#mentalillnessfeelslike is the theme for social media in the month of May. It is incredibly difficult for someone to describe a mental illness because most of the time it is indescribable. However, in the month of May, Mental Health America is asking you to share your mental health stories to promote awareness about this issue. If you cannot share stories about mental health because you yourself do not suffer from this condition you can still get informed and share/re-post other mental illness stories to spread the recognition of this disease. Here are some stories and definitions of people explaining what mental illness is:
“When you nestle into your mother’s arms, there is never a thought of tomorrow. Matter of fact, the journey has not even begun. You look up to your older brothers and sister who are well balanced and are either tending the house or doing chores that a farm brings. I am the fourth child of eight.
For the journey I will have many mountains to climb and torrents of rivers to cross that will almost sweep me off my feet. I suppose one advantage I have over many is that I have never given up. At times I have been exhausted and precariously hanging on for grim death on sheer rock faces, miles in the air with little help. Who needs help? There is nothing wrong with me. I am a male, six feet tall and full of muscle.
But now, married and two small children in tow, I sat on a rock near a stream and said I am tired, my brain is bruised, it feels I cannot go on anymore. Just leave me by this stream and you go on. My wife refused and she sat by my side as if we were just married this morning. Come on Phil, you have got to get up – you need some help. There I sat at the Doctor’s surgery, now on a long journey of highs and lows.
We had acquired a small ranch from my work as a lumberjack in the mountains, felling pines that shone so bright when the sun appeared. But I cannot wave that chainsaw anymore. It sits in the shed collecting dust. I am not sure it even starts. As the doctor asked so many questions, he looked me up and down, then in a seemingly grumpy voice said “You have a mental condition”. No one ever told me I was depressed as well. I always asked questions, always got answers and felt I shaped myself. I have had to opt out of society a little.
Today I am as good as you. You are now opting back into society with ease and being accepted with welcoming arms. But you cannot journey alone. You need a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear to talk to, good food and a nice warm bed on those freezing cold nights. Of course I take medication. So what. But are you like me and are you content on the journey that will bring us to meet.”
“I was first made aware that I had depression in 2001. I was 29 years of age and had recently completed a PhD in Australian cultural history. I had won a post-doctoral fellowship to research Australian literature at the University of Sydney and from most points of view appeared to be leading the picture of a successful life. I was in a long-term relationship and had loving parents, sisters and a brother. They all thought I was a swell guy. Yet in the mornings I would stare at the kitchen window of my third-floor apartment on Glebe Point Road and think that it would be a nice thing to open it and fall quietly to my death. Or, to calmly slice the arteries in my wrists and lie under the shower until I disappeared.
This did not alarm me. Suicide presented itself as an increasingly logical solution to problems I could not even quite formulate. Much more troubling was that I was beginning to find it difficult to think – a problem for an academic. I suppose I had always found it difficult to think; in fact, I had consistently placed myself into positions where difficult thinking was necessary. But in 2001, the very basis of thinking – concentration, equanimity, memory – started to break apart, along with confidence in any kind of future and the belief that what I said could be of the slightest interest to anyone. It became so that even those tiny, seemingly simple bridges that join one moment to another faltered. The only thing that felt real was a creeping sense of utter hollowness.
That I am not like this today. That I am writing at all. That my thoughts are no longer edged with razors whose edges were only allowed to cut me. This is my story. It is a story I will share with anyone who wants to listen, but it will take some time. It will not be the story of anyone else but me.
Depression was the word that doctors gave to the state in which my will to live had been exhausted. It is as good as any word can be in describing a condition which, like many other mental illnesses, exists mainly in the terrain between and beyond the reach of words.
There is no word to describe what it means to become un-depressed. Undoing depression is no less simple than doing it. It took me several years. Depression is not itself a condition which needs to be cured. Depression is nothing other than the psyche announcing on behalf of the organism that it is unwilling to put up with any further violation of its right to exist. It has most in common, I believe, with the pains of childbirth. Pain which is borne by both mother and child and which places each in genuine danger, but which accompanies and is the truest registration of the miracle of life.
