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Joanna - Interview 03

Age at interview: 20
Brief Outline: Joanna is 20. She's experienced depression, panic attacks and self-harming since she was 10. She got better with help of different therapies, a trusted counsellor, people who cared for her and her faith. She now works in health and social care. (White British).
Background: See 'Brief outline'

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Joanna is 20. Ever since she was a child Joanna describes herself as “not feeling normal” and not really “knowing who she was”. She says because she didn’t really know who she was, she created an imaginary identity for herself. Joanna also started self-harming around the age of 10.
 
When Joanna went to secondary school, things got worse. She went to the GP who prescribed antidepressants but she never noticed much of a difference. After a while, the GP referred her to a psychiatrist. However, she didn’t feel comfortable talking to the psychiatrist because she didn’t feel she could really talk in confidence. Things were gradually building up as Joanna left school. Eventually it became “impossible to do anything”, even the simplest things like washing her hair. She was admitted to a general hospital, and a week later to a psychiatric unit.
 
Joanna spent a year as an inpatient in a psychiatric ward. In the hospital, she felt she had very little choice and control over her care or taking medication. Over this time, she had gotten various psychiatric diagnoses but Joanna describes herself as “broken”.
 
Things changed “dramatically for Joanna”, when a friend took her in to live with her. She made a conscious – but a difficult – decision that she didn’t want “a career as mental patient” but wanted to make things different and better. Joanna now had people who cared about her “without being paid to do so”, she was doing voluntary work and she managed to stop self-harming and eventually was weaned off her antidepressants.
 
Joanna is now working in health and social care. She’s passionate about recovery in mental health and says it’s possible for people to “get better in their own definitions of better”. For her, certain types of therapy, a counsellor she could finally trust, her faith and people who cared about her helped her recover. She also says being in hospital literally saved her life. For Joanna, recovery means not wanting to self-harm, being able to eat and sleep normally, functioning “on a level which means I can fit into society”, as well as being aware and able to manage her feelings. She says it’s really important to tell other young people that mental health problems don’t need to be a “life-sentence”.
 

Joanna says she didn’t have “a mental image” of who she was and she used to make up an identity...

Joanna says she didn’t have “a mental image” of who she was and she used to make up an identity...

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I couldn’t see myself for who I was, so I’d walk past a shop window or something, and I wouldn’t recognise who it was. And so I sort of didn’t have a mental image of who I was, what I stood for, you know, sort of like this is me, I look like this and I’m like this, and I like this, and I remember used to having to make it up when I was at school, when I was at primary school. You know they sort of ask all these questions like, and you have to write your name and then you have to write what lessons you like, and which lessons you don’t like, and I remember just making it up, ‘cos I didn’t know what I liked and what I didn’t like.
 
I felt that everyone else knew who they were and knew what they were about and, and stuff, but that I didn’t. I’m sure that other people had feelings like that but, it was sort of, you know I went through a long stage of thinking I was adopted, to a stage where I actually requested my birth certificate and looked at it because I was convinced for a long time that I was adopted that you know this whole life can’t be quite true. And just… it’s, it’s quite hard to explain now sort of, because I’m not, I’m not there now. But it was just sort of like, just sort of like trying to discover who you are, but not really being able to get anywhere. I think I remember describing it once, it was like trying to, like say life is like a jigsaw puzzle, I was like trying to put it together but I just didn’t have all the pieces. It was like desperately searching for those pieces without even knowing what those pieces are meant to be.
 

Joanna says distinguishing depression in teenagers is really difficult because it’s not easy to...

Joanna says distinguishing depression in teenagers is really difficult because it’s not easy to...

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I think the whole thing was exacerbated by the fact that I was a teenager. And I think in some ways actually getting depression, or getting any sort of illness when you are a teenager is the worst time for it to possibly happen because you are going through all those changes already, so, you know a lot of people would say when they were like thirteen or something, “Oh I don’t really know who I am,” or “I don’t feel that happy,” or “I feel ugly,” or whatever, so it’s the worst time to go through that, because you’ve got all of those feelings already. And having something on top of that just makes it a, a hundred times worse, and even more difficult to understand, and then in a way it can get belittled quite a lot because a lot of people say, “Well all teenagers go through that.”
 
And that’s why I think in a lot of ways in actually detecting mental health problems in teenagers becomes really difficult because people can’t distinguish as to what is normal adolescent behaviour and what is actually a serious problem. And it normally has to get to a stage where it’s so serious that it’s, it’s gone quite far and it needs more treatment than perhaps if it would have been detected earlier.
 

