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Audrey

Age at interview: 30
Brief Outline: Audrey’s husband is 23 and has self-harmed since he was a teenager. Supporting him has been very hard but Audrey is committed to the relationship and to helping him recover.
Background: Audrey is 30 years old, married with two children. She works as a manager in a bookmaker’s. Ethnic background: White Scottish.

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Audrey knew that her husband had been self-harming when she met him, but during the early part of their relationship they had found a way to deal with it and he hadn’t self-harmed in some time. Later he began to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of incidents in his family and of homeless life on the streets in his late teens. This led him to be addicted to alcohol and to diazepam, as well as self-harming by cutting. Over the course of a year, with help from a psychiatric team and, particularly, from a sympathetic GP, the addictions were controlled and everything seemed to be going well. Audrey talks about this as a long, slow process, with no ‘quick fixes’. Under the surface though, her husband was not well and Audrey came home one night to find that he had cut himself very badly. She describes this as ‘completely and utterly horrific.’ 
Audrey is committed to helping her husband, but supporting him has been stressful at times and her GP has prescribed anti-depressant medication for her. She says it is mentally and physically draining and there have been times when she’s thought, ‘Someone else can do this, I’ve had enough.’ But, she says, ‘It’s all about understanding and learning to cope with it. It’s about learning how to best help that person.’ Audrey researches on the internet, ‘little and often,’ to try and get insight into the way her husband is feeling. She emphasises the importance of constantly talking to each other. She has also learned how to listen to her husband more effectively, to really hear how he is feeling and to try and understand his perspectives.
Audrey and her husband have received good health care services from their GP, a psychiatric team and a mental health charity which Audrey describes as a ‘lifeline’. Not all their GPs, or psychiatrists, have been sympathetic and Audrey talks about the importance of changing to another practitioner if you are not satisfied that they are helping you. Although some of their friends have been, at times, judgemental and critical of her husband, Audrey gets a lot of support from her ‘true’ friends. Their family GP has helped Audrey to look after her own health so that she can ‘stay strong.’
Looking to the future Audrey thinks you have to take one day at a time. She would like to see her husband completely free of self-harm, off all medication and in a job. She is confident that he wants to change and is hopeful that constant support and trusting each other will help him to change.
Audrey’s message to other people in similar situations is ‘Don’t give up, there is help out there.’ But, she says, ‘If you don’t like the treatment you’re receiving, change it, because it has to be on your terms.’
 

Audrey believes that self-harm is related to deep-rooted psychological damage.

Audrey believes that self-harm is related to deep-rooted psychological damage.

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Now he’s not, when I say the last time he self-harmed was five months ago, he hadn’t self-harmed, in the sense of cutting for three years prior to that. So he is capable of going long periods of time without doing it. It’s just learning how to manage the triggers. Now we know what some of the triggers are in relation to, you know, it could be family arguments, it could be the PTSD he suffers from, flash-backs, we’re only just getting to the start of dealing with those issues, alongside, obviously, the new psychiatry and things like that. So it’s all about time. It takes time to get through this. It takes time to understand. Everyone has different mechanisms for coping and everyone has different reasons for doing what they do and it’s, I think the biggest part for self-harmers is learning what triggers they have. What sets them off? Why they do what they do? Because there is a million different reasons and I think what a lot of people tend to forget is they forget to actually find out and ask. 

A lot of people think it’s just an addiction, that they do it just for the sake of doing it. Some folk that might be the reason but what I’ve found is a lot of the time it’s not. Its deep-rooted psychological damage in respect of it could be someone suffering from PTSD or it could be someone suffering from severe flashbacks. It could be someone suffering from, you know, abuse. It could be that they are, you know, borderline schizophrenic. It could, it could be anything. It could be depression. It can be absolutely anything but it needs to have, people need to take the time to find out and that’s why I think self-harmers don’t get a lot of the help that they need because it does it does take time and it takes effort on everyone’s part. It’s not just the person who’s self-harming
 

Audrey thought that her husband used self-harm to cope with the stress of post-traumatic stress disorder.

