Working on my tan

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As most of you know, 2017 was not my year. Or maybe it was, depending on your perspective. I am alive to see the beginning of 2018… I survived 2017… so I guess that counts for something.

It is only because of a stellar group of support people – my champions, as I have previously referred to them, and an absolutely brilliant treating team, that I am able to sit here and reflect. That I am able to sit here and write. That I am able, at all.

My experience and treatment has impacted hugely on my worldview. It has re-defined what I consider important, and what I don’t. It has helped me begin to discover my own self-worth… the idea that my feelings matter. That I matter. The idea that it is ok, and even more than that, necessary, to put me first.

I have spent the majority of my adult life making decisions based on how I think they will impact other people. I have tried to predict the outcome for others, or how they will view me, and adjusted my behaviour accordingly. For anyone considering this style of engagement, I would strongly recommend you reconsider. You can’t, and never will, get it right. You can’t control how people respond. You can’t please everybody. And no matter how hard you try, the waves will be made, the boat will rock, and you will end up with some kind of Titanic situation on your hands. The ship is underwater, and you are still trying to bale water out of the hull with a sieve. You will fail, every time… and before long, you will believe whole heartedly that, not only did you fail, but that you are the fail.

Oh, and just in case you were at all unsure… you are the Jack in this scenario.

Every time.

For some absurd reason… you offer up every life raft to someone else, and Rose still hasn’t developed enough spatial awareness to realise you would also fit on that floating door.

Don’t worry… I am a ‘Jack’ too.

I don’t set clear boundaries… or, in fact, any boundaries. I allow people to treat me however they would like – whether that be kindly, or otherwise. And if it is the ‘otherwise’, I justify that treatment – ‘they were just emotional… they don’t realise how much that meant to me… they will feel even worse if I say something…’

I take the hits, excuse them, and invite more, without even realising I am doing it. And this was, and is, my flaw. People may have done things that have upset me… but it is me who has effectively said, ‘that’s ok’.

My psychologist has told me on more than one occasion that I say ‘sorry’ too much. It is only now, after months and months of treatment, that I think I may agree. The other day, I actually apologised to my husband, for apologising. I think when you start getting double barrelled apologising action, it’s time to start listening to the people you are paying to help you reset your thinking patterns.

So for the first time, in… well… ever, I did it. I made a series of decisions that valued me. I decided that I did have boundaries. I decided my happiness did matter, and it was OK to voice how I was feeling.

Of course, it was never going to be an overly popular move. I have always engaged in the world around me in the most submissive way I can. I have allowed, condoned, and accepted everything, from everyone. And now, all of a sudden… I have said no.

I have said how I feel.

I have listened to, and valued my emotions.

My behaviour has been dictated by my own wellbeing, rather than everyone else’s.

And it felt… empowering.

In the lead up to this delightful revelation, and indeed, revolution, I was terrified. Terrified of upsetting someone. Terrified of letting someone down. Terrified of the impact on my relationship with my family, my friends, my clients… the list goes on. Interestingly, that impact, in the majority of cases, has not been negative, which has been a pleasant, and extremely unexpected surprise.

It has influenced how I work, how I plan my day, how I spend my time… it is amazing what can change in your life when you realise you matter.

Having said that, I don’t even know if I have realised it yet… my concept of self, of my worth, of my ability to value add to anyone, or anything… is very, very, limited. If it exists at all.

But there is something about meeting up with someone every week (even if you are paying them!), who reinforces repeatedly, that you matter.

Not that you matter more.

Just that you matter.

I might not be fully convinced just yet… but I am proud of the progress I have made. And somehow, I feel more confident. I feel like I have upgraded from Gradual Summer Glow, to Bondi Sands – even I am starting to think that I am one bronzed babe.

I matter. And you do too.

At least that is what I, and my psychologist, are going to keep telling myself.

Fake it till you make it, as they say.

