The crazy person’s guide to ordinary life

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!

Photo on 2011-06-23 at 10.14

Jeanette – slightly altered…

Little black kitty therapy

I have had cats for most of my life. I have always bonded with them and loved them. When I was a child, I made friends with kids – and adults – who had cats so that I could meet their feline furry friends.

When I moved to Canberra in 2007 to start a new and somewhat corporate life, I  initially shared a house with a woman who was also a cat lover. However, this woman was disrespectful and sort of a bully to the humans in her life. For some reason, I saw strong associations between this woman and her two snooty, aloof cats. When I bought my own flat a while later, I vowed and declared that I would not be a ‘crazy cat lady’ like she was.

As time went on, my mental health deteriorated. I spent many months in hospitals and residential services. I struggled to do daily tasks and still have no idea how I managed to keep my job.  I met a woman at work who was the local cat rescue lady and offered me one of her cats. At first I declined the offer. Then one day, I was home from work due to my mental illness. I felt terrible. I went outside to take out the garbage and came across a little tabby cat. I patted him and he purred. When I came back home, I realised that while I was patting the kitty I had not felt depressed or anxious. I called my cat rescuing friend and said ‘I want a cat please!’

She came to my house that weekend, with four carriers full of kittens. There were kittens all over my flat. It was immensely lovely (and I wish I’d filmed it and put it on YouTube!!).  But none of the kittens ‘spoke’ to me. The last cat was a big adult boy. He was black all over, save for a tiny white smudge on his chest. He had bright yellow eyes and a sleek, shiny coat. I held him to me and he purred and purred. ‘I’m keeping this one.’ I said and we have been each other’s supporter and protector ever since.

Mr Ronnie – or Mr KItty as he is often known – has been a huge factor in my mental illness recovery journey. I now want to come home, whereas before I was terrified of being alone with the ghosts in my house. Mr Ronnie scares the ghosts away. He sleeps on my bed every night and I have never loved anything the way I love my furry boy. My mum says he is a gift from God. I like the idea that God is dispensing kitties to those that need them. Of all the good things that have happened in the past few years – books, TEDx talks, conferences, work successes – Mr Ronnie is by far and away the best. As I often say, there is nothing like the bond between an Aspie and her cat (or dog or horse or snake…)


Photo credit: John Purkis