It Has To Matter… Mental Health (Passions Profile Challenge #9)

I’ve pretty much always had a passion for Mental Health, and while I’m addressing it last in my Passions Profile Challenge, I would say that it is certainly the passion I give the most time to now, and it is probably the thing I have been passionate about longest.  Long before I had any inkling that I would dive deep into my own mental illness, I was interested in helping other people achieve their own mental health.  Actually in high school I did a big English assignment about institutionalisation, focussing particularly on people facing this in the mental health area.  Times have changed since then and institutionalisation isn’t as favoured as it was then, but my interest in mental health has never waned.

I don’t know where the passion was born, it just was.  It wasn’t until I was 28 that I had to face my own failing mental health, and as a child, while I can now see sometimes when I was perhaps depressed, there was no diagnosis or treatment.  But I can’t deny my late father’s input.  He always had a strong concern for people who were disadvantaged by a variety of things and as children we certainly weren’t sheltered from seeing the hardships faced by some people he worked with.  Christmas Day regularly included being involved in running Christmas dinners for people who had nowhere else to go, and I guess many of those people would have had mental illnesses.  That was just normal Christmas Day tradition in my family.  From around the age of seven I can remember my family helping out on a rostered basis at the local City Mission dinners.  I doubt I was really that much help.  I can remember clearing tables and that’s about it. But I felt comfortable with the people who came for the meal and somehow I knew, even at that age, that not everyone was comfortable with them.

My Mental Health First

There are three parts to my passion and the first is a passion to see my own mental health returned.  To be honest this passion is a new thing.  While my mental health has been in tatters for a long time, I had little interest in life and so recovery was to some extent just what I was supposed to work towards.  But I couldn’t see any point.  I was so badly depressed that I could see no point in living, let alone striving to return my health.  I was simply still alive because there was someone I just didn’t want to hurt.

Don’t get me wrong.  I was working like I was told to.  I was in therapy, I was trying to get my eating disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) under control; but really all I was doing was trying to get through each day.  I couldn’t see anything beyond that.  It has only been in perhaps the last 12-18 months that I have started to want recovery.  Amazingly it has come at a time when really I couldn’t have been blamed if I had completely fallen apart.  Life has been very stressful and traumatic in that time.  I still can’t entirely explain how the turn around has happened by I know that the psychotherapy I do has a large part to play.

Therapy is hard work.  I have an excellent therapist who I have been with for a while now and I think the most important thing is that I trust him completely.  I know he will take care of me whatever I go through in therapy, and that makes a huge difference.  Unfortunately therapy is expensive though.  I get little government help (they consider therapy should be over in six sessions) and none from insurance.  I could have given up because of the cost, but I’ve made it my priority as I know that it is the one thing that has actually worked.  It’s one of the reasons that I have decided to give up smoking this week.  I need to put the money into something that works.

The Mental Health of Others

Like I’ve said, the mental health of other people is important to me and always has been, far before I stopped to think about my own.  Now I have been through this journey (and I in no way expect that it is over yet) I want to be able to help others.  My original plan when I went to university, as an adult student, was to end up working as a Mental Health Social Worker.  That hasn’t quite worked (yet).  Maybe one day.

Meanwhile though, I now run two on-line support groups for people struggling with mental illness.  They are small groups but I like it that way.  One group is for people with BPD and the other is for adults trying to recover from self harm.  I haven’t mentioned them before because I think it’s important to keep the groups and my blog separate. The last thing I would want would be for group members to worry I was going to write about them here.  I won’t be doing that.

The groups are really my priority at the moment.  Not been able to work (because of Fibromyalgia) at the moment means I have the time to commit to this and I love it.  This is also the reason I do not post here everyday.  There is a limit and I am learning that.

It’s interesting though because my involvement in the groups has highlighted the issue of stigma in terms of mental health.  Several people warned me off getting involved because “those types of people are pretty hard to handle”.  Actually “those kinds of people” are so loving and rewarding to work with.  I am one of “those kinds of people” and I would never want to be any less.  Sure there are hard times, and occasionally I can feel like I have been let down but it’s still worth it.  People who have been through extreme suffering (and I would put many with a mental illness in that category) have a unique way of looking at life that I love.  They also tend to be very compassionate people.  Often mis-understood by the world, but definitely worth knowing.  I am fortunate to have these people in my life.

Mental Health Stigma

You may have noticed, if you are following my blog regularly, that I talk about stigma a lot and devoted one post of my Passions Profile Challenge to stigma across a number of areas, as well as several other general posts about mental health stigma.  It has disturbed me for a long time about we hide our mental illnesses because of the type of reaction we expect to get from people if we admit to having a mental illness or needing treatment.  This is so sad that still now, it is necessary to hide.  Only this week I became subject of some vicious accusations because I spoke out on the topic.

