It’s been a while since I came out about my mental health publicly. And now, over a year on from that first blog post and with my focus set strongly on creating reform in the mental health industry, I thought this topic was an appropriate and important thing to touch on.
Since I first sought professional help for my mental health around 18 months ago now, I’ve had multiple different diagnoses, tried different medications and dosage, seen different therapists and tried different methods of trying to get my brain to co-operate with me a little better. It’s no secret that I was hospitalised following a suicide attempt in April of last year - that’s pretty common knowledge. But what I am going to share with you today is something that isn’t, something that’s not really spoken about as much as it should be.
I think a common misconception a lot of people have is that once you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness you’ve got 3 options – you get better, you get locked up in the psych ward, or you die. Two of those options are quite grim, and the other is quite unrealistic for a lot of people.
Once I was discharged from hospital, I was determined not to let my mental illness “beat me” I wanted to beat it! I’d automatically turned it into a challenge, rather than just accepting I needed to learn to live with it the best I can. So with this mindset – imagine my defeat and torment when I was hospitalised again a few months later for self harming.
I was so humiliated by my own actions. I had been experiencing disassociation. This is one of the most terrifying things I’ve personally experienced. The best I can describe it is it feels like one of those dreams where you’re watching yourself do stuff you don’t want to do but no matter how loud you scream “dream you” doesn’t hear you and you’re just left watching the whole mess unravel – except it’s not a dream, its actually you – and you know full well at the time it’s ridiculous but no matter how loud you try screaming at yourself sometimes you just can’t stop it. Dissociative symptoms became my worst enemy. I thought April would have been the first and last time I’d have “done anything so stupid”, it wasn’t. It had happened again. And again, and again.
I stopped telling people. One time I was hospitalised over a weekend then discharged myself because I was too embarrassed to let anyone except my partner know. I doubt back then I’d have even told him if he wasn’t the one who found me semi-conscious.
It rips my heart out every time I come out of one of these dissociative states and I realise how much I’ve upset people around me. It’s a cycle and it repeats over and over. Shame, fear, defeat. Another nurse who is afraid of you as soon as she reads your clinical notes. Another doctor that doesn’t know your history and either sends you on your way with a bottle of Valium or removes your rights with a section order and locks you in a room until someone else signs you out. There’s barely ever an in between.
It’s still easier to call in sick with “gastro” than it is to admit your mental illness is acting up.
Yeah, we “talk about it” now, but what about after that? That’s what no one talks about. What about after your mental health care plan runs out? What about after all your mandatory scheduled appointments have been attended and now you’re off the suicide prevention list? Although sometimes when “Africa” by ToTo comes on I feel differently – your mental illness can’t just suddenly disappear. It doesn’t disappear. What changes is the way that we cope with it. This is such a huge lesson I have learnt.
Towards the end of last year I finally found a medication combination that worked for me and I’m happy to say I haven’t been hospitalised this year. I was almost going to say “proud to say” – but if I had been hospitalised this year, or if I am sometime in the future – I won’t be ashamed. A lot of mental illnesses actually qualify as “chronic illnesses”, and that’s exactly what they are – it’s a constant battle. And learning to cope is the only “cure” we’ve got.
Another thing I want to address is med-shaming. There seems to be this big sense of pride about coming off medication. Why? Some people can’t come off it. I don’t see why the end goal should be to come off medication, I don’t see how that is an achievement. I used to though, sure. I used to have timeframes and goals set out around how low I wanted to get my dosages and when I “needed” to be off medication by. Imagine my defeat yet again when dosages where upped again and again and meds were changed and added. I felt so hopeless that I needed this stuff to function. I felt hopeless because there is this ridiculous notion we seem to have in society that “being reliant on medication is bad”. Why is it bad? Why is it harmful to take something that stops you harming yourself?
Over 18 months on and I attribute my last 6 months with no hospitalisations to getting stable on my meds. Not only that, but for finally realising there’s no shame in taking meds so I actually started taking them regularly rather than seeing if I could go without.
I still feel like absolute crap some days. I still feel suicidal some days. I still get manic. I still buy dumb stuff and put things on credit cards that I shouldn’t. I’m still moody and irrational and hard to handle. Some days I think I can save the world and other days I’m flat out brushing my teeth. But the scale of it all has changed and the way I deal with it all has too. It’s much more manageable now. I think our goals should be to make things more manageable – rather than treating it as a competition of who doesn’t need to take meds or who came off meds the quickest. Everyone is different, and everyone’s recovery journey is different. I get a lot of messages asking “how I got better” by people who are struggling themselves, and I understand where they’re coming form because they just want it to go away, but I didn’t “just get better” at all. I wanted to share a little bit of my experience with you because my recovery has been anything but smooth, and I’m still working on aspects of my recovery now.
I think the hardest part for me (aside from the obvious things) has been communication. I have found it so incredibly difficult to communicate about my mental health with those close to me while it’s actively happening. This is an aspect I’ve really been working on, I’m getting better gradually, and I’d encourage any of you suffering out there too to give it some thought, sometimes people really can help you out rather than leaving yourself alone with your thoughts.
" I feel I'm very sane about how crazy I am" - Carrie Fisher
For a long time I have wanted to improve mental health services, not only across the board, but particularly where I received most of my treatment. Dean House Community Mental Health Centre in Tamworth, this service ultimately saved my life. I went here every week for a year. They called me randomly throughout the week to check up on me too, helped me manage the crazy things I’d done when I was manic, made phone calls and wrote letters on my behalf and contacted my university to get me special considerations to make the whole process easier on me. They even counselled family members and those close to me so that they could better understand and support me as I found it hard to communicate my needs in relation to my mental illness. It is such a great service – but unfortunately it is severely underfunded. There isn’t enough resources and waiting times can be way too long, especially for those in a crisis situation. This is at no fault to the service and is completely a system issue that I wish our useless government would hurry up and do something about.
I got to the point where I was tired of complaining and decided to do something myself, and the Fourth of July project was born.
I am holding an event on the 4th of July in Tamworth at the Tudor hotel. The event kicks off at 7pm with live entertainment by Aleyce Simmonds (2018 golden guitar award winner), Kyle Cartner, Jared Scott, Maddi Lyn, Beau Hatch, Jarred Taylor, Ryan Morris and Amy Pain all accompanied by a very talented house band. Being the 4th of July (and in the Country Music Capital of Australia), we have themed the night Americana/Nashville style and guests are encouraged to come in their red, white and blues and be ready to party.
The purpose of this event is to raise a significant amount of money for the betterment of free and accessible mental health crisis and outreach services here in Tamworth with an overall aim to reduce the number of deaths by suicide in our community. The facilities in our area are critically under-funded and are desperate for change to relieve a congested and broken mental health system where too many fall through the cracks and become “another statistic”. I hope you can all join me on the night, bookings are essential as we only have limited numbers, tickets can be purchased through http://fourthofjulyatthetudor.eventbrite.com.au they are just $20 with 100% of that going straight to the cause - you even get a free drink on arrival courtesy of the champions at the Tudor Hotel. On the night we’ll have raffles and auctions with prizes including an Ipad, a $200 tattoo voucher and a private concert!
If you can’t make it on the night, or would just like to support this cause some more – please go ahead to my rural mental health gofundme page and donate what you can, let’s make a difference! https://www.gofundme.com/8gxfb-rural-mental-health
If this post has brought up any issues for you, please call lifeline on 13 11 14