During my investigation for BBC Radio 4 I have discovered that local authorities in England have cut over £300 million from funding for drug and alcohol treatment in 5 years. In the same period deaths from heroin and morphine overdoses in England have more than doubled. The number of drug and alcohol related deaths in England is now at the highest level since records began. The governments own Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs links the cuts to the deaths and says that, as further cuts are planned, deaths will soar even higher. Listen to my report on Radio 4.
I am back on the BBC! They liked my story about the “drastic” and “shocking” cuts to prison drug treatment at a time when even the Prisons Minister says the drugs situation in English prisons is “unacceptable” so much that it was headlining the news. Have a listen and let me know what you think.
Not on mental health according to leading charities Sane and Mind. They say this money is partly being spent by NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups to plug gaps in their funding for physical health problems. They say less money is actually feeding through to front line mental health services, dealing with people in crisis and suicidal than before. The Chief Executive of SANE Majorie Wallace says the number of people calling their helplines is higher than at any point during the helplines 20 year history as people cannot access crisis care
The government is keen to stress it’s spending more on mental health. The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt says its spending £10 billion more and 1 billion more than 2 years ago. The £11.7 billion budget for mental health in 2016/17 is double what it was 5 years ago. But the government has refused to ring fence the money it allocates to mental health which means charities say the money is being diverted. Two thirds of mental health trusts said recently that their budgets have been cut and 57% of Clinical Commissioning Groups who responded to an Freedom of Information request in 2016 said they planned to reduce the proportion they spent on mental health.
Extra investment has been promised. “The NHS has committed to investing an additional £1bn in mental health services by the end of 2020-21.” said the Chief Executive of Mind, Paul Farmer. “This is welcome but we need to make sure that it materialises and reaches the front line. The same goes for all the other pots of money announced over the last couple of years,” he said.
Although the government has put money into non urgent services such as the talking therapy provider IAPT, SANE says that crisis care had been cut. Its Chief Executive Marjorie Wallace SANE said that 4000 adult psychiatric beds and 1500 Child and Adolescent psychiatric beds had closed in the past few years. The Chief Executive of Mind agreed that crisis care had been cut saying “NHS mental health services have been subjected to significant cuts over recent years, more so than the acute sector, at a time of rising demand. This has left some parts of the system struggling to cope, which of course has a huge impact on patient care.”
Suicide rates of people being treated by Community mental health teams have doubled in recent years which SANE say is a sign that community care is massively overstretched and not working.
Labour say spending on mental health fell by 8% in real terms during the coalition government and a report in January 2015 said spending on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services had decreased by 6%. The government says this has now been corrected and that has invested £7 million more in CAMHS psychiatric beds in 2015/2016.
Due to the shortage of inpatient CAMHS beds 47% of CAMHS patients are now treated in private hospitals often many miles from their home. The average cost of a child staying in a private psychiatric hospital is 800 a night. Theresa May has pledged to end out of area placement for CAMHS patients by 2021. But SANE Chief Executive Marjorie Wallace cast doubt on whether this would happen as no significant new funding had been announced.
The Prime Minister’s speech earlier this week promised a raft of initiatives to help children and adults with mental health problems. It said that teachers in schools would receive mental health “first aid training” to spot signs of mental illness and that links between schools and local NHS mental health services would be strengthened. It also promised extra support for people with mental health problems in the workplace and £15 million extra for “crisis cafes” and clinics. All this was welcomed by SANE and MIND but MIND said “our job is to ensure that the commitment is met. We need to see sustained leadership to make sure services and support improve for all of us with mental health problems. Having been neglected for decades, we need to see it made a priority for decades to come”
I had my first bout of anorexia at the age of 7 starting a 32 year battle with eating disorders which very nearly killed me. At that time (the late 1970s) it was incredibly unusual for children of that age to have eating disorders so everyone in my family was mystified. I had always been a very thin child. But I suddenly decided I was “fat,” would lock myself in my room for hours screaming that I was fat, weighed myself and exercised compulsively. Everyone in my family blamed my mother, who was an overeater and crash dieter. And it is true that I had a very bad relationship with her, as she was absent most of the time, and did not want to be like her. But I now think the reason behind that first bout of anorexia was that it was at that age that I was first sexually abused.
My parents had already taken me to see a child psychologist because I was dreamy and lost in a fantasy world. I had 70 imaginary friends, my teddies, all with their own voices and personalities and would create complex Elephant v Snoopy sibling rivalries. We had schools, we had hospitals, even our own Christmas Day. My mother said the psychologist said I had “behavioural problems” but that there was nothing wrong with me. I now realise that the reason I had retreated into a fantasy world was that my mother was away 6 days a week, my father was unreliable and, by the age of 8, I had had eleven nannies that I could remember.
The anorexia went away. But when I went to boarding school at the age of 10 and was homesick and under a lot of academic pressure, I started having competitions with my best friend as to who could eat less. I was the winner, of course. My parents took me back to a child psychologist who said I was in danger of developing anorexia again if I stayed at the school so they took me away.
However the eating disorder wasn’t just about being thin. So troubled was my relationship with my mother that I was also obsessed with staying a child forever and not growing into a woman at all. When I was 11 or 12 and started developing breasts I would bind my chest with belts so tightly I could hardly breathe to stop my breasts growing. By 13 I had started making myself sick on “special events” such as Christmas Day when I would eat a lot of food. I had no knowledge or understanding of bulimia, was not copying anyone I knew, it just struck me as the “natural” thing to do. The refrain that has followed me all my life started at this time: “where do you put all that food?” When someone eats a massive quantity of food, then literally runs to the toilet at the end of the meal, I think it should be pretty obvious what they are doing with the food. But I managed to conceal my bulimia from my family for 25 years. Perhaps they didn’t want to know.
Then, at the age of 13, I had the most traumatic event of my life, my parents vicious divorce in which both of them turned on me, their only child, my mother telling me I was evil and my father telling me I was ugly. My mother calmly sat opposite me in our house threatening to put a contract out on my father, and saying I was just like him and wasn’t even her daughter. My father said my academic achievements (I was a very clever child) were “boring” and that my legs were too short and my head too big. I am mixed race, as my mother is Jamaican. But he started making racist comments about black people and Jamaicans with his blonde blue eyed Swedish girlfriend. I felt totally rejected.
