B For Bigorexia

Bigorexia

Next up, in my A-Z of Mental Health series, I will cover the subject of Bigorexia.

Bigorexia? What’s That?

Bigorexia, also known as Muscle Dysmorphia, is a form of anxiety disorder; which has only recently become a recognised illness.

Bigorexia also falls into the Body Dysmorphia category, in that the sufferers’ perception of their body shape doesn’t match the reality. It has been dubbed by some as the opposite of Anorexia, in the sense that sufferers believe themselves to be thin and feeble, when in actual fact, they are muscular.

Who’s Affected?

Bigorexia affects around one in ten men in the UK alone. The figures could be a lot higher than this, due to the condition not being commonly known amongst non-professionals, leaving many more sufferers undiagnosed.

Sufferers are most likely to be gym goers, bodybuilders and those who weight train.

What Causes Bigorexia?

As with all forms of anxiety and body dysmorphia, Bigorexia is caused by a number of factors, including, but not limited to:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Chemical imbalance of the brain
  • Traumatic events, such as bullying
  • Pressure from society, to look a certain way; in order to be perceived as a strong masculine man

How Serious Is Bigorexia?

It’s deadly serious. When I use the term “deadly,” it isn’t an over-statement, it’s a fact.

In the same way that sufferers of Anorexia abuse medication and supplements, to make them thin; sufferers of Bigorexia abuse medication and supplements, to make them bigger.

Abuse of anabolic steriods and high protein supplements, can have catastrophic consequences on the sufferer’s health. Most of us know that steroid abuse can lead to heart attacks, but there are also some other very worrying effects of abusing steroids, including:

  • infertility and reduced sperm count
  • increased risk of prostate cancer
  • erectile dysfunction
  • baldness
  • breast development
  • acne
  • stomach pain

In addition to all of this, sufferers of Bigorexia are at an increased risk of developing depression. This can in turn, lead to suicide.

How Can I Tell If I, Or Someone Close To Me Has Bigorexia?

Sufferers of Bigorexia display the following symptoms and behaviours:

  • Compulsively exercising
  • Looking at their bodies in the mirror for long periods of time, or excessively
  • Abusing steroids and protein supplements, such as protein shakes
  • Dramatic changes in their muscle tone and build
  • Depression
  • Extreme changes in diet
  • Forgoing their usual activities, in order to spend more time in the gym
  • Verbalising their perception that they’re not big enough, or muscular enough
  • Becoming anxious or agitated, whenever they’re unable to exercise, or go to the gym

How Is Bigorexia Treated?

The usual course of treatment for Bigorexia is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, alongside a course of anti-depressant medication.

If a sufferer has developed a steriod addiction, they will be placed on a drug rehabilitation programme, which includes drug counselling.

What To Do If You Suspect Someone Close To You Has Bigorexia

As with all mental illnesses, the first thing you need to do, is try not to rationalise it. Many mental illnesses occur without a tangible, or logical reason. Laying blame, or demanding answers from the sufferer, will only cause more harm.

Get as much information and support, as you possibly can. Consult your doctor and the organisations listed at the bottom of the page.

Understand that there is no one-size-fits-all quick fix. Everyone is different, and what may work for one sufferer, may not work for another. Recovery is a long process, which requires a lot of patience and empathy.

Where Can I Get Help And Support?

There are many sources of support available to you. I’ve listed some helplines and organisations below, who offer help and support to sufferers and their families.

Sources of Support In The UK

Mind Charity: 

Telephone: 0300 123 3393

Email: info@mind.org.uk

Anxiety UK:

Infoline: 08444 775 774

Email: support@anxietyuk.org.uk

Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation (BDD Foundation)

There is a wide range of information, and details of online and face-to-face support groups, on their website.

The link is: BDD Foundation

OCD UK

As with the BDD Foundation, their website is a good source of help and support.

The link is: OCD UK

Narcotics Anonymous

For sufferers who have an associated addiction, Narcotics Anonymous can offer help and support.

Telephone: 0300 999 1212

Sources Of Support In The US

Reach Out

Telephone: 1800-448-3000

Website: Reach Out

Narcotics Anonymous World Service

Again for those who’ve developed an associated addiction, the link below offers information on drug rehabilitation treatment

Narcotics Anonymous World Service

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

Anxiety and Depression Association of America Website

 

This list is not exhaustive. Your doctor may be able to help you access other sources of support and help. If you live in another part of the world and are affected by Bigorexia, I will be more than happy to help you access sources of support in your area.

Photo by Christopher Campbell, courtesy of Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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B For Bullying

Bullying

 

We associate the word “bully” with the horrible specimens we knew at school. You know the ones. You’re probably picturing their angry little faces now. You probably have a couple of names you associate with the word. You always knew they were approaching you in the corridors, because there’d be a whirlwind of chaos and malevolent activity swirling down them.

Books would suddenly fly up into the air, members of the Science club would come skidding down the floor on their fronts like human bowling balls, school bags were emptied onto the floor and their contents trampled on. All this would be accompanied by the soundtrack of evil laughter, coupled with whimpers of distress and quiet sobbing.

Then you’d see them. Them. Plural. Never alone were they, these so-called tough guys? No. There was always the one main bully, and a couple of snivelling little rats in their gang. Head Honcho Scumbag Number One would almost always be the most feared, and their henchmen were just as scared of their leader as everyone else was. Us mere mortals would spend our school careers trying to evade the attentions of the school bullies by making sure we didn’t make eye contact with them, walking the long way round to our lessons and generally trying to stay under the radar.

We knew who the bullies’ main targets were, and we’d quietly witness various acts of sadism being inflicted on these unfortunate souls. Sometimes, we’d mentally scream at the bullies’ victims to run or defend themselves, in the hope that they’d developed the power of telepathy overnight. We never spoke out, for fear of being next on the hit list. It’s shameful, I know. I took that shame with me into adulthood. Why didn’t I say something – do something? Hindsight has 20/20 vision.

Bullying and Suicide

We’ve all read and heard stories of teenagers ending their own lives, due to bullying. But is it really that big a problem? The answer is, most definitely.

This is an extract from the website, bullyingstatistics:

The statistics on bullying and suicide are alarming:

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the CDC. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Over 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted it.
  • Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University
  • A study in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying
  • 10 to 14 year old girls may be at even higher risk for suicide, according to the study above
  • According to statistics reported by ABC News, nearly 30 percent of students are either bullies or victims of bullying, and 160,000 kids stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying

 

Sobering stuff, isn’t it?

Anti-Social Media

We think that bullying, is limited to the playgrounds and corridors of our schools. It used to be, when my generation were growing up.

When most of us went to school, the likes of Mark Zuckerberg were still in school too; so social media wasn’t yet invented. If someone was being bullied at school, at least they could escape from the bullies, once they were on the right side of their front door. Not anymore.

Kids today have no escape from bullies. I see it all the time, in the form of my Facebook friends having to intervene, when some vile little cowards are abusing their teenage children online. Nine times out of ten, my Facebook friends’ children are being bullied at school, by the same horrorbags who are continuing their bullying campaign over social media.

