All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…


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The pleasures and perils of writing about family and friends on a mental health blog

For those thinking I’ve bailed on my Mental Health Month Challenge, you’re wrong. At the very top of the PDF outlining the daily prompts for this challenge is a wonderful line that states: ‘you get two “Get Out Of Post Free” Days. Use Wisely!’

Whether I’ve used them wisely over the last two days is yet to be seen as I now have none left. But let’s not worry about this just yet, let us instead focus on today’s prompt…write about how you choose to write about others in your blog (friends, family etc.).

Writing about my family and friends

My family...

My Family…

The lost blog post…

Although I began writing this blog in 2007, I stopped writing it in mid-2008 when I threw my attention toward rebuilding my life in Alice Springs. Being employed after eighteen months of isolation was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do and in order to better my chances of success in a ‘normal’ life I had to let my blog go, which became one of the biggest regrets of my life as I would not return to it until late 2009.

After months of living a homeless non-existence I returned to my blog for a series of posts celebrating its two-year anniversary. I wrote posts detailing the continued effect that the abuse I received was having on me, I wrote about my homelessness for the first time and of psychiatric appointments I’d had months earlier.

Although I’ve never really mentioned this before (as it makes me sound completely insane), I have no memory of writing and publishing any of these posts!

When I returned to the blog earlier this year I read through all I’d written and stared in complete disbelief at the atrocious writing I’d committed in my name.

Certainly, the post about Stephanie was wonderful, but the vast majority of these posts are atrocious crimes against writing, even though the information contained within them is true. None more so than a post called Fourteen Beautiful Souls, which is one of the single greatest examples of hypomanic writing that has ever been published on this blog! Thirty-five rambling pages of A4 that chronicle some (but not all) of the most important people in my life.

When I read this despicable post back for the first time I wanted to vomit. Without doubt it is one of the negative highlights of my shameful life and one of my biggest regrets. Although, given I can’t remember writing it, is it right to regret doing it?

Of all the major posts I’ve written over the last five years this is the only post I refuse to re-publish. I still have it, nestled somewhere as a draft in my posts menu, but what I did in that post broke all the rules concerning ‘other people’ that I’d established for myself when beginning this blog in 2007.

The five rules…

1. I will not write about the lives of other people unless they have given me permission to do so.
2. I will only write about other people if it is vital to the topic at hand.
3. I will at all times use a pseudonym when writing about other people.
4. I will be respectful, compassionate and non-abusive when writing about other people.
5. No identifiable photographs. Period!

Since returning to the blogosphere earlier this year I have been careful not to break these rules again when writing about other people, something I will only do when necessary in order to avoid the unintended pain my Fourteen Beautiful Souls post caused.

Kathryn

I had wanted to write about my sister for as long as this blog has been alive. But back in the early days my sister was a regular reader and contributor to this blog and I didn’t want her to read about the effect her illness had on my life. So, not wishing to cause her any pain, I avoided writing about her in detail, choosing only to drop the occasional sliver of information as and when necessary to fill in my back story.

However, earlier this year I realized through conversations with a psychologist that it was important to deal with this hitherto untouched part of my life. So not wishing to break rule (1) I phoned my parents to ask their permission to write about my sister and her illness.

I couldn’t ask Kathryn personally as we haven’t spoken for many years and probably never will again, but if I was going to write about this part of my life, I wanted to be sure to do it right.

Fortunately, my parents understood and with their help filling in forgotten facts, the (as yet unfinished) trilogy of posts dealing with my sister was finally written.

My Sister and Me (1): Childhood
My Sister and Me (2): Anorexia Nervosa

My Family

As for other members of my family, aside from the occasional reference, I have barely written about them in detail. Certainly I have mentioned that some members of my family also suffer from mental health issues but I am cautious not to be too precise or revealing. Not only do I not want to offend people, but it would be unfair for me to discuss their lives on this blog, healthwise or otherwise.

The only other occasion I can recall writing about a member of my family was during the Unsent Letter’s series back in August. Although it was clear that the letter was being written to my nephew, there were no names or personal information given so his identity should only have been recognizable to my family.

