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 20: Where do you get your support?

The 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge continues, with:
Day 20: Where do you get your support?

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The support I receive for my mental health issues comes from four different fronts:

#1: Gateway Community Health

Gateway Community Health is a local community health hub, containing GPs, pathology, counseling (for drug, alcohol and/or gambling problems) and youth and indigenous services.

The mental health aspect of Gateway Community Health is called GT House, a psychosocial rehabilitation day program that provides group and individual psychosocial rehabilitation and recovery services.

Through GT House I undertake a number of social and support groups as well as receive one-to-one support through my keyworker, one of the few human beings that I trust. The fact they operate using a recovery-orientated approach – meaning they view me as a whole person rather than individual labels – has been a massive help to me, given my dislike of the psychiatric approach to mental illness.

In the seven years since my breakdown, Gateway (and GT House) are the only organisation that have offered me any support with my mental health and trauma, and without them I’d probably be dead.

#2: My parents

Although they live on the other side of the world, my parents have done their absolute best to support me over the last seven years. It hasn’t been easy – especially when I’ve been trapped in manic, hypomanic and depressive episodes – but they’ve always done all they can, despite the problems they face in their own lives.

#3: My people

Some may consider my people part of the problems I face, and certainly this is the case in respect to Vanessa and Shay, but since February of this year Meadhbh has become one of my primary supports.; she soothes me when I’m upset, distracts me when I’m overwhelmed with self-harm urges, rewards me when I do something awesome and chastises me when I’m pushing myself too hard. Audrey, also, has become a friendly voice in my ear over the last few months.

I also count the Hearing Voices Support Group I attend as part of this front, as my collaboration with them has not only enabled me to understand my voices better, but helped me forge the relationships mentioned above.

#4: Myself

I’m not sure how contentious this front will be, but having spent the better part of the last seven years completely on my own, I’ve learnt that sometimes the only person you can rely on is yourself.

Over the years, I’ve developed a number of strict coping strategies (both healthy and unhealthy) that help me manage my sometimes distressing and uncomfortable mood swings, anxiety and PTSD.

Without this determination (and self-compassion), it is doubtful I would be writing this today.

And as I type these words, it occurs to me that if I had answered this post last October, it would include only items #2 and #4; which is an indication of just how much things have changed (and how hard I’ve worked) over the last twelve months! :)


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Day 16: Out and proud (of my mental illnesses)

Woohoo! With this short and sweet post (possibly the shortest in my blog’s history!) I’ve finally caught up with the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge. Day sixteen asks how many people are you ‘out’ to with your mental illness(es)?

The answer is: everyone!

Given that everyone I know in real-life work for mental health organisations and everyone I’ve met online have been met through this blog, there’s no point hiding my mental illness(es).

And to be honest, I don’t want to hide them.

It shouldn’t matter that I have Bipolar, PTSD and Social Anxiety Disorder. None of these things define who I am because they are all just parts of me that anyone who matters should accept without question.

I spent nearly fifteen years of my life hiding my mental illness(es) from family, friends and girlfriends and all this brought me was more pain, chaos and emotional frustration.

I’m happy to be ‘out’ because I’m tired of lying to the world about who I am.

Because, quite frankly, I shouldn’t have to! :)


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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 14: Have you ever experienced stigma?

Day fourteen of the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge asks:
Have you ever experienced stigma?

Time to Change image

“Mental illness is a figment of your imagination. It doesn’t exist.
You’re just being lazy, selfish and not working hard enough,”

~ My abuser, 2007 ~

This quote has reverberated around my mind since it was first spoken to me during a phone conversation six and a half years ago. Her words caused me to bottle up my emotions and hide my experiences for fear of other people judging me in the same light.

This is what stigma does; it forces someone into hiding, it forces them to question who they are and, ultimately, isolates them from a society that could (and should) help them.

Being someone with mental health problems…

Several months after I began writing this blog, in mid-2008, I began noticing that people were finding my blog by typing variations of my name into search engines. At the time I found it odd that people were doing this, especially as they were typing in my middle name (or middle initial), which very few people know. It didn’t take long for me to work out (with the added benefit of being able to see the ISP location of the people searching) that these searches were being conducted by people I had recently interviewed for a job with. Needless to say, I never heard from these people again.

Granted, I have no firm evidence for the above, but the coincidences involved are too great for me to ignore. Just as my friends fleeing as fast as they could shortly after my breakdown, never to be heard from again, is too coincidental for me to chalk up to chance.

However much I dislike being the recipient of this sort of stigma, when it comes to mental health, the one aspect I cannot abide is when mental health services discriminate against someone with mental health problems. To be told that I should have understood the complexities of my sister’s mental health problems (when I was twelve) and that it was my fault that I allowed it affect me the way I did; to be told that there was nothing wrong with me; to be told that I was fabricating everything that ever happened to me; to be told I was play-acting mental illness in order to escape homelessness; to be told that I didn’t deserve to have children; all of which made me feel far more alone and isolated than my abuser’s comment ever did.

Being someone who was homeless…

During my time on the streets I was refused service from several shops and food outlets who informed me they didn’t serve “people like me”, I was continually judged as being an alcoholic, a drug user and a criminal, simply because I didn’t have anywhere to live and people would spit on me, pour coffee over me or attack me whenever they felt, as if me being homeless gave them the license to treat a human being in such a despicable manner.

And, much like with the mental health services outlined above, there were even homeless services – organisations whose sole aim was to help those less fortunate – who discriminated against me; refusing me assistance because I didn’t share the same religious values that they did or because I wouldn’t admit to my (non-existant) drug problem.

