Hell of a few months

Ok, this post is pretty long, but the last few months have been insane, there has been a lot on and most of it has to do with my mental health issues. I haven’t gone into a huge amount of detail, it’s more of a in depth overview. When I write about this in my book I will provide more detail and will include some of the events etc that I haven’t included. I have been pretty open and honest about some of the events that did occur, in particular some of my thought processes, so use your judgement as to if you should read this or not.

Lets go back a few months, early August. I had just had a series of cortisone injections into my spine. I have had this once before, about 9 years ago. When I had it back then, it was incredibly painful. But despite that I was incredibly excited to have it again, because last time while it hurt like hell while I was having it, it took away the pain. When I had it this time I was pleasantly surprised, it was hardly noticeable that the doctor was actually doing it. I spent most of the procedure chatting to the anesthesiologist, even though the guy tried to get the needle into me about 6 times before he got it. It actually didn’t bother me that it took him this many times, I was too excited.

It did help, not as much as it did the last time, my back still hurt but not nearly as much as it usually would. Even still I was really happy. Some might say I was over the moon. It is hard to explain to someone what it is like to be in pain constantly and over night it’s gone. Unfortunately, I only remained really happy for about 10 days. I then started to fall into a spiral of depression, though at the time I thought it wasn’t that big of a deal. Couple of days it would pass and life would go on like normal.

Well that didn’t happen. It didn’t pass, it got worse. One morning, late August, I woke up like I normally would for work, but instead of getting out of bed and getting ready, nothing. It’s hard to explain other than nothing. My mind couldn’t work out how to do anything. Everything in my mind was a complete and absolute mess, I couldn’t string a thought together. Nothing made any sense. I know I contacted my manager at work and let him know I wouldn’t be in, but I have no idea if it was a text message or if I called him or what I even wrote or said. I have no idea what I did that day, I know the following day I made it to the doctors and he gave me a sick certificate for a week and told me to rest. That I know I did, I slept all bar a few hours a day. Everything took so much effort to do that I felt constantly tired, plus the bed was soft, it was safe.

As time lingered on and days passed, instead of getting better I just got worse. I continued to sleep a lot, but my mind seemed to be constantly thinking about suicide, while I did end up making plans on how I could do it, that wasn’t what I was thinking most the time, I just wanted everything to be over. I didn’t want to feel like shit constantly, I didn’t want to feel worthless or useless. I didn’t want to….feel because nothing I felt, felt good. Life didn’t feel worthwhile, it didn’t feel that there was any purpose or that there was anything good to come of it. Before I continue, this is not how I normally feel. Depression is an evil illness, it twists how you perceive things, how you interpret the world and your place in it.

After about a week or so at home I started to self harm, I was literally kicking myself. Thumping the heel of one thought into the shin on the other leg, the calf, or the top of the foot. I would pull my fingers as far back as I could, not enough for them to break but bloody close to it. I went back to see the doctor at the end of the first week. He referred me to see my old psychiatrist, who thankfully I was able to get into quite quickly, and gave me a sick certificate for a further 2 weeks off.

It was fortunate that I was able to get into see the psychiatrist as quickly as I did, because the self harm was getting worse to the point that I started to punch myself in the head and then I started to smash my head into walls. The thoughts in my head were becoming darker and darker and more and more fragmented. I was going days without eating or bathing. I couldn’t see the point in it, nor did I have the energy to bother. I didn’t care about my own well being anymore. Things got exceptionally bad and I had started to make plans as to how to kill myself.

What’s weird about all of it, especially making plans about killing myself is how scared you become that you might do it. Deep down you don’t want to, deep down you want to have hope that things will get better. Being scared of what you might do to yourself is one of the strangest feelings you can ever have. Most people are in complete control of what they are doing, normally, so it would stand to reason that I would be able to stop myself from killing myself. But I felt like I had lost control, control of my thoughts, control of my reasoning. I was scared that my thoughts, my reasoning would eventually result in them becoming so twisted that suicide was the best course of action to take.

