Tag Archives: life

REAL STORIES: Battling Mental Illness AND the Stigma

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Imagine having fallen deep into a pit; you’re tired, physically weak and unable to get back out. You can see the light from above and hear voices of others’ happiness as they walk right by and continue on with their lives.

Passers by often never notice, but those that do sometimes call down to tell you to climb out. They ask why you’re down there and why you haven’t just “tried harder” to pull yourself out. It feels pointless to bother, but you try so hard to climb the walls – to dig your fingers into the soil and pull yourself back up, but often you just fall again, even harder than the first time. Laying there, below the rest of the world, you ponder your chances that you’ll ever be able to get out again; you wonder if it’s even worth it to try.

Then out of nowhere, you see a hand from the outside, reaching down to help. They ask if you’re okay and seem to understand the difficulty of your struggle. You hesitate, not knowing if this will be enough to pull you back out of the pit, but also not wanting to be a burden to your kind helper. With a combined effort, you can be brought back out of the pit. Slowly but surely – and often not on the first try – you work your way out of that darkness with an immense inner determination and the help of the kind samaritan. Often you will have have no choice but to remain in the pit until time has passed – with help or without; but this time you’re glad you didn’t give up, though you know all too well that you’ll most likely be back down there again soon.

This is the reality of thousands of Australians – of millions of people worldwide. It is difficult to explain how deep that pit can seem and just how frightening it truly is, but with the right combination of a helping hand and being able to accept that help, you are afforded a real opportunity to find your way back out.

Suffering the deep pit of depression is a lonely and terrifying experience. What we don’t often realise is that when we are finally able to stand up again on the outside, we have the opportunity to take a look around and see that there are thousands more out there – some just as deep and dark as our own. If you take a walk around, you can see people trying to climb out on their own; some are struggling as hard as you just did and some perhaps even harder. If you see this, you can put your hand out and be the one to help them back up, to tell them of your recent experience and to eventually try to work together to stay above the surface. Depression is of course a much more complicated beast but for what it’s worth, if you have the opportunity and the capacity to do so, it’s never a bad idea to reach out to one-another.

There are of course the many other forms of mental illness that people suffer through every single day. It is a painful reality to know that many of the world’s kindest and most considerate people are actually battling their own demons, but there is hope if we collectively become and remain aware.

The following are statements directly from everyday people who have suffered (sometimes silently) at one point or another from a degree of mental illness. As individuals, they are all caring, kind and highly intelligent and their stories are some of the bravest you’ll hear.

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A brave mother tells of her battle with post-natal depression.

“I knew from the moment he was born that something was wrong with me.

My pregnancy had been a beautiful nine months of being at one with my body for the first time in my life. I felt a sense of peace and wonder that was so new and so calming.

But everything changed after he was born.

At first I felt as high as a kite and out of my body as my baby was passed around the delivery room from one relative to another. Then, after they left so did my elation.

Once back at home my mood worsened. The grey of the world turned black and one day I woke up and couldn’t get out of bed. I could only stare into space listening to my baby cry.

My mother moved in with us and took care of him, bringing him to me for feeds and doing all the rest for him herself. This lasted for a couple of weeks and then she would come by daily just to check and make sure we were going OK.

When she came to visit I would go out for a drive on my own, and I would fantasise about how I was going to kill myself – which tree would I drive into, where would be the least mess. I didn’t want to live, my life had no meaning, and I didn’t want my baby or the life that had been forced on me with his birth.

I recognised my symptoms and went to see a psychiatrist who recommended anti depressants. From that time on things started to settle down and I was able to build my life back up slowly. But it took a long time. A lot longer than I hoped or expected and I had to really learn to take it easy on myself, do things slowly, reach out for help, and learn to take care of myself and my needs.

My baby is 14 years old now and we’ve both come a long way.” – Blanca Luz

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An incredibly strong woman in her early twenties tells of her Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in March of 2013, a few months after my 23rd birthday. I suppose my story starts a lot earlier than that.