Being someone who was a victim of abuse…

As a male victim of abuse, the level of victim blame mentality I’ve received over the years is epic; friends who informed me I deserved to be treated the way my abuser treated me, housemates who told me I deserved to be beaten for being the victim of an abusive relationship and more individuals than I can count (both personal and professional) who will not believe I was sexually assaulted, simply because I am a male victim of multiple forms of abuse.


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Days 12 & 13: Diagnostic criteria (and all that jazz!)

bipolar

Bipolar | Unknown Artist (found on Google Images)

For the last few days – ever since Friday’s anniversary of 2007’s major suicide attempt – I have been feeling very flat and out of sorts. Focusing has been incredibly difficult and feeling anything other than ‘over it’ has been just as difficult to attain.

In fact, meh seems to have been my mood of choice today, with barely a millisecond spent outside of this most horrible and despicable of emotions. However, I’m fighting the urge to curl up in a ball and cry so as to answer a couple of the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge, which has been getting away from me of late.

The prompts I’m answering in this post are days 12 and 13, which ask:

  • Day 12: What do you think about your diagnosis in general? 
  • Day 13: If you know the criteria of your illness(es) which ones do you think you meet?

The Diagnostic Criteria for Bipolar (Type I)

Diagnostic criteria for Bipolar I Disorder, Most Recent Episode Unspecified

A. Criteria, except for duration, are currently (or most recently) met for a Manic, a Hypomanic, a Mixed, or a Major Depressive Episode.

B. There has previously been at least one Manic Episode or Mixed Episode.

C. The mood symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

D. The mood episodes in Criteria A and B are not better accounted for by Schizoaffective Disorder and are not superimposed on Schizophrenia, Schizophreniform Disorder, Delusional Disorder, or Psychotic Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.

E. The mood symptoms in Criteria A and B are not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication, or other treatment) or a general medical condition (e.g., hyperthyroidism).

There are several different variations of the diagnostic criteria for Bipolar Affective Disorder, which depend on whether the most recent mood has been manic, hypomanic, depressed, etc, but I have chosen to reproduce the criteria for ‘most recent episode unspecified’ as it was ultimately the one that was used to diagnose me.

My original diagnosis occurred in late 2007, several months after a manic episode, shortly after a depressive episode and in the midst of a hypomanic episode – this meant that A and B were covered. Given I was homeless and socially isolated at the time, criteria C was covered, especially considering I was barely functioning on a day-to-day basis whilst E –given my relative dislike of prohibited substances and alcohol – was easily checked.

The only item that was really debated at the time (and for years afterwards) was D, as I also showed signs and symptoms for a variety of other illnesses, including Schizophrenia and Borderline Personality Disorder.

Today, my most common symptoms are depressive and hypomanic periods. In fact, to my knowledge (and I’m pretty sure I’d be aware after if not during the fact) I haven’t experienced full on mania since 2008, although given the months of lost time in 2010, there is a debate amongst my support workers that I was manic during this time.

How do I feel about my diagnosis?

My major issue has been the constant ‘tweaking’ of my diagnosis, and with it, the support I received. Over the years I have been un-diagnosed, mis-diagnosed and re-diagnosed so many times that I’m surprised I’m still alive.

From the immediate cessation of my medication (lithium, which I’d been taking for a few months), being told I wasn’t bipolar but unspecified personality disorder (after just seven minutes in the psychiatrists company) to being told that there was nothing wrong with me mere hours after a suicide attempt.

All treatment like this did was further alienate me not only from society but the mental health system and myself. It made it impossible for me to trust psychiatrists and receive the treatment I knew I needed to manage my condition. In fact, it has been nearly two years since I allowed myself to be part of the mental health system, purely as a result of the shocking treatment I’ve received from psychiatrists over the years.

Since excluding myself in this manner, I have found peace with the Bipolar diagnosis. I am properly medicated (despite my dislike of medication) and have numerous coping strategies in place for the occasional violent mood swing that occurs.

Whether as a result of removing myself from the psychiatric profession or just something that has happened organically, I realise now that I’m more than my label. I know that it makes me unique, because no-one’s mental illness presents in exactly the same fashion, and that this label will never be all that I am.

I am so much more.

Wow, dragging that post out of me was hard work! Hopefully this mood will not last much longer…but until then, I’m gonna go curl up in that ball I mentioned! Have a wonderful day/night everyone! :)


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Day 11: What is the worst thing about your mental illness?

pretendtobenormal

The last prompt in the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge asked what is the best thing in regard to your mental illness, so it stands to reason that today it asks what is the worst thing in regard to your mental illness?

Although there are many ‘worst’ things about having a mental illness – the stereotyping, the psychiatric system, the stigma, the violent mood swings, the suicidal urges – far and away top of the list would be that it stops me from ‘being me’, or rather, it stops the real world from seeing the real me.

It’s not that they just see my ‘label’; it’s that the illnesses I suffer from (especially the social anxiety) prevent me from being me when I’m around other people. It forces me into becoming an obscenely quiet (borderline mute) individual who’ll sit there like an imbecile until someone says something to him, at which point he’ll mumble something incoherently and return to his stoic stupor when the attention is (thankfully) off him.

When I’m around other people, I’m just the ‘overweight’, ‘fugly’ guy who has no friends and nothing intelligible to say.

No-one witnesses my passions, my complication, my intricacies. They don’t see the random awesomeness that lurks beneath the surface because – whether a result of illness or trauma – I’m too terrified to let anyone see the ‘real’ Addy.

Certainly, there are times throughout this blog where my real self has shone through, and even the odd occasion when I’ve been able to show this to the world, but they are in no way as frequent or noticeable as I would like.

Perhaps one day I’ll find a coping strategy that manages my negative self-view and lack of confidence, because this is far and away the worst thing in regard to my mental illness.