Category Archives: Mental illness

Advice2

My village, my valium.

I’ve been a tiny bit absent lately, if you haven’t noticed. I have had a lot to say, but finding the time to express it is a whole different matter. But seeing as it’s Mental Health Week and all, now’s the time to pop out of my anxiety closet and give y’all a few updates.

I have good news. For anyone who has felt plagued by anxiety their entire lives, my news will hopefully lift your spirits. Here it is. Things have gotten better.

Oddly, I feel as though I’ve dropped a few balls for the first time in my life and yet I’ve never felt lighter or more relieved. It’s as though I’ve dived beneath the froth and foam of the endless chatter in my mind, and found a stillness beneath the waves. I can still see the madness above, but I’m ever-so-slightly removed from it for the first time in a long old while.

I have found some perspective.

So, what’s changed since this time last year? Let me share.

 (1) I have found myself a cracking spiritual healer.
OK, OK, so she’s technically a clinical psychologist, but she is healing my soul while she’s treating my condition. I’ve seen a few psychologists over the years, but this one….well…this one gets it. She’s articulate, funny, insightful, and sage.  She is my lightbulb lady. You know the sort of person I mean; you have conversations that switch imaginary flicks in your brain. Conversations that remove the blanket of monotony that envelops your usual thought processes.

(2) I’ve started medication
This was a bigee for me. I used to think “I take medication” translated directly into “I’m a big fat failure”, and whilst I would never think that about someone else who decided to go on meds, I felt that it made me weak. I’m only about a month into my medication now, and I am finding the little things easier. Like what, you ask? Well….

  • Driving
  • Handling my daughter’s epic meltdowns
  • Having visitors
  • Making phone calls
  • Coping with a crying baby in public

Some of these things might seem like such tiny little issues for most people. For me, they’re monumental…cataclysmic…huge. I still have lots of hang-ups and bang-ups – don’t get me wrong – but I’m functioning better.

(3) I made a village 
I have felt largely alone since returning to Australia and having children. Never has this been felt as acutely as last week when I had the flu. I felt vile, as you do, but had to plod along and take care of my sick baby and my rambunctious four year old. I wanted to die; I truly believed death would be preferable to the illness that had consumed me. My husband needed to work, my mother was away, and to top it all off I was contagious so I couldn’t see any of my friends. I also wasn’t allowed to “give” my kids to anyone so that I could rest, given the likelihood that they too were brewing this nasty virus.

So how did I cope?

In a very authentically-Australian way. I had neighbours.

I live in a townhouse complex with a few other stay at home mums, and a bunch of little kids. In the year that I’ve been living here I’ve come to know and adore these children, and to rely on their mothers. In this instance, my next-door-neighbour (and co-founder of my latest project Booksy and Novella…PLUG) brought me painkillers and food.  In previous instances,  I’ve had champagne and dinner for the kids dropped off at my house after I ran the half-marathon and was too exhausted to move. I’ve had my children babysat so that I can get some peace/rest/sanity. I’ve had coffees brought to my doorstop after rough nights up with the baby. I’ve had my floors swept for me, and dishes put away, because my house was a mess and I’ve been upset by the state of it.

#booksyandnovella
#booksyandnovella

In short, I’ve found a support system. I hope I am helping these wonder woman as much as they’re helping me. This system is what I’ve been missing since I had kids; people I can turn to at the drop of a hat and say “HELP”. The help is practical – like minding the kids so I can pop to the doctors on my own for a quiet conversation – but it’s also spiritual. I feel connected. I feel supported. I feel like I can make it through.

My posts have been getting less frequent, but that’s a good thing. I’m starting to work my way out of the madness. I know that anxiety doesn’t just go away. Mine certainly hasn’t vanished despite all my hopes when I started taking pills and seeing a shrink! But it  can ease, and it can be managed, and it can weigh less heavy on your heart.

 

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Introducing affirmations for my anxious preschooler

It’s probably no surprise that I’m anxious about my daughter being anxious.