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Audrey thought that her husband used self-harm to cope with the stress of post-traumatic stress disorder.

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A lot of the drug abuse that he did has obviously, created paranoia but he’s been clean from drugs for four years in this January, four years and he has been clean from alcohol for three years. So he’s taken all the steps towards getting better but people who suffer post traumatic stress disorder, they suffer flashbacks and my husband’s flashbacks usually come at night time and normally, it’s the flashbacks that he, he won’t go into too much detail about them. 

This is why he needs the CBT therapy to try and help change the way that he thinks, try and help change the way that his brain works because he has, the only way he’s known how to deal with anything is to store it all, chuck it to the back and every so often little bits filter through. And he’s got no control over it. It’s just whatever decides to come through and he needs to properly address all the issues in relation to his past so that we can get him better. 

This is where the self-harming comes in because this is the only way that my husband knew how to deal with, if anything got too stressful, if it got too much that his brain was just completely overloaded, where he just thought, “I can’t, I’m already coping with enough. I can’t cope anymore.” And he didn’t know how to release the frustration that he had, the only way that he knew how was to self-harm and this is obviously, in relation to the PTSD as well. 
 

Her husband’s self-harm was very stressful for Audrey. She was angry that she had to lie to their children about it.

Her husband’s self-harm was very stressful for Audrey. She was angry that she had to lie to their children about it.

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It does take time and it takes effort on everyone’s part. It’s not just the person who’s self-harming but, don’t get me wrong, it’s hard for people like myself, you know, just to be supportive of my husband. It’s very, very hard and, don’t get me wrong, there’s been a good few times when I have just thought to myself, [phew] someone else can do this because I’ve had enough, you know. 

It’s really, really, it is it’s mentally draining as well as physically draining and it’s hard because you have to keep a smile on your face twenty four seven, even when everything is all going pear shaped all around you, you feel like your whole world is about to fall apart and you have to keep smiling, especially if you’ve got children. You can’t let them know that anything is wrong. You can’t let them know that your, that their world as they know it nearly came to an end, you know, and sometimes you do have to lie. You have to lie in the sense of when our youngest had saw, sorry, when our eldest had saw my husband’s legs when they were all bandaged. She had asked, “What’s happened to daddy?” And we just said, “Oh, it was a football accident. Daddy fell at football and he cut his legs.” And, you know, you have to tell wee white lies like that but then at times I was getting so angry because I thought I shouldn’t have to lie, you know. You shouldn’t have done this. You shouldn’t have done this because you have got children and you shouldn’t have put me in a position where I’m having to lie to my children because of what you’ve done, you know. 

So there are there are times where I feel really angry that I’m then put in a position where I have to do something that I don’t want to do. But it’s all about understanding. It’s all about understanding the illness because it is an illness and it’s about learning to cope with it
 

Audrey and her husband only told people they 'trust completely' about his repeated self-harm because he felt ashamed about it.

Audrey and her husband only told people they 'trust completely' about his repeated self-harm because he felt ashamed about it.

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Who else knows about your husband’s self-harming and the mental health problems?

His mum and step-dad and his sister. Obviously, myself. We have about five five or six friends, close, very close friends that know. Obviously, our GP, psychiatrist, [mental health charity] worker, and that’s about it. It’s not something, I mean this is this is another thing that self-harming isn’t very widely spoken about. It’s, you know, it’s very hush, hush, type of thing, which I think is a bit of a shame because if it was discussed a little more, I don’t think there would be such a stigma of people with self-harm. I think I don’t think it would be as I mean it seems just it seems now it seems quite, a lot of people call it attention seeking and to a certain degree, yes, I did say that it was attention seeking to begin with because I didn’t know about. That’s just what you’re brought up knowing, anyone who self-harms, “Oh, it’s attention seeking.” You know, it’s a cry for help but sometimes it goes a lot deeper than that. 

