September 11 – A Birthday ‘Girl’

There were times when I thought birthdays were simply a kick in the teeth. A day which celebrates your life? When you’re seriously depressed? Exactly. It doesn’t work.

I would fight my family, especially my Dad. There was no way I wanted to celebrate my life or my birthday. Love him as I did, Dad couldn’t get why I didn’t want to celebrate anything, and having an eating disorder (think Anorexia) I had no desire to face any extra food. Why was all this so hard to explain? And why do all celebrations centre around food?

Now that Dad has been gone for over five years, I know he just wanted to take the bad stuff away, see me happy; and now I would give anything for him to have been here today. I would even have put up with his sometimes, over-exuberance for my life.

Sometimes birthdays are just as much about who is there, as who is missing.

This morning I took my mother to church (we do it pretty much every Sunday). I go so that Mum can continue her life-long habit of church involvement. If I didn’t go, she wouldn’t be able to. With Alzheimer’s to contend with she doesn’t altogether understand that this is the only reason I go, but that’s okay.

While I used to have a Christian faith which would fit with my mother’s church, I admit that now days I find it frustrating, bordering on annoying to even angry-making. I admit today was at the angry end of the spectrum.

So my mind wandered, out the window, and I watched as firefighters were preparing for a 9/11 commemoration ceremony across the road. I watched as they tied both American and New Zealand flags to the handrail going over the bridge. I could just see the two beams from the World Trade Center towers, which are now the focus of the Fireman’s Reserve here.

There have been times since that I hated that 9/11 was my birthday. It is a reminder of a very dark time in my life. 2001, I was desperately suicidal and had planned to be dead by my birthday. Instead, I was in a psychiatric hospital in Dunedin.  I was close to psychotic and the staff would tell me they were running out of ideas of what to do with me. I was becoming a hopeless case. I certainly felt hope-less. Without hope.

Each year when 9/11 is commemorated, I am almost forced to remember my own hell of 9/11. I actually want to think of anything but. That morning (it was actually 12 September by then in New Zealand, but that didn’t matter) the nurse woke me and told me “the world had gone mad“. I wondered what I had done. Why else would she say that?

That was fifteen years ago, and much has changed. I’m glad it has changed, and actually, I’m glad I have a birthday today. Yes, I did just say that (for the benefit of family who may be reading). Today I can remember my 9/11 hell and not have it pull me down into despair. I remember my time in Dunedin but I know it is firmly in my past.

When I see the American and New Zealand flags side by side on 9/11, I can remember what happened that day, and the people who died, but I can remember my American friends too. Without having gone through my own version of hell back 2001, I probably wouldn’t have some of the friends I now have. I’m glad I have them.

Happy Birthday to me.

Below is my gift today from my niece L, still my favourite little person in the world. She makes being alive worthwhile.


I know you might not be able to read the message, but that’s for me anyway. The picture is of her and I. I love it.

The fact that I can now love anything, anyone and especially my five-year-old niece tells me that there is hope. I would never have imagined being able to enjoy a birthday or enjoy L.

Life isn’t perfect, I wouldn’t even say it is great. Life is what it is, and often that’s really hard. But it is worth being alive.

And that makes 9/11 worthwhile for me.

Thanks for reading





Bewildered was reflected in my eyes. I hadn’t seen it before, but there was something devastatingly familiar in that look. I couldn’t turn away from it.

I had been Bewildered in times past. It came as a symptom often not recognised, from too many anti-depressants, benzodiazepines, antipsychotics and even too much ECT (yes, it is possible to have too much). Those left me with little idea of the world around me. I didn’t know the people around me. I didn’t know the world around me. I was a little bit scared but mostly I didn’t care.

The Bewildered now reflected in my eyes was mostly not there to reflect mine in the days I needed it. I was mostly alone. It’s not that they didn’t care. I had just pushed away anyone who cared. I had moved away to places no one knew me. Those that cared were few in number. Well, that’s what Bewildered wanted me to believe.

Actually many people, admittedly at a distance, cared. Actually, many people, family and friends, wanted to care, but I couldn’t see it. Perhaps it was the psychosis, the depression or perhaps it was the drugs… they wanted me to think I was alone. Actually, Alone was the last thing I needed. Alone would kill me if I let it.