In some ways, social media is actually helping the victims of bullying; by providing them with a public platform. By their very nature, bullies have delusions of being untouchable; therefore they will brazenly abuse their victims in public. This gives us parents the ability to see what the bullies are up to, in real time.

However, the acts of public cruelty the bullies engage in, are just the tip of the iceberg. Succumbing to their fundamental cowardice, the bullies will invariably reserve their worst acts of sadism for private messenger. Because bullies rarely operate alone, they and their cronies will abuse and humiliate their targets in a group message setting.

I’m of the opinion that parents should have access to their teenagers’ social media accounts. Call me an overbearing parent, or whatever you like; I don’t care. My children don’t yet have a social media presence, but when they do, I’ll make sure I have the passwords to their accounts; until they’re of an age to be completely responsible for themselves.

So if they are ever bullied (or God forbid, become a bully themselves, or a bully’s enabler), I’ll be able to see exactly what the hell is going on and stamp it out, before it escalates. I’m fully aware that I won’t be very popular with my children for doing this, but that doesn’t worry me. My priority is not to be popular with my children and their peers, it’s to make sure my children are safe. And if I have to be viewed as an over-protective parent in the process, then so be it.

Adult Bullies

Bullying is not just the forte of children. Adults engage in bullying and humiliation too. Most of the time, you’ll find that people who were bullies as children, go on to be bullies in adulthood.

Adult bullies will find targets in their workplace, on their street, on social media, amongst fellow parents at their childrens’ schools and even within their own families. It’s a sad fact that at least one point in our lives, we will fall prey to an adult bully.

We see them in action all the time, on social media. A controversial news story pops up on our newsfeed and there’s always one or two keyboard warriors in the comments section, dishing out insults to anyone whose opinion differs from theirs. Saddos.

A keyboard warrior recently tried to make me his target, on social media. I’m a member of several blogging community groups on Facebook, and I commented on a fellow member’s post. A couple of hours later, this keyboard warrior replied to my comment; with one of those psuedo-superior jibes at my choice of wording. “You meant to say……surely?” it read. No, my comment was worded just fine, thanks. No sooner had he used my comment as an ego wank sock; he’d tagged what I presume to be his sidekick/wanking partner in the thread. There’s a word for that where I come from, and it’s doggingI replied to the keyboard warrior, asking him why he was so concerned with the way I’d worded my comment. I didn’t get a response, which was rather a shame; since I’ve never had the opportunity to fuck a keyboard warrior up on social media, while the friend they’ve tagged watches through their computer screen. Oh well.

 

Nowt To Do With Me

Because I feel ashamed of myself, for not intervening when someone was being bullied at school; I’ve become one of the seemingly few who speak up and challenge bullies. The ones who still wouldn’t put a bully in their place, say I’m stupid for doing so. “The only heroes, are dead ones” they tell me, as an attempt at persuading me that being spineless is the way forward. But I don’t want to be a hero, I want to be a decent human being.

Bullies thrive on getting away with it. They love nothing more, than to be left to carry out their campaigns of terror, unfettered. My opinion is, those who turn a blind eye to abuse of any description, are contributing to it. I’m sorry, but I won’t be on of the ones who look the other way, while someone is being beaten and humiliated. I don’t care if I get my face smashed in, at least I’ll be able to look myself in the eye (once the swelling’s gone down) and say that I stood up to a coward. Afterwards, I might even watch a video of the incident, which would no doubt have been uploaded to YouTube by a gutless bystander.

Whenever I see bullies on social media, I step in to defend the victim and deliver some bitter home truths to the jellyfish, who’s hiding behind their keyboard. And guess what? I’m still here to tell the tale. But if I’d been just another silent bystander, like most people are these days; would the bullies’ victims still be here? Looking at the statistics further up the page, there’s a good chance they might not be.

I live my life by the motto: “do no harm, but take no shit,” and I can hold my head up high and honestly say that I’m doing a pretty good job of it, so far.

If You, Or Your Loved One Is A Victim of Bullying

If you’re a victim of bullying, or you have a loved one who is; I’ve listed some sources of support available to you.

Sources of Support in The UK (the list is taken from the NHS Choices website)

Childline

Freephone: 0800 1111

ChildLine is a helpline and website for young people and children. You can call ChildLine confidentially at any time of the day or night to talk about any worries. Calls are free from landlines and mobiles, and they won’t appear on a phone bill. You can also chat online to an adviser orcontact ChildLine by email or message board. ChildLine’s website has a useful section on how to cope with bullying.

Bullybusters 0800 169 6928

Bullybusters operates a free anti-bullying helpline for anyone who’s been affected by bullying. It also has a website and message board, with sections specifically for kids and young people.

Bullying UK 0808 800 2222

Bullying UK offers extensive practical advice and information about bullying for young people, and its website has a section on bullying at school.

Help for different types of bullying

Bullying related to race, religion or culture

ChildLine’s website has a section on racism and what you can do if you encounter racist bullying.

Bullying of young people with a learning disability

Don’t Stick it, Stop It! (PDF, 993kb), set up by Mencap, campaigns against the bullying of young people with learning disabilities.

Homophobic and transphobic bullying

EACH is a charity for young people and adults affected by homophobia and transphobia. It has a telephone helpline for young people who are experiencing homophobic or transphobic bullying. You can call the EACH actionline on 0808 1000 143 on weekdays, 9am to 5pm. Calls are free from landlines and most mobiles.

Stonewall is a charity that campaigns for equal rights for lesbians, gay men and bisexual people. Its Education for All campaign tackles homophobia and homophobic bullying in schools across the UK. On the Education for All website you can find case studies and facts and figures about homophobic bullying in schools, as well as advice for young people and teachers.

Bullying of young carers

A Carers Trust survey in 2013 found a quarter of the young adult carers they spoke to had been bullied at school because of their caring role.

Babble is an online community for young carers (aged under 18) run by the Carers Trust. You can also ask questions and get advice online.

Matter is the Carers Trust online community for young adult carers aged 16 to 25 and has an info and advice section.

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying uses technology to bully people. Find out how to deal with cyberbullying.

More information

This isn’t a full list. You can find many more anti-bullying organisations on the Anti-Bullying Alliance website, which contains all the important sources of anti-bullying information and support. Remember, you can call ChildLine in confidence on 0800 1111 to talk about any type of bullying.

Sources of Support In The US 

http://www.stompoutbullying.org/

http://www.overcomebullying.org

www.thetrevorproject.org

www.pacer.org

Sources Of Support In Canada

www.stopabully.ca

www.erasebullying.ca

www.bullyingcanada.ca

www.bullying.org

This list is not exhaustive. If you are reading this from any other parts of the world and you are in need of support, I will be more than happy to help connect you to sources of support in your area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

B For Bipolar: A Guest Post

 

 

connect-20333_1920Hi everyone. As part of my A-Z of Mental Health Challenge, I wanted to discuss the subject of Bipolar.

Because I don’t have any first-hand experience of the illness, I approached a fellow mental health blogger and asked her to share with my readers, her experiences of living with Bipolar.