Unsent Letter: In the end, what we regret most are the chances we never took

But as always when writing about other people, the nervousness was omnipresent throughout the writing, editing and publishing process, never more so than when I’m writing about my (old) friends.

Samantha

Long-time readers of my blog will be asking one question…why did Sammi not begin to be mentioned until earlier this year?

The answer is two-fold:

1) She was mentioned in past posts, albeit in an indirect manner, as far back as 2007. (She even had a couple of her own posts published on my one-time sister blog Eliminate the Stigma of Mental Illness and wrote many comments across all the blogs I’ve had over the years)

2) Because of the nature of our friendship (which was more complicated than most) she requested that she not be written about until she was comfortable with me sharing our friendship with the wider world.

Due to her untimely passing, Sammi was never able to give me that permission directly. So the decision to write about her (and our complicated friendship) was not taken lightly. I had long wanted to tell the tale of our friendship and ultimately decided that the time was finally right to do so.

As long as I followed rule (4) to the letter!

One Night in Adelaide (Mature Content)
I will never forget her
What would you change about yourself?

My Friends

Time, my own failings, mental health and the fact I’m a worthless arsehole rendered me isolated many years ago. But even though I no longer have the friends I once did doesn’t mean that I ever stopped caring about the people who once meant the world to me, and in a way still do.

The primary reason I nearly vomited when reading back Fourteen Beautiful Souls was due to the sheer amount of personal information I shared in that post. Not just about who these people were but my own feelings toward them. It was disrespectful, unfair, a massive breakage of trust and something I will deeply regret until the day I die.

It’s true that from time to time these people are mentioned on the blog, some more than most, but I do so only because I need to. Not to hurt them, embarrass them or humiliate them, but because for a long period of time these people were the reason I would get out of bed in the morning.

These people made me into who I was, who I am and who I will be in the future, so in writing about my life’s journey it is important I share how they touched my life.

I would love to write more posts about these people. Posts that celebrate their awesomeness in the manner I have written about Sammi. Tales of backpacking adventures, drunken escapades, heartfelt conversations and moments of pure bliss, pain and regret – but I can’t as I don’t want these people to be (any more than they already are) associated with this weird, confused loner who is but a shadow of the person they once knew.

Unlike Samantha, who will never read what I write about her, there is a chance (albeit minimal) that these other people will.

And I just don’t want to cause them any further pain and embarrassment.

The future…

Talking about mental illness is one of the most personal things you can do. As I said recently, it is not something that should be considered brave and courageous (merely normal), but it is something that should be an individual’s choice.

Stigma and discrimination is just as alive as it’s always been when it comes to mental health, so in addition to not wanting to upset anyone, this factor has always been high in my mind when writing about other people on this blog.

Not just in terms of their own health, but in terms of being associated with my own.

So whenever I write about my friends, my family and other people who have touched my life on this blog, I will continue abiding by the five rules I laid out all those years ago. Rules that I have occasionally broken, but never once out of malice or with intent to cause harm.

...and friends

…and friends

If anyone does remember the Fourteen Beautiful Souls post (hopefully not) and were hurt by its content, I humbly and sincerely apologise.

I am not saying I don’t remember writing it to give myself a convenient excuse or avoid taking responsibility, but because I genuinely have no memory of writing it. It was a mistake, and like all the mistakes I’ve made in my life, one I’ve been (and will continue to be) living with for the remainder of my life.

 


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Gratitude, excitement and inspiration

Today’s prompt in my Mental Health Month Challenge is:
“write a #ListOf3 things you are thankful for/excited about/inspired by”.

Three things I’m thankful for

Thankful1. My strength

I’ve mentioned this aspect of myself on the blog so many times regular readers will probably not be surprised about its presence on this list. In fact, they will probably be groaning that once again they have to read Addy waxing lyrical about how awesome his inner strength is.

So I won’t. All I will say is that my inner strength is the only aspect of myself (physical, emotional or sexual) that no-one will ever be able to insult, attack, abuse or make me doubt myself over.

2. My home

As I stated in a recent post, without my home I would either be dead or languishing in a deeply unstable state of despair, depression and agony.