Regardless, I have personally come to the conclusion that it is time for me to stop hiding because I believe that until we can be honest about our struggles then the stigma will never go away.  It is only through people being open about something like homosexuality that the stigma has started to reduce.  It was hard for those people to put themselves on the line but I think they are teaching me a lesson.  We can tell the world that one in four people will suffer from mental illness but I don’t think that means much until it is personalised.  Until people realise that people around them (that they know) suffer.  It has to be more than some anonymous statistic and maybe a celebrity waving the mental health flag.

Of course I know that this is a tough call for anyone, and I’m not saying you need to do this too.  Rather I just want to say what I am doing, and that this is really what my blog is for.  It’s not easy to write some of this stuff knowing that friends and family might read it, but I realise now that I need to put it out there if they are to understand that my experience is actually normal, and shouldn’t be stigmatised.

―    Susanna Kayson, Girl, Interrupted Screenplay based on book

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11 thoughts on “It Has To Matter… Mental Health (Passions Profile Challenge #9)

  1. Your reason for being honest in your blog – no matter how difficult it might be for loved ones to read – reminds me of myself and my own blog. I have only told 8 people in my circle of loved ones about my blog. I have been so afraid of telling the rest of my family about my illness, but I’m hoping that someday I will be able to move past that fear. However, with the 8 people who do know about the blog, I often worry about how my posts will be perceived. I worry that I may somehow offend them, or even scare them away by making them feel overwhelmed by my presence in their lives. But like you, I have chosen to be honest and raw with what I write because I need to stop hiding. I still refrain from talking about a lot of difficult things, but when I do choose to discuss something, I try my best not to let my fears get in the way, even if it takes a while to get it out. My family doesn’t understand what I go through, and the only way to help them to do that is to show them who I really am. I’ve hidden so much from them over the years, that it’s the only way for me to finally show them what I’ve kept behind my walls.

    I also want to just say that I love that you do not talk about your groups in your blog. I brought up a similar concern with my therapist late last year. It took a couple of years for me to get the courage to tell her, but I told her that I worried that she went home and at family gatherings and such that she would talk about me and her other clients and our messed up brains and lives. I trust her so much, but that was still a fear I had. She assured me that she never does that and never would. She told me that she respects her clients’ privacy and will never betray that. So, to read that you do not discuss your group topics and the experiences and overall lives of those involved is such a great thing to read. It shows a great deal of character and I just wanted to say that as someone who had such a fear, I really can appreciate that.

    1. Thanks Summer, That means a lot to me to have you say that. I share those fears you have about family and some of mine don’t yet know about my blog (because of fear). It’s so hard to let down that guard and let them see who we really are in case they decide they don’t like that real us, and leave. It’s kind of like I have to swallow that fear everytime I press ‘publish’. So far they haven’t left me so here’s hoping…

  2. I truly loved this post and agree with so much of what you have shared.

    In respect of my own honesty and openness about my mental health I hid it as much as I could for years and then back in 1999 had a complete mental and physical breakdown and could hide it no longer.

    Once it was out it was very interesting (in hindsight) but quite sad at the time how many relationships changed or even seemed to fade away and die..

    Since then I have been very open about my mental health and my blogs appear on my facebook page and my twitter account alike. Even when forming new relationships tend to be quite upfront about it. I just got to the popint of ot wanting to invest in relationships just to have them end or go sour once they know about my mental health. And hey, if someone doesn’t want to have a friendsip with me because I am schizophrenic or have mental health issues are they really the kind of person I want to have a friendship with?

    It is an extremely difficult call for so many and I understand that. Becuse of my physical health I can no longer work and in fact have been retired on medical grounds since that breakdown in 1999 and thus I don’t have the pressures of needing to maintain employment and all the problems that often go hand in glove with mental illness and employment. This can be so very liberating ad I recognize that many of the issues folk face with their poor mental health and trying to maintain a ‘normal’ life I do not have.

    So I comment you with all you are doing and the ruth is that if mental illness is to be recognized for what it is, if the stigma that is out there is going to be addressed and beaten it will take ambassadors like you to do it.

    Well done! I loved the post as I said.
    Kind Regards

    Kevin

    1. Thanks Kevin. I really appreciate your comments. I think it is a really hard decision to decide to be open about mental illness, but you’re quite right. Do I really want friends who can’t accept that part of me? No. Employment is another difficult one and I can’t quite make up my mind about it. Part of me says do I want to work for an employer who wouldn’t accept my mental illness? But then I know how hard it is to get a job, so it’s a tough one.

  3. nikkix2

    Well written and well said. I am more like Kevin when it comes to my Bi-Polar and Depression. I also have a link from my blog to my Facebook and Twitter.
    And, I also have lost friends, and believe that some of my family choose to either ignore my mental illness or to stay away from me.
    Now that I finally know what’s been going on with me,,,I simply just don’t care and don’t have the time for people that are downers 🙂

    1. I think you’re quite right. And yes, it hurts badly when we get rejected because of our mental illness. That is only one part of who we are. But ultimately I think we are better off without those people in our lives, and we somehow just need to keep telling ourselves when times get tough. I also put my blog posts on my FB and some friends have gone rather quiet, but I’m actually ok with that. 🙂

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