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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Have you lived with mental illness?

Do you know what it's like to live with a mental illness or someone who has one? There are a lot more people doing it than you realise, it's just that nobody really talks about it. Like I've said before the social norm is that mental illness or mental health issues are not normal, that the people who have them are weird and that they should be hidden away so that society does not judge you.  

Today is Mental Health Awareness Day and much like R.U.OK? Day it's all about raising awareness of mental health issues and encouraging people to openly discuss them in order to remove the stigma and promote prevention and the treatment options available. I have discussed what it was like when my dad committed suicide, now I want to let you know what it was like after that.

I was not really aware of my dad's issues until after he had already committed suicide and I am only discovering more about them now as an adult through my quest to discover who he really was as a person. My mum's issues however became very apparent when I was a child and were a direct result of my dad's suicide. After he died she had a mental breakdown. I don't really blame her I mean I can't imagine what I would be like if my husband died, let alone killed himself and then I was facing the world as a single mother and a widower. I'm pretty sure I would have a breakdown too of some degree. She had a big one. Nearly to the point of hospitalisation and I believe she still to this day has to take pills for it as she can't function properly without them.

She became like a child in a sense. She had immense anxiety and couldn't function properly at first. She couldn't leave the house, she was too scared. I remember so many times she was in tears because she was too scared to do something. She lost a lot of weight - I think it was something like 10kg in a week or so. I remember she spent a lot of time in her room. We didn't go anywhere except school and her friends would drive us there because she was too scared to drive the car. She didn't have a job for a long time because she just couldn't go out and be around people. It probably sounds strange when you're reading this (it even does a little to me), but it just became normal.

It kind of happened overnight, but it just seemed like a natural progression to me. And so for a few years I traded places with her. I took on the role of the parent because in my mind I had to take care of her and my brother because if I didn't, who would? I'm not even sure if she knew that was happening. I started cooking the majority of the food. I remember doing washing, collecting the mail and I'm pretty sure I even knew when all the household bills had to be paid. Every time I would talk to her I would first think is this going to make her have a panic attack? I put aside my own grieving for my dad in order to focus on getting her better and making sure my brother didn't flip out altogether. I had to be the strong one because everything and everyone else around me was falling apart. I had to hold the family together because I knew if anything happened to either of them as well I wouldn't cope. I lost my childhood. I grew up way too fast and had to deal with issues that children of that age should not even know exist let alone have to live through. It's ok though, I wouldn't really change it. Partially because I don't know anything different and because it moulded me into the empathetic and understanding person I am today. People who have not dealt with mental illness can easily put it in the too hard basket, but when it becomes your life you have no choice but to accept it, deal with it and work through it.

Nobody (apart from our family) knew what was going on at home. Nobody knew what was going on in my head either. My mum and brother went to psychologists for their depression, grief, anxiety etc and I didn't. Because I was the strong one. I couldn't show what I was feeling because they wouldn't have been able to handle my issues on top of their own. Besides nobody ever questioned what I was going through because I was so good at hiding it and so nobody ever really asked me. I kind of wish someone had asked me how I was doing or at least encouraged me to have a discussion about it so that I could have worked through my issues earlier.

If you know someone who is dealing with a loss, going through a tough time or is acting out of sorts please at least ask if you can help. Or if you notice someone who is withdrawing, being quiet and not being as social as they normally would please try to get them to talk to you or at least let them know you are there if they need you. Knowing someone is there to listen and to help is a huge support to someone who is suffering. Even if you can't actually help, knowing that you want to help is huge.

Toni x

P.S. My mum got back on her feet thanks to the help of professionals, family, friends and neighbours.

Would you like to comment?

  1. Thanks for sharing your story Toni. Suicide's ripple effects seem to go on forever, as my mom is still suffering from the loss of her brother, over 30 years ago.

    It's hard keeping up the strong front when inside you're wishing someone would be able to see through it all. Story of my life.

    I hadn't heard of R.U.OK? before, so thanks for that new info!

    1. Glad people are getting something out of it. I don't think you ever get over it. It's already been 17 years since dad died and it still affects me (obviously). It just affects me in different ways as I get older.

      I was screaming on the inside for someone to notice I was not ok and yet was trying my hardest to act ok. Its a vicious cycle really.

  2. l owe u for this post as too have similar story

  3. Toni, I know I have said this before ... You are such a beautiful writer! Thank you so much for sharing you journey xox

  4. Love the way you write!
    I'm really sorry for everything that happened.
    My family story is actually quite different, however there were so many bad things going on that I can't even explain. I always had to hide it too, so I know how that is and I totally agree that if you're noticing someone who might be in such a situation, you should ask if you can help or at least listen. That means so much.

  5. I grew up without a dad, period. Mom was not the brightest bulb in the pack. and I'm one of "them" untreatable depression.

    I write here because you and the mental health people have it all wrong. Talk is for people needing answers. I don't need answers. I can tell when someone starts the "talk" thing on me. your only going to get pre-canned answers. not even my best friend gets the so called truth (which I myself often wonder what that is).

    Why do I do this? been there seen that. when I speak my mind I get the flip side canned answers back. the next day, all is same

    you want to find out about someone, you want to truly help them, Interfere in their life. I'm not talking about taking it over or making decision for them.

    I speak of hang around them, a lot, drop by unannounced often, make them go to the movie, dance, etc with you. do shopping with them, slyly involve them in your projects, take them on vacation with you.
    The really hard hit people, well, your going to have to live with them.

    All that contact will eventually bear fruit. you will get your answers, insights and be able to plant a seed in 2 second spots, every so often. there is no other way.

    It's not about knowing, we know, we know you know. Nike said it best, Just do it. and drag us along.

    1. To an extent I agree with you. Majority of those years I tried to get noticed and if I did say anything people would tell me to get over it so I stopped even trying to talk. My point is to try and get people to want to help others in the first place. A lot of people who I wouldve let help me actually caused me to shut down more.

      It is true by involving someone in your life will probably help more than just having a one off conversation. Thats why the definition of help is so broad. I would like people to spend more time at least trying to work out how to help their loved ones, friends, co-workers etc who they can see are suffering, rather than ignoring it or putting them in the too hard basket. Of course every case is individual and so the way to help will be different in each situation.

  6. Many times we focus on the person who committed suicide and don't really hear or see the true after effects of what happens to those left behind. I'm sorry for all what you had to go through, but at least now you are able to help or advise others in a positive way.

  7. Dealing someone with mental illness is all a challenge for anybody. One who deals with this must be one of a kind: a lot more brains to organize his/her daily life and lot more softness to extend love and care to everyone in the family who are affected by the situation. Her's my favorite quote "To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart" by Eleanor Roosevelt on Relationship quotes

    1. I love that quote, thanks for sharing :)

    2. Hi Toni!

      I guess the link didn't work well. So reposted it again : Relationship quotes.I hope You will also be inspire with those quotes to live by. TC!