It’s an honour and a pleasure to introduce to you, Sandra Charron of sandracharron.com

 

How Friends and Family Members Wish Bipolar Disorder Be Gone

 

As a mental illness advocate, I am so grateful to be guest posting here. Over at my own blog ‘sandra dot com’ I share my story of mental illness since I know it’s one that many others are living and can relate to. I have bipolar II disorder. I was diagnosed almost three years ago, and the lumps and bumps since then have left me with big blue bruises which I am barely able to hide under oversized clothing and big, floppy hats. I mean all of this metaphorically, of course. Sadly, bipolar disorder is not visible; maybe if it was, society would be more accepting of mental illness and the care and treatment required.

 

Bipolar II disorder, not to be confused with bipolar I disorder, which is slightly different (and I’ll leave you to Google the differences,) is characterized by such highs that no other feeling on earth can compare. This hypomania, as it is called, begins innocently enough with thoughts that swirl around the brain; gaining momentum which each leap. Sleep becomes elusive as blood vessels and nerve endings explode with energy and excitement. Something as mundane as a painting project becomes an obsession as paint swatches are picked out, swapped out, thrown out, until the project becomes but one of many projects someone with bipolar II ends up ditching for something else; something invigorating which enables rapid fire thought processes. Hypomania is awesome. And I should also mention that people with bipolar disorder don’t usually have a ton of money since shopping sprees, gambling, throwing money out the window…well, let’s just clarify that cash is best left to those who don’t feel the need to buy the same sweater in seven different colours (true story.)

 

The problem however with hypomania is that it doesn’t last. Its high which pushes through cloud cover and swoops over mountain tops, eventually bangs into a ceiling with such violence, then crashes back to the ground with a painful smashing of brain on skull. The hypersensitive blood vessels and nerve endings of hypomania are replaced with the sadness of a depression so deep it burrows into every pore. The terrorizing nightmares of this depression leave its sufferer wishing for a relief which sadly, sometimes can take months and years to be achieved. Suicidal thoughts replace the ones of a manic euphoria. One would think that the mania would more than make up for the cutting pain of depression, but it doesn’t. Because the hypomania is the prelude to ugliness. It’s awesomeness is shrouded in a frightening cloak of uncertainty as each day brings forth the moment which could be the beginning of the end.

 

Obviously the illness itself is more than difficult to endure. However quiet the presence, its invisibility has the world believing that those of us suffering from bipolar disorder are not really sick. Because I can stand. Sometimes I can climb out from beneath the bed sheets that protect me from the evils of the world my mind is unable to comprehend or explain. My friends will say, “You’ll feel better if you come out with us.” My family wills the disorder to be nonexistent; a make-believe land in my head in which I apparently am choosing to soar to the heavens and then be dropped hundreds of thousands of feet into sharp glass which cuts me so deeply I wish one of those shards would puncture my heart. Watching me lay on the couch, unresponsive; unable to care for myself is attributed to exhaustion as opposed to depression.

 

Explaining hypomania to my family is difficult. How do you make people who love you and only have your best interest at heart understand that your thoughts are racing; that you don’t need more than three hours of sleep a night to function; that it’s not normal to plan and plan and plan, and then do nothing but stare at the lace pattern in the curtains. “That’s normal,” my husband will say. “So you get a little overboard about some stuff. That’s doesn’t make you manic.” Yeah. It kinda does. It’s not normal. Because when my mind is depicting stability (which isn’t often as my bipolar disorder has yet to be properly controlled by an effective medication regimen,) – but when I can feel a hum of normalcy, I am suddenly devoid of fanatical obsessions. But my family seems more comfortable believing I’m meant to be juggling fiery arrows rather than accepting the reality that I have an illness.

 

And so I continue to attempt adjusting to the idea that I have an illness which can’t be proven by a blood test or by an interesting lesion on my arm. It’s in my head, tucked behind smiling brown eyes that want desperately to convey to everyone in my life that I don’t feel good, I just don’t feel good. But instead I just sit there staring at that lace pattern in the curtains hoping someone will catch on to my silent cries for help and save me from this torture.

 

For more fascinating stories about my spontaneous home renovations at 3am check out my blog at http://sandracharron.com

Follow me on Twitter @sandra_dot_com

Like my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Sandra_dot_com-1139733749371532/?ref=hl

B For Bereavement

Alex and Grandad

My Uncle Alex with my Grandfather. Circa 1995

Hi everyone. I’m now on the letter B of my A-Z of Mental Health Challenge. This post looks at bereavement.

I’ve chosen to write about bereavement today (10th February), because today is the fifth anniversary of my uncle’s rather sudden and untimely death.

My Uncle Alex

Alex is my Dad’s identical twin brother. When Alex left, he took the other half of my Dad with him. He helped my Dad to bring me up (despite my mother being around, but I’ll get to that in a later post), and my childhood memories are filled with wonderful adventures spent with my Dad, my uncle Alex and my cousin Stuart.

Although my Dad and Alex were two of eight children, they were the closest siblings. They had shared a childhood of horrific abuse, and neglect. More than that, they’d survived it together.

Their horrific start in life, didn’t stop them from loving unconditionally. My Dad and my uncle Alex always vowed that they would never be like their own parents. Their children would be loved and cared for – never beaten or starved as they were. They kept their promises. Where the majority of my other uncles and aunts became carbon copies of my grandparents, my Dad and Alex are the antithesis. They love their children and grandchildren without agenda. They love, for love.

The Division of Strength

My Dad was always the physically stronger of the two. He was the greedy twin, and was born a healthy weight; whereas Alex was born very small. My grandmother told us once that when the midwife asked her what she would name the twins, and she told her that the smaller one would be named Alexander; the midwife said “blimey! His name’s bigger than him!”

I’m not sure how he did it, but my uncle Alex soon caught up with my Dad in terms of physical size; and grew to be just under six feet tall. But throughout their childhood, my uncle Alex was very sickly; and seemed to always suffer common viruses more severely than my Dad.

Where he lacked in physical strength, Alex gained in emotional strength. My Dad has always had a ferocious temper (my opinion is, he has suffered from PTSD for the majority of his life, due to the abuse he suffered in childhood), and he became well known in the area as a force to be reckoned with. And like any true hard man, my Dad has never been a bully, and he has the respect of a lot of people in our town. He reminds me of the type of hard case you see in old movies – his strength could crush a thousand men, yet he can cradle a fragile baby without squeezing too tight.

My uncle Alex, although physically as strong as my Dad, he lacked the temper but made up for it in emotional strength. He was very level headed, and wasn’t a push over. My Dad fell prey to two horrid women, and because he’d been conditioned by my grandmother to believe he deserved to be mistreated; he was destroyed emotionally by his two marriages. Alex had a child with what I can only describe as a cheap slapper, and although it seemed he too had fallen prey to a predatory woman; he walked away from that relationship before she could completely destroy him.

A Father and Uncle in a Million

Alex maintained a strong bond with his son, Stuart. He wasn’t a weekend Dad, who’d look after his son half heartedly; while counting down the hours until he could offload him back on his ex. He put his everything into Stuart. Me, my Dad, Alex and Stuart would go swimming most Saturday mornings, and then we’d spend the rest of the day (and sometimes the night) back at Alex’s lovely home; playing Subbuteo, drinking cold lemonade from fancy glasses and watching films in front of the cosy open fire.

