Mental Health issues affect 1 in 4 people in the UK each year, so even if you don’t suffer yourself, you are pretty much guaranteed to know someone (or many people) that do. And yet, talking about mental illness is still seen as a taboo. It is hushed up and down-played, people are embarrassed for those suffering. Things are changing – there are celebrities talking now, not just charities and support networks. People are starting to listen and understand. But far too often, ‘mental health’ is seen as a synonym for ‘depression’. And whilst depression is a massive mental health issue (the most commonly diagnosed in the UK), it is not the only one. Today, I am talking to Nick, whose mental health struggles are not those of depression, but PTSD and EUPD.
This week, I have the pleasure of talking mental health with Nick from When The Fog Clears. Hi Nick, please tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Nick Groom. Originally from South London and now living in the West of Ireland in County Mayo. I am an avid West Ham Utd supporter (don’t get me started on the move from our ground at Upton Park to the London Stadium). But my real sporting passion is rugby which I played and then went on to coach.
I am married with 3 kids who keep me going when things get tough. I am a psychotherapist. I am a SeeChange Ambassador the organization that aims to eliminate stigma and discrimination towards people with Mental Illness and Mental Health issues.
I run a small Charity called SHARE that provides group therapy for Adult Survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I started SHARE about 6 years ago as I was unable to find a group for myself. Since then we have helped close to 100 people. Dervilia, my co-facilitator, and I run this group on a voluntary basis in our spare time.
My first job when I left school was in a restaurant run by Italians and that began my love affair with authentic Italian food.
I also write for my blog “When the Fog Clears” and also have written articles for A Lust For Life an online Mental Health Magazine.
I love French Film Noir especially the films of Goddard, Chabrol and Truffaut. Also, like films of Dirk Bogarde especially “Victim” and “The Servant”.
Music depends on my mood. At the moment I am listening to a recording of Brigitte Engerer playing Chopin’s “Nocturnes”. During the day, however, I have been listening to the Black Crowes, so not sure what that says about my rapid mood swings.
What is your mental health diagnosis?
I have been diagnosed with PTSD and also Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD or as some people refer to it as Borderline Personality Disorder – BPD). There is some argument between various psychiatrists I have attended as to whether it is EUPD or Histrionic Personality Disorder. Either way, I don’t let it define me.
What does this mean in simple terms?
In simple terms, my emotional responses are totally disproportionate to the event. For example, I could exhibit the same response to dropping a pencil as I would to something really catastrophic. It means I can swing from extreme low to extreme high several times within the space of minutes or hours. There has never, until recently, been any middle ground which reflects my very impulsive black and white thinking. Because of this emotional turmoil, people have accused me of being manipulative. They don’t understand the extreme emotional and psychological pain that accompanies both PTSD and EUPD and the unhealthy harmful coping mechanisms. There is no medication for either, although my doctor prescribes Diazepam to calm my head down when things are particularly bad. I have a very good therapist who has helped me see that EUPD is essentially behaviours that I either adopted in order to protect myself during the abuse; or that I learnt from my chaotic childhood where my mother portrayed similar EUPD type behaviours. The one word that sums it up is “Chaos”. With PTSD comes a yearning for safety. I am constantly on high alert, scanning every person I meet or situation I am in to try and preempt danger. I cant shut my eyes on a train or plane because I have to be on the lookout in case any person or situation poses a threat. It is exhausting.
How old were you when you began to have symptoms?
Looking back I can see that my EUPD behaviours began in my late teens.
Does your illness affect your ‘normal’ life? How?
EUPD makes it very difficult to operate at a constant level as the swings from high to low are constant are rapid. With BiPolar, for example, there are relatively long periods of highs and lows and in-betweens. With EUPD these changes can happen several times in the space of an hour which is very confusing not just for me but for those around me. I believe that I am always to blame for whatever goes wrong. This means I take things very personally at home and at work. I am also very sensitive to unsafe situations and people, but paradoxically have placed myself in some very unsafe situations with unsafe people.
On the plus side, I have huge empathy, especially with clients. Because I am so concerned about safety, both emotional and physically I naturally create a safe space for my clients.
I also work for a multinational pharmaceutical company in a management position. The HR department are aware of my diagnosis and have been very supportive.
How long did it take you to seek help?
Honestly? 35 years!
What treatment(s) have you found works best for you?
I have resisted medication even when I went through several years of mild psychotic episodes. I have had 7 therapists in the 7 years since I disclosed about my sexual abuse that happened when I was 9 years old. It is only now that I have a therapist who keeps me on track; recognizes my tendency to self-destruct; acknowledges both my PTSD and EUPD and works with these rather than refusing to acknowledge them as other therapists have done.
