ERROR: Your problems are invalid

tHE Damaging EFFECTS OF emotional INVALIDATION

(or maybe they’re not that bad…)

What is invalidation? Dictionary.com defines it as “to render invalid; discredit; or nullify”. I’m sure everyone has experienced some form of invalidation at one point or another, and normally we just learn to deal with it and move on. But what about when this invalidation is in regard to something particularly personal, such as your thoughts and feelings?

Emotional invalidation is when your feelings/emotions are dismissed, minimised, rejected or ignored. You are made to feel like your problems are not serious enough, that they are not important. This can be considered a form of emotional abuse and consequently can be very harmful to a person’s self-esteem and self-worth. This can be particularly damaging when that person is already in a vulnerable position, such as when disclosing mental health difficulties.

How about when this invalidation comes from a so called ‘expert’, someone you would expect to trust? For example a doctor or counsellor. Imagine plucking up the courage to go and speak to someone about your mental health difficulties to then be completely shot down and your struggles made to seem insignificant. A storm of emotions crash over you; anger, despair, upset, confusion, shock. This is unfortunately the case for many people, myself included, and it can cause some pretty damaging, and long-lasting effects, particularly if the experience is repeated more than once.

Seeking support – what happens when it causes more harm than good?

We are constantly encouraged to reach out for help if we’re struggling, reassured that we are not alone, that people want to help. But what we don’t talk about enough is what happens when you try and seek support but are instead dismissed and your problems invalidated. When you ask someone for help but they don’t listen or understand. What happens then? What are you meant to do now?

It seems to be often assumed that you ask for help and you get it. It’s that simple. No one seems to talk about the occasions where no help is offered, the damaging effects of being shot down after you’ve mustered up the strength and courage to seek help. Spending hours mentally psyching yourself up for an appointment, meticulously planning and rehearsing what you will say, allowing yourself to feel one small speck of hope that things might get better. However, all this work ends up being for nothing. Your hopes of a better life are shattered in the space of 10 minutes. That soul crushing disappointment as you realise all your energy was wasted. You have received no help, and in fact now feel even worse than you did before as you come to realise that this could be your life forever.

I know I have certainly felt this way. I had never heard much about others’ experiences of being dismissed by medical professionals and as such I felt very alone. I wish it was talked about a bit more publicly because I am sure I am not the only one who has gone through this and when your feelings have been invalidated all you want is some reassurance and external validation, confirmation that your problems are real and important and that you matter!! I struggled to find this anywhere and I longed for something to help me feel a little less shit about it all. I think even just having the knowledge that I was not alone and other people had similar experiences would have at least slightly softened the blow and reduced my self doubt slightly.

Experiencing this invalidation from medical professionals once is bad enough, but how about when these experiences are repeated several times over a period of many years, and by different people? Whilst an unpleasant experience, you think perhaps you were just unlucky the first time, you maybe got unlucky with the doctor you saw and there may be some hope were you to see someone else. However, when this experience is repeated by a range of so called ‘professionals’ over several years, the damage can be severe. Over the space of 5.5 years I was dismissed by doctors at my GP surgery on 3 separate occasions (as well as booking and subsequently cancelling appointments at the last minute a couple of times due to fear of being dismissed again) and again by two different counsellors through my university’s wellbeing service before I was finally listened to. And to be honest, that was only because my mum came to the doctors  with me and pretty much insisted they let me try medication (so wasn’t really me they listened to…).

During these visits I had one doctor write on my consultation notes ‘clear she is not depressed’, another write ‘feeling low but not depressed’ and had a counsellor tell me to my face that I was ‘definitely not depressed’. Now, whilst I’m not a ‘qualified’ medical professional (not sure how useful that is anyway…), I can say with pretty high levels of certainty that I was severely depressed on each one of these occasions, but unfortunately my feelings were completely dismissed and invalidated each time. One person denying you’re depressed isn’t great, but it’s feasible they may have got it wrong (although it is still extremely crushing to be told you’re essentially fine when you’re sure you’re not). However, having three separate professionals tell you this does really make you start to question yourself. Maybe I really was just making it up?

