Recent thoughts


Over the past couple of days I have read an article thehoopla.com.au (http://thehoopla.com.au/adam-boland-inner-fears/). It’s a great article but it does highlight the misconceptions about mental illness. Along with this, I came across an image depicting what it would be like if we treated physical illnesses the same way we do mental illnesses (http://www.robot-hugs.com/helpful-advice/).

For the most part I have found most people are pretty understanding, however it seems that as I am off work for a longer period of time, the less understanding people are. It seems that while my mental illnesses do not or have a limited impact on others people are ok, but as the impact is extended or becomes more intense, the less people are understanding.

On another picture I came across there is a section where one guy says to another “You just need to change your frame of mind and then you will feel better.” The guy he says this to has had his hand cut off and is bleeding all over the place. It’s not something you would say, but people feel pretty ok saying similar to someone with a mental illness.

The problem is that mental illness is not understood very well, particularly by those who do not suffer from it. While there is more tolerance towards those with mental illness, a lot of that steams from anti-discrimination legalities. For many people there is still a great deal of miss-understanding, fear and to a degree a lack of trust for those who suffer from long term mental illness.

It really wasn’t long ago that people with mental illnesses were completely shunned by society, locked up and basically experimented on. Those who were able to avoid this, often ended up committing suicide or isolating themselves from society. To a degree, those who have mental illness are still experimented upon. Whilst there are numerous medications to treat depression, anxiety etc, little is known why or how they work. Over the past few months I have been somewhat apart of the “experimentation” part of treating mental illness. Trying different medications and different combinations of medication to see if they help. And it’s not just take a medication for a few days and see how you feel, most take a few weeks to feel any benefits from them and normally up to 8 weeks before they have reached their full potential.

So not only do people, in Australia at least, generally have to wait 4-8 weeks to get an appointment with a psychiatrist, they then have to wait around 4 weeks to see if the medications prescribed are showing signs that it will treat that particular case. As I have said in previous blogs that I was once on 3 different medications which managed all my psychological and physiological issues and I am now on about 9. 6 different medications for mental illnesses and 3 for physical illnesses, with the potential that there will be another medication added in a bit over a month depending on how I go between now and then. Oh and its 11 6 psychological and 5 physical. They have added iron, Vitamin D3 and calcium supplements. These have been added due to some tests I have had recently. When they did the bone density test they found I had Osteopenia, which is the stage before Osteoporosis. So to prevent Osteoporosis for as long as possible I have to take Vitamin D3 and calcium supplements. From the endoscopy and colonoscopy they determined that I had iron deficient enemia hence the iron supplements.

When I had the endoscopy and colonoscopy they also found that I have gastritis and Grade B Esophagitis, the nexium is supposed to assist in preventing symptoms for the Esophagitis. When they found both of these issues evident, along with the iron deficiency they decided to biopsy my small intestine. The specialist has not said why so far, but from what my doctor understands this would be to see if there is an issue with my small intestines absorbing different vitamines etc.

Recently, I have been thinking how people without mental illnesses, in particular depression, could experience or get a better understanding of what it is like to live with depression. My idea is to get a group of people into a movie theater and play a movie about depression, from the eyes of a sufferer, or a scary as shit movie. While the movie played, quietly, just loud enough for people to hear, another track was played. This track continuously repeated lines like, Kill yourself, you’re no good, you’re not worth anything, you could run your car into a tree on the way home, etc. The movie would play for a couple of hours or so, and the whole time this track would play the whole time, and at different points the volume of the track would be played as loud as possible, and randomly all the lights, including the emergency lights went off for different periods of time.

While this is not exactly what living with it is like, but imagine going through an experience like that. The theater is completely full, not an empty seat, on all sides of you are strangers, but you are not allowed to talk to any of them, you’re not with your friends and lastly you can’t get up and go to the toilet, take snacks or drinks in, or mobile phones etc. You are completely alone, with no escape from the movie, people and the constant drone of a voice telling you to kill yourself. I can almost guarantee very few people would leave that experience and not need psychological care. I cant imagine anyone leaving saying they would want to go through it again.

Right here, if you are reading this and imagining what it would be like and this encourages actual suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self harm please contact lifeline or similar, at the very least a friend, partner or family member. /The number for 24 hour crisis and emergency assistance is 131465 or to contact lifeline you can call 131114. Of course if it becomes an emergency please call 000 for an ambulance. These numbers are for Australia Only.

If you put all the factors above together and then take into account that for a sufferer this is continuous for the whole time that they are awake, every day, at work, at home, constantly (except for the movie), you can probably start to realise why those with depression struggle with life so much. No matter what is happening, sad or happy, physically unwell or not, there is a voice in your head constantly repeating that you are worthless, you should kill yourself and suggesting ways to do it. Sometimes its quiet, just audibly or being screamed at you. Consider what it would be like to live like that, I am pretty confident that you can understand what it is like. The reason I chose the environment, the inability to leave it, or have any distractions etc is so you realise that, that is what it is like for a sufferer. We are not in control of when we hear/think this, often we are unable to do anything to distract ourselves (ie. at work, trying to go to sleep). The idea behind the movie theater is that it and the way the test would occur with not being able to leave etc, is me trying to replicate the loss of control, the feeling of complete isolation even in a group of people. The lights going out into total darkness causes an added level of fear, bear in mind you are sitting next to people you dont know, in complete darkness and all you can here is you are worthless, why dont you kill yourself, etc.

