The inner battle of taking my medication

These pills, these tiny little pills. Especially this one. this single white pill.

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It seems so simple, so easy. Follow the instructions on the packet. Yet, my experience with it is so far from easy. Me and this pill, we have a complicated relationship.
This white tablet in my hand, you see, is an antidepressant. And it’s not just any antidepressant, it’s my antidepressant. Prescribed by my doctor because she believes it helps me, but I have so much trouble taking it.

I can’t tell if it helps me or not and taking it is difficult because it means I’m actively doing something to help myself. A lot of the time I don’t feel like I deserve help and I don’t know if I want to get better. Why? Because this is safe and familiar and anything different is scary. I don’t know how to live without mental illness. Feeling better terrifies me because who will I be if I am not who I am now?

For some reason, I can take sleeping pills and vitamins but antidepressants scare me. It’s because they affect your brain chemistry and your brain chemistry is makes you who you are. I am still the same person if I take this or not though and I need to keep reminding myself that. Taking this does not mean I am weak or will magically be cured. All it means is that I am taking it. Maybe it will help or maybe it won’t but regardless, I am still me.

I wish it was easier to do this. I wish my brain could see it as a solution or medicine but it’s hard to see it that way when results aren’t immediate and when it’s your brain that’s sick.I’m scared of feeling better but I’m also scared I’m going to feel like this forever.

I am starting these again because I have to, deep down I know I have to. I need medication and that’s okay. I wish there was a sign pointing to the one that is the right one; the solution of all solutions. But I’m learning that it’s not that simple.

Please work little pill, I need you to work, even if sometimes I don’t want you to.

You’re not beyond help

I know what it’s like to feel like the world would be better off without you. To have gone through medication after medication, sit through unproductive therapy sessions and to experience life through hospital walls. To feel like nobody can help you. I know how much it hurts to see how your suffering is affecting other people. I get it. I do I’ve sat and cried and begged for everything to stop because the pain was so unbearable that death felt like the only way out. But I’m here to tell you that there is no such thing as being beyond help.

You may feel like you are not worthy or that you’re too much trouble, but none of that is true. You’re not too much trouble and there are people out there who care and want to help. It’s okay if you haven’t achieved everything you want to. There’s still time. There’s still time.

The worst day with you here is better than the best day without you. I get that this may not feel true. I understand it might be hard to believe, but you make the world a better place just by existing. You are worthy of life and worthy of help. No matter how hopeless the future seems, you are worth the fight. Please don’t give up because you are worth it.

You are not beyond help. I haven’t given up on you and you shouldn’t either. Hold on. Please, please, please keep holding on. One day this pain will all be worth it. You are not alone in your suffering.

You are not alone.

On being a mentally ill psych student

It takes a certain type of person to be attracted to helping others.

I don’t believe people can be drawn to the psychology field without at least a small part of them wanting to make a difference. Like teaching or nursing, this isn’t a profession that you go into for the money. If it were purely for financial gain or prestige then there would be more surgeons and lawyers. That’s not to say that people who enter those fields don’t do so because they want to help people, but rather that the wages associated with psychology don’t necessarily equate to the required effort and education.

It is no secret that like attracts like and when questioning the reasoning behind your desire to help people, lines can be blurred. Some people believe that the only reason anyone studies mental illness is so that they can fix themselves but I don’t believe this is true. Yes ,it can be helpful to understand why you are the way you are and how you become the person that you did but it’s also difficult.

It can be discerning to listen to ignorant comments from other students and even some lecturers who don’t understand because they’ve never experienced what you have. It’s hard not to want to stand up in a rage and yell because what they’re saying is wrong. It’s hard having to sit through explanations of your own symptoms and even discover ones you didn’t know you had. But some say that’s the nature of studying psychology. It’s a science that can be immediately applied to every day life and people will relate to certain things whether they are mentally ill or not.

It can also be triggering and confusing. You start to question your own upbringing and wonder whether your illness’ are valid since you don’t fit ‘x’ criteria. But having a good understanding of yourself is crucial to  becoming a good psychologist and can only help you, help others.

The important thing here is to acknowledge that you can’t fix yourself. If you are struggling with your own issues the best thing you can do is seek professional support and the sooner the better. To be a good clinical psychologist  you don’t need to be mental illness free (especially as many illness are lifelong) but it is essential that they are managed. Mental illness is treatable and you would be a hypocrite and highly unprofessional if you were to treat patients without dealing with your own issues.

