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Mental health: ethnic minority experiences

Anxiety, negativity, mania & loss of energy

Here, people talk about what it's like to have symptoms associated with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms vary across these conditions and include anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal feelings, loss of motivation, mania ('high' or energised mood), negative feelings, disturbed sleep, not looking after yourself properly, and problems eating. Not everyone who is diagnosed with a particular condition will experience all the symptoms associated with that condition and some will experience symptoms not listed here (see 'Hallucinations & delusions'). People with schizophrenia and other conditions may also experience some of the symptoms described here. The Rethink website has further information about symptoms associated with different mental health conditions.

What's it like to feel anxious and have panic attacks?
Many people we talked to described feeling anxious, stressed and worried. For those with anxiety related disorders, worry dominated their thoughts and feelings to a point where it made it difficult for them to do everyday things, including shopping, eating, sleeping, socialising and making decisions. Some felt worried constantly, others felt anxious from time to time and this sometimes was a warning sign that they were becoming unwell. Anxiety could be a general feeling or worries about something specific. People mentioned a range of worries including going out of the house, physical illness and fear of dying. One man was worried about having an arranged marriage [see Shaukat below]. Some people even felt worried about their anxiety or about having a panic attack.

 

Patricia experiences a constant feeling of anxiety, "like going to an exam" every day.

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Patricia experiences a constant feeling of anxiety, "like going to an exam" every day.

Age at interview: 25
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 23
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But as soon I, as soon as workload started to increase I couldn't sleep for, you know, due to stress. And that's when that panic attacks started again to be sort of very persistent, happening on a daily basis. And what happened, what happened to me is that for the past five years basically coming back to the beginning going back to the beginning, for the past five years I've been feeling anxious every day. It's like getting, I try to describe it to people it's like going to an exam or having to a plane when you're feel, when you're afraid of flying every single day. And that, that's the feeling I feel every day. I can't switch off. But just that I'm constantly anxious. So, basically overall that's it.

OK. Thank you. I mean just to pick up really where you left off I mean can you tell me a bit more then about what it's like to feel anxious and also what's like to have these panic attacks? 

Feeling anxious is not being able to, this I've, it seems like I'm always aware of what's going on with my body. And everything sign that my body transmits is like, there's something wrong with me. And again if my foot hurts or of my hand hurts it's not a major thing. But if I have any sort of palpitation that's it I always think, my god something's about to happen. This is the anxiety thing that I think leads to the panic attacks because I don't think I would have panic attacks if I wasn't anxious. And as I say, it's feeling that constant fear not only that I will have a panic attack sooner or later. But it's also the fact that my body's always, always not shaking or anything but sweaty palms, dryness of the mouth, all those symptoms associated with anxiety. Whereas other people I suppose are just you know normal. They just don't feel anything. They're just in a normal state. I'm always anxious. 

With panic attacks is, is a bit different that's when I, usually as I as said when I have some sort of symptom especially related to the heart, I just start thinking the worst things. And that's when all those symptoms that I've just described about anxiety just are even more exaggerated. And that's when I just, I feel like I'm going to die. I can't stop thinking about really bad thoughts in my mind, there's a bit of confusion in my mind. And the worst, the worst things that might happen with, when a panic attack is happening is just trembling and not being able to stop. Even sometimes taking drugs it might still happen for about at least two hours, at least. And that's something that I can't really understand people keep telling me and the specialists keep telling, 'Oh a panic attack happens within seconds.' Not with me it happens it can happen for hours and I can't stop it. I don't have that response. I don't think my body has that response. So briefly that's what happens in a panic attack and that's the whole anxiety thing that's just constant.

Some people experienced panic attacks. A panic attack is an exaggerated response to situations seen as potentially threatening - sometimes called the 'fight or flight' response - where the body produces adrenalin which can lead muscles to tense-up, breathing to quicken, and the heart to beat fast. Some people experienced panic attacks regularly. People felt they had panic attacks 'out of the blue', although sometimes they were caused by feeling particularly stressed, or happened in certain situations, for example, at night. Some people said these attacks felt as if they were having a heart attack.

 

Shareen often experiences panic attacks and says they feel like she is having a heart attack. ...