To society, my family was the picture perfect household. My parents were and still remain married, I have 4 siblings, attended church and although not having a lot of money, materialistically we were provided for. I have many fond memories of my childhood although a lot of it is unfortunately marred by the sexual abuse I suffered as a child at the hands of my charismatic and popular brother and the psychological abuse inflicted upon me by my mother.
I was 14 when I told a school teacher what had occurred some years previous and it is what occurred from this point on, that for me was pivotal. I was interviewed by detectives and the Department of Human Services and begged them not to tell my parents. Unfortunately due to the law, those pleas fell on deaf ears. The reaction from my family was of disbelief and denial. I was blamed, made out to be a liar and in their eyes had just shattered the ‘perfect family’ image they portrayed to everyone. I was told by my mother that my abuser ‘forgives you’ and that we would all go grab some ice cream.

After suffering anxiety and panic attacks for the remainder of my high school life, I threw myself straight into University until I was offered a full time job. I decided to leave Uni and work, hoping to saving up enough money so I could eventually move out. I eventually moved out and work had become an escape. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a bright, cheerful, bubbly and vivacious person who finds the humour in most things, however I would put on an overly cheerful and flirty persona to mask how I really felt to distract myself from my own thoughts and feelings. On the inside I was somebody who had very low self- confidence, was afraid of intimacy and when I felt like I could start a relationship, it was toxic and continued the cycle of abuse.
In 2013 I met a man and without knowing this, he groomed me and my behaviour until one day he decided to rape me. I had seen several warning signs but chose to overlook them, as all I wanted was to be loved and that I was sadly, more comfortable and familiar with being abused and mistreated than having a male be genuinely caring towards me.

Life became so hard to cope with that eventually I quit my job and found study impossible. I have intrusive memories and nightmares, avoid anything or anybody that reminds me of the trauma and am incredibly ‘jumpy’. All typical symptoms of PTSD.
Below are a few of my personal symptoms..

-Unable to sleep/Refusal to sleep/Nightmares
-Afraid to shower in case somebody was in my house
– Unable to leave my dogs in case somebody would hurt them while I was gone
– At night all my curtains must be pegged closed
-Any sudden movement, flash of light or noise and I am frozen with fear
-I could be talking to friends, colleagues and my mind hits a brick wall and I disassociate.
-I dislike being touched which makes it hard to pursue a relationship and experience memories and flashbacks.
-I isolate myself as I feel safer in my home and have more control of the things around me.
– Self harming as a coping mechanism

The main reason I wanted to write this for Leesa, was that Mental Health issues do not discriminate. I am well educated, dressed and spoken, intelligent, witty , a chocoholic who loves clothes and has a shoe collection to die for! I’m not societies misguided and ignorant image of what a ‘mentally ill’ person should look like.
With the help of a Psychologist I continue to work through my PTSD and my past but refuse to let it define who I am. I am NOT my mental illness. I am Casey who plays netball, who loves a coffee with girlfriends, swims, loves animals, laughs till it hurts and a million and one other things before I’m Casey who has PTSD.”
– Casey N

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A young woman tells of her fight with overwhelming anxiety and depression.

“’You don’t have to control your thoughts, you just have to stop letting them control you.’