Please don’t be afraid of your own history impeding your ability to become a good mental health professional. With lived experience comes great empathy and unique insight that not all possess. You know what it is like to be ill and to seek treatment. You’ve been on the other side of the system and have some understanding of what is and isn’t helpful. It is not necessary to have suffered to become a good health professional but it can be used to your advantage and the skills you learn while studying psychology can be applied to many different fields.

Yes, I am mentally ill and studying psychology but no, I will not let that stop me from becoming a great psychologist and you shouldn’t either.

I’m falling backwards

If I’m honest, 2017 isn’t shaping up to the year I had hoped it would be. The last few weeks have been rough and unfortunately I’ve found myself deep in depressions grasp again. I’m not really sure what happened or how things got this bad this quickly but I haven’t been very well and I feel like I’ve lost any sense of direction.

In late January I was hospitalised  in a medical ward for a few days following an overdose and was then transferred to a youth psychiatric hospital where I stayed for about 4-5 days. I’m currently home and have been for a few days but am still finding things extremely difficult. I’m not sure if I want to accept the help being offered to me or where I want to go from here. Putting it bluntly, I’m not sure if I want to be alive.

So much has happened in the last year but I feel just as stuck as ever and I don’t know if I can see things ever getting any better.

This is a short post because I’m obviously still struggling and I don’t think negativity is a helpful thing to put out there but I don’t want to pretend things are all sunshine and rainbows when they’re not. Things are bad but I’m trying and taking things day by day.

I have just had my birthday and turned twenty which is a pretty big achievement. I didn’t expect to still be here and I think that’s part of why things aren’t great right now. Getting older is hard because it means I’m still alive and still breathing but I am proud of myself for making it this far and it needn’t be scary.

I was meant to go back to university early but being in hospital has meant that I’ve had to postpone that and will now go back at the end of February for the start of semester 1 with everyone else. I’m hoping that returning will help motivate me and give me something to work towards, I just hope that by then I am well enough to study.

I hope you’re all doing well and I will post more when things improve but right now I need space and I hope you can understand.

Keep hanging in there everyone, better days are coming.

-S

Phrases that trivialise teen mental illness

1. Adolescent angst is a normal part of growing up.

There is no denying that adolescence is a complex and confusing time. It involves changing relationships with peers and family, identity confusion and juggling pressures from school and home. Yet what appears to be normal teen behaviour can often mask deeper problems.

Research indicates that half of all mental health conditions emerge by the age of 14, and 3 in 4 by age 24 (i). Despite the high prevalence, studies have shown that less than a quarter of young people (16-24) suffering from a diagnosable mental illness have had contact with professional services in the last 12 months (ii). Suggesting that despite suffering, most young people are reluctant to seek out help for themselves and therefore dismissing their issues as ‘normal’ teen behaviour could be preventing them from getting the support they need.

2. It’s just a phase

In fact depression is a progressive disorder and instead of getting better without treatment, it’s probably going to get worse. There’s also the risk of suicide and you can’t outgrow something that kills you.

Instead of doing nothing we should take steps to prevent things from becoming a bigger issue.

3. Your mood swings are hormonal

Puberty in teens and menstruation in females may very well cause mood swings but they’re still real and valid. It’s also possible for puberty to mask an underlying problem and  dismissing problems as ‘hormonal’ can invalidate the experience of teens and prevent teens from receiving help.

Some girls do become depressed or suicidal when on their periods. This could be because of hormones exacerbating an existant condition or it could be something could pre-menstrual dysmorphic disorder (PMDD) which is a serious and legitimate medical condition that can be treated and managed.

4. You have nothing to be depressed about

That’s why depression is classified as an ILLNESS. It doesn’t need to have an obvious cause, it just is. Some people are more vulnerable to becoming ill because of their genetics or upbringing and whilst this doesn’t mean they will become unwell it definitely increases the likelihood.

When you’re 15 the ‘worst day of your life’ will differ greatly to when you’re in your 40s but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still ‘the worst day of your life’. Being a teenager isn’t easy. You’re coming to terms with who you are, juggling stressors from school and home and are usually dependent on your parents. Teens can and do experience abuse, poverty and violence. And they do experience mental illness.