The bulimia was erratic. There were other girls at my boarding school who had bulimia and anorexia but I never saw myself as someone who had an eating disorder. Nonetheless, as my efforts to stop my breasts growing had failed, I took a drastic step at the age of 15 and tried to cut them off with a carving knife. I didn’t get very far just superficial scars and never told anyone or sought treatment.
Meanwhile the bulimia was progressing. In my first year at Oxford University I would vomit in the sink of my room. And in the second year, when I had to appear in a see-through body suit, as Titania in “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” I starved myself jogging and doing squats for 10 hours a day. Then as soon as the play was over, I started stuffing myself with jacket potatoes cheese and sour cream. I adopted a strict Atkins diet regurgitating all the carbs down the loo. My cat also became bulimic after I fed him sweet and sour squid. The fact that I’d given him a couple of blow backs from a joint probably didn’t help.
After I left university, the bulimia was sporadic. I had been severely depressed since my parents divorce at the age of 13 and was diagnosed with clinical depression at the age of 22.
As I was actively suicidal and ended up with a carving knife at my throat, about to cut my throat, the bulimia was the least of my problems.
After intensive therapy, I recovered from the clinical depression at the age of 25 and it was then that the bulimia and my substance addiction problems took off. For some reason, I’m not quite sure why, all my addictive behaviours were kept under control by the depression, possibly because I was so depressed that there was no way I thought anything would improve the way I felt, suicide was the only option.
I had smoked dope at University and tried ecstasy in my early 20s but it was the beginning of my first serious relationship at the age of 25/26 that both my using and bulimia took off. My boyfriend had quite a lot of money and would regularly take me out to expensive meals which I would eat then run to the loo to purge. He also crucially introduced me to cocaine which would be my downfall 10 years later. I was diagnosed with bulimia at the age of 25/26 and was once again back in treatment with NHS mental health services. The therapist who’d helped me with the depression couldn’t help me with the bulimia at all as she wasn’t an addictions therapist. So I stopped seeing her completely and just ploughed on with the bulimia and substance abuse. I was dumped by my boyfriend triggering my drinking and bulimia to spiral out of control.
At my job as a producer reporter at BBC TV I would literally run to the loo to vomit after lunch every day. People noticed that my eyes would be red after I came out of the loo and everyone thought and would openly ask if I was on cocaine. But no one guessed about my hidden disorder bulimia. I was prescribed 60 mg of fluoxetine, an anti depressant, every day for the bulimia. But this did almost nothing to curb the symptoms of the bulimia although I did feel the fluoxetine “come up” like a medical version of ecstasy at midday every day. The staff at the BBC reacted badly when I started dancing in the office.
Then a disaster happened that almost ruined my life. My mother had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when I was 17. The doctors had recommended she have an implant in her brain to control the shaking, but as she was living in Jamaica, she would have had to move to the United States or travel to the United States every two weeks to have the implant monitored. Determined to stay in Jamaica, she decided to have a partial lobotomy instead. This led, almost certainly to a massive stroke and a series of further strokes. By October 2001, two years after the operation, she was paralysed but shaking uncontrollably, having psychotic hallucinations and screaming from 5am to midnight every day. As her condition deteriorated, she had begged me to move out to Jamaica to spend time with her and so I took a career break from the BBC. My mother’s illness made me want to slash my wrists and had a disastrous impact on my substance use and bulimia. I first started drinking on my own at home, deliberately trying to get drunk, then continued with the binge drinking in public which had started when my boyfriend dumped me.
My family said I had a drink problem. I was in total denial and thought you could not be an alcoholic unless you had been filmed on reality TV attacking the police in Newcastle. So I decided to up my cocaine intake to “control” my drinking. When I went to a Jamaican ghetto at midnight to score drugs, thinking I was very likely to be gang raped and have my throat cut, when I finally found a dealer he asked me “how much do you want one kilo or two?” I left with a massive bag of cocaine knowing I would get addicted to it. Meanwhile the eating disorder had escalated sharply – apart from making myself sick I had discovered that diet apocalypse Xenical, a fat blocker which would literally remove large quantities of the fat from food, The side effects were disgusting – constant diarrhea – but I didn’t care as it made me thin.
As the cocaine addiction escalated to using 22 hours a day so did the bulimia. I would eat healthily till 7pm but then start going out on trips to score fast food like fried chicken and ice cream then vomit and score some more. These trips became so frequent that I would literally eat the fast food over the toilet vomit and go out again. The doctors who were treating me for bulimia in London said that every time I made myself sick on the quantity of cocaine I was taking, which happened at least 3 times a day, I could easily die of a fatal heart attack. But as I was distraught and trapped by the terrible state my mother was in I thought I wanted to kill myself. I now realise that I was in denial about my mother’s abuse as a child and underneath was angry because the minute she got ill her and all her family expected me to drop everything and look after her. I wasn’t even aware of my anger let alone being able to express it so I turned the whole thing in on myself.
When I went to the psychiatrist treating me for bulimia at the Eating Disorders Unit in London at the beginning of December 2004 and said I was drinking a litre of vodka a day and taking large quantities of cocaine he said he could no longer treat me. He expressed extreme concern about me going back to Jamaica where my addiction had spiralled out of control and said I needed to sort out my drug problem. Seeing the in patient anorexics at the Eating Disorders Unit, who looked like concentration camp survivors so thin they could barely walk, I thought my problems weren’t that bad. I said I had to go back to Jamaica as I couldn’t abandon my mother. I went back to Jamaica my cocaine addiction and bulimia spiralling to a whole new level. I spent Christmas day 2004 on my own with a litre of vodka and a large bag of coke and then, desperate, told my family about my cocaine addiction and bulimia.
