Its the end of mental health week 2014.
I was listening to Macca – a national program aired every Sunday since forever on ABC radio. A woman called the program from a mental hospital. I’m sure there’s a more PC name, but that’s what she called it. The woman, a solicitor, was in there on a detox from all the prescribed drugs she is on to figure out what side effects went with which medication.
The woman rang because it was mental health week, and because it tends to be non or recovered sufferers that talk about it. Not those in the thick of it.
She had a point. If we can’t tell our story as it’s happening, the truth about mental illness won’t get told. And it won’t get told because of the stigma associated with mental illness.
I thought maybe relating mental illness to something less difficult to accept might create a different understanding and show how ridiculous this stigma is.
Your immune system. You do everything you can to keep it healthy, but because its continually bombarded by germs, occasionally a gap appears and you get a runny nose or headache. Mostly that gap closes before the next gap appears. When multiple gaps appear, that’s when you get really sick. Most of us wouldn’t hesitate seeking help with such a compromised immune system. Most of us wouldn’t hesitate to help those who get really sick, and their families, due to a compromised immune system, without judgement.
Your brain is the same. You can do everything in your power to keep the germs from taking over, but you can’t always win.
Sometimes, leaving a germ filled environment for a more sterile (supportive) place can compromise your immune system. When you go back, the germs are stronger than your immune system.
Some people and events are like shopping trolleys, covered in things like staph that get into your blood and stay there, leaving a permanent gap in your immunity, bubbling to the surface in puss filled lumps when you least expect it, causing complications when you’re injured.
Sometimes, all of this combines to cause you pain nobody else can feel, see or understand. Some even believe its attention seeking.
And, like the ultimate in compromised immunity, cancer, it sneaks up on you, taking you by surprise.
I will relate a very recent experience of mine using this immune system analogy.
If I’d been diagnosed with cancer last week, I’m sure I would have received the care from those closest to me I needed. Including me. There is far less stigma associated with cancer. It is not my intention to belittle cancer. It, like mental illness, can be deadly if not treated. And even when treated, some never recover.
My environment had become infected with negativity and aggression. There has been little immune support. From any of us. Gaps in my immunity would appear, I’d work hard at closing it.
The last six weeks seemed worse than normal.
Evil thoughts of causing myself pain slowly became a daily occurrence. Like a runny nose dripping away.
Events that bordered on full on panic attacks occurred more frequently. Think of these as a fever.
I kept telling myself I could handle it.
I had reason last week to be in a sterile environment, where immune support was prevalent. My immunity fell. I had to return to my infected environment with my compromised immunity.
And so it happened Friday that the last defense of my immune system was compromised by a barrage of bad news germs.
My runny nose and headache were symptoms of a much larger problem that, when ignored, became far worse than it should have been.
I have spent the last two days locked in my bedroom, trying not to spread my disease or make it worse.
For some reason, every man and their dog decided Saturday was the best day to come visit. Had it been any other sort of illness, my weepy red eyes and disheveled look would have been acceptable. The stigma kept me locked away. Some members of my family told the visitors I’d lost the plot and was just chucking a tantrum. An opinion I’m sure would have been different if my problem has been even a cold.
I don’t like the fact I didn’t have the guts to stand up and tell everyone what was going on. This perpetuates the stigma in my opinion.
I realised toward the end of day two that I have a history of these ‘tantrums’ this time of year – my own stay in the mental health ward of the local hospital happened in October – and put what was left of my mind to figuring out why.
It occurred to me my beloved Nan died this month. Its amazing what a search engine will tell you. October 3, 1990. I loved my nan. Her and I were very close. She understood me and the only reason I didn’t follow the usual path of Borderline Personality Disorder sufferers is her. They say BPD runs in the family, and I think she had a sister with it and could see my future. She taught me how to live, and made it OK. In short, she was my rock.
I was 16 when nan died. By then BPD had taken hold. Because any trauma felt by me was internalised, people thought I didn’t care. And I was treated badly because of it. I really didn’t get to grieve. I was made feel like I wasn’t acceptable to others. It was brought up during screaming matches for years after.
Nans death wasn’t a one off sadly. A bit more of a search reminded me of David Wall, a classmate who was killed when his motorbike ran into a truck. That was June 15 the same year. That death was handled very badly by the grownups in my life too.
So, there’s the staph infection, completing the circle.
How I deal with that knowledge, to make it less likely I’ll have another episode like this next October, I do not know. I think I need to let the dust settle here first. Maybe I need to try to mend the family rift that widened with this ‘tantrum’.
I don’t blame people for thinking the way they do about me and my mental illness. They know not what they do.
Another quick point I want to make is this.
I had absolutely no desire to call any of the phone numbers given out in case of mental illness emergency’s. None at all. Or to talk about it with my friends. Some of whom I feel I may have frightened this weekend and for that I am very sorry. I’ve told nobody of my suicidal thoughts. What I’m trying to say is don’t ever feel guilty you didn’t see the signs. Its not your fault. It worries me a little that there’s a huge emphasis on seeing the signs.
And if you know me and you’re reading this, don’t worry. I know what I need to do. And I don’t need to cause myself any more harm. Suicide is not on my to do list. Like a flu, two days in bed have done me the world of good.
I hope this has given you a new perspective on mental illness, and maybe changed the way you think about those around you going through this.
After reading this blog with some clarity, I thought I should clarify some things.
1. Hubby was absolutely beside himself. He had no idea what to. He wasn’t sure if he should call someone or let me be. That wasn’t my observation but that of a couple of friends. On top of that, he still had the farm to run.
2. It certainly wasn’t hubby being so horribly negative about it all.
3. The negativity that has been growing quietly here has been discovered and we have taken steps to fix the problem.
I saw this meme yesterday
How to improve the culture at your office
Rule 1: Be happy
Rule 2: Be awesome
Rule 3: Help others with 1 & 2
This will become a mantra on this farm….
Thanks Greg for that one.