Reality of Mental Illness
University is a time of money worries for most students, but for me it is a source of very real difficulties.
I have problems with impulse control and am vulnerable to going on wild spending sprees when my mental health is bad. I just can’t help myself and feel like I need to spend, spend, and spend. I also have problems with the mathematics of spending and can go vastly over-budget without even realising it. This has led to me getting into debt problems.
I remember my last spending spree very clearly. When my student bursary was transferred from one place to another I was accidentally paid twice for the same month. Unfortunately this was at Christmas time and so I couldn’t resist a spending spree where I spent over £1000 in one day. Most of the things I spent my money on were presents for others. I bought an X-box360 for my boyfriend and a cashmere scarf for my Mum as well as many other things. I also spent nearly £200 on getting my hair done. At the end of this day I had spent an entire month’s wages and had to live with the financial repercussions.
I had to sell my car at the beginning of the year in order to pay off a large spending spree. I was very upset at this because although I know I don’t really need a car in London, especially where I live because the traffic is awful, I have had a car since I was 17 (so 11 years shhh) and so I feel like my freedom to just get up and go anywhere has been taken away from me. On the up side though, having sold my car I managed to get a Freedom Pass, so I get free travel all around London and free bus travel around the entire country so I really can’t complain.
It’s a catch 22: when I find myself getting into debt problems, my mental health deteriorates, which means I am more likely to go on another spending spree and make debt problems worse. It all goes round in a vicious cycle.
I have had some help from the welfare department at my university. They have helped me make a detailed budget so that I feel more in control of my finances. This works well when I am feeling ok, but when my mental health is bad then I still end up going on spending sprees and ruining everything.
When things get really bad I have to give my debit and credit cards to my boyfriend and he gives me a sensible “allowance” every day to make sure that I cannot go and spend money and if I spend my allowance in one go then that’s my own problem and I have to wait until my next payment.
I have been in university now for 7 years. That’s 7 years of having not a lot of money; so not being in control of my finances, even for a little while can have a large impact on my life as I don’t have the buffer zone most people have and so I can end up in a lot of trouble.
One of the main problems that people with mental illness face is taking medication. I take the following every day…
In the morning I take:
- Loratadine (antihistamine for hayfever)
- Omeprazole (for indigestion)
- Metformin (for insulin resistance)
- Omega 3-6-9
- Vitamin D
At night I take:
- Quetiapine fumarate (antipsychotic and mood stabiliser)
- Lithium (mood stabiliser)
- Sodium valproate (mood stabiliser)
- Melatonin (to make me sleep)
When I need it:
And a days supply looks like this…
I am taking 3 psychiatric medications: 1 mood stabiliser, 1 mood stabiliser and antipsychotic and one which helps me sleep as well as high dose vitamins because my diet is so poor when I am unwell that I am deficient in almost every vitamin. This all means that I have to not only remember to take my medication twice a day, but also have to deal with the side effects.
The side effect that causes me the most stress and worry is weight gain. I put on a lot of weight when I first started taking medications and then again every time the dose has been increased (which has been quite a lot of times).
I feel quite embarrassed when I go to see the GP and they say I need to loose weight. It’s funny, when I tell them what medication I’m on they tend to say “OK that explains it” and stop pushing the issue. This doesn’t actually help much as no matter how hard I try it is difficult to loose the weight.
I feel so self-conscious about my weight now and wish there was a away around it. This can lead to me really not wanting to take my medication any more, even though I know I need it to maintain my mental health. I have managed to lose quite a bit from when I was at my heaviest but I still have a way to go.
The other side effect of medication that really bothers me is sedation. It makes me get tired really easily and my boyfriend can sometimes call me a zombie.
Before I started taking medication, I used to have so much energy, which I really miss. I used to be able to work full time and then do extra hours on my day off. Now I can’t do that and it makes me sad. Sometimes, it’s all I can do to go into university and I find it hard to do much else.
People just don’t understand what its like to feel like a zombie and think that I am being lazy or pathetic. They just don’t understand what its like to feel so tired that the whole world is spinning and you just can’t keep your eyes open.
Having said that, I try to remember how important it is for me to take my medication; without it I don’t even want to think about what my mental health would be like. When I feel bad all I have to do is think back to when I have had a breakdown and ended up in hospital. I know I never want to be like that again.
Finally I should add that the fly in the ointment is that although I take my medications regularly and as instructed they don’t stop me from becoming unwell and even as I type I am going through a mixed episode and am taking copious amounts of diazepam just to get through the day in one piece. The reason for this is that my lithium levels have dropped below the therapeutic level (yet again) for some reason that is totally beyond me which has led to me to becoming unwell again.