One thing that can separate normal teen behaviour  and emotion from an illness  is the duration and degree of difficulty it causes. A good guideline for depression, for example, is that a negative mood which persists for longer than 2 weeks could be a sign that something is off and needs to be checked out by a professional. This method isn’t foolproof though and if you think something is off, and even if you don’t, just ask.

For many young people who are suffering, the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness can be as difficult to deal with as the disease itself.

Sources

i Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas KR & Walters EE (2005).  Lifetime prevalence and age of onset distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey replication.  Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, p 593

ii Slade, T, Johnston, A, Teesson, M, Whiteford, H, Burgess, P, Pirkis, J, Saw, S. (2009) The mental health of Australians 2. Report on the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Department of Health and Ageing, Canberra.

Please wait for me

What I’ve always wanted out of life is to help people whether it be as a health professional a stranger or a friend. It’s been the thing holding me to this world, getting me through the dark nights. My dream is to one day become a clinical psychologist and I really hope I get there. If I could make any small difference in one person’s life then I have to fight this. The suffering would be worth something.

I love when people that have been through hell walk out of the flames carrying buckets of water for those still consumed by the fire. -Stephanie Sparkles.

Except that right now…. I don’t know how to help people. I can’t be that person because I’m still burning. I can’t even help myself.

Sure, I can spread positivity and tell people to not give up because one day things will get better and they deserve to see that day. But I’m not sure if I believe that. For other people certainly, I do but I’m not sure things will ever improve for me. In fact, I’m certain they won’t. I feel like a hypocrite for telling someone something that I can’t apply to myself but I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know how they can recover or what will hep because I’m still struggling and I’m going through this all myself.

To everyone out there who is struggling, I want you to know that you are not alone. It may be impossible for another person to know exactly what you are going through but the things you feel, the thoughts you have- other people have them too. You are not alone. You are not alone. Repeat that over and over if you have to until it sinks in. There is help available and there are always other options. The times you feel like giving up, are the times that another person wants to give up too.

We need to fight. for each other. We need to fight so that one day adequate treatment is available and all mental health workers show the kindness and respect that is so desperately needed. We need to fight so that one day the stigma associated with the word ‘mental’ will be no greater than that of ‘illness’.We need to fight so that the world will become more understanding. You can make a difference so please don’t give up.

To those struggling, I want you to hear that I am coming. I am coming with buckets of water and firetrucks and bandages but I need to heal myself first. Please wait. I am coming.

The myth of perfection

I’ve spent my life chasing goals that were unattainable. There was always something that I needed to do better. Some minuscule mistake that needed to be fixed. Nothing was ever good enough in comparison to the standards I had in my head. I was never good enough. And it makes sense in a way- nobody wants to be mediocre.

It started small. I learnt early on that neat handwriting and higher level reading books meant stickers and praise. I learnt to be quiet and do what I was told. Keep your mouth shut and don’t laugh too loud or you’ll be told off. I memorised these rules and lived by them.

Then high school happened. Straight hair, crushes and lipgloss. Groups of girls laughing in bathrooms. I was alone. An outsider. I didn’t fit in. I started keeping silent unless I was spoken to. I threw everything into my schoolwork and those allusive grades that made me feel worth something. But it wasn’t enough. Grades. Food. The bullying. I couldn’t take it. Soon, I’d started skipping lunches and experimenting with make up. I’d come home and cry, carve the torment into my skin. My face streaked with black pain. Eventually, I don’t know how, I formed a close group of friends and muddled through the next few years.

VCE. I started it early, with a hunger to prove to everyone and myself that I was capable and intelligent and worth something. The high grades felt good but there came a point where nothing short of 100 left me satisified. I couldn’t cope with the pressure. Back to playing Russian roulette with my weight. I spent a year eating nothing that didn’t taste like cardboard. Then another year with my head in a toilet. I sat with my head on my desk in class having not eaten or slept in days. Nobody seemed to notice.  I skipped class, came in late and threw my homework in my bag each morning without having opened it. My grades dropped. My self esteem was nonexistent. The teachers went on about how I was being lazy and I needed to work harder. I was already doing my best. ‘What’s happening?’ they’d ask, ‘you’re falling behind’. There was little regard for wellbeing, or if there was -everyone seemed content to watch me fall from afar.