Additionally, another so called ‘counsellor’, in response to me telling her about my repetitive thoughts, asked me ‘have you ever tried not repeating them?’*. I don’t think she could have made my problems sound anymore insignificant if she tried and the only thing she successfully achieved in that appointment was making me feel like an absolute idiot for seeking help and sharing my problems with her (i honestly questioned if i had the word ‘MUG’ tattooed on my forehead).

*(in case you were wondering…surprisingly, yes, during the 7+ years I’d been experiencing these repetitive thoughts it had crossed my mind to try and ‘simply not repeat them’ but it had unfortunately proved unsuccessful on each and every occasion)

Every time I sought help, I was dismissed, my feelings invalidated and minimised, made to feel like I wasn’t important and that no one cared. Not only did this cause me emotional distress but it also prevented me from being honest with other people about how I was feeling. When people asked how I was or what was wrong I felt I couldn’t tell them I was depressed or had anxiety or OCD because I’d feel like a fraud. I felt like the doctors/counsellors had made it pretty clear that they didn’t think I had any of those conditions (whilst also offering me no alternative diagnosis) so even though I was certain that I fit the diagnostic criteria, I’d be lying if I said I had them. I really wished I could give an honest response when people asked but I just couldn’t find the words to explain without feeling like a liar. So instead I always resorted to the classic “I’m tired” or making a joke about my mental health. This was my coping mechanism. I wanted so badly to tell people how I was really feeling, but I feel like ‘depression’, ‘anxiety’, ‘ocd’ etc. were these ‘protected titles’, saved only for those who had been ‘officially’ diagnosed. I didn’t ‘deserve’ to use these terms to describe what I was going through and if I did use them to describe myself I would be a liar and it would be disrespectful to all those who really are struggling with those problems (although I obviously was too, but the constant dismissals had filled me with a lot of doubt).

Now I totally understand that doctors don’t want to prescribe medication straight away, and I completely agree with this as I think it is important to try other things first. But handing out some shitty leaflets to useless websites that I’ve looked at countless times already and suggesting meditation and mindfulness apps isn’t going to cure me or anyone else who has been suffering for this long. I completely support the use of such things but it is unlikely to really solve your problems unless they are only mild and/or acute. I recognise the benefits of mindfulness/meditation (and do try to incorporate such activities into my life)  but trying to treat my mental health problems solely with this seemed like the equivalent trying to treat a broking leg with nothing more than some paracetamol, i.e. it might help a tiny bit, but some more substantial treatment is definitely necessary as well.

I felt stigmatised by the doctors/counsellors – that my problems didn’t matter and I was making a big deal out of nothing, that I could fix it all with a couple of leaflets, meditation and self-help, that I could (and SHOULD be able to) do it on my own, but I couldn’t, I needed help from someone else, I couldn’t do it alone and I wish that the doctors had understood that (or at least made some sort of effort to try and understand). I was not okay and no matter how much I wanted to or tried to help myself, I didn’t have the tools to do it alone. It takes a lot of strength and bravery to admit that you need external help (not just self-help) so to have that rejection is absolutely soul destroying and leaves you drowning in a sea of hopelessness.

Thankfully, I am now on medication which has helped somewhat, I had some CBT which was quite useful, and I was diagnosed with (and subsequently medicated for) ADHD, which explained a lot of my difficulties (and the medications have helped with some of those symptoms). But honestly I’m still not in a great place and would probably benefit from some therapy. But the main reason I feel I require this isn’t so much to deal with the original problems I sought help for, but rather to address the psychological damage caused by being constantly dismissed and invalidated when I have previously sought help. I have a lot of unresolved feelings regarding my experiences and I see the impacts of this constant invalidation in my life everyday, manifesting in my low self-esteem and a reluctance to express my needs and ask for help.

The painful irony is that my quest to get help for my MH difficulties has left me so mentally scarred and traumatised that I now need even more help (but I’m also scared to get help in case it happens again…). It has left me so broken and exhausted that I still can’t function properly, even though my original problems have been addressed and shown some improvement. I am sure many other people have has similar experiences.

These experiences have left me feeling a lot of different emotions.

SADNESS, ANGER, RESENTMENT , DESPAIR , FRUSTRATION, DISAPPOINTMENT.