Even though I have yet to pull myself out of the mindset of feeling homeless, I am truly thankful for the unit I currently call home as without it I wouldn’t stand a chance of getting my life back on track.

3. My bipolar

An odd one, to be sure, especially in regards to yesterday’s insanity, but over the years I have begun to feel thankful for my bipolar. Unlike my social anxiety – which has brought nothing but pain and destruction to my life – the bipolar has brought some brightness to my life.

My friendship with Sammi would never have eventuated were it not for my bipolar. However brief that connection was, it will always be remembered as a highpoint of my life. In a similar vein, some of my more ‘manic’ actions, however dangerous they were at the time (and intensely embarrassing in hindsight), have gone on to become some of my happiest and most amusing memories.

Also, without wishing to sound clichéd, I firmly believe my bipolar is responsible for my creative gifts; a part of my personality that I cannot imagine living without.

Three things I’m excited about

Excitement

I don’t have three things that I’m excited about. After all I’ve endured through my life I’ve learned that getting excited leads to only one thing; disappointment.

I was excited about my college course and the changes I was making to my life in 2007…and we all know what happened there. Similarly, I was excited by the mental health community finally taking me seriously at the end of last year…until I met my last psychiatrist, and we all know what happened there.

In fact, the only thing I allowed myself to be ‘excited’ over that didn’t turn out to be utterly disappointing shite was meeting up with Sammi in Glasgow ’08.

So yeah, I don’t get excited anymore. Not about birthdays, definitely not about Christmas (more of that at a later date) and certainly – after the let downs of The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and Battlestar Galactica Season 4.5 – anything in the entertainment industry.

Three things I’m inspired by

Inspiration

1. Great writing

Whether this is fiction writing (such as Charles de Lint, George Mackay Brown, Roald Dahl or Alexander Trocchi), non-fiction writing (such as Robin Bowles, Susan Faludi, John Hemming or Michael Kaku), television writing (such as Joss Whedon, Mark Schwahn, Carter Bays & Craig Thomas or Jimmy McGovern) or current affairs writing (such as that found on The Drum, Mama Mia, Hoopla or The Conversation), great writing has long been a source of inspiration for me.

Not only does it challenge my understanding and outlook on the world and the wonderful array of people who populate it, but it drives me to work toward my dreams and give back to the world the same level of beauty, hope, excitement and wonder that such writing has given me throughout my life.

2. My old friends

The general perception amongst my old friends is that I’m a worthless, useless, lying, weak, uneducated, untalented, ugly, repulsive piece of evil shit. Or at least that’s how my abuser portrayed the general feeling amongst the people I called friends.

Personally, I believe this is a little extreme (and incorrect).

Thus, I am determined to convince the rest of the world that I’m not (and have never been) as terrible a human being as was decided all those years ago; a determination that I’ve found strangely inspiring over the last several years.

3. The hope that one day there’ll be no such thing as stigma and discrimination against the mentally ill

An odd thing to be inspired by, to be sure, but something that’s long been responsible for my stubborn refusal to give up!

One day, I truly hope that discrimination against the mentally ill, the homeless and those living in poverty will have been eradicated for good. Something that I like to believe my little blog would have helped to achieve.

 


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Too Much Information!

Too Much Information

Given all my underwear is currently being washed, this is a true statement :p

Today’s Mental Health Month prompt – how do you decide what to share on your blog? – is an exceedingly easy one to answer:

I don’t. I just write whatever the hell I’m thinking. People’s reactions be damned!

One of my biggest frustrations with today’s world is the incessant game playing that everyone feels the need to undertake on an hourly basis. We share this side of our personality with one person, lie our asses off to the next person, pretend to be someone completely different to some random stranger and feel the need to hide vast quantities of personal information from our friends and family in fear of being judged and/or laughed at.

I know this because I used to be that guy. The person I was when around Louise was different to the person I was when around my friends, the person I was when around my friends was a completely different person to who I was around my colleagues. Whereas the person I was when around complete strangers or women I was attracted to was an absolute anxiety plagued, panic attack having arsehat!

