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.

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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.

Prognosis? Invisible.

I have now been in hospital for the best part of two months. I have seen a lot of patients come and go in that time. I have seen a lot of health care professionals aid these patients with various aspects of their health. There is an obvious and overwhelming gap in the treatment of mental illnesses, versus physical ones. The priority is also always placed on the side of the physical, and never the mental.

I have had first hand experience with this, as I am lucky enough to get frequent nose bleeds. Ironically, they often occur at times when I am distressed or anxious. However, being a physical health issue, a referral was made to an Ear Nose and Throat Surgeon, who came to the ward to assess me, and my leaky beak.

At this point, I feel it would be prudent of me to let you all in on a piece of information quite relevant to this situation. One of my most significant triggers in terms of anxiety and panic, is a doctor with an implement, that s/he wants to poke or prod me with. Particularly sharp ones.

In this instance, I was waiting for the Surgeon, whilst three training doctors quizzed me about every detail regarding my nose; when did it start? How long does it take to stop? Do you have high blood pressure? Do you have allergies? Are you using cocaine?

There was no discussion at all about whether I was comfortable with what was happening. There was no discussion with me about treatment options. There was no real discussion at all. The surgeon simply waltzed in, asked his training team ‘what we were looking at’ (a very anxious me, is the answer to that)… and casually proceeded to stick a burning stick of metal up my nostril and cauterise my ‘wound’.

My eyes watered. My heart raced. My palms became sweaty. My vision blurred.

Unfortunately for me, the procedure was unsuccessful and actually resulted in exacerbating the problem. And so, I was told another round with this oh-so-empathetic doctor was coming my way. Only this time, I would have to go to him, in the Emergency Department.

I am not sure anywhere on this planet makes me as anxious as a hospital Emergency Department. I am on high alert from the moment I set foot in the waiting room. Any and all hospital personnel are now potential threats in my mind. I am trying not to breathe for fear of catching some sort of hideous gastro cross swine flu hybrid. There are so many people. There is so much noise. I can’t sit still. Every single sense is heightened. I am completely overwhelmed and bordering on panic. I feel nauseated and light-headed.

And this is before anyone has even laid a finger on me.

When I am finally ushered through to a treatment room, I am met with the same three audience members, and the surgeon. I am asked to lay down. I am asked to tilt my neck back. I am asked if he can ‘take a look’.

I am not positive, and please, correct me if I am wrong – but I am fairly confident that ‘taking a look’, does not involve a rather large needle being injected into my face. It also does not involve an electric machine burning my skin until I can taste it in the back of my throat. It does not involve being sprayed with anaesthetic.

Regardless… none of these things needed to be done without trying to first manage my other symptoms. I was having a panic attack on the treatment room bed, and it was as if it was invisible; I was shaking. I was hyperventilating. I was groping the edges of the bed so hard my knuckles were an impressive shade of white.

Here I was in hospital for an anxiety disorder, which is clearly documented to be heavily triggered by medical procedures… and yet, this illness had not been considered at all. Managing the situation holistically was not even attempted.

The loud and clear message for me?

My mental health was not taken seriously.

I walked back on my own to the Mental Health Unit. I was in tears. My heart was pounding. I was sweating, and I felt as though I couldn’t breathe.

In this day and age, I feel like this is simply unacceptable. How can you have a Mental Health Unit at a hospital, and yet the illnesses it is treating be considered irrelevant by any treating team member outside its walls? There is so much research. There is so much evidence. Surely the people that we are entrusting with our health and wellbeing should be well-versed and educated on the current thinking in the medical field. It is almost like an intentional ignorance. I whole heartedly agree with Nicole Ricketts, when she suggests that,  “With all the information out there, with so many people affected, you not taking this seriously says more about you than me.”

This got me thinking. If mental health isn’t even taken seriously by our health professionals… then how are we expecting that it will be accepted and treated as a legitimate medical condition by anyone else? How many people are having to prove how sick they are? How many suicides could have been prevented? How many lives have we lost simply because someone was too functional to be considered unwell? Health care professional or not, I think it is so important to remember that “not all wounds are visible… we need to walk gently in the lives of others.” – Unknown

I think the term ‘invisible illness’ makes such a powerful statement. Not about the illness. Because today, in that treatment room, there was absolutely nothing invisible about it. No… the term ‘invisible illness’ makes a statement about how mental illness is perceived.

So I challenge you.

Make some noise.

For yourself. For your loved ones. For your friends. For your family.