I have a very good doctor who believes that therapy not meds is what I need. It was him that got me into the adult mental health system a few years ago when he first recognized I had a personality disorder.
Do you find the current provisions for mental health in your area are good enough? How do you think they could be improved?
No, the mental health provisions are a shambles. Last year the 15m euro that was earmarked for mental health services was taken away and used for physical health services. We are still at a stage where most people believe that mental health is just about depression. Doctors dish out meds that are not always needed because it’s easier. Governments say all the right things but don’t do anything about addressing Mental Health issues. There are a lot of celebrities talking about their “depression” or more recently eating disorders so that mental health has become the must-have fashion accessory. Also, there are a lot of motivational speakers who talk about how they overcame depression by running a marathon each day, but this alienates those for who just getting up each day is a marathon.
Finally, meds are not always the answer. They are the easiest and most quantifiable answers but not what is always needed. People coming in suicidal and in crisis to hospital AEU’s is not the answer either as there are not the appropriately trained people there to help them. We need more good therapists. There are plenty of therapists but very few good therapists who do more than just sit and nod and then charge €60 for sitting and nodding.
What has been your hardest/lowest/toughest/most desperate moment/time?
The lowest time was about 4 years ago. I came very close to giving up. Thankfully a friend of mine who was a nurse recognized I was in crisis and brought me to the doctor. This really saved me.
What has been the best/most helpful coping strategy/strategies for you?
Being open and honest. I am open about my abuse and my mental health issues. Also, last year, although my abuser had died around 20 years ago, I took the decision to report the abuse to the Metropolitan Police in London. This gave me a degree of closure that I had sought.
What has been the hardest part of your journey?
I would say disclosing my abuse to my parents 5 years ago.
Have you found those around you treat you differently?
Either people have walked away from me or have been very supportive. I don’t want sympathy and those that show empathy and not sympathy are those that I surround myself with.
What do you wish people wouldn’t say to you?
“Why aren’t you over it by now?” or “But you are ok now” or “What are you thinking about?” when I have my quiet moments. The worse thing is when people just assume that all mental illness or mental health issues are “Depression”
How can those around you help you?
Giving me space when I need it. Don’t point out the obvious such as telling me when I am not in a good place and trying to drag me out of it. Just makes me feel even more guilty and ashamed. This is different to gently telling me that they have noticed a change in my mood. A colleague at work is very good at this and gives me a gentle nudge if she notices anything. This can be very helpful In short just accepting me as I am at any given time
What is the one thing you wish people would understand about your mental health struggle/mental health in general?
I am aware of what is happening. I don’t need a running commentary. I don’t need words of wisdom or advice. I just need someone to stand with me and hold my hand whilst I try and figure it out. If I cant figure it out then for someone to not try and fix me but rather support me.
Are there any websites/groups/etc. you recommend for helping to cope with/understanding/information on mental health issues?
I believe chatrooms for mental health can sometimes just keep reinforcing the individual’s diagnosis/illness without offering any way forward. I think that websites can be a bit too general and offer a one size fits all. From a purely factual viewpoint, the UK’s NHS website is good. I have found that Australia seems to be streets ahead in its approach to MH so any of their websites are good.
In terms of finding others that articulate how I am feeling or what I have experienced, two excellent blogs are http://square1one.blogspot.ie/ or http://sunnyspellsandscatteredshowers.org/ Both these bloggers not only give a very real account of how they encounter their illness, but emphasize the need to take a healing approach too.
What is the best advice you have for someone with a mental health issue?
Its hard but be gentle with yourself. Cut yourself loose from those who can’t be bothered with you or who continuously try and fix you – you are not broken. Seek out appropriate support. There is no quick fix so try and be patient. You are not alone even though it seems like you are the only person in the world going through this. Be honest with yourself and others (if you can). Take it bit by bit. There is no magic pill or a quick fix. There will be times when it seems as if you are taking 2 steps forward and 10 steps back, but above all keep going and keep telling yourself “this is not my fault”.
Thank you so much for your interview, Nick.
Check out more mental health interviews here.
Nick Groom is a qualified psychotherapist providing affordable therapy for clients in County Mayo. In his spare time, he co-runs a small support service called SHARE, for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Nick is a Mental Health blogger at “When the Fog Clears” and also has written articles for the online Mental Health magazine “A Lust For Life.” His ambition would be to buy an old house to open a drop-in center for adults who are looking for mental health support or therapy.