Needless to say, I became a total tomboy as a result of being brought up around strong male influences. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

On Sundays, Alex took Stuart to the dry ski slope. Stuart was a strong skiier and snowboarder from an early age, and went on to ski down Ben Nevis in Scotland, years later with his high school.

Alex was the person I turned to if I needed good, practical advice on anything. When I was being bullied by my first employer as an apprentice, Alex told me to just hang in there and ride it out. When I eventually lost my temper, and told the salon owner to shove my job where the sun doesn’t shine, I thought my uncle would be disappointed in me. But when I told him the full story of what had led me to lose my s**t, he said that in some situations I need to use the temper I inherited from my Dad. My Dad was in full support of what I did, and even rang my employer to give her a piece of his mind.

The Creator

Dad and Alex were incredibly talented. My Dad is a brilliant painter and photographer (I keep trying to get him to pick up a paintbrush again, but he seems to have lost heart.) Alex was astonishingly good and sculpting things. He once made a snowman as high as his bedroom windows, and sculpted it into a work of art. It had a big smiling face, and one hand was waving at us. It was magnificent. I wish I’d had the foresight to ask my Dad to take some photos of it.

One winter, Alex made a sledge for Stuart from the frame of an old go kart. Instead of wheels, he cut down some old skis, and made sort of runners with them. There were two skis at the front, and they were attached to the steering wheel. I’ve seen sledges like this one in the shops since, but back in the early 90s, this sledge was something else. Alex would pick me up after school while my Dad worked, and he’d take me and Stuart to the local woods. There’s a big stately home in these woods, and at the front of it is a massive hill. We would hurtle down the hill on Stuart’s home made sledge, and all the other kids admired our vehicle.

Halloween was another time of year that Alex’s talents were showcased. Stuart’s costumes were always out of this world. Before you could buy Ghostbusters costumes in the shops, Alex made one for Stuart, using an old boiler suit and parts from an old vacuum cleaner. One year, Stuart came to a Halloween party as a character from Salem’s Lot. He was unrecognisable. Alex had used latex to sculpt a gruesome face (more gruesome than Stuart’s real face haha), and used face paints to complete the look. It was astonishingly realistic. Some where along the way, my Dad and uncle’s talents hadn’t been used to their full potential. I can’t help but wonder whether they would’ve made careers from their talents, had they had supportive parents to put them through college and university.

My Dad and Alex as 50-somethings

As my Dad and Alex reached their 50s, we all thought they’d start to slow the pace down a little. On the contrary, they seemed to up the ante. They took up fell walking, and would spend most of their weekends camping and walking in Derbyshire and Cumbria.

They took on the Old Man of Coniston, and shared a celebratory drink at the summit. They scrambled up the treacherous Helvellyn – a challenge I think they were a little under-prepared for. But nevertheless, they scaled it’s face and then laughed in it as they ambled back down to level ground.

All that walking and fresh air really did them the world of good, and they looked much younger than their years.

Great-Uncle, and Grandad Alex

My children and my Dad have an inseparable bond.  And because of this bond, my uncle Alex treated my children like his own grandchildren. The sledge, which had once brought so much joy to my childhood, became a regular winter feature in my childrens’ lives.

Alex has grandchildren of his own, but because Stuart is in the Army, he didn’t get to see them as much as he would’ve liked. But when he did see his grandchildren, he doted on them.  So my children were a substitute for him, when he couldn’t see his own grandchildren.

One day in around 2010, Alex came to my house, one tea time. He had an old Manchester United portable TV with him, that a work colleague was going to throw away. Knowing that my eldest son is an avid football and Manchester United fan, Alex immediately took the TV off his colleague’s hands.

He brought it to my house, and set it up in my son’s bedroom. We laughed and joked about how slow it was to tune the channels in, and my son was over the moon with his new present.

After Alex’s death, the TV broke. My eldest son was devastated. It was as if he’d lost another part of his Great-Uncle Alex. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away, so I kept it in my spare room until my best friend persuaded me to let it go, some 3 years later.

14th January 2011

I was due to start working at the place I work at now as an agency employee. On Friday, January 14th 2011, I attended a short induction to prepare me for the following Monday’s start. When I got home, my husband was waiting in the front garden for me. My beloved uncle Alex had been diagnosed with cancer.

Anger seared through my windpipe. Why him? Why has this b*****d decided to pick on my uncle? The anger dissipated, and was replaced by hope. He was going to beat this. He’d fitted his own kitchen and survived his childhood. Cancer had well and truly met its match.

Alex had been feeling ill since around November 2010. He was in immense pain, and the pain radiated through his back. He went to his GP, and was prescribed some antibiotics – they’d diagnosed him with a chest infection. The antibiotics didn’t work, so he went to our local walk-in centre. They diagnosed him with pluracy, and prescribed more antibiotics.

Christmas came and went, and Alex was still no better. My Dad’s twin intuition kicked in, and he was agitated all through the Christmas period.

Around January 5th, Alex was taken ill at work. He was in too much pain to carry out his duties, so his employer called an ambulance. He was taken to a local hospital, and told that his chest infection was just taking a little longer to go away. Not satisfied with their diagnosis, Alex returned to work, picked his car up and drove himself to another hospital. Just half a mile away from the hospital, the pain became so unbearable, Alex had to stop his car in the middle of a dual carriageway.

His sudden stop had caused a tail back, and some of the other drivers got out of their vehicles to find out the source of the delay. Alex explained to them that he was too ill to drive, and some of the other drivers pushed his car to the side of the road and called an ambulance.

He arrived at the hospital, and was examined by a doctor in the Accident and Emergency Department. She was rather an obnoxious creature, who insisted that Alex was fit and well, and he was wasting their time. The truth was, Alex had never been a hypochondriac in his life. Instead, he was a no – fuss person, who hated being ill. Alex asked to see a different doctor. This doctor took the pain seriously, and admitted him to the medical investigations ward. They conducted a series of tests on Alex, and found his cancer.

The Enigma of Alex’s Cancer

I’m not sure whether this was Alex’s doing, but we weren’t informed of the severity of Alex’s condition. As far as we were concerned, Alex’s cancer was treatable, and he would be undergoing a cycle of Chemotherapy.

Everything seemed positive, and Alex gave us the impression that he was going to fight it with all his strength. Little did we know.

The Last Hello

I waited until Alex had been home from the hospital for a few days, before going to visit him. Armed with a bag of DVDs and some other bits and bobs, I walked the short distance to Alex’s house. I approached the front door, and glanced through the front window. There, sitting in his armchair was a very frail Alex. He had a friend over, visiting him. I waved to him through the window, and his friend took this as his cure to leave. I wasn’t sure why his friend felt he had to end his visit at the time, but now I know why.

My uncle’s friend, opened the door and let me in. I walked through to the living room, and choked back the tears. My lovely uncle had aged 20 years. His face was gaunt and sallow, and he’d lost a lot of weight. A walking stick was propped up against his armchair. The devastating truth hit me like a ton of bricks. My uncle was dying.

He was not at all impressed to see me. He launched into a rant about how the rest of our extended family hadn’t left him alone since his diagnosis, and he just wanted to sleep; but felt that no one was allowing him to rest. I was angry at my extended family. Their actions weren’t borne out of genuine love or concern, it was another way to compete with each other on who was caring for him the most. The eternal martyrs.

