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Yvonne

Brief Outline: Yvonne had a difficult relationship with her mother and experienced abuse as a child. Aged 18 she was admitted to a hospital and eventually received ECT, which she did not want to have. In hindsight, although she found ECT frightening, she thinks it was the start of her recovery.
Background: Yvonne works for an organisation that looks after children with addition needs, is married and has a daughter. She describes her ethnic background as White Scottish.

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Yvonne had a difficult relationship with her mother growing up. Her mother was an alcoholic which left Yvonne taking a lot of responsibility from an early age. She also had to cope with a lot of abuse in the relationship and was put into a children’s home when she was 13 as her mother had battered her unconscious. Looking back, she wished that the psychologist she had seen had probed a little a deeper as it might have helped uncover the problems she was experiencing. She wishes help had come sooner. Eventually she was kicked out of home and lived with another family.

At the age of 18 she hadn’t heard much about mental health before and didn’t know that the things she was experiencing might be connected with her mental health. She took an overdose but when that failed she just went to work as normal, despite having what felt like the ‘mother of all hangovers’. Her supervisor contacted mental health services and soon she went to a local psychiatric hospital. By this stage she felt so unwell she can barely remember going to hospital, but thought that the hospital might be like a spa. She realised it wasn’t anything like that but thought she would only be in there for a short period. Despite only being admitted for a weekend assessment, she was sectioned and the hospital admission lasted six months. 

When in hospital she said that different medication she was prescribed and different therapies (such as art therapy and a talking therapy) didn’t seem to work and so doctors decided that they would try ECT. She can remember not knowing what it was, how it would work or why it might work. Looking back she doesn’t know whether she would have been capable of taking much information in. Yvonne said she rebelled and kept running away from the hospital. Eventually they decided to give her the treatment asking her mum to sign the papers. Because she didn’t have a good relationship with her mother she felt this wasn’t right and remembers hating anyone who was involved with her ECT treatment for years afterwards. She remembers being petrified of the treatment itself and being wheeled into the treatment room in a wheelchair – which she thought was unnecessary. She was then wheeled through the ward and one of her friends was convinced they had caused her real harm. She had an extremely bad headache afterwards. After eight sessions she didn’t respond in the way that doctor hoped she would have done. There was another court order issued and she had more ECT which she felt was ‘never ending’. However near the end of the sessions she said it did ‘start to work’. She began to be conscious of where she was and what year it was. Yvonne felt that it was a ‘horrific, terrifying experience’ but it was ‘what she needed to become well’. Yvonne feels that if she hadn’t have had ECT she wouldn’t be alive today as she felt she would have committed suicide.

Yvonne feels that people need to have more information about ECT and she still doesn’t know fully how it works. Her memory of her experience is poor but she doesn’t know if that was because of the illness or ECT. She felt quite embarrassed when she realised what she looked like after her treatment and it felt quite undignified. 

Her current diagnosis is “borderline personality disorder” and “chronic post traumatic stress”, but she says she has had a few diagnoses over the years. She received a lot of counselling after ECT and found that helpful. The depression had become better so she was able to grip what people were saying in counselling sessions. She now has support from her family and a drop in centre where she trusts the staff. She is on Trazodone, an old fashioned anti-depressant medication, which she feels keeps her well. When she tried a newer medication she became unwell. She now takes medication as if for a chronic condition to keep her ‘on an even keel’. 

Recovery itself she found daunting as she had to adapt to reality again and she was used to being ill. She found there was a comfort in being ill as that is what she was used to. She found it was often fellow patients who filled her in on what she was acting like and what she had done. The majority of the time the nurses sat in the office.
 

Yvonne didn’t realise she was ill at first and built up a reality for herself that she could cope with at the time. She would say things that were bizarre and got annoyed when people didn’t believe her.

Yvonne didn’t realise she was ill at first and built up a reality for herself that she could cope with at the time. She would say things that were bizarre and got annoyed when people didn’t believe her.

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And you were saying that when you were so young you didn’t really know about mental health or…?

No.

….anything at all. And you said that it was other people around you who were noticing that there was something wrong.

Yes.

What was, sort of, happening at that time, what you know, looking back now, what was going on?

I suppose, you know, I was living with a family who, I thought they were very, very good to me. They weren’t my own family… but my, I had a really good friend at the time and I’d be saying things to her that were really bizarre and was saying things like ‘I thought that somebody was trying to poison me’. Saying things like, that ‘I’d been on holiday to maybe a America’ or where and I’d already seen her a day previous, you know, so there was no way, you know, it was just completely like, the things I was saying doing were out of character, but completely unbelievable at the same time. So but I do think that I built up a reality for myself, that I could cope with that at that time. But yes, it was just, it was quite bizarre, and I was get, I would get annoyed with people that they weren’t believing what I was saying and you know, becoming really quite frustrated and then realised that I was just very, very ill.
 