I said I wanted to go into treatment but that I wasn’t in a rush. This was after I’d been given 3 months to live by the psychiatrist in Jamaica. My family had other ideas, packing my bags and forcibly escorting me to the airport to get on a flight to the UK. There I decided to go to St Chillin’s, Britain’s most exclusive rehab, as I felt it would look best on my CV. I smuggled enough benzos and diet pills, Xenical, into the rehab to keep me going for the first week. I was also addicted to lorazepam as it was the only thing that could make me sleep after 22 hours of using cocaine. I went absolutely mad when the diet pills ran out begging the psychiatrists to prescribe me more. You’ve got an eating disorder they said we’re not prescribing you anything. Desperate and defiant I scored laxatives at the local chemist not attempting to hide this from the other St Chillin’s residents. I was confronted in my therapy group about the laxatives and said that the main reason I was in rehab was not to sort out my drug problem but, obviously, to lose weight. I’d also adopted a protein only diet at St Chillin’s to foster my goal of weight loss. They said I could not be treated on the general addictions programme but needed to move to the Food Disorders Factory at the main branch of St Chillins in London. In fact they packed up all my bags, including 12 pairs of Agent Provocateur lingerie, 36 handbags and 15 pot plants, and tried to forcibly move me. But when I went for an interview at the London branch of St Chillin’s they said there was no way I could go to the Food Disorders Factory if I had a drug problem as so many of the women in there were on drugs.
I returned defiant to the rural outpost determined not to be moved. And although I wasn’t in an eating disorders programme the treatment at St Chillin’s had a remarkable effect on my eating disorder. I was put on a strict diet of 3 meals a day, no puddings or snacks. I considered this a massive curb on my human right to snack but actually it worked. The enforced abstinence from alcohol and cocaine also had a massive impact on calming down my bulimia. I was only sick once at St Chillin’s, my eating disorder was on its way to recovery. I was told that I would know when my eating disorder was in recovery when I no longer cared what size I was.
With enough mental health problems and addictions that my ego had a serious problem of crowd control I was told by the psychiatrist at St Chillin’s that I had “too many issues” to be treated in the private sector as I would “bankrupt my family.” He told me I needed to move to a state rehab. As my own decisions had ended me up in rehab, totally broke, I decided I’d better start listening to other people.
At my next rehab, a tough outfit in South London bristling with ex-cons, they told me I would have to leave if I was sick as they couldn’t treat bulimia. As the puddings were delicious, I developed exercise bulimia instead spending 5 hours a night on the exercise bike in the gym. I burned as many calories as Neanderthal Man at the darkest point of the Ice Age. When somebody broke the exercise bike I threatened to put out a contract on them. But as I’d been bankrupted by my shopping addiction the would be assassins said that the packet of fake nail glue – which was all I had to offer – just wasn’t enough. I wasn’t sick once at my second rehab but I did get very thin.
At my third rehab I put on weight ate perfectly normally and was only sick once. But once I was out of the cozy cotton wool of rehab the bulimia flared up again. From the beginning of 2006 to 2009 I would be sick every couple of weeks, sometimes once a week. It was much better than before but the bulimia was still not in recovery. I would also do compulsive exercise.
My friend from “Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous” introduced me to the food programmes of Overeaters Anonymous. I had attended OA at St Chillin’s where I’d been taxied to the meetings despite my reluctance. But the next rehabs I went to were mainly focused on drugs and didn’t get me to go to OA meetings.
Following my friend who was a kind of mentor for me in recovery, I adopted the OA food programme which consisted of a certain amount of protein, carbohydrate, vegetable and fat at every meal. Also crucially the OA food programme banned sugar and high fat food which had often been the trigger for me to binge and puke.
After about 6 months of doing the programme I made myself sick for the last time in July 2009. I have never been sick since then though I have done compulsive exercise.
I no longer follow the OA food programme and have re-introduced small quantities of sugar and high fat food into my diet. It is important that I only have these foods occasionally and that it does not become a habit as if it did I would be exposed to the desire to purge the high calorie food through bulimia or compulsive exercise. I control my portion size, never eating an amount that would be too large as this would make me want to purge. Also, as at St Chillin’s, I have three meals a day and do not snack. I am quite thin, I got down to 105 pounds when I had a nervous breakdown at the end of 2013. I only realised in retrospect that, as well as doing crazy OCD checking rituals 10 hours a day as I felt out of control, I was also controlling my food.
My weight is now slightly higher at 107 pounds but I am still very slim. I have not and will never reach the level of recovery from an eating disorder where I don’t care what size I am. I have no desire to reach this state as I might then be happy being fat! Being slim gives me freedom as I feel I can indulge in sugar and high fat food maybe once or twice a week. When I was a normal size when I had a high sugar or high fat meal I would feel a twinge of compulsion to purge or compulsively exercise. I have not compulsively exercised for at least six months. My recovery isn’t perfect but considering I was given 3 months to live because of my bulimia it’s has definitely changed my life.
Next week: My battle with Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
Following these suggestions I have been in countless situations involving alcohol and drugs and have never relapsed in my eleven and a half year recovery.
- Always have a couple of people’s phone numbers in recovery you can call if you feel triggered.
- In a social situation, if you think you are going to pick up, leave.
- In a work situation, if you feel you are going to pick up and cannot go home, leave the room for 5 minutes, make a phone call, pray, meditate or do some deep breathing exercises.
- Carry a list with you of the worst things you did when you were drinking and using so you remind yourself how bad it could get if you relapsed.
- If your job involves constant client entertainment, where you are under pressure to drink alcohol, switch to another role in the company where you don’t have to do this or find another job.
- If your job involves regular contact with your drug of choice, consider changing your job.
- Avoid social situations where you know you will see drugs, particularly your drug of choice. If someone brings out your drug of choice in a social situation, leave.
- Explain to your partner/close friends/family members how bad your drinking/using was and how terrible it would be for everyone if you relapsed. Encourage one person not to drink at social events with you or if they accompany you to work events. Then you have a non-drinking buddy to hang out with.
- If your partner/family members/friends are not there, there is often one other person who is not drinking because they are driving or on medication. Sit near them or hang out with them if it’s a social setting so you feel less isolated.
- I was advised in rehab not to drink non-alcoholic beer or wine or soft drinks out of wine glasses. Both can trigger a craving and you can end up picking up the wrong bottle or glass that actually has alcohol in it.Sign up for updates on this blog
- Do not have alcohol in your home. I was warned early in rehab not to have booze in my house in case I had a bad day and reached for it. I think this is very good advice.
- Keep going to meetings or in touch with your online recovery community. You need to keep reminding yourself you are an alcoholic so you don’t think “my partner is drinking I will too.”
