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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Day 17: If you could get rid of your mental illness(es)…would you?

The 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge continues, with:
Day 17: If you could get rid of your mental illness(es), would you?

If I could rid myself of the scourge of Social Anxiety Disorder, I would. I despise the ever-present feelings of worthlessness, the constant feelings of inadequacy and the omnipresent hopelessness. I am tired of experiencing anxiety attacks from merely walking down the street or being crippled by panic attacks because a shop assistant looks in my direction and says ‘hello’. I abhor everything about this illness and the damage it has caused to my life.

I dream of being confident, of showing the world who I am, of being able to banter and enjoy conversations without fearing that the person before me is judging every minute detail of my life, physical appearance and mental state. I hate that this illness prevents me from showcasing my awesomeness to the world and abhor the loneliness that has filled my life because of it.

Yes, without question, I would rid myself of Social Anxiety Disorder if I could.

The same would go for PTSD and the ever-present nightmares, flashbacks and re-visitations that this illness causes.

But my Bipolar…well, that’s a different story that has already been told:

Regardless of the pain, devastation, confusion and chaos that bipolar has inflicted on my life, it is still a part of who I am, and I part of it. We are one, my bipolar and I. Removing it would be like removing my eyes, my hands, my fingers or toes. It would be like erasing memories from my mind, eradicating my passions or expunging my innate playful kinkiness. I would still be breathing, still be walking and roaming the earth a living human being, but I wouldn’t be me.

~ from ‘Try Looking At It Through My Eyes: A Great Big Magical Button!


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Day 15: How has your life been affected by your illness(es)?

Day fifteen of the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge asks:
How has your life been affected by your illness(es)?

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Bipolar

Even though it’s considered one of the ‘big’ mental illnesses, the impact Bipolar has had on my life is negligible, mainly because by the time I was diagnosed my life had already been reduced to rubble courtesy of social anxiety, an abusive relationship and being ostracized from my social group.

Certainly, it did have an impact in the rebuilding of my life; the hypomanic episode I experienced in mid-2008 caused all manner of problems (from employment to relationships) and the constant fluctuations in mood were a large part of my homelessness and subsequent battle to escape it.

However, it also caused good things to happen to my life, notably the meeting of and subsequent friendship with Samantha, my increased creativity and a greater understanding of who I am and what I’m capable of.

PTSD

This has had a major impact on my life, especially as it feeds into the anxiety I experience.

One cause of my PTSD was the emotionally abusive relationship I was a victim of; as a result, I fear making new friendships as I don’t want to find myself in a similar situation of constant criticism, abuse and destructive comments. Similarly, the PTSD I experience as a result of the assault and rape has made me fearful of men, cost me years of restorative sleep and granted me a complex surrounding all things sexual.

As a result, I tend to isolate myself and withhold from any situations which could cause the PTSD to flare up (i.e. nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks etc.). This ultimately renders my life rather bland and unrewarding, which feeds into my unsatisfied state and, in turn, my anxieties.

Social Anxiety

A few prompts ago I wrote the blog equivalent of a ‘clip show’. For the social anxiety component of today’s prompt I revisit this style, for many moons ago I wrote a series of posts that looked at how social anxiety has effected various areas of my life.

I began by looking at how social anxiety has effected my ability to comment on websites:

Now, I cannot comment on newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites without suffering a major panic attack. The reason being quite simple; throughout my emotionally abusive relationship I was frequently insulted, criticized, attacked and publicly humiliated for sharing my opinions, so now, I fear a reprisal of the pain these incidents caused.

~ from Social Anxiety and its effect on sharing my opinion

Before continuing through its effect on my body image:

When the issue of body image arises people tend to think it the exclusive domain of the female gender; the sexualisation of young girls, the teenager struggling to accept herself, the woman instantly disbelieving her boyfriend the moment he says ‘no’ to her doubts over various body parts.

Rarely is body image seen as a problem that men struggle with. Over the years I’ve been in Australia, a country obsessed with appearance and physical shape, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard comments like: “men don’t care what they look like”, “men don’t see that they’re morbidly obese, they just believe themselves to be perfect” or “men don’t worry about how chubby their arse is”.