Except with tanning… fake away. Because realistically, ‘making it’ means that you end up all brown, and leathery, and wrinkled. Like a brown elephant bum. And I don’t know about you, but for me, being an elephant bum is the opposite of ‘making it’ #slipslopslap

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Love: put a Ring on It

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I haven’t been online in a while… in the blogging sense. I have, instead, been absolutely (happily) overwhelmed with my other life – which is work. I, unlike an overwhelming percent of the population, actually love my job. Maybe it is because I created it from the ground up, I am my own boss, and I do most of my hours chilling in my pajama pants and socks… or maybe it’s because I get to photograph people in love every weekend, go to a party, dance behind my lenses. Either way, Wedding Season is in full swing, and I am swamped.

I feel like I need to take a break from my snapping and editing, because the wedding game as we know it is about to explode with a giant, fabulous, rainbow coloured, ball of glitter – and I for one, CAN NOT WAIT. I can’t even begin to imagine the level of fabulous that these love parties are going to showcase, and even more than that, I feel so privileged to be one of few people who will be there to witness, and capture, that moment in time when history changes for this couple. The moment in time that the world says, you are here, you are in love, and we, all of us, we recognise, and we celebrate you. That moment when this newly married couple share their first kiss. Or the moment when someone once a ‘partner’, is introduced as a ‘husband’, or a ‘wife’. What an absolutely magical part of history to be part of – and better than being part of it – what an honour to be one of the ones to capture it.

Even better than Australia finally catching up, and realising that equality is kind of a big deal… is that they have done it without watering down our discrimination laws. I have blogged before on why it is not your ‘right’ as a business owner to discriminate against anyone, gay, straight, or otherwise… and I am firmly of the view that this bill, with any alteration to the discriminatory aspects, would have been one step forward with ten steps back.

I think the issue, is that people are forgetting that discrimination in any form against someone based on sexual orientation is already illegal. It isn’t being added to the list (having said that, if it wasn’t already it illegal, it definitely should be added to the list). You are not losing any current ‘right’. It is already not you right, despite with whatever religion, belief system, or otherwise, that you rest your faith, to discriminate. Granting another group of people their basic civil rights, does not mean you lose any of yours. It doesn’t work like that… it’s not a pie.

So no. It is not ‘ok’ to say No. It is discriminatory. It is denying a minority equal rights. And soon, thank heavens, it will be illegal.

I cannot even begin to imagine the appalling things some of our nation have had to endure thanks to this debate about their lives, and their loves. I am ashamed that I have had to be part of a process that even makes me answer a question synonymous with, ‘should the law be rectified to provide everyone in Australia equal rights?’

But I did. I do.

We all do.

And we won. Love won.

So to everyone, no matter who you love, if ya like it – put a ring on it!

And if you need a fabulous photographer, don’t forget about your fav blogger 😉

http://www.nicolaannedesigns.com.au

 

 

 

The Stigma of Remission

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Today, I am in remission.

I know that ‘remission’ is not a word often associated with mental health. But I think it should be.

Remission is defined as, “a temporary diminution of the severity of disease or pain.”

I am still on medication. I see a therapist and GP every week. I see a case manager every fortnight. I see a psychiatrist every month… But the pain? The severity of the overwhelming sense of hopelessness and worthlessness that accompanies depression? It is temporarily diminished. And for today, I feel the most fabulous I have felt in 12 months.

Even if you argued for some absurd reason that the medical definition of remission could not be applied to mental illness, then perhaps we can simply utilise the British definition, that is, “the reduction of a prison sentence.”

Equally as applicable.

But whilst I may be, and feel, on the road to recovery once more… I am acutely aware that the battle is far from won. I don’t want to take medication forever. I want to upskill my mind to be able to better cope with my illness. I want to regain control over my body. I want to develop my own brand of military operation, to fight this war within me.

My world has not changed. Not really.

What has changed, is that those spikes around me that penetrated so deep before, have been numbed. They are still there. I just don’t feel them so much, thanks to a colourful cocktail of drugs.