- Explain your behaviour when drinking to your new partner and that it would be a disaster for you and them if you went back there. This may encourage them to abstain from drinking when they are around you.
- If attending gatherings where everyone is drinking apart from you always have some people in recovery you can call if you get triggered. Tell your partner if you feel like picking up a drink.
- Exit as quickly as possible from the situation if you actually think you are going to pick up.
- Work on keeping a separate identity to your partner by maintaining your own interests, activities, hobbies including contact with all your recovery friends.
- If you start to think “I’m cured maybe I can drink again” read your Step 1 about the horrors of your addiction or any written work you have done in treatment or groups.
- Get more support in terms of seeing an addictions counsellor if you can afford it.
- Include other recovery people in your social activities or holidays with your partner, when possible, so you are not the only person not drinking and have support for your recovery.
- If you have a spiritual practise, some form of meditation or prayer, use it to ground yourself and ward off cravings. If not, check in with how you are feeling every day. If you are very angry upset or tired maybe avoid social situations where you will be exposed to alcohol. Sign up for updates on this blog Follow me on Twitter Send me a friend request on Facebook
- Despite drinking 21 hours a day that I could not be an alcoholic as I had never been filmed on reality TV attacking the police. Specifically, I had to be filmed in Newcastle, a hard drinking town in the north of England. My drinking was obviously fine as I had never been there.
- That waking up from a self-administered Rohypnol and alcohol induced blackout in the middle of having sex with someone I definitely did not want to f**k was just “one of those things that happens when you’re having fun.”
- That it was normal to be so tanked up on alcohol that you couldn’t actually remember whether you’d had sex with someone or not.
- That everyone in England collapsed on the floor of nightclub toilets, had to be carried out by the entire bar staff, went into convulsions and then almost caused a car crash by kicking the person in the head who was taking them home. This I said to my relatives in Jamaica was a “cultural difference” they didn’t understand.
- That the best response to thinking I was having a cocaine induced heart attack while driving in Jamaica was to take more cocaine and drive on.
- That my drug dealer in England (who I had heard had beaten up several of his girlfriends) was not only of impeccable moral character but also my “best friend” as he gave me free cocaine.
- After practically moving him into my house and doing cocaine with him 20 hours a day when he wanted to date me I said “I couldn’t possibly date a drug dealer as I might get addicted to drugs.”
- That being seduced by a female teenage stripper in Jamaica, who’d killed a girl the week before, and then stole my car was just one of those “funny things that happen when you’re doing drugs.”
- That although I had made a hole in my nose so huge by snorting cocaine that every time I breathed it whistled like a kettle when it was boiling I did not have a major drug problem.
- That after projectile vomiting having drunk car engine cleaning fluid while high on cocaine it was normal to attend several parties, rather than hospital, doing sign language as I couldn’t speak. I did not perceive myself as an addict but rather a party girl and socialite who’d been to too many parties. Sign up for updates on this blog Follow me on Twitter Send me a friend request on Facebook
At the worst point of my OCD, April 2014, I was spending more than 10 hours a day on crazy OCD checking rituals that involved more kung fu poses than a 3 hour Jackie Chan film and more texting than a teenager with textitis. I would also have to take about 1000 photographs a day, which meant my Iphone would run out of storage space after an hour. This had happened because I had had a nervous breakdown due to the stress of having no income as my rental property needed major work and I couldn’t rent it out. Also because the “love of my life,” an ex-armed robber pimp and drug dealer who’d forgotten how long he’d spent in jail, was having a baby with someone else. When the building project on my rental property started in December 2013, the OCD was taking only 45 minutes a day. But by the end of the year, after I’d found out about the ex-armed robber’s baby, the OCD had escalated to 5 hours a day. By March 2014 it had gone up to 9 hours a day.
However tired I was I had to do this endless checking – in fact the more exhausted I was the more fearful I was of making mistakes so the checking would take much longer. So many days during the nervous breakdown I just wanted to fall to the floor of my rental property and start screaming and thrashing on the ground. And so many days I thought there is no way I will make it to the end of this day without relapsing and ending up drunk. I was being treated by the local psychiatric crisis team and I would ring my social worker repeatedly saying “I want to cut my throat.” I knew what I was doing was totally irrational but I just couldn’t stop.
I’d been prescribed Sertraline, an anti-anxiety medication, by my doctor. But after going psycho on a similar drug Paroxetine, I didn’t want to take medication. Eventually, as I was threatened with losing my home or my rental property as I couldn’t complete the building project because the OCD was so bad, I went on the lowest dose of fluoxetine, another anti-anxiety medication. The sertraline had terrified me as it said it could provoke seizures in people who’d had epilepsy which I’d had as a child. I’d taken fluoxetine before with no ill effects and it had a much lower seizure rate than Sertraline.
The OCD had started when I was a child of about 12. I would repeatedly check under the bed, in the wardrobes, the shower room, bathroom and even the deep freeze for serial killers who I was convinced were going to kill me. They were resilient and flexible creatures these serial killers I thought that could shrink to the size of a packet of Birds Eye peas. Checking wasn’t enough I also had to find hiding places from the serial killers and practise my escape routes which involved sprinting along the roof. My mother had become very threatening towards me, saying quite calmly that she was going to put a contract out on my father, that I was just like him and wasn’t even her daughter. It was only recently that I realised there were no serial killers at my boarding school they only existed in my mother’s house. I’d had a phobia of serial killers since I was 8 when I’d seen ultra violent horror films such as Friday the 13th and Halloween on American cable TV in Jamaica. I think the reason I was so frightened by these films was that I had almost died twice by the age of 2 – firstly as I was born and then because of a massive epileptic fit when I was 2. I was later diagnosed with Post Traumatic stress disorder.
The OCD disappeared when I started drinking as a teenager. But as soon as I got clean in 2005 it flared up again. I was behaving in such a crazy way in 2006, jumping out of bed at 3am to iron the leaves of thousands of artificial plants, that I had to go on respiridone an anti-psychotic. This stopped the manic surge I had always had at night which the doctors said could be cyclothymia, a milder form of bipolar.
I also developed a phobia of dogshit and became unable to walk down the street at night (in case the dark patches concealed a poo) but instead would hop, like a frog on speed, from one lighted patch to another. When it snowed I was completely housebound as it could conceal a poo.
