The place, Melbourne.
The year, 2007.
October; a month during which several things happened.
A revelation that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise given it’s quite normal for several things to happen in every month; something would be seriously amiss if they didn’t.
But in this particular month, several things happened in my life.
For starters, my sister turned twenty-seven. On the same day, I tried to hang myself after walking 50 kilometres into the middle of nowhere. These events, I should point out, were unrelated. I ogled the finest police posterior I’d ever seen, cooked the greatest jacket potato in the history of the world and decided to write a blog.
This would be one of those life changing moments people often talk about.
Following the decision there was much umming and ahhing about what to call it and, whilst walking through Carlton Gardens, I settled on the name Geoff. Shortly after I decided that this was a poor name for a blog about mental illness, so opted forAll That I Am, All That I Ever Was instead.
I put fingers to keyboard to write a post called My War against Mental Illness. An introductory post that discussed in far too intimate detail the secret life I’d lived. A life chock full of self-harm, depression, suicide and social anxiety; a life that my parents no doubt suspected, but knew little of fact.
After spending days perfecting this post and making Geoff – sorry All That I Am, All That I Ever Was – look as pretty as I could I launched the blog, took mobile to hand and set off into the damp night to make a rather tough call.
After finding a cracked green milk crate I sat in the drizzle and smoked a cigarette, my mind awash with how best to form the sentences I needed to speak.
I’d spent days writing personal accounts of how and when I’d thought of ending my own life; hours perfecting paragraphs detailing moments of self-harm, self-doubt and self-loathing and yet as I ploughed through cigarette after cigarette I couldn’t come up with a single syllable of how to tell my parents that everything they thought they knew of me was wrong. Even their work in the mental health industry wasn’t enough to calm my nerves over their possible reaction.
With damp fingers I rolled another cigarette and dialled the number. For several long minutes I talked with my father about John Howard, the political dilemmas being faced by Uzbekistan and Jaffa cakes. We debated the age-old ‘who would win in a fight, polar bears or raccoons?’ before arguing over whether the Pussycat Dolls could take P!nk in a no-rules jelly wrestle.
It was whilst I was politely informing him P!nk would kick their gelatine covered asses that I knew I was merely stalling.
So I took a deep breath of nicotine and went for it.
“Dad, I’ve started a blog,”
In the three days it had taken me to decide on these five simple words I’d imagined every possible response he could give. Everything from the simple what about? to have you thought about how best to monetize it? to will there be pictures of wildebeest? But, as always, he was able to surprise me.
“A what now?”
“A blog, dad?”
Yes, dad. I’ve created a quagmire of dead plant material in central Melbourne. The council really don’t mind, they said they actually preferred it to Fed Square. I took another lung full of smoke and tried again. “A BLog, dad,”
“A what now?”
Six cigarettes and a lesson on what a blog is later, I was finally able to tell him what it was about. As I explained (and smoked, oh lord did I smoke!) he listened.
He listened to me tell him there were things I’d written about that he, and mum, didn’t know; things that probably wouldn’t make them very happy. Things that might upset them or make them angry I hadn’t said anything.
And if he was thinking of any of these things he never said it.
What he did say, as a comment on My War against Mental Illness was:
“Brilliantly written, one of the most honest and frank pieces I have ever read in my 14 years in supporting people with mental ill-health. You are right, this is a war that most people don’t know anything about it’s happening day in day out the whole world over and few people take any notice, unless they find themselves caught up in it as a sufferer or a carer. Let’s hope that with the ever-increasing numbers of people suffering from stress related mental problems that things improve for everyone.”
All those days and weeks and years of bottling up my feelings had been for nothing. If I’d said something earlier, maybe my life now may be different, but I was scared.
I didn’t want to admit the problems I knew I had, I wanted people to respect and accept me – not judge and abuse me; something I was paranoid they would do if they knew of the things I’d done and felt.
That’s the problem with mental illness. The world teaches us to hide it, to never admit the things we feel in fear of being ostracised, isolated, judged or abandoned.
Although not as omnipresent as it was five years ago, the stigma against those who suffer from mental ill-health still casts a shadow.
Hopefully, if people keep speaking up, in five years time it will have vanished completely.
~ This post originally appeared on my sister blog, The Voice of Our Song on 16 May 2012 ~
In two days time I celebrate the fifth anniversary of All that I am, all that I ever was.
Although I haven’t been blogging continuously throughout this period (due to homelessness, psychosis and wildly unstable mental health) I feel it is important for me to celebrate this occasion. Some may consider it arrogant, some a little self-serving, but given the distinct lack of happiness from my life over the last five years, I don’t care. Where others get to celebrate birthdays, engagements, weddings and numerous other special occasions when they have friends and ‘a life’; I get to celebrate one of the few things that has kept me alive over the last half a decade.
This blog is my child, my friend, my companion, my counselor, my lover and my home. How can I not celebrate it’s birthday?
For those who have been following my blog the last fortnight has seen a stark depression take over its content. I do apologise for this, even though I know I shouldn’t. This downturn of mood is part and parcel of having to deal with the daily pain and complication of unsupported mental illness. However frustrating it’s been – it could be a whole lot worse!
Throughout the last several days I have been planning (and writing) a special series of posts to mark the fifth anniversary of this blog. Debuting on Sunday, they will reflect on the last five years of my life from the point of view of the primary themes that I write about; including the stigma of mental health, homelessness, social isolation and recovery.
I will also be launching a brand spanking new blog challenge – one that I am deeply passionate yet extremely frightened of – as well as instigating a few minor changes that I hope will improve the quality (and your enjoyment) of my little corner of the world-wide web.
After the heartache of the fifth anniversary I suffered through last week; it’s nice to have this brighter anniversary to look forward to :)
Over the next two days, in anticipation of Sunday, I will be importing the missing posts from my old blogging days so as to fully archive all (existing) writing into this version of the blog.
When I began this a few weeks ago, inserting these backdated pages saw a flurry of emails being sent to my wonderful subscribers. As I haven’t been able to figure a way to stop this from happening, I apologise in advance if I spam your readers/inboxes over the next 48 hours :)