I HURT. I BLEED. I WANT TO DIE.

The very mentioning of death and more specifically the idea of killing one’s self usually brings out the ghouls and goblins, the freaks and the curious. It’s ok as I pretty well fit into all of those groups. You could say that I am good at blending.

When did suicide become a thing? When did suicide become my thing? It feels like it has always been an ever-present friend. Suicide, a friend? you may well ask. A friend or a comfort whatever you want to call it has been with me for almost as long as I can remember. I remember the first clarity of thought I had about the idea of suicide so strap in because that’s where I am about to dive back to.

It was almost 50 years ago. It was my 7th birthday. I was lying in bed not wanting to leave the warm cosy confines of my bed. I was living at 33 May Street, Constitution Hill. My birthday falls in the month of June. It’s cold. It’s always cold. It’s cold enough to freeze Hell over and turn it into an ice skating rink. I get asked, “aren’t you getting up for your birthday?” My reply, “I don’t want to turn 7, I want to stay 6”. If it were just that sentence you might find it cute or even adorable coming from the mouth of someone so young almost like a Christopher Robin statement from A.A. Milne’s, Winnie The Pooh series of books. It was in those moments that the idea of suicide crystalised in my mind. It was what I wanted. I was a child in the wrong world. I was a child in a violent world.

There is a name that comes back to my mind on so many occasions and each time it strikes me down with white fear. That name is Vic. More fully that name is Victor. A soccer coach. I pretend I can’t really remember. I pretend that it is just childish nonsense. I pretend. What is the use in remembering? Seriously, what the hell good is a memory that dwells on evil. This part of my past I have long stopped wanting to remember or talk about and in fact, I have gotten to the point where that door is nailed shut and plastered over. I can still hear the laughter from family and others when it got to the point that when he came to visit I ran screaming and crying only to hide under my bed until I was totally sure he had left.

There was this one day when I was told that, Vic, had left and that it was safe to come out. Hmmm, there was something odd in the way that it was said. I waited and waited. In the end, I came out from my hiding spot. As I left my room and turned into the hallway, there he was! I could hear the laughter for a split second before I screamed and went running to my hiding place. I wore the huge lump on my forehead as a slammed into the bed frame as I went to dive under. I think I blacked out for a moment. When I came to I scrambled to get to where I was safe. No one understood. People laughed. I cried.

Yes, I remember when suicide crystalised in my mind as a real thing and a good thing. I knew when the self-loathing began. I remember when innocence turned to guilt. I know when the desire to play sport or go to training stopped. I remember things, Vic, that no child should remember.

 

This too shall pass…

windowlowres2

 

Lately I feel like I been ten round with Muhammad Ali! I have been fighting the feelings of or desire to suicide. TBH it is my greatest longing. I am trying to fight it. I am doing everything I can. I even went to a local public mental health facility for day patients yesterday and sat in the waiting room. No one talked to me. No one questioned why a guy with a dog was there for a couple of hours. No one noticed me. LOL no one even noticed Buddy. Let’s face it most people are just there for the pay like any profession but I just need to be somewhere that I knew I wouldn’t harm. It worked so yeah.

Today I saw my psychiatrist up at St John of God, North Richmond. I don’t know what it is about this place but neither my Assistance dog or I like it. Maybe it is to clean and sterile. I don’t like engaging with people but everyone who passes you at St John of God asks the same question “how are you” and i so want to answer with mad or insane or oh you can see me but I don’t. For those just catching up with my story MI means mental illness. I am a fairly complicated case. Schizoaffective Disorder which means I am 50% bipolar with     50% schizophrenic, panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, paranoid personality disorder and ever encroaching agoraphobia. Anyway, I see my psychiatrist: I yell and swear and tell him I am ticked off at the MI professionals that because if you can string a sentence or two together or have a shower they think compliance and me using my words mean nothing to worry about (read cured). Screw that! He is a very good man though anti any religious faith. Nevertheless, I told him about this incredible desire to suicide and basically, “this too shall pass.” He was like, “well you know about the cycles and how you rapid cycle and you have been here before and survived and that was because it passed and you know that this too shall pass”. Really, after they have administer medication there isn’t much else but these few words of “this too shall pass”. We are pushing the boundaries of the amount of anti-psychotics meds and within range of antidepressants but mood stabilisers haven’t changed in a couple of years. Basically, our session was me yelling, swearing, crying and giving Buddy snacks. Oh if you don’t know I also have a psychiatric Assistance Dog whose name is Buddy.

Then it a pleasant trip back to Blacktown so I could go to Centrelink to put in my receipt from my psychiatrist. Always a for joy experience.

Then an afternoon session with my psychologist. Oh yeah a big MI day! I do like her as well. If you don’t like them as people then they’re as useless as an ashtray on a motorbike. I tell her about my desire to die, she seems a little more concerned or at least animated. I slip in that I have chosen an exit date. I won’t tell anyone the date but did tell her it was months away. Just in case you are wondering, we cannot forcibly lock anyone in an MI facility even if they want to suicide. It is not an illegal act. It is not an against the bible or God act either. Back to the story. We go way over time. She’s a good egg. She cares. She wears great shoes.

Went and sat and had coffee at one of the coffee places in the shopping centre to contemplate a question that the psychologist asked me: Do you have any hope? Response: No not really, no.

If you are Christian then you are going to jump all over me saying Jesus is your hope. You have the Holy Spirit. The hope of heaven. The hope of being well. The hope of what God has in store for you. Yeah, thanks.

When the Black Fog of depression descends, nothing exists. Nothing. No hope. No future. No present. No past. No friendship. No love. No caring. No life. No desire. No peace. Dare I say no God? The heavier and darker the fog the more hopeless things are.

I apologise that this is not a happy I conquered all type of blog post. I will never be cured in this lifetime. I know that. I have lived this hell since my first suicide attempt in my
pre-teen years though most at the time thought it was rambunctiousness gone awry.

Oh damn I told her about the sexual abuse when I was a small child and being raped at 15. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Where does that leave me? I still have colour pencils and colouring books.

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.

2016

Well, another year has ticked over. I am well on the way to my 55th birthday. Life is not always easier, wait, strike that, life is darn hard with mental illness. Be that as it may, as all illnesses I learn to cope, adjust and hopefully move forward. I have decided to take a radically different direction this year.

I have decided to go back to something that use to make me incredibly happy. The one thing that growing older gives me is perspective. I can look back and see what worked and what hasn’t. Not that I want to be too philosophical about life. I sat down not long ago and thought if I could go back and do anything what would it be. The answer was immediate; Photography.

Back in the days when Kodak and Fuji battled it out on a global stage for the hearts and minds of photographers. When film ruled and digital wasn’t even a concept, I taught photography and darkroom technique. There was always something so powerful about squeezing off the shutter button and knowing I got what I wanted in the frame. Photographers have to be able to tell a story in one frame. Those who take still images have a far more difficult job than filmmakers: they get two hours to tell a story we have to do it in a fraction of a second. Unlike painters we have to work with what was in front of us we couldn’t just omit to paint that telegraph pole that we had to find a way to work around. There is joy in taking a photograph that you knew, just knew, was a goodun. Ah the joy of the days of not being able to see what you had until the film was processed.

When it comes to the darkroom. I will never forget that amazing moment when I saw the photograph I had taken suddenly emerge on paper in the developing tray. I cannot describe the emotions at that moment because how could I ever put into words, joy, happiness, electrifying ecstasy and wonder into one encapsulating phrase or term.

Long before I stepped into a darkroom I was taking photos but that moment galvanised my determination to be the best. I would never be another Diane Arbus (http://www.artnet.com/artists/diane-arbus/2) though she was always a hero of mine. A hero because she to had mental illness but was able to express herself though the art of photography. I probably would never be able to be as great as Annie Leibovitz (think the great images in Rolling Stone Magazine, think the pregnant naked Demi Moore shot on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar, think the last photograph taken of John Lennon where he was curled up naked in the fetal position next to a fully clothed Yoko Ono, then you will know her work) but I was going to be the best with a lens that I could be.

I managed to win a fair few awards back in the day. I have not achieved two goals that I set out to accomplish. I have no produced a calendar and I have not had a solo exhibition. I will make these happen.