I hid my mental health from everyone.

Although Louise knew I suffered from depression (as I was taking antidepressants for a time) and had freely admitted I’d once attempted suicide (even to the point of taking her to Glenfinnan to show her where I nearly died; the only person I’ve ever taken there) she wasn’t aware of my self-harm or hallucinations as I did everything I could to hide them from her in fear of being dumped for being an insane lunatic.

The same went for my parents. They knew I suffered from depression (as I was taking antidepressants for a time) they weren’t aware of the depth of my problems until I began writing the blog in late 2007. In fact, I’ve written previously of the phone call I made to let them know what I was doing so they weren’t going in cold.

As for my friends, there was no chance in hell I was ever going to share with them the mental health problems I was dealing with. Not only would it have been completely humiliating, embarrassing and shameful to admit my weaknesses and insanity, admitting to self-harm, multiple suicide attempts, hallucinations, mood swings and delusional psychosis to such amazing human beings would have been the equivalent of social suicide.

It didn’t occur to me until after I’d lost everything (and everyone) just how stupid this was. Louise worked within the mental health industry and could (had she not immediately dumped me) organised me to get some professional assistance. My family, too, had a lengthy history within the mental health community (courtesy of my sister’s illness and their establishment of a local charity for the carers of people with mental illness) so they would hardly have shunned me. Whilst my friends…well, that’s slightly different, because after my breakdown I was unable to keep my problems hidden from them.

The self-harm came out, leading to one person reacting with: “I can’t have anything to do with anyone who self-harms,”

The depression was out of control, leading to several people reacting with: “I can’t have anything to do with you until you’ve cheered up,”

The suicidal ideation became known, leading to me wondering why no-one offered to help me find professional support.

Whilst the hallucinations stayed hidden because (a) that’s the way they wanted it and (b) the whole social suicide issue!

Despite the reaction my friends had given, when I began writing the blog after several months of loneliness and isolation I made a conscious decision to write about  my mental health in as much detail as I could. A warts and all account of Addy’s life, so to speak.

Nothing was too much.

Nothing was too detailed.

Nothing was too personal.

Everything was fair game…aside from a deliberate series of exceptions that, until now, I’ve never shared on this blog:

Things you (probably) won’t see on All that I am, all that I ever was…

1. Detailed descriptions of my suicide attempts…
Whenever I have written of my suicide attempts I’ve done so by talking about how I remember feeling, the things that came up that either prevented or nearly prevented the attempt, how I felt afterwards and a miniscule amount of information about what I did. This information usually amounting to I tried to hang myself or I took a handful of pills with the occasional snippet more if the post deserved.

The reason I decided not to write detailed descriptions of how I attempted to take my own life is because I don’t want to encourage suicide. Although I vehemently disagree with the Australian media‘s silent credence of never talking about suicide and instead writing pathetically obvious idioms to disguise what actually happened (‘no suspicious circumstances’), I do agree that precisely described methods of suicide is a no-go area as it would give vulnerable people ideas as to how they could end their life.

2. Photographs of my self-harm and/or self-harm scars…
Firstly, although my scars remind me of time, place and emotion, I am on the whole not proud of them in any way, shape or form. I find them ugly and repulsive and cannot stand looking at them myself, let alone putting them out there for the whole world to see.

I also find the pro-self-harm movement disgusting and do not wish to encourage others to do to themselves what I have done. So although I have written of (some) of the things I’ve done to myself, I will never share the results with the world visually for similar reasons to the above.

3. Lies
This was the first thing I decided on. After years of hiding, lying and showing different people, different sides of my personality, I was tired. I had lost everything and everyone I had ever cared about, so all of that work to protect myself from possible harm and abuse had all been for nothing. Thus, my blog was to be a truthful account of my life; the happiness, the pain, the torment, the everything!

4. Certain sexual predilections
In 2007, however much I wanted to, I decided not to write about certain sexual predilections. I didn’t want people finding out about this side of my personality because of the trauma Louise and Kathy had instilled in me following the abuse they’d hurled. I was ashamed of myself, embarrassed and genuinely believed that I was/am disgusting, wrong, repulsive, grotesque and pure evil

Admitting to mental health is one thing; admitting to that is something else entirely!