It’s not a cry for help. It’s a way of that person expressing how they feel through pain or through seeing their skin open or through knowing that they’ve harmed themselves or knowing that their blood is coming out. It’s a whole host of different things. I mean it’s a mental, you know, it’s a form of mental abuse. I know a lot of stigma is placed on it so that is why we didn’t tell a lot of people. We’ve told people who we trust completely and, obviously, my husband’s family. They need to know about it but when my husband had did what he did to his legs, about five months ago we had his family over three days after he had done what he’d done to his legs and we had to lie to them. We had to tell them that he had had a football injury, because he was all bandaged up. My husband didn’t have the heart to tell them what he’d done because he was ashamed of what he’d done and he also didn’t want to see the look on his mum’s face. He didn’t want to see the look on his dad, his step-dad’s face. He was very much ashamed of what he’d done for the simple fact that he didn’t think he it would ever come to that again. 
 

Some of Audrey’s friends were very supportive but others reacted badly to her husband’s self-harm.

Some of Audrey’s friends were very supportive but others reacted badly to her husband’s self-harm.

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And how do your friends react?

It depends. If it’s someone that knows, like knows what it’s like, they’re fully supportive, you know. They’re there one hundred per cent. They’re battering the door down to offer support and help and advice and all rally round. And if it’s someone who doesn’t have a clue, well what I mean is, they know obviously, that my husband is doing what he’s, well, has done what he’s done in the past but if they don’t have a clue in the sense of they’ve never lived through it, they’ve not seen anyone with it, they’ve they don’t even, they’ve not even researched it in the slightest, it can be so frustrating and so hurtful because all they want to do is shout at him and tell him, “How dare you do that, how dare you do that to your children, how dare you do that to your wife, how dare you? You know, I cannae believe you’ve been so bloody stupid,” and blah blah blah. 

And it’s frustrating for me because I think to myself, why are you doing that? When you can already see that he’s suffering, why would you purposely come in and want to make him suffer more? He already he already is suffering. But they don’t fully understand, you know. They just think, “Ah, I can’t believe he’s been so stupid. How dare he?” And because they’ve not properly dealt with anyone with mental health issues with self-harming tendencies, they don’t have a clue. They really don’t and it’s hard because you can stand there until you’re blue in the face and tell them, “Don’t do that. Don’t speak to him like that.” And then you’ll get accused, “Oh, you cannae babysit him, you know. He’s old enough and big enough and ugly enough to look after himself.” And then it just opens a whole can of worms [laughs] and it’s just like what should be a an intimate sort of  an intimate array of friends coming together, turns into almighty war near enough sometimes.

Have you lost friends through those reactions?

We have. We have but, luckily enough, luckily enough, we we’ve got them back. They they’ve realised the errors of their ways it was it was very difficult because then you do get, you yourself get the whole guilt of, should I have let that happen? Should I have let it get that far? Should I have let my husband see that? Should have I put that on him? 

And then he feels guilty because he’s like, “I shouldn’t have let Audrey go through that. I shouldn’t have let  you know, my wife’s lost one of her best pals because of me and my stupidity and my own beliefs and my feelings and my fears and my hurts and my head” type of thing and it’s, you know, it’s a vicious circle. It is a vicious circle and you’re caught between a rock and a hard place but, ultimately, at the end of the day, you have to make a decision what’s more important? Your family, who needs you there and then, or your friends and it’s an easy choice for me. My family is always going to come first, always, doesnae matter, I wouldnae care who you are. You know, I’d fight the devil himself for my family. So if I lose friends over it, then I lose friends over it, you know, that’s just one of these things 
 

Audrey developed depression after constantly worrying about her husband's self-harming.

Audrey developed depression after constantly worrying about her husband's self-harming.

