Young Minds Matter? Liza’s Story

A couple of days ago I was contacted by a desperate lady called Liza who told me the story of her 15 year old son who suffers with OCD and whose treatment is painfully lacking.

I want to share their story with you. Forgive me if areas seem vague but I want to retain their privacy whilst getting the story down. For the purposes of this blog Liza’s son will be known as Sam.

Sam is fifteen years old. When he started secondary school he had a bright future ahead of him. He was a prize winning student who was predicted all As and A*s in his GCSEs. Now Sam is predicted to fail all but two of his exams and he’s not been in school since Christmas. Sam isn’t a truant though, his life hasn’t been changed by crime or any other misdemeanour. Sam has obsessive compulsive disorder.

It was back in 2010 when Sam was first under CAMHS but Liza tells a story of erratic care, of passive aggressive comments about how surely she ‘can keep him safe’ and, most importantly, of Sam’s condition worsening and worsening to the point where twice a week he shuts himself in the bathroom for the entire night. Sam and Liza are both exhausted. They know they aren’t equipped to deal with this on their own, they are not only open to help but are practically begging for it.

Sam got offered an elective admission to a mental health unit in January and they felt that they had finally got somewhere only Sam was never admitted as there was no bed available. Liza has done all that she can think of: contacted her local MP, the trust’s Chief Executive, her GP, journalists, campaigners; she doesn’t know where to go next, doesn’t know who will listen.

After contacting me via Twitter both Liza and I tweeted the trust, hoping that a little public fuss might rally some action. It seemed to work. On Monday night Sam was offered admission at 11am the next day. They had a sleepless night as they stayed up talking, getting ready, allowing Sam the space in his head to come to terms with the admission and for everything that meant to him, his family, his compulsions. On Tuesday morning however Liza got another phone call, the bed had been taken by an emergency, Sam wasn’t going anywhere. Liza was devastated, Sam utterly bereft. He had no sleep last night either has he spent his entire night in the bathroom.

How have we let our mental health services get to the point where you more or less need one foot off the precipice before you receive care? How can we all chime in agreement about how young minds matter but then give the message to Liza and Sam that Sam’s doesn’t? How can we let a promising and bright young child get to the point where his education has suffered to such a degree that he’ll be lucky to gain two GCSEs? How can we leave people to cope until it is too late?

Sam said to Liza that he thought he was now beyond help, that he’s scared that he doesn’t know who he is without OCD. Liza’s heart broke.


An Artistic Temperament?

In June 2011 my life was very different to how it is now. After the breakdown of my marriage in 2009 I had managed to pull myself together and become a successful working single mother. I was a clinical nurse specialist in palliative care at St. Thomas’ Hospital. It was my dream job. All was good.

Well, apart from the increase in anxiety that I’d felt and the panic attacks that started sneaking in.

The panic started to get so bad that at work I would hide in the toilets and pray that no one paged me. I had friends I could talk to, my manager tried to be supportive though obviously she had a service to deliver and my emerging illness was interfering with this. As my health got worse I turned to the Samaritans, when I’m unwell using the phone causes me massive anxiety so I exchanged emails with an anonymous ‘Jo’. I knew that each ‘Jo’ I spoke to was a different person but ‘Jo’ was still a huge support.

Despite me talking my despair through with the ever understanding ‘Jo’ in late June I hit crisis. My head went to the darkest place it has ever gone to. I was terrified. Luckily I had a friend, Emily, who had experienced mental health problems herself and she fought tooth and nail to get me the help that I needed.

I lost my job. Probably for the best. Even with help I had to admit that I was very unwell, years of supressed emotions had come rushing out and my life would never be the same.

I’ve had two years now of not working, of being in constant contact with psychotherapists, psychiatrists, the wonderful people at Mind. I now have a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and still struggle with my condition.

One thing that has helped me through has been my writing. Since I’ve been unwell it’s been the thing that has given me an outlet, it’s given me an identity away from motherhood, away from my illness, something to hold up and be proud of.

You read a lot about people with mental health conditions being artistic, hordes of celebrities have regular walks with the black dog; I’m not sure if there is a correlation but a friend of mine who also has BPD suggested recently that the BPD was a tax on being fabulous. I’ll take that.

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