I listened as Alex offloaded his anger and desperation onto me. He was exhausted, and in excruciating pain. Reading between the lines, I think his anger wasn’t really directed at me, it was directed at me having to see him so ill and vulnerable. He was unable to eat, and he said he felt perpetually nauseous. The thing which haunts me to this day, and always will, is how his voice had changed. He didn’t sound like my uncle Alex anymore, and it unnerved me. Cancer was taking every aspect of him away from us.

After he’d finished telling me off for going round to visit him, I got up to leave. Alex rose unsteadily to his feet, and grasped his walking stick. He slowly walked with me to the door, all the while informing me of his busy new cancer schedule. “Tomorrow I have my first chemo treatment, then on Friday I have the McMillan Nurse coming. Then on Monday, I have…….” I cut him dead, mid sentence. I got the message. “I’ve listened to everything you’ve had to say. Don’t worry, I won’t come round and prevent you from resting. I’ll see you soon.” I looked through his tired eyes, and into him as I said those words. I hugged him tightly, and tried not to cry. “I love you.” I whispered in his ear. He gave my shoulders a short, tight squeeze.

This was the last time I ever saw my uncle Alex alive.

A Glimmer Of Hope

Shortly after my visit, Alex took to his bed and slept. And slept. And slept. He was prescribed Morphine for the pain, and had been advised that he wasn’t strong enough to begin his Chemotherapy.

He moved into Stuart’s old bedroom, so he could be closer to the bathroom. He started to feel stronger. He spent his days watching DVDs in bed, and planning his future. He felt he was winning the battle, and planned to take early retirement; once he’d had the all clear. He told my Dad in one of their daily telephone conversations that he couldn’t wait to resume their camping and walking weekends, and he felt he’d been given a second chance at life. “I’ve got away with it.” He practically sang down the phone. My Dad was ecstatic. He wasn’t going to lose his brother, after all.

The Cruelest Twist of Fate

On Wednesday, 9th February, my uncle Alex was rushed into hospital. He’d developed septicemia, and was burning up and hallucinating. The family gathered around his bed. His condition deteriorated rapidly. He began to fight his impending death, and what my Dad witnessed that night will haunt him forever.

In the early hours of Thursday, 10th February 2011, my uncle lost his fight. He was 56 years old. I awoke from a fitful night’s sleep to the news. I was numb. But my first priority was my Dad. I had to get him through this. I got my children dressed, fed and into school. I then ran home and tried to call a taxi to take me to my Dad’s house.

Back then I had a Pay As You Go mobile phone, and it had run out of credit. I ran to the top of my road, and into the payphone cubicle. As I was calling my taxi, I could hear a voice coming from the mobile phone in my pocket. Now what I’m about to tell you is the honest truth. I reached inside my pocket and retrieved the mobile phone. It was a flip-front handset, and you couldn’t make a call when the front was down, as the screen covered the keyboard. To unlock it, you had to flip the screen up. When I looked at the phone, the screen was covering the keyboard, but it was still trying to dial out. The contact it was trying to reach was my Dad. My spine tingled. I took it as a sign from my uncle Alex. And this was the first of many signs I’d receive from him over the next 5 years.

The Truth about Alex’s Cancer

There was a post-mortem conducted on my uncle. The coroner, for some reason wasn’t satisfied with my uncle’s medical records.

We’d previously thought that Alex’s cancer was treatable, but the post – mortem results said otherwise. The cancer was particularly aggressive, and had was located in his lungs, liver, breast and bone. It was so advanced that it wasn’t possible to pin point the primary location of the cancer. This went some way to explain my uncle’s rapid decline.

Bright Eyes

My uncle’s funeral came and went in a hazy, numb blur. But I remember the music. Going into the service, Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street was played, and the soundtrack to his final journey in the crematorium was Simon and Garfunkel’s Bright Eyes. You’ll probably remember this song from that god awful film, Watership Down. I’ve always hated that film – even before Alex’s death. But he loved the film and the song.

Bright Eyes was Alex’s song to Stuart. Unwittingly, he’d dedicated a song to his son which would foresee his own demise. I plan to have he following lyrics tattooed into my forearm, as a tribute to my uncle Alex:

“How can the light that burned so brightly, suddenly burn so pale? Bright eyes.” This one line sums up my anger and disbelief that my vibrant, alive uncle could suddenly be reduced to a shell by that awful illness.

Life Without Alex

I think it goes without saying, that my Dad has never been, nor ever will be the same again.

I spoke to him earlier on the phone, and his voice was strained and husky, like he’d spent an eternity in the most unbearable pain. I so wish I could bring my uncle back, even just for one day. I wish I could bring him to my Dad’s house, and leave them both to spend one last day together. But I know that’s not possible. And it tears me apart every single day.

Today, as I do every year, I’ll light a candle for him and say a prayer. I’m not a religious person, but there’s a part of me that believes that there is an afterlife. I have to believe it, otherwise what’s the point? I have to believe that there was a deeper meaning behind my uncle being ripped away from us. I have to believe. I have to hope. I can’t let him go. Not yet.

Thank you for reading this. I apologise for the lengthy post, but I just couldn’t turn off the tap once I’d opened it.

And if you’re reading this uncle Alex, which I hope you are; we miss you, we love you and we’ll never ever forget you. Have a drink for us, where ever you are.

In the words of my beloved uncle: I’m doing a runner now.

See you soon.

 

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A For Antidepressants

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When Silent D And Me was last live, I promised that I would discuss my experiences of antidepressants with my readers. In this blog post, I’ll do just that.

Antidepressants and Me

I was first prescribed anti-depressants when I was 15 years old. I had been struggling with my depression, and had the beginnings of an eating disorder (my psychiatrist disagreed that I had an eating disorder, but I’ll leave that story for another blog post.) Following a suicide attempt, I was admitted to hospital. I was assigned a psychiatrist, who prescribed Fluoxetine AKA Prozac.

When I was discharged from hospital, I remained under their care as an out-patient; and met with my psychiatrist on a weekly basis. At first, the Fluoxetine seemed to work well for me – the suicidal thoughts became less frequent and intense; and I felt less nervous about facing the world. But I still struggled with eating. My psychiatrist was happy to keep prescribing the medication, and combined it with talk therapy.

Out of the blue, I started to experience very strange symptoms. I was back at school, but only in body. I didn’t remember the majority of the day, and the parts I did remember were spent feeling overwhelmingly drowsy.

I would come home from school at around 4.30pm. Almost immediately after I got home, I’d fall into a deep sleep. I slept through to the next morning, and when I woke up, I struggled to stay awake.

Out of The Fog

The crunch came one morning, when I fell asleep face down in my cereal (and I don’t just mean the sound the cereal made, when I passed out and face planted it.)My mother dragged my semi-conscious body back to the hospital, and demanded answers from my psychiatrist. He took blood from me, and fast tracked it through the lab. The results came back that I had a Sodium deficiency, and my psychiatrist put it down to me starving my body of nutrients.

