Mental as

This week is Mental Health Week from 5th to 12th of October and today, Friday 10th October, is World Mental Health Day.

You know me; that’s just way too much of an opportunity for me to let it pass!

There have been some amazing efforts put forward this week by various agencies to improve our understanding of mental health conditions, treatments and the help available to every single one of us. In particular today’s theme is Schizophrenia so there will be a lot of information available about this condition specifically.

If you haven’t already seen some of these efforts come up on Facebook/Twitter/MySpace/ Instagram/email/TV/the streets, you may want to check out the Black Dog Institute, the South African Depression and Anxiety group, Beyond Blue, ABC TV, Headspace, lifeline or one of the many other groups, associations and publishers that have websites, social media presence and who are doing remarkable work to help us all.

Mental Health Week allows mental health issues to be brought to the foreground as a topic for discussion in workplaces, at home, in schools, TAFEs and universities, among certain ethnic, socioeconomic and cultural groups and generally everywhere.

I think the very much most important-ist place to talk about mental health is with yourself. What do YOU think about mental health? What are your fears, concerns, issues, problems with mental health? What do you know, and what don’t you know? Is it a personal issue for you; is it a family, personal, friend, colleague, acquaintance issue? What do you want, need, hope for, wish for about mental health? Etc…you can think up the questions.

The second most important place at discuss mental health is at home. Around the dinner table, in front of the TV, in the car on the way to school etc. If we are all too afraid to talk about it when it isn’t an issue for anyone important to us, how on earth are we going to be able to bring the topic into the house if and when it does become something that we need to talk about?! So start a conversation today. Do it. Just do it. For your future self, or family member, just in case.

Mental health week is a chance for the concerns, the issues, the requests for resources, the commendations of individuals and organisations to be heard. It’s also a time when each party puts forward their specific focus and area of interest.

So what’s mine? And what’s yours? I’d love to hear them, and I’m sure any of the organisations and even government bodies putting in a presence this week would appreciate knowing your opinion too. In fact you can pledge your promise to improve mental health and share it via the awesome R U OK? website or social media.

My dream is that every single solitary person in this lucky country would understand mental illness.

Or if they don’t understand it, that at least they would know what mental illness is, how it can treated, where help can be found and when to intervene to help somebody. That would make me so happy!

‘Mental illness’ is a vast and changing term but my dream is that at a minimum depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia would be understood or known by everyone. I know there are a whole lot of other disorders and illnesses that are equally important and need to be educated around, but this is my dream.

I want mental health education to start in the first year of high school as part of health, or English, or science, or SOSE, or PE, or languages or ANYTHING! I don’t care what bracket it’s taught under; I just want every child to know what can be out there for a friend, family members or themselves.

Since I have been talking about my mental health, a friend has contacted me to say her mother was undiagnosed with bipolar for her whole childhood and teen years and treated unsuccessfully for depression, which can be a common course. She wrote to say how glad she was that I got the right diagnosis so quickly (18 months didn’t feel quick, but it’s relative), and to say how much she wished it had been found out earlier in her mother, because it would have changed everything!

So consider this: some education to family members earlier in life may, just may, have changed lives!

I don’t want mental health to scare people. On my return to work, a health professional colleague responded to my statement that how I’d been off work with a nervous breakdown by saying: “Depression scares me! Sometimes I find my mood getting low and it freaks me out so I make myself be happy again. I don’t want anything messing with my brain”!!! This is a health professional! With clearly no more understanding of mental illness than a goose, which is very unfortunate!

We need everyone, and especially health professionals, educators and anyone dealing with the public, but we might as well go for ALL people while we are at it, to UNDERSTAND mental illness!

Not just read about it, swot it for exams, know the diagnostic criteria! We need people to know that depression doesn’t change your brain, yes it’s not nice but no reason to be terrified of it!

It’s not any more scary than diabetes which can kill or damage nerves causing severe pain, blind you, deafen you, make you prone to infections, put you at risk of stroke and heart attack!! That’s a LOT more scary to me than a serotonin imbalance that can be corrected with medication, counselling, time and support.

So here’s to dreams! And the tiny steps we can take to today, to start to get there!