I was a regular 17 year old school girl when I tasted my first moment of darkness. To this day, I don’t know why or how I became a victim of Anxiety, but for 9 years it consumed me. It began small, but over time it became something that affected me each and every day. I was embarrassed, ashamed, confused, lonely and everything in between. Convinced no one would understand, I had built up a stigma on mental illness and made assumptions on how people would respond. In doing this, I had forced myself to suffer in silence. For this reason alone, I lost touch with the outside world and struggled to find my place in it. Over time my anxiety got worse and soon followed depression. If I have any piece of advice from my own experience, it’s to share your story, don’t hide. I spent years making excuses on why I couldn’t do certain things, losing friends in the process because I couldn’t be honest. Find the people that love you, the way you need to be loved and open up to them. I promise they WILL understand, maybe not exactly how you feel or what it actually feels like, but they will support you. It took me 9 years to find that strength, to open up completely to those closest to me, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. It gave me freedom, a chance to get closer to people. I no longer make excuses, I no longer hide. My mind just works a little differently than others and that’s OK. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, there is no stereotype, no discrimination – it can affect anyone. Don’t be afraid to see a psychologist or simply talk to a friend – DO NOT carry this burden alone. Whether it’s anxiety, depression or any form of mental illness, there is always help available – ACCEPT IT! I cannot stress this enough and to put it simply, without it I wouldn’t be here. It took one woman – a complete stranger and many hours of support to save my life. It’s a hard and long road to recovery, one that I still work toward every day. And although I no longer struggle with depression, I am still greatly working against anxiety. So enjoy small steps and reward any form of growth, slowly but surely you can move forward to a better future.” – Lauren B

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The strength of this wife shines through as she tells of her battle with depression while coping with her husband’s severe medical conditions.

“In all reality I must have been suffering from depression since childhood. As much as my mum loved me she at times mentally and emotionally abused me. It was tough going through the things I went through. I finally decided to go get myself properly diagnosed at the end of 2001 after spending 8 months overseas with my in-laws. I have struggled ever since. I have found that if I don’t take my meds on a regular basis and stick with it I become so mentally unstable I can’t cope. 2013 has been the worst year of my life…my beloved husband got so sick with Sepsis that he had to have both his legs and fingers of both hands amputated at various points. He is a double-lung recipient and has gone through so much….I lost it when I found out that what had happened to my husband was preventable. I was so devastated that I stopped taking my meds and I literally went crazy with grief. I took check of my life when I realised I was lashing out at my husband and he really didn’t deserve it. I got back on my meds and have been stable since then. There is no shame in having a mental illness.” – Ruth P

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The stigma of mental illness is something I cannot fathom – we don’t seem to judge those who are psychically ill, but rather tend to embrace and comfort them. Though, to find out that someone is burdened with a mental illness can often lead to ridicule and a parade of misinformed assumptions. One of the most common and broad misconceptions about mental health is that it is an inherent weakness in the individual that is causing or propelling the illness. In actual fact, the cause of mental illness is a genetic predisposition in combination with environmental factors, sometimes including (but not limited to) upbringing.

Another and perhaps the most common misconception is that mental illness only affects a few people. In reality, 20% of Australians suffer from mental illness; these are people from all ages, backgrounds, cultures and socio-economic states. Mental illness does not discriminate – anyone could be a sufferer and you (or even they) may never even know it. The figure of ‘one in five’ is also possibly deceptively low – there are a lot of people who have never sought help, or do not even know that they are ill.

Try to remember, you are not alone. There will always be someone to speak to, no matter what you feel you need to discuss. If you are not a sufferer of mental illness, please try to eliminate the stigma from your mind. You wouldn’t be critical or judgemental of someone with a physical illness – the only difference is the deafening silence of mental illness – it does not always make itself obvious.

Reach out for help when needed, reach out and accept the help if offered and reach out to offer help if you can. Whoever you are, please make sure to reach out; it could save a life – possibly even your own.

This post is the beginning of a series of personal experiences and stories from those who suffer from mental illness. There are many more stories of strength to be shared in the next post, and the one immediately following will involve my own personal experience with anxiety and depression.

There is no shame in mental illness – you are not alone.

If you, or someone you know needs someone to talk to, you can contact:

Lifeline
on 13 11 14

Beyond Blue
on 1300 22 4636

In memory of Michael

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Through The Eyes Of A Brain: How The Brain Truly Sees The Human Body

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Source: London Natural History Museum

The cortical homunculus is a visual representation of how the brain truly views the human body. More specifically, it depicts the differences in the brain’s dedication to individual areas of the body.