My mother wasn’t having any of it. She insisted that I was having an adverse reaction to the Fluoxetine, and demanded I be taken off it. As I was only 15 at the time, and medically a child; my psychiatrist had to grant my mother’s request. But he advised that just stopping the medication could have more adverse effects on me. He and my mother (reluctantly) came to the agreement that I should be gradually taken off the Fluoxetine.

Things didn’t start to improve, until I’d stepped down to the lowest dosage of medication. It felt like I’d had my head underwater for a long time, and had finally broken the surface. I was more conscious and lucid; but I was still sleeping for long periods of time during the night. I’d wake up the morning feeling groggy and heavy-headed. It was like having a severe hangover. It took a couple of hours, before I could function properly; but at least I was back in the land of the living.

I continued with the talk therapy for a few months, after I’d come off the medication. I was eventually discharged from the hospital, 2 months before my 16th Birthday.

A Medicated 20 – Something

The second time I was prescribed antidepressants, I was 23 and had revealed to my GP, my plans to end my life. I’d been planning my suicide for around 4 months, and a week before my self imposed expiry date, I reached out for help. I’m so glad I did. When I look back at that appointment with the doctor, I feel annoyed with him. I’m annoyed because I’d told him what I was planning to do and when I had planned to do it; yet his first resort wasn’t to refer me for counselling, it was to prescribe me some pills.

This time, I was prescribed Citalopram. Although they were a different drug, they had the same effect on me as Fluoxetine. I was back to being a half conscious spectre, but this time I couldn’t afford to pass out at the breakfast table. I had a toddler and a young baby to care for, and the last thing they needed was a half conscious mother. My husband was working full time, so I had to be lucid and present.

Remembering how I’d been gradually been taken off the Fluoxetine last time, I went back to my GP. He agreed to slowly bring me off the pills and again, I broke the surface of the water I was immersed in. I’ve haven’t taken antidepressants since.

So Who Do They Work For?

Although antidepressants haven’t been a great help to me, I know people who they do help. My Sister is one of them. She has Sleep Apnoea, which causes her to have night terrors and nocturnal panic attacks. She has a very demanding and stressful job, which involves sleeping over at her workplace. She was prescribed Fluoxetine a couple of years ago, and it helps her to keep the panic attacks under control.

She recently looked at the possibility of coming away from antidepressants and with the help of her GP, she began the process of decreasing her dosage. This had disastrous consequences. Where I broke the surface of the water at the lowest dosage of Fluoxetine, my sister sank to the bottom.

She went on holiday with her partner, and after a series of phone calls from her employer (badgering her to cut her holiday short, to cover a sick colleague’s shifts), she spent one night in the grip of a ferocious panic attack. Her partner was horrified. My sister was half asleep, running around the apartment, frantically trying to escape. After what must have felt like an age, my sister’s partner managed to persuade her to go back to sleep.

When she woke up the next morning, she didn’t have any recollection of her Somnambulant panic attack. When her partner told her what had happened, she decided she should go back to her GP and have her Fluoxetine dosage increased.

The other person I know who’s on antidepressants long term, is my husband. He’s takes Amitriptyline to ease the symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Because his brain doesn’t produce enough of the hormone which enables him to progress into the REM sleep stage,the Amitriptyline helps him to go into a deep sleep.

When he wakes in the morning, my husband feels fuzzy headed, and heavy limbed. This is due to the mild tranquilizer contained in the medication. This is actually the lesser of the two evils. If he doesn’t take the Amitriptyline before he goes to bed, his joints are incredibly stiff and painful in the morning.

So the sedative effect of antidepressants can be useful to people with medical conditions, such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Sleep Apnoea.

What’s the bottom line?

Whether or not anti depressants are effective in treating mental illness, is largely subjective and depends on the individual patient and their circumstances.

Anti depressants such as Fluoxetine are usually used alongside a form of talk therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioual Therapy (CBT). This is because the medical world acknowledges that conditions like depression aren’t solely caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. There are usually external factors at play in the development of depression. The combined therapy is designed to address both causes of the patient’s condition.

I personally haven’t had the best experiences with anti-depressants, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work or they’re not helping people. Every individual is different, and people living with a mental health issue should find a treatment that works for them – even if it means they’re on anti-depressants for the rest of their lives.

I’d rather hear of someone using anti-depressants until they die of old age, than hear of someone not taking them (if they work for them) and dying by their own hands, well before Mother Nature got to have her say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A For Addiction

….In despair or incoherent, nothing in between.

China white, my bride tonight, smiling on the tiles.

Bring that minute back, we never get so close as when the sun ward flight begins.

I share it all with you, powder blue……….

–  Elbow, Powder Blue 2001

The above song was written by Elbow’s Guy Garvey,after he saw a withdrawing couple in Dry Bar in Manchester. He said of his muses: “….I noticed a tenderness between the two, despite them being strung out; it was a very romantic, but a rather dark, situation.”

A Deadly Romance

And that’s addiction isn’t it? Romantically dark and deadly. A love-hate relationship with the thing that simultaneously takes your pain away, and brings you new waves of pain.

Addiction comes in many forms: alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling addiction, sex addiction, nicotine addiction, food addiction, to name but a few.

What Causes Addiction?

To get a better understanding of the causes of addiction, I took to YouTube as part of my research. A TED Talks video made by Johann Hari, entitled “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong” focuses on the causes of drug addiction, and whether current drug policies are effective in fighting the war on drug addiction.

In the video, Jonathan challenges the scientific theory that drug addiction is a result of the chemical hooks contained in the drugs.

Jonathan references the studies and research of Prof. Bruce Alexander, a Professor of Psychology in Vancouver, Canada. In the 1970s, Prof. Alexander analysed drug experiments conducted in the early 20th Century, which were carried out on lab rats. The scientists gave the rats two types of drinking water – one bottle contained plain water, and the other contained water laced with either Heroin, or Cocaine.

During these experiments, the rats almost always preferred the spiked water, to the plain water. The result was that the rats drank so much of the spiked water, they eventually overdosed and died. This proved the theory that chemical hooks are responsible for addiction. The scientists came to the conclusion that the rats were hooked on the spiked water, therefore compulsively drank it to feed their addiction.

When Prof. Bruce Alexander studied the records from these experiments, he noted that the cages the rats were kept in were empty, and contained no sources of stimuli.

Based on his findings, Prof. Bruce Alexander carried out his own experiments, using a custom built cage, which he named “Rat Park”. He placed more than one rat inside the cage, and the cage contained sources of stimuli, such as toys and exercise equipment. Just like the experiments conducted in the early 20th Century, Prof. Bruce Alexander gave the rats two water bottles, one containing plain water and the other laced with narcotics.

During these experiments, the rats in Rat Park preferred the plain water to the spiked water. None of the rats died of an overdose from the drugged water. Prof. Alexander concluded that the rats in Rat Park didn’t use the spiked water, because they were happy and entertained. They had other rats to interact with, and toys to keep them occupied. So this put paid to the idea that drug addiction is solely a result of the chemical hooks contained in the drugs.

Addiction As A Form of Connection

Based on his experiment, Prof. Alexander felt that the term “addiction” doesn’t come close to describing the psychological mechanics of the condition. He felt that the term “bonding” would be a better fit.