The simple fact is, some do; and I’m one of them.

~ from Social Anxiety and its effect on body image

How it destroyed my educational career:

A large part of my anxiety is an intense fear of being evaluated or scrutinized by other people to the point that I will completely remove myself from the situation in order to keep myself safe and avoid any humiliation, judgment or criticism. It dawned on me that if I were to do English Lit, my writing would be subject to scrutiny by the rest of the class and presentations would need to be made that I just couldn’t do. The latter – obviously – being a pre-requisite for Theatre Studies. So in order to protect myself, I opted for two subjects where I could hide myself from the critical gaze of the class behind a text-book or keyboard.

~ from Social Anxiety and its effect on Education

And, most importantly, the effect my social anxiety has had on building relationships:

As with many areas of social anxiety, this inability to communicate often translates to those who don’t understand as a form of snobbish behavior, with many people deciding I thought myself ‘too good’ to be talking to such ‘peasants’ – when in reality it’s the exact opposite. My anxiety drives me to believe I’m not good enough as a person to be around such vibrant, wonderful individuals.

~ from Social Anxiety and its effect on Building Relationships

Needless to say, the damage caused by Social Anxiety Disorder has been catastrophic!


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Day 02: How do you feel about your diagnosis?

Due to extremely high anxiety blocking most of my writing skills, the only way I could find to write an answer to today’s prompt in the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge is through freewriting. As such, please forgive any spelling or grammatical errors that may appear, for they are merely part and parcel of this style of writing.

For the record, the post was freewritten between 5:59pm and 6:14pm.

Day 2: How do you feel about your diagnosis?

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My feelings toward my diagnosis have changed in the six years since it first came. Back then I was lost; lost to my breakdown, lost to my suicidal desires, lost to self-harm and lost to myself. I had no idea who I was, what had been happening to me or what would become of me. All the years I’d spent hiding my mental health problems from everyone around me had got me nowhere. I was nothing; a broken man with nothing to live for.

But then came the diagnoses. Someone had named what that broken part of me was. It allowed me to look on my life with a different set of eyes and offered me a reason (not an excuse) for my behavior. In essence, my diagnoses provided me a solace, a hope for a future. After all, it’s easier to fight something you can see than something that is invisible.

But things change.

Six years later, I honestly don’t give two hoots about any of my diagnoses; whether it is the bipolar, PTSD or social anxiety. In fact, the only times I ever name them outside of this blog are when I’m completing forms or visiting a new GP or medical professional.

Over the years I’ve learned that they are merely labels. The solace they once gave has become obsolete, lost to a better understanding of myself and a firm belief that no label can define me. The only thing that can provide me with hope for the future is myself, not a DSM approved name-tag.


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Day 01: What are your mental illness(es)?

To commemorate Mental Health Month, I have decided to undertake the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Blog Challenge, as conceived by Marci on her blog Marci, Mental Health & More. Although headway has most certainly been made in mental health awareness over the last six years, we still have an awful long way to go before mental illness is accepted as freely as physical illness. So feel free to join in with the challenge and help raise awareness of mental illness! :)

Day 1: What is/are your mental illness(es)? Explain it a little.

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Image (c) Toby Allen | Source: zestydoesthings

One of the most frustrating things a psychiatrist ever said to me was that “it wasn’t possible to suffer from multiple diagnoses” because “how [was he] supposed to know what to treat?”

I vehemently disagree with this opinion, not just because my diagnosis is three-fold, but because you can suffer from (and be treated for) multiple physical illnesses at the same time (e.g. bronchitis, diabetes, asthma) so why not mental illnesses?

My diagnoses are Bipolar Affective Disorder (Type 1), PTSD and Social Anxiety Disorder.

From reading that list, many people would assume that Bipolar (given its one of the ‘big mental illnesses’) would be the one that causes me the most distress. It isn’t a pleasant experience having your moods oscillate from the highs of mania to the crippling lows of suicidal depression, nor is it pleasant being discriminated against because people have lesser understanding of this condition than other mental illnesses, such as depression. But for me, the one that causes the most problems, the one I would happily take a ‘magic pill’ to eradicate, is social anxiety disorder.