When I went to see my psychiatrist we discussed what was going on, how I was feeling and what I was doing to myself. It was a reasonably short discussion, pretty much straight away he suggested that I be admitted to hospital, which I agreed too. He made a couple of calls to Private Psychiatric Hospitals but was unable to find a bed for me straight away, but organized for one to be held for me as soon as it was free with one of the hospitals. As I wasn’t able to get into a private hospital straight away he wrote a referral to the Royal Adelaide, where my Dad took me as soon as the session was over.

After a very long wait, I was seen by the attending emergency psychiatrist. We spoke for about an hour and he agreed that hospitalization was the best course but being admitted into the Royal Adelaide psychiatric ward, known as C3, was not a good idea. C3 is where most mental health sufferers that are admitted to hospital against their will and is not the most pleasant environment. So he made arrangements for me to go to Eastern Intermediate Care Center (ICC). ICC is not a hospital, it is more like a halfway house, it’s where people who are moving from hospitalization to more independent living arrangements. In my case it was where I would go while I waited to get into hospital, a bit of the reverse way of doing things but with options available it was the best one.

I was there for 3 days before a bed became available at Fullerton Private Hospital. I spent 2 and a half weeks in Fullerton. For the most part Mental Health Nurses look after you while you are there. The nurses hand out your medication, check in on you every hour and are there for you if you want to talk. In my case they also took regular obs, my blood pressure was inconsistent, bouncing from high to normal and back to high again and my heart rate was extremely fast, even after resting for long periods it didn’t get below 100bpm. It’s expected that, given my weight, my heart rate would be fast but not this fast.

While there I also saw my psychiatrist pretty regularly. He made changes and additions to my medications and checking to see if they worked or were working. There was one that he added that had to be stopped not long after starting it because it caused me to retain fluid, my legs swelled and it was incredibly painful to walk on. After a few days on diuretics they started to lessen the swelling. It took a good week or so for the swelling to completely go away.

I also saw a doctor regularly who came in 3 times a week. He organized some blood tests, checked blood pressure and kept an eye on my heart rate. There was some concerns regarding the blood test results, which the doctor passed on to my GP for further investigation. A physician was brought in to see me, I think it was about my heart rate, but I’m not 100% sure.

Since getting out of hospital my GP has followed up on the results from the blood tests. Even though I have never had an abnormal blood sugar level before I now have been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. It is thought because of some of the medications I am on that they caused the onset of the diabetes to be accelerated. Along with this the results of my liver function tests are abnormal. While I do have fatty liver, my GP wasn’t sure that, that explained all the results so I had an ultrasound of my organs to make sure there was nothing suss. Thankfully there wasn’t and for now he will just be monitoring them.

Lastly, the results showed I was severely anemic. So far there is no known reason for this, the tests they have performed so far haven’t revealed anything so I have another one coming up to see if there is or has been any internal bleeding. There is a concern that there might be a rip somewhere or an abscess or something.

While I was in hospital my parents and I discussed me moving into a rental property, near them, that they owned. The current tenant’s lease was nearly up, as was mine. When I was released from hospital I wasn’t going to be going home for some time, I would be living with my family. By the time I was ready to go back home, the rental property would be available and I would be able to move in there if I wanted. I agreed, so while I was staying with my family, my Dad stayed at my place and bit by bit he packed everything up. A moving truck was organized and I was moved into my new place. My family basically took care of everything, while I was better than I was, I was still a very long way from being well. Since I was admitted to hospital my family basically took over all the day to day tasks that needed to be done to make sure when I got better all my bills were paid etc.

On top of all this I was still working with my pain specialist. There is serious concern that the thing that triggered this depressive episode was the cortisone, so we will no longer be treating the pain this way. There was another option but due to my weight, my specialist wont do the procedure. So there is not much else he can do, he has put me on some different medication to manage my pain but that’s all he can do.

About a week after he saw me the last time he rang, for one reason or another he was looking at my MRI and wanted to refer me to a neurosurgeon. I had no objections, maybe he had some ideas on how to fix things. Turns out, the MRI showed that my spinal cord is being stretched due to Scheuermann’s Kyphosis, commonly known as Scheuermann’s Disease. The neurosurgeon isn’t willing to operate at this stage, the stretching of the spinal cord is causing some concern, it is causing weakness and nerve issues on my left side. Thankfully, it isn’t severe at the moment and may never be. Given what the surgery is I am pretty happy to put it off as long as possible. The surgery is the removal of one of my vertebrae and then to push the rest back together. This would straighten my spine and take the pressure of my spinal cord.

