a blog about mental illness and community

A cute reminder to identify (and do!) the important stuff before time runs out…

Without getting morbid or snowed under by life’s endless tasks, that is.

Best. Venn Diagram. Ever.

what matters most

too often we underestimate

That is all.

how are you

Hello again! It’s been a long time since my last proper post, but I’m going to rectify the situation now.

One reason I haven’t posted in ages is because I was snowed under with uni work, but the other reason relates directly to the illustration above – my own reluctance to share thoughts and feelings, even in this validating environment.

There are a number of explanations for why I hold back, online and in person.

Especially when a friend, family member or mental health professional asks the dreaded question: “How are you?”

  • It’s often easier to say “I’m fine” than verbalise the complexity and occasional darkness of my moods
  • I’m overcome by ‘worry thoughts’: “What if my friend doesn’t really want to know how I am and she’s just being polite? What if I bring Mum down by telling her how I feel?” etc
  • Some people don’t want an in-depth answer and are, indeed, merely being polite

At the same time, I’ve discovered firsthand that the very best people in your life really DO want to know how you are.

I’ve discovered that, just as I would prefer to know if my bestie was having a meltdown (even if all I could do to help was listen and hug her), the people who care about me actually DO want to know what’s going on and offer whatever support they can.

It’s a truth I’m still coming to terms with.

dont-give-up

It’s still scary to admit when things aren’t crash hot – to make myself vulnerable in front of others, hell or high water.

But to be honest, striving every day to share my true thoughts and feelings has been the most difficult and most rewarding endeavour.

It’s tough, but it has allowed me to make the most of professional support, deepen existing relationships and be more authentic.

So, next time someone asks how you are, consider admitting that you feel “horrible” or “depressed” or “anxious” – anything but “fine”.

Unless you really are fine, of course…

Choose your person carefully and dip a toe in the water. You may be amazed and relieved if you allow yourself to tell the truth.

The Bipolar Wall

rainbow brain

Source: flickr

This is an illustration of the Bipolar Wall.

It’s like the Berlin Wall but depicted on a brain as a metaphor for mental illness.

With me so far?

This is how I look at it: the Bipolar Wall is the divide between ‘us’ (the chemically imbalanced) and ‘them’ (regular, non-pathological folk).

We have BIG communication issues.

Let’s face it, it’s hard to have a conversation about important stuff like self-harm and suicidal thoughts when there’s a bloody great wall between you and whoever you’re talking to!

Our voices can’t be heard. The messages get garbled.

Sometimes, it takes so much effort for ‘us’ to keep hollering for help and ‘them’ to keep shouting well-meaning questions and encouragement that both parties simply give up.

Communication breaks down.

And there you have it, the Bipolar Wall – the barrier to effective communication about mental illness; the obstacle to awareness, understanding and collaboration within the community.

To change the situation, we need to grab every sledgehammer we can find, break down that dastardly wall and get the dialogue going – from both sides.

Or we could interact online and foster a validating community where it’s safe to share personal stories of mental illness…

You can share your story, anonymously or otherwise, right here on savvy, willing & able.

Colleen Clark is an awesome illustrator from the US of A who enjoys drawing everything from fairy tale characters to Tina Fey.

One of her latest projects is a four-panel comic about the ‘body issues’ that plague individuals and society as a whole.

Colleen makes the statement that appearance shouldn’t determine a person’s self-worth. It ain’t healthy!

Everyone has so much more to offer the world than how flat their stomach is or what size pants they wear.

Colleen Clark 1

Colleen Clark 2

Colleen Clark 3

Colleen Clark 4

How about we focus more on people’s intelligence, compassion and wit (our own included) as opposed to ‘beauty’, weight, and how well we carry a suit?

Easier said than done, but the challenge will be worth it.

You can check out one of my previous posts on body image here.

you'd never say it's just cancer

Source: flickr

Double standards much?

Depression, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder… All are legitimate illnesses.

Although psychiatric disorders manifest differently than cancer, they are no less severe.

Just as no one would choose to suffer from heart disease or a broken leg, no one would choose to struggle with clinical depression or anorexia.

Telling someone to “just get over” their mental illness is hugely invalidating and often makes the person feel much worse.

A little sensitivity really does go a long way.

You can check out one of my previous posts on stigma here.

Facts and stats are useful, but it’s more powerful to put a human face on experiences of mental illness.

That’s certainly the case when it comes to eating disorders.

The National Eating Disorders Collaboration estimates that up to 9% of the Australian population suffers from an eating disorder.

ED infographic

Source: National Eating Disorders Collaboration

But who are these people?

What do they look like? (For the record, most people with an eating disorder fall within the healthy weight range.)

How has their illness affected their relationships, financial status, physical health and hopes for the future?

In my Googling and YouTubing, I’ve found a number of excellent articles, videos and interviews that address these questions.

Thin is a documentary by US photojournalist Lauren Greenfield. The film focuses on the girls and women who populate an inpatient eating disorders ward.

The BBC documentary Living on Air is a bit dated, but it still conveys the emotional agony of living with anorexia and bulimia.

Then there’s a couple of intense, well-written articles on the subject of eating disorders on The Guardian’s website.

You can read ‘The truth about size zero’ here, and ‘What health professionals should know about eating disorders’ here.

Something that bugs me is that binge-eating disorder and EDNOS (eating disorder not-otherwise-specified) are often left off the radar.

People who are overweight, obese, or do not fit into the diagnostic criteria for anorexia or bulimia still suffer from a legitimate mental illness and deserve recognition.

As such, I was excited to find an informative video that focuses on one of the ‘lesser-known’ eating disorders.

These videos and articles are a good starting point for understanding eating disorders and identifying with the individuals they affect.

What are your thoughts?

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