This is a post I’ve been ruminating on and wanting to write for 6 years now. I will be talking about mental health, depression, suicide and the like. You’ve been warned! If you need help, do a search for your local mental health hotline and speak to someone that can help.
In the beginning…
Mental health has always played a part in my family history. Particularly on my fathers side. That and my predisposition for consuming large quantities of alcohol can make for the perfect storm and exacerbate ones mental health issues. I was diagnosed with severe depression sometime in September or October 2007 when my parents walked in on me setting up to hang myself (great look, I know).
Tears aside, first order of business was to see a psychiatrist. For the first several years of my treatment I wasn’t on any sort of medication. Each week, I’d see the psychiatrist and we’d work on getting through school and dealing with normal teenage kid problems. As an aside, the diagnosis of depression wasn’t linked to alcohol, in fact I didn’t start drinking until around 18–19 years old. There were also no drugs involved, I’ve heard the risks and links with marijuana and that’s why I’m still staunchly opposed to legalising it (legitimate medicinal usage aside). Anyway, back to the issue at hand. Through the sessions we figured out that I had been having feelings of depression as early as 2005 or so, but being a rather angsty teenager, neither my family or I would’ve guessed it was depression – it’s normal teenager stuff, right?
Up until early 2009 I was doing okay. I finished high school, got into the dream course that I’d wanted to study (Bachelor of Science – Professional Software Development) and I had a great group of friends and we still caught up regularly. I’d found school rather hard to deal with, I didn’t particularly apply myself and I had to deal with my fair share of bullying. I really only enjoyed it because my friends were there too. When school wrapped up forever and there was the three month-ish break between school and university I squandered my time and just faffed about doing bugger all (my exact memory is hazy, I don’t remember a lot of that time).
Finally, it was time to start university. Week one went down well. The core group of students were great, I got to know a few people, and we all hung out and socialised a fair bit. I think after the first week I realised what I’d gotten myself back into – it was the fucking pressure of education! I was thinking to myself “what a fucking wuss, everyone knows the first year of university is easy.” I was one week into uni and feeling just as stressed as I was in the last year of school.
At the start of the second week of university, it hit me like a slippery fish (that’s a GTA Vice City: VCPR reference). I was feeling like utter shit because I felt like I’d gotten in too deep. I felt like a failure because I was stressed about university and I couldn’t run away. My standard response for a shitty situation is flight (not literally flight, but to remove myself from the situation). My feeling was that literally running away from the university campus wasn’t going to help, so I should remove myself from the earth entirely. Again, that’s not literal, I didn’t have plans for a space death or space suicide.
That night, I attempted to hang myself again. This time, I’d kicked the chair away, thrashed around for a few seconds due to the immense pain, and somehow managed to get the chair back with my foot and saved myself from death. At the time I remember thinking that it hurt a lot more than I expected (I don’t know why I didn’t think it’d hurt that much, my pain tolerance is quite low; I have no idea how I’ve managed to get seven tattoos). After spending a few minutes sobbing and composing myself to essentially hand myself in to my parents as a “convicted suicide attempter” I went off and spoke to them about what had happened.
The next morning, we spoke to the psychiatrist and by that afternoon I was in the intensive care unit at a psychiatric hospital. To clear up any confusion, this ICU was essentially 24 hour suicide watch, not a standard hospital ICU where you’d be rushed if you were having a heart attack or something. This ICU was the closest I’ve ever been to feeling like I was in jail. Our whereabouts were monitored and checked off. We had twice daily inspections to make sure we didn’t have any contraband that could be used for self harm (or the harm of others I guess, but we were all more of a risk to ourselves than others). Every part of the unit (bathrooms included) had no way of hanging things (towels, ropes etc) and there were no sharp or hard edges anywhere. I realise writing this 7 years after being there that it sounds a lot worse that it actually was. The staff were very nice and very helpful, the facility was nice, and I got really good care.
I started taking medication for the first time while I was in ICU. After a week or two they started to kick in and I gradually started feeling better, along with the work that the carers and psychologists did in classes and sessions.
I spent exactly four weeks in the intensive care unit. Having your every move (or lack of movement) watched every minute of every day can really make you feel uncomfortable, but I came to like it. It means they care, right? (that’s not a dig at the staff or hospital, I am forever thankful that they dedicate their lives to help others). Once graduating from ICU, I got to move up (literally, to the second floor) in the hospital, to a less invasive ward known as Unit One. This section was more a “help yourself” section where there were a number of classes every day which you would be encouraged to attend. From memory, it was about you making the effort to help yourself, but if you didn’t go to classes for a few days, I’m pretty sure they’d start making you attend. I don’t know exactly, I never found that out, I really liked the classes.
In Unit One you would share a room with another roommate. My roommate was a man in his forties, also called Daniel, and he was extremely overweight. I found out that night he snored like a chainsaw. The next morning, partially from the lack of sleep and partially from the stress of Unit One life, I had a rather bad panic attack, had valium which didn’t help (and has given my hands a slight permanent shake to them, I’ve never been able to build card towers since) and got my ass shipped back to ICU because I wanted to kill myself again. After a few hours of being back in ICU, I had calmed down, my feelings had subsided and I was back with my friends and carers in ICU. From then on, I knew I had to work on myself more, because if I freaked out just moving wards in a hospital, I was never going to be able to live a normal life out in the real world.