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I saw my GP because I started, I wasn’t sleeping. I was constantly worrying about, you know, my husband. I was looking after my kids twenty four seven and, you know, I didn’t want to put the added pressure on my husband of worrying about me on top of everything else he was trying to deal with and I’d stopped eating, you know, because I was so busy, you know, dealing with him and the kids and getting them to nursery and it was just a nightmare. 

So I had went to my GP and I told my GP everything. I filled out one of the questionnaires and it turns out that I was suffering from depression. So I was put on tablets, which I’m still on now, but I have regular appointments with my GP, you know, and I have to keep myself right in the sense of I have to keep myself mentally well as well as physically well, otherwise I’m no use to my husband whatsoever, I’m no use to my children, you know. So eating well. Talk things through with your GP but not only that, also your friends, don’t forget about your friends because if they’re true friends, they’ll be with you no matter what. They’ll stick by you no matter what. 
 

Audrey is glad her husband’s scars are visible because they remind him he doesn’t want to go back to that bad time in his life.

Audrey is glad her husband’s scars are visible because they remind him he doesn’t want to go back to that bad time in his life.

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But with regards to his harming, he has got permanent scarring on his legs and I mean the scars haven’t healed, it was only five months ago and there were some pretty brutal, for want of a better word, cuts that he gave himself and they’re a constant reminder of where, like what he did. As much as I hate seeing it, I think it’s good that I see it. I think it’s good that he sees it because it’s a reminder of, where he was, that we don’t want to get back to that part of his life. We don’t want to go back to that area and, as he says, he doesn’t want me to have to go through that again. He doesn’t want for himself to be that low that he feels that he couldn’t speak to anyone and he certainly doesn’t ever want our children to witness that. He never, ever wants our children to walk in one day, neither do I. I don’t ever want my children to walk in and have to see their dad in the state that he was in. I mean it’s just, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. That’s every mother’s worst nightmare.
 

Audrey hopes that by not being ashamed to talk about self-harm she can help other people and lessen stigma.

Audrey hopes that by not being ashamed to talk about self-harm she can help other people and lessen stigma.

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Don’t ever be ashamed of talking about self-harming. Don’t ever be ashamed of admitting what you’re going through because I’ll guarantee there’s about fifty other folk out there in the same boat and if by doing this I can at least help one person, raise awareness or help them understand better or help them to acknowledge what’s going on, then I’ll be happy because there’s so much, as I said before, there’s so much of a stigma attached with mental health and with self-harming and it shouldn’t be like that, not in this day and age.
 

Audrey and her husband’s current GP is a ‘superstar’. He listened and didn’t make judgements.

Audrey and her husband’s current GP is a ‘superstar’. He listened and didn’t make judgements.

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And we finally got our GP and he was a superstar, he really was. So much so that he is now our family GP and he actually listened. He read through all my husband’s notes, all his past, all his previous medications. He listened to what we wanted. He listened to our stories. He listened to our past experiences. He listened to the health services that we had tried to get into, over in Northern Ireland as well as over here and he helped. He did. He helped. He listened to us, both sides, you know my husband’s side as well as my side, he looked at the family setting, you know, and he didn’t make any assumptions. He didn’t make any judgments. He could see that my husband wanted help. He could see that my husband was, he was addicted to diazepam. He’d had six years of constantly using diazepam and we’re talking up to a hundred and fifty milligrams a day he was taking and he had looked at all his medication that he was on at that time, and he started a regimen of weaning so we were gradually, coming off all the pills. 
 

Audrey thought the psychiatrist who saw her husband was ‘as much use as a chocolate fireman’. They changed to a new psychiatrist who was ‘brilliant.’

Audrey thought the psychiatrist who saw her husband was ‘as much use as a chocolate fireman’. They changed to a new psychiatrist who was ‘brilliant.’