The neurosurgeon then asked if he could present my case as a case study to a board of spinal specialist. He explained that my case was quite unique in the way it is presenting. From what I have found out after researching it, is of the people who have Scheuermann’s Kyphosis, between .4 -5% of the population, less than 1% have spinal cord involvement. Again, of course I said yes, a bunch of spinal specialists looking at my spine, you never know what one of them could see that the others hadn’t and might have a treatment which might help.

So its been about 14 weeks since I was last at work. I’m not sure when I will be returning, though I do hope I will return before Christmas. I’m still not back to my normal self, I still have issues with concentration and well thinking in general. I tend to get confused easily and have trouble thinking, especially when there is lots of people around. I really don’t like going out at all at the moment, more so than normal. I feel so exposed when around people, like they can see right through me, right into my soul.

While I am a long way from being my normal self again and I am still having to use PRN medication (medication used on an as needed basis) to help when my anxiety and/or depression worsens, looking back over the past 14 weeks or so I am a lot better than I was. I am more able to manage my life and more independent, though I do still need my families help at times. I am having to write down pretty much anything I want to remember, especially appointments or bill due dates. If I don’t there is little hope I will remember it.

So, the last few months have been pretty full on and it’s not all over with yet. I am still seeing my Psychiatrist every fortnight and I see my GP about as often, well I’m not seeing my normal one just at the moment as he is off work until after Christmas. Next week I start with a new psychologist and the procedures to see if they can identify the reason for the anemia.

Seeing all these doctors, specialists and the stay in hospital is extremely costly. I recently found out that there is a safety net for seeing doctors etc, which once you reach means that medicare will pay more towards the cost of seeing the doctors. Recently, it appears I have now gone over this safety net amount. Which I am happy about, kinda, means I pay less, but also means I have paid a shit load to doctors etc in past few months. One of the last appointments I had was $3o0, normally I’d get $100ish back, but I’m going to get a bit of $200 back. Though I have to wait for Medicare to send out the check. Thankfully, my employer recently organized income protection for it’s staff. While it’s not my entire wage, it’s good to have some money coming in to help me make ends meet. However, it hasn’t fully covered all the costs but my family have been extremely supportive and have helped me cover some of the costs, until I can repay them.

It’s been a hell of a journey so far and hopefully it is nearing an end and I can get back on with my life. I know this isn’t something that I get better from, it’s not like a broken bone healing, but the symptoms will get back under control. I will admit that whilst I am very open about my struggles with depression an anxiety, I have tossed and turned about putting this blog up. But I decided that firstly, for all the people who have asked where I am lately and what has happened, you know now, secondly it may just help someone who is struggling with depression etc and that getting help works. If you’re like me you know what they are going to say, what good is seeing someone going to do? Here’s the truth, you don’t know what they are going to say and there is heaps that they can do.



About malensteptoe
I am work for one of Australia's big 4 banks in the System Admin Team. I am also a mental health sufferer. Currently diagnosed with OCD, MDD, Panic Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Agoraphobia and Trichotillomania. I also write books and a blog. I am an advocate for change of the view towards mental health sufferers. We can and are beneficial people in society, with much to offer and contribute. We are not all violent, actually the percentage of violent tendencies in the mentally ill and those without mental illness are no different. You may work with someone right next to someone with mental illness and never know. So maybe it's time to re-evaluate your opinions?

2 Responses to Hell of a few months

  1. Donna Taylor says:

    Thanks for sharing your story Ben. You are greatly missed. Hope to see you soon mate.

    • malensteptoe says:

      Thanks Don. Hopefully I’m not to far from returning. That was one of the hardest posts I’ve ever written. Partly cause the old grey matter still not the sharpest and partly because it’s still pretty fresh. Took me ages to actually push the publish button. But once I had, I was pretty happy that I had. Hopefully I will see you soon.

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