GABRIELLE S

Blog

Mental Health awareness week - My Story

*

Trigger warning for the context of this post, if you are sensitive to topics alluding to mental illnesses.*

Mental health is a topic people either know a lot about or nothing at all. Mental Health is undoubtedly one of the most stigma and taboo surrounded subjects in which has been portrayed as a very glamorised ordeal all over the media today. Something so common in our society which is hard to not recognise but is still sadly not well educated. In saying that a lot of us are educated but choose to sit in silence caused by the stigmas and negative responses we consume around the subject. It's not surprising there is such a variety of stigma about mental health because our natural reflex is to reject anything we don't feel in control of, and mental illness majority of the time is something many of us feel like we don't have control over. It's become more common to pretend it's not there and not to talk about it. And believe it or not mental illnesses originates from a simple absence of chemicals in the brain which cause us to experience these so called illnesses and that alone is an explanation for many appearances of mental illnesses.

As some of you may know this past week has been Mental health awareness week. The topic of mental health has been something I’ve always wanted to discuss on this platform because the reason why I started this so called blog was because I wanted to find a creative outlet in which would subside my constant anxiety and helped me voice my opinions and share my creative projects. Since starting this so called blog I've been planning to discuss topics within mental health but felt obliged to hold back because of the possibility of offending others and not being understood because of common misconceptions and the lack of education surrounding the topic of mental health. 

For as long as I can remember mental illnesses have been a reality I've had to face. The reason why I'm acknowledging this week of awareness for mental health  isn't because I want sympathy or attention, but for the reason being that our society can often miscommunicate a real and honest representation of what mental health is and lack conversations and education that is key in developing care and knowledge about others. 

I am a sufferer / survivor / understander of mental illness and I guarantee you that you -yourself have dealt with some form of mental illness or know of someone who has. I feel the need to also acknowledge everyone's opinions surrounding this topic, I understand everyone has their own stories and experiences and I highly respect that. I know my opinions and views on mental health topics may be different to your own and that's totally fine because no matter what, mental health is a personal matter. Unfortunately a huge percentage of people are familiar with what it's like to deal with a form of mental illness in their lives. One in six New Zealand adults ( estimate of 582,000 adults ) have been diagnosed with a common mental disorder at some point in their lives. In results collected in 2012-13 Women were around 1.6 times more likely to have been diagnosed with a common mental disorder ( 20%) than men ( 13%) and rates were higher in all age groups. 

Common mental illnesses that you may be familiar with are - depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, Alcohol/Substance Abuse, ADHD, ADD, Eating disorders, postpartum depression, schizophrenia just to name a few.These disorders are not to be afraid of, People who have been diagnosed are not bad people, and mental illness isn't always negative. Being aware of your own mental health is so crucial and something you should highly value. 

We are extremely lucky here in NZ to have so many resources and facilities that are open to the general public for care and support for those who need it. If you weren't aware you can also go through your Local GP for referrals and advice surrounding mental health. There are also a number of amazing youth programs nationwide who also delicately care for youth who are dealing with mental illnesses / mental health issues. Only 44% of adults with diagnosable mental health problems and less than 20% of children and adolescents receive needed treatment. Friends and family can be important influences to help someone get the treatment and services they need by:

Reaching out and letting them know you are available to help

Helping them access mental health services

Learning and sharing the facts about mental health, especially if you hear something that isn't true

Treating them with respect, just as you would anyone else

Refusing to define them by their diagnosis or using labels such as "crazy"

My Story 

Photo credit - Lucia Taylor

( disclaimer ) - I don't want to share my story to attract further attention or sympathy I want to share this for the hope of helping someone else dealing with something similar. I am not sugar coating my story and my journey and experiences is something I believe is the truth and only the truth. My story is also not as astringent as others and my story may be minor to some and larger to others. I'm aware many people have various opinions and beliefs surrounding mental health and the ways to deal with it and I respect that wholeheartedly. At the end of the day I just want to be an example of someone who can prove there is hope for recovery. I’d also like to address I don't need to be treated or attended to in a different manner. I have swarms of kindness in my life and I am satisfied that my friends and family know when to help me. I don't want this post to be some kind of attention attraction I simply want to help all those dealing with their mental health or those unaware of what effect it can have on an individual. 

Like I said earlier Mental Illness is something I've been aware of for the majority of my life. I have been diagnosed with Chronic Anxiety, Chronic Depression, Agoraphobia, OCD and PTSD. I am no longer in denial of my mental illnesses and am open and honest about my experiences and journey. Part of me can’t believe I’m sharing this here on the internet for all of you silent viewers to see. I know many people don't know about my journey with mental illnesses and a lot of you do and that's okay. I have come along way and want to demonstrate hope for others who have or are going through a mental illness like I have. 