The OCD improved after this but then spiralled out of control when I had the nervous breakdown at the end of 2013.
At its height the checking consisted of the following. Every action had to be precisely described (with the number of repetitions) in texts that were pages and pages long.
At my rental property (where the central heating had been disconnected and it was minus 5 degrees)
Forensic and repeated examination of the roof terrace to make sure the builders had not left anything behind which could fall on the heads of my expensive neighbours in Notting Hill leading inevitably to a lawsuit in which I would lose everything.
Checking all the windows and doors were locked hundreds of times
Checking and photographing that the boiler and all the central heating controls were off multiple times. I feared the builders had damaged the boiler and if it was on the house would burn down.
Unplugging everything in the house then shouting “checked off” with multiple karate chop motions in the direction of every socket in the house. Repeating this 5 times.
Shouting “dark dark dark” (if the room is dark) or “off off off” (if the room is light) at every individual light in the house. Repeating this 50 times.
Taking multiple photographs of the unplugged convector heater, kettle and microwave, photographs which had to show the plug clearly lying in the middle of the floor. (fear of fire) Repeated checking that all the machines in the kitchen were switched off and that the knobs on the gas stove were at the maximum off position. Photographing the stove to prove the knobs were off.
Cleaning the stove for half an hour (in the filthy building site) as I thought if one speck of dust was on the stove the house would burn down.
Checking all the floors forensically (while shouting “nothing left behind”) to be sure that I had left nothing there. I feared if I left an empty wrapper of chewing gum on the floor the builders would clone my identity.
As the builders had drilled through some electricity cables (although they had been repaired) I had to switch most of the breakers on the fuseboard off each night then photograph the two fuseboards 20 times. If the photographs weren’t clear enough I had to start again.
Set the alarm (which had to be set again if there were any problems with the text message or the beeps weren’t loud enough)
Lock the door and check it 400 times.
Stand in front of the darkened house saying “dark dark dark” and making multiple karate chop movements in the direction of all the lights.
Forensically check the ground outside the house to make sure I had left nothing behind. If I’d dropped a key the house could be broken into or a credit card my identity would be cloned.
Fielding the extremely bemused looks and questions of neighbours as to what the f**k I was doing.
Driving off in my car, then leaving the engine running, leaping out of the car into a kung fu pose, staring fixedly at the space just vacated by the car while shouting “nothing left behind.” This is as above to prevent my identity being cloned, my rental property being broken into or my home being invaded by miniature serial killers.
I would get home at midnight, freezing and starving then slump in front of the TV with my dinner (no news because of my paranoia) before starting the rest of the checking.
I would go out in my dressing gown at 1am to check the car, which would take an hour, ignoring the curious questions of my neighbours. The main thing about the car was to check (as if my life depended on it 5 times with a torch) that I had left nothing inside it (which could obviously provoke a break in). And check that all the windows and doors and boot were locked 1000 times.
Repetitive checking of windows and doors at least 400 times. Banging on the garden doors to check they were locked 900 times. As this happened after 1 am I was reported to the council for noise nuisance more often than a ghetto blasting crack house. If I didn’t do this I thought I would be exposed to immediate rape and murder by miniature serial killers.
Photographing of the boiler to confirm it was off. I forget my precise anxiety about the boiler, something like a screw fixing it to the wall was the wrong size, but I feared if left on overnight the house would burn down.
Checking all the machines in the kitchen are off and the kettle is unplugged multiple times
Cleaning the stove for half an hour as obviously if a speck of dust was on the stove the house would burn down.
Doing karate chop motions in front of the burglar alarm panel then rushing upstairs and leaping into a kung fu pose before the two beeps go off confirming the alarm is set. If there is not enough gap between assuming the pose and the beeps going off the alarm has to be set again.
Doing 50 karate chop motions in front of every light.
Checking the laundry basket, wardrobes and chest of drawers in my bedroom for miniature serial killers.
Checking the alarms are set a hundred times and that my phone and the alarms are switched off 300 times. (fear of not waking up and of being woken up)
After this I would slump into bed exhausted at 5am not knowing how I was going to go on. You will not be surprised that the only difference between someone with OCD and psychosis is that the OCD person realises they are irrational.
It was the day my anti-anxiety medication fluoxetine went up to the maximum dose of 60mg a day that my recovery from OCD started. I immediately felt a reduction in the desire to check. I was doing cognitive behavioural therapy for the OCD. Every week we would have “goals” in reduction of the OCD. I would write these goals down in documents that were 20 pages long and update them with my progress every couple of days. I have always been an achiever and although these goals were modest, such as reducing the car checking from 1000 to 980 a day, they gave me a sense of achievement. I would discuss my OCD goals with my best friend Susanna and neighbour Diane a therapist in hour long chats every day as well as other friends from recovery. It was vital that whenever I tried to achieve a breakthrough I had enough support. Gradual reduction of the OCD was essential to my recovery. If I tried to do anything too dramatic I wouldn’t sleep that night and, if I was tired, the OCD would take double the length of time the following day.
As the OCD improved I was able to resume the building project on my rental property and get it ready to be rented out. But I was still checking 7 hours a day. As the new tenant didn’t want to move in for another month I decided to harness my desire to move into my rental property – which was looking fabulous after the building project – to break through a major barrier in the OCD. I hadn’t left my home overnight for over 5 years because I feared if I did the house would be burgled or burn down. I decided I would go to stay at my rental property.
This involved scanning thousands of documents in my home (in case of a fire) and taking a suitcase of paperwork with me.
I had to have 20 new smoke detectors installed in my home, all linked the fire station. I checked the electrics and every electrical item in the house umpteen times. And installed a hundred new locks on the bedroom door and shutters of my rental property. Before I left my home I had to unplug everything and switch all the sockets off, check the doors and windows hundreds of times and do the karate chop thing with all the lights. This took over 4 hours. I had my neighbour Diane on speed dial 24/7 to calm my anxieties about the house.
I stayed at my rental property for almost 2 weeks, still checking 3 hours a day, and got into trouble when I was checking the car for an hour with a torch as everyone thought I was stealing it.
When my tenant moved in, and I had an income for the first time in a year, I decided I would continue looking for an EMDR therapist, convinced that the OCD was a symptom of PTSD. I had had EMDR but the therapist had been very critical and reminded me of my wicked stepmother so it had had almost no positive impact at all.