I get that this is pretty fucked up and there is no way that any official body, group of psychiatrists/psychologists etc would ever endorse or run such an experiment. While I think the outcomes would actually be fascinating, and I think those who make laws, work with or are in a position to employing staff etc should have to experience something like this before they are allowed to work with, make laws regarding etc, I know it will not ever happen. Liability alone would be astronomical and to be honest I would feel horrible for anyone who volunteered to undertake such an experiment, and would probably be the one to try and talk them out of it. But it is a fair or at least a close experience of life with Depression.

While the lights out part, no phone or bathroom etc component does add a level of anxiety, it is within the scope of Depression. Anxiety, panic attacks etc are on a completely different level. Im not sure how you could replicate that kind of thing for people without it. The closest I can think of would be to change the track to say running water will do something, make your lips fall off, let that play constantly for 48 hours say. During this time you see or hear no running water. Then all the sudden you are forced to wash your hands under running water. Im not sure if this would give a similar result as to Anxiety issues, but I recon a fair proportion of people would freak out when it came to washing their hands.

The other way is kind of like a dog with a shock collar. When the dog does the wrong thing, bark for instance, the shock collar goes off. Eventually the dog stops barking because that causes a shock. Now instead of the shock collar being on the dog it’s on you, and 20 minutes the collar starts to shock you until you wash your hands. If you wash your hands, the clock resets and you are no longer shocked until 20 minutes are up again. Now eventually, what would happen is that you would start to wash your hands ever 19 minutes so you dont get to the point you start to get shocked again. Problem is the time between shocks comes down to 19 minutes, so you start having to wash them a bit earlier again. This cycle continues, slowly but surely. Now add the normal life stuff, you have a meeting, that goes for 2 hours, after 15 minutes, your going to start to get concerned that your going to be shocked in front of everyone in the room, you will try to hide it but the shock causes you to spasm and your hands flail in the air. Imagine the anxiety you are starting to feel, but as 19 minutes comes and goes you dont get a shock, 20 minutes, 21, 22, 23. Maybe the collar has stopped working, maybe nothings going to happen. Your eyes are fixated on the length of time since the last shock, forget the meeting your mind is stuck wondering why and when your going to receive the next shock, maybe it’s charging up and the shock is going to be much worse than the last one. There is a little buzz that starts coming from the collar now. Your sure your about fucked. By this point your well and truly freaking out.

That’s probably as close as I can replicate it to something people who dont experience Anxiety issues would be able to understand. Now combine this with the depression example, and this is what many people with mental illnesses face, just on a scaled down example. It doesnt cover all aspects of the illnesses but, hopefully this provides a clearer more understandable illustration to what life is like inside the mind of a person with mental illnesses. Just remember I am suggesting short periods of time, a couple hours etc. For many sufferers it isnt something that comes for a visit, has a cuppa and off it goes. It’s more like someone who moves in for a few weeks, or months, or even years. Bags packed for the long haul, ready to party hard and run a muck.

While we, as a society, have become more tolerant of those who suffer from mental illness, mental illness still carries significant stigma. Someone who suffers from mental illness is treated and viewed, very differently to someone who suffers from diabetes or some other chronic illness. I can understand, to a degree, as to why this is. Not being an illness that is generally visibly detectable, makes it hard for others to recognise that you are unwell.

I personally think though that a majority of the reason mental illness is viewed the way it is, is because people judge or evaluate the illness based on their own experiences. For instance, everyone has felt sad. There are times where you feel sad, but you have to hold it together, for what ever reason, and carry on with life. Or you are having a bad day, you’re feeling moody, irritable etc. But you are at work, dealing with customers, so you have to put those feelings aside and help your customer or whatever and you can do that. So why can’t someone with mental illness. This is where people start thinking that the sufferer is pathetic, after attention, etc. God forbid that the person goes home because now they are lazy and unreliable as well. Mind you if that person was suffering from cancer or something like that, it would be perfectly acceptable.

It’s for these reasons too that suicide, due to mental illness, is perceived the way it is. Most people view it as a choice and generally there is a view that the person who committed suicide was weak, selfish etc. I know that this is a common view because when I have struggled with suicidal thoughts I have thought the same about myself. It’s for these reasons that mental illness is considered by many, not to be a potentially terminal illness. Which, I firmly believe it is.

After years of, what is fundamentally torture, a sufferers mind becomes so twisted, so messed up that the person no longer knows which way is up. Their self worth, their own self perception becomes distorted, so much so that what was once recognisable as non-sense, a symptom of depression etc is not distinguishable from any other thought or feeling experienced. The person lives with the constant thoughts of killing themselves, hurting themselves, being of no value, family and friends would be better of without them etc for so long that these thoughts are no longer irrational thoughts that are discarded but rational thoughts, the thoughts now feel that they have reason, have been considered and make more sense than continuing to live.

