Mental Health Day

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Today, I intended to edit Part Two of my memoir Is This Me? However, I slipped sideways and found myself writing a blog post instead. Maybe because I can’t bear to read my story again. When people read Part One of my book, there is one question they usually ask, “Was it cathartic to tell your story?”, my answer is always the same. It was cathartic to write and to find the courage to include more and more of my life story, but then to be trapped into five years of editing, being stuck in my past, attempting to finish my book, well, that’s hell.

Yesterday I reread Part One, specifically, the time I wanted to drown myself in the Derwent River. Today, I discovered it is Mental Health Day and my news-feed presented me with many stories of people who had varied mental health issues. I read them all, these kinds of biographies always make me uncomfortable, tapping into the part of me that lurks in the shadows of my psyche. Startlingly, I read about a lady who recalled, “I wanted to drown myself the Derwent River.” Okay, can this be a coincidence? I don’t think so. More like a synchronicity.

The subject of mental health is something I have great interest in and a newly found compassion for. Growing up, I had no compassion for people with mental health issues. If someone was physically ill, I would bake cakes and offer support. But if someone struggled with mental health, I’d judge them and think, I just don’t get it, how can you not be in control of your own mind? That was, until I lost mine.

Out of everything I went through, the lesson I learnt, is it’s all linked, there are no coincidences. Nothing stands alone. Why did I read yesterday about my Derwent River experience, where I had water up to my neck … that happened over twenty years ago, yet the very next day, I read these words in someone else’s story?

I believe many people suffer from mental health issues, but we suffer in silence, thinking no one else could possibly understand. No one has been through my series of life experiences and trauma, so how can they empathise? But I have also come to believe, that although the circumstances leading us to mental health issues may be varied, the pain, suffering and solitude are common to us all. We each have a unique blueprint: our genetic code, our upbringing, our beliefs, our social circle and support network or lack thereof. And our trauma, oh, our trauma. I don’t think we give it near enough credit. I believe emotional trauma and mental ill health, are best buddies.

There are times when many of us suffer mental anguish and we may be concerned, that if we tell someone, they may judge, mock or sneer at us. We fear the kind of ‘help’ people will offer and ‘opening up’ exposes us, making us vulnerable. Will people think we are crazy, or will they be able to have the maturity to know that we, and our issues, are not all one and the same? It can be near-impossible to decipher where the person ends and the illness begins. I don’t think there is a line drawn in the sand, one definitive point where our mental health issues end, and our true-self begins. The cross over is complex and entwined. I now fiercely resist any suggestion that a simple label can categorise anyone. If it’s not a complex narrative, then I won’t buy into it. A simplistic overtone, does not go hand in hand with mental health.

I also listened to a podcast by a well-known Australian media personality, the charismatic Osher Günsberg. He confessed to being diagnosed with social anxiety, generalised anxiety, OCD and being obsessed with the terror of the world ending. These all hit close to home for me, he could almost have been telling my story, minus the drugs and alcohol. He said a few things in his podcast that resonated deeply with me:

“Stress added up in my subconscious and was waiting to just explode into my reality”, “Anxiety is fear of fear”, “Neurosis is the pain caused when the brain is having trouble accepting what is happening in reality … psychosis happens when the pain gets so great, that in order to protect itself from the pain caused by reality, the brain simply reinterprets reality”.

Hearing him so accurately describe what I personally experienced, and knowing I felt incredibly alone at the time, has motivated me to continue with my book, as I feel sharing my story will allow other people who are suffering, to know they are not suffering alone. And that mental ill health, need not be permanent, we get sick, we usually get better, the same can happen with the mind. My personal issues surround the topics of acceptance and mortality, I wonder if these issues cause distress and mental unbalance in other people’s lives too?

My personal belief, based on my own experience, is that in a high-degree of cases, trauma, combined with genetic coding, determines the degree of mental illness. The two combined are each person’s unique recipe for mental health. Part Two of my book is about my life experience, and how trauma stole my mind and how my inability to deal with it, created a situation where I was unable to get it back.

Often, the degree to which we take the journey to delve into our trauma, examine, acknowledge and give it the respect it deserves, directly relates to how much we will heal. This must be done with the correct support, or we can become lost. We need someone to hold the torch and perhaps hold our hand, to show us the way in and to also shine a light on the exit to guide us out, and help us adjust to the daylight again.

We may need kind, professionally trained people to help us reveal and process our pain and trauma. How can a festering splinter heal, if we don’t remove the splinter causing the infection? Talking to the right people and perhaps with the right medication, can be a way to remove our mental toxins, allowing us to find ourselves again.

When heartless people say, ‘It’s all in your head,’ I want to reply, ‘Perhaps that’s because, you put it there.’

Part One of my memoir Is This Me? is available for purchase here.

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2 thoughts on “Mental Health Day”

  1. Great blog post! You nailed it… I could identify in so many ways. We need to break the taboo of mental health wide open 👊

  2. Social alienation is a complex social issue. Fear of the other. And as you said, touching on the fear of oneself. I also saw a video this week in which a young man was born drug addicted and adopted into a loving home. At 17 years old he began to hallucinate which led him to be one of the very few people to survive a suicide attempt off of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. His harrowing journey into recovery where he is now able to recognize this aspect of himself ‘that is not himself’ was the most incredible part of this story. At the same time I had the privilege to view Chris Jordan’s film Albatross. In the film there is a passage in which the ‘adolescent’ albatross has been left to fly out into the ocean for survival, leaving its only home where it has been cared for and fed (plastic) by its parents. Their wings are not strong enough to take flight on their own. They must await certain conditions to help them. Chris describes the passage: “in order to fly they must purge themselves of everything that is not them.” It’s a very powerful and metaphorical part of this story. Thank you for sharing yours.

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