This condition has destroyed my life in ways even I struggle to comprehend, and yet, because of opinions similar to those of the psychiatrist I quoted above, it is the mental illness I’ve received the least amount of help to manage.

Most see the words bipolar affective disorder and decide this is the only issue that needs treating. They don’t see the damage that social anxiety has caused; the inability to connect to people, the frequent (and debilitating) panic attacks, the frustration of self-imposed isolation because I cannot venture outside in fear of what people may say (or think) about me.

Couple this with my PTSD, and the inherent distrust of humanity that has resulted from the traumatic incidents that caused this condition, it makes ‘living’ feel almost impossible to achieve. Instead, the combination of my three illnesses forces me to ‘survive’ or, at best, ‘exist’.

This is why opinions such as the one dictated to me by that psychiatrist frustrate me so. Is it so difficult to understand that someone can and does suffer from multiple mental illnesses? That these illnesses interact with each other; feeding into each other to double or triple the pain that someone is in?

And is it so difficult to just treat the person rather than focus on the label(s) that have been branded onto his or her head?

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Through My Eyes: A letter to my younger self

Way back in May of this year, before my untimely relapse, I began working through a blog challenge devised by Bold Kevin over on Voices of Glass. His Try Looking At It Through My Eyes challenge is one of the only ones I know that focuses on mental health and each prompt is thought-provoking, challenging and fun.

Thus, now that I am blogging again, I’d like to pick up where I left off with the fifth day of the challenge: Write a letter to your younger self telling them the things you think they will need to know about when they are diagnosed with your condition.

~ A(nother) letter to my younger self ~

letterwriting

Note: whenever I write unsent letters on my blog I do so as a stream of consciousness because, c’mon, who edits letters that they send to people!? Thus, this post was written between 16:28 and 16:52 on the 22 August 2013. Please excuse any spelling or grammatical errors contained within, for they are part and parcel of stream of consciousness writing.

22 August 2013

Dear Addy,

If the delivery-company I’ve decided to employ does their job correctly, you’ve just had this letter hand delivered to you by a rain-soaked courier. I’m sure you get the reference. What you probably didn’t understand was why the courier was rain-soaked considering it’s a rather fine and balmy evening where you are…well, in a valiant effort to kick-start this letter with a smile I instructed the company to pour a bucket of cold water over the individual moments prior to approaching you. The way I see it, if you’re gonna go with a pop-culture reference, you may as well do it properly.

Anyway, now we’ve got that wee explanation out the way, let’s get down to business shall we. In order to prove my credentials (that I am in fact you from the future…again!) I shall now tell you exactly what you’re doing: you are currently sitting on the East Beach in Port Fairy, a small knife in your trembling right hand, a mobile phone in your left. You’ve just read a text message about insects and are beginning to question your decision to end your life tonight. Am I right?

Of course I am.

I’m you, remember.

Now, put that fucking knife down you imbecilic moron and pay attention to me for a moment. What you do afterwards has no bearing on me whatsoever, just so long as you listen to what I have to say.

A little over eighteen months from now you are going to be diagnosed with an illness called Bipolar Affective Disorder. This diagnosis is going to turn your life upside down and I’m here to prepare you so the transition is as painless as humanly possible.

Now, I know you’re familiar with the term bipolar, but I’m going to start with the basics…okay? Good. From here-on-in I shall be referring to bipolar as manic depression. Why? Well, contrary to the PC do-gooders, you will come to realize that you much prefer the phrase Manic Depression to describe what you suffer from. Unlike Bipolar, it is far more descriptive of the illness and will one-day resonate with you far more than Bipolar ever will.

The reason for this is that many people (namely arsehole psychiatrists) will stick permanent labels on you with their trusty DSM approved label makers, regardless of whether you agree with them or not. It will take you many – many – years after that first psychiatrist to realize that you and only you can decide what label (if any) applies to you…so you may as well learn that lesson now.

Got it?

Good.

