Welcome to Breaking the Silence of Stigma, a series of very personal interviews with people who, like me and perhaps like you, live with mental illness.
It’s only by breaking the silence and speaking out about the reality of living with mental illness that we have any chance of breaking the stigma that surrounds it. It’s a silence that suffocates, that increases suffering….it’s a silence that kills.
Our inaugural interviewee is the very brave Ruth Jacobs, published author, campaigner against sex trafficking and human rights violations, blogger, and mother.
Breaking the Silence of Stigma: Ruth, how long have you known that you are living with a mental illness?
Ruth: Over twenty years.
BSS: Can you share with us your diagnosis/diagnoses?
Ruth: I have post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar – although the bipolar diagnosis is being reviewed by a new psychiatrist.
BSS: When were you diagnosed with these?
Ruth: I was diagnosed with a mild bipolar-like illness, cyclothymia, about fourteen or so years ago I think. It’s hard to remember as before then I had various other diagnoses. The bipolar worsened over the years until it was finally diagnosed bipolar type I. I can’t remember when the post traumatic stress disorder was diagnosed, but certainly years after I first suffered symptoms.
BSS: How were they diagnosed? Did you have any special testing?
Ruth: I am pretty sure the diagnoses have just been made from sessions with psychiatrists as an outpatient and inpatient. I don’t remember any special testing, though having said that I have a vague memory of wires attached to my head, but that might be from something medical; my memory is not good, which is probably caused by the PTSD, though could be from the numerous overdoses I took in my twenties.
BSS: Have you ever been hospitalized due to your illness? How many times? Do you think it helped?
Ruth: I have been hospitalized a few times. I can think of six but it might be seven. And actually it’s not all for my mental illness on its own, but mostly because I self-medicated with drugs. I had psychosis from crack a few times and I was a danger to myself so being hospitalized helped keep me safe for that period, but didn’t help with my mental illnesses. I was unhelpable most of those times because I wasn’t willing or wasn’t ready to give up drugs. When you are an intravenous user of heroin and crack, there isn’t much a psychiatrist can do about your mental illnesses.
BSS: Are you on medications for your illness? Do they help? What about side effects?d
Ruth: I have had so many medications and concoctions of medications, always with side effects though to varying degrees of severity. Most recently, a new psychiatrist has taken me off all medication so she can reevaluate the bipolar diagnosis. I am pleased about this, as I do prefer not to be on medication due to the side effects.
BSS: Have you ever had ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy)?
Ruth: Thankfully, I have never had that.
BSS: What other things do you do to help with your illness? Do you go to individual therapy? Group? Other things? What, if anything, seems to help?
Ruth: I have had years of therapy, mainly individual though also in groups. Sometimes it has helped, other times not. I found eye movement therapy, EMDR, worked extremely well for some symptoms of PTSD, especially flashbacks, but it also reduced nightmares too. I had NLP at the same time and I believe that helped particularly with anchoring – something that has been very hard for me to cope with.
BSS: How has your illness impacted your life? Things like jobs, education, relationships, children, alcohol and drug abuse, etc.?
Ruth: It’s affected all of it but I have to try to make the best with the cards I’ve been dealt. Although I can’t work full time at the moment, I still have writing and that’s a very important part of my life. I am sure it was my illness that enabled me to write my book; and I wouldn’t have had the knowledge without having lived the life.
BSS: If you could give advice to someone else struggling with mental illness, what would it be?
Ruth: Believe that no one is ever beyond hope. Reach out for help. Be honest – let those people know how you feel and what you need so they know how to help you. Don’t give up. If a medication isn’t working, ask to try another. If a therapy isn’t working, request a referral for a different kind – do your own research where necessary. If you don’t agree with your diagnosis, see if you can obtain a second opinion. If you are uncomfortable with your psychiatrist or other service provider, do what you can to be put under the care of another. I’ve found it helps to connect with other people also living with mental illness. So many people don’t understand and believe there is a way to ‘think’ yourself out of being mentally ill. In my depression, when it is already severe, this ludicrous belief is extraordinarily hurtful.
BSS: Thanks so much, Ruth, for your incredibly candid interview. It takes a lot of courage to break the silence of stigma.
Ruth Jacobs’ novel, Soul Destruction: Unforgivable is published by Caffeine Nights.
Read more about Soul Destruction, and about Ruth’s human rights campaigns, and her own brilliant interview series here.
Read Ruth’s blog and Soul Destruction Diary here. While you’re there, consider picking up a copy of In Her Own Words….Interview With A London Call Girl, an interview that Ruth did during her research into prostitution in the 90′s.
Ruth’s recommended links: