Stories of Hope: An Interview with Caroline Turriff
This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, I asked writer and blogger Caroline Turriff about the mental health challenges she has faced and some of the lessons she has learned through her journey. Here’s our interview:
DS: Tell us about when you first started becoming aware of your mental health concerns. Also, how did they affect you before you sought treatment?
CT: My mental health problems started very early; my parents had already taken me to see a child psychologist by the time I was 8. Because my mother was out of the house six days a week and I had multiple nannies who kept leaving, by an early age I had retreated into a fantasy world. I had a brief bout of anorexia at the age of 7 or 8 and, because of my eating disorder, started secretly self-harming to try to stop myself developing into a woman from the age of 11.
From 13 I had OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), searching all over the house for serial killers, finding hiding places from the serial killers, and practising my escape routes. I realised later this was because my mother was very threatening towards me and I thought she was going to kill me.
At the age of 16, after my father told me I was ugly, I developed body dysmorphic disorder and wanted to have multiple operations to change my appearance. My parents took me to see a psychiatrist, who said my mental health problems were their fault.
I was depressed from the age of 12 when my father left home, but developed clinical depression from my late teens. My parents were unsympathetic. Eventually I sought treatment myself through private therapy in my early twenties.
DS: What was the turning point that led you to decide to seek help? What diagnoses did you receive?
CT: I had been suicidal, on and off, for many years. But by the age of 22 or 23 the suicidal thoughts were much stronger and I ended up with a carving knife at my throat about to cut my throat. Luckily, I was interrupted. I went to my doctor and was diagnosed with clinical depression. The psychiatrists said I was too depressed to do therapy, that it might make me worse. But I thought it would help and found a private therapist.
Later, I was forced into treatment by my family, because my alcohol/drug addiction and bulimia were out of control. I was diagnosed in rehab with borderline personality disorder. Although, years later, my local mental health team said this could well be PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
In 2014 I went to my doctor and local mental health team for help as my OCD was rampant; I was doing crazy checking rituals 10 hours a day. I was diagnosed with OCD. I did not realise at the time that the reason the OCD was so bad was that I had had a nervous breakdown. This was because of financial problems and finding out my ex-boyfriend, who I was still involved with, was having a baby with someone else.
DS: What types of treatment have you been involved in, and what have you found that has worked well for you?
CT: I recovered from clinical depression through talking therapy. I found antidepressants did not work that well and only took the edge off. I got clean from drug and alcohol addiction in 12-step rehabs and groups. The bulimia lifted when I (temporarily) stopped eating sugar and high fat foods. The OCD (which I believe was a symptom of PTSD) improved massively when I went on a high dose of SSRI anti-anxiety medication. There was then further significant improvement in the OCD when I had EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy, which is a leading treatment for PTSD.
DS: How are things going for you now? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?
CT: Things are going incredibly well for me and have been for most of this year. I was 10 years clean from drugs and alcohol in 2015 and also 6 years abstinent from bulimia and self-harm. In 2014 I was doing OCD rituals up to 10 hours a day. Now I check for a couple of minutes a day. I also made my first trip abroad for over 6 years in September. I had been totally unable to travel because of the OCD and in fact had not even left my house overnight for over 5 years until July 2014.
For years I could not watch the news as it made me too paranoid. As a former journalist this was extremely frustrating. I can now watch the news without fear and am very engaged in world affairs. I have learned that it is vital to have a good support network and to engage with people and not isolate.
When I had the nervous breakdown at the end of 2013, I reached out to those friends who I thought would help me. I now have many understanding and supportive friends which compensates for the fact that I have very limited emotional support from my family. I enjoy greatly hanging out with my friends, many of whom are in recovery or working in mental health.
DS: Tell us about your social media activities and advocacy work.
CT: I spend almost all my time writing or promoting my blog, bloginhotpants, a tragi-comic account of my mishaps with men, mental health problems, journalism and drugs. In the blog, I am using humour to look at the mental health problems of myself and others in my family and also at world politics. It follows my adventures around the globe, such as reporting from a barracks in Southern Sudan in a pair of hot pants, narrowly avoiding being possessed by a pig at a Voodoo ceremony in Cuba and dropping acid with a bunch of Buddhist monks in California.
Since the blog started in the middle of this year, I have had thousands of readers from dozens of different countries. I am aiming to turn the blog, which is set in twelve countries, including the United States, into a memoir. I also mentor recovering addicts, and do various activities supporting other addicts, through the 12 Step Fellowships I am a part of.
DS: What would you like to say to encourage others who are still working on their journey of recovery?
CT: From early childhood my life has been blighted by serious mental health problems. I was a disturbed, unhappy child and turned into a disturbed unhappy adult. But because of all the work I have done, through years of different types of therapy and medication, I am now happier more peaceful and content than I have ever been in my life. I look forward to the future and believe, now that my mental health problems are finally in recovery, the best part of my life is ahead.
Caroline Turriff is a former correspondent for BBC Radio and Television, the Sunday Times, the Guardian and the Daily Mail. She has reported from all over the world but was last based in Jamaica where she covered mainly crime and drugs, becoming rather too close to the subject matter. She obtained an Upper Second in English from Oxford University, and has done various creative writing courses. She graduated from Britain’s most exclusive rehab, the Priory, with distinction in 2005, realizing her life had taken a wrong turn. She then changed the course of her life, entering a tough rehab, bristling with ex-cons, where she met the “love of her life,” an ex-armed robber, pimp and drug dealer who’d forgotten how long he’d spent in jail. You can reach Caroline through her blog, Twitter, or Facebook.
Thanks so much to Caroline for sharing her wonderful story of hope!
Here’s a question: Would you like to share your story of hope? I plan to feature more personal accounts like this from time to time on my blog. If you are interested in sharing your story, please notify me via my contact page. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!