I decided I wanted a therapist with foreign roots who looked ethnic like myself and my main therapist Mei Fung Chung. I found a clinical psychologist called Raquel Correia on the EMDR UK website. When I met her she was perfect, almost Jamaican looking, with long dark hair and dark skin. Of course I fancied the pants off her. But once we’d got over that hurdle the EMDR was amazing and had a dramatic impact on the OCD.
It was now time for a bigger challenge to my OCD and I decided I would leave London overnight. This required scanning another mountain of paperwork and also finding a hotel where the bedrooms were like Fort Knox and neither the staff nor aliens could get in at night. But unlike the trip to my rental property I didn’t unplug anything and only took 10 minutes to check the house before I left. I was so unconcerned about the house I didn’t even call my neighbour Diane once. I went with my 12 Step sponsor, Ellie who said she would accompany me on all my OCD busting trips.
After the success of this trip I decided I would go abroad which I had not done for six years. My sponsor wanted to go on a writing retreat in Greece but at the last minute pulled out saying the timing was wrong. When I questioned her she dumped me as a sponsee. This, as well as the fact that my sponsor in Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous made me ill by encouraging me to come off psychiatric medication, has left a bad taste in my mouth about 12 Step sponsorship.
But all my friends said I had to still go to Greece even if it was on my own. A friend of mine in recovery told me there were English speaking Vodka for Breakfast Anonymous and Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous meetings in Athens. He gave me the number of several recovery people there who were very friendly when I spoke to them. I decided I would go away on my own for the first time in my 10 year recovery.
Of course this required scanning a mountain of paperwork and finding a hotel where the bedrooms were like a bank vault. I demanded a room with no balcony or view in case agile Athenian serial killers could put a ladder up and enter on the 4th floor.
My close friend in recovery, Sarah, took me to the airport which helped to calm me down. I was terrified on the plane not only because I was leaving the UK for the first time in years but because I thought the plane would crash. But I had a magic weapon in my hand lugguage – a Bible, my falling apart toy Bunny and 100 portable locks I’d bought off Amazon. I had bought them in case the security arrangements on the hotel door were not up to scratch. I tried to lock myself in on the plane but was not successful at all.
The trip was a roaring success – I was not only welcomed with open arms by the Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous people in Greece but did my first piece of journalism for my entire 10 year recovery. I covered the Greek elections and the refugee crisis, interviewing dozens of refugees camped out rough in Athens. On the OCD front, I also managed to move to a room with a balcony where the bathroom window didn’t even close. I got round this by buying enough wire to cut off the border of an entire European country and wrapping it round the window. Even when disaster struck and I got a call from my burglar alarm company saying my house had been broken into I was able to get a friend to call the police and stayed relatively calm. Luckily it was a false alarm or I would never have gone abroad again.
I had another breakthrough at Christmas when I went down to Somerset to spend the holiday with a group of recovering addicts in various 12 Step fellowships. For a start I didn’t scan anything before I went as I was confident the house was not going to burn down. Also, although I had to leave the room at night to go to the loo as there was no ensuite bathroom, I did not do my usual trick of checking the wardrobes for miniature serial killers when I came back. This required turning on the lights and ensured I never got back to sleep. Also, amazingly, I was able to share cutlery and plates with all the people on the trip without the presence of a Proton Particle Purifier (aka dishwasher) to sterilise all the utensils.
On top of this I drove on a motorway, on my own, for the first time in my life, challenging my OCD fear of death on a high speed road.
I still have OCD but it has been reduced to a few minutes a day and no longer controls my life. My scanner is now printing out plaintive automated messages saying “YOU DON’T NEED ME” at 4am in the morning. I have ejected the serial killers from all the of the following locations in my house: the laundry basket, chest of drawers, wardrobe and the deep freeze. After I gave the serial killers their P45s they all retrained as psychiatrists instead. I have been unable to have a relationship for years because the OCD was so bad. But now I am actively dating. I am practically cured!
Next week: Where the f**k is Mr Right?
I am a former correspondent for BBC Radio and Television, the Sunday Times, the Guardian and the Daily Mail. My assignments included: 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 at a commune in California. I have reported from all over the world but was last based in Jamaica where I covered mainly crime and drugs, becoming rather too close to the subject matter. In the course of my travels I met the Queen and Snoop Dogg who became my closest imaginary friends. During my time at the BBC I was awarded an Order of the British Empire Medal (for never arriving on time) and couldn’t hit a deadline if it slapped me in the face.
I graduated from Oxford University with a 2:1 in English and an MA for sprinting around the library at 4am (due to cyclothymia highs). I spent much of my time there fantasising I was the Queen of Spain and, (unrelated to dope) a fried egg about to be hit by a train. I later graduated from Britain’s most exclusive rehab, with distinction, realising my life had taken a wrong turn. In recovery I was successfully treated at the Prison View psychiatric unit where I attended as an outpatient (7 days a week). I entered with 13 personalities and emerged with only 1.5 having recovered from a decades long battle with bulimia and self-harm.
I am celebrating a number of important milestones this year: 10 years clean from alcohol and drugs, 6 years abstinent from bulimia and self-harm, 3 years abstinent from shopping addiction and 23 seconds free of OCD (oops I’ve relapsed again). I am writing this after returning from my first trip abroad for over six years, having been stuck, totally grounded, in England because of my OCD. Apart from having to scan all 23,491 documents in my house, (in case an armed robber partial to eating paper broke in), which has taken the entire year, the trip was a fantastic success.
I am in remission from clinical depression, borderline personality disorder and PTSD. I have asked my therapist to marry me (so the therapy would be free).
I am not in recovery from an addiction to finding new mothers having spent 45 years on the waiting list for a parent transplant.
I am now writing bloginhotpants, a tragi-comic account of my mishaps with drugs, journalism, men and mental health problems while reporting around the globe or, more recently, being stuck at home. Sign up for updates on this blog
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Next week: Pearl G-Strings, Porsche envy and how to score drugs at St Chillin’s, Britain’s most exclusive rehab.