But what happens the day I stop taking the medication? What happens the day the anaesthetic wears off and I am to face the pain in full force once more?
I am terrified of that day.

And I am not only terrified for myself. I am terrified for my little family, for my husband, for my sister… I am terrified that I will once again become a burden, a lead weight, in their world. I am terrified that I will once again, be flooded with guilt, because this illness bears a burden of responsibility… a burden of healthy, until proven ill. And even then… it seems that the words ‘medical condition’ become synonymous with ‘measured choice’.

I saw a new doctor the other day. I have been referred from the intake team at the outpatient clinic, to a longer care team, and have subsequently changed case manager and psychiatrist. The appointment, I assumed, would be between this new psych and myself, however, I walked in to a room with four spectators. Two students, the new case manager, the new psych, and me.

The word ‘ashamed’ would be an incredible understatement when considering how I view my own mental health and current situation. In the space of two years, I have lost a decade long career. One of which I was proud of, and that made up such a huge portion of my sense of identity. I have been hospitalised for my illness. Whilst I am glad to have shared my story, and firmly believe that mental illness is in desperate need of awareness, I am not immune to the stigma associated with depression and suicide. I am not unaffected by the hushed comments, sideways glances, and subsequent shame. I have pushed away the people closest to me, to protect them from the toxic state of this ailment.

I am sure you can appreciate my reluctance to disclose intimate details regarding my condition to this audience of four. I found myself stifled by stigma.

Stigma that I wasn’t even sure existed.

Stigma that had been so prevalent, for so long, in the arena of mental health, that it had almost now become a symptom in itself. A perception of how I was viewed in the world. How I was defined.

My ‘remission’, the remission of other patients who are recovering and winning their fight, would always be at risk of being out shadowed by the lingering aroma of shame.

This battle is not an easy one. Not for anyone involved in the fight. It is long, and drawn out. It is isolating, and cold. It is frightening, and there is a very real risk of this illness killing it’s victim.

We have to start celebrating the survivors. We have to start celebrating those in remission. We have to make sure that every person donning the armour and marching into battle knows that they have the full support of the medical community, and we need to remove the self-administered symptom of stigma, and subsequent guilt, shame, and handicap.

Because the third, and final definition of ‘remission’?

“The cancellation of a debt, penalty, or disadvantage.”

I am declaring my debt cleared. I am declaring my sentence over. I am declaring my pain diminished.

I am, as of right now, in remission.

Voting No? Read this First.

I am taking time out from my usual mental health awareness posts, to discuss the proposed legislation changes in Australia in regards to marriage. This is a topic about which I am extremely passionate, and I believe that we need to consider some of the facts regarding this issue. For the purposes of this discussion, I have predominantly referred to Western Australian state law, however these same scenarios and concepts could easily be applied to any state in the Commonwealth.

There are four purposes and intents of legislation.

These are – establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protection of rights.

I would argue that the legislation change in relation to marriage pertains to the last two; resolving complaints and protecting rights.

The argument has been made that gay couples already have all the ‘rights’ associated with marriage, under the de facto status. Marriage and de facto are not the same. It might not impact much for a same sex couple in day to day life, but in any event where the relationship status impacts the outcome (such as a separation, or death of one spouse), a de facto couple needs to prove their relationship status. Under Western Australian law, the following factors are taken into account when ‘deciding’ the validity of a de facto relationship:

– the length of the relationship
– whether you live together and for how long
– whether there is a sexual relationship
– the financial dependency between the couple
– the ownership of property
– how committed you are to shared life
– whether you care for or support children
– the public aspects of your relationship

A married couple, on the other hand, does not need to do this. They can simply produce a certificate which verifies their relationship status.

The consequence of this, is that a Court could decide that the de facto couple do not meet the requirements and state that they are not de facto, stripping them of any rights associated with this status. There is no such risk for a married couple.

One of the concerns raised in regards to marriage equality has been around surrogacy and the possible increase of children being removed from biological parents.