There are two types of cortical homunculi – the motor homunculus and the sensory homunculus. The motor homunculus model is based on the information exchange between the body and the part of the brain responsible for motor function – the primary motor cortex. As the name suggests, the motor homunculus is a proportionate representation of the brain’s dedication to the parts of the body responsible for motor functionality. In other words, the more brain power involved in the planning, execution and control of a body part’s movements, the larger the body part is on the clay figure, thus giving a simple, yet accurate visual representation of the brain’s dedication to different areas of motor function.

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The motor homunculus pictured from different angles. Source: London Natural History Museum

Similarly, the sensory homunculus model is a visual representation of the brain’s dedication to the sensing of information of each body part. Again, this directly translates; the larger the brain’s efforts in sending/receiving sensory information to each body part, the larger the body part is on the figure. The part of the brain that is responsible for this sensory exchange is the primary somatosensory cortex, and with the visual aid of the sensory homunculus, we can gain a better insight into the relationship between this cortex and the different areas of the human body in relation to sensing.

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The sensory homunculus. Source: London Natural History Museum

Both the motor and sensory areas of the brain value the hands above all else. The hands help to navigate our way through this world in what seems like an automatic function. Little do we ever stop to think that as we type, lift or even gesture, that our brain is concurrently dedicating so much to these functions, let alone the idea that it’s focusing more on the hands than anything else. On the other end of the scale, the brain is giving perhaps the least amount of dedication to areas such as the limbs. The limbs work only to move our hands and feet into place, so while they do require attention, they don’t necessarily need the same amount of dedication as the eyes, mouth or hands.

This concept was developed by Wilder Penfield in the 1930’s. Penfield performed surgeries on patients with epilepsy and often made use of his valuable time with the live brain by mapping the specific areas of the brain as related to parts of the body. This resulted in the first, more primal cortical homunculus, which shows (in the diagram below), which areas of the brain coincide with specific parts of the body.

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While incredibly creepy, the cortical homunculi provide for a more mindful experience. As you read this, pay attention to your body – which areas are most utilised? It’s an awakening experience to acknowledge how powerful the human brain is, rather than to simply function automatically through every single process without ever giving it a deeper thought. The human brain is truly an astonishing masterpiece that we often take for granted; stay mindful.

Frightening Trends: Rooftopping

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Source: Rooftopper, Tom Ryaboi’s website.

While the unbelievably dangerous act of ‘rooftopping’ has emerged as a scary new trend throughout the country, it has in fact been of international popularity for a number of years. In recent months, it’s either just started to spread throughout Australia, or has only now been noticed by authorities. Either way, there’s no denying how incredibly risky and terrifying this trend is.

‘Rooftopping’ involves climbing to ridiculous heights and without harness, taking a photo to commemorate the moment. Photographer, Tom Ryaboi even boasts this dangerous pass-time as being his photographic edge. Posting numerous photos of himself in compromising positions, Tom’s main attraction on his website seems to be his first-listed category – rooftopping.

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Source: Rooftopper, Tom Ryaboi’s website.

Though most well-known rooftoppers are proud of their activity, many deny that they are influencing others. Particularly at risk are the impressionable youth, who, with all of the means to share their photos via social media, are becoming increasingly willing to do anything to give their amateur photography an edge.

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Instagram user and high-school student, ‘Nadanator’ posts one of Tom Ryaboi’s photos, along with her enthusiasm to follow the trend.