Yvonne had taken on a lot of responsibility in the family at a young age because her mother was an alcoholic. When a suicide attempt failed, she got up and went to work but her supervisor knew something was wrong.

Yvonne had taken on a lot of responsibility in the family at a young age because her mother was an alcoholic. When a suicide attempt failed, she got up and went to work but her supervisor knew something was wrong.

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I’d grown up, when I was young, my Mum’s an alcoholic and she was drinking alcoholically like, so I took on a lot of responsibility with myself and my sister trying to, trying to be Mum I suppose to my younger sister and there was a lot of abuse within the relationship that I had to try and cope with. Which I think probably, well very much definitely resulted in the first breakdown that I had.

As I say it was when I was 18. I didn’t have, I didn’t realise that I was ill. I’d never heard of mental health before, and you know, it was twenty years ago, so things were different then. And I remember being with a family that I was living with at that time, and going to my bed and I’d taken an overdose and I was serious, that was it, I just didn’t want to be waking up in the morning. 

I had taken 20 tablets and I’d woken up in the morning and gone to work with what I can only describe as a Mother of hangovers. As soon as my supervisor had seen me she knew something was wrong and I got put into a like hospital. 

A mental health team quickly became involved, and a psychiatrist came to see me and asked if I wanted to go to [Name of hospital] for a weekend’s assessment. So I agreed, not knowing what [Name of hospital] was. I thought they were sending me to a spa or somewhere for a rest [laughs]. How wrong I was [laughs].
 

Yvonne had had various diagnoses. She says she’s more “clued up” now and finds she’s able to understand how people work.

Yvonne had had various diagnoses. She says she’s more “clued up” now and finds she’s able to understand how people work.

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I think… my diagnosis just now more than of a personality disorder and chronic post-traumatic stress. I have had a few diagnoses over the years, and the first original one was severe clinical depression. But these words did na mean anything to me then, you know, they were just, whether it was because I was so ill, or I wasn’t able to it in, or just because I wasn’t familiar with the terms. I don’t know.

Nowadays I’m more clued up, but I don’t think I would be clued up if I hadn’t gone through it. I think I would have still been one of these people that you know, just didn’t understand. So it makes me glad I’ve gone through it, because it makes me more tolerant of people. It makes me understand how people work better but my current diagnosis is chronic post-traumatic stress. 
 

Yvonne says she can still become quite ill quite quickly if she gets very stressed. Having a support network who tell her when she’s doing too much, helps her manage her illness.

Yvonne says she can still become quite ill quite quickly if she gets very stressed. Having a support network who tell her when she’s doing too much, helps her manage her illness.

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Nowadays I still get ill if I’m not careful about what I’m doing. If I work too hard, too many hours, get too stressed. Then I can become quite ill, quite quickly, but I have an amazing support network around me now. Which I didn’t have years ago. 

My husband, he reads me very well and he knows before I do that I’m becoming ill. My daughter whose 18 can read me very well. And I’ve got the Haven, like a drop in where the staff have known me since 1993, so they know, you know, they see me most days and they know when I’m becoming ill and are able to say to me, you know, I think that you should may be slow down in your work or I think that you’re becoming stressed and I trust the staff, the same as I trust my husband, and my daughter, because I don’t always see signs, and I’m usually quite poorly before I realise I’m poorly. 
 

Yvonne was given ECT many years ago when she was 18 against her will via a court order. The experience she had of ECT was very distressing and she didn’t understand how it might work.

Yvonne was given ECT many years ago when she was 18 against her will via a court order. The experience she had of ECT was very distressing and she didn’t understand how it might work.

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Personally I just think that my mind had to shut down because it had to, sort of, almost self-preservation. So then it was decided that they would try a treatment called ECT and they did, from what I can remember, because I was so ill at the time that I don’t know if this is a truly accurate account, but it’s what I remember as happening. 

Is that a nurse sat down with me, and told me that I was going to receive this treatment, because I was very poorly. They asked me, they went over what would happen to me during the treatment. That I would be taken along to a room. I would have an anaesthetic and then I would waken up and I would no know anything. And that was basically how it was put to me.

I asked what ECT stood for. And they said Electroconvulsive Therapy and I ask why was electro side in it, and they said, “Oh because we give electric shocks to your brain.” But at 18 years old it was really, I just really did not want that, and I did rebel. I kept running away from the hospital, because now I just knew that this treatment sounded horrific and I didn’t have, I did na want anything to do with it. 

So then eventually they got a Court Order to say that they could give me treatment. My Mum had to sign papers to say that we could, that I could receive the treatment as well. Which I didn’t like because the relationship had broken down with my Mum, so in my eyes she shouldn’t have had any say in what my treatment was, or wasn’t going to be. Which was why I’m really glad now that named persons are available, because if I had, if I had to go through that again, it would have been a family that I was staying with at the time that would have made the decision for me, because they were people at the time that I trusted. And for a long time I felt that ECT was something that my Mum did to me, because we were nae getting on.