During my research into addiction, I found that the general consensus of current addicts, recovered addicts and professionals such as addiction counsellors, is that people become addicted to substances or habits (drugs and alcohol especially), because they have suffered some kind of social disconnection in their lives.

Although the abuse of substances disconnects you from reality, it provides users with a connection of sorts. If you’ve ever met someone who’s addicted to a substance, you will, on at least one occasion, hear them say the words: “drugs/drink is always there for me. It’s never let me down.” This phrase is demonstrative of the bond between substance, and user. Users see their substance of choice as their friend.

Social Connection = Survival

Humans are essentially pack animals, and our main primal instinct is to form connections with our pack, in order to be safe from potential predators. Staying connected with our pack gives us a better chance of survival. When we observe pack animals in the wild, we find that when a pack member is disconnected from their group, it inevitably dies; either by being eaten by a predator, or their health rapidly deteriorates.

Because we no longer have predators around us (the kind who will eat us), we don’t need to form connections for basic survival, right?

Wrong. No matter what has happened to us through the evolutionary process, we are still fundamentally pack animals. We suffer terrible loneliness when we are disconnected, and we also suffer boredom, just like our drug addicted rats in the lab suffered boredom and loneliness.

This is where addiction comes into play. If there are no opportunities available in a person’s life to be connected to other people, and be challenged and stimulated, they are at a greater risk of turning to a substance or habit, to simulate the feelings of purpose and connection.

Trauma’s Role in Addiction

In many cases, people with addictions have experienced either an isolated traumatic event, or a series of traumatic incidents. These traumatic events provide the catalyst for future disconnection.

Childhood abuse is one of the main causes of people turning to substances and other addictive habits. The secrecy that underpins abusive environments, and the fear and terror of the consequences of revealing their abuse to others, automatically disconnects the victim from society and sources of help.

Another form of compulsory disconnection, is bereavement. The loss of someone who provides support, particularly emotional support to you leaves you vulnerable and wide open to attack. We then search for ways to reconnect to the emotions we experienced when we were with this person. This can then lead to addiction. Some people even turn to alcohol or drugs as a method of ending their lives, so that they can be reunited with their deceased loved one.

The Role of Stress in Addiction

During my research, I watched a documentary by Russell Brand, entitled: Russell Brand – From Addiction To Recovery. In the documentary, he spoke with a doctor who gave a list of risk factors to developing an addiction. One of the risk factors was stress.

People who have stressful lives, tend to turn to alcohol or another substance, as a way of “letting off steam.” I think we’re all guilty of that, aren’t we? Stressful week at work? Let’s have a few glasses of wine on a Friday night to unwind. Your children are re enacting the Battle of Hastings in your front room, over who ate the last fruit pastille? Take yourself outside for a coffee and a cigarette.

But what happens if those few glasses of wine on a Friday night, turn into a bottle every night? Or a few glasses of wine over lunch, followed by a couple of bottles over dinner?

The doctor in Russell Brand’s documentary explained that although the majority of the population drink alcohol recreationally, 10% go on to become alcoholics. The reason? He said the key to stress related addiction lies in the Amygdala.

The Amygdala And Addiction

 

The amygdala is located within the temporal lobe of our brains. We have two amygdalae (one on each side of the brain), and they are in charge of our emotions, survival instincts and memory.

When an external source of stress occurs, the amygdala sends a distress signal to the hypothalmus. The hypothalmus is the control room of the brain, and is the link between the brain and the rest of the body. Once the hypothalmus receives a distress signal from the amygdala, it sends a message to the adrenal glands, which respond by secreting adrenaline into the bloodstream. The presence of adrenaline in the bloodstream brings about certain physiological changes in your body. Your heart beats faster, your blood pressure rises, and you breathe faster to enable your brain to receive extra oxygen. The effect of this, is your senses become sharper. You now have the burst of energy you need to either fight the perceived danger, or take flight away from it.

Once the danger has passed, your adrenal glands stop secreting adrenaline into your bloodstream and you start to calm down. Your heart rate slows back down to its regular pace, and your breathing starts to regulate itself once more. This “come down” has more physiological effects on your body. I personally feel very nauseous after a stressful situation.

The doctor in Russell Brand’s documentary said that the reasons some people reach for a substance during a stressful situation, can either be to counter the physiological effects of the adrenaline rush during the stressful event, or to replicate it afterwards. Which could explain why people often offer you a strong alcoholic drink to “calm your nerves”, before delivering some distressing news to you.

Aside from the fight or flight element, the amygdala is responsible for your emotional memory. Have you noticed that certain smells or pieces of music induce certain emotions in you? Your Grandmother’s perfume may induce happy emotions, whereas the music which was played at her funeral induces feelings of deep sadness. That’s the work of your amygdala.

This emotional memory plays a key part in addiction. A reminder or trigger of a deeply emotional event in your past, forces your amygdala to identify the thing which made you feel better. If that thing happens to be drinking alcohol, or taking drugs, your amygdala tells your hypothalmus to send a message to the rest of your body that this substance is required.

The Amygdala’s Role in Compulsivity

The amygdala also remembers withdrawal, and the physical and emotional experiences associated with it. Because your amygdala is in charge of your survival instincts, it will work hard to steer you away from things which threaten your survival. For example: the physical effects of Heroin withdrawal threaten your body’s wellbeing, so the amygdala will use your memory to point you in the direction of something which prevents withdrawal. And that something is usually Heroin itself. This explains why people who’ve recovered from their addictions, are never far away from relapse.

With this in mind, we can draw the conclusion that the amygdala is responsible for the compulsive side to addiction. The addict themselves aren’t consciously responsible for the habits they’ve developed. It’s more of a subconscious process.

Impulses and Addiction

Another factor the doctor identified in Russell Brand’s documentary, is how impulsive an individual is. He said that those who are most likely to develop addictions, are less in control of their impulses than those who don’t go on to be addicts.

He referenced an experiment which was conducted, again, using rats as their subjects. Each rat was given a lever or button to push, and the reward for doing so was a treat. The length of time each rat could go between lever pushes was measured, and it was found that some rats couldn’t wait longer than a few seconds, before pushing the lever again. Other rats could wait longer than a few seconds between lever pushes.

This experiment goes back to the rats’ desire or need for external stimuli. Some rats could quite happily sit for long periods, before boredom set in; and others craved constant stimulation.

Anyone who has ever owned a dog, has unwittingly conducted this experiment. When our dogs were puppies, we put them through training. We would order them to sit for 10 seconds, before rewarding them with a treat. If the puppy wandered off before the 10 seconds were up, they wouldn’t receive the treat. Gradually, the puppy learned that there was more to gain from controlling their impulses; and they would become what we call more “obedient.”

But there was always one puppy you owned, who wouldn’t play the game wasn’t there? If that puppy were a human being, they would be deemed more likely to develop an addiction, based on the highly impulsive behaviours they displayed.

Russell Brand put himself in the same category as the rats who couldn’t wait longer than a few seconds, before pulling the lever. You can tell from his overall demeanour and often scatty behaviour, that he is very much driven by his impulses. People like Russell are on the constant look out for variety and adventure, and this can unfortunately, lead them into the clutches of addiction.