Shareen often experiences panic attacks and says they feel like she is having a heart attack. ...

Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 24
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I'm trying my best. But these, I can't cross the roads. I can't go out anywhere on my own. I can't even get a bath on my own. I can't even, I've got to have somebody there at the bath, near the bath or near the door to make sure I can get out, because I have these panic attacks. Because the other day I, I got a bath and my mum were downstairs. I got a bath and I got out of bath, and that were it. The panic attack started. I started breathing really heavy. It was like my breathing stopped. I couldn't even talk. And my heart, it was just racing so much I felt I'm going to just, having a big heart attack. And, and I'm saying, 'Mum, I can't breathe, I can't breathe.' She's saying, 'Come on. Breathe, breathe, breathe.' And I'm saying, 'I can't.' And tears were just rolling down. And my legs and my arms and my body were just completely shaking. So I had to blow in these paper bags like I've been told to. And then it released. It was okay, I was okay then. Then I had to take one of my tablets, one of them tema- paza-, mazepam. And I were asleep for two days. And I woke up and I were feeling okay in myself. 

Some people experience anxiety through their bodies as headaches or stomach aches (see 'Ways of describing mental health problems'), and therefore worry that they have a serious physical problem.

What's it like to have negative thoughts and feelings?
Having negative thoughts and feelings is a common experience for people with all kinds of mental health problems and can include feeling sad, inadequate, bad about yourself, guilty, worthless, helpless and pessimistic. While all people experience negative thoughts from time to time, people with mental health problems may find them overwhelming and difficult to shake off. People described feeling that life was pointless, that they felt physically unattractive, empty, full of regret, unloved, to blame for their problems, useless, guilty, and helpless. People also felt like isolating themselves and found it difficult to engage with other people. For some, these negative thoughts were a temporary but constant presence or came in cycles.

 

Edward describes his symptoms, including anxiety, shallow breathing, negative thoughts, feeling...

Edward describes his symptoms, including anxiety, shallow breathing, negative thoughts, feeling...

Age at interview: 59
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 20
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There's some other, there's some other physical signs, there's shallow breathing, you know, that shows the anxiety level up there with the thirst, the shallow breathing and the, and the sentence mixing up, those are the three things that stick, that spring to mind as being danger signals, time to do something.

And what are the symptoms of the depression, can you tell me what, how do you know'?

There's a sort of empty feeling, a very sad empty feeling that won't go away and keeps generating negative thoughts about yourself and the things you've done and the things you might have said and you should have said or you couldn't say and all this sort of thing. So it's a kind of, it's a sad feeling, an intensely sad feeling with regret put in there somewhere and with a powerlessness put in there as well, a disempowerment to change anything for the better, those three ingredients, sadness, disempowerment, what was the other thing I said?

'emptiness.

Emptiness, thank you. Okay, see I can never remember what I said, okay, so emptiness, disempowerment, regret, okay? That's what it's like' Intensely, an intensity too, so that actually it actually gets to the stage where you can't think outside of your head space into the outside world, you know, you can't help anyone else, you can't do anything else, it sort of paralyses you and into lying on the couch all day or shutting the door and not going anywhere all day, and all night and all of the next day. It develops into a paralysis. And a sure sign when someone is getting better is when they start to think about other people and how they're going to fit into the rest of the world and how they're going to help them. another sign of depression from, you know, just looking at people to see that they're feeling depressed is when their self-care skills deteriorate, you know, they don't bother to comb their hair and they don't bothered to shave and the next thing you know they've got a, they've had the same shirt on for a week and all these things suddenly change and deteriorate so their appearance and, and their thought of others, you know, their sense of self in relation to others seems to' Mmm.

 

Shareen feels suicidal and has intrusive thoughts about hurting herself; she feels like she's...

Shareen feels suicidal and has intrusive thoughts about hurting herself; she feels like she's...

Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 24
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Because I've done everything, I've tried to put my life back on, in line. But nowt goes right for me. Everything goes wrong. It's like every time a block, it's like going into that wall and blocking yourself in it, putting bricks and bricks until you're blocked in that you can't breathe. And then it's like when a happy day starts for me, I can throw a brick off of that wall and start breathing. And I think, 'Wow, this is a lovely day.' And then only half a day I can have a nice day. And then in the evening, that's it. I'm back to my moods and back to tiredness. I've no strength or nothing. I'm getting really weak in myself. And then sometimes I think, you know, 'Why is it me all the time who's got to suffer? Why is it me who's always got to go down?' It's just like climbing up a ladder and saying, 'I'm climbing up this ladder. When am I going to reach that top?' And nobody knows when I'm going to reach it. But I'm always slipping back down this ladder. And sometimes I just think it's not worth living, you know. But then I say, 'My children are growing up. If I'm not here, who's going to look after them then?' Because when I get poorly, like in the past when I've been poorly they've had no food, you know. Like sometimes my sister's come round with, with milk and biscuits, something like that for them. Or sometimes she's cooked their food. But I know if I'm not there my children have not been fed or clothed. So it's important for me to be strong and be there for my children. It's hard, but I'm trying'

Feel like I want to suffocate myself or put like a rope over the, somewhere so I can hang myself. And sometimes when I'm in the bathroom I'll talk to myself in front of mirror. It's like I'm two people sometimes. I'll say bad and I'll say good. I'll say to myself, 'Well, don't do this. It's not, it's not right. You've got kids.' And I'll say, 'Well, I've put up with all this before. Why should I put up with it? I'm packing my bags and I'm going.' And then my mind will click, 'Oh, you're going downstairs. Why don't you jump off of this, you know, fall downstairs? You might break your leg or you might end up in hospital.' Then I think to myself, 'No, I can't do that. If I do that, who's going to look after my kids?' You know. Things just come to my mind.

 

For Sara, self-harm was a way of punishing herself but now she feels her self-esteem is better...

For Sara, self-harm was a way of punishing herself but now she feels her self-esteem is better...

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 17
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In fact I felt like killing myself. And the only outlet I had for that, well I think the starving, it was pretty clear that my Mum was going to put a stop to that, she wasn't going to let me carry on starving and there were all kinds of threats, but the cutting was something that I could in secret. And it was a way of, I suppose, punishing myself. Sometimes, it was' a way of'  if she was screaming at me, and telling me what a terrible person I was and stuff then I felt, well if I am that bad then I deserve this. So, I would, I would cut, because I felt that I deserved it. She was telling me all these horrible things and she would never hit me. And I would think well surely if I am that bad I deserve to be hit and stuff. And so I would do it to myself. And also I think sometimes when I was angry with her, and obviously I couldn't do anything to her, so I cut myself'

I still feel like there is something wrong with me. Very much there is something wrong with me and I'm not like other people and I don't understand normal people at all. I don't understand why they enjoy things. I don't understand why people are motivated to work. Why people have ambition' I don't get it. I don't know. It's kind of like I am resigned to not really doing very much with my life, but then I think I get depressed because I feel frustrated. I think well why can't I do something? Why am I rubbish at everything? Why do I not have any talent? Why don't people like me? Why can't I have a group of friends? Why can't I just have a nice life?

I mean for instance for me, how I used to get my aggression out was by doing things like cutting and banging my head, you know, it's a lot more socially acceptable to go to the gym and run for half an hour [laughs]. And it does help you kind of get out some of your tension and frustration I think in that sense, you know, it is something physical you can do without actually beating anyone up or hurting yourself. So I think it does help in that way, yes.

Did you, I mean did you get any advice about dealing with cutting?

No, I think that' no I didn't get any help on how to stop doing it, I mean I think it just kind of came when I was, well I stopped being so angry, like after I was discharged and I was, you know, being treated for, what I actually had a problem with, and, and I didn't get specific advice for stopping the cutting, I think it was just generally just not hating myself as much, because I used to. I mean I am not saying that, you know, I think I'm great or anything now, but it's, it's kind of like I don't, well sometimes I do but I don't really have that extreme self hate and extreme anger with other people to make me want to do that. So I don't think it was specifically towards how to stop the cutting. I know some people do need that, you know, but for me, it was more like my self-esteem was raised enough for me not to. And occasionally I would get the thoughts, but I think because it has been quite a long time since I have cut, I don't act on it.

