Beautiful. Brilliant. Crazy.

When I asked my husband to describe me in three words… That was his response.

Beautiful.

Brilliant.

Crazy.

I think mental health awareness is often focused so heavily on the sufferer, that the people around them, the ones who are watching someone they love fall to pieces… they get somewhat bypassed in the chaos. They are the ones who are there to dry the tears. They envelope you in hugs. They carry you when you can no longer walk. They literally pick you up when you fall… but where are they, when we want to raise our voices and create awareness? Why are they not on the front page – the champions of mental health. Literally… saving the lives of the ones that they love. Helping them choose recovery. Again and again and again.

I went on a date tonight. A date with my champion. The man who has picked me up off the floor of the shower, and carried me in his arms. Dripping. Crying. Lost. The man who has held me until I have fallen asleep, after I’ve woken up at 2:00am kicking and screaming with night terrors. The man who has caught me more times than I can count, when my head gives up and I pass out from anxiety.

I asked him tonight what it is like living with me. What it is like living with Him. What it is like living with us – my depression… my anxiety… and me.

“Most of the time,” he responded, “I’m just worried.” He described that as the overwhelming emotion associated with loving someone who suffers from mental illness.

This was closely followed by “lonely”.

Physically, I am there with him. I cuddle and kiss him. I laugh with him. I cry with him. But my head is chaos. It is too full and busy trying to silence the storm, that he often feels I struggle to be by his side mentally. He has supported me every step of the way in my journey. I feel like he is so proud of how far I have come… But I know that there are elements of what I have been through that are hard for him to share. Embarrassing. Overwhelming. Complicated.

I asked him what he thought of my mind.

“It’s fucked,” was his first response.

I found that a rather amusing addition to the otherwise orthodox conversation.

“Your mind is absolutely lacking in reason and logic in the face of small tasks… but at the same time… it’s brilliant. Complicated… but brilliant.”

Struggling.

Striving.

Learning.

About me. About you. About life.

Those were the words that he used to describe himself, in his role as someone in love with me, and my crazy. I disagree. I see him very differently – I see him as a rock that keeps showing me patience, love, and kindness – even when I am at my most trying, unlovable, and mean.

To adapt a quote by Elizabeth Gilbert, he is here. He loves me. He does not care if I need to stay up crying all night long, he will stay with me. If I need the medication again, he will help me take it – he will love me through that, as well. If I don’t need the medication, he will love me, too. There is nothing I can do to lose his love. He will protect me until I die, and after my death he will still protect me. He is stronger than Depression and he is braver than Loneliness and nothing will exhaust him.

“Because you don’t want someone to save you, not really. You want someone who will plant kisses on your scars, and cover your bruised body with their own, and hold you at 2:00am when your world has fallen apart, and you have cried yourself into a coma. What you really want is someone who will help you save yourself.” – E.G.

I can not imagine the strength that it requires to love us. To keep loving us. To fight this battle with us. I do not think  I would have what it takes to be a champion of mental health. And for those of you who are; who are there every day. Struggling. Striving. Learning….

Thank you.

With everything I have… And on behalf of everyone who is suffering through this chaos… On behalf of all of us… For your patience. For your love. But most of all, for your kindness. Thank you.

I for one, would not be here without it.

 

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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.

 

 

 

A Fierce Beholder

I had an ex boyfriend, who once told me that we shouldn’t be friends if it made things ‘harder for me’. I found this statement in itself quite an entertaining one; there was such an assumption that I would be the one, out of the two of us, who would somehow find the fact that we were no longer a ‘we’, harder to cope with. I also found it strangely ironic that the relationship had actually ended as a result of his own fears. Even more amusing was this idea, that the solution to my alleged hardship, was to remove another layer of the relationship. Strip it bare. Rip it off and leave nothing in it’s place.

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I was not always so confident in how I viewed my role, and my place, within the above interaction. I believe that we too often brand ourselves, and build a picture of how we think we are perceived, based on our interactions with others. I know I have certainly done this – often to my own detriment. But I have learnt, that this picture is too often a distorted one … and this distortion is no fault of our own.

Nevertheless, this distorted reality shapes us. It changes and shifts our sense of identity, and where we perceive our place to be in the world. It hugely impacts our mental health. This concept is aptly summarised in the quote below;

“When you depend on people to build you up, they’ll have the same power to break you down. You don’t need their validation to know your worth.”