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And it was our GP who put us in contact with the psychiatrist and our psychiatrist was about as much use as a chocolate fireman. He was one of these ones that, “I’ve got four hundred and fifty patients and I’ve not got time.” Well, I’m sorry. I don’t care about your four hundred and forty nine other patients. I only care about my husband, you know, and that was maybe selfish but, at the end of the day, I’m living with that person. That person is the father of my children, of my two children. You know, I want my husband fixed. I’m not interested in anything else. I just want my man fixed and it’s as simple as that and I mean I don’t know if I’m, call me naïve but I’m a huge believer in if you’re gonna go into a public sector job, you have to be a people person. You have to you have to want to help and he just wasn’t one of those people. 

It was a case of in the room, out the door, type of thing and that’s no good when you’re dealing with mental health. It’s no good, especially when you’re dealing with someone who suffers from post-traumatic stress as well as self-harming as well as depression as well as severe anxiety, you know, and panic attacks. So it’s nae good to man nor beast, you know. It’s no good. 

So we had changed our psychiatrist, through the help of our mental health worker and our [mental health charity] worker and it is complete chalk and cheese. He listens. He deals specifically with addictions. He is an addictions psychiatrist so he deals with people who have had addictions like drugs, alcohol, I don’t know if possibly sex might be one of them, food, any form of an addiction, self-harming, you know, he deals with things like that. And he has a much better understanding. He actually listens to my husband when he goes in and asks, “How are you feeling? What makes you feel this way? Why do you think you want to do this? Why do you, like why do you do what you do?” And he gives him coping techniques. He tries to give him just little strategies in which to interpret every day that can sort of help make his day a wee bit better. It was this psychiatrist that actually mentioned the mood stabiliser. He wanted to try and get him on this mood stabiliser so that the CBT therapy, when it did start, would have a much better effect than just putting a red flag to a bull, type of thing. 

So [coughs] he’s been brilliant and he, unlike our previous psychiatrist, he will see my husband, every three weeks he sees him and he does see him every three weeks. And if he can’t make the appointment, he already he already reschedules the appointment so that we don’t have to worry about rescheduling. He already reschedules the appointment and it’s just it’s so much better than it was before.
 

A mental health charity worker was ‘an absolute godsend’ for Audrey and her husband.

A mental health charity worker was ‘an absolute godsend’ for Audrey and her husband.

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It is so amazing to have the support services such as [mental health charity] that are just indispensable, they really are. I mean I do not know where we would be if we didn’t have our worker from [mental health charity]. She has been an absolute godsend, she really has and I, you know, I thank Him every single day for having someone like [name] in the world because I literally do not know what we would have done without her. She doesn’t speak to my husband like he’s an idiot. She doesn’t speak down to him. She doesn’t speak to him as though he’s stupid or he he’s just someone that, you know, has done something stupid and should be treated so. She understands him on a level, you know, and they have an understanding between the two of them. My husband has trust issues, very, very high trust issues and it takes a lot for my husband to let you in and with our [mental health charity] worker, she laid her cards on the table from day one. She didn’t make any false promises, which is what we’ve been used to before. She didn’t patronise us. She treated us as a family. She treated us as a family that needed help and she has earned the respect and the trust from both of us and if she says she’s coming out, she comes out. She comes out every week without fail. She is on the phone twenty four seven, if need be. She will actually, go out of her way to make sure that we are okay and that’s in every sense, you know. That’s in the sense of our children. That’s in the sense of my husband, it’s in the sense of myself. 

And she has arranged goals for [my husband] to meet. She has arranged ideas that my husband never knew were possible before. She has helped put steps in place that he then has something to look forward to, you know. It’s all about helping him change the way that he thinks and think that his life doesn’t have to be the way that it always was. So and she’s also, going to do CBT therapy with him. She has also, off her own back, investigated and looked into and researched all about PTSD. 

And she’s wanting to do some work with my husband on that as well. I mean this is this is not even in her job description. She doesn’t have to do this kind of stuff and yet off her own back, she does it. We are so lucky to have her alongside our GP and our new psychiatrist and our mental health worker. I mean without them, now that we have a team that is working so closely together to help, it makes all the difference. It’s brilliant and I’m just glad that my husband has got all the support that he needs and that he’s getting it and that’s it.
 