Rather than thinking of the clinical diagnosis, Joanna says she was “broken”. (Read by an actor).

Rather than thinking of the clinical diagnosis, Joanna says she was “broken”. (Read by an actor).

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That’s really difficult so recently when I’ve looked back, I actually don’t like the idea of having these diagnoses, although they did help at the time. They helped because I was able to put some sort of name to the problems that I was having, it meant that people were taking me seriously, that they didn’t think I was just you know got all these issues or whatever, or that I was just a bit, just a bit troubled, at least there was a name to it. And you know there was something actually wrong with me, which helped. But when I look back at it now, I prefer to think that actually I was just broken. Rather than thinking I had a clinical diagnosis of so and so, I prefer to think of it as, well actually no, I just I became, I had difficulties with my mood, I was very low in mood, and I was very sad and because of that sadness I behaved in a certain way and society didn’t approve of that, so I was put away and treated, but really all it was is that I was, I was broken, I wasn’t able to think properly, and I had a broken mind. And that can be an easier way of looking at it.
 

The hospital school ran on a 3-month-cycle and after the 4th round, Joanna “knew all the answers”...

The hospital school ran on a 3-month-cycle and after the 4th round, Joanna “knew all the answers”...

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They had this school upstairs and they my original school were meant to send me work, but they never did. and so I was quite keen to, well I don’t know if I was quite keen actually, I can’t really remember but some of the other patients were doing stuff for their GCSE’s, and that, but I never did. And I’m not quite sure why that was, but I used to just like, some of it was just like pottery and stuff, or just give us a bit of clay and we’d make ashtrays or and then they’d have like art stuff, and all that sort of stuff and it wasn’t really like a school and they only had a 3-month-cycle of all the school stuff that they did, so I did everything 4 times. So by the end I knew all the answers. but yeah we didn’t really do any proper school work, I didn’t. I just did so I soon thought that was a bit pointless.
 
And they used to take us on trips in this minibus which was quite stigmatising being in a big minibus, and people used to point at us and laugh and stuff from the local school, and we’d go swimming but they wouldn’t let us show our scars so we used to have to go swimming in trousers and long tops. Which was a bit, again, a bit stigmatising, sort of thought well if I can’t show my scars here, in these people, with these people here you know with other people with similar problems and staff that are meant to understand this, then when, when am I ever gonna feel comfortable with the fact that I have scars.
 

When Joanna saw the wardrobe in her room, she thought 'it's not a good sign'. (Read by an actor).

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When Joanna saw the wardrobe in her room, she thought 'it's not a good sign'. (Read by an actor).

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It was a psychiatric ward and they showed me around when I was there, and, they showed me this room and in the room there was like a bed and a wardrobe and a chest of drawers and I thought well a wardrobe is not a good sign, ‘cos if they’ve got a wardrobe then they might want me to stay there for a while. And so, and I just sort of got on with it and the bed had rubber mattresses and stuff, and I didn’t like the idea of that and I thought well why do I need that? I’m not incontinent or anything and it was just like, all a bit strange. And for the first couple of nights they made me sleep with my door open and they, there was someone sitting there with a chair looking at me, which made it really difficult to sleep, although it was difficult anyway and about 10 o’clock at night they came in with some more medication. They said it was what I’d been taking already, but it didn’t look like what I’d been taking already it looked like it was more than that.
 

Joanna was left in the waiting room while her parents and her consultant decided what would be...

Joanna was left in the waiting room while her parents and her consultant decided what would be...

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So I went to see that consultant person the same day, and she said, she went in without me, it was my parents and her again, and so I was left in the waiting room. And that felt really awful ‘cos I just didn’t know what was gonna happen. And they said you need to go to hospital and so I went to the general hospital and they said we just need to keep an eye on you, your parents don’t feel they can cope with you anymore. They can’t, they can’t manage your behaviour. And I thought, my behaviour? I’m not doing anything. I’m not doing anything at all, how can I be badly behaved? You know I’m just being quiet and just trying to deal with what’s going on in my head.
 
And they left me there, and I was just like really like scared, I was just like, well they don’t want me anymore or whatever. And I was next to a three-year-old that had some sort of terrible illness, it was, I think I heard it was cancer or something, and she was just screaming just the whole time. And she’d just scream and scream and scream. And then and it was really a clinical setting and stuff.
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