend to feel a little betrayed." Alan Alda.

Here are some of the things that I want other people – including health professionals – 
to know about my psychotic episodes:

•    Sometimes my memory is very poor during an episode. Sometimes, once an episode is over, I won’t be able to remember what happened during the episode.
•    I will often experience hallucinations, delusions, looping behaviours, and paranoias
during my psychotic episodes - which are not my usual state of affairs.

•    My common hallucinations are:
o    Black cats/cat shadows, seen out of the corner of my eye.
o    People appearing and disappearing where no such people exist.

•    My common delusions are:
o    Everyone hates me.
o    Everything is awful.
o    I am wonderful and everyone thinks I am awesome.
o    I am going to climb Mount Everest and cure cancer today!

•    My common paranoias are:
o    There’s someone prowling the streets waiting to shoot me.
o    Leaving the house means some unspecified doom will befall me.

Psychoses feel weird. Delusions and paranoias feel like absolute truth; hallucinations
feel as real as this keyboard. 

Perhaps the oddest thing is when my thinking becomes completely disordered. Words come out of my mouth that have no relation to other words that have just come out of my mouth, a.k.a. word salad, and sometimes internally it feels as though I have said something sensible – 
even if I’m not sure what I said. I also can’t problem solve, something I am usually quite
good at – I just can’t focus enough.

Another odd thing is looping behaviour. I’ll go through a set of thoughts, ideas, and emotions, 
and then I’ll loop through exactly the same set right after. And repeat. And repeat. 
And repeat, ad nauseam. And I don’t remember any of the repeats. I don’t comprehend anything except the present moment. Must be boring to listen to.

And all of it is scary. When I’m psychotic, I can’t remember not being psychotic – I
feel like I’m going to be that way forever. I can’t remember the last thing I thought or said, 
or whether it made sense or not. It’s like going into the kitchen and forgetting what you came
for, only much worse – it happens between one thought and the next, and you can’t go back into the lounge room to try and recall what you went into the kitchen for.

Worst of all – professionals who can’t cope with psychotic patients. I’ve had people tell me
(as related to me by my carer): “You are a hopeless case.” “Come back when you can stop acting like that.” Or even just complete incomprehension of what’s happening for me.


Remember to check back tomorrow at 8am to read part 2 of Anastasia's Story.

Guest Piece: "Can counselling or therapy form part of a self-care practice?"

Guest blogger Casey Bottono talks about whether or not counselling and therapy qualify as self-care and the benefits that can come from seeking professional help.

Modern life can feel a lot like jumping through a series of hoops, with no particular outcome in mind. The self-care regimes we put into place to counteract the stresses and strains are many and varied, but you might not think of counselling or therapy as part of that practice. 

Seeking support outside of oneself is undoubtedly a scary and difficult thing to do. Having been through the mill myself, I know how easy it is to sit and watch the mice run around the wheel that is the brain of the struggling individual. In my experience, one of the key features of the struggle with mental health is the removal of the desire to do anything to change that. 

In broad brushstrokes, self-care can be defined as anything that one does in order to improve one's mental or physical state of being. Just because it has 'self' in the title doesn't mean it's solely dependent on you, though. Seeking assistance from friends, family or other members of your social circle may well help in the short term. Seeking help from somebody who is trained to assist in the management of mental health will see rewards that you might never have imagined. 

As to the question of whether counselling can form part of a self-care practice, I believe that it is not only possible, but in some cases may be a necessary addition to existing self-care practices. Many universities and colleges offer opportunities for students to benefit from counselling services, and there are initiatives as well for individuals who are in working environments. 

Information about all of these resources can be found readily on the internet. Whatever your path, I wish you success in finding a self-care practice and/or counsellor that works with you and for you. 

Natalie's Story: Part One

This is a two-part piece by Natalie, my first guest blogger. Natalie has PTSD, and this is her story.

Trigger Warning: Child Sexual Abuse

I’ve started this post a million times but never really knew where to begin, you see, I don’t fit the stereotype of someone with PTSD.  I’m 30-year-old, I have a highly successful career in the music industry, I live alone in Central London. To an outsider I am comfortable. I’m happy. I have an active social life, my weeks are filled with drinks, gigs, football matches, all those things you’d expect of a young music professional in London. But beneath it all lies a battle, one I’ve fought for 20 years. See, behind this façade I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have never been in an active combat zone, I’m not a veteran coming home from war, the only war I have ever fought has been a lot closer to home. Behind closed doors which I’m going to open, not just for me but for every person who has felt they’ve needed to keep their story locked away. I’m afraid, I’ll admit that.

My story begins at 10 years old, when we lost my stepdad. He died suddenly, in a motorbike accident, on the 13th October 1996, a day forever etched in my memory. He was 36 years old. His death rattled my family to its core, my mother was only 30, the age I am now, writing this, the difference being she had two young children to look after. So she bounced, she coped, the problem was she bounced into the arms of the wrong man. This man saved us all, he picked up those broken pieces, he made us feel like a family again, he was incredible, on the surface, but beneath that lay a deep dark secret. One which no one would believe for a long time and one which has changed the course of my life. I have to interject here that I genuinely believe with my whole heart that he did love my mother, however, over the next few years I was subjected to the most horrific sexual and mental abuse at his hands. I was an impressionable teen who was made to believe that if the truth ever came out my mum would hate me because I was “having an affair” with her boyfriend. During this time I coped, I threw myself into school work, sports, music, anything to keep me out of the house. I passed trials for Manchester United, I wrote musicals for my high school, I was that all round overachiever who you’d never suspect had things going on at home, I hid it well. Even my minor breakdown, where I thought cutting off all my hair in an attempt to make myself unattractive went unnoticed (aside from the odd bullying comments about being a lesbian or pre-op trans).

It wasn’t until I was 15 that I finally got him out of my life, after an ultimatum and a bloody nose, that I started to build a life for myself. After a couple of failed relationships I met the love of my life and moved to London when I was 20, a week after I arrived I had a phone call from the police. He had been arrested and they wanted me to testify, so I did. I told my story to a courtroom of strangers, it was the most difficult experience of my life, I was torn apart, every aspect of my short life was dissected for the world to see, my mental health picked apart but I did it. I did it and carried on. He was convicted. I continued with my life, but I didn’t realise the impact it had until much later.

***Part two will be published tomorrow at 8AM GMT / 3AM EST.***