Behind The Smile, Behind The Mask

Sometimes speaking out about mental illness can be difficult. I find it easy to talk about recovery and when things are going well but it’s not so easy to say that actually things aren’t okay and I guess that’s why I’ve been a bit quiet lately. My blog posts, tweets and Facebook statuses have slowed down in the digital world and my facial muscles ache from forcing a fake smile onto my face in the real world.

It’d be easier to pretend that I’m okay and to stay quiet until things are better but then I’m not sure how that’s helpful for anyone because speaking out about mental illness needs to be a true picture, it can’t just be telling people about the good days. The bad days are when people need the most support and understanding. As much as I want to pretend right now that things are fine and I am okay, I recognise that if I truly want to help others then I need to bite the bullet and be honest because relapse is a part of recovery and that is okay. Pretending recovery is dream-like and perfect is not okay.

I don’t sleep well anymore, not since I relapsed with self-harm. It hurts to lay on my side and I worry about knocking wounds in my sleep and bleeding on my bed sheets. I wake up in pain, every single day the pain in my jaw is unbearable and the flashbacks that come along with it mean the mental pain is worse than the unbearable physical pain. Every meal time is a battle, exhaustion takes over my days and I find myself having to have a lay down before and after doing anything.

I’m scared. Scared because I know this journey far too well. I know what lays at the end of this road after I’ve hit all the speed bumps and swung through the chicane then comes a stay in the psychiatric ward and I don’t want to reach that destination again.

Frustration and self-hatred combine and together they become anger. An anger that has hit boiling point. The steam is not only coming out of the kettle but the kettle is going to explode too and boiling hot water will erupt everywhere scolding anything and anyone that it hits.

I don’t want to be like this. I don’t want to be poorly. I don’t want to be the reason my friends and family can’t sleep and I don’t want to hurt anyone. All I can do is give each day my best shot, try to be kind to myself and take my medication until this passes or improves. For now I am scared and I feel very small. Small, weak and tired but determined to win. We only get one life and mental illness is not going to take mine.

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Why Is It Important That People Get The Help They Need At The Right Time?

Getting the right care at the right time makes a huge difference. It’s like when someone has a stroke, the quicker the emergency services reach them and treat them then the more likely they are to recover and the less damage is done. It’s the same with mental illness, if someone is given help when they need it then the prognosis is often much brighter. I didn’t get the help I needed when I needed it and I wonder if I did would I have less scars on my body and stronger bones without the damage of anorexia and maybe I wouldn’t have had to go through the trauma of spending a night in a police cell and months sectioned in hospital. Not getting the right services and support cost me time. Years and years of my life that just blurred into one mess of mental illness, hopelessness and despair. I remember being sent a letter from my mental health team discharging me and explaining that my prognosis was poor. I thought that if no one could help me then there was no hope left and I made a very serious attempt on my life. I am incredibly lucky to be alive today. My best friend was not so lucky. Laying flowers at the multi-storey car park wasn’t meant to be the way our story ended. If people with mental health problems were able to get help when they needed it then it wouldn’t just be life changing, it would be lifesaving because not getting the right support when it’s needed costs lives. We are not a poor country, we shouldn’t be leaving people alone to suffer so badly that the only option they can see for themselves is death. Everyone has mental health and everyone should be able to access the service they need if they become unwell.

Sectioned: A Spoken Word Piece

Last August I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and spend two months in hospital. When I was discharged I decided that I wanted to do something with my life and turn a negative into a positive and so I began working with Fixers. Around the same time I noticed a lot of pro-ana and pro-mental illness posts appearing all over social networking and one comment that really stuck out to me was someone saying that they wanted to be sectioned so that they could have a hug whenever their sad. I was also shocked by the amount of comments about mental illness being fashionable and people likening the psychiatric ward to a big sleepover but that is not the reality.

I wrote a spoken word piece and used my photography along with Fixer’s filming and editing to create a piece to explain what being sectioned is like from a patient’s perspective whilst also targeting the groups in social media that aspire to be unwell. Being sectioned often feels like something I should keep secret and be ashamed of  so that’s exactly why I decided to shout about it publicly. There should be no stigma.

Feel free to share this video and spread it’s message.

We’ve Got a Long Way To Go

Yesterday the Independent posted an article after Belgium doctors ruled that a 24 year old woman with depression has the right to die. I have no opinion on this article, on whether or not she should have the right to die because I have not lived her life and whilst I have my illness, I do not have hers. However what this article made me realise was just how far we have to go in terms of mental health stigma and discrimination.

These are some of the comments from the Facebook page along with my commentary:

“I am intrigued to know what kind of life lead to be so selfishly depressed. Deaths? Rape? Abuse? What exactly have you got to be so depressed about.”

Selfishly depressed? Have I missed something in this society? See I thought an illness you have no control over has nothing to do with your selfishness or selflessness. I know many people with depression, most of whom are incredibly selfless human beings. What have I got to be depressed about? Well the my neurotransmitter function is disrupted in my brain meaning that the transmission of serotonin fails to function and therefore the signal is disrupted.