I’m just so ANGRY at the doctors/counsellors that dismissed me. I had several friends say to me “why don’t you try meds”? I know they were just trying to help but this was the opposite of helpful (they obviously weren’t to know this). I would have loved to try medication. I know meds are not always the answer and you shouldn’t rely on them, but I was desperate at this point. I had been struggling so badly for so many years and nothing I tried seemed to help! I was going to the gym almost every day as it was the only thing, other than sleep, that offered any form of relief for me. And even then the effects were very short lived, often having worn off by the time I arrived home from the gym. I was napping most days because I was constantly exhausted and mentally drained. If only it was that easy for me to try meds. I heard several stories from friends about how easily they were prescribed them, but this was the complete opposite to my experience. Every time I went to the doctors I felt like I was dismissed, made to feel like there was nothing wrong with me and fobbed off with nothing more than a leaflet (with a sprinkling of psychological trauma and distress). Fair play to them, every time when I was sure my mental health couldn’t get any worse, that I couldn’t move any further towards the cliff edge without falling off, they managed to push me that little bit further. I’m angry at myself too, maybe I wasn’t trying hard enough to get better, maybe it was my fault, maybe I wasn’t standing up for myself enough. But I know I did try, I went on those shitty websites that offered no real help. I kept revisiting every so often, hoping that by some miracle they’d updated the website and I might actually find something useful (unfortunately pigs don’t fly). 

I’m SAD and FRUSTRATED about all the damage they’ve caused me and how much my life has been impacted. It’s impacted my mental wellbeing, my social life, my academic performance, my work and literally every other aspect of my life.

I’m filled with RESENTMENT at being treated so poorly and hurt so much. I resent the doctors/counsellors for treating me this way. I also resent how easy it was for other people to get medication or support. I hate that I feel that way, I shouldn’t be angry about other people receiving better support than me or an adequate level of treatment, I should be happy for them, and deep down I am, but I am also filled with DISAPPOINTMENT that I did not receive the same level of support.

I have spent years with a constant feeling of DESPAIR, a complete loss of hope. A loss of hope in myself and my ability to succeed and be happy, a loss of hope and confidence in the ability of the GPs and my university to effectively help me or other people. A loss of hope for life in general.

I don’t want to feel this way, these are not attractive qualities, and it’s not enjoyable feeling this way. I want to be able to move on, but I feel like in order to move on I need to actually talk about and acknowledge the feelings I have and not just keep it all to myself. I think bottling up these feelings has been preventing me from moving on. I think writing down my thoughts and sharing them with others is the first step in this process.

All I want is to be able share how I’m feeling with someone else and for them to just listen, acknowledge and accept my feelings as valid, rather than instantly dismiss them. Surely that’s a reasonable request? Surely everyone deserves to have their feelings listened to, respected, and accepted? Everyone’s feelings are VALID and personal to them and should be treated as such.

If your feelings have been invalidated, don’t let it deter you or stop you getting the support you need. Reach out to another source, whether that’s seeing a different medical professional, or simply speaking to a friend or family member, there will always be people out there to listen and support you. Or even using mental health helplines such as Mind or Samaritans or Shout (a text messaging service). There will always be someone available to listen. Never underestimate the power of a listening ear and judgement free love and support. No matter how many times you get knocked down or dismissed, remember that YOUR FEELINGS ARE VALID. Keep pushing until you get the support you need and DESERVE.

Mind – 0300 123 3393; Samaritans – 116 123; Shout – Text SHOUT to 85258

If your feelings have been invalidated, don’t let it deter you or stop you getting the support you need. Reach out to another source, whether that’s seeing a different medical professional, or simply speaking to a friend or family member, there will always be people out there to listen and support you. Or even using mental health helplines such as Mind or Samaritans or Shout (a text messaging service). There will always be someone available to listen. Never underestimate the power of a listening ear and judgement free love and support. No matter how many times you get knocked down or dismissed, remember that YOUR FEELINGS ARE VALID. Keep pushing until you get the support you need and DESERVE.

What is ADHD?

So what is ADHD? Most people have heard of it but much fewer have a good understanding of what it is. When the term ADHD is mentioned I’m sure many people’s minds immediately picture the classic stereotype of hyperactive, naughty little boys who are constantly full of energy and get distracted by anything and everything. Whilst it can sometimes present in this way, this does not describe the large majority of people with ADHD and someone does not need to be hyperactive to have ADHD. In fact ADHD can lead to many different symptoms and difficulties that differ greatly between individuals. In particular symptoms can present very differently between sexes and between adults and children. This post aims to outline the different forms of ADHD and highlight some common symptoms, beyond the typical ones that everyone has heard of.