– Kush and Wizdom

I see so many girls on advice pages, asking for their peers to tell them whether they should be worried about their partner looking at another girl, or watching pornography, or talking to his ex. I see so many memes on social media condoning and actively facilitating this idea that a relationship should be defined by jealousy. We seem to have lost sight of relationships that are grounded in a foundation of mutual respect and understanding. Too often, these traits are traded in and ‘love’ becomes some warped and ugly version of the term. “Perhaps we should love ourselves so fiercely, that when others see us, they know exactly how it should be done.” – Rudy Francisco

The reality is, that the allusive ‘they’, don’t need to understand, or like, what you are doing with your life. You should be living for you. Doing things every day that make you happy. You don’t need to broadcast every high, and you definitely don’t need to hide every low. As a beautiful friend once told me, “depression, anxiety, and all other mental illnesses, are flaws in our chemistry, not our character”, and they are nothing to be ashamed of.

You’re trying to live. Not convince, justify, or clarify your existence for anyone else. I think one of the biggest lessons I have learnt whilst doing this ‘life’ thing, is that if they love you enough for who you are, then they will make the time, and they will put in the energy, to discover you. Every piece. On every level. Because you are worth it.

Make the changes you need to, to make you happy. If you find that someone is no longer in your life after you have done that, then perhaps they were one of those changes. To adapt how Amy Poehler so articulately puts it, “you attract the right things for you, when you have a true sense of who you are.”

Be your own fierce beholder #lovingmefiercely

Take a Selfie, Fake a Life

I was chatting to a close friend of mine today, and she mentioned to me that she was going through some mental health issues. I was genuinely surprised to hear this, as I see her gorgeous smiling face popping up regularly on my Facebook feed, always accompanied by an in-love-with-life caption. It makes me smile every time I see her, and whilst most of me is simply happy for her happiness, a small part of me envies her colourful, fun-loving, smiley existence.

I mentioned this in fewer words to her, and her response to me, was “isn’t that what social media is for? 😦 ”

Her response threw me.

I don’t know that we, as a society, have given due thought to the long-term, serious, and far-reaching impacts of social media on the mental health of users; particularly young adults. People are not only constantly ‘on display’, but they are also constantly bombarded with the displays of others. It used to be that we lived in a world where the impacts of unrealistic expectations were considered, because of the nipping and tucking done during post production on models in magazines. Now, we live in a world where this unreasonable standard applies to all areas of life; and social media would have us believe that everyone seems to have achieved it. Everyone, that is, except us.

We present a false depiction of our own existence. We make it up. We filter it. We are literally able to take a ‘selfie’ and apply the rose-coloured glasses.

My issue with this, is that, whilst we are all striving to make our lives seem blemish free, we fail to see that we have reduced ourselves to the confines of how others’ may or may not judge us. Why on earth have we become ashamed, or worse, afraid, to be real?

We seem to constantly be striving to present a more perfect version of ourselves. A selfie with less wrinkles, with more contouring, with better lighting. We are trying to outdo someone else’s falsehood. We have become jealous over illusions. We are envious over relationships and lifestyles, that don’t even exist. And the irony here, is that research shows us that individuals with a strong social media presence are actually more likely to exhibit undesirable traits, such as narcissism and anti-social behaviour.

There is an estimated 1.2 billion people currently using Facebook, with almost half that number as being reported to suffer from a mental illness.

I am firmly of the view that, as a society, we take a selfie to fake a life… and I have tried through my blog posts and notes on my mental health journey to be upfront, raw, and unapologetic about what this demon looks like for me. I have also tried to use both photographs and text to tell the story. I believe both sides of life need to have their story shared; I believe you can’t have rainbows without rain, or sweetness in success without failure, or courage without fear. And, in the words of Blush, “real life is messy, and random, and sometimes ugly. It does not wait for you to click ‘post’ and it does not give a shit if you’re having a bad hair day.”

So, I challenge you… #nofilterforlife ?

 

A Glorious Mess

Today I underwent my sixth round of ECT.

Six general anaesthetics.

Six seizures.

Six times, with a prospective six more.

I can’t remember things properly. My memories are scrambled; trying to put things in a timeline is like trying to think of a word that is on the tip of your tongue… You know it should be there. It is there… you just can’t seem to find it.

Today I was downgraded to Category One.

I no longer require someone to accompany me out of the hospital; I can take myself out. Go for a walk… Treck to the café… Wander through the streets. This new found freedom has made me realise the responsibility that freedom carries – they are trusting me with my own safety. They believe that I am no longer a risk to myself.

They believe it. But do I?

When you have relied on others to keep you safe for this long (I will have been in hospital one month today), you forget how scary the big wide world can be. It is a busy, bustling place out there – and everyone is on their own mission; trying to fill their own cup; trying to win their own battle.