“She should be grateful for life there’s a brain surgery op that turns off depression permanently via a small chip planted in the brain so she hasn’t tried every option I hope she donated her organs to give someone else the chance to live”

Are you her doctor or surgeon or have you had any access to her medical records? You do not know the options she has or has not tried or the options that would work for her specifically. Organ donation has nothing to do with this story. Her life is her life, she is not responsible for anyone with a physical illness.

“Bye then.”

Did you accidentally post this comment? You know when you’re texting and talking at the same time? Like maybe you were saying ‘Bye’ to your friend but typed it on this post by accident or maybe you’re incredibly ignorant and cruel.

“She sounds like an attention seeker.”

If I wanted attention, I probably wouldn’t try to die for it because as far as I am aware you don’t get attention once your life has ended. Mental illnesses are not easy to live with, nobody would choose to be unwell. If I go to bed with a migraine am I an attention seeker?

“She needs #yoga”

Oh yes the cure for all cancers, organ failures and blood borne viruses. Yoga. I’m on a waiting list for it now! Who needs medication and doctors and medical school, just stick to PE!! Erm…no!

“She’s 24…she hasn’t seen life yet. The best cure for her would be to visit a real third world country and see how people live through real hardship, forcing smiles on their impoverished faces.”

Cure? Or would it just make her feel even more guilty because no matter what she sees, whether it be hardship or freedom then she will still be poorly and still be stuck in a stigmatising and discriminating society that doesn’t want to be educated.

“To the woman who wants to end her life. Go join ISIS, they’ll give different ways you can end your life.”

I hope this is a joke…but then again I don’t. How inappropriate and disgusting especially only a week on from 30 Brits losing their life to terrorists. Why bring ISIS into this? What have the got to do with a woman’s mental health in Belgium?

“Send her to Syria, she will see the true depression and suffering…she will appreciate the life she has now…”

True depression? Hold on…I might be mistaken here but I thought that depression was an illness not an emotion. Sadness, heart break and devastation is what is happening in Syria but there are probably people with depression too and guess what? They would probably have depression had they been born and bred in Oxford because the issue is the brain chemistry. There is suffering in Syria but there is also suffering in the EU. Slavery, rape, trafficking, poverty and more so shall we not assume that she has an easy life? Last time I checked the only life you have lived was yours.

“She just needs a good old fashioned life check there’s people starving in Africa and they have to provide for there family’s yet she had an upbringing, grandparents who actually cared and loved her yet she wants to end her life she gets no sympathy from me ending your life is a cowards way out she should fight for what’s right and if she sat down and flipping snapped out of it then maybe she could find a resolve, a way out by helping others! This is a weird world we live in people but this is ridiculous!”

And breathe…There are also people with mental illness and clinical depression in Africa. Mental illness isn’t just for the developed countries because it isn’t a choice! Oh damn…that’s where I’ve been going wrong! All these years of illness, hospital and medication and I could have just sat down and snapped out of it. What a shame the doctors didn’t give me that advice….or maybe they have the education to know that isn’t how illness works. Got the flu and need to run a marathon? Oh just snap out of it! Okay then. Sorted. Why do we need doctors?

“Come to me lady I am sure I will remove ur depression and make u happiest girl in this world.”

Yes, that’s what her brain chemistry is missing, some egotistical, sexist and very single man. Depression cured.

“Shame she could not go to nepal or some other problem area and see how people handle disasters!  it would give her a new and much needed perspective”

This morning I was thinking, ‘Ahh how can I cure my chronic mental illness’ and then I thought, ‘Yes, new perspective, that’s what I need!’ Plane tickets to Nepal booked and hopefully this new perspective will cure my arthritis and asthma too. Who needs medication and medical professionals when you can see more trauma and devastation to cure you.

“Natural selection, why doesn’t she then.”

Whoa

“In latin american and in africa people gets killed every day for less than nothing…she wants to die? Pay the proper taxes so everybody really DONT CARE jump off a bridge”

I’m really struggling to jump on your wave length here. I’m not sure what taxes or any of this has to do with an individual’s health in Belgium. Little bit of advice for the future…Don’t tell people to jump off of bridges because one day it might be someone you know and you will wish you had been less closed-minded and more compassionate so that they had someone to talk to instead of ending their life through isolation and shame.

“Give her something real and external to be depressed about and she’ll soon want to live. North Korea or Saudi Arabia should make her realise things aren’t so bad.”

Is that how it works? Give a poorly person more trauma and sadness and they become happy? This feels a little bit like 2+2=5

“She needs to get married, have a family and trust she will as happy as Larry”

Ahh marriage! I haven’t tried that one yet…oh I won’t bother taking my medication today, I’ll just go and get engaged!! I wonder if marriage and a family cures post-natal depression too?!

“No! No! Go to Africa!”

Why would that be? Some new form of medication? Or maybe they are less discriminating that the Brits on Facebook? Who knows.

The problem is that these comments are happening every single day and I feel like a blind eye is turned. Would these comments be on a cancer story? Or a multiple sclerosis story? I doubt it and if they were then there would be many arguments starting. Nobody chooses to have depression and nobody wants to spend any length of time in a psychiatric hospital. We’ve got a long way to go. We have got many people to educate. It can be done. Attitudes towards racism and cancer and same sex marriage have changed and I have every belief that we can change these damaging attitudes too. Let’s dissolve stigma.