Like many other rooftoppers, Tom Ryaboi makes sure to conceal his identity in each of these shots to protect from the authorities – a move that is now being imitated by Australia’s more impressionable youth as the police try to crack down on the perpetrators. According to abc.net.au, Queensland police have started to use the images posted on social media sites to identify and fine the culprits as a possible deterrent. Unfortunately however, while the police are doing their best to put a stop to the trend, rooftoppers are proving to be defiant and brazen about their activity. ABC (abc.net.au) reports the response from Brisbane rooftopper, Blu Art Xinja, who says that the consequences don’t serve as a deterrent; he told them, “I think it is dangerous for people to get on top of buildings, but I personally don’t mind danger – a lot of people don’t,” continuing with, “Even if someone died in an accident from it I don’t think it would be deterrent if you like doing it anyway.” – from abc.net.au

Despite the fact that ‘rooftopping’ is what most consider to be a life-risking activity, well-known rooftoppers have a collection of loyal followers that believe in the “art” of their work. After doing the interview for ABC, Blu Art Xinja took to his Facebook page to brag about the article and of course his fans had his back.

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Source: Blu Art Xinja’s Facebook page.

While we’re all hoping for the craze to subside for the sake of safety, Blu Art Xinja has only one reason for his hope that the attention falls away – “I do hope the craze dies down so I can keep doing it with less eyes watching me.” he told abc.net.au

We Are Not Invincible

There is an undeniable commonality that we all share, and unfortunately we risk our own lives in doing so. This commonality goes against our natural instincts and it makes absolutely no sense as to why we continue to let this particular behaviour be.

I’ll begin with my own experience which may offer a reason for my sudden change of heart and personal awakening. I am currently 13 weeks pregnant and it is because of this that I am starting to realise my own mortality, treasure my health and value my time – all of which directly relates to our first child. My health determines the well-being of our unborn baby, which really makes one think twice about everything.

Before our first ultrasound, the thoughts had been somewhat common; baby names, possible gender, buying teeny-tiny clothes, prenatal vitamins etc. Though, it wasn’t until we saw our baby on the screen for the first time, bouncing around and enjoying him/herself, that I had the shocking and sudden realisation that yes, this precious being is indeed growing inside of me. Life has changed and the urge to protect our baby from anything and everything increased dramatically and suddenly. Before the ultrasound, I had been more than careful to protect the baby, but now the mindset has changed and the feeling has somehow intensified.

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Our future, our joy.

Despite all of this, there was still something that I hadn’t considered. I spend my life worrying about the safety/well-being of my husband, and am now in full-on “mummy mode” in regard to protecting our baby, but I still did not care about my own health. I felt invincible and that if (even a few years down the line) anything were to happen to me, it would be just a fateful occurrence.

It wasn’t until the first pre-natal appointment at the local hospital that I actually got
(my version) of a wake-up call. Proudly rattling off a list of “no’s” to each of the midwife’s questions regarding previous health problems, I couldn’t help but think, “I’m young, of course my medical history is clear”. Then she asked for the ultrasound envelope. After removing the doctor’s letters from within, she handed the envelope back to me along with my copy of the letter. I glanced at it briefly and thought, “why didn’t I think to look at this earlier?” – the answer was simple, I had assumed that all was copacetic. When the midwife left the room later, I decided to read the letter that had remained in my hands. I saw some words that confused me; “There is a small corpus luteum in the right ovary”.

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As soon as the midwife returned, I calmly asked her what it was and if the baby would be okay. She explained that it’s a common cyst that is typically harmless. I was relieved, yet somehow shaken that while nothing was wrong, there was something that had to be noted. It wasn’t so much the revelation of having a cyst, it was the feeling of invincibility suddenly washing away; I felt stupid for having assumed that nothing could be wrong.

The midwife continued her questions; feeling less proud of my answers, and suddenly vulnerable, I responded to them as they came. Then she asked something I had not considered, “have you ever had a pap smear?” I looked to the ground, incredibly ashamed of the answer – “no, I haven’t. I… I… Well, I..” I searched for the excuse, the reason to explain why this 25 year old woman had not yet bothered to have this simple procedure done. There was nothing – no excuse, no explanation, just a feeling of utter shame. She of course did not judge, but instead suggested that near to immediately after recovering from giving birth, I have this done.