In WA the Surrogacy Act 2008, states that an eligible couple have to be of the opposite sex, AND there has to be a medical reason that is preventing the woman going through with a pregnancy. This piece of legislation is entirely separate to legislation related to marriage, and any legislation change to the institute of marriage, does not in any way impact the legislation regarding surrogacy. That is separate debate for a separate time.

I agree that any changes to the Surrogacy Act in any state need to be carefully considered and discussed prior to the legislation being changed. But that is a completely separate issue and is not at all associated with any changes made to legislation pertaining to marriage.

Another issue regarding children that has been made, is that marriage is an institute, created for the purpose of creating a family – for procreation. Therefore, gay marriage does not fit this, given that gay couples cannot reproduce without aid. However, by this logic, any couple that enters into marriage without the intention or ability of reproducing, also does not fit – my marriage included. Is my heterosexual marriage now invalid? Of course not. Marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. It is not dependant on any requirement that children become part of that union, in fact, even children are excluded from the union by definition. Marriage is a relationship status under the law, between two people only, and the exclusion of individuals to this status based on sexual orientation, is discriminatory.

Some religious groups have raised the concern that legalising gay marriage will take marriage as a religious concept, away from the church.

However marriage has already been separated from the church. Non-religious couples are able to opt to use a celebrant, and have no religious aspects included in their marriage ceremony. Couples are able to attend the registry office and legally become married without any involvement or association with the church. Introducing marriage equality does not impact this pre-existing situation at all. Further to this, Section 116 of the Australian Constitution specifies that the Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth. Therefore, not only is marriage, as a legal union, already separated from the church, it is unconstitutional for religious reasons to be used to impose specific requirements in legislation.

Further to this, I would like to draw attention to the lack of reference to the issue of homosexuality in the New Testament. There are verses that may relate to the issue; however, have also been interpreted as referring to prostitution and pederasty, rather than a loving relationship between two people. However, if you are looking for ‘love’? You’ll find it referenced over 250 times. Given this, even if religious observance was able to be imposed through legislation, it would be difficult to suggest that Christianity (which is grounded in Jesus’ teachings) does, without any chance of doubt, have an opposition.

Some wedding vendors are voicing a concern that their ‘freedom’ and ‘rights’ will be impacted, if marriage equality is introduced, because they will be ‘forced’, against their conscience, to provide services and products to gay couples. In regards to the ‘rights’ and ‘freedoms’ of businesses to discriminate against an individual based on sexual orientation, this is already outlawed. The Equal Opportunity Act 1984 WA states that businesses are not allowed to discriminate, refuse service or provision of products, on the grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation etc. You can already be taken to Court if you are found to be refusing service or provide products to customers based on sexual orientation.

The core function of a business is to produce a profit in exchange for a product or service. That is your right as a business owner. Being able to discriminate against the customers or clients that approach your business is not your right. And is already illegal. Your rights are not being impinged in any way, and they certainly aren’t changing or decreasing if we legislate in favour of marriage equality.

So I ask you, if you are planning to vote ‘No’… what are you actually against?

The platform for debate and campaigning that this plebiscite is facilitating is enormous. Let’s think carefully about what we share, post, and preach. It is going to become, if it hasn’t already, an extremely difficult time for some, already vulnerable, members of the LGBTIQ community and their families. For them, this is not just a ‘debate’, it is a fight to justify their validity and value in the world. And the outcome is a statement about their lives, and their future.

Have an opinion if you feel it necessary – but make it an educated one.

Cocktails Over Compassion

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Today, I am sad to be part of this world.

I am sad to be part of a world where the suffering of others has become a second, or third, or fourth priority – if a priority at all.

Where has our humanity gone? Where is our empathy and concern for our fellow man?

Recently, I took a trip to Indonesia. On the way from the airport to my hotel, I stared out my window… I soaked up the beauty of the greenery, the incredibly decorated architecture, the hustle and bustle of the highway. I looked at this country… but I didn’t really see it.