Unfortunately, for many people such negative thoughts and feelings can lead them to want to hurt or kill themselves. Some had intrusive thoughts of suicide. These feelings can be very upsetting. Many people described attempting suicide, some whilst they were teenagers. A few had tried multiple times. For some, the thought of suicide gave a sense of comfort and control, although they didn't plan to go through with it, including one woman who said “I didn't want to kill myself actually. Sometimes I just feel like I don't want to live anymore. I just want to leave the situation and ignore it.” Another young man studying at university said he was “very happy” he survived his suicide attempts. Others recognised the risks involved in attempting suicide, including damaging organs or “ending up on a ventilator” from taking an overdose. A few people described planning their suicide but being unable to go through with it. 

 

Ali feels guilty and helpless, and has suicidal thoughts which seem to help to lift his spirits. ...

Ali feels guilty and helpless, and has suicidal thoughts which seem to help to lift his spirits. ...

Age at interview: 27
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 26
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I feel guilty. I think that's probably a part of depression. That's, guilt is something that - and I think it's probably because of my upbringing as well, because guilt was something that my mum used quite often to manipulate things wherever she could, and I think she still uses it. Not to the extent that she used to, but she still does use that. So I think that feeling guilty for no reason comes from that. And it's, it's a really pathetic feeling, but I even know that I'm feeling guilty without any reason, but I can't help it. So that's... you know what I mean? Like if you know what the problem is and you can't solve it, then you feel helpless, and when you feel helpless then, you know, you feel helpless. You feel more and more down. You feel like you can't do anything about it, so how do I solve it?

So the eventual solution that you think in your head is, 'All right, so kill yourself or something.' But I haven't actually attempted it, ever. I've always thought about it and suicide always gives me a sort of relieving feeling. It's like when I hit the pit and I'm thinking, like, 'What the hell should I do?' and my mind is basic, my mind just starts killing myself. And at that point, I think, I think to myself, 'Okay, if worse come to worse happens and I can't do absolutely anything, then I'll kill myself. But am I ready to do that?' And then my, I sort of start thinking, 'No, I'll give it another shot. Maybe next night.' And that sort of lifts me up, actually, in a funny way. It's, suicide is like I use it as a counter-suicide mechanism [laughs], if you will.

 

Edward felt suicidal but changed his mind when he began to feel "neutral" - he believes this was ...

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Edward felt suicidal but changed his mind when he began to feel "neutral" - he believes this was ...

Age at interview: 59
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 20
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I back peddle on this spirituality thing because I think it is actually, it's up to the individual to find their own way through it or around it or whatever and I feel lucky that the first time I felt suicidal and was going to drive my car off a cliff top in Sydney, I had it planned, I stopped the car at the base of the cliff and walked along the beach, don't know why, I just parked the car. And after I'd walked one length, 1' lengths, it's about, it's about a 3 mile beach I suppose I felt this, there I felt the size of a 50p piece a neutrality. You know, I tell you about anxiety and all these other feelings you get when you're depressed? It was a neutral bit and it got there, and with every pace the neutral bit sort of started to expand and spread all over me and I thought I've never felt neutral in my life before at all now so that was my version of a miracle. You know, I know officially the Catholic church will say that's not a miracle it has to be, it has to be approved by, it has to follow certain guidelines, they've even got a miracle committee in the Vatican somewhere there as far as I know, or that I heard. So yes that's my version of a miracle to me and there have been a few since then and I feel it's helped me understand that there are certain things beyond my control and I've got to let those things be dealt with by whatever, not by me. I can only change the things I can change, you know, like in the AlAnon self-help prayer, you know.

So yeah, so it's important to me but I would say I don't like to talk about it on the basis of it being the same for everybody because I don't think it is. And I would never want to impose my belief system or faith on somebody else, that's not the way I don't see it like that, I don't see it like that. I don't see it as a tribal thing like joining a group and you've got to believe in this and that, you know, and some kind of indoctrination scheme, which is often what they are. You know, if they're not arrived at spontaneously by yourself well then it, it does seem to be an indoctrination thing, which fair enough some people really need that or they like that or they, they want that but that's not the way I can operate. So I really do think it's up to the individual to find their letting go mechanism the best way they can because you've got to be able to let go of some things you can't change, you must be able to do that. So if you call that spirituality alright but that's all it is, you start at that point and then find out what the rest of it means to you.

