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I once lost all sense of reality but I'm not ashamed of my bi-polar

I once lost all sense of reality but I'm not ashamed of my bi-polar

Friday 17 May 2019

I once lost all sense of reality but I'm not ashamed of my bi-polar

Mum of two Debbie Sealley's story is a powerful example of how our attitudes to mental health have changed, from the Castel Hospital and electric shock therapy onto the road to recovery.

Debbie has learned to live with her diagnoses, treatment and side effects but there are societal issues that still need addressing, she told us as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.

Through decades of living with diagnoses of bi-polar and postpartum psychosis, Debbie Sealley, 37, has come to find a silver lining despite the brutal treatment and side effects she experienced over the years.

"I was in the caring profession and I think that my experiences have helped me to empathise with other people in a similar situation, empathise with anybody. When you've had everything stripped off you - your dignity, everything - you kind of see humans for what they really are, I think I'm pretty un-shockable now," she said.

Bi-polar is generally thought of as a condition someone is born with and although there were signs throughout her adolescence Debbie's true diagnosis lay untreated until the birth of her second son.

"As a child I was scared of everything, so anxious about monsters in the toilet that I wouldn't go so I was backed up and it made me ill, that was one of the first signs looking back," she said.

What at first seemed to Debbie's practitioners during her teens, to be schizo effective disorder was deemed to be bi-polar after a dramatic turn of events following the birth of her second son.

"When I was pregnant with him that's when things began to go wrong and I was also trying to do my nursing degree. All the stress kind of built up, my partner was very sick, it all just built up and I had this episode where I went down to the harbour in my pyjamas one night just not knowing what the hell was going on. 

"I got picked up by the police and then the next day I thought my dad was coming out to me with a gun, I thought they'd kidnapped me and were coming out to me in the garden, of course that wasn't what was happening at all. That was when my doctor said I've got bipolar," she said. 

Bi-polar is signified by episodes of intense highs and lows, Debbie said sometimes these feel 'euphoric' but she knew life couldn't be like that forever. 

"Before I was diagnosed it was crazy I would have bouts of depression which weren't just feeling a little bit sad it was literally didn't want to get out of bed didn't want to shower just feeling completely despondent, not being able to care for your children and doing the things you should be doing.

"On the flip side when you're feeling high your body would have so much energy, I'd just be feeling tense, that's when I went running off to the harbour that night in my pyjamas  - you lose all sense of reality.

"I thought that I was the cleverest person in the world, I'm not listening to people who say that I'm sick because they don't know what they're talking about. It was really kind of euphoric, you can get everything done it's the most amazing feeling, but you can't live your life like that forever you have to come crashing back down," she said. 

In Debbie's early 20's her treatment following an episode included her being "thrown in the back of a van, my baby ripped from my arms" and taken to the Castel Hospital. 

Seally, Debbie

Pictured: Debbie before treatment started in earnest.

"I think because it's such a small island especially when the Castel Hospital was going there was a lot of stigma attached to going in there. Everyone was embarrassed it wasn't really something you would talk about, people didn't understand," she said. 

But despite living dozens to a room with people of all different diagnosis "fed, locked up and put to bed" the Castel Hospital was nothing compared to the electric shock therapy Debbie was subject to, for six weeks, at a hospital in the UK. 

"I would like to hope it wouldn't happen today, I wouldn't recommend it to anybody. They put me to sleep and did what they needed to do and woke me up afterwards, you're asleep, but when I woke up I didn't know who I was, what I was, what the hell was going on. It wasn't good," she said. 

Once a proper diagnosis was reached for Debbie she was able to begin taking medication which - alongside practical therapy - has meant she is able to care for her children again and begin looking forward. Her medication includes Lithium which she says greatly levels her mood swings and Quetiapin - an anti-psychotic which has affected her life in ways she couldn't have predicted. 

"Drugs like that which you don't have any idea of feeling full so you're just eating and eating. You're just constantly hungry.

"When I was 29 I doubled in weight as a result. I think it's affected my personality I used to be employed as a dancer in one of the clubs, I wouldn't dream of doing something like that now, I used to be very friendly and gregarious but now I sort of hold back and see if someone will talk to me. It does really affect everything really.

Debbie Seally

Pictured: Debbie today "I've always been ashamed and embarrassed of my mental health and I'm a bit apprehensive about putting my name out there but then I think well it's nothing to be ashamed about."

"I understand I have to take these tablets to keep myself well, if I didn't have my children to look after I'd probably take my chances and flush them down the toilet - putting on all the weight, sometimes you drool, I flinch, if you take the tablets too late at night you get a hangover.

"Doctors see that because I have to look after two children my mental health is more important than being slim. I'd like to say I'd be able to get my confidence back but the honest answer is probably no. I do think it's a societal problem, people tend to look at you if you're fat and think you're lazy. 

"They say people are going to look at me and another person going for a job - a physical caring job like I want to do again - and choose the slimmer person, because we have no discrimination laws that's possible," she said. 

Today's shifting attitudes towards mental health though at least mean that exercise is available on prescription as part of Debbie's rehabilitation programme. Although weight loss is difficult on her medication it is something she is compelled towards for her children. 

"One day though I’d like to be fit again, to run around and cycle with my kids,” she said. 

The provisions available at the Oberlands clinic have also improved massively as far as Debbie is aware, with mindfulness and practical courses available to help mental health patients with every day coping mechanisms and she has hope for the future when it comes to young people being treated in the island. 

"I think most recently I've done this recovery style programme with the recovery and rehabilitation team at the Oberlands it was just quite refreshing to go there and speak with other people that are suffering with bi-polar and other mental health conditions and just to talk about your experiences. They now do a thing called Decider Skills.

"I think now a 15 year-old coming forward, they've got CAHMs, decent psychiatrists, medication and things like that, a person coming forward with bi-polar or a mental health condition - the emphasis is going to be much more on their care," she said. 

Pictured top: Debbie Seally now and before her treatment began. 


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