Don’t accept a world where they are forced to suffer in silence… where they are invisible. No one deserves a prognosis like that.

#makesomenoise #mentalhealthawareness #stopthestigma

Imperfect Earlobes

I was on social media earlier in the week, and found myself caught up in a discussion about ear-piercing. A mother was asking what the earliest age a child could be to get their ears pierced. This question came with a disclaimer – that she was not interested in any information regarding whether or not she should pierce the child’s ears, because “it was (her) baby” to do with what she wanted.

My first reaction to the post was actually curiosity – how early did piercers agree to shove metal rods through a tiny human’s earlobe? My second reaction was an overwhelming desire to be the voice for this tiny human, because this mother was asking how early she could pierce this tiny, perfect, little person, expose her to infection, cause her un-consented pain; and for what? To make her ‘pretty’?

This got me thinking – I know that this is not an uncommon procedure for young girls in our society. I don’t think mothers are ‘bad mums’ if they have their daughter’s ears pierced. I believe it is almost seen as a bonding experience for mother and child. But what, I wonder, is the message we are sending to these children, at such a young age, about their worth? About their value? About the fact that these risks are worth it so that they can be more aesthetically pleasing? This procedure for girls, is giving them a loud and clear message, that they are not good enough. They require enhancing.

I entered into the debate with my unsolicited views, and was met with hostile responses; but the one that pricked my ears (or eyes) the most, was a comment suggesting that the risk of infection was actually lower below 3 years old (I assume because 3+ children are out and about, getting dirty, playing in mud, having fun, being children). You’re piercing an almost newborn baby’s ears, for the sole purpose of making her ‘prettier’, and you are justifying that, by saying the risk of infection (which is only there in the first place because you put it there) is lower? Quite baffled, and feeling quite sorry for this perfect little baby with her perfect little earlobes, I began pondering this huge issue of societal standards for feminine beauty, and it’s impact on the mental health of girls and women.

Whilst I completely agree that there are unrealistic expectations driven by society for men, I raise the issue in regards to women in this instance, largely because, well, I am one – so this issue affects me directly… but also because I have first hand experience of just how damaging it can be. I did, however, find this twitter interaction an interesting take on the situation;

The question?

“How do boys look good without makeup?”

And that is so true, isn’t it? I look at my husband, with his electric blue eyes, dark lashes, and five o’clock shadow dusting his jaw, and I am almost annoyed with him. How does he look that good without makeup??

The answer?

“Because society hasn’t told boys that they look bad without it.”

It is extraordinary that this issue is such a long-standing one; it is not new. We, as a society, have known for decades that the unrealistic beauty expectations in the media have adverse impacts on the mental health and self-confidence of girls and women. Marilyn Munroe articulated it quite aptly when she addressed “all the girls that think [they are] ugly because [they are] not a size zero,” reassuring us, that they are “the beautiful one. It is society who is ugly.”

Of course, society has not learnt from the overwhelming stack of research that has piled up over the years. In fact… it has gotten far worse. We now have an estimated one in four women suffering from eating disorders; myself included.  And the problem is not only in magazines and on TV; which can be closed and switched off. This bombardment of information telling us we are not good enough is literally, everywhere. It is on our phones, in social media, in advertising… A subtle undercurrent, at every age, on every level, all the time.

Thanks to social media, we don’t even need corporate media to be shoving this down our throats; we are doing it ourselves, to each other. We add filters. We nip, and tuck, and present a false, enhanced, version of ourselves. Of our lives. Of our children. I go online and I scroll past 10 girls ‘live’, doing their makeup, giving other girls ‘tips’ on how to be better versions of themselves. The ironic thing about that, is that these girls are all too often school aged… and are ‘live’, during school hours… with a following of other school aged girls glued to their ‘life lesson’. When did education stop being about academic achievement, and start being about lip liner and contouring? And what will this mean for the mental health of these girls as they grow older and are faced with the unfortunate truth that beauty fades?

It could be argued that the problem was society’s standards… Now, the problem is that we have accepted them. And it is making us sick.

We are prepared to risk infection for our infants to ensure they meet this standard. We are prepared to find “Pretty”, an appropriate answer to the question, “What would you like to be when you grow up?” We are prepared to let our teenage girls go on diets, when their bodies need fuel the most. We are prepared to go and get injections into our faces to prevent aging. We are prepared to throw up the food we eat – the food we need for our bodies to function. We are prepared to distort the images in our mirrors.