However, in recent months, I’ve reneged on this. With the abuse I received still eating away at me I realised the only way I could combat it (suggested years ago by Sammi) was to write about it. To delve into all those hidden nooks and crannies of my mind as I had done with self-harm, suicide, hallucinations and all the other things I’m scared to have people know about me.

5. Abuse
I will freely talk about the abuse I received and the damage that it wreaked on my life. But I will not abuse anyone on this blog, because I am all too aware of the pain, trauma and damage that someone can suffer when they’re the recipient of abuse.

6. My physical health…
Back in the day I decided not to write about my physical health because I wanted the focus to be on mental health and the stigma that exists around it, so I deliberately never went into detail surrounding the myriad of physical health problems I’ve had throughout my life (some rather serious!). Thus, aside from a few references and name-dropping, I’ve never written posts about how these issues affected and/or continue to effect my life.

But as physical health is so closely linked to mental health, I realise now that this was a mistake, and one I hope to rectify in the future.

7. Real names…
Now, I’ve always been honest about this from the very beginning. Aside from my name (which is real) every name, bar two, that appears on this blog is a pseudonym. The reason for this is simple. It’s all well and good me taking to the internet to embarrass myself and destroy any chance of ever being employed, educated or in friendships and relationships again (damn discrimination!) but to publicly name the people I love and connect them to my insane life would be grotesquely unfair on them and all the wonderful things they deserve.

The simple truth is, lying to my partners, friends and family destroyed my life. If I’d been honest about the problems I was having there is a good chance someone could have helped me access the care, support and treatment I needed to stabilise long before homelessness and insanity claimed my soul. However, there is also a very good chance my fears of social suicide would have eventuated and I would have ended up in the exact same place I am now.

But, I have never regretted the too much information critique I often receive from readers of my blog. I would much rather try to draw people into the chaos and mess of mental health and homelessness than sugarcoat these illnesses so people can continue pretending they’re not as serious as they are.

This is just how I want to write; to challenge people, to confront people, to (possibly) change people in some small, positive way.

 


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Cognitive and Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Over the years, my posts have tended to be about:

(a) incidents of my life that have been analysed beyond all reason
(b) subjects that I have researched and/or lived through so I feel I have some understanding of them
or
(c) random insanity.

Rarely (if ever) do I sit down to write about something I know little about, mostly because doing so fills me with embarrassment over my ignorance and naivity, both of which play into my social anxiety quite severely.

However, for today’s entry in the Mental Health Month Challenge, I must battle through this anxiety to admit my lack of knowledge over two rather well known areas of psychotherapy as the prompt is: I don’t know much about this, but I’d like to.

So please forgive my lack of knowledge on these subjects :)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT-Triangle1

“Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapeutic approach that addresses dysfunctional emotions, maladaptive behaviors and cognitive processes and contents through a number of goal-oriented, explicit systematic procedures. The name refers to behavior therapy, cognitive therapy, and to therapy based upon a combination of basic behavioral and cognitive principles and research.” [from Wikipedia]

For several years, virtually every psychiatrist, therapist or counselor I saw raised the CBT acronym within a matter of minutes.

Of all the therapies available I’ve always believed that this could have the greatest impact in changing my thought patterns and emotional responses toward my anxiety, mood swings and self-hate, but given my nomadic homeless life, I’ve never been in a position to undertake the treatment nor fully research what this psychotherapeutic approach entails.

Now that I’m in a better position to push forward with my life, this is certainly something I’m planning to look into further, even if it means going it alone via books and/or the internet because of my distrust of psychiatrists and the mental health system.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

DBT Model Of The Mind

“Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a system of therapy originally developed by Marsha M. Linehan, a psychology researcher at the University of Washington, to treat people with borderline personality disorder (BPD).DBT combines standard cognitive-behavioral techniques for emotion regulation and reality-testing with concepts of distress tolerance, acceptance, and mindful awareness largely derived from Buddhist meditative practice. DBT may be the first therapy that has been experimentally demonstrated to be generally effective in treating BPD.A meta-analysis found that DBT reached moderate effects. Research indicates that DBT is also effective in treating patients who present varied symptoms and behaviors associated with spectrum mood disorders, including self-injury.Recent work suggests its effectiveness with sexual abuse survivorsand chemical dependency.” [from Wikipedia]

Although I know even less about DBT than CBT, over the last few years I’ve been hearing more and more about this psychotherapy and the possible gains it can bring to someone’s life.