As a young child I was extremely shy and highly sensitive. I showed signs of numerous indications of anxiety and OCD. Admitting myself to the sick bay every day at primary school was uniform in which only demonstrated the anxiety I build up around school and learning due to learning issues and unidentified mental illness. I also had very strong repeated behaviors I felt like I couldn’t avoid which thinking back were extremely strange. Further reflection of my childhood made me recognise how much my mental illnesses took a lot of control over my younger life. It truly hit me at the end of yr 10 - yr 11 when I was diagnosed with Chronic anxiety and depression after being quite sick which lead to crippling mental illness. I left school without warning to my classmates and spent a solid 18 months focusing on getting back on my feet. The goal of returning back to school was trial and error and I failed a few times and it took me a year and a bit to start back. I spent 3 months coping with agoraphobia ( 

extreme or irrational fear of open or public places )

and spent those months in my house totally riddled with Anxiety and depressive thoughts. Fighting for recovery was my biggest goal I just wanted to feel " normal " again. A quick trip to the supermarket was my biggest achievement for the week, and walking to my letterbox once a day was a struggle. I lost an evident amount of weight, didn't want to connect with friends, I was experiencing 3+ full blown panic attacks a day and developed fatigue and became anaemic (low iron levels). I went through about 10 counselors/ psychiatrist. I was referred to vision west, Northern health board school and Waitemata DHB Marinoto Child and Youth Mental Health Services and other facilities. I spent 12 months at Marinoto with intensive counseling and worked through a type of counseling called CBT, I also attended support groups with others dealing with similar illnesses. I grew to learn and accept that how I felt at the time was able to be overcome. Reading and talking to others who knew what it felt like to be in my position was extremely helpful. I remember someone telling me "when you are able to talk about your issues you are half way to recovery" that really resonated with me and pushed me to try talk to as many people about mental health. Over the past few years I have met an enormous amount of people with stories of their own and I've learnt that my anxiety and depression is definitely something I have to live with every day. I have a collection of amazing strategies and I am able to talk back to my negative thoughts and support myself through harder days. I must say due to the help I received and the endless support from my friend and family I have come such a long way. I never thought I'd able to fulfill my goals of going on public transport, going back to school, attending my friends parties and gatherings, going to concerts and gigs etc. and yet I have achieved them all. I have to pinch myself sometimes thinking about how much I took for granted before I had my breakdown. I am really lucky to know what it feels like to come out the other side in one piece  because I know a lot of people don’t. My whole life I immaculately hid my illnesses and pushed them aside and that explains why a lot of people don’t know that part of me. Many doctors and psychiatrist were amazed to see how well I'd learnt how to hide my anxiety and in particular my depression. Ive been seen as the girl who has their "shit together" and numerous people have used the word " perfect" towards me which I can wholeheartedly say I am NOT, I hope this story can just show that people can most definitly hide their interntal battles and cover them up. Not only have I found myself more through my experiences with mental health issues but I have truly learnt how important it is to listen to your personal needs and attend to your mental health. I know I still have many things to develop and work on and my journey is not over yet. It is okay to be selfish in times of need, Getting through these times isn't easy and during hard times it's hard to remember that things get easier even if it’s a slow process. You aren't alone and getting help is one of the best things you can do for yourself.  

My Advice 

- You don't need to have experienced a mental illness to understand them or feel like you have "found" yourself. 

- I don't personally know about every area of mental health in which I can't provide full advice for certain illnesses I haven't experienced but there is always help out there. 

- Letting others know how you feel is a brave move and it’s healthy to keep in mind that some people might not entirely understand if they haven't truly experienced certain things themselves. Someone’s a personal reaction can be hard to receive but understand that that particular person  might not relate or be educated at all. 

- You are not weak if you have a mental illness 

- Don’t let your diagnoses become who you are, don’t be afraid of it. Think of it as a term that explains how you have been feeling and thinking and a push to overcome it.

- Friends and loved ones can make a difference 

- Everything happens for a reason 

-  Mental illnesses can run in your genetics and is caused by an imbalance of chemicals in your brain which can be improved

- Seeking professional help is easy, you can access your local mental health faculties through your local doctors 

- If you are leaning on someone for help and reassurance put yourself in their position and evaluate how much emotion you are releasing on to them. A lot of the time your friends and family want to be there for you but talking to a professional can be a lot more effective because that is what they are trained to do.

- I know many cases of Male's who suffer from Mental illnesses and are to afraid to seek help or talk about it because of the chances of people thinking they are weak and less masculine! THIS IS A STEREOTYPE! Females and Males go through equal issues and are eligible for the same care no matter the situation

- Breathing is a very useful technique 

- physical exercise is so important, getting bad toxins out of your body will make you feel better 

- write a small diary and record your emotions - keep a rating for each day and monitor the numbers as you go, focus on getting a more positive ratings

- One of the easiest yet most effective techniques a therapist gave me for depression was to keep my posture and to keep my head up when I was walking. Look forward when you are walking on the street etc. instead of looking at the ground, he said it is most common for those feeling sad / depressed to focus on the ground when walking due to self-esteem and general sadness. Keeping your head up is going to create a positive outlook and the chance of you being distracted by your thoughts by the environment around you. Engaging and smiling with those walking past and looking around is something I found very useful.  

- Over all, Recovery is a work in progress and as cliche as it sounds there is light at the end of the tunnel!!

Illustration by Frances Cannon

Resources 

- Mental Health foundation 

- I had a black dog - book 

- Meditation Apps ( Buddhify, Calm, Headspace, Mindbody Connect, Omvana, Relax Melodies, Smiling Mind, Take A Break ) 

- www.healthpoint.co.nz - Marinoto ( West Auckland service )

- www.healthpoint.co.nz - Kari centre ( Central Auckland service ) 

-  Depression Helpline, free phone 0800 111 757

- Anxiety Line 0800 ANXIETY (2694 389)

- Crisis assessment and treatment teams (CATT)

- All NZ help lines - https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/get-help/in-crisis/helplines/ 

Extended apology for quite a dramatic post and for writing a lot of "cheesy" advice and opinions. I could go on forever, Thank you for bearing with me. If you would like further discussions you are free to email me at - gabriellefstoddard@gmail.com and let me know if you would like me to write more mental health related posts here on my blog. 

Happy mental Health Awareness week everyone!