That I did not kill myself is a miracle of life too. It would not have happened had I not met the most wonderful therapist. Anti-depressant medication helped too, providing the space for the slow, arduous work of reconstructing a self from the ruins of a statue. I have no advice for anyone. I have only my own example, which continues to reveal itself to me with all the awkwardness that would accompany someone who, after half a lifetime of paralysis, attempted one day to learn to walk.”
“I noticed each time I left the house I would sweat all over and start to panic. As these attacks increased I shut myself in the house (my fortress). When they became worse I shut myself in my bedroom (my cocoon) with the curtains drawn and the door shut, completely isolating myself.
The symptoms of these attacks included shortness of breath, feeling pressure to go to the toilet, shutting my eyes, coughing and hyperventilating, sweating, inability to talk, shaking legs, scratching or rubbing my arms, pulling my hair, banging the bed with the pillow or hands, pacing the room and sheer exhaustion.
I thought I would collapse, faint, suffocate, lose control of my bowels, choke, lose control of myself, embarrass myself in front of others, harm myself or smash something.
I would try to escape from the situation, avoid going out, seek the comfort of my bedroom, turn off the lights, shut the curtains or shout.
The type of attack varied from spontaneous, anticipated to situational. They went on for a long time.
I felt alone, because I was trying to hide what was happening to me from my family and friends. I was depressed, angry, embarrassed and ashamed because I couldn’t cope. I was exhausted from all my self-punishment and the frequency and severity of the anxiety attacks. I had no quality of life – enough was enough. My final punishment was going to be an overdose, but I couldn’t go through with it.
I phoned the duty nurse at Osborne Park Clinic and she sent out the community nurse who came straight over to calm me down. She was unsuccessful and took me to the emergency department at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. From there I was admitted to the psychiatric ward with a severe anxiety disorder.
I shut myself in my cocoon with the blinds down and door shut. It took weeks for staff to get me out of my room. The attacks were very frequent, severe and exhausting.
After about a month, my psychiatrist suggested I apply to go to Hawthorn House, a mental rehabilitation center. Hawthorn House works on integrating its residents back into the community. You are supported to work on your individual issues, thoughts, feelings and concerns. Medication requirements are assessed and changed if necessary. This is all done in a caring environment.
Once accepted, I had to make the decision whether to take the easy path and go home and continue to isolate myself, or to go to Hawthorn House and face my issues. This was a huge step and I accepted the challenge!
The journey to recovery
My first two weeks were very tough and exhausting as my anxiety attacks increased. I felt insecure, unsafe and very alone.
As the weeks progressed my attacks decreased, I began to feel more comfortable with the staff and my surroundings. I was coming out of my cocoon more and participating in groups. My medications were changed which seemed to help for a while. I felt small improvements were being made.
After some weeks I started to feel like I was treading water and getting nowhere fast. I again retreated into my cocoon. My attacks increased and were more severe. I oozed frustration and anger and felt depressed. Outwardly I tried to present as if everything was okay. My situation was acknowledged and taken in hand by Carey and Steve, my key workers.
A few days later I had a severe battle with my voices and thoughts in my head. I felt I was losing control over myself; so I stopped eating. It felt so good to have control again.
After a few days I admitted to Carey and Steve that I was not eating, as per my care plan commitment. Steve gave me the ultimatum – eat or you have to leave Hawthorn House, due to the “duty of care” to residents. I took this very badly, was angry and felt very insecure. Rationally I knew the ultimatum needed to be given, but in my head I needed that control. After much walking, thinking, and, talking, I met with Carey and Steve. I agreed to eat my meals. The decision made me feel nauseous.
I am battling at the moment with eating and wanting to vomit up my food.
When I have settled down, feel more secure and safe at Hawthorn House, I will be ready to tackle what lies ahead with my recovery. I look forward to finding the person I used to be, or the new updated version.
The last five years in the hospital mental health system were very difficult. I feel the system is under funded. The nurses, doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists are overworked and underpaid. Hospitals have their place, but more rehabilitation centers like Hawthorn House are definitely needed.
This has been my journey so far.”