And is that, that's what it does for you then, it's your point of letting go?

It is, it has to be, otherwise I'd feel disempowered about the things I couldn't change. It's a trap if I can't learn to let go and whatever the method I use, is a spiritual method.

And do you have a particular religion that you believe in?

No I haven't been able to do that, I haven't been able to do that. Look I've spent quite a lot of time [four second pause] as an attender at Quaker meetings, I've been to two or three or their enquiries weekends, they've got a special sort of what do you call it a retreat for people who are enquiring about Quakerism, they conduct those in, up in Oxfordshire, I've been to three of those. Last one was in 2001 and, 2002 I think and I've been to various Meeting Houses to try and find out which group suits me, I haven't found one. I haven't found one so now I'm not going to bother with that any more because it. They don't quite suit my belief system, I'm just a little bit, most of what they, most of, most of their the Friends they call themselves appeals to me, the way they go about things but there's, there's also that little bit of tribalism in there and that group joining and one grou

Others harmed themselves (or had in the past) by cutting or burning themselves, pulling their hair or banging their head as a way of feeling better emotionally, if not physically. One woman said she has “scars all over my body” as a result. Others harmed themselves as a way of punishing themselves or as a way of channelling anger [see Sara above].

Despite this, many people wanted to offer hope to others and urged them not to hurt or kill themselves (see 'Messages for others about mental health'). For people thinking of suicide or self-harm, see our list of crisis contacts.

What's it like to have disturbed sleep?
Many people experience difficulty sleeping from time to time, but for some of the people we interviewed, insomnia and sleeping only a few hours a night was a common occurrence. One woman described sleep traumas and sleep paralysis (being unable to move or speak after waking up). Sometimes, difficulty sleeping may be caused by other symptoms, such as hallucinations or anxiety, while for some people, not being able to sleep was recognised as a sign they were becoming unwell. A few people said they couldn't sleep unless they took medication (see 'Prescribed medication for mental health problems and their side effects').

 

Shaukat found it difficult to sleep because he felt constantly anxious and tried hypnotherapy to...

Shaukat found it difficult to sleep because he felt constantly anxious and tried hypnotherapy to...

Age at interview: 36
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 30
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I went to a hypnotherapy mainly about sleeping because at the time I wasn't, you know. I think that's probably been one of the major symptoms I have had because of all the anxieties in my mind, a lot of them are deep, but I don't know what I'm anxious about. My mind was always constantly worried about stuff and. I think a lot of it I mean when I read about it, it fits in with the sort of general anxiety disorders. And it was sort of I was always like worried all sorts of stuff from exams to family to, you know, what like teachers and what have you and what they thought about me. And, you know, like doing things in front of people I was worried about what they're thoughts were and how it sort of would affect me.

I was always so anxious that I was thinking about three, you know, levels ahead, if I was, say if I was with my cousin and I did something which I found, I thought might be embarrassing or something I was worried about what he's going to tell, who he's going to tell, how many people he knows in the school or whatever and, you know, who are they going to tell. Do they know my family or whatever? All these things these were going through my mind. And then I'd be thinking about stuff like that at night and I couldn't sleep. And then other stuff like what my family wanted , you know, because they were already asking about , you know, what I'd be doing about marriage and all that, arranged, arranged marriages and stuff and.

What's it like to lose your energy and concentration? 
Whilst some people struggled to sleep others found it difficult to wake up in the morning and felt constantly exhausted and lacking in energy. This was sometimes made worse by medication. Many people described finding it difficult to motivate themselves to get out of bed or leave the house, or to cook, do housework or work. Some lost interest in their usual activities, including watching television or listening to music. As one woman said, “I feel like I'm draining away”.

 

Terri describes different her symptoms, including not wanting to get out of bed and having to...

Terri describes different her symptoms, including not wanting to get out of bed and having to...