There are 3 types of ADHD:

  • Hyperactive-impulsive type
  • Inattentive Type (formerly known as ADD/Attention Deficit Disorder)
  • Combined type
https://bestwoldofknowledge.blogspot.com/2015/03/adult-add-symptoms.html

Symptoms of inattentive type include (DSM-5 criteria)1:

  • becoming easily distracted
  • trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities (i.e. getting bored quickly)
  • poor attention to detail or making careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or with other activities.
  • avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
  • difficulty organising thoughts, tasks and activities
  • losing things, e.g. keys, phone, pen, homework etc
  • often appear not to be listening when directly spoken to
  • forgetful in daily activities
  • often does not follow through on instructions or fails to finish tasks

People who are impulsive or hyperactive often (DSM-5 criteria)1:

  • fidget, fiddle with things or feel restless
  • struggle to sit still or often leave seat when remaining seated is expected
  • talk too much and/or too quickly
  • have trouble engaging in quiet activities
  • are constantly “on the go”
  • are impatient and have difficulty waiting their turn
  • act impulsively without thinking about consequences of actions, e.g. doing something dangerous without thinking about potential for injury
  • blurt out answers and inappropriate comments
  • interrupt people when talking

May also (not included in DSM-5 guidelines):

  • struggle to process and remember new information or large amounts of information at once
  • have difficulty focusing on a single task, often switching between many different tasks
  • be overly sensitive and/or have exaggerated emotional responses
  • often appear to be ‘zoned out’ or daydreaming

People with combination type experience many symptoms from both lists.

To meet diagnostic criteria you must experience at least six of the nine key symptoms for a specific type of ADHD (or five or more if aged over 16 years)1. To be diagnosed with combination ADHD, you must show at least six (or five if 17+) symptoms from each group (inattention and hyperactive-impulsive behaviour). Additionally, symptoms should have been present before the age of 12, occur in more than one setting (e.g. home, school, work, or with friends), and significantly impact everyday functioning, e.g. work or school performance or socially. Finally, the symptoms cannot be better explained by another mental disorder.

Hopefully this post has helped deepen your understanding of ADHD slightly and highlighted that not everyone that has ADHD is hyperactive and that there are many other everyday difficulties associated with ADHD, such as memory, processing and organisational issues.

[1] American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.

Uni Results Day: The Most Underwhelming Day of my Life…

Thursday 23rd July 2020. What significance does this date have? Not much to be quite honest. This was the day I received my final university results and degree classification. The culmination of 4 years of hard work and struggles. Surely  a pretty significant moment in my life right?? WRONG! Despite being just a few days ago (4 days at the time of writing), I have little memory of this day. In fact it felt so insignificant that I had to look up the day/date whist writing this because I could not remember. To me it was just any other day of the week. A pretty boring morning. I remember opening an email with my results around 8.45am, seeing my result, sending a screenshot to my parents and then swiftly laying my head back down on the pillow to go back to sleep. The only miniscule sign of emotion was a split second of relief that I had got the 2:1 I needed to meet the conditions of my job offer. But this was very short-lived, lasting less than the time it took me to take the screenshot. Beyond that I felt emotionless – just a deep pit of nothing. Not even a hint of happiness or excitement or anything of the sort. Neither did I feel any disappointment or sadness. I simply felt indifferent. There was a complete disconnect between me and my results. I knew the grades were a result of work that I had submitted and spent hours and hours doing, but yet there seemed to be no emotional attachment there. I was there, the results were there too, but we didn’t know each other, we were strangers.

I thought perhaps the reality just hadn’t quite sunk in yet and that soon I would experience some sort of delayed response. After all, I had worked towards this day for 4 years – surely I should feel something!? Or perhaps the effects of COVID-19 and the disappointment of not being able to finish university in person or have a graduation ceremony, as well as the ridiculous amount of time between finishing exams and receiving results, had been so mentally draining and had exhausted all my emotions so much that there was nothing left to give when the event finally came around.

