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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Pancreatitis, pneumonia and abdominal pain, oh my!

It’s been nearly seven months since my last post and sometimes I don’t know where the time goes, for I certainly didn’t plan on being absent for so long. Last year (2014) was a nightmare for me from beginning to end; one elongated depressive episode that sapped my strength and rendered me incapable of performing even the most basic of tasks. I was lost from the first minute after New Year to the last tick of the clock twelve months later, and the only solace had been the hope that 2015 would prove to be “better”, for want of a better word.

Alas, this year has got off to just as bad a start, albeit for totally different reasons.

In early January I began to feel sick; abdominal pains, aching limbs, nausea, vomiting, the list of symptoms were as uncomfortable as they were endless. Then, a few weeks later, the abdominal pain became so severe I was forced to do something I have never in my life done before – I called an ambulance. At 3am, I crawled in agony from my bed and dialled 000 in order to find someone who was willing to help me with my physical torment. Fortunately, the ambulance was quick to arrive and even quicker to inject morphine. A short trip to the hospital later I found myself being connected with all manner of tubes, catheters and heart monitoring equipment. Another short trip to a different hospital later (my local hospital is on the small side) and I found myself in the critical care unit being diagnosed with acute pancreatitis; an illness I was told “could prove fatal”.

All in all I was in hospital for a little over two and a half weeks and every second of it tested every coping mechanism I have. The pancreatitis, I was told, had been caused by the mood stabilisers I was taking, so they were immediately stopped, causing for a little over a week all manner of paranoia and delusional thinking. At one point I believed the operators of the CT scanning equipment planned to murder me. At another point, I believed the hospital was under attack by a cursed Egyptian Princess and only I could save it. Fun times.

Because of my experiences in boarding houses when I was homeless I can’t deal with sharing my space, so being in a ward with three other gentlemen and only a thin curtain between me and them proved highly anxiety inducing; cue anxiety attacks, panic attacks and long sleepless nights listening to what can only be described as a symphony of snoring.

Eventually – after a brief bout of pneumonia which I picked up in hospital – I was fortunately discharged with a bag of pain meds and sent on my merry way. You would have thought this would have been the end of it. That my weeks in hospital would have fixed any physical ailments plaguing my body, but alas, over four weeks later I continue to suffer through an assortment of symptoms that no-one can explain.

The abdominal pain has continued but, rather than being related to the pancreatitis (which I’m assured has healed), is focussed on my stomach. Thus, I have spent much of the last month doubled over in pain whilst simultaneously vomiting and being unable to stomach virtually all foodstuffs. To say I am “over it” would be an understatement. I miss having energy. I miss being motivated. I miss my appetite. I miss feeling ‘healthy’.

Tomorrow, I am going in for another scan (which I’m told will take an hour and a half) in the hope that it will shed some light on whatever is causing my body to rebel in such a painful, uncomfortable and yucky way. For, nearly three months into the year that I hoped would be “better” than 2014, I’m still unable to enjoy a single minute of it.


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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.