Age at interview: 41
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 32
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Well, it's been for a while and some days, I have good days and bad days. I started first knowing that I was getting sick about ten years ago now. And feel uneasy and, and feel awkward around people. And I kept asking myself, “Why, you know, why I'm like this?” And I couldn't get, I couldn't really determine what was wrong. And then it got a lot worse. And I used to get, sort of like neglect, couldn't feel that I was, hadn't much to live for. And I asked, you know, to, to get help. It got so bad that it's, that I couldn't cope. I was shivering, I felt fear in me. And I asked to, I wanted, you know, something to take to stop what the feeling and everything. So, you know, I'd see a consultant and he said, “It's probably just pressure you've, you've got.” The tablets did its job but it still… I still felt that there was something wrong with me. 

And now that I've been having this for a while I realise I have an illness and I've got to have medication for it and I have to keep taking the medication. If I don't take my medication, you know, I get into a deep depression and feel like I can't cope. Appetite's not there. I feel tired, I want to sleep all the time. Just feel lazy to get up, nothing to get up for. And when I do get up, I want to go back to sleep, and, you know. And staying in the flat most of the time, not doing nothing really, you know. I have to force myself some days you, you know, to get the tidying up done and washing clothes and things like that. So at the moment I've been battling. Sometimes I just can't be bothered. I have to force myself like now, you know, to get things done. And then when I finish I have a sit down and relax.

 

Marlene gets tired and loses interest in TV and music and doesn't do things or go out like she...

Marlene gets tired and loses interest in TV and music and doesn't do things or go out like she...

Age at interview: 38
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 24
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My mind always bottom, hits bottom. It's not like, I used to be like up and doing things and stuff like that. I'm not like that any more. I just feel tired. And when I tell everyone I'm tired they don't understand it. No, they don't understand it. They think it's, I'm lazy. But I'm not lazy. I'm not that kind of person to be lazy. I had, when I used to have anxiety attacks I never had any medicine like that. I just brought myself up with learning how to relax, how to be patient with them, not be fear with them. And I did it. But now it's, it's coming tiredness and your brain is not normal. And then it's like you think, 'What you are? You're going to live with this for all of your life?' And this is the life.

And how does that make you feel?

It feels bad, it feels bad.

So I mean these symptoms that you have, does that, do they stop you from being able to do anything? How do they affect your life?

It does affect your, it affects your moods. Moods go on and off. You feel like you're hopeless. You feel like you don't want to be dressed up, you don't want to be going out. You just want to be laying down or watch, sit down and watch TV, you know, you're not interested in TV. I'm not interested in songs. You think that you, it's like darkness come to you. It's like, you feel like darkness. But when you feel better, you feel like sun shine and you feel like, you like listen to songs, love songs and you feel a different person tomorrow.

And does it make it difficult to do things around the house and, and that sort of thing?

Yes, they do, but I push myself a lot. I won't like be, like I won't like be mess house and sit down. No, it would irritate me more. I will be get upset more. I think, 'God, the house is upside-down. And look at me, sitting down.' You know, even I'm poorly, I have to go and clean my house up, keep my kids clean. Because I don't want people talk about any of my kids. And when every day they go to school, they comb their hair, nice clothes, uniform clean, everything. Yes, even I'm poorly, I look after my kids. Plus my husband as well. [Laughs] Yeah, nice shirt, like new clothes, everything, don't look a mess. Because even I, I'm poorly, I change my clothes, do my hair, this like normal, clean.

In some cases, therefore, people found it difficult to care for themselves, to wash, dress or do their hair.

 

Sara found it difficult to wash and dress, especially when she quickly gained weight through...

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Sara found it difficult to wash and dress, especially when she quickly gained weight through...

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 17
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One of my experiences as well is that I became unable to take care of myself physically. And I'm not sure, I still don't really know why. I think, that when you do starve yourself, your brain is kind of, it doesn't work as, as well, and certainly before I started bingeing I was having trouble doing things like having a shower and, you know, I couldn't read the TV guide because I had no concentration. I was finding very basic things like doing my laundry, very, very difficult, you know, I would need help because I couldn't work out how to do things. And then when I started bingeing and gaining weight very rapidly and went on the medication I think I was just so, I put on weight so quickly, I couldn't work out how to dress myself any more because my clothes didn't fit me. I couldn't work out how to put an outfit together. I couldn't work out how to have a shower. I wasn't, it was like I was actually wearing a fat suit, you know, that somebody had just suddenly gone and put a fat suit on me, and I was sort of lumbering about, I didn't know how to. And I didn't take care of myself. I didn't wash for quite a long time I didn't wash at all. And of course, that just made them think even more that I had schizophrenia, because apparently that's one of the negative side, negative symptoms of schizophrenia is like lack of self-care'

One of my experiences as well is that I became unable to take care of myself physically. And I'm not sure, I still don't really know why. I think, that when you do starve yourself, your brain is kind of, it doesn't work as, as well, and certainly before I started bingeing I was having trouble doing things like having a shower and, you know, I couldn't read the TV guide because I had no concentration. I was finding very basic things like doing my laundry, very, very difficult, you know, I would need help because I couldn't work out how to do things. And then when I started bingeing and gaining weight very rapidly and went on the medication I think I was just so, I put on weight so quickly, I couldn't work out how to dress myself any more because my clothes didn't fit me. I couldn't work out how to put an outfit together. I couldn't work out how to have a shower. I wasn't, it was like I was actually wearing a fat suit, you know, that somebody had just suddenly gone and put a fat suit on me, and I was sort of lumbering about, I didn't know how to. And I didn't take care of myself. I didn't wash for quite a long time I didn't wash at all. And of course, that just made them think even more that I had schizophrenia, because apparently that's one of the negative side, negative symptoms of schizophrenia is like lack of self-care'

It was getting to the point where I was going to be thrown out of where I was living. I mean they had originally wanted to throw me out and then they hadn't because I had agreed to take the medication and then people were complaining because I smelled and, you know, my appearance, and I was just, I don't know I looked like a vagrant basically. And I didn't care any more either. I just stopped caring. I was so utterly depressed and I couldn't see a way out, apart from, and I thought there were three options open to me, either I go in a mental home like they want, or I kill myself, or I run away and try and live on the streets. You know, and I thought the best of those options was probably that I kill myself, because if I try and live on the streets, I'm not going to survive. And I don't want to go into one of these residential care homes. So I was planning to kill myself.

What's it like to have problems with appetite or an eating disorder?
Many people described losing their appetite or finding it difficult to eat, “I can't eat anything. It's very hard to put it in, it doesn't go so I put some rice or whatever, or bread and I drink water with this and it goes down”. Others described eating too much, “I eat like a pig. I'll have a full meal, and after that I will have two packets of crisps and a full bottle of orange juice”. Also, two women described having eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia - eating too little or too much, or using harmful ways to get rid of calories, such as vomiting, that are driven by a fear of gaining weight). 

 

Sara started dieting to lose weight, but became obsessed with food and reached a dangerously low...

Sara started dieting to lose weight, but became obsessed with food and reached a dangerously low...

Age at interview: 31
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 17
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And' yes, I'd started dieting when I left University but I left University quite overweight and I started dieting. And I got down to a normal weight and I realised that I still wasn't happy so I thought the solution was to lose some more weight. And it went on like that. I would lose some more and then I would think well I'm still not happy, maybe I need to lose a bit more. Until I got down to a weight which was very, very low and I was very seriously ill. But I don't think anybody realised because I was on like income support and I wasn't, by that point I wasn't seeing any psychologists or anybody. And so I was kind of on long term sickness and not getting any treatment, so nobody really realised. I mean people already knew that I was very thin, but, you know, I didn't really talk to them.

And I was just getting more and more depressed, and just completely obsessed with my weight, with food. And my entire days were filled with, you know, I would go out shopping for food and just, I would buy all the stuff that I wasn't allowed to eat and just keep it, so I had hoards and hoards of food. And everything I did every day was to keep me away from food. And I would go out walking. I would go to the park a lot, because that was somewhere that I considered safe because it didn't have food and my head was filled all day with numbers, whether it was weight or the calories or whatever it was. I got myself into a lot of debt as well. Credit cards, I would just go out shopping and like I would be a kind of, I think the starvation made me a bit manic and I would just go on like spending sprees and stuff. And then I think when I got to a really, really low weight, I think it was quite clear that I was dying. I would like pass out, you know, and I would just, and like my urine was coming out red and stuff.