*I’d like to acknowledge the slogan of the ABC’s fabulous efforts in broadcasting mental health education and issues for Mental Health Week as the inspiration for my title*

Voices

 

I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed

Get along with the voices inside of my head

You’re trying to save me, stop holding your breath

And you think I’m crazy, yeah, you think I’m crazy

Well, that’s nothing

-Monsters by Eminem feat. Rihanna

 

I love this song called Monsters by Eminem with Rihanna and always sing along when it comes on the radio while I’m driving. The chorus mainly, I’m not skilled enough to rap along with Eminem! “I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed”. To be friends with whatever our own particular monster is; what a great goal to have!

To accept that I have a monster in my life, to accept that it isn’t going away and can’t be gotten rid of, to accept that it will always be right there lurking under the bed is one of the biggest parts of reaching remission with mental health disorders. Acceptance is key.

That’s what I’ve been told by my therapists and I really do think that this is true. I’ve seen enough patients with mental illness, mostly schizophrenia and sometimes bipolar disorder, and every now and then depression, anxiety or panic disorders who do not believe that they are unwell to know that believing the diagnosis and accepting the need for treatment is the biggest advantage you can have on your side. From then on out, having a good relationship with your doctor, having faith in the treatments given and doing what you can for yourself are added bonuses towards successfully managing your condition.

Fighting against the diagnosis, disbelieving the doctors, resisting the label, not wanting to accept the idea of illness takes so much emotional energy, so much mental energy and makes you prey to so much more time exposed to the condition that is ravaging you. It can also make your condition harder to treat once you finally succumb to the idea of needing help as it has had so much more time to get a strong grasp in your mind and the symptoms may be a lot more advanced. You wouldn’t do this to your body if you had diabetes, leave your body exposed to high levels of blood sugar damaging your blood vessels and nerve endings while your organs starve for sugar. So why do it do your mind?

Because at the end of the day, mental illnesses like diabetes or thyroid disorders or heart disease are conditions that are not curable, in the sense that they never go away but can be well managed. Bipolar disorder doesn’t just pop up then vanish away again. But it can be managed away to the extent that it no longer controls your life and so that people around you have no idea about your condition, and maybe you even forget that you have this monster.

Here’s to becoming friends with whatever it is that scares the pants off us! To becoming friends with our monsters.

 

[ I ] Get along with the voices inside of my head”

 

I don’t have voices inside of my head.

That sounds like a statement of denial, but it isn’t. I’m just telling you a fact about me. Trust me; I’ve been thoroughly checked for voices! By my GP, my psychologist, two psychiatrists and a number of nurses. And myself, just to quintuple-check.

I mean that I don’t have voices in the sense that most people expect voices. I don’t have auditory hallucinations such as people can have if they suffer from schizophrenia, psychosis, some forms of bipolar or delirium. I don’t hear people who aren’t physically present telling me things, commanding me to perform certain actions or speaking to me through objects like the radio or TV.

But I’ve come to learn about other types of voices that can be just as damaging. The inner voice. Everyone has one, to whatever extent they allow it to be heard in their own mind. The little voice that chats away in the background carrying along beliefs, ideas, thoughts, judgements, criticism and hopes and dreams. And sometimes not only one voice. There’s my inner voice that carries the weight of history, experience, self esteem and knows me well. There’s the inner voice which is other people’s beliefs projecting as their voice and most importantly, my new inner voice!

One of the things I’ve been trying hard to work on during my recovery is to change my inner voice, or develop a new inner voice. Depression and anxiety can both have a large self critical and other people critical component. When my current voice criticises or judges or makes snide remarks, I try to correct it. Not with judgement, or criticism, or rudeness. If I took that approach, my new voice would be as difficult as my current voice!

So when my old inner voice sparks up a thought train that I don’t want to follow, my attempt is to gently override it with a better thought, or kindly redirect it. When a critical thought comes to mind, I try to tell it, no that’s not how I want to think about people anymore, and then I try to impose a better thought onto that thought to overcome it.

Maybe the idea pops into my head that that girl over there is fat. But that’s not how I want to think about other people, and I have to bear in mind that I myself can be classed as fat, so instead of thinking those thoughts about her and me, I’ll think about her beautiful hair and her lovely smile. Which will make me smile, and enjoy these nicer thoughts 🙂

It is not easy! It takes a lot of hard work to get along with the voices inside of my head! Being friends with the monsters is much easier for me! I don’t know if everyone has the same difficulty, but it’s taken me a lot of work to get to where I am and there’s still a way to go. I know consciously exactly how I want my mind to be, but it doesn’t change just for me wanting it to! It takes practice and repetition and solid thinking!

But at least I’m on the way to getting along with my voices, a little progress is better than no progress!