Mood stabilisers helped Audrey’s husband cope with his feelings before he started CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy).

Mood stabilisers helped Audrey’s husband cope with his feelings before he started CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy).

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My husband is now on a mood stabiliser [coughs] to better help him cope with the feelings that he has because he needs to he needs to get CBT therapy and before this CBT therapy they need to get him into a mood where he’s able to deal with everything without going away up here and away down there. He needs to be calm. So he’s started this new mood stabiliser. He’s been on it two weeks now and I mean its chalk and cheese from what he was like before. He, before it was like, he would wake up one morning and he would be, you know, the grumpiest man alive and then other mornings he would wake up and he’d be the happiest man alive, whereas now, he wakes up and he’s neither up nor down. He’s just level, that’s the best way I can describe it. He’s just so level and all our friends and myself, I’m not used to it , you know, because I’ve had almost three years of dealing with, you know, a Jekyll and Hyde. I’ve had drama constant and that’s what I I’ve grown used to and now I’m just dealing with a level, type of thing. 

It’s just it’s very, very strange but it’s good because there’s no arguing, even if I tried to get an argument out of him, he’s just, “I’m not arguing with you”. You know, and he’s so level and he’s chilled, he’s relaxed. He’s in a better frame of mind that he can see everything from a different perspective. He can see both sides to every story you know whereas before it was a case of he could only see, he had tunnel vision. It was one option and one option only. There was never a range of options. There was only the negative. He always looked at the negative side of things. There was never a positive, whereas that’s slowly starting to change now. 

So he’s on this new medication, which is, you know, touch wood, is starting to take an effect on him but we’ll wait and see.
 

Audrey thinks it’s very important to be calm and ‘connected’ to keep a relationship strong.

Audrey thinks it’s very important to be calm and ‘connected’ to keep a relationship strong.

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I try wherever possible, for both myself and my husband, to have a nice chilled, relaxed time because then that helps him recharge his batteries. It helps him think about things logically and it helps me think about things logically, you know. It helps us connect you know, because I feel a lot of the time, people lose their, lose their way in a sense towards each other, when dealing with mental health illnesses and, you know, and or self-harming. So I think it’s very, very, very important that you never lose what you’ve had. Always connect, always connect with one another. You have to. I mean we went through a stage where we were like ships passing in the night. We live in the same house, we sleep in the same bed but we were literally, ships passing in the night and it was just ridiculous. So I think it’s very, very important to not forget about ‘you time’ as in couple time or whatever the case may be, I think it’s very, very, very important not to lose sight of that. And that helps the relationship. It just keeps it stronger, if nothing else.
 

Audrey says don’t give up, there is help available, but don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re not happy with your doctor.

Audrey says don’t give up, there is help available, but don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re not happy with your doctor.

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Is there anything you feel you can say to other people in a similar situation to yours?

Just don’t give up, don’t give up because there is help out there, there is. It took us three years and it’s been hard, very, very, very hard at times but you will get there. You will and I know it’s such a total cliché and you, I used to hear it all the time but it is so true and you have to talk. Don’t keep anything to yourself and go and see your GP yourself with regards to your own health and well-being because you need to stay strong. You need to keep yourself mentally well as well as physically well in order to help your partner or granddad or whoever it is, you have to keep yourself well. You can’t forget about yourself and that’s what I would say. 

You have to also remember about you but don’t ever give up and don’t think that nobody cares and if you’re stuck with one GP or one psychiatrist that you’re not happy with, change. You can change at any point, change them because one psychiatrist will not always work for everyone. You some times have to go through a different route but honestly, change until you find one that suits you. As a family, as an individual, whatever, until you find one that suits you, change. Don’t be ever afraid to open your mouth and say because ultimately it’s your it’s your health, you know, it’s your family’s health, it’s your loved one’s, it’s everything so, you know, I can’t stress that enough but yous’ll get there.
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