I went through stages of throwing everything I had into school and giving up completely. Somehow, I made it through but I don’t think I’ll ever be the same person that I was before VCE. Maybe that’s a good thing. University has meant less pressure from others but the pressure from myself is still there and sometimes that becomes too much to handle. In hindsight, going to one of the most prestigious unis in the country probably wasn’t the best idea because I didn’t come pre-equipped to deal with the constant competition. Everything fell for me again. I wanted to do well, I wanted to be liked.

I’m learning now, to let go of all these rules that were taught when I was younger. I laugh when I feel like it, say what I want to and read whatever I please. I’m still struggling with my body image though and at the moment, it’s  a battle that rules every waking moment of my life. One day I hope to be able to say that I am free from this. That I no longer care about how I compare with others. One day I want to feel important just for being who I am, not for what I achieve.

Perfection. It’s a silly word. Per-fect-ion. Pur-fekt-shion. Perfection is not perfect. It’s misery. Self hatred. An answer to a problem that doesn’t exist. There are days where everything seems futile, but what I’m realising is that the joy in life is not achievement but being happy with the little things. It’s movie nights with my best friends. Warm cups of coffee and hugs. Long walks spent thinking. It’s mindfullness and being aware. Reality, not being stuck in my head. Perfect, and all it’s relatives, need to be deleted from the lexicon. Today I’m dissembling all of my expectations and wiping the sate clean so, that there’s room for me to come up with new ones. Because I am worth it and so are you.

I’m not okay but that’s okay

 

I’ve spent a lot of this year pushing things aside and telling myself that I was on top of things. But, boy was I wrong about that. Recently I took the difficult step of reaching out to someone and while it hasn’t immediately fixed everything, it’s a start.

Throughout this year my mental health has deteriorated quite a lot and it’s been a struggle for me to come to terms with. Unlike many people, I didn’t make any close friends in my first year of university and I’ve spent a lot of it on my own which I believe has contributed to my issues. Because of this I felt like I didn’t have anyone to turn to and it got to the point where my grades had dropped so much that failure became likely. I turned to a student advisor who was probably the nicest person I’ve met this year and I believe that she probably saved my life through the conversations we had. She reassured me that I wasn’t the only one struggling and helped me take the next step which was a referral to a counselling service, they’ve since referred me to a more specialised service and I’m currently waiting to see if they will accept me. It’s difficult because I don’t currently have any label for what is going on and I’m imagining worst case scenarios. Hopefully things start to look up for me soon and I can get back into living my life the way I want to.

Right now things are going okay(there’s that word again ironically) and I’m awaiting my results to see whether I will need to get a late withdrawal or repeat an exam for any of my subjects.

For anyone reading this, I just wanted to say that you should never feel ashamed for any illness or problem that you are having. It does not make you weak or any less capable than anyone else. Some people that you can turn to when you are finding things difficult may include; a tutor, teacher, counsellor, psychologist, GP, friends, family, a Headspace centre… There are plenty of options.

If anyone wants to chat about anything, I’m always here and I’ll do my best to give advice where I can.

 

A long overdue update

I want this to be a positive update but it’s not. After my last post, things went downhill quickly. I lost contact with the few friends I had made last semester (*reminder to get contact details of any possible friends, or you know anyone who looks friendly *) and being in such a big course, I felt like I had to start from scratch again. I’ve never been a particularly social person but it’s like a big part of my life is missing. I’m not sure if I’ll ever find my ‘place’ again and maybe that’s a sign that I’m not in the right environment at the moment, but I have to hope that one day everything will work out.

I’m not working at the moment, in fact my anxiety has meant that I never have. I’m 18 years old and have never worked a day in my life- and I hate that. I need to be earning money so that I can have a future but I also don’t know how I’m going to manage that with studying. The only conclusion that I can come to is that I might have to drop my subject load. It’s not something I want to do but if I have to, then I have to.

In regards to my grades, I’m a lot more confident now. I’m hoping for one or two H1’s in some assignments that I poured my sweat and blood into, and I wrote my first ever lab report for psychology (part 1 of 2). The whole time I was writing it, I was thinking, ‘this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ And it’s exciting.

So, yeah. This isn’t a very eloquent or insightful post but then again- not everything is.