Now, Bipolar Affective Disorder is a mental illness in the ‘mood disorder’ classification of illnesses; which means that your moods are – for want of a better term – fucked. This deep suicidal depression you’ve just slipped into courtesy of Louise’s betrayal, your ludicrous workaholic mentality and years of untreated mental health problems is part of the bipolar cycle. Soon enough (I won’t tell you when as it will take all the fun out of it) you’re gonna experience something called mania. You’ve been there before, without realizing it, but when you experience it next it’s going to be like nothing you’ve ever experienced in your life. To whet your appetite, imagine yourself as an immortal God where nothing you do, say, think or feel is wrong; where you are the most perfect individual to have ever existed and everyone (regardless of how cute and untouchable their posterior) thinks you are the bees-knees.

(Note to self – when you come to write this letter, please find a better phrase than ‘the bees-knees’!)

Of course, this is all bollocks. You are not an immortal God and regardless of how you perceive yourself during these periods, you are actually acting like a major twat. You just don’t realize it. Of course, nothing I do or so will stop you during these periods so…what the hey…go with it! Just enjoy it, because soon enough these depressive thoughts will creep back in and life will turn to hell in a hand basket once more.

That’s the nature of Manic Depression. This endless cycle between mania, depression and (what everyone forgets about) all the shit in between!

I won’t bore you with all the details, but there are gonna be days where you go from walking on rainbows one minute to frying in the depths of hell the next. There are going to be weeks where you believe that you can save the universe by hanging yourself. There will be days that erase themselves from your memory and months that you will never again be able to remember.

It’s a bastard, Manic Depression, and you’re gonna hate the crap out of it for destroying your life.

But what I need you to understand – what I need you to remember – is that it isn’t all shit.

Sure; there’s gonna be a crap-load of medication that will leave you zombified, more self-harm than you can possibly imagine, people (friends!) fleeing your life faster than you think possible and an entire society turning against you because you dared suffer from an illness that you have no control over.

But…your creativity will (as it always has) blossom. You will take some of the most beautiful photographs in the world, paint some of the most random (and obscure) images ever known to humankind and write like some possessed demon on steroids, churning out page after page of the most detailed, random, gut-wrenchingly honest collection of letters known to blogging kind.

Because of your illness you will meet some of the most beautiful souls that you will ever know. People who will put a smile on your face with one word in an email, people who (for the first time in your life) understand you completely and – even if you find this hard to believe right now – never judge you, not even for that!

You will blossom, Andrew, because of your diagnosis – but only if you let it.

So let it.

Once you get through all the confusion, pain, agony, torment, loneliness and social hate.

Once you get through all the labels, meds, misdiagnoses, re-diagnoses and psychiatric bullshit.

Once you stop getting hung up on a word and start getting hung up on yourself, you’ll not give two shits about being diagnosed bipolar because – even when the entire world disagrees, which it will at times – it’s just another small stitch in the multi-coloured tapestry that is you.

And everyone who doesn’t see that isn’t worth knowing.

So, stand the fuck up, throw the knife in the trash and phone Ms. I’m-sending-you-a-text-message-about-ants because she can help you a helluva lot more than I can right now.

Just remember one thing: one day you are going to be fine, Andrew, one day you will be happy again.

I’m just not going to tell you when, because…spoilers!

Love and hugs always,
Addy xox

~◊~

If you’ve missed any of the previous posts in this challenge, you can read them here:

| Day 01 | Day 02 | Day 03 | Day 04 |

Also, you can find previous letters I have written to myself here:

| A letter to my younger self | A postcard to my younger self | A letter to my future self |


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Teaser Tuesday: You don’t have to be famous to have Manic Depression

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

Anyone can play along with Teaser Tuesdays! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• Be careful not to include spoilers!
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

◊~~~◊~~~◊

I first read this book in the early months of 2008, not long after I received a re-diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder. It has long been one of my favorite books on the subject of manic depression and mental illness in general.

You Don’t Have to be Famous to Have Manic Depression
by Jeremy Thomas and Dr. Tony Hughes (with a foreword by Stephen Fry)

You Don't Have to be Famous to Have Manic Depression (Jeremy Thomas & Tony Hughes)

◊~~~◊~~~◊

So, what’s everyone else reading at the moment? Go on, give us a tease…