Starting the conversation

Writing this post is tricky, but I think it's important. I hope that reading it helps someone else feel a little less alone. It's still not perfect and I'll probably try to write about this again. But for now, it's a start. 

Mental health is a touchy subject. Despite increased awareness we still whisper about it. We still pretend it doesn't exist. We hide it, and treat it like it's something wrong to discuss. Fact is, you or someone you love have likely experienced some form of mental illness/disorder. The word sounds scary doesn't it? Like it means you're crazy, or unstable in some way. Interesting when you consider that earlier fact. If everyone has been touched by mental illness, why are we so touchy about it?

I feel far more comfortable writing about my diabetes, a more physical/medical condition, than I do about my mental health. Broken beta cells are okay to talk about but chemical imbalances? Oh no. Certainly not polite dinner conversation.

Well, I've never been one for sticking to polite dinner conversation. My mental health, like many others, is not perfect. I've always been an anxious kid, and as I got older the nerves and worry grew with me into Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Pretty generic name, think it'd be something cooler sounding, but no. GAD it is. It's a pretty big part of me. In a brief surface summary, I spend a lot of time over thinking things, and trying to make things perfect and well controlled. I tend to be very harsh on myself. These are things we all do from time to time, but when they start taking over your life it's time to ask for help.

Which I eventually did in high school when I started having panic attacks on public transport. I was 16 and couldn't go much further than the neighbouring suburb without feeling like I was going to throw up and pass out at the same time. I would panic before every single school exam. I would get myself completely overwhelmed by thinking back on things I had said and done during the day and what I could have done differently. I would catastrophise everything, where every little mistake was a huge failure to me. I was unbelievably self critical and would blame myself for how other people felt.

But I was fine. Totally fine. I had a sick grandmother and a diabetes diagnosis, and here I was trying to get perfect marks and support everyone around me.
But I was fine. I could handle the thoughts, the fatigue, the poor sleep quality.
Until I got the dizzy spells and vomiting. That was less fine.
I didn't understand what anxiety was until I saw a psychologist. I thought everyone over-thought every single move they make. I thought everyone had intense worries and catastrophic thoughts that loomed over them. I thought everyone got so stressed before exams they would throw up or start hyperventilating.

Apparently not.

The critical attitude toward myself worsened over time and when my grandmother died I fell into a depression. My previous anxiety toned down a little. I was less frantically checking my blood sugar, less bothered to give 110%. My mind was still running at 100 miles an hour, but I just wasn't bothered to do anything about it. Funny combination, anxiety and depression. All the stress of the anxiety with no drive to help yourself. Everything was hard. Going to lectures was hard. Getting up was hard. I did it anyway, and to most I likely seemed fine. I suppose it's a bit of a high functioning depression. Less visible, still there. But I certainly wasn't fine. My diabetes management was slipping, I was always tired, and I was often very down. I quietened in conversations and let my diabetes cruise along. I let my eating cruise along (i.e. drop off). I just didn't care as much.

But the nastiest part of it was the sense that I was a downer, a burden to the people I love. It comes out in self-deprecating humour, but there's nothing funny about that feeling.

I've been getting help with these things for a few years now. It does sound awfully cliché, but it does get better. I don't get dizzy and nauseous on public transport any more. I don't get so worked up before exams. I'm just starting to take up some old hobbies, like learning French and photography. Things are improving!

But the fact is I still have anxiety and depression. I still have panic attacks, but I'm better at dealing with them before they're enormous. I still have ongoing worries that at times can be hard to deal with. I still feel crappy sometimes. I definitely still try to be perfect and control everything- which anyone with T1 knows is completely impossible when it comes to blood sugar. But now I'm better at dealing with it.

It's not all bad. I've gained a lot:
- I'm able to support friends who experience similar things. If anything good can come of this it's that I can make other people feel less alone. I've experienced a lot, and that helps me understand a variety of situations. Interestingly, people I know with mental illness tend to be quite empathetic people.
- I'm a very driven person and I work hard. Part of that is down to my anxiety I'm sure.
- I'm a good planner. Want to go on a holiday? I've planned for every possible disaster and have back-up options. Oh, and I know exactly where we need to be at what time. I'm a walking itinerary. You're welcome.
- I'm so on top of my diabetes because of it. In a way, my anxiety has been good for my health... perhaps not the healthiest motivator though.


I still don't find I'm expressing myself properly, but this is a decent starting point. Despite these conditions I'm doing well at uni, I have wonderful friendships and I have multiple jobs. My experiences have allowed me to be selected for consumer advocate roles.

My point is this: mental illness doesn't make you crazy. It doesn't mean you are less than or can't do anything with your life. On the contrary, your experiences add to who you are as a person. It's time for us to have a more open dialogue and amplify those whispers.

If you or someone you know is having a hard time, these websites might be helpful.

https://www.beyondblue.org.au (anxiety and depression resources, as well as anonymous forums)
http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au (depression)
https://www.sane.org
https://www.lifeline.org.au (who have a phone number for crisis situations)

Comments

  1. Bec, as a person who has dealt with significant anxiety and depression issues, I can appreciate how difficult it is to write this blog. Especially as a younger person. I am 59, I note it as a difference.

    I think you do a great service by saying it out loud. I hope you feel great about doing it. You should.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Rick, it was a hard one. It's still not quite right, and I'm still glossing over it. But I'll get better at it the more I write about it.

      I'm sorry you've had those experiences, thanks for sharing.

      Delete
  2. Even though this was difficult for you to write, thank you. As you said, no-one talks about anxiety and depression. I have both. I have had anxiety for many years now and can for the most part control it pretty well. I was diagnosed with depression (high-functioning)in the latter half of this year, but I haven't told anyone that I know in person. Its controversial in my family, as my dad has severe depression (he had to permanently leave work at age 50 due to depression) and the rest of the family have no issues telling me how little they think of people with depression.

    Maybe one day I will speak about it with them. I am lucky that I knew what I was feeling and sought some quiet help.

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    Replies
    1. Oh Ash :( Thank you for sharing that, I'm glad you felt safe to do that. I'm sorry you feel your family aren't able to support you in that at the moment. Maybe finding one person like your partner or a friend could give you that support.

      Take your time, and kudos for taking charge and asking for help. It's hard to ask sometimes. x

      Delete
  3. Thank you for writing this. I've had type 1 for 20 years, but even without it, all the trauma I experienced growing up would have already impacted my mental health. The diabetes compounds it in a huge way, but it also gives me perspective. Sometimes I think about how without my diabetes, I would have become a much more sour person over the things that I experienced as a kid. The type of experiences that make men my age live a reckless life of crime. That's where I was headed growing up, but this diabetes condition forces me to be more careful. It does get difficult some days, with roller coaster blood sugars and the accompanying mood swings. But honestly, I can easily imagine a life where without this condition, things could have been even worse. Good on you for finding the good in the bad, it's always there. Keep up the good fight darling.

    ReplyDelete

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