Unlike CBT this has never been raised by any of the MH professionals I’ve seen, which leads me to question just how beneficial it would be in helping me deal with the issues I face? Thus, I would need a lot more information about this subject (and talk to a professional about it’s possible benefits) before I put any thought into whether this could be helpful or not, but it’s certainly something I’m interested in pursuing in my quest to become a better version of myself.

So if anyone wiser than I has any links or book recommendations for someone wishing to research CBT or DBT, please let me know in the comments section, Twitter or email as your help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you kindly :)

 

 


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The weirdest thing about my mental health

When I came to sit down to write today’s installment of the Mental Health Month Challenge, I seriously considered using one of the two ‘get out of posting’ cards that accompany this challenge. But using one so early would be admitting to failure.

Thus, I contemplated using one of the bonus prompts that can be substituted for the daily prompts throughout the month. But as I am obsessed with challenging myself, I decided to tackle the original prompt however I could.

In all the years I’ve suffered from mental health issues, I’ve never once considered my illnesses to be ‘weird’. So I turned to Google for inspiration and used the three definitions of the word ‘weird’ this search provided as a springboard; the adjective, the noun and the verb.

cats

~ Tea Party ~

Adjective: suggesting something supernatural; uncanny

A few months ago I woke up, walked into my lounge room and flicked on the radio. After pouring myself a glass of water and muttering some sarcastic comment at the newsreader I turned around and promptly dropped the glass. After carefully navigating my bare feet through the broken shards I wandered across the room and knelt beside the sofa, slowly poking my right index finger at the white china mug that had surprised me so.

This mug was precariously perched on the arm of the sofa, full to the brim of un-drunk tea and I have no idea how it got there. Granted, I could have made it to drink before promptly forgetting about it, but that is very unlike me. What is even more unlike me is preparing three mugs of tea and leaving them in random locations around the lounge room.

For in addition to the one on the arm of the sofa were two on the table that houses my computer, both positioned next to chairs. Upon further investigation at this random oddity, I discovered a fourth mug sitting on the carpet beside the cushion of the sofa I usually sit on. Only this fourth mug had been emptied, leaving a few specks of sugar and the tell-tale stain of tea at the base of the cup.  

Immediately I decided someone had broken into my house in the middle of the night, made several cups of tea (left three of them un-drunk) and then left without taking any of the meager possessions I owned. However, this sounded completely insane! So I set about trying to figure out why there were four mugs of tea placed in strategic positions around my lounge room.

The only conclusion I could draw was that at some point in the evening I had made hot beverages for my hallucinations, who had sat in various positions around the room whilst (based on other conversations I do remember) we had engaged in a rather eclectic, heated debate.

A conclusion that was confirmed a little later that day when my neighbour expressed surprise that my ‘party guests’ had been able to arrive and leave without him noticing.

It’s not the hallucinations I consider weird about this. I’ve heard voices on and off since I was a teenager and since the breakdown they’ve grown in number, intensity and volume to the point it’s rare for me to go a single day without hearing them in some form or another.

What I do find weird about this particular incident is that I have no memory of the evening in question, only the discovery of the mugs the following morning and the hours of piecing together the possibilities of how they got there.

Along with several other periods of my life, to have no memory of something where alcohol was not involved is disconcerting and confusing. It frustrates me that I don’t know what I was doing and no matter how much I want to know, I’m completely aware that I probably never will.

However, this incident pales in comparison to the moment I woke up in a foreign park with absolutely no memory of how I got there…but that’s an exceedingly weird (and unsettling) story for another time!