I would argue that every single woman in our society has some level of body dysmorphia. How could she not when she is bombarded again, and again, and again with information telling her that she is not good enough.

And not only is she not good enough.

She never will be.

If our society sustains its current standards of what ‘beauty’ looks like… that ‘she’, that tiny baby with her perfect earlobes… she will never in her life, win the fight against her own reflection. And I for one, am so sad about that.

A Deafening Silence

I am currently sitting on my hospital bed, listening to the sounds of my neighbour have a dangerously heated argument.

I could not tell you who she is arguing with.

I have not seen them.

To me, they are not real.

I can only begin to imagine how completely frightening it would be, for this monster inside my head, to make a full blown debut onto a three dimensional screen that only I can see. For Him to be, for all intents and purposes, real.

This got me thinking… this ‘invisible’ illness… how invisible is it?

I think there is often a huge pressure placed on people with so called, ‘silent illnesses’ to prove how sick they are. But the more I look around, the more I realise that, whilst these illnesses are ‘mental health’ related; they, too, just like any other illness have obvious and often debilitating physical symptoms.

It could be argued that the most ‘silent’ factor is, in fact, society. “It is an odd paradox that a society, which can now speak openly and unabashedly about topics that were once unspeakable, still remains largely silent when it comes to mental illness.” – Glenn Close

I have certainly noticed a divide in the treatment team during my admission. Whilst some health care professionals are supportive, empathetic, inclusive, and respectful, there are those who are quite openly dismissive, punitive, and patronising. As if, somehow having a chemical imbalance in your brain, automatically equates to you being some sort of simpleton.

I saw a wonderful quote by Lonely Lotus the other day, that read, “if mental illness could be seen on a sufferer, maybe society wouldn’t just say ‘get over it'”. However, I would challenge this quote after what I have seen, and after what I have been through on my own journey. This illness can be seen on the sufferer. I have scars; scars that have nearly killed me. I have rashes, nausea, weight loss, insomnia, cold sweats, blood noses, and bruises. I lose consciousness regularly.

 

If you can look at me, and draw the conclusion that I am well; then I fear that it is either you, who are a smidge ‘simple’, or a quick trip to Specsavers may be in order.

Yet, on so many levels, this illness is not taken seriously. Don’t get me wrong; since my admission I have had the absolute privilege of being looked after by some absolutely stellar nurses, lovely support staff, and an amazing psychiatric/therapy team. But there are also definitely those who clearly either do not fully understand mental health, fail to have/show the appropriate empathy, or are just outright condescending to patients.

The maintenance, or lack of, in the unit also sends an undercurrent message that our illness isn’t a priority on any level. You can walk into most of the bedrooms and literally see the pain that has lived in there. From the scratches across mirrors, where people have attempted to erase their own reflections, to the scraping at walls, where people have tried to claw their way out of their own skin. It is, in all honesty, enough to make someone depressed in some senses of the word.

 

We are not ‘crazy’. We are sick. And we are not our illness. I have played cards with the most beautiful girl, with the most awful rope burns around her neck. I eat dinner, and make jokes, and laugh with ladies that have bandages covering both wrists. I have watched a patient with hallucinations, create the most incredible artwork. And anyone who knows me, knows I love a good debate; and that guy with the uncontrollable anxiety? He knows how to hold his own in an argument.

We are fighting illnesses. Just like every other patient, on every other ward. Our illnesses are visible. You just have to take a second to look. And on that note, I have to say I agree with this twitter user; “I don’t think suicidal people get enough credit for not acting on their suicidal thoughts. This is for all of you who have survived the urge to end your life, either coming out the other side, or still fighting to stay alive. I have noticed that when someone has a physical illness, such as cancer, and they come out the other side or into remission, they are able to celebrate surviving. I think the survivors of being suicidal should celebrate too.”

It is not, in my opinion, about making a choice. It is not about the sufferer being ‘selfish’ if they don’t win that fight. It is about battling an illness… and losing. Just like any other death, from any other illness. Sad; yes. Absolutely. Gut wrenching. And I would not wish the pain of losing a family member to any illness, on anyone.

I think what I have learnt over the past two months in particular, after meeting so many incredible people, is best articulated by John F. Greden M. D;

“We need so much more openness, transparency and understanding that it’s OK to talk about depression as an illness. It’s not a weakness. It’s not a moral shortcoming. It’s not something people brought on themselves.”

So, to all of you fighting – you’re illness is not you.

And to those of you surviving – I will crack open a celebratory Ensure Plus in your honour.