What's it like being manic?
Mania is when people feel extremely energetic, optimistic and creative. Mania can feel good, but it can be worrying for family and friends and can switch into depression. Several people experienced mania or “highs” and said that it enabled them to do lots of work in a short amount of time or to have lots of creative ideas. Others described going on spending sprees. A few described erratic or unpredictable and dangerous behaviour, earning one woman the nickname “Mad Max”. One man said that his mania was caused by the drugs he'd been given.

 

Hanif experiences periods of mania where his activity and speech is very fast, he has lots of...

Hanif experiences periods of mania where his activity and speech is very fast, he has lots of...

Age at interview: 49
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 23
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I suppose just my, my activity becomes very fast paced, my speech also of course is also kind of very fast, you know, and I might, you know, share my mind kind of talk about lots of ideas. And therefore so very similar to what I had in my original kind of first or second episode where there was a flight of ideas and, you know, plans and all that kind of thing. I suppose one, you know, one can say you don't, you know, how, you, you're either in the creative bunch, you know, where you have lots of ideas, you know, and lots of good ideas but how do you translate those ideas into reality? And for me say, of course, I've become a realist to say actually ideas are great but then how to convert those ideas into some realities. So, you know, I always, you know, have fantastic ideas up here [coughs] but then I'm more cautious now, you know, how I share it with or what I do with them. And of course it's, you know, share it with a few friends that I have and then trying to put into context to say, 'Well actually yes this is a great idea but it's not achievable in the short run. It might take, you know, six, it might take a year or two years.' 

But I go through phases where I suppose I have lots of ideas and I'm kind of, you know, writing things down and sharing it with others So in terms of, you know, and there's a flurry of activity, you know, so in terms of doing lots of things, so in terms of, but I think I come, I can realise that I'm going through a kind of phase where maybe I just need to take things easy and maybe those, you know, ideas are very far fetched, you know, do-able but not in the immediate in the kind of immediate period. You know. And I think perhaps, you know, that in itself maybe is, is good for me anyway to say actually well maybe yes, you know, I need to kind of, you know, try and put those ideas, you know, in a pile in my in-tray but right at the bottom, you know. Because if I kind of prioritise it it's not good for my health. You know, so it's kind of that type of, kind of thinking that, you know, in terms of managing it, yeah.

Can you give me an example maybe, of the kind of ideas that you have?

I mean some were very simple ideas, you know, and of course, you know, I, you know, I'd share one of the ideas then in terms of, you know, which was going through my manic episode, you know, early, you know, my first, you know, few weeks of, you know, my, my kind of early, early psychosis, you know. You know, I had this idea, you know, to kind of, you know, make lots of money.

 

Mae describes being "high as a kite" and says her unpredictable behaviour meant people were...

Mae describes being "high as a kite" and says her unpredictable behaviour meant people were...

Age at interview: 62
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 45
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Yeah because I used to have really violent bouts, I didn't know that I was manic depressive, I know I was, it was diagnosed on paper but I wasn't actually told by the, anybody outright that I was a manic depressive. And to me that was a big word when I did find out. But yeah completely, you know, I could be as high, like as high as a kite at one moment and then the next moment totally down so, you know, and very, very violent with it, you know. So it wasn't advisable for anybody to kind of get near me when I started feeling low so that is one of the reasons why I used to lock myself away because then I wouldn't have to deal with the outside world and they wouldn't have to deal with me. And that was really basically the only way to keep myself at a certain level'

But my, my behaviour was so erratic, you know, people were actually frightened of me, yeah that's why they used to call me Mad Max, yeah they were frightened of me.

People also mentioned other symptoms in addition to the ones described here (see 'Ways of describing mental health problems').

See 'What else helps' to find out more about how people managed their symptoms. Find out more about experiences of depression and eating disorders.

Last reviewed September 2018.

Last updated November 2010.

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