‘And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music’, Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s not all negative, I promise. (Many thanks to the amazing professor who introduced me to the mind of Nietzsche)

-S

The turbulent road from VCE to university

By now the first semester of this year is officially over and everyone is on holidays. This will be the first ever semester break for all of those other first years out there and I’d just like to say congratulations on transitioning to university! You did it! We did it. In this post I’d like to talk a little bit more about myself and to reflect on how things have been thus far.

In high school, I wasn’t the popular kid, the sporty one or the artist. I don’t know how other people saw me, but I like to think that I was un-categorisable (don’t tell me that’s not a word because it should be). Who knows though, perhaps that is a category in itself? I went to a government school in the west of Melbourne and I’m proud of that because it’s meant that my peers and I have never had anything handed to us. In school, I did a bit of everything. I was a student leader, I took piano lessons and was in my school’s senior ensemble and even, briefly, a choir. I went on a leadership camp in the country for a term, travelled to Japan and even took part in a philanthropy program.

But the thing is- I’ve never really excelled in any particular area. I changed my subjects so often that most of my VCE subjects were done without units 1/2. I completed Further Maths and History Revolutions in year 11, and Maths Methods, English, Japanese, Biology and Psychology in year 12. I liked the challenge of science subjects, but enjoyed the thought that goes into humanities. My grades were reasonable (though this was not always the case) but I’ve always done better studying what I enjoy.

However, when my mental health declined (think anxiety and depression), these grades that I had always been used to, well they plummeted. I came close to failing exams and sacs (thankfully my school’s pass mark was 20%), I would fall asleep in class, come late almost every day and rarely did I even look at my homework. In year 12 I had daily anxiety attacks. I’d go days without sleeping or eating properly and if anyone asked, I was ‘just tired’. I didn’t think I’d graduate. But I’m so glad I did. I stuck it out, maybe not with the scores that I know I could have achieved, but I got into my dream course and that’s all I could have asked for.

I believe that VCE is a lot more stressful than it needs to be. For me a lot of that stress came from my teachers as they would often tell us that we could be doing better, and as a perfectionist better meant not good enough (I’m not saying that it was unfair for them to do that but rather that too much importance is placed upon student’s outcomes in their final year). It’s common knowledge that people learn differently and we all have different strengths yet somewhere, someone decided it would be a good idea to rank us all against each other and tell us that our future depended upon it. Kind of ironic. I wish that someone had told me that I did not need to put so much pressure on myself. Where there’s a will there’s a way- as they say. I also wish I had known that you don’t need to have everything planned out straight away because that’s what life after school is for.

I wasn’t sure about university at first and if you go back and read the first posts I made on this blog, it’s obvious that I found it difficult. Nobody tells you that tertiary education isn’t suitable for everyone or that it can be bland and unenjoyable. They tell you that it will be a time of discovery and partying, yet leave out the fact that for many people, the adjustment can be tough. Don’t get me wrong- I love uni, but it took me a whole semester to get to this point. The difficulties had less to do with the actual workload and more to do with making friends, feeling like I didn’t deserve to be in my course and with travel time.

Forming friendships, especially when you’re shy, takes time but to anyone out there struggling with this don’t be disheartened because it will happen and sometimes the best friendships take longer to form. It’s just a matter of taking those in class relationships out of the classroom and even in a course with a large cohort it’s possible. In regards to not feeling like I deserved to be in my course, I’ve only started to realise that this is the right place for me very recently. It’s difficult to gauge how you are going when you only get a few marks back during the semester and the expectations at university seem foreign at first but after receiving my exams results, I’m feeling okay. I can do this and those H1’s? They’re within reach. Public transport is still horrible and if I could live on campus I think my performance would definitely benefit but living at home isn’t so bad. The train rides have just become a part of my daily routine and I barely even notice them anymore (Okay, that’s a lie, just ask me again in peak times when I usually end up sandwiched between people with nothing to hold on to).

So then, how is life after high school going? It’s going reasonably well. My passion for knowledge, which was cruelly crushed during VCE, has been rekindled and uni makes me happy. It is difficult, there’s a lot of work which I know will only increase and I miss having my friends nearby, but I’m glad that I’ve made it this far. At university it feels like the world is at your feet and that you can do anything because really- you can. For the first time in a really long time, I feel free.

Thanks for following my journey and here’s to the next time we talk  -S

(PS. I Apologise for any spelling/grammatical errors that occur as a result of my writing this in the middle of the night)