My parents soon came into my room, smiles on their faces, expressing their happiness and pride, but still I felt nothing. And here I am 4.5 days later still yet to feel any real emotion regarding my results. All I wanted was to go back to sleep (yes, sleeping is still my primary coping mechanism lol). When other people asked if I was pleased, I almost felt obliged to say yes, but in reality this was a lie. I wasn’t unhappy either. I just felt, and still do feel, so indifferent. Everyone else seems so happy for me but I still felt nothing. Nothing could have prepared me for how incredibly underwhelming the experience was.

Why I started this blog…and how it relates to baths!?

Well…the first, and main, reason I decided to start writing this stuff was as a form of ‘therapy’ for myself. My mind was constantly racing with millions of thoughts quickly passing through, jumping from one thing to another, with no structure or coherence. This gave me minimal time to process and understand each thought and left little to no mental capacity for important tasks that I needed to do, such as writing coursework and revising for exams.

Over the last few months I have found writing to be a great outlet and release and has allowed me to organise my thoughts in a much more structured and coherent way than what I am able to do in my brain. Getting things out of my head and down on paper (or screen) has provided me with a sense of relief, somewhat relieving the pressure building up in my brain. My brain was like a bathtub with the tap stuck on, constantly overflowing (see image below), and pulling the plug out didn’t help as the water was still flowing in quicker than it was emptying. The water flowing out the bath represented all the important things I had to remember slipping from my memory, or my ideas escaping from my brain mid-sentence, making me lose my train of thought. I could not focus on tasks and kept forgetting things as everything was overflowing out of my mind, never to be seen again.

How to Handle a Bathroom Flood

By getting some of the thoughts down on paper/screen it almost felt like the tap had been turned down slightly, not completely off, but enough to stop the overflowing and allow the bath to gradually empty to a more acceptable level (see below image; a slightly more relaxing, less hectic experience than before…). Writing things down allowed my brain to finally start emptying slightly, freeing up space in my mind, allowing me to focus on things for a bit longer, without getting so distracted, without losing or forgetting key information part way through.

An oval bathtub filled with bubbles in a … – Buy image – 11396864 ...

Now I hadn’t originally planned on sharing any of this stuff I was writing, it was simply just a strategy I was using to vent and free up some space in my mind for more important things. (DISCLAIMER: This is definitely NOT a ‘feel sorry for me’ thing at all and I don’t want people thinking that!). I was hesitant to make this public for that exact reason. However, whilst talking about it with a mentor I’d been seeing, I thought maybe sharing what I’d written could be beneficial, both for myself and others. I thought perhaps if people read it, they would not only understand me more, but it could help raise awareness and understanding of neurodiversity and mental health conditions and encourage people to seek help. I hoped that maybe such increased awareness could also allow people to be more understanding and accommodating of friends, colleagues and acquaintances, in workplaces, social situations etc. If this could help even one person, it would make it worth it.

Finally, I hope that increasing awareness will aid in busting myths and misconceptions surrounding ADHD and associated mental health problems. For example, people being labelled lazy, rude, stupid, useless etc. I hope this will make people stop and think before labelling someone as such and consider whether there may be underlying issues or that the environment might just not be right for them (yes, I’m looking at you school classrooms and 2 hour long lectures!!) and adjustments may need to be made to accommodate for this.

Introduction

Hi I’m Alice, a 23 year old, recently diagnosed with (ADHD). I enjoy exercising, napping, complaining, making people laugh and impulsively doing reckless things…

Welcome to my blog “I need a nap”. Why is it called this you ask? Well, firstly, anyone who has lived with me or knows me well probably knows that this is one of my most commonly used phrases haha so I thought why not make it the title of this blog. But also because this blog is going to be centred a lot around my mental health struggles which, as anyone who has experienced MH struggles themselves will know, can be extremely mentally and physically draining and can leave you feeling constantly exhausted and in need of a nap.

Naps have always been an escape for me, no matter how I am feeling. Sometimes it’s physical exhaustion, others it’s mental, and sometimes I’m just bored, whilst at other times I just feel overwhelmed by everything and simply need to ‘switch off’ for a bit. Therefore “I need a nap” seemed a fitting title. The main focus of this blog will be ADHD and associated mental health comorbidities, such as anxiety and depression, which often go hand in hand with ADHD.