Addiction And Pleasure

We would be naive if we thought that addicts don’t derive pleasure from the substances they abuse. After all, how can you become addicted to something if it didn’t bring you pleasure in the first place?

Take alcoholics for example: the majority of alcoholics started out as social drinkers. One minute, they’re having a good time in a pub or bar, surrounded by their friends; and the next minute the good times ended and everyone had to go back to their lives. But they didn’t want to go back to boring old real life, with their boring jobs and mundane routines. Why did the party have to end?

So we go back to the Amygdala, and emotional memory. Alcoholics started out by associating alcohol with good times. So what’s the best way to prolong the good times? By drinking. Everything’s great, lots of drunken fun is to be had. And before you know it, you’re knocking back a few vodkas just so you can face the mundane aspects of real life.

This is how my Dad’s best friend became an alcoholic. What started out as a few pints down the local with the lads, became an all – consuming devil on his shoulder. He didn’t want the party to end, so he tried to turn his life into one long party. Two failed marriages, two estranged children, a drink – drive ban and a string of lost jobs later; and my Dad’s best friend of nearly 50 years passed away from alcohol – related illness, in 2008. He was 56 years old.

So What’s The Solution To Beating Addiction?

In short, I don’t have a specific answer to this. But my research into addiction has thrown up some interesting arguments and theories on beating addiction.

In his documentary, Russell Brand said that addicts have a hole somewhere inside them, and use drugs or alcohol to fill the void. He’s against the Methadone programme, because he feels that abstinence therapy is a better solution to beating addiction. He has a point. Why is it that when a person is addicted to a substance, they are placed onto another substance to “wean them off?” This method is merely replacing one addiction with another.

It isn’t getting to the root of the addiction, it’s just stabilising the addict. And how many addicts out there take substances to “get stable?” Well, maybe some alcoholics drink to “get stable” in terms of calming their panic responses; but even then, we would recommend they replace the alcohol with caffeine, which is just another drug.

Take cigarette smokers as another example. I’m a smoker, and I have been since the age of 14. Peer pressure was a major factor in my decision to take up smoking. My school friends were all smokers, and some of them still are. But some of them aren’t. As soon as we left school, and the peer pressure wasn’t present anymore; they quit. And stayed quit. They’d been smoking for the same amount of time the rest of us had, therefore were exposed to the same levels of nicotine, yet they could just stop. This further proves the argument of Prof. Alexander, that addiction is not a result of the chemical hooks inside the substance. There has to be more to it than that.

So, say a smoker like me wants to quit. What do they do? They replace the cigarettes with a form of nicotine replacement therapy. Then what? Do they use the nicotine therapy for a short period of time, before quitting it cold turkey? No. They use the nicotine replacement therapy on a long – term basis. Or they go back on the fags. Why? Because the initial cause of the addiction hasn’t been addressed or resolved.

The majority of the arguments against placing addicts on another substance to overcome their addiction, point to the psychological and emotional causes of the addiction not being given enough emphasis. Health professionals in the field of addiction, tend to focus more on the physiology of addiction and not the psychology. The Methadone programme proves this.

In his documentary, Russell Brand said that he’s against the Methadone programme, because he feels that it doesn’t fill the hole that Heroin seems to fill – it doesn’t get you high. So in order to derive the same euphoria or escape from reality that Heroin provides, he said that Methadone users often abuse other substances, such as alcohol. Some of them even continue to use Heroin.

He discussed his opinions with a GP, who has patients in her care on the Methadone programme. For the most part, she dismissed Russell’s arguments; because the statistics show that the Methadone programme has a high success rate. Russell argued that the statistics aren’t a true reflection of its success, because the Methadone programme was devised; not as a tool to overcome addiction, but a tool to reduce crime rates and the number of Heroin addicts contracting HIV through needle sharing.

After his meeting with the GP, Russell met a very drunk woman; who was swigging from a can of strong lager. She was on the Methadone programme. She said that the reason she was drinking on top of her Methadone, was because the Methadone wasn’t an effective substitute for Heroin – it wasn’t getting her high. She was also occasionally using crack cocaine on top of the Methadone and alcohol. Her addictions had multiplied since being placed on the Methadone programme.

The points raised by the GP bring me onto the subject of stigma.

The Stigma Of Addiction

If what Russell said about the objectives of the Methadone programme is true, then this means that its initial development was motivated by stigma.

Another professor in Russell Brand’s documentary said that through his work in drug rehabilitation, he met an advocate of the Methadone programme who said that if one of his relatives developed a drug addiction, he wouldn’t treat them with Methadone; he would get them into a residential rehab facility instead.

The professor said he was angry at this statement, because here was this person – an advocate for the Methadone programme, saying that they wouldn’t use it if someone close to them became hooked on Heroin. He said he felt that this person was saying “I don’t care about the other addicts out there, because they’re just drug addicts.” And if that is what this person meant, what an irresponsible attitude to have, as an advocate for an addiction treatment programme.

I understand the motives for the Methadone programme, but I don’t agree with how it is used. Yes, if a drug addict is committing criminal offences to fund their drug habit, then they should be taken through the legal system. But then they shouldn’t be kicked out of the system, once they’ve fulfilled their punishment. If the drug addiction isn’t addressed properly, then the users will almost certainly go on to re offend. Criminals under the influence of drugs or alcohol should be given a compulsory detention in a residential rehab programme, instead of a custodial sentence in prison.

Those who say it isn’t possible, and we don’t have the resources to do it; need to answer this question: we have the resources to detain some of the most dangerous criminals in secure units, or hospitals; yet we don’t seem to have the resources to put drug related offenders in rehab facilities. Why? The dangerous criminals, and the criminals who offend to fund their habits have one thing in common: they have diminished responsibility. Yet why is it that someone who has committed a heinous crime, can plead insanity and receive a “get out of jail free card,” but someone who’s burgled a house or stolen a car for drug money, can’t use their mitigating circumstances to get access to the treatment they need?

I think back on the withdrawing couple who inspired Guy Garvey’s hauntingly beautiful song. Do I think they recovered? I used to. After doing the research for this blog post, I’m not very optimistic. Had they been withdrawing in the street, or in a supermarket; then maybe there’d be more hope for them of getting and staying clean. But they were withdrawing in a bar. They were replacing one drug with another. The odds were stacked against Powder Blue and her love.

Like I said, I don’t have the end-all answer to the issue of addiction. But what I can say is: the war on addiction will never be won, unless attitudes to people with addictions change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A-Z Of Mental Health Blog Challenge

 

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Hi Everyone,

I’ve set myself a challenge, to hopefully drag myself out of my writing rut.

Over the next 26 weeks, I will be writing blog posts on the A-Z of mental health.

Each week, I aim to write at least 2 blog posts on mental health topics which begin with the letter of the week. For example, this coming week, I’ll be focusing on mental health subjects that start with the letter A. Next week, I’ll focus on the letter B, and so on.

Strap yourselves in, put the kettle on and stay tuned. I’ll be asking questions at the end.

See you soon.

Caroline xx

 

Edit: Due to time constraints, my Letter of The Week will now be the Letter of The Fortnight. I was a little too ambitious with this challenge, and found I couldn’t cover all the topics I wanted to in just a week.