I got back to Jamaica at the beginning of December 2004 with a cocaine habit as out of control as a runaway bullet train. I was doing cocaine from 9am, not sleeping at all but crashing for an hour at 2pm the next day. I would be out at nightclubs every night, often on my own, as I was so wired I just had to get out of the house. I met a Jewish South African, Woody, at Kingston’s premier expat night club and, after a minor attempt at conversation, took him straight home to have sex. But I was so strung out on cocaine my ladyparts were like a vice and he couldn’t get his willy in. This was my first, but certainly not my last, experience of wearing a cocaine chastity belt. He was highly intelligent and I started going out with him (another advantage was he drank a lot). But he said it was off-putting kissing me as I tasted of cocaine. One night he had an important work function at his house. I left my cocaine at my mother’s house to try to stay under control. But halfway through the meal I announced I was “anxious” and would have to leave. I genuinely believed that cocaine calmed me down. I certainly felt, whenever I took it that a white light was flooding through my brain, obliterating any anxieties. I staggered back to his apartment, laughing and off my head, covered in mud, saying, “Guess what? I’ve fallen into a giant pothole.”
I would leave full and empty wrappers of cocaine lying around my flat. My helper (PC Jamaican term for cleaner) became a help-yourself-er as she stole my very expensive phone and various other things, realising I was completely off the rails.
One morning I’d been out all night at a club and had ended up at the house of some white Jamaicans. I was sprinting round the garden, pretending to be a humming bird. One of them said they would take me home (I wasn’t driving thank god). So I got into his car and swigged a bottle of pink liquid without asking what it was. I started projectile vomiting 20 feet away as the liquid was a heavy duty chemical for cleaning the engine of a car. I was so sick I couldn’t speak for days. But, not allowing that to interrupt my social life, I was out at a party that very night, doing sign language. When people asked me why I hadn’t gone to hospital I was mystified. Surely this kind of thing happened to everyone. Another day I was wondering round the supermarket for half an hour with a massive trolley, containing just 6 bottles of vodka and a tiny orange. I simply didn’t understand why people were staring at me.
I was commissioned to do a story about female sex tourism in Jamaica for Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4. Jamaica had become the world’s number 1 destination for ladies from North America and Europe hooking up with fake “boyfriends” aka SpongeBob no pants. Of course the majority of the women thought these boyfriends were real. I went to stay with my English friend, Tristram, in the countryside as he said his girlfriend, 17 year old stripper Big Bazumba, had contacts with gigolos. Of course she did, they were part of the same union, “Sex workers need Wonga.” The gigolos I met were sitting listlessly around on the beach waiting for women to arrive. But they had zero interest in thirty year old, fairly attractive, me. They were looking for women who were older, divorced and desperate. I was driven, with Big Bazumba, at high speed around the Montego Bay area doing copious quantities of cocaine in the back of the car. Although cocaine was only about 10 pounds a gramme in Jamaica I was spending 90 pounds a day.
I found out that Big Bazumba had stabbed a girl to death the week before. She’d said it was self-defence as the girl had tried to steal her chewing gum. She was out and about, completely free as a client had paid the police to get her off. This was one of the things that had started to disturb me about living in Jamaica. There was virtually no rule of law as anyone who had money would pay the police to drop the case. Thus, at a very exclusive party, a crazed ex-boyfriend beat a girl up in front of everyone, putting her in hospital. But there was no investigation as his parents paid off the police. I had been frustrated in the UK with what I saw as the Kafkaesque maze of rules and regulations that were dreamed up by bored bureaucrats. Like, for example, that it was illegal to do cocaine. But it started to occur to me that if anything happened to me in Jamaica, no one would ever be prosecuted or even questioned, unless they were very poor.
The stories that some of the gigolos came out with were breathtaking. They had women sending them money from up to twenty different countries. And they would tell every single one of these women that they loved them and wanted to be with them. They would obviously schedule them carefully so they didn’t arrive in Jamaica at the same time. I was amazed the women could be so gullible. But many of them were middle aged and single in their home countries, they just couldn’t resist the attentions of these incredibly sexy gigolos. One Italian woman I interviewed (or tried to interview as I kept having to nip into the loo for a line) said when she’d come to live with her “boyfriend” in Jamaica he’d made her sleep outside in the yard with the dogs. But she still didn’t leave him of course. Better psychologists than me can explain why these women would stay with men who were not only rinsing them out but treating them like animals. I would say they were probably playing out some kind of fucked up dynamic with their childhood and their fathers. Some of the women, mainly American, were a bit more clued up and realised these men were playing a game. But it was a game they were happy to play, despite the high entry fees and degrading rules.
Back at Tristram’s house, Big Bazumba starting gazing at me with adoration and playing with my hair. “If I looked like you I could do anything,” she said. As a mixed race person my looks were very popular in Jamaica, where I was known as a “browning,” the highest beauty accolade. Although my friends, by this stage were saying, “you used to be so pretty,” as my skin was grey and my eyes were darting around like a meteor shower because of the cocaine. The staring and fiddling with my hair then escalated to her caressing my leg and trying to stick her tongue in my mouth. “I’m not gay….at the moment,” I said. “And anyway, even if I were, it would put me off a bit that you’ve stabbed a girl last week.”
“Why?” she said, her big brown eyes looking at me with surprise. “Oh I don’t know,” I said, “I’d just rather not date someone who’s so handy with a kitchen knife.” She then got into the bed under the covers with me, giving me a seductive look. “That won’t work,” I said. “If I’m going to die I’m going to kill myself, not get it together with someone who if I piss them off is going to stab me in the chest.”
Hurt, she pulled away and allowed me to go to sleep. But when I woke up both my cocaine and my car had gone. “Tristram!” I shouted, shaking him awake. “Big Bazumba’s stolen my car!” “You must have upset her,” he said. “She hasn’t done that for a week.” After frantic phone calls to Big Bazumba’s mobile phone, the car was retrieved and she came back again. Of course I forgave her immediately as she brought back my cocaine. Tristram said that her using had got completely out of control since she’d stabbed the other girl, as she was trying to snort away the guilt. I chalked it up to another of those “interesting experiences you have while taking drugs” and thought it would make a good party story when I got back to Notting Hill. Ironically Woody had accused me of being gay and flirting with a female friend of his when I’d been chatting, animatedly and in fluent Spanish, to her. Little did he know what I was actually getting up to….
