a blog about mental illness and community

Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

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.


Comic about real curves

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.

Eating disorders on the web

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?

Drawn that way: depression in comics

BuzzFeed, that web-based conglomerate of pop culture awesomeness, has outdone itself by compiling 21 comics that capture the frustrations of depression.

And believe me, every one of the featured cartoonists has nailed it.

Depression is associated with lethargy, low mood, excessive guilt, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities that were once fun.

These symptoms, and many more aspects of depression, are explored in BuzzFeed’s compilation.

Source: Sylvie Reuter

There’s a saying: misery loves company.

If that’s true, why do most people suffering from depression feel so utterly alone?

Maybe, secretly, we all feel the same way…

That’s why it’s so important to speak up about mental illness and kick stigma to the curb.

Honesty can’t cure depression or any other psychological ailment (darn!), but it can make the burden easier to bear. The same goes for comics.

Top Five Mental Illness Autobiographies

Source: flickr

If you’ve perused a list of psychiatric diagnoses, you would have noticed that there are very, very many types of mental illness.

There are depressive disorders, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders – each of which has its own sub-set of labels.

For example, dysthymia (chronic low mood) falls under depressive disorders, while obsessive-compulsive disorder is part of the anxiety category.

Basically, there are a LOT of disorders.

Within this befuddling vortex of definitions and symptoms, it can be helpful to put a face to a given disorder, along with a person’s lived experience of it.

Here we have a shortlist of autobiographies that relate to a variety of mental illnesses.

Each book is fascinating; worth a read regardless of the status of your brain chemistry.

  • Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi – anorexia and bulimia
  • The Centre Cannot Hold by Elyn Saks – schizophrenia
  • All of Me by Kim Noble – dissociative identity disorder (aka multiple personality disorder)
  • Madness by Marya Hornbacher – bipolar disorder, alcoholism
  • Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel – depression, substance abuse

Bonus book: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Not technically an autobiography, but the story very closely parallels the American poet’s experiences of a nervous breakdown, suicide attempt and hospitalisation in her early ’20s.

Do you have any favourite books about mental illness that I haven’t mentioned?

The truth about suicide

With any luck you’ve been on the giving and receiving end of a bombardment of “Are you okay’s?” today.

Though the question can become tiresome and the typical “Thanks, I’m fine” response perfunctory, research supports the value of checking in with one another to prevent suffering and self-destructive behaviour.

After all, the worst case scenario may be suicide.

suicide infographic

For people struggling with mental illness, suicide can seem like the only way to escape seemingly endless torture.

Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bulimia, bipolar disorder…

Living with these psychiatric conditions isn’t a picnic!

I am, however, a big fan of the following message:

Something to keep in mind on those particularly rotten days.

If you’re feeling suicidal, you can call Lifeline 24/7 on 13 11 14.

You can find an awesome quote about resisting the urge to throw in the towel here.

The anti-airbrush masseuse

Source: flickr

We live in a media-saturated, technologically advanced, hyper-materialistic culture.

Which kind of sucks for you, me and everyone we know.

It strikes me as unhealthy and deeply discomforting that the images we’re exposed to on TV, magazine covers and even catalogues for K-Mart often do not represent reality.

From a mental health perspective, negative body image and low self-worth are associated with the proliferation of digitally-manipulated images.

Bombarded by airbrushed representations of beauty, we internalise and normalise these ideals and (inevitably) compare ourselves unfavourably.

It takes a strong and very switched-on person not to feel a twinge of inferiority in the face of an artfully photoshopped Kate Moss or Brad Pitt.

That’s why it’s so refreshing to see someone championing real beauty – bodies in all their diverse, jiggly, ‘imperfect’ glory.

This is an excerpt from massage therapist Dale Favier’s article What People Really Look Like:

“Let’s start here with what nobody looks like: nobody looks like the people in magazines or movies. Not even models. Nobody…

Women have cellulite. All of them. It’s dimply and cute. It’s not a defect. It’s not a health problem. It’s the natural consequence of not consisting of photoshopped pixels…

Adults sag. It doesn’t matter how fit they are. Every decade, an adult sags a little more…

Everyone on a massage table is beautiful. There are really no exceptions to this rule.”

Way to go, Dale!

If this stance becomes the new normal (fingers crossed!) there’d be a lot less valuation of personal worth based on physical appearance.

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