From the varied media that I’ve consumed on the subject matter, the common consensus seems to be that my children are more likely to suffer anxiety compared to the norm. If it  doesn’t slip through via genetics, then they will probably pick it up through learned behaviour anyway. Great. 

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I’ll admit, I’ve been watching her like a hawk over the years, keen to pick up on any telltale anxious-child signs. I have heard all my life that the sooner you pick up on it, the easier the management, so I’m watching vigilantly (ok, so maybe somewhat neurotically. Go figure).

I’ve noticed my daughter is quick to say “I can’t” and give up when she can’t do something perfectly. (These two words are probably the most common words that go around inside my anxious brain alongside “not possible”, and “never”). Uh oh – is this a warning of things to come with my daughter?

She also tells me she feels shy. While I’m super impressed by her emotional intelligence, I do worry about her shyness at times because I fear she experiences anxiety alongside this shyness. In new situations involving other children she will often tell me “no one likes me, mummy”. Maybe I’m being paranoid but these words seem more significant than “typical three year old stuff”.  Uh oh. I think she is already worried about what other people think of her.

Noticing these things about her, I’ve decided to add two anxiety-busting tools into our bedtime routine. Tools she has started to absolutely love, without knowing my hidden agenda. Sure, they might be a bit new-age, but they pack a powerful punch when it comes to fighting anxious thoughts and building firm foundations in terms of self-esteem.

(1) I’m happy for…

This “game” is basically a gratitude list. I demonstrated how to do it for a few nights, but after that she took to it with gusto! It’s not so much about what she is saying, but THAT she is saying it. It’s a subtle reminder before she goes to bed of the many positive things in her day. It puts her into a calm and happy frame of mind before sleep. And hey, if she is happy for “our big garage” and that “she touched a lizard!” then that’s just grand! (I love having a window into the inner workings of her mind when we do this game!)

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(2) The repeat game

I start with some basics, as she repeats her name, her age, where she lives. I then launch into some positive self-worth stuff – easy affirmations for preschoolers. It sounds like this:

You’re great at somersaults.

You are an excellent soup maker.  

You love cuddling your baby brother.

It’s funny, but she always calls me to task on any affirmations that are inauthentic. Her corrections are beautiful and evidence of self-awareness. “No mummy, I don’t love cuddling my brother. I love kissing him. On his tummy. Not on his eyes though”. (Ok, good to know then!)

I always include the famous lines from The Help somewhere within our ritual:

These are some of the most powerful words I’ve ever heard, and I think they’re so important for our daughters.

I must admit that I also tell her she is beautiful as part of these affirmations, but I stress that being a beautiful isn’t as important as being nice. I incorporated this lesson after feeling irrationally upset when my daughter casually mentioned she wanted to be Elsa because she was the prettiest one (of all the princesses). I wanted to get into that brain of hers nice’n’early and tell her about what really matters!

These affirmations and gratitude lists are now every bit as important in our bedtime routine as the book reading and song-singing, and I hope they are doing some good in terms of creating a calm, happy, and healthy three year old mind.

I might not be able to prevent anxiety in her life, but I will do my absolute darnedest to help her manage it!

Do you do any affirmations or meditation with your kids? Tell me about it! 

Famous depression sufferer (and a hero of mine) Stephen Fry

How mental health week has made me famous

No, you aren’t going mad – our TV’s have been taken over by mental health week programming. The ABC’s #mentalas programming in particular as been inescapable.

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The station has just embarked on its biggest-ever cross promotion of content, with mental health the focus. It’s been an orgy of illness and I think it’s brilliant. Well, compared to RUOK day in any case.

Both endeavours attempt to encourage mental health conversations in the community but to me one feels forced, the other, free. One commercialised, the other raw. Sorry Hugh Jackman.

RUOK day definitely has good intentions and some people rave about both the concept and its effectiveness. To me, it’s another strapline for teenagers to mock and ridicule and I really REALLY don’t think mental health issues need more ridicule.

