Light in a dark place

Recently I have been contemplating the good rather than the bad of my mental illness. This all started out from a question that my GP asked me: Can you see any positives in your disorder? No, not in my life but my disorder. If I had to answer the question: are there any good things in your life? I am prepared for that one but this took me completely by surprise. I mumbled some incoherent response but it started me thinking about the question. Most if not all the questions are about the negative and bad areas of my mental illness. As I have mentioned before my illness is multi-faceted and includes:

  • Schizoaffective Disorder
  • Generalise Anxiety Disorder
  • Paranoid Personality Disorder
  • Panic Disorder

I have also been seeing doctors, be they GPs or psychiatrists about my mental illnesses since I was 13 (not to mention a passing parade of counsellors, psychologists and others who put out a similar shingle). After all this time questions are nothing new and up until this resent meeting with my GP all the questions had been pretty much the same: how you doing; how has your week been; have you self-harmed (as in cut myself); have you had thoughts of suicide; do you have a suicide plan; blah, blah, blah. I am sure that you either get the picture or are used to having these questions asked. However, I had never been asked the question “can you see any positives in your disorder” before. I couldn’t dismiss it nor could I let it go. Once my mind locks on something, I can never let it go. The words kept echoing in my mind. If I slept, I woke up to this question. The voices in my head played havoc with me as I continued to ponder these eight (8) words though it morphed into CAN I SEE ANY POSITIVES IN MY MENTAL ILLNESS. Slowly but eventually the answer came as a yes. I must admit at first it was a faint “maybe” but the more I dwelt on the question the firmer that the yes became.

Positive No.1

Friends. I have never had such amazing friends. If someone puts up their hand and says I am a friend to someone with mental illness then they are an amazing person. The people that I call friend have seen me at my best and worst, at my highest and lowest points and love me anyway. They have sat with me in my depression and run beside me in my mania phases. They have listened while I have shouted and screamed at the voices that they tell me they cannot hear. They have driven me to the emergency ward of the hospital when they feared that I may off myself.

My friends have stood by my decision to look into getting a psychiatric service dog. One friend use to print out information about various breeds of dogs for me right when the idea was in the embryonic stages. When I could talk about nothing else but getting an assistance dog, they listened patiently and never once told me to shut up. While they may not have been able to see the benefits or impact that a mindDog (www.minddog.org.au) may have they encouraged me to keep going. Once my psychiatric assistance dog Buddy, became part of my life they accepted him. At no time did they ask me not to have him with me or tell me that they were embarrassed that he was with me.

My friends are awesome and if you are friends with someone with a mental illness then you are awesome too.

I think that this is summed up best by Stephen Fry, the great British actor and comedian who once said, “If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.

It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.

Positive No.2

The way that I think. Ok, this one may seem odd but I look at issues differently. I don’t see the glass as half empty nor do I see it as half full but I see it has something in it and more interested in what it is. If someone tells a joke I analysis it. I need to know why those two guys were in the bar or the logic of it. This part can frustrate some people that I talk to but my brain works differently and to me that is a positive. I used to try to blend my thinking to those I was in conversation with but over time, I have learnt to embrace my difference. I am able to see that there are not two sides to an argument but so many more.  Sometimes this makes answering someone’s question quite difficult because I see more to it or my answer comes from a different point of view to what was asked because of how my mind works. To be honest I do love that I think about things differently to other people. Often people say, I never thought of it that way. So yes, this is a positive.

Positive No.3

Creativity. I see the world differently and helps with my creativity. I have found others with mental illness to be super creative too like my friends: Dawn-Joy, Ell, Arielle and Sally. These are four of the most creative people I have ever met and propel me onto a greater depth of creativity.

I choose many creative outlets like spinning fibre into yarn, knitting, colouring in and photography. My greatest creative outlet is photography because it lets me express what I think or feel about the world around me. My creativity helps me see, feel, express myself and connects me both to the world around me and to others. It is something that I love.

Positive No.4

Introspection. As someone with mental illness, I am asked an incredible amount of questions. I always need to know how I felt in a given moment to answer the question “how did you feel about blah, blah?” Over time, I have become good at knowing what is happening with my thoughts and emotions. I have learnt to be introspective and self-regulating. While it is true that the illness sometimes takes away this ability, I am able to know that when I start to consume a large amount of sugar or crave sweet foods then a depression is looming. When in the depression my introspection may falter, I am able to know what is happening in the lead up and to take precautions if I can or at least warn others about what is happening.

I am so connected to my thoughts and feelings and I like that.

Positive No.5

It is me. I didn’t ask for mental illness but I have it. In fact I was first diagnosed when I was 13 by a very switched on GP who sent me to see a psychiatrist. I have lived with being ill for 41 years. I hate the illness but it is part of me. In at least some ways it makes up who I am today. So I guess since I don’t like the illness I have to admit it has shaped the adult that I am.

Recently, I have started to do talks to other groups like Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, V.I.E.W Clubs, and PROBUS Clubs about mindDog and mental illness. Without the illness, I wouldn’t have Buddy (my ace service dog) or be able to talk to groups about this stuff.

Epilogue

While there are many, many, many negatives and struggles with my mental illness, I am glad my doctor challenged me to think. Anyone struggling with mental illness will tell you that it isn’t fun or wanted so please don’t hear in any of this that it is ok because it isn’t. I just wanted to be able to look from a different point of view even if only for a moment.

I am me. I have mental illness. I am alive. I struggle. I am me. I ride unicorns.

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