Having a mental illness is one of the hardest things a person could ever have to go through in life. It throws a spanner in the works of your life and puts a halt to your ability to move forward as a human being. My experience with mental illness completely destroyed my life for many years. The first symptoms of my illness began when I was an early teen. At that point I did not recognise them as an illness I simply thought they were real. My earliest memory of a symptom was one that would happen on the way home from school. In year seven when I caught the bus home from school I believed that the people sitting in the back section of the bus had machines that could read my mind. The machines I believed in were about the size of a hand and had screens on them to allow the user to see the images I had in my head. They also had speakers that allowed them to hear what I was thinking. I don't know where I got this idea from but it was one of the scariest things I have ever experienced in my life. Every time I heard a roar of laughter come from the back of the bus I believed the people with these machines were laughing at my thoughts. Eventually I began trying to clear my mind so they couldn't intrude on my privacy. Obviously roars of laughter still occurred and I believed this was them mocking my attempt to block their intrusion. Because of this symptom I constantly dreaded the bus trip home which took half an hour and whilst I was on the bus I was constantly miserable.
About a year and a half on I began to become a very dark person. This was the effects of my bipolar beginning to take hold of my mind. I began to focus solely on all the bad things that had happened to me in my life. There are plenty of them because I had a pretty hard childhood. I focused on the hate I had for my father because I had never met him and because he had put my mother through domestic violence. I focused on the hate I had for my step father because of the constant degrading torment he and his friends put me and my mother through. I focused on the fact that my mothers marriage to him was falling apart. Divorce would mean that I wouldn't be able to see my little brothers as much, that once again I would be without a father figure and my mother would be lonely. Before my bipolar set in I had been able to cope with things of this sort, but after the symptoms began I fell into depression. At the age on sixteen I asked my friend to burn the words hard life into my left arm. He did so with a screwdriver and a lighter. This shows were I was at mentally at that point.
Soon enough I began to allow gangster rap and heavy mental to influence me and began to take my anger out on the world through vandalism and petty thievery. At this young age of sixteen and a half I began going into the city on weekend nights with friends. We would head out at about seven and stay out until four in the morning drinking alcohol, smoking weed and cigarettes and getting up to mischief. After about six months of going into Newcastle with this group I began going in with hardened thugs and criminals. What went on was disgusting but my illness made me think otherwise. I thought it was all justified because the world had done wrong by me. Once again I will state that before my illness set in I had nothing to do with these things despite my hard circumstances. In fact I will point out that from the age of fourteen all my friends had been smoking weed and drinking booze around me and I said no every time they offered it to me. I do believe that the majority of the time there are no excuses for taking up drugs, alcohol and crime. However through my experience I have learnt that in some cases, particularly with mental illness you can blame the person’s actions on the illness, not life choices. You see when I was suffering severely from my illness it was as if there was a new person inside my head and he had locked me in the basement of my mind. I acted completely different to how I naturally act. I was a completely new person. Now I have recovered I have returned to how I was before my illness. Now that this has occurred I just don't understand how I did the things that I did. I must emphasise again that it is like a new personality has entered your mind and taken control.
At the age of sixteen and a half I was becoming overwhelmed by depression and other symptoms were beginning to set in. For instance I was extremely confused. The best way to describe it was that I was simply wandering in a daze as life passed me by. I would go hours without speaking a word at times. The reason for this was that I became obsessed with daydreaming. I daydreamed about saving the world because I thought I was sent from heaven to do this. I could be around the most rowdy group of people and I would just sit there lost in my own thoughts. However at other times I would slip into extreme highs and because of this I would talk for hours about my plans to save the world. Another symptom that set in was that my thoughts were erratic. At times I could stay focused on one train of thinking for hours and at other times I couldn't concentrate on one thing for more than a minute. Also as my illness got progressively worse my paranoia did. I believed that everyone I knew was talking about me behind my back and that nobody liked me. This played a big part in me feeling depressed. Finally the violent outbursts began. When the violent outbursts began everything fell apart. Arguments began to happen between me and my mother, my brothers became scared of me and eventually I was taken to the psychiatric ward and scheduled. This happened after I threw two chairs through the walls in my mothers rented house. I would like to add that I always had the self control not to hurt another person.
