Stories of Hope: An Interview with Suzan Roberts-Skeats
This is part of a series featuring individuals who share their life experiences with mental health issues. Recently, I asked Suzan Roberts-Skeats about her history of mental health challenges and about some of her current activities. Here’s our interview:
DS: Tell us about when you first started becoming aware of concerns related to your mental health. How did these issues continue to affect you before you sought treatment?
SR-S: I guess I was aware I had a problem in 2001. Before that I just thought I was different from everyone else. I was being bullied at work and a relationship of 6 months ended. My daughter was homeless and refused to come home. Life was messy.
I felt I was coping with it all, as I always had, but on going to my physician for a few sleeping pills, as I figured sleep would help, he asked “Why?” Because I couldn’t sleep! But he wanted to know why couldn’t I sleep?
Forty-five minutes and many tears later, he signed me sick from work and gave me 2 pills, as he feared I would break and take a bottle if I had any. I didn’t realise I was so bad. I did break and became agoraphobic for around 6 months. Apart from a couple of visits to a psychiatric nurse I’d been offered no other treatment bar pills and rest.
I got well again under my own steam, returned to life, moved county, moved job, got married and all was ‘fine’ until 2016. After losing my sister-in-law to suicide, my husband’s grandparents passing away and watching a good friend die of cancer very quickly then a dearly loved dog died …all in 2013.
In 2014, I lost my job to redundancy after 8 years’ service. I took whatever work I could find and had two years of employment hell. In May 2016, I crumbled. I couldn’t stop crying at work, made huge mistakes that I would never had made had I been ok, and so got signed off. This time I got offered, refused, offered again and accepted help.
DS: What was the turning point that led you to decide to seek help?
SR-S: I finally accepted I needed help after realising that I was NOT OK. I couldn’t keep crashing and burning like this. I thought I had it under control but it was in fact dragging me down. I couldn’t speak to family, even my husband, as their hurt reactions or those of disgust or misunderstanding hurt me, even though I know they didn’t mean it. I needed a stranger but one I could trust. With huge trust issues that was definitely a serious obstacle.
DS: What has your treatment consisted of, and what have you found that has worked well for you?
SR-S: I had a low dose of Mirtazapine (anti-depressant medication) just to take the edge off my anxiety and help me sleep. For the first time in years I slept properly through the night without being drunk. I was then referred to the local Wellbeing to see a psychiatric assessor.
They referred me to a counsellor, but after the first conversation I knew she wasn’t going to get anywhere with me. So I went back for a 2nd assessment. Better questions were asked and I guess I took it more seriously. Instead of “I’m OK” and “Not much bothers me” answers I was more truthful, although that was extremely difficult for me.
I was then referred to a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist. My therapist was a perfect match as he is an ‘out of the box’ thinker and although he has to tick boxes along the way is more than prepared to let the patient guide him to the right treatment for them.
I would never have been able to work with someone who was all about completing forms and pre-empted, loaded questions. He also isn’t afraid to tell me when my ‘tellings’ have upset him because then we can work through that, and I can then handle telling family.
One of the best things for me though had been art. During the early days, I began to draw and paint and my therapist wanted to see my work every week. Not only did I get truthful praise or critique, I had a reason to sit quietly and go inside my mind for a while each day. I still do that and am taking art seriously enough to sell. So, my life style is changing too.
DS: How are things going for you now? What have you learned that has helped you stay positive and healthy?
SR-S: As I said, I paint. Every week I produce something. That’s my escape. I am also acutely aware that I have issues, and that’s not bad, and I can control it. During therapy I likened my hurt/child self to a tiger in a cage, penned in so long it would devour me if I let it out. After baby steps, she’s out but instead of devouring me I made her my friend. Now I use the ferocity to achieve not destroy.
There’s still work, but now I’m equipped with enough knowledge about me to know I don’t have to be ok, it’s ok to be sad, stroppy, angry as much as it is to be happy. And more importantly, it’s ok to ask for help.
DS: Tell us about your involvement with mental health advocacy or promotion of mental health through social media.
SR-S: I don’t do a lot, yet, as I’m still healing, but I do try and ‘like’ or repost anything that promotes the fact that mental illness is real, comes in so many forms and no two people will react the same way.
I want to help the world to know that just because one person turns to drink doesn’t mean we all do. Just because a person was abused as a child doesn’t mean they will abuse people. Those stereotypical responses do happen, we know that, but people like me – people who are the “I’m OK” kind of people – are just as likely if not more so to be struggling with demons that destroy their lives in other ways.
I’m now not ashamed to mention I have a problem and I think even that can help. My Twitter profile is “I’m a creative soul damaged by life, rescued by art…” I’ve had many comments and discussions about that and hopefully have helped someone along the way.
DS: What would you like to say to encourage others who are still working on their journey of recovery?
- Don’t give up, whatever you do. Don’t be afraid to say something if you don’t feel whatever treatment you’re getting isn’t working. You’re not obliged to be a tick box exercise. That works for some – regularity, form, process – but not everyone.
- Ask yourself “What’s the worst that could happen?” If the answer isn’t “someone will die” then make the change, ask questions, push boundaries, stop being afraid of yourself.
- Be prepared to fail but don’t expect to fail. If you do fail whatever challenge you set yourself that just means you were walking the wrong path and you take the next one. Something will work. Someone will connect with you and turn it around. I waited 45 years in all but I don’t regret it one bit.
- Also, think about whatever brought you to the place you’re at, has it killed you? Not yet. Next time you will know the signs, what to avoid, when to get help. Even with complex, deeply buried issues that I have, by finally shining daylight on them has shown me that the only person that had control was me – not my parents, or siblings, or past lovers – just me.
- Remember a diamond is still a diamond, even in its roughest form. Your time to shine will happen if you let it.
I’m mid-fifties, female living in the UK with 2 siblings, 3 failed (and one so far successful) marriages, 2 children, 5 stepchildren and an attitude. Born to an abusive father and a naïve mother, I grew up learning to cope with whatever life threw at me. Except I didn’t. I hit 54 and fell apart, got put back together with the help of a wonderful CBT therapist. I’m still mending but there’s a lot of years ‘coping’ I have to address. I’ve turned to art as part of therapy and in turn that’s leading me along a path I never dreamed I could travel. Onwards and Upwards – but always with a little help from now on. You can find me on Twitter or Instagram.
Thanks so much to Suzan for sharing her inspiring story of hope!
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. Finally, if you enjoyed this post, please share it with a friend. Thanks!