But yes, so they applied to the Courts and it was decided that I would have ECT and I was put in a locked ward because I kept running off. And I just remember being really, really frightened, just petrified. Being wheeled, they made you sit in a wheelchair for some reason to take you into a room, being wheeled down to this room and just being, yes, absolutely petrified that I didn’t understand what was going to happen. I knew the basics that I was going to get an anaesthetic and I wouldn’t really remember much about it. Or I wouldn’t remember anything about it, but I would probably have a really sore head afterwards. But I didn’t understand how it would work. You know, I couldn’t understand well you’ve tried all the medication, you’ve tried all the talking therapies and things, and none of that’s worked, so why is this going to be any different. And I thought I’m going to go through all this, and I’m still not going to feel any better, because mentally I just couldn’t ney figure out why putting an electric shock through my brain was going to make me feel better.
 

Yvonne remembers having terrible headaches, and felt that other patients seeing her drooling as she was wheeled through the ward after ECT could be scary for them.

Yvonne remembers having terrible headaches, and felt that other patients seeing her drooling as she was wheeled through the ward after ECT could be scary for them.

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They kept assuring me that I would feel better but I wasn’t convinced. And I remember going through treatment being absolutely petrified and, I remember being put to bed after treatment and I remember having a really, really bad headache. 
What happened at [name of hospital] was that after your treatment you were wheeled back through a ward in front of everybody, after your treatment, but you would come in and you’d may be, be drooling, or you’d be I suppose you kind of looked as if somebody who had had a stroke or something and the knock on effect was that it really affected the other patients. So much so that one of the boys that I’d met there, he was actually a soldier who had been in the first Gulf, that he totally flipped out and thought that they’d harmed me somehow. 

The headaches were like something that I’ve experienced, sort of before or since. It’s completely indescribable. The headaches that I had afterwards. I do think that ECT is given that there should be a way of getting the patient back into bed without have to trail them through in front of everybody. Because everybody is in hospital because they’re ill and it becomes really frightening for them, and it may be that one of these patients that are witnessing somebody coming back are going to need that treatment which is going to make it even scarier for them.
 

Yvonne says she’s had experiences of being treated “like a leper” by a manager. She thinks there is a fear of mental illness.

Yvonne says she’s had experiences of being treated “like a leper” by a manager. She thinks there is a fear of mental illness.

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And it’s really good that you had these supportive interactions now and you trust your friends and your husband and your daughter and so on. Has that always been the case when you’ve talked about either mental health issues or ECT or…?

[shakes head] No, a lot of people get really, really frightened, but its people that don’t understand. You know, some doctors don’t even understand. You know, so these, you know, if doctors are medically trained how’s Joe Bloggs in the street going to fully understand what mental health is? In fact everybody has mental health. It just depend on whether It’s good mental health or bad mental health, but hopefully stigma, the barriers will be broken down, but I do feel that there’s a lot employers need to do to help support staff. But it’s like everything in life you get good and you get bad, you know, so, but I’ve had some really bad experiences of manager who have almost treated me like a leper and then they’re realised. I’ve left jobs, not because I don’t like the job but because I couldn’t cope with how colleagues treated me. But I suppose I’m quite an open person and if somebody asks then I will say, you know, because I don’t think there’s anything to be embarrassed about, but just there is a fear, you know, there’s a fear, there’s a fear.
 

Over the years Yvonne has had many hospital admissions and has seen many psychiatrists. She says she gets on better with female psychiatrists because of her history and prefers when they don’t “clock watch”.

Over the years Yvonne has had many hospital admissions and has seen many psychiatrists. She says she gets on better with female psychiatrists because of her history and prefers when they don’t “clock watch”.

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Yes, I’ve seen quite a few psychiatrists over the years. Personally I get on better if the psychiatrist is female. But that’s just because of the history that I’ve got. But the psychiatrist that I’ve got now is very encouraging and she doesn’t clock watch, you know, and that means a lot, because there’s nothing worse than… you know, I’ve had psychiatrists saying and I would have started to open up a bit and right that’s your time, you know, and you’re like I’m not going to see you for another two months. You know, but yes. If they do ney talk much, I mean I know that they’ve got lots of patients and they have to go through each day, but they’ve got time slots and you do try as a patient to keep it within, but if you were to overrun by five minutes it’s fine and you can do it, you know, with her and she’ll not check it. 
 

Yvonne had been ok for ten years, but the doctors changed her medication and it “kinda knocked [her] back” and she was admitted to hospital. She’s now asked for her medication not to be changed.