It’s what made me think when I saw Bewildered staring back at me last night. Alone is the last thing that Bewilderment needs. It’s not that it would kill them. Well, not yet and not in the way it threatened to kill me.

It is easier to stay away. Because it’s difficult. What do I say? How do I respond to Bewildered’s strange statements? How do I stay, when Bewildered seems to push me away?

I’m lucky in a way. I have my Grandfather’s example to follow. He wasn’t alive by the time I faced my Bewildered, but I know what he would have done because I’d seen him do it before. He would stare Bewildered straight in the face, and say, “I’m not leaving you”. And he didn’t.

Whatever Bewildered you find reflected in your eyes, I challenge you to stare them straight back in the face and say “I’m not leaving you.” It seems so small, but maybe if it can take out a little of the fear that Bewildered faces alone, it has to be worth it. It will probably be difficult, but still worth it.

“Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of these things and still be calm in your heart.”

 – Unknown

Peace is something that even the Bewildered deserve. No matter where that Bewildered is sourced, I believe that I can help someone Bewildered find even just a little of their own peace just by being willing to let that Bewildered be reflected back in my eyes. In that, they are not alone.

Thanks for reading



Dona Nobis Pacem – 9/11

Image credit: Shannon’s Moments of Introspection

As I write today, it is actually September 12 in my part of the world, but I want to recognise that in the United States and around the world, 9/11 is being remembered again today.  As I wrote yesterday, 9/11 also marks my birthday, and while this year I have finally been able to celebrate that fact again, I admit that celebrating anything on this day just doesn’t seem quite right anymore.

I find myself almost being apologetic when asked when my birthday is, and I know that I am not the only one who feels this way about having a birthday on such a day.  The other thing I note is that until 2001 my birthday was always 11/9 because that is the way we write the date in my part of the world.  Now it is so much easier to say my birthday is 9/11 and still know that people won’t think my birthday is November.

But one day on is actually what I remember.  It wasn’t September 11 that the world seemed to fall apart in New Zealand, but rather it was waking up on September 12 that I heard that the planes had flown into the World Trade Center towers, (as well as the horror in Washington DC and Pennsylvania), and it was for the rest of that day that we followed the terrible news.

I was in hospital at the time and my favourite nurse woke me saying that the world was ending (that’s not what you need when an inpatient in a psych hospital).  I had no idea what she was talking about but in my very unwell state assumed I must have done something really bad.  In the next weeks I battled between reality and some sort of depressive delusional fantasy.

I was far from well and it wasn’t long before doctors decided that I was a candidate for more Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT).  Lucky me.  I was well enough to sign on the dotted line but I knew little else except for concluding by then that 9/11 was all my fault.

The road to recovery has been long but one of the things that has become more important to me is the need for us to work towards peace.  There is too much hate, too much bloodshed and too much war in my mind.  It’s not something that I feel at all comfortable about, and the need for us to love our brothers and sisters seems increasingly urgent in my mind.  Why can’t we stand side by side?

In line with my thoughts on the need for peace, I have joined Blog Blast 4 Peace, a movement of bloggers blogging for peace.  This is a group that has been running for six years now and on November 4, there will be a commitment from involved bloggers to write that day for peace.  The images included on this post come from that source.

Peace means a lot of different things to me, and it is my hope to explore what it is that I wish for.  I have written before about my desire to see Peace Not War, as well as that I admit to being An Idealist.  I don’t pretend to think that everyone will agree with what I might think, but isn’t it time we were talking about what we mean by peace and how we can achieve it?

No one wants another 9/11 and while the world has changed much in 11 years, there so much more that is possible so that we can learn to live alongside one another.

There was an excellent post by Ruby of A Canvas Of The Minds a couple of days ago to mark World Suicide Prevention Day, in which she promoted the idea of:

“One hand holding on to another.  One human telling another human that they aren’t alone.  One person sharing their strength and understanding with another person.”

I like this a lot, and while Ruby wrote it in connection to suicide prevention, I see it as something that peace can also achieve, so hopefully Ruby won’t mind that I borrowed it.  It applies so well to peace, whether it across the world, in our local neighbourhood, or simply peace of mind for each of us.