I decided that 2016 was the year I fight back. Now this doesn’t mean that I don’t do everything to beat my illness that I can but this was different this was a proactive start. I was going to take control from the very beginning. I was going to be in control. On the front foot and pull its nose in the process. This will not be the year I am defined by my Schizoaffective Disorder, Anxiety, Paranoid Delusions, Panic Attacks or even my Agoraphobia.  So I formed a plan and on January the first I enacted the very beginning of that plan.

I along with my psychiatric service dog, Buddy, took my camera down to Balmoral Beach in Sydney and took photos of the first ray of light for the dawning new year. This became important. This became almost an obsession. I had to be there to see the new year in. I didn’t want to see the dark at midnight. I didn’t want to have some drunken bum slobbering the words Happy New Year. I didn’t want to be at a party. I wanted to stare down the new year as it awoke on that first day. I had to be there and capture this in an image or images. I wanted to stand tall as if to say… well illness I am still here, I am alive and I plan to live. This was my great moment of defiance. My moment to claim this year as one I will live. I was here to say I will not go quietly into that good night. I will thrash. I will not be crushed. I will not be driven to my knees. I will stand up and be counted. Illness you do not own me!

On the first of January, 2016 I declared my independence. I drew the line in the sand and said here and no further.

On the first of January, 2016 I captured that moment in photos. I plan to make this a year of creative photography and with ever click of the shutter I declare I am winning and my illness will not break me.

If you are suffering with mental illness or any other demon then make this your year of independence too. Find one thing that makes you happy. It doesn’t matter what that thing is. It could be:
– Colouring In
– Fixing Old Cars
– Knitting
– Sewing
– Crochet
– Cross Stitch
– Tapestry
– Drawing
– Painting
– Baking
– Woodwork
– Photography
Whatever it is do it and bring joy to your heart and tell the illness, demon or monster in your life that you are not living their way any more. Draw your own line in the sand and say “here and no further”.

In 2016, live!

 

FROTH & BUBBLE, TOIL & TROUBLE!!! R U OK

Today is what I consider a day of froth and bubble or one without substance, this is R U OK day. I know that these thoughts run counter to the media hype and positive vibe we are suppose to feel. I guess this will make me Mr Unpopular!

In my humble opinion I think that R U OK day is so incredibly stupid that it would be funny if it wasn’t about such a serious topic. As I have made clear in previous blogs I suffer from mental health issues. I am probably one of the most out there people when it comes to being open and honest about my illness (quiet I ain’t). What is my problem with a day that is to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day. Well, here is one day in 365 that you ask someone R U OK and tomorrow people won’t ask and won’t care. It is like an abusive husband buying flowers on Valentines Day for the abused wife or an alcoholic father sitting with his kids as they unwrap the Christmas presents. It is both in-congruent and without real meaning.

To all those who don’t give a flying fig for the other 364 days I hope you feel good about yourself today. After all R U OK day is all about you and you feeling good about yourself. If you ask if I am ok today and if I choose to off myself tomorrow you can at least say “I tried to reach out to him” thus clearing your conscience. As John Lennon said “whatever gets you through the night is alright” so at least this is one night you can get through feeling like a great person for asking the question.

Trust me any clown can paint a smile on their face and make you believe they are happy.

The R U OK question doesn’t go deep enough. It doesn’t start a conversation. Is anyone really listening to the answer? Don’t be fooled the world is not going to suddenly become a more caring and loving place. The chill of apathy will descend upon us all tomorrow. Life will go on as it did yesterday and the day before that and the day before that. The only mental health issue ever spoken about is depression so there is no new understanding of other mental health issues. There won’t suddenly be a longer que of people wanting to be psychologists or psychiatrists. Governments are not suddenly going to give money to help with mental health issues or to community based groups that can help those who need it. So R U OK?

Then there is this ridiculous “world suicide prevention day” surely you don’t believe that there will be a world without suicide. If you do then you can head home with Peter Pan and Tinker Bell to Never Never Land. I guess once we get the people to stop killing themselves we can have other great days like:

  • No car accident day
  • No drunk people day
  • No domestic violence day

Because by just saying things like R U OK will stop suicides so surely saying Don’t Crash will stop car accidents or Keep Your Hands To Yourself will mean women and children will be safe. If I were to suggest these other days or
agitate for any of these days you would say I was barking mad. Which means we are treating mental health frivolously by giving a day to ask R U OK and that band-aid will not fix the open gaping wound that is suicide.