Yvonne had been ok for ten years, but the doctors changed her medication and it “kinda knocked [her] back” and she was admitted to hospital. She’s now asked for her medication not to be changed.

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How many admissions have you had?

Oh I don’t know. I’ve lost count

You’ve lost count?

I don’t know. I don’t even know if it’s 20, 30, 40. It could be anything. My last admission was two and a half years ago. And then before that the last admission previous to that was ten years. So I’d gone quite a bit of time, which I think was when the doctors changed my medication and it kinda knocked me back. But you know, these things happen. I’ve got a new psychiatrist and the first thing I said to her was, “Do not change my medication.” She said, “It’s okay I won’t if you don’t want me to.” That was fine, you know. Yes.
 

Yvonne didn’t want ECT and kept running away from hospital. Her estranged mother gave consent for her to have it, but Yvonne felt she shouldn’t have had a say.

Yvonne didn’t want ECT and kept running away from hospital. Her estranged mother gave consent for her to have it, but Yvonne felt she shouldn’t have had a say.

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I kept running away from the hospital, because now I just knew that this treatment sounded horrific and I didn’t have, I did na want anything to do with it. 

So then eventually they got a Court Order to say that they could give me treatment. My Mum had to sign papers to say that we could, that I could receive the treatment as well. Which I didn’t like because the relationship had broken down with my Mum, so in my eyes she shouldn’t have had any say in what my treatment was, or wasn’t going to be. Which was why I’m really glad now that named persons are available, because if I had, if I had to go through that again, it would have been a family that I was staying with at the time that would have made the decision for me, because they were people at the time that I trusted. And for a long time I felt that ECT was something that my Mum did to me, because we were nae getting on.
 

Yvonne was put into a children’s home when she was thirteen, after she was attacked by her mother. She felt that her psychologist should have “probed a bit deeper” so that her problems could have been dealt with at the time.

Yvonne was put into a children’s home when she was thirteen, after she was attacked by her mother. She felt that her psychologist should have “probed a bit deeper” so that her problems could have been dealt with at the time.

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I think when I was 13 I got put into a children’s home, for my own safety, because my Mum had battered me unconscious. And after going from hostel to a children’s home and I was there for about nine months before they returned me back to the family home. But if during that time I’d had some form of, I don’t know, would it have been a talking therapy, or counselling or would it have been… I did see a psychologist who thought that I was an ordinary 13 year old with ordinary 13 year-old worries. And maybe that’s how I did come across but I think if they probed a wee bit deeper, it would have been more apparent what was wrong and I think it would have saved a lot of what happened then to me, you know, in later years, but can I sort of go on what ifs and if what’s? You know, so but I do think, for children’s services, you need to be on the ball and you need to, because if we can stop a lot of, or in my opinion we can stop a lot of illnesses escalating at a later date if a child is treated rather than letting it just build and build. It kind of feels sometimes as if I fell through the cracks a bit, because there was obviously services involved with me as a child and you know when I was in a children’s centre and things, children’s home. But yes, I kind of feel that I kind of got lost a bit.
 

Yvonne went to counselling sometime after she had had ECT. She felt able to participate in counselling sessions at that time and felt that when she was first admitted she wouldn’t have been able to.

Yvonne went to counselling sometime after she had had ECT. She felt able to participate in counselling sessions at that time and felt that when she was first admitted she wouldn’t have been able to.

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I did go through a lot of counselling a couple of years after ECT treatment. And that really helped, but I think it was because the depression had become better, so I was able to speak more openly and I was able to grasp what people were saying to me in the counselling sessions. You know, where with my first admission here would have been no point in trying to put me through counselling. Seeing as I didn’t know what time it was, let alone trying to take in what people were saying. I did na have the concentration. But ECT was definitely the first step to me being able to recover.
 

Yvonne thinks that ECT should be considered as a last resort when people are very ill. Although she found the experience of having ECT horrendous, it probably saved her life, so it might be worth trying.

Yvonne thinks that ECT should be considered as a last resort when people are very ill. Although she found the experience of having ECT horrendous, it probably saved her life, so it might be worth trying.

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I would say, you know, for people who are very, very poorly, who are very, very ill, as a last resort It’s worth, it’s worth doing. I do think it should be left as the last resort. And it is horrendous to go through. But I do think that if I hadn’t gone through ECT I don’t think I would be alive today, because I think that I would have gone on to commit suicide. Most definitely. I don’t really know what else to say.

I think it’s a good option if you’ve tried everything else. But it’s horrendous so use it as a last resort, but it does work. It definitely worked for me. I wouldn’t want it to replace other things, other therapies or medications or things, I wouldn’t want it to be a first option. But if you’ve been through everything like what I was, It’s definitely worth considering. It’s definitely worth going, as horrendous as it is, it’s definitely worth going through it.
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