I felt a change in my mind and in my spirit; suddenly the anxiety about the procedure was near to gone and I realised that as a mother-to-be, I needed to care as much about myself as I do about the ones that I love. In fact, as a daughter and as a wife, I owe it to my family to do everything within my power to ensure that I value my own health.

So why was I so intent on protecting my baby, yet had no regard for the future well-being of our baby’s mum? Am I the only one? Of course not. This is the unfortunate and common phenomenon that somehow occurs in a world that is so well-equipped to handle such a devastating disease as cancer in it’s early stages. When we learn that someone we love has been diagnosed, our typical first question is “what stage/how far along is it?” This implies that it is common knowledge that we understand how vital it is to detect cancer early; treatment is more effective and has a higher rate of success this way. Knowing all of this, some of us still somehow deny ourselves the opportunity to detect it early, possibly risking our own lives in doing so.

A recent viral video on the topic of early detection involved Amy Robach from the popular US TV show, Good Morning America. Amy is 40 years of age and admitted to never having a mammogram. She represents a vast majority of women who are anxious about the test itself and was “putting it off” for as long as possible. During Breast Cancer Awareness week, she volunteered to be the representative of their show and opted to get her very first mammogram on-air. Emerging from the screening bus, she explained how simple the test actually was, “there really wasn’t anything to be scared of, it was over in a few minutes”. Unfortunately for Amy, this wasn’t the end of the story. She later received a call and was rushed through for a battery of tests. They had found something and Amy had to swallow the unbearable thought that she did indeed have breast cancer.

Realising the journey ahead, Amy knew that she had to fight with every ounce of her being. She had to fight for her life, and she has more than a few reasons why that fight is strong within her; “I know that I have a fight ahead of me but I know that I have a lot worth fighting for”.

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Amy recently emailed her colleagues to thank them and give an update on her treatment since having a bilateral double mastectomy. She wrote, “While in surgery last week my surgeon found a second, undetected malignant tumor.” – from the LA Times. Knowing that the test and subsequent treatment has saved her life, Robach is extremely grateful.

Though, Amy did need some convincing to actually go through with her test. Robin, a colleague at GMA, told her that “If you get the mammogram on air and it saved one life, then it’s all worth it.” Commenting on this recollection, Amy expresses the feeling of invincibility that she had; “It never occurred to me that life would be mine”. Again, that invincibility is a feeling that we all share; it doesn’t come from a place of arrogance or stupidity, but rather a coping mechanism for life. If we all believed that something is wrong all the time, we’d never survive as a species. However, it’s so imperative to keep reality in mind and remember that the test takes mere moments and if all is well, you can live with peace-of-mind until next time.

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Like everyone else, Amy tried to talk herself out of it; “I had no connection to the disease – should I be the one to do it?” What she didn’t realise is that she actually had cancer at that very moment. This is a common misconception, a lack of family history does not preclude one from the disease. Amy represents the majority and her bravery should inspire all of us to change the way we think about our own mortality. Her most simple words were certainly the most profound, “I’m so glad I got that mammogram that day”; we are too Amy.

Please don’t limit this plea to cervical and breast cancer screenings. If you, or someone that you know has a vital test outstanding, please consider taking action. Generally, men over 50 need to have their prostate checked, both men and women begin the screening for colorectal cancer (via colonoscopy) at age 50, breast screenings should occur in women from the age of 40 and pap smears should be sought every two years between the age of 18 and 70 (or one or two years from age of first sexual encounter). This is all general information. You should talk to your doctor about your specific situation as in certain cases, family history and other factors will determine an earlier age requirement for testing.

Try to remember the people you love and how much they love you. Would you feel comfortable explaining to your partner/parents/children/siblings that you have been diagnosed with what could have been treatable cancer? I can’t imagine anything worse than being told, “it’s too late”, then realising in hindsight that the test you didn’t take could have saved your life.