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With the return of my car I started bombing around the roads of rural Jamaica alone at 4am, which Tristram said was suicidal as only criminals were out at that time. But that was the point, I was suicidal. I knew I needed to leave Jamaica but, because of the terrible state my mother was in, I felt I couldn’t go. The only way out, I thought, was to press the ejector seat on the plane of life, without a parachute. Then no one, especially myself, could blame me for deserting my mother.
After I returned home to Kingston, I was hoovering up cocaine. I had done some incredibly powerful interviews about the sex tourism. But I was so strung out, mind like a roomful of confetti, that I couldn’t put the documentary together. Of course it’s difficult for me to remember the interviews, apart from the most extreme, as I was so off my head at the time it’s all been wiped from my mind.
At least I was eating healthily, I thought. I would have strictly organic, non GMO, preservative free meals until 11pm. Then I would go out bingeing on fast food, fried chicken and ice cream then puke and eat some more. To save time I would eat it all over the loo. The whole process was so quick I didn’t even need to move the television into the toilet like I had before. I was doing that three times a night, ignoring the doctors warnings that the losing combination of full time cocaine addiction and bulimia could make me drop dead of a fatal heart attack any time. I was hurtling towards the ground without being able to stop. Perhaps I thought I could fly.
On Christmas Day I couldn’t go round to see my family, spending it alone with a litre of Vodka and a large bag of coke. It was the worst Christmas Day I’d ever had. The next day, I saw the news of the catastrophic death toll in the Boxing Day Tsunami. But I couldn’t connect with the tragedy, as my life was crashing around me, devastated by my own cocaine Tsunami. I tried to give up cocaine for a few days but was drinking heavily and became so depressed I reached for the cocaine again. I ended up crying on the shoulder of my best friend in Jamaica, Candy, wailing, “I just can’t do this anymore.” I told my family that I was doing cocaine. This wasn’t a big surprise, as I’d made a hole in my nose so huge by snorting it that every time I breathed I made a loud whistling noise you could hear 50 feet away. How they hadn’t realised about the bulimia is a mystery though, as I would literally run to the loo straight after I’d eaten anything. I started looking, half-heartedly, into rehab options in Jamaica but decided that an open ward in hospital with male crack addicts from ghettos would be dangerous (for the designer bags).
I did my final interview as a foreign correspondent for the BBC at the beginning of 2005. Of course I didn’t realise this was the end of my journalism career, thinking that I just had a tiny problem with drugs that would take no time to sort out. I was so wired on coke my brain almost blew a fuse and I took a childish glee in snorting it, loudly and obtrusively, throughout the entire (telephone) interview. And the interview itself was on cocaine – the drop in the amount being smuggled between Jamaica and the UK. I giggled as I relished the irony. Afterwards Radio 5 Live told me it was a “fantastic” interview and they must speak to me again soon. I remember feeling very, very, happy after the cocaine interview thinking, “see I’ve still got what it takes.”
My upbeat mood was not, in any way, affected when I was burgled by my dealer, who pilfered all my bank cards. I assured my family that the break in was “not a problem at all.” I owed him money, of course. My identity and bank cards could easily be replaced, my dealer, on the other hand, could not. My family said I should call the police (the dealer was poor so there was a chance something might be done). But I said I couldn’t possibly call the police as my dealer was: “a good friend, practically my best friend” a fallacy I (tragically) believed. The only person I trusted more, I told them, was my main dealer in England – the shambling, psycho, crack-head with a penchant for punching his girlfriends who’d set up a tent in my sitting room. They decided I’d lost the plot and, despite my declarations that I couldn’t leave Woody, whose jealousy I interpreted as love, my family said I had to go into treatment. My bags were packed and I was forcibly escorted to the airport, accompanied by my cousin Michelle.
Before I left my house, I had a massive cocaine binge covering my suitcase, passport, laptop case and clothes (inconveniently black) in snow. By the time I got to the airport, I was so wasted my suitcase seemed to have developed a mind (and direction) of its own and some kind of fault with the wheels. To be honest it wasn’t just the suitcase, the walls and the other people seemed to be spinning round as well. Officials were alerted to my discombobulated state when I was completely unable to get my suitcase onto the weighing machine at check in. After assistance from airline officials, my bags finally went on their way all lightly sprinkled with cocaine. My cousin Michelle spent almost half an hour trying to wipe the cocaine off my clothes in the VIP lounge at Kingston airport. Luckily (you will see later why) we were travelling First Class. This was funded by my aunt, who was controlling my mother’s funds, not, as usual, my overdraft.
At Heathrow airport I got off the plane, and joined the queue for passport control. They frowned and gave me a funny look when I handed in a white British passport, coated in cocaine. The lady at the desk seemed to turn and make a signal to a man behind.
The baggage hall seemed to be a haze, all the suitcases and people looked the same. My trolley was travelling in circles instead of a straight line. There was a lot of faulty equipment on this trip. It definitely wasn’t me. As I reached for a bag that I thought might be mine, I lost my footing and fell onto the belt. Surrounded by suitcases, I felt a bit confused. But I only travelled along for a couple of feet before a friendly northern man helped me off.
I was arrested, snorting loudly, after Customs officials asked politely if I “had a cold.”
“An occupational hazard of working in the tropics…” I replied. It did not help matters that I mistook the red and green Customs exit for a traffic light which I (twitchily) waited to change. Sundry dogs, scanning machines, passengers and tea ladies detected that myself and my possessions were heavily (and visibly) coated in cocaine. “We think you have been in contact with a Class A drug,” the Customs officers said to me. “What on earth are you talking about?” I said. “Stop messing around Madam, you’re covered in cocaine.” Luckily, Customs decided I wasn’t a mule (they travel in Economy) but that I might as well be some kind of donkey as I was terminally stupid. I was charged not with smuggling but with “impersonating Scarface” and released into the custody of my family.
I was met by my father and Alex, my friend from Oxford, and sequestered in Alex’s house in the country. I suggested excursions to London, “I must see the latest waxwork of the Pope at Madam Tussauds” – in order to score. But, to avoid a less mind expanding form of incarceration, I was soon forced into rehab. After careful consideration, I felt St Chillin’s, Britain’s most exclusive rehab, would look best on my C.V. I might even bump into a celebrity.
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