By: Leslie Mitchell, Consumer Advisor, MidCentral Health, Palmerston North,
I decided to write this article for Mental Health Awareness Week, to offer you, at least a ray of hope, in your journey toward recovery or enable you to start out on that long road.
My message to you is that you are not alone; that the fear you are experiencing or have had, is genuine. We all have experienced or will have period/s of extreme unwellness in our lives.
After some 30 years' exposure to the Mental Health Service, I regard myself somewhat of a veteran. It wasn't until 3 years ago, when I did fall seriously ill, that I was diagnosed with genetic Unipolar Depression. This in itself was an important milestone in my recovery (getting the diagnosis right).
As a kid, I knew I was different from others, suffering child abuse from parents trapped in their own level of existence; sexual abuse from the perennial suburban paedophile; Dad was a grand alcoholic, with rages of extreme violence and self harm and Mum grew her own illness through co-dependency.
It was the fifties and one still referred to the place down the road as the Asylum or the Loony Bin.
My period of "self" isolation started very early. I didn't need to go to jail to experience incarceration, as I was my own "jail keeper". I invented the word guilty and in true form to a person suffering depression, centred punishment on myself. My illness spread like dry rot, encompassing paranoia and periods of extreme loneliness and self-doubt. I was suspicious of happiness and love.
I started medicating very early on alcohol but still managed to hold down some few thousand odd jobs in my life until I found one in which they issued you a gold MasterCard and was told to entertain my alcoholic clients. Well that put the icing on the cake!
Throughout my life I had periods of unwellness, necessitating hospitalisation. At the end of the day I became a professional consumer. I had been exposed to too many other consumers' diagnoses. I call it "doing the schizophrenic shuffle". (My apologies to those of you suffering from this illness; it's just something I learnt in supported accommodation).
My decision to start the ball rolling toward recovery culminated in basic frustration, with myself and with the "old style" Mental Health Service. I had to take control! I had encountered too many "Nurse Ratchets" and too many doctors, who were "closed doors".
I soon realised that recovery for me, meant jettisoning some life-long baggage, changing some of my behaviours, filling that empty bottomless pit of despair with cement, grabbing what I felt were my values and starting afresh; somewhere new, somewhere where I could be a kid again; and somewhere where I could have just some plain "fun".
Approaching midlife is a bit late for some to sort out the mess, but for what I had experienced in my past; the hardest part is over. I recognised that to help with my recovery, I would have to be on life-long medication (of course finding that is a story in itself); to get me back up to normal levels of operating.
Triggers and how they are tripped is a hidden secret along your path; more especially, in your life, who has their fingers on those triggers. Recognising signals is another skill you'll have to learn. Countering depression through cognitive means helps as well, and learning strategies for alleviating negative symptoms, pushes you along the path. Most importantly go easy on yourself; be you Christian, Buddhist or whatever, I recommend you discover your own spirituality again.
In midlife I went back to sport (even though I have had laminectomy and suffer spondilitytis).
Nothing, I realise, is ever impossible.
Today, although not a 100 percent, I have come to accept that I can achieve levels of happiness and productive output, although these have been pruned by the above. I have learnt to utilise my skills and talents to make my existence meaningful - to myself and by doing so, reaching out to others.
In my present job, as Consumer Advisor and Advocate to MidCentral Health Limited Mental Health Services, I am indeed privileged to work with my fellow consumers, sharing with them their inner pains and experiences and along with our Consumer Educator, contributing to change the philosophy in psychiatric care. The whole culture of Mental Illness; the stigma attached, the workforce skills required, the success stories, is changing for the better. As more people identify their struggle and become united, the more we as consumers will demand our right for adequately purchased quality services, our right to be heard and our right to recovery.
Indeed I would like to say, go well and stay well; it's your right. Know full well that help, nowadays, is as close as a phone call.