~ Did I hear that right? ~

Noun: A person’s destiny

“Do you have children?”

“No,”

The psychiatrist leaned forward in his chair as he prepared to ask another question. “Do you have children?”

“Um. No, I just said that,”

“I see.” This time he leaned back in his chair. “You need to be honest with me. Do you have any children?”

Exasperated, I said. “No. I do not have any children.”

“So you don’t have any children. Anywhere in the world?”

“No. I do not have any children. Anywhere in the world. Or the universe for that matter.”

“Good. You don’t deserve to anyway,”

“I’m sorry?”

“It’s not important. Now…” And he swiftly moved on to something else, leaving me wondering whether or not I had correctly heard my psychiatrist inform me I didn’t deserve to have children.

Certainly, there have been many odd incidents (such as the ‘Tea Party’ above) that I have no explanation of, but I’ve never considered my illness weird. Over the years I’ve come to accept that it’s just a part of who I am and all I can do is learn to live with the occasional moments of quiet insanity that come with it.

What I do find weird is the reactions other people give to my mental illnesses. The endless stream of stigmatizing discrimination that I, and all affected with mental illness, have to endure throughout our lives. A discrimination that denotes, because of my illness, my destiny is to suffer a long and lonely life.

The above is just one such example.

Now, it’s entirely possible he meant something completely different when he said “You don’t deserve to anyway”, but coming so soon after asking the same question about children four times, many people would associate what I didn’t deserve to mean children.

Followers of this blog will know that I have always wanted to have a family; that this desire has been one of the constant driving forces of my life. Since my breakdown in 2007 I’ve spent a long time coming to terms with the fact I’ll never have this opportunity, that this lifelong dream has been lost to the winds of time.

But to be told I don’t deserve children (by a mental health professional no less) is not only deeply discriminatory but intensely damaging to someone with fragile self-esteem and anxiety.

Mental illness is no different from physical illness. Certainly, there is a large school of thought that believes mental health problems are genetic, especially when it comes to illnesses such as bipolar, depression or schizophrenia. But there are many that believe illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer are also linked to genetics – and I struggle to believe that anyone would be told they didn’t deserve children if they were unfortunate enough to suffer from any of these illnesses.

Note: For the record, that sentence was not a hallucination.

~ “People like you deserve to be alone forever,” ~

Verb: Induce a sense of disbelief or alienation in someone

“I can’t have anything to do with anything who self-harms,”

“I can’t talk to you when you’re like this. Call me when you’re better,”

“I can’t be around you when you’re depressed because it just makes me depressed. Don’t you realize it’s contagious? Just cheer up?”

“No-one wants to be friends with someone like you,”

“Don’t you get it? Everyone hates you. No-one thinks of you as a friend. They hate you,”

“You only attempted suicide to get sympathy. You just didn’t realize that no-one cares enough about you to actually care,”

“People like you deserve to be alone forever,”

“No-one wants to be friends with someone as weak and worthless as you,”

These are just a selection of the things I’ve been told (by real people) throughout my life concerning how I deserve to be alone because of my mental illnesses. And in fear of sounding like a broken record, I do consider this discrimination weird because I personally cannot understand the difference between a mental health problem and a physical one, other than the latter can be seen (and believed) whilst the former remains invisible (and therefore easy to classify as imaginary).

Like I said before, I’ve never considered my illnesses weird. But I do frequently consider the actions of others to be weird. Just because someone suffers from an illness that cannot be seen does not mean they deserve to live an alienated and lonely life.

Aside from the hallucinations, irrational anxiety and occasional black outs, there is nothing weird about my illness.

The only thing that is weird is the continuing stigma against those with a mental health problem.

weird

 

 


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Why I write about my (mental) health…

When I began writing this blog back in 2007 I wrote almost exclusively about mental health. Throughout those hundreds of posts describing my experiences of self-harm, depression, suicidal ideation and bipolar I would deliberately slip in numerous references to my life, loves and passion.

Since returning to the blogosphere earlier this year I have found my blog has shifted toward hundreds of posts describing my life, loves and passions with numerous references to my self-harm, depression, suicidal ideation and bipolar slipped in almost as an afterthought.