While I agree that there is likely a small proportion of people who attempt or succeed in committing suicide have done so for attention etc. My view is that it is an extremely minimal number of people. From the information available, almost every suicide victim suffered from one or more mental illnesses, with approximately only 10% of those having psychotic illnesses. Suicide, is also within the top 15 causes of death in Australia, with between 2000 and 2300 people dying as a result of suicide every year. World wide it is a top 10 cause of death, with approximately 1 million deaths per year recorded. Not only is there approximately 1 million deaths per year it is estimated that up to 20 million people attempt suicide each year.

Even if it was accepted that X% of people who committed or attempted suicide did so for attention seeking reasoning, you would have to agree consider that there would be some form of mental illness as the root cause. Killing yourself to get some attention is a pretty extreme action to take.

While suicide, for any reason, is extremely sad and has a devastating effect on friends, family and the community at large, what a person suffers leading up to this, is far worse as far as I am concerned. A life filled with torment, lacking hope, topped off with a side of anguish is not something I would wish upon anyone. But to make things worse, many sufferers live with this silently. Not wanting to burden others with their issues, ashamed that they feel this way, scared of what will happen if they tell anyone. From my own personal experience with mental illness these are feelings I battle with on a regular basis. For many years I felt that I was living a lie. Putting on a mask of ‘normality’, trying not to give any sign to those around me that I was anything but happy. A way of being that is extremely easy to fall back into. You try and hide how you are feeling, what you are going through because others around you are sick, dealing with something or are happy and healthy. When people are not well, you dont want to add to their problems, you dont want to be a burden to them. When they are happy etc you dont want to bring them down.

While I write these blogs and am writing a book regarding mental illness you might think that I do not struggle with the feeling of shame, or I am not scared what others will think etc. When in fact it is something I struggle with constantly. How open am I willing to be, will I post this or that. There have been many times where I have written a post and it has taken hours, even days before I can press the PUBLISH button. Terrified what people will think, that if people I work with will be scared of me, or avoid me because of what I have written about. Ashamed that I am not “better” than the feelings I have. Ashamed because I am speaking out or asking for help. After I publish a post I am often gripped by anxiety for hours and days afterwards. Watching to see how many people read it, what comments I get, etc. Not because I am after the attention, because I am scared of the attention to my personal struggles.

The main reason I persist in writing the blogs and my book, being as open as I am, being as vulnerable as I can be, is certainly not to bring attention to myself. It is to bring attention to what life is like for someone who suffers with mental illness, to help those who dont suffer mental illness to be able to relate to what its like. Not for sympathy, but for understanding, not that sufferers get some sort of special treatment, but so that mental illness is recognised as a chronic illness, that is potentially fatal. An illness that is not segregated from physical illness as if it’s some weird mystical illness.

You know that’s actually what it’s like. I remember when I was growing up there was more and more alternative health places opening. Where treatments were some mystical thing from asia and often viewed as a load of horse shit and the practitioners were just trying to rip people off. Now days some of those treatments are far more main stream, acupuncture for one. It’s not really treated as alternative medicine, it is much more accepted as a viable medical practice. I even remember when chiropractic practitioners were not much more than charlatans. This is very much how mental health is still treated, and part of the reason is in the label. Mental health is separated from “real” or physical health. When you are sick you dont say, I have a physical health issue, you say you’re sick, or I have the flu. Mental health is this whole separate medical field, not really falling under what a GP treats, like they would any other form of illness. Mental health is shunned from non-mental health, it is boxed in the corner. You can only be treated by specialists (psychiatrists/psychologists), your GP provides, little if any assistance and relies upon what your specialist says.

Anyhow, that’s enough for now. I will leave this on a positive note, while it is about 3 weeks away my psychiatrist has decided that I am fit to return to work starting the 6th of Jan 2014. I will only be doing 4 hours, twice a week to start with, but it is a huge step in the direction towards recovery. I am excited about going back to work, but at the same time scared out of my wits.

What I found kind of funny after he agreed that I could go back was I felt more optimistic about everything, it was like I could see that there was life beyond all the shit I have gone through recently and I was getting to come back and join the real world. I think for the first time in a very, very long time I felt a glimmer of hope, hope that I would get better, that all my fighting, all my perseverance and struggling against depression was finally paying off.

Sorry this post is much longer than most the others, but I hope that you found it an enjoyable and at least an interesting read. Post comments, I am really interested to hear what people think about what I write and if it is helping anyone. If you want to write a comment but it not be seen by anyone else but me, in the first line just write – NOT TO BE APPROVED – and I wont approve it to be published.

Cheers for reading.

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About malensteptoe
I am work for one of Australia's big 4 banks in the System Admin Team. I am also a mental health sufferer. Currently diagnosed with OCD, MDD, Panic Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Agoraphobia and Trichotillomania. I also write books and a blog. I am an advocate for change of the view towards mental health sufferers. We can and are beneficial people in society, with much to offer and contribute. We are not all violent, actually the percentage of violent tendencies in the mentally ill and those without mental illness are no different. You may work with someone right next to someone with mental illness and never know. So maybe it's time to re-evaluate your opinions?

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