Everyone. Each of us.

Living their life.

I watched so many people at the café I was at today. I like to fantasize about what they might do for work, what their relationship status is, whether they are a cat person or a dog person… I develop entire identities for the people I see; I build in my mind imaginary lives that they are grounded in. And there it is. Just like that. I can understand why I have been downgraded and allowed to venture out into this big bad world on my own. I am not a risk to my own safety, because I do not want to die. No – the reality is actually quite the opposite. I want to live.

As one author so eloquently put it;

“Don’t be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don’t have to live forever, you just have to live.”

I want that for myself. I want life. I want to soak up every single one of life’s experiences. I want to love, and be loved. I want to see, and hear, and smell, and taste, and touch everything I possibly can. And yet, despite there being so much to do, and so much to experience… I somehow still find myself doing nothing at all.

“I am still here in this metaphorical bubble of existence and I can’t quite figure out what I am doing or how to get out of it.” – Anonymous

I don’t think that it is possible to live confidently in one’s own truth, or be grounded in any sense of self and identity, without first exploring what that looks like for you. Who are you? What are your values, and what does that look like? And so – my journey begins. Who am I? How do I fit? Where do I fit? What does being alive and authentic look like for me?

The question is not, am I safe? The question is, am I alive?

I have been so completely overwhelmed by the love and kindness that has been shown to me since my admission. It was unexpected and I cannot thank you enough for being there for me through this. I hope that my journey has opened up the discussion regarding mental health awareness, and encouraged some of you to talk more. I got the semi-colon tattoo a while ago as a reminder of my own battle with mental illness, but also to raise awareness of these illnesses. If you have a spare $50 and a blank bit of skin, then this little baby is a great way to start the conversation; it’s ok not to be ok.

 

 

Today; A Day.

At the end of the day.

There is You.

There is Him.

And you are alone in this.

Today. Today is subjective. Someone, somewhere, was born today; and someone else became a mother. Someone lived today; and someone else died. Someone fell in love today; and someone else’s heart was broken. Someone healed; and someone else was wounded. Seven billion someones; seven billion todays.

Yesterday, I said, “Today was a good day”. Today, I say, “I’m not sure I still remember how that felt.”

Currently, my treatment plan involves multiple sessions of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) per week;

“ECT is a procedure, done under general anaesthesia, in which electric currents are passed through the brain, intentionally triggering a seizure. ECT seems to cause changes in brain chemistry that can quickly reverse symptoms of certain mental illnesses.”

–          The Mayo Clinic

The cocktail of drugs that was a Long Island Ice Tea equivalent, is now more of a Cosmo mix. Any medications that would prevent the seizures during ECT have been removed. Unfortunately for me, these are generally the ones that help me control my anxiety, and help me sleep. So, whilst facing possibly my worst fear (being hospitals/anaesthetics/needles – and everything that comes with that combination), I have had to go it alone.

Just me. Just Him.

I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the response of my beautiful family, amazing friends, and even distant champions, who have incredibly and unexpectedly come out of my past to offer me their love and support. They have come along for the ride, pitchforks at the ready, storming into battle. And I feel so loved.

And then, like a switch, there is suddenly a disconnect. I will go for a coffee, or a meal, or even just a walk with one of these incredible people, that I am so lucky to have around me… but every time…

Every.

Single.

Time.

I ring that doorbell.

I walk through those doors.

And they shut behind me.

I am on one side. My army is on the other.

And I am reminded that this is a battle that I must fight alone.

I have, for the first time in a long time, experienced a day where I have felt better. I have felt excited. I have felt hope. I have nearly felt normal. And I will have more of those days. I will also have days where the weight in my chest threatens to pull me under, and I don’t have the desire to speak, or move, or fight. All I want to do is close my eyes, and sleep – because this process of being shattered is so, unbearably, draining.

And I have realised, that both days are OK.

On the good days, I will let myself drown in the happiness for as long as it is mine to keep. And when the day turns into night, and the warm feelings become cold, I will sit under my warm shower. I will let the tears fall, and wash off the day. I will get under the blankets, lay down, and close my eyes. I will listen to my heart.

Still beating. Still fighting. I made it.

Another Day.

And I can make it one day more.

And so, to those of you, like me, who sometimes drown in sadness;

“I won’t tell you to have a good day. Instead, I advise you to simply have a day. Stay alive. Feed yourself. Wear comfortable clothes. Don’t give up on yourself just yet. There will be better days – but until then, just have a day.”

–          Unknown