My first time in hospital was horrible. I felt like a caged rat. I felt my freedom had been stripped away from me. More significant to the story is that I felt it was all for no reason as I didn't believe I had an illness. When I was in hospital I was constantly scared. One of the biggest problems with hospitalisation is that you are put in a bedroom with another person who is ill. Because of this you feel as if you are in constant danger and therefore don't sleep well. You feel as if the person in the bed beside you could flip out at any minute and beat you up. If you think about this it is in fact very possible. Some people with mental illness get violent so what's to stop this situation from occurring? I understand the problem of limited funding but there really should be individual rooms. This is not just for safety it is also because if a person does not sleep well because their scared this lessens their chance of recovering. Another problem I encountered was the amount of time the doctors take to diagnose you. They don't take long enough. I was ill but I believe the doctors spend such a short amount of time interviewing patients that they could easily mistake some of the person’s character traits for symptoms. I also believe that doctors forget that some sane people have pretty weird ideas that they have a right to believe. After all I'm a spiritual person who believes in supernatural phenomenon some doctors out there label people as mentally ill for believing in those things but I am no longer ill. I also believe that doctors sometimes mistake a person’s theory for their belief. All this aside, the biggest problem in the psychiatric ward of hospitals is the attitude of the staff. I can tell you from my own experience and the experiences of friends that the majority of staff in these wards are pricks. Now it’s not their fault. After all my understanding is that they generally see a higher failure rate than success and they have to witness very sad occurrences every day at work. Who wouldn't give up hope? However this does not mean that we can allow the bad treatment of patients to continue. If these people aren't going to do their jobs properly they should be fired. There should be a close eye kept on their attitudes towards patients and their jobs in general.
A positive of hospital was the groups that were run to keep the patients entertained and to allow discussion about illness. There should be more of these. They should run all day every day. You have to keep people happy whilst they are in hospital. If people are not happy they slip into depression, rebel against authority and can even get anxious from feeling trapped. The following is an interview I conducted with a friend who had previously been placed in the psychiatric ward.
Question: Tell me about some of the positives of hospital?
Answer: Some of the nurses were really nice they offered reassurance.
The ward provided plenty of cigarettes.
Some of the patients were really nice.
Question: Tell me about the general vibe of hospital?
Answer: The general vibe of hospital was very unsettling this, caused me to be very withdrawn. I had an intense need to get away from the people.
Question: Tell me about some of the negatives of hospital?
Answer: I was left for three days without receiving any information about my illness eg whether it was a psychosis or nervous breakdown. During this period of time no one attempted to comfort me or even make conversation with me. I was left to talk to other patients. The experience of talking to other patients disturbed me greatly. A lot of them had notions that the world was going to end and that everybody had already been judged by some higher power namely god. I came to believe this and it inspired fear. Because of this I was afraid the majority of the time I was in hospital. These fears stayed with me for months after I left hospital. There was very little interaction between doctors, nurses and patients. Generally they would only spend time with you when required. This made me feel isolated from any intellectual comfort or advice.
As you can see there are far more negatives than there are positives. I personally am deeply disturbed by the fact that there is little to no interaction between mental health staff and the patients. I experienced this also. I personally believe that having a conversation with a non ill person can be one of the most beneficial things for an ill person. Mental health staff should be required to socialise with the patients and should be trained in ways to converse with them. There objectives in doing this should be to calm and comfort the patients, to subtly talk through their delusions with them hopefully helping them to think more rationally and to make them feel happy preventing trauma and depression.
When I was first taken to hospital my mother was told that there was nothing wrong with me and that she just needed to put better boundaries in place. After I was released I was put in a refuge. The refuge introduced a whole new group of trouble makers into my life. Whilst in the refuge I began hanging out at the local drop in centre. Junkies, stoners and criminals hung out at the same drop in centre and I was introduced to all of these people. I was fascinated by these people. I thought that they had the right idea. I felt that if you had grown up in an underprivileged neighbourhood riddled with crime and the government hadn't stepped in to help then the world owed you a favour. Because of this I came to the conclusion that it was not only morally right to steal from well off people but that you had a responsibility to do it so they could learn that life was hard. I hoped that if they learnt that life was hard they would sympathise with the underprivileged and begin to support charitable organisations. These days I still believe that the well off have a lot to learn and should do more for the underprivileged but I don't believe stealing from them is the right way to educate them.
Whilst I was in the refuge I continued to smoke weed and drink alcohol and I made friends with a junkie. Since then I have had a falling out with this dangerous person and now I have to watch my back everywhere I go. He has followed me several times screaming abuse at me. Fortunately I have always been in a crowded place. Usually I escape by catching a taxi but I dread the day I am stuck with no money. I only have one complaint about the refuge system and that is that you should be able to stay there for longer. The only way to accomplish this is to build more refuges. Whilst in the refuge I met a nice girl, she was a very hard girl but she was a nice girl. She was very keen to hook up with me and she was very straight forward about it. I thought and still think she is one of the most attractive girls I have ever seen. I would have loved to have hooked up with her and I had plenty of opportunities. Unfortunately because of my illness I was paranoid about catching diseases from every person who came near me and the thought of sex scared the hell out of me for this reason. Also my illness made me very shy and withdrawn I didn't know what to say or what to do and I believed the whole time that she hated me. Oh well this happens. Towards the end of my stay in the refuge it was organised for me to move to a supported accommodation house. Unfortunately I got kicked out of the refuge for not coming back one night. This led to me spending two weeks homeless whilst the supported accommodation was organised. The reason I didn't come back that night was because I was supporting a friend who was having some relationship troubles.