The life line statistics on suicide in Australia are chilling and state:

  • There are 7 deaths per day by suicide.
  • For every completed suicide it is estimated that as many as 30 people attempt suicide.
  • That is around 200 attempts per day.
  • That is more than one new attempt in Australia every 10 minutes.
  • It is estimated that around 250 people will make a suicide plan every day.
  • It is estimated that around 1,000 people will think about suicide at some stage in their day.
  • Men account for 3 our of every 5 deaths by suicide which makes suicide the 10th leading cause of death for men.
  • For those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, the suicide rate is 2.5 times higher for men and   3.4 times higher for females than the national average.

R U OK?

While I do understand that words have power. They have power to hurt, injure and tear someone down they also have the power to heal, sooth and lift up. However, these three words R U OK won’t bring us any closer to either an understanding of mental health issues or stemming the torrent of suicides. This is like trying to hold back a flood using a thimble.

We need to become a more compassionate nation that stops being so focused on our own wants and needs to be able to see that a neighbour might be hurting, or a work colleague or a family member. One day a year isn’t going to do it. R U OK day isn’t going to change a thing. It is like putting lipstick on your granny.

R U OK?

Depression My View

As I start this topic on depression let me state up front that I am NOT a mental health professional. I am just a fellow sufferer. If you are feeling depressed please see your doctor (G.P.) and they will refer you to other mental health professionals. You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14 if you live in Australia.

My journey with mental health goes back a long way. I was first diagnosed with depression at 13, severe depression at 15 and since then the diagnosis changed to bipolar and now to what I believe is the correct diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. In case you have never heard of bipolar it is a combination of bipolar and schizophrenia. As you can see all the diagnosis have had depression as a part of the illness.

I also want to say that I see no shame or stigma in having a mental health issue. I cannot separate myself from my mental health any more successfully than I could separate ownership of my skin. It is just part of who I am. Do I love it? No. Do I want it? No. I have to live with it the same as I have to live with my height, eye colour or skin colour. I think mental health is like heart health. By this I mean we all have a heart but not all of us have heart health issues in the same way that we all have mental health not all of us have mental health issues.

WHAT IS DEPRESSION TO ME?
Well, this is a tricky question because each person that suffers from this insidious illness will describe it differently. The way that I describe it is like a thick black fog. This fog is devoid of light, hope, peace, joy, love. It is like a blackness that descends on me without warning. There is no cause for it. So many times well meaning friends will ask me, what caused my depression. These people live in a world of cause and effect. I guess it could be called the world of equal and opposite reactions. With my depression this is not the case because it is like someone just flicks a switch from light to darkness and back again. My depression can last an hour or two, ten hours, ten days, in fact, there is no way of knowing how long it will last. I get completely overwhelmed by it. There are times that I cannot get out of bed let along out of the house. When I am in the grip of this black fog I give up caring and life. Yes, you can be disabled by your depression that is why I keep saying “Not Every Disability Is Visible”.

DEPRESSION Vs SADNESS or UNHAPPINESS
On of the things that really gets to me is when I hear people who don’t have depression say they are feeling depressed when what they are feeling is unhappy or sad. Depression is made of many things it is not just feeling blue. Within depression there is: fear, anxiety, self hate or loathing, sadness, anxiety, panic and a blackness that is just indescribable. There are so many emotions and thoughts flooding over me. It is like being in an ocean of emotion and not being able to stand up against the waves that pound me. It is not just a matter of cheer up or don’t worry it may never happen because it already is happening. If you are just feeling blue or unhappy or sad please don’t say you are depressed because that  is like saying you have a brain tumour when all you have is a headache!

I don’t know if I have helped anyone understand depression or even aided the cause of those who suffer from this terrible illness and that is what it is and illness. I don’t think that I am anyone special or that I have all the answers because the more I live with this illness the more it baffles me. I just hope that I have helped you have a better conversation with someone who is suffering from depression. If you are the one who suffers I hope this may help you open up to those around you. The more we talk the more we end the stigma.

If you are feeling like you want to self harm please see your doctor (G.P.) and they will refer you to other mental health professionals. You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14 if you live in Australia.