This week saw the National Mental Health Commission release its first Report Card on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention in Australia; the conclusion being ‘Australia leads the world in Mental Health policy, but fails in its delivery’.

More than ever we need to talk about mental health in Australia. More than ever we need to start taking action to improve the lives of those dealing with mental illness in Australia.

So this month I’m shifting my focus back to my original mission statement and writing about mental health. The prompts I will be using for each daily post come from the National Health Blog Month initiative that ran throughout November 2012, a challenge that I unfortunately missed.

But it is never too late to raise awareness of mental health.

Mental Health

Day 1: Why I write about my (mental) health…

Every now and then I write about my pet peeves. This usually amounts to fun little posts of how I want to issue lines to anyone who mistakes your with you’re or spank the bottom of anyone who calls the show Dr Who instead of its proper title Doctor Who. 

But I have never written about one of my biggest pet peeves.

A pet peeve so large that it threatens to unleash my inner-Hulk whenever I see it – which is often. In fact, I saw it yesterday splashed all over Twitter. I saw it last week in the pages of a newspaper. I see it everywhere I go and, seriously, I am tired of it. I am completely and utterly over it, so I’m just going to say it…

…there is nothing brave about talking about mental illness!

Or rather – before I am inundated with a stream of emails, comments and vitriol – it shouldn’t be considered brave to talk about mental illness; it should be considered normal.

When someone talks about their cold, are they considered brave? If someone writes a blog post about their daily insulin injections are they considered brave? On the occasions when a man takes to the interwebs to share their man-flu infection with the world, are they considered brave? No. They are considered normal or, in the case of the latter, a whiny little moron (and rightly so!)

Depression is an illness. Bipolar Affective Disorder is an illness. Schizophrenia is an illness. Borderline Personality Disorder is an illness.

Everything that falls under the diagnostic criteria of a mental illness – from self-harm to anorexia to anxiety – is, what a surprise, an illness. So why is it always considered brave of someone to talk about their mental health when someone discussing a bronchial infection, isn’t?

Because no matter how much we want to convince ourselves that the stigma against mental illness has been eroded, it hasn’t.

It is as strong as ever.

People dealing with a mental illness are still discriminated against when it comes to employment, education, friendship, relationships and accommodation. We have to hide our illnesses from all and sundry with clever online pseudonyms or direct face-to-face lying because we know we will not be accepted if the person across the table from us knows that half an hour ago we were self-harming in the shower.

For the last five years, on and off, I have written about my life. I have shared immensely personal information that I’d never told my partners or family, let alone friends or random strangers in the street and I have written it under my own name because it would have been hypocritical to do it any other way. But through it all, and despite the discrimination that has arisen from it, I have never considered myself ‘brave’ for what I do on this blog.

Stupid, maybe. But never brave.

I write about mental health because I dream of the day when it is considered normal to do so. Where I can freely admit to being bipolar in a job interview and still be in with a chance of getting that job. Where I can talk to potential girlfriends about my struggles with self-harm without fear they’re going to incorrectly classify me as a loser and do a runner. Where I can happily discuss my anxiety, body image issues or bipolar mood swings without people hurling barbed insults or direct abuse in my direction.

I write about mental health because the only way for this to happen is by turning the discussion of these issues into something normal instead of some heroic act of bravery.

Disclaimer:
Okay, before anyone comes down on me for being insensitive or not taking into account how difficult it is to discuss these issues in public…I get it. I really do! Do you think it was easy for me to write about my suicide attempts? To admit to deliberately  igniting a box of matches in my hand or hacking off layers of skin because I irrationally hate my body? It wasn’t, none of it was. Which is why I have absolute respect and admiration for the army of people who have the courage to talk about their mental health problems with the wider world.

I have not written this post to attack anyone or belittle the strength we show when writing about mental illness. I have written it because I long to see the day when writing about, discussing or sharing stories of mental health is seen to be as normal as chatting to someone about the boil on your foot or the frog in your throat. A world where the stigma against mental illness and its related discrimination is a shameful moment of Earth’s past.