Plus (sob) did a single person ask if I was ok on the day? No….And, even if they did, what would I have replied? I would have lied no doubt. “Yes yes, I’m fine”… Because asking a hollow question will get a hollow response.

And often people who ask “are you OK?” might be petrified about your answer because they dont fully understand your condition and how on earth they’ll respond if you say “I’m not coping”.

It’s not that I’m hating on RUOK day, don’t get me wrong. If it helps even one person with their condition than I completely applaud the campaign. It’s just that I think the ABC are doing the conversation piece better. I feel like they’re accurately painting a portrait of ME, and what I live through. And even though it isn’t my face on screen, by representing those like me, I do feel a little bit famous.

For once it seems like stigmas are being properly challenged and confronted in the media without the mentally ill being unintentionally put “on show” as freaks.

Here’s what I’ve learned from the #mentalas campaign:

Felicity's Mental Mission, ABC
Felicity’s Mental Mission, ABC
  • 1) Insanity is ugly. That’s why there’s little government funding, support worker budgets slashed and no one wants to talk about it.

Mental illness looks like your mum drinking herself to death to drown out the voices in her head. It’s a middle-aged man thinking god has impregnated him with the next messiah. It’s a teenager looking at a length of rope and thinking, “maybe this is my answer?”

People hate ugly. People avoid ugly. But our society is making a crucial error in judgement here: Mental illness is ugly – the people who suffer it are not.

My mum had cancer. She lost her hair. She lost her eyebrows. She lost a breast. She has a suite of scars that can leave you breathless with sympathy. But is she ugly? Hell no! We all accept it was the cancer that was to blame. No one turned away from my mum during her time of need. But someone with psychosis? Different story. We are blaming them. Pitying them. And turning away from them. Both socially and politically as ABC’s Q&A pointed out so brilliantly.

  • 2) People with mental disorders aren’t weak.

I have endured at least a decade feeling pathetic as a result of my anxiety. There are times when I’ve found it all too much; turned down invitations to parties where “cool kids” will be because I know the stress of choosing the right outfit will actually break me. I know my thoughts are irrational but I can not control them. This lack of control makes me feel weak.

And for those suffering other forms of mental disorders lets spare a moment to consider what they go through. Their minds are literally hijacked – they become confused, profoundly sad, and they fear it is hopeless.

Imagine if every day, the simplest of tasks weighed you down, but you kept on trying to do them anyway. This is not weakness. It is bravery.

Sometimes, just driving a car makes me feel like I’m wading through mud with a backpack on. And leg weights. But I still try. Sometimes, I give up and cancel an engagement because I just can’t manage my nerves behind the wheel. But other times I do ok. I take each day as it comes.

Some people’s conditions are so severe that they can’t do what they want. Their obstacles are insurmountable.

We met some of these people in the ABC’s Changing Minds documentaries, and were gifted with insights into the lives of sufferers of psychosis.

These people are GOOD people.  They do not need judgement. They are not weak; but they do need help.

If you broke an arm, would you need help? Yes. Would we call you weak? No.

Let’s be clear. Like physical illness, mental disorders can temporarily weaken you. It doesn’t make you weak.

  • 3) More people suffer than we realise because this is the “silent disease“.

Not only does mental health feed on silence in the mind (so perfectly described in Felicity’s Mental Mission) but due to feelings of shame, many are unprepared to speak out.

Apparently, more than 10million Aussies suffer some mental health condition. That’s almost half of us! As we learned from the Robin Williams tragedy, no one is “safe” from mental illness. It’s as indiscriminate as cancer. As unforeseeable. And every bit as life changing.

So this is it. My cyber applause for the ABC for giving us really stimulating content that gets people thinking and talking and understanding more about mental illness.

And here’s my humble request. Keep it coming. Don’t stop. Don’t leave it to one week per annum.

I felt less alone watching myself reflected on the faces of these documentaries than I did on RUOK day, wondering whether anyone was going to pick up the phone and call me.

What do you want to see more of in the media to help educate the nation about mental illness?