Homelessness leaves a sickly feeling of emptiness in your stomach. When it is drawing towards night time and you haven't found a place to sleep yet you literally feel like throwing up. In that first two weeks of homelessness I was able to spend a few one nighter's at friends houses but the rest of the time I slept on trains because they were warm. I would travel the Maitland to Newcastle line trying to sleep. However I rarely did out of fear of getting mugged. Sometimes I would walk the streets late at night trying to pass the time until the sun came up. I did this because I was more comfortable sleeping through the day because of my paranoia.
My friends did not take well to me asking for a place to stay and this was understandable given they had watched me destroy my life. As we know a great deal of this was the illness but they were unaware of this. The experience of begging your friends for a bed and a good feed is one of the most degrading things you could ever go through but you have to do it. The experience of them telling you that you can’t stay the night is one of the most devastating things possible. Your stomach feels like it has dropped out your ass all your feelings of hope suddenly leave you, you panic because now you are scared of what lays ahead finally you begin to beg some more. All this is very sad so I will share with you a positive experience. When you haven't eaten properly in one and a half weeks and one of your friends lets you stay then cooks a big baked dinner, well unless you have experienced this you have never truly enjoyed or appreciated food. Sometimes when I was homeless I would go around asking people for fifty cents or a dollar. If I got a dollar I would go and by a litre of home brand milk and make it last. Seems pretty pathetic but this is what some people have to go though.
The next year and a half of my life was basically the same thing repeating with different surroundings. I went through three more periods of homelessness (six weeks all up) I lived in three different homes and I smoked weed and drunk alcohol the whole time. During this time I was extremely poor. I didn't eat well as I spent most of my money on drugs. Also I was constantly getting more paranoid. However the good thing was that my mother supported me the whole time giving me money and occasionally food. You see my mother never wanted to kick me out of home she was forced to because I was a risk to my brothers’ safety. The thing was that I was told that as soon as I accepted treatment I could live at home again but I simply wouldn't because I didn't believe there was anything wrong with me.
Two and a half years ago I came to the decision that I was sick of my situation and I accepted treatment. At the time I still firmly believed that there was nothing wrong with me and that treatment was unnecessary. I also still suffered paranoid thoughts about what the medication would do to me. The thoughts I experienced are common here is a list of some of them.
I believed that the medication would dramatically alter my personality. The reality of the situation of course was that the medication would give me back the personality I had before I became ill which is ultimately my true personality.
I believed that the medication would make me lethargic for the entirety of the period I was on it. The reality was that it only made me lethargic for around four months and it was totally worth it to be well again.
I believed that the medication produced a certain personality type and therefore everyone who took it had the same personality. Of course this was not true at all.
Despite these beliefs I still accepted treatment because I had simply had enough. My situation at the time when I realised this was that the lease had just run out on the house I was boarding in and I found myself homeless again. The day we all left the house I went to my mother’s house and begged her to take me back. She simply said I had to accept treatment and I said I would. The next two and a half years leading up to now have had their ups and downs. The medication made me quite lethargic for the first four months or so and I lacked motivation. Also the fact that my brain was recovering from several psychosis made me very tired. Also I gained about thirty kilo due to the medication. Despite these factors and the fact that it took quite a while to rebuild my relationship with my little brothers there have been a lot more positives over the last few years. The first and biggest positive of my recovery was the friend I made. Me and my best friend were introduced by our parents who met at a carer support group. At first I didn't like him but we ended up going to the same support group and found out that we lived very close to each other. At the time I didn't have any friends so I began hanging out with him. From there on we supported each other through every step of the long hard recovery process. The second most important positive of recovery was regaining my 'sanity' and my love for life.
Over the last two and a half years I have been living a very active normal life here is a list of some of the things I have been involved in.
Amateur theatre acted in one play, backstage work on four.
Writing articles for ‘steps’ newsletter, five published.
Studying the business of the music industry at T.A.F.E., learning to manage bands.
Public speaking about mental health issues, have given fifteen speeches.
Working at a café.
Learning to ride motorbikes with intention of getting license.
Recording my own music.
Working on three novels.
Writing short stories.
Going out and seeing bands with people and socializing.
On top of this I have just been accepted into a new government initiative created by the Mental Health Council of Australia called the national register for consumer and carer advocates. This will involve numerous opportunities to be trained as a consumer advocate and will also involve me sitting on state and federal level committees helping form new mental health policies. Also I should note that I have a large network of friends and that they are all good honest people,…no thugs and gangsters!
And on top of all of this my relationship with my family has never been better.
However it hasn't been all smooth sailing. Occasionally I will get small bouts of depression and recently I developed a massive anxiety problem but that's all better now. Anyway that's my story thankyou for reading.
If you haven’t already done so, I am inviting you to submit your Consumer or Carer story on your personal experiences with: - Anxiety Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, PTSD, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, Anorexia, Post Natal Depression, Hearing Voices or any other MI I have overlooked.
The average length of stories are 6 to 15 pages. However I do have those that are 4 pages.
Minimum accepted is 4 pages, narrow margins, size 12 Arial font and single line spacing. Send them through to email@example.com in a MS Word document as per the above settings.