As Western travellers to Indonesia,  we get in taxis and pay a few dollars for a trip that would have cost us double, triple, even quadruple, that price at home. We drive past the poverty, the poor living conditions, the stray animals that are covered in fleas and malnourished. We drive past the pollution and hunger, and we are dropped off at an establishment that is a paradise, built for us, amongst this corrupt and poverty stricken country.

We use it as a playground. We bring millions of dollars here, and then, instead of showing any shred of humanity and helping these communities that need what we have so much more than we do, we spend it on ourselves. We buy cocktails, and food, and stay in hotels that boast facilities far beyond our needs. We haggle to the death for cheaper prices, and don’t even seem to realise that we are bartering over a dollar or two. To us, an insignificant amount… to them, that is a meal. That is clothing. That is medical aid. That is rent.

Don’t get me wrong… I have loved sitting by the hotel pool. I have loved relaxing and sipping a cocktail. I have loved getting massages and eating delicious food. I am not void of guilt when it comes to this issue. But the more I opened my eyes and really looked… The more I researched and learned about the Indonesian culture and standard of living, the more I felt sad.

Sad that we think this is OK.

What are we thinking?

Why aren’t we helping?

When I raised my thoughts with another traveler… their response was that the locals were ‘manipulative’ and bartering is part of their culture, insinuating that it would be rude not to try and knock the price down. They also made the comment that we can’t help ‘all of them’, so there was no point helping just one. And finally, the concern raised, was that if we start paying ‘them’ more, then prices will inflate, and ‘they’ will always expect that kind of money. Are we really justifying our appalling behaviour, by using the protection of costs to us as the reason?

Maybe I am being manipulated by the mother on the street asking for money for her child. Maybe I am crazy for telling my taxi driver to keep the change from 100,000RP for a 30,000RP trip. Maybe it was silly of me to buy the staff at the hotel some donuts to share, and some cool drinks to have in the heat. Maybe I am ‘adding to the problem’ by keeping some chicken in a napkin and feeding a stray kitten on the side of the road.

Maybe.

But I no longer want to come here and behave how I, and so many others have.

And this is not an issue isolated to Indonesia… or to foreign travel in general. This is an issue that seems to have infected every aspect of our lives. We operate in the world in silos. We are desensitised to our own lack of empathy. We feel the need to defend our ‘right’ to live ‘how we want’, and disregard the impact on others.

I don’t think humans are meant to be islands. It takes a village, not just to raise a child, but to survive, and to thrive. We need each other. I think our isolation, and intentional ignorance impacts us in a bigger way that we realise. We have lost touch with how to be people. Depression, anxiety, bi-polar – some of the most prevalent mental illnesses, are often caused by our inability to be ourselves. By having to bury parts of who we are. By not being true to our nature. And we are all now susceptible… because we are living in ways that go against our instinctual drive… because we are living in ways that fail to tap into, or acknowledge, our inbuilt empathy, and benevolence.

We have misplaced our compassion.

We drive through those Indonesian streets, and we don’t even look. We don’t want to look.

And that is sad.

I, for one, think it is time we built back some humanity into the picture, and I find the scariest thing, is that too many of us didn’t even realise we lost it in the first place.

 

Pretty in Grey

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I have a five-year old niece.

She is absolutely stunning.

She has gorgeous blonde curls, big blue eyes, and the most gorgeous pink lips. These traits of hers are commented on often. By friends… by family… even by strangers.

“Aren’t you pretty?” they ask her. “Look at those gorgeous curls!”.

Pretty. Beautiful. Gorgeous.

These are the words that are used to praise and complement my niece, and these have always been the words to praise and compliment her – ever since she was born.

I also have a four-year old nephew.

He is equally as gorgeous. He has a cheeky grin, big brown eyes, and, funnily enough, he loves playing dress ups in pretty frocks – which look adorable on him.

Pretty? Beautiful? Gorgeous?

Absolutely.

But these words are never used to describe him.

