What its like to live with mental illness – the short version
What is it like to live with mental illness? I can sum it all up in one word, SHIT.
But that’s not why you came here to read this blog is it? So here goes the short version and I apologise now for how long this blog will be, its not an easy task taking such a broad spectrum of illness and people and how it is for them all to live with a mental illness but ill do my best. Here goes.
Mental health in general can be hard even if you have a healthy mind. You still have days where you are irritable, sad, overly happy and days where you are just bloody mad. Normal ebbs and flows of our human emotions. Sometimes it’s hard when you are sad to break that mood and sometimes you just can’t control that angry outburst you had at someone close to you because shit just didn’t go right that day and you’re frustrated and angry…. every single person reading this has been in this situation even if you have perfect mental health.
Now take this normal ups downs mads and Sad’s and let’s look at them from the point of view of someone with mental health illness. The emotions are amplified 100 times. That sad feeling you get in the pit of your stomach for an hour or so, it can last months for a depressed. That irritability you had before your morning coffee…. A Bipolar person can have it for months on end snapping at the tiniest little things with out even realising they are doing it. There are so many different types of mental illness and all to varying degrees of severity and all can cross over the very blurred lines of mental illness’ that exist.
For example, I am diagnosed Bi Polar affective disorder type 2 and most people even doctors assume I just go through the normal euphoria’s and money spending risk taking while being manic and sadness of being depressed. However, I sometime hear things (auditory hallucinations), I have some OCD behaviours, I have Psychotic episodes and possibly now a personality / identity disorder. I can also be in a mixed state, both depressed and manic which is usually only associated with Bipolar 1.
The lines are not clear cut for those of us with mental illness, but from talking to all the people I talk to with mental illness daily, we have some recurring common issues.
It seems when we have mental illness our minds hate us, doesn’t matter if it is depression, anxiety, OCD or Bi Polar. The constant barrage of you’re useless, your fat, you’re never going to make anything of yourself, you’re family hates you, you’re a shitty dad, if you go out there you are just going to fuck it up and everyone hates you anyway so just go kill yourself….
Now if you are lucky enough to have a healthy mind may say “I have had all these thoughts before, but I know they aren’t true so I ignore them and I move on” That’s great that you’re able to do that and it’s the goal of every mentally ill person alive to be able to do the same but we just CANT.
What ever mental illness we have be it a temporary situational illness or a lifelong mental illness its the same, we cannot just switch of those thoughts just like if you have a cut on your leg you cannot just tell it to heal up right now it takes time to heal, just like out brains need medications and therapy to help them heal or be managed.
Anxiety sucks, it’s a dead set prick of thing to have to deal with no matter what its severity levels, but its hold can be so powerful it will give you runs or Freeze you in one spot unable to move. My anxiety has been so bad I have believed I was going to die on more then one occasion. I even blogged about one specific scenario on a boat id been out on plenty of times before and I thought it was the end for me. Anxiety can be a constant in our lives, sure medication can help but it takes years of hard work with mental health professionals to truly be able to manage it…. It’s a hard long sometimes expensive road.
Aches and pains, foggy mind, no energy, could care if I died right now but I’m just to damn tired to ger up and kill myself so I’ll just curl up here in the foetal position and hide away from the world, forget to shower. I might cry a lot but again those thoughts of self-hatred become a constant. Noise. Always noise.
This one really grinds my gears its always defined by mental health organisations and even the government as euphoric. And I guess over the years I’ve had euphoric and happy manic episodes like this time…. wait. MANIA IS HELL. The constant battle with my own self-loathing thoughts during my manic episodes became the reason I self-medicate with drugs, alcohols and even sex.
So, what you ask is it like to be the one living with mental illness?
The closest thing I can think of to help a person understand would be to download the song you hate most in the world, that one song that irritates you to your very core and penetrates your very existence. Now put one earphone in, put it on repeat and this is now the soundtrack to your life. Over and over repeatedly. I guarantee if I challenged any of you to try this you wouldn’t last the hour, I guarantee most of you would have pulled it out of your ear after the third or fourth repeat. Because it fucking sucked right.
Now while thinking about that song grating on your soul, think about a mentally ill person who has this constant unrelenting noise of negative, self-loathing and nasty thoughts about themselves. Only we can’t remove the earphone. Those thoughts are the sound track to our life that we can’t stop. Sure, some days we can press pause and block them out for a few hours or even a few days if we are lucky but other days there is no chance of stopping it like trying to turn the TV of with a remote control that has no batteries.
Obviously, I have generalised this blog a lot to try and cover the more common issues we face as mentally ill people but for some of us the noise is just the start, some of us hear voices telling us to do things. Some of us only enjoy life while having meaningless sex with whoever shows an interest, or we have mental blockages that don