I have a mental illness. It has gone by a number of names in its lifetime – schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, depression, psychotic depression and even for a short while borderline personality disorder. Neither I nor my current psychiatrist choose to give it a name although I refer to it at times as ‘my illness’ or ‘the mental illness sampler’ as it gives me a little bit of all the various symptoms of most disorders. Needless to say it is a colossal pain in the butt and I really, really don’t like it.
As I have grown older I have discovered a few things about my illness. Hating it and wishing it would go away are not very useful sentiments. It is better to accept that it exists and try to work within the limitations it gives me. Which brings me to my present problem.
I am rather unwell right now, this instant. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say it involves scary hallucinations, intrusive thoughts about death and violence – apparently originating from some place other than me – and an elevated mood (which doesn’t actually mean I am happy. it means that I am restless, sleepless and overly energised and that I find everything dissatisfying. Also that I am like some kind of extrovert-monster who needs to talk to humans constantly. Oh, and I really want to use my credit card. A lot. And fix things around the house which I don’t actually know how to fix.)
Now I have a few things coming up over the next few days which I do not want my illness to attend. The first, and most concerning, is my job. I need to go to work tomorrow morning and behave like a respectable public servant. I need to not irritate the hell out of my colleagues and managers or confuse people. I am quite adept at doing this. I do this most of the time. But I always doubt my ability. I will have to use the old trick of imagining that my illness can wait outside of the office building until I go home. I will also tell my colleagues and managers that I am a little unwell and apologise if I seem odd. I can do this. I’ve done it before.
The next issue its that I am performing at a mental health week event on Wednesday night. OK, I suppose nobody’s going to judge me harshly for being a bit unwell at that. And elevated tends to equal confidence, so that might actually be a plus. Finally, I am attending the TEDx Canberra conference on Saturday. This will essentially be a room full of people to talk to during breaks and I can tweet and Facebook constantly throughout the day.
So OK, I can get through this one. But for me – and others living with mental illness – life can be a constant struggle and doing things that others take for granted can be extremely challenging. I’m lucky in that I have a god dollop of insight and self-awareness, but not everyone does. If you know someone with mental illness, try to imagine what they may need to do in order to live life successfully. And if you ARE someone with mental illness, keep going. You can do it. You rock!
Jeanette – slightly altered…