“He’s so funny! What a developed sense of humour he has!”

“He is so polite!”

“He is a very intelligent little boy!”

Funny. Polite. Intelligent.

Unlike my niece, I could count on one hand the number of times my nephew’s appearance has been the attribute most praised. The qualities most valued in him are his fundamental personality traits. The strengths in his character.

And I, like most people, am guilty of being party to reinforcing this gender divide. I too, make these off-the-cuff comments to the girls and women in my life. And, as a woman, I have experienced it myself.

I am confident in one thing about myself.

Just one.

I am intelligent.

And I like to tell myself that I use that strength in a positive way.

But this strength that I have identified in myself, is not a valued trait by many others. I have too many ‘opinions’. I am too loud in voicing when I believe people are being wronged. I need to be quiet.

Instead of this strength being framed positively, I have more often been told I am ‘opinionated’. I am ‘argumentative’. I am ‘hard-headed’.

Opinionated. Argumentative. Hard-headed.

I have not been left feeling praised. I have been left feeling unattractive. I have been left feeling out-of-place. I have been left feeling like I do not fit in the hole shaped for me by the society in which I live. I have been left questioning what it is about me, that makes me so undesirable.

When I was in hospital receiving treatment for my mental health issues, I had an episode of self harming that required a number of stitches. It will leave a scar. It is a permanent addition to my appearance.

As this wound was being sutured, the nurse who was with me said, “You should get more tattoos instead of doing things like this – the boys at the beach much prefer the tattoos than the scars!”

And there it is. My mission, as a female, in life. To impress the ‘boys at the beach’ with my body.

I do not think that, as a society, we realise just how engrained and normalised this objectification of women has become. We do it without even thinking. We make comments without even considering the message they are sending. And it is so subtle that the impact of one comment is so minimal. But I am now thirty years old. I have heard these comments over and over and over. Repeated in every form of communication.

Pretty princesses.

Pretty dresses.

Pretty makeup.

Pretty hair.

Pretty magazines.

Pretty models.

Pretty. Pretty. Pretty.

And what happens when I don’t conform? What happens when I do modify my body, but in ways that I find attractive – not ‘the boys at the beach’?

What happens when my version of ‘pretty’, does not align with yours?

I know what happens. Because it has happened to me.

I am faced with a choice. I can either hide those pieces of myself that the world considers flawed, or, I can be unapologetically myself, and try not to let the waves of disapproval that follow wear me down.

In general, I go with option A.

I go with option A because I cannot bear the disapproval. Because I don’t want to disappoint. Because I don’t want to embarrass or upset anyone. I don’t want anyone looking at me like I am an oddity that does not belong. And I wonder just how many people, like me, choose option A. Because it is draining. It is dis-empowering. It is painful. And it makes people sick. How many people are experiencing mental health issues simply because being them is ‘unacceptable’?

The reality for every one of these people, is that option A is near on impossible. Who you are, what you feel, how you love… these are things you cannot change about yourself… you ooze them. You are brightly coloured in a world of grey. And that leaks out. It doesn’t matter how much you desperately try to cover it, it shows through – even if only a glimpse here and there. And you become an oddity by default. You are disapproved of anyway. You disappoint and embarrass regardless. You are looked at like you don’t belong… And it’s true. You don’t.

But, the question I have now come to ask myself, is whether that – not belonging – is such a bad thing?

Do I want to belong  in a society where a woman being pretty, is valued more highly than her being intelligent? Do I want to belong  in a society, where we reinforce this view to girls from the moment they are born? Do I want to belong in a society, where young boys are inadvertently taught that they should view girls as objects? Do I want to belong in a society where my self-worth is measured by how I am viewed by others, rather than how I view myself?

No. I don’t want to belong to that.

I’ll take opinionated, argumentative, and hard-headed. Because to me, those are words of the highest praise.

