health

'I battled mental illnesses all my life. But it will never define who I am.'

This post deals with depression, anxiety and suicide and might be triggering for some readers.

For most of my life I haven’t felt like I’ve had anyone that I could speak to or anyone who would understand me. I always felt like something wasn’t right with me – I was weird, too sensitive, didn’t belong.

I was unlovable. I didn’t know anyone else who felt this way, and in all the Disney movies I watched as a kid the princesses were always happy.

As time went on a new thought became a constant, this thought being that I didn’t deserve to be on this Earth. When I was 18, I was diagnosed with clinical depression, generalised anxiety disorder and mild OCD.

How to talk to someone with anxiety. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

Fast forward to 2020, and I can thankfully say I have survived a suicide attempt, completed a double degree in psychology and counselling, founded my own charity, The Inner Ninja Foundation, started my masters in suicidology, and become a mother to my amazing son. Most of the time, I live a healthy happy life.

However, I still have thoughts about people thinking I am crazy. I worry that I will let them down, or that I am still not good enough. I worry that I am a burden on them.

I have now been healthy again for seven years. Seven years of battling, fighting, drowning, swimming, running and sitting with my internal pain and thoughts. Resilience and inner strength (my inner ninja) are words that come to mind when I reflect on how far I have come. Still, sometimes I forget the journey and can feel like I am right back to where I was seven years ago.

The struggle I have now is trying to tell my loved ones and friends when my illnesses are playing up. The minute I became a mother, a new stigma attached itself – the one where people think you automatically are cured of your mental illnesses because you have this beautiful child to call your own.

I started to face a new pain on top of what was already there because it was now wrapped up in shame. How do you find the words to say to the people you love, that even though you have just given birth to a miracle, you still have the same thoughts and feelings? How do you find the right words to explain what’s going on inside, without freaking them out or worrying them?

By breaking the stigma and self-stigma that can debilitate us. By educating people about mental illnesses. By sharing our stories and lived experiences with each other, and learning from the struggles of others, without judgement. By being truthful to ourselves. By doing all these things, we can all begin to feel more included, and we can improve and potentially save the lives of people living with mental illnesses or people who are struggling.

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When I first saw SANE Australia’s ‘Our Turn to Speak’ survey I thought, ‘This is finally the opportunity to provide valuable lived experience to the bigger picture.’ It felt like people living with mental illness and people who identify with mental health struggles were finally being seen, and that their experiences were recognised and valid.

Listen to Mamamia’s podcast, No Filter. In this episode, Mia Freedman discusses anxiety. Post continues below.

Interim data, collected from the survey’s first thousand respondents, shows that when asked to identify the top three areas in which they most frequently experienced stigma and discrimination, 49 per cent of participants reported that this was in their interpersonal relationships, while 43 per cent identified mass media and 42 per cent social media.

When considering the impact of those experiences, 70 per cent of participants felt most affected by stigma and discrimination experienced in relationships with friends and family, followed by employment (57 per cent) and healthcare services (26 per cent).

And because of this stigma, 84 per cent of those who identified interpersonal relationships as an area in which they were impacted agreed that they had stopped themselves from making or keeping friends, and 77 per cent agreed that they had withdrawn from relationships with family.

We can never know enough. We can always learn more, and we can always share more. We can always listen better. I can’t stress this enough.

It sounds simple, but listening to a person who is suffering or who has reached out is key. It can actually be the difference in life or death for them. You can help, just by being you. If you are lucky enough that a person trusts you to share their pain with you, there is a reason for it.

I urge all Australians who have experienced complex mental health issues like OCD, PTSD, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, Eating Disorders or Personality Disorders who have not completed the survey to do so.

We can make a positive impact in this country through the data collected, which in turn, will help to create programs and supports that make a tangible difference for the community.

It’s our turn to speak up.

Community members aged 18 and over, who have experienced complex mental health issues in the last 12 months, can complete the confidential survey at https://www.ourturntospeak.com.au or over the phone by calling 1800 998 983 before March 31, 2020.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you’re based in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

Feature image: Supplied.

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