Living With Mental Illness

Rant warning.

sunrise girl

One of my favourite sayings is “don’t judge a man before you have walked a mile in his shoes”.

It is one of those idioms that I wish more people would take to heart.

Earlier this week a certain celebrity decided to call suicide ‘stupid’ and described people who choose to end their lives as ‘selfish’. Having lost two friends to suicide and having counselled people weighed down by feelings of hopelessness and despair I can tell you referring to suicide as ‘stupid’ bothers me.

 (It bothered me enough to make me sit down and write this less than fluffy and charming post)

We all know someone with mental illness or addiction issues – diagnosed or otherwise.  Mental illness runs in my family.

My grandfather for example suffered from PTSD and was regarded until the end of his life by extended family and friends as  ‘a weirdo’.

My sister and I thought he was wonderful and eccentric.    We had no idea he was ‘disturbed’ by memories of the war.

Another close relative who lived with manic depression attempted to take her own life three times (that we know of).  Many of my friends had or continue to wrestle with depression and anxiety or live with someone who does.   I have mentioned before that I have learned to control my own anxiety.  At one point in my life it was so debilitating I didn’t leave the house for six months.

If we hope to be better human beings we should open ourselves up to learning more about mental illness.  When you do, you will come face to face in the office, in the community and at various social gatherings with a variety of disorders; anything from mood disorders to eating disorders.

Earlier this month Gillian Bennett took her own life because she had dementia and could not bear the thought of losing herself completely.  You can read her last blog post here.

We are tainted by our own experiences and perspective forgetting perhaps a little too conveniently that we’re not the ones hearing voices or wading through a sticky darkness 24/7.   We are also quick to assume that everyone shares in equal measure: opportunity, good fortune and privilege.  Not so.  Not everyone has access to social and medical infrastructure or the support of a loving parent or friend and many cannot afford the medication.

Treating mental illness is not the same as treating something like the flu.  There are a myriad complex and often intangible factors to consider.  So while some people do go on to live fulfilling lives many people have relapses.

Words and opinions count only if they enlighten, educate and address the issue.  We need action not tweets.  Action is far more powerful.  As is imagination.  Commit to wellness if you live with a mental illness.  Reach out.  Seek help.   Often the most difficult thing is acknowledging we need the help and the second most difficult thing is reaching out to others.   Be brave.  Take those first steps.

Commit to act if you don’t live with mental illness but know someone who does or reach out to help those in your community.

I credit not only therapy but imagination with my healing.  I chose to imagine myself as whole, safe and powerful.  You can too.  It won’t necessarily end the pain but it lets in a shard of light long enough for you to start believing in possibility.

We save lives when we act.  Let’s stop thinking of  depression for example as something ‘he/she should snap out of’  and see it as a real illness like we do cancer and let’s offer to do the things we do for others like picking up groceries or the kids from school.   Let’s practice compassion.

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19 thoughts on “Living With Mental Illness

    • Here finally we have this wonderful tool to spread awareness and hope and to reach millions of people and yet some people use it to spread misinformation or to further their own agendas. Sad and frustrating. Thanks for stopping by Eric 😀 hope you are enjoying your long weekend!

  1. I have stood outside my daughter’s bedroom door, listening for sounds of movement. The anguish with which she lived rendered her suicidal. Nobody ever wants to find themselves in that situation.

    • Many people cannot comprehend that level of anguish Jo, having never experienced it or lived with someone who cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. My prayer is that these same people reach out to help those who live with mental illness. Thanks for your comment. xoxo

  2. I’ve personal experience of debilitating depression so I know how serious mental illness is. I’m very open about it, because in my own way, I try to make it seem like any other illness – but although we’ve made some progress, the stigma remains. This was a very thoughtful and heartfelt post Yolanda.

    • Thank you Andrea 🙂 This is a subject very close to my heart as you can imagine and I have been troubled by the response by some to recent events like Robin Williams’ suicide. I applaud you for being open about your own experience. I hope more of us will open up about our struggles. xoxo

  3. Great post, Yolanda and I don’t see it as a ‘rant’ at all. Those in the community who don’t understand mental illness fear it and their best defense is slapping someone in the face and telling them to snap out of it. This approach has never worked and will never work. We need to understand the illness and take ownership as a society. I read Gillian’s post and totally understand why she did what she did. Quality of life xxx

    • Thanks Dianne 🙂 I had to edit my original post as it was definitely a rant 😀 then I just left it just in case it still came across like I was venting – which of course I am. Gillian’s story really touched a nerve. It made me think – again – that a strong sense and knowledge of self is so vital to wellbeing as are memories and memory-making. When we lose that, we lose everything.

  4. A really sensitive and thought provoking post, Yolanda. I have a dear friend who is bi-polar and struggles on a daily basis. It took years to be diagnosed properly. She is now very up front about her condition and the family now recognise the early signs of a downward spiral and know how to act for her. Mental illness rarely affects just one person in a family – the repercussions reverberate.

    • Thanks Jenny 🙂 Bi-polar is particularly tough because like you say it is not always diagnosed correctly and it usually only surfaces in our 30s and 40s. Furthermore it takes considerable time to get on the right combination of meds. Your friend is lucky to have the support of family and friends. xxx

  5. Thanks for sharing. It’s an important topic to discuss. Without thinking of it as a disease – I wanted death in suffering puberty. Sometimes now I can imagine it a ‘solution’ to endless old age life.

  6. This is such a tender subject to me. Not only have many people in my family had mental illnesses, but this year one of them acted on his delusions and killed his cousin and tried to kill his grandmother. The outside world only sees him as a crazed killer, but those close to him see him as a victim also.

    • Thank you for sharing this Luanne. People are quick to forget that everyone who survives an experience like the one you describe is a victim including the person with mental illness. I know of too many cases where help was sought by immediate family members before tragedy struck and they did not get it because of ignorance, fear and apathy. xxx

  7. Yolanda I agree totally more needs to be pushed out there for others to read. My family has a history of bipolar, anxiety and now a trail leading to autism. By knowing and loving people who are different all my life it does hurt when you hear ignorant people comment on things they know nothing about. I lost my brother to suicide and I understood his pain and the depression that haunted him every day. The more we talk about out experiences the more we reach people. But there will always be those who will never get it. I am happy we connected I love your writing style and what you have to say. Kath.

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