And yes, I still hide parts of myself, I am still scared of people discovering every piece of my misshapen self, and maybe I always will be… But those parts that leak out anyway? I hope that they leave rainbows in their wake, and I hope that my nieces, and nephews get glimpses of colour amongst the grey, and they grow up with the knowledge that the mould can be broken.

That the mould is flawed.

That the mould is the thing that is unattractive.

Not them.

Because no-one really looks pretty in grey.

Caution: Me.

Caution: Me.

“Why do you stay in prison when the door is wide open?” – Rumi

I have been out of hospital one week. One week of ‘freedom’… or so I’m told.

What I do have, is a new appreciation for anyone who has ever been held in any kind of institution for any length of time. Whilst you are locked away, the world does not wait for you. It doesn’t stop. And now that you’re out, it isn’t halting for that either. It isn’t waiting for you to find your feet or readjust.

Thrown in.

Swim.

…Or don’t… Either way.

I remember the day that I was downgraded to Category One whilst in hospital. For those of you unfamiliar with what that means – I was given the freedom to leave the ward for short times, whenever I wanted. I could venture out on my own. Go for walks. Get a coffee. Nip to the shops. And I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to step outside, not have to have someone with me constantly. Be alone – what a novel experience that was going to be.

Novel.

And terrifying.

I literally took two steps out the doors, before turning back and walking inside, where my nurse was waiting with words of encouragement. It is amazing how institutionalised you can become in such a small span of time. The world was foreign, and frightening. I was not confident of my capacity to navigate it anymore. Everything was so overwhelming. So bright. So loud.

Nevertheless, I built up some courage, and eventually my two steps turned into three steps, into four steps… into small outings on my own. But every time… every. single, time… I could scurry back to the safety of the of the unit. The walls of my room. Quiet. Dull. Calm.

Out here, in the real world… It is anything but.

Every sense is heightened. Colours are so bright. Movements are exaggerated. Noises are deafening. It is a sensory overload 100% of the time. It is both breathtakingly beautiful, and tremendously overpowering. And there is no ward to scurry back to. There is no quiet, dull, or calm hospital room.

There is just me; me against the big wide world.

Since discharge, I feel like my lack of hospitalisation has resulted in a perceived lack of illness. It is as if as soon as I walked out those doors… it was now up to me to prove I was sick. Or alternatively, to ‘pull myself together’ and ‘decide’ not to be.

It is heartbreaking to know that anything you do hurts the feelings of another – particularly someone close to you, like family, or friends.

But for some reason – when you have a mental health condition… people feel the need to let you know just how badly your illness affects your loved ones.

I do not know of any other illness, where the sufferer is held responsible for the heartbreak their illness inflicts on others; as if, somehow, they are able to control this. If someone close to me was diagnosed with cancer, for example, they would never ever be told that, because of their condition, they were ‘hard to deal with’, that it ‘wasn’t all about them’, that they needed to recognise that they were causing ‘heartache’ and ‘sleepless nights’ for others. They would never be left to feel like they needed to repay a debt, when they were offered support during their treatment or recovery.

I have been out of hospital one week… and I am still wearing my hospital identification arm band. I can’t bring myself to cut it off. I feel like I need it… I need it to prove that this was real for me. That I needed real help. That it is an actual condition… and I am not responsible for it. That I am recovering. That I need support… and that is OK.

And that support has come in waves, from so many people, in so many ways… and it has been amazing. I am so thankful for the people in my life. And I am so sorry that my illness has caused them heartache and pain. But I think it is so important for me, and for anyone who is suffering a mental health illness, to remember that it is not you causing that pain. You are not your illness. You do not need to constantly try and remould your shape to ensure that other people are not impacted by the fact that you are unwell. People do not need protecting from you.

“You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.” – Anonymous

I think there is a big void, between us, as a society, being aware of mental health conditions… and understanding and accepting mental conditions, as legitimate medical conditions.  I do not think the stigma associated with mental illness can be reduced until we are able to recognise that distinction.

I am not my Depression.

I am not my Anxiety.

I am not my illness. And neither are you.