I am sitting in the living room at Whimsy Manor – my apartment / gallery with Spotify’s Romantic composers playlist playing. My Kitty is curled up in a black furry ball of catness. I am wearing a brightly coloured Missoni dressing gown, my ‘Infinitely Awesome’ T-shirt, with earrings with a picture of blue starry space on them and to top it off, a blue wig. I just spoke to my mum for a while. Before that I had a lengthy conversation with a nice man from the Canberra mental health crisis team. It would seem that I am a little bit more ‘mad’ than usual. A combination of my cyclical manifestation of my mixture of symptoms which has been given many names – with the latest being ‘atypical schizophrenia – and a lot of stress form one of my many activities. I have been struggling for the last few weeks although I only sought help recently as I find it hard to be aware of things like my mood and mental state. It usually gets to the point that it threatens to result in some terrible decision or act on my part and then I realise things are a bit wrong and seek help.
The odd thing about being unwell is that the me that I know and the me the rest of the world knows are two different people. I can do the social chameleon thing very well so can hide a lot of pain and distress behind a smile and a joke.
This is what I imagine people think when they see me:
- Autism and mental health self-advocate
- Role model
- Public servant
- 2016 Volunteer of the Year
- All round positive person.
My inner world is a little different. I am afraid of what I might do or say. I get transported back twenty years ago when my illness contributed to violence and self-destruction. All those accomplishments that people see are not present in my mind. I look at my awards and books and wonder who they were awarded to and who wrote them. It definitely wasn’t this stressed, miserable, confused person. Evenings are filled with the hell of supernatural experiences. Things are cursed, numbers are more meaningful then they should be (There’s a six in the date. You need to die today’ and similarly unhelpful things). I hide under the covers at night, terrified the ghosts will come and haunt me. I try to contradict these messages with reason and science but fail miserably.
So, there’s the bad bits. The life I have lived for many years. All those risk factors for suicide, violence, institutionalisation, unemployment, homelessness. That is what I have. Thankfully I have a few other things.
Yesterday I posted that my brain was misbehaving on Facebook. It wasn’t one of those posts that can seem manipulative (well, I hope it wasn’t!). I stated that I was struggling. So many people in different parts of the world responded with support and concern. I went to work today and took pleasure in the structure and routine. I was fine until I walked out of the building. That means I have 8 hours’ relief from the symptoms simply because I was using my employment as a very handy distraction. I also got a lot of work done.
I have been using mindfulness quite consciously too. I don’t find the mindfulness meditation works very well for me but what I am trying to do is to incorporate mindfulness into my attitude and experience of life. In the past I would have felt very unwell and that would lead to a while load of anxiety about the future. At the moment I am not worrying and obsessing about the future. With mental illness episodes, I find it more helpful to experience whatever I do in the moment and manage the illness moment to moment. If I need to address something, I should address it but worrying about ‘oh no, I’m going to hospital’ is unhelpful (unless you are on the way to hospital I suppose!)
I also have some wonderful protective factors keeping my in state where I can cope. One of these is that lovely book that I co-wrote with Emma Goodall and Jane Nugent all about mental health and Autism. There is not much in my experience which silences a self-destructive thought quite like ‘Thats a pretty bad legacy to leave as an author of a practical and supportive book on metal health.’
Mr Kitty is an excellent protective factor, both in a support sense and logistical one. Mr Kitty is a rather singular cat and none of my friends who have offered to look after him when I am away ever volunteered to do it again! He loves me more than anything and has never been outside since I have had him so when separated from me he will fret. If you have him in your house that involves a lot of very loud meowing and poor behaviour. This is fine, and I love the little fella and don’t mind paying $45 per night for him to stay in the biggest suite available at the RSPCA boarding (he spends most of his time in the cage because he doesn’t get along with the other cats and I don’t begrudge the extra expense). However if I go to hospital, I may not be able to board him at short notice. This is a great logistical protective factor because I simply can’t entertain the notion of my going away unexpectedly so it is not an option in my mind.
Also, hospital and I are not good friends. I now know it is very detrimental to my health to be in those places. Firstly I am an empath. This means that if you put me in a setting where people are very sad, very angry, and/or very confused, not only do I have my own illness to contend with, I have everyone else’s too! Also I am a very independent person. I am also quite a well-respected person. These are things I quite like to maintain but in psychiatric hospital there is a lot of disempowerment and sadly often disrespect going on too.
So I think the Jeanette the funny author person will win this time and the illness won’t. I remind myself when life is terrifying and overwhelming that crises don’t last forever and I shall probably feel better . Even when I doubt myself and worry about the future I remind myself I have been here – and in worse places than now – and have managed to recover and do well.
Mental illness is a great big nasty bastard of a thing, but it can be manageable.I learn more about this every day (and being me I do enjoy sharing things which I have found helpful.) This battle is a battle I will fight again but there are periods of peace before and after the struggle. For now I will cuddle Mr Kitty, make a cup of tea and enjoy the fact that my ‘hair’ is blue. Tomorrow is a new day.