After spending the next one to two weeks in ICU, I graduated from ICU and this time moved to Unit Two. While Unit Two was almost the same as Unit One, Unit Two just seemed to have a better vibe about it, and the people seemed nicer. I think the people in Unit Two were longer term people, were as Unit One people were short term, but I was never sure about that. This time, I got my own room, met some really nice people, and went to more classes to get better. Later on that week I had a session with my hospital psychiatrist’s assistant (I forget the exact word for it, the assistant was already trained in other mental health care, but they were becoming a fully fledged psychiatrist) and they did a technique on me which was essentially “negging” (but not in the sleazy seduction way), apparently it was to provoke a different way of thinking, and to make myself standup for what I am (or some such bullshit). Thankfully, as this was a privately run hospital, I was allowed to check myself out, and I went to live with my parents back home.
Over the coming weeks I attended a few outreach programs and continued working on building up my mental health with my psychiatrist.
Seven Years Later…
It’s been seven years since I went to hospital for my mental illness. I still take anti-depressants every day, just to stop my mood from fluctuating too much. I will probably be on them for the rest of my life. Over the past seven years my psychiatrist and I did two attempts at very slowly weening off them, but both times I started slipping back into the hole of depression. Despite taking medication to help stabilise my mood, I still have days where I wake up just feeling “off”. A trough in the sine wave that is life. Most days are the middle though, I never have the “peak” of a sine wave.
Despite having a number of very dark moments in my life, I’m very careful not to blame anyone, especially my parents or myself. Trying to change things in the past doesn’t work (for obvious reasons…) and it’s just a waste of effort. No one in my family, not even myself, could’ve seen the depression coming in so strong during a critical time during my life. Teenagers can be moody bastards at the best of times, so having down days just seemed normal. One of my biggest issues I had was ruminating on the past, and thinking of all the possibilities or things I could’ve done to change the outcome of an event. To a certain extent that can be helpful, but when it becomes something you obsessively do over and over for even the most minor of events (like seeing someone turn without using their indicator) then it becomes a problem, because there’s nothing you can do to change the past! I know, it sounds so obvious, but when your head isn’t in the right space, you don’t think logically.
Even during the darkest days of my current life I never think of suicide as an option. When I first heard suicide being described as selfish I got real mad. “How dare they! They have no idea what it’s like!” ran through my head. While it’s true that each person suffers in a different way it doesn’t detract from the action itself. I never once considered the ripple effect that would’ve gone through my family and friends. People questioning themselves, second guessing themselves if there was something they could’ve said or done, or if they’d said or done anything to push me over the edge. It’s selfish and cowardly. The easy way out. It’s a short term “solution” which existentially doesn’t solve your problem, and hurts everyone around you.
Mental Health in the Media
Now a days whenever there’s a mass shooting in the US, the media and politicians are quick to pounce on the mental health bandwagon and side skirt the real issue (a certain “right”). Just because I have a mental illness, doesn’t mean I want to pick up a gun and go around shooting people. That’s not to say that some form of mental illness isn’t a contributing factor, it is, but there’s not the only piece in the puzzle. There’s a lot more I could say about the main issue with mass shootings, but that’s not the point of this piece.
Mental Health in Society
Mental health is still made a mockery of in this day and age. While there’s more awareness of it, many people still don’t either care or lack the tact to talk about it in social situations.
If we’re told that we should accept who we are, why should we have to feel like we need to hide a part of us away from society for fear that we’ll be mocked and treated as an unstable looney who should be locked up. That might be stretching a bit, but I’ve met people who have had some extremely negative views of people with mental illness. It boggles the mind as to why some people think that just because someone has a mental illness it means they should essentially be incarcerated because they could be a menace to society. Needless to say, I don’t usually stick around those people long as they always seem to be like the people that are against gay marriage, evolution, or global warming – nothing you can say will ever change their mind.
Mental Health in the Workplace
Here in Perth, Western Australia, mining is a large part of our society, and yet, the mining companies are some of the worst offenders at supporting their employees with mental health issues. Being diagnosed with mental health issues and/or having to take medication for it is considered a liability so you’re deemed unsafe to operate pretty much anything aside from a computer at a desk. All because your brain may not be able to produce serotonin properly you’re now considered unsafe to use machinery because you could cause an accident. Which is kind of an odd way to think, because with the condition going untreated, they could potentially be much more dangerous. Point being, the way mining companies handle mental health issues is utterly disgraceful and everyone involved in making those decisions to cut someones career short because of mental illness should hang their heads in shame.
I, thankfully, have had very accepting and supportive workplaces who have all been fine with me ducking off for an hour here and there to visit my psychiatrist to help maintain my mental health. Wouldn’t you rather a happier employee that knew their employer had their back?
I continue to get through each day as normal. As I’ve mentioned, some days are rough, but for the most part I chug along fine. I’ve got a great family, I work with an amazing team, and I have fantastic friends. I’ve learnt that alcohol and I just don’t mix (it also doesn’t deal well with medication) so I’m jumping off the booze bandwagon and hoping into the sober sedan. Sure, I’m really going to really miss that feeling of cracking open an ice cold beer after a hard days work, but I know I’ll be better off in the long run without it.
If there was anything I’ve learnt through my years of dealing with a mental illness, it’s to build up your support network. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for help, or even if you can just open up and vent to them for five minutes. Don’t be afraid. We’re all loved.