Dona Nobis Pacem (Grant Us Peace).

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.” 
―    Mahatma Gandhi

“World peace must develop from inner peace. Peace is not just mere absence of violence. Peace is, I think, the manifestation of human compassion.” 
―    Dalai Lama XIV

It Won’t Happen To Me

What are we hiding from?

This past week I have been caught up in thinking about the stigma that exists with mental illness.  If you are a regular reader you will know this because I have mentioned it in my posts How We Treat Our Mentally Ill and It Has To Matter… Mental Health (Passions Profile Challenge #9).  It is likely though that I will keep on mentioning it because the more I read, the more I listen, the more I am disturbed.

Firstly I need to make a point of clarification.  In the first post I took a stand about how the Police and the Media treated someone who committed a crime and appeared to be mentally ill, as a result of a drug psychosis.  Some people pointed out to me that the man committed a crime.  And yes, I totally agree that he committed a crime.  That was never an issue for me and I apologise for not being clearer.  My issue was in how he was handled and how it was reported.

I got some negative feedback on this subject, not so much on here but on a news site where I made similar comments.  That doesn’t worry me and I expected it.  Actually my comments got classed as controversial rather than just regular, and I’m kind of pleased about that.  Many people voted to disagree with me and many made rather blatant comments that perhaps I deserved to be in the situation of the man’s victim (having his face bitten off).  The encouraging thing is though, that there were a few anonymous people who supported what I said, that this man was mentally ill and should have received treatment rather than fatal gun shots.

That’s encouraging because those that commented negatively were really cruel.  This man was a drug addict and apparently didn’t deserve to be classed, let alone treated, as human being.  It was also a big joke for many, and I’ve seen the story line of zombies and flesh eaters continue throughout week as people joke about this and other news stories.  Maybe I don’t have a good sense of humour.  I just don’t see anything funny when someone suffers.  There were at least two sufferers in this, the victim of the man and the man himself, not to mention their families.  Yet the public just carry on laughing.  This just becomes a joke on Facebook or some other social media site.

Mental illness is regularly a butt of people’s jokes and I suspect it is because it is the only way some people can handle it.  I think  people say to themselves “It won’t happen to me” and then carry on laughing and making jokes.  It’s much easier that way.  It keeps it at a safe distance.

I thought it wouldn’t happen to me.  I had no trouble in accepting that other people might have mental illness but I didn’t for one minute think it would be me next, as I wrote in my post Normal.  As I have written previously, as a child I came across many people with mental illnesses because of my father’s involvement with them. 

Why do we let him be called names?

And that was perfectly normal to me, until my family used to regularly drive past the local psychiatric hospital on the way home from a day at the beach.  We would drive past the high walls of the imposing, brick buildings and I was scared.  So much so that even though I was sitting in the backseat between my brothers I would want the car doors locked.  I thought the people in those buildings were crazy, dangerous and completely different from us.  At 10 years old I was wondering how would the staff of the hospital go to work every day knowing that they would be in danger (in my mind).  So even though I knew people with mental illness I couldn’t connect that with those inside the hospital.  And perhaps most importantly to this post, I thought they were different me.

Fast forward 36 years and I have often been one of those people, a patient in a psychiatric hospital.  Not that particular hospital, as it is now closed (and reopened as a university) but similar places.  I’m not so different after all.  And the thought that kids might want to feel safer by locking their car doors when passing me?  It makes me ashamed that I ever did it, but it also highlights for me what the people who encourage the stigma think of me.  I’m crazy, dangerous, completely different, not really human and perhaps better off shot dead.

I think there is a long road ahead to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness.  People need to realise somehow that psychiatric patients are (mostly) not dangerous, they are not different, and that it could very well happen to any of us.  Whether it’s me, my brother, my neighbour, the woman at work?  Any of us.  The thing is that we never think anything is going to happen to us, and that’s probably a good thing.  Otherwise we would be over-protective of ourselves and unwilling to take risks.  But when it becomes an attitude of arrogance, where we think it only happens to people who aren’t as ‘good’ as we are, then we have a problem.

Dare I say it, I’m not convinced any more that the ‘one in four people’ routine that comes out around mental health stigma is enough, simply because it’s too easy to think it will be the other three, and not me.  I think somehow it has to become more personal.  I know that’s a tough ask, but I think it will be necessary.  I think too that the judgement has to go.  Having a mental illness isn’t a sign of weakness or failure.  It just is.

That said, I’d love to hear what you think?  And what did you think of the mentally ill when you were a child?

An interesting point that surely relates to stigma too

“People with mental problems are our neighbors. They are members of our congregations, members of our families; they are everywhere in this country. If we ignore their cries for help, we will be continuing to participate in the anguish from which those cries for help come. A problem of this magnitude will not go away. Because it will not go away, and because of our spiritual commitments, we are compelled to take action.”

~Rosalynn Carter

How We Treat Our Mentally Ill

Today I have been unable to get onto Facebook.  Actually I can, but apart from read I can’t do anything (and that is torture).  No doubt I will have been reported Missing in Action by now.  I’m not sure if another quake early this morning (the Christchurch alarm clock) cut Facebook’s cable to the city or whether it is just me they are penalizing for who know’s what.

Anyway I have been checking out the news instead, and couldn’t help to notice a New Zealand news site with a title saying Naked man was chewing victim’s face.  You can check it out if you want to, but it’s fairly predictable and I would warn that the video attached is a complete waste of time.

Even before I read this and various US news sites I suspected that this man was mentally ill (although I admit I am no expert), and my concern about how he was treated made me read on.  The police shot him dead.  Apparently the first shot didn’t stop the man in his actions so the police officer shot him several more times and he died in hospital a short while later.

There just seems something wrong with this to me.  Mentally healthy people don’t usually lie on sidewalks naked or, as the report claims, attempt to cannibalize another man (who by the look of the video I wasted my time over) was also, at least, semi-naked.  The MSN report I read finished by suspecting that the attack by the man was fueled by “cocaine psychosis”.  Does this not suggest the man needed help, rather than to be shot dead?

I admit I don’t know the rules the US police force use to determine when they shoot an offender, and I only have what I read in the articles, but it did seem to me that there were a lot of missing facts here, and that to shoot the man dead was a poorly chosen choice.  As regular readers my remember I have little time for guns anyway, so perhaps I slightly biased and if that is the case, so be it.

I guess I really have two problems with this case.  One, is the police action to shoot the man.  But perhaps what fuels me even more is the media response.  The captions they chose to use have been picked to draw attention to the story.  It certainly got my attention.  They are sensationalist to say the least, and then they finish by admitting they know the man was probably mentally ill.  If they were to write without stigma for mental illness, they would have chosen a less sensationalist caption and had some compassion.

It makes me so mad when media do this and they give the impression that all of us are more than likely to act in this way.  Wouldn’t it have been better to ask the question of whether the police handled the situation wisely, and what could have been done to help (both) men.

Am I dreaming?  This reminds me so much of my post from last month A Man Named Jason… And Why I Cried.  Different people, different situation but both cases of the mentally ill being mistreated by both Police and Media.  We have a long way to go before the stigma attached to mental illness disappears.

I’d love to hear what you think…

“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.”

 – Bill Clinton

A Man Named Jason… And Why I Cried

Image via Be You Own Kind of Beautiful

I don’t cry a lot.  I am an emotional person and that means that I feel things strongly.  I have wanted to cry at many times recently but it just hasn’t happened.  But now it has.  It’s amazing how something in which I have no involvement can affect me so deeply, but I guess I just hate it when I see someone being treated so badly.

Jason Russell of Invisible Children speaks at ...
Jason Russell of Invisible Children speaks at TEDxSanDiego in December 2011 – _MG_4054 (Photo credit: sean dreilinger)

Through my Facebook page Infinite Sadness or what I learnt of a man named Jason.  He’s obviously been on the news, particularly in United States, but somehow I had never heard him.  Maybe this news didn’t get as far as New Zealand, or maybe I was otherwise occupied when I should have been paying attention.  If you have heard of him, then you are probably having some thoughts about what you know so far.  I would be interested to know what your first thoughts are when you read his name here.  It seems his name is one which inspires strong feeling.

Jason Russell is a man who has recently suffered what is known as a ‘Brief Reactive Psychosis‘ as a result of extreme stress.  Before this happened he had become known for being the founder of the Invisible Children group and was behind the Kony 2012 documentary.  That highlighted human atrocities in Uganda by Joseph Kony, who forced thousands of children into sex slavery, while turning others into child soldiers to further his warped agenda (1.).  I’m not going to go into more detail because it’s not the point I want to make.  That said, searching the names I have mentioned will easily bring the details to your eyes.  It’s not the point I want to make because while the suffering of the children appalls me, what has happened to Jason Russell personally shocks me and leaves me thinking ‘there but for the grace of God go I’.

That’s not what made me cry either although it appalls me that I could face something similar.  It’s not even the criticism Invisible Children have had over how they spend their money.  What I care about, and it made me cry is the way this man (or any man or woman for that matter) has been treated as a result of his mental illness.  This man should never have become the victim of media and the general public who have found it funny to highlight his downfall into psychosis.  There are masses of clips of this man in a way I would never want to be portrayed.  I’m not showing them to you because I’m not prepared to join the bandwagon of mocking a man because of his mental illness, and giving those that posted them the satisfaction of more people watching.  And actually for the same reason, I didn’t watch them myself.  I saw the first scene frozen on my screen before me of a naked man, in public, clearly doing things you wouldn’t want to be seen doing.

My heart breaks because this man is ill.  He has a mental illness, which is now being treated, but it caused him to (probably unknowingly) do something that has caught the attention of the masses who choose to see it as a joke.  There is no joke in mental illness, ever.  I don’t know this man, and it could be anyone in the same situation but why do people choose to laugh at another’s pain?  I grew up and still believe in the philospohy to let the one who has never fallen cast the first stone.

I had my own psychotic episode back in 2001.  I was hospitalised as Jason Russell has been.  I largely kept from those around me, what that psychosis entailed because I knew I risked being seen as a joke.  I never went naked in a city street but my reality was that I believed that the  events of 9/11 in 2001 were my fault.  I believed that those thousands that died, died because of me.  I had reasons for believing this and there wasn’t a doubt in my mind.  I thought I had triggered the end of the world.  At the same time I also believed that I needed to kill someone who was very close to me.  Even though I had never before had such thoughts, I was now seriously considering how to do it.  As it was the person was not in the city in which I lived but I was told that if I took a step out of my city, then I would be arrested.  11 years on it is possible to smile about this but really there was absolutely nothing funny about what my mind had convinced me.  I was sick and I needed help.

Several weeks ago I had a conversation with an acquaintance in United States about how I suspected the stigma associated with mental illness was greater in New Zealand than in America.  We discussed how in the States it seemed more acceptable to have some form of mental illness.  But if the case of Jason Russell , who is somewhat of a public figure there, is anything to go by the stigma is still alive and well there.  I’m not in that country and I’m not here to judge.  Actually I suspect if Jason was a public figure in New Zealand people would unfortunately be just as quick to pour laughter and scorn on his suffering.

Yes, because I have a mental illness myself I am maybe sensitive to such stories.  But I’d like to think it would make me cry regardless.  In my view it’s just not acceptable to laugh at, judge, or condemn any person for their suffering and pain.  I’d like to see You Tube remove the clips of this incident and I’d like to see the media do an about-face and apologise and support this man.  I’d like to see individuals say this is not okay to treat another human being like this.  Am I asking too much?  I don’t think so.

It is well known that one in four people will encounter mental illness in their lifetime.  That is huge.  The chances are it could be you next, or the person who released the video.  None of us know what lies ahead of us.  None of us know who the next person to suffer will be.  None of us are exempt.  That cries out to me that we need to treat our fellow human with compassion.  Changing the world might be expecting too much, but compassion from each individual would be a great way to start.

PS.  If you’re saying to yourself ‘I’m just one person and what can I do?’ Well, we can all start with caring for the person next to us.  Every little bit helps.  Another thing you could do is share what I have written.  Let’s see if others feel the same.  And if the world can begin to change.

“No man is a true believer unless he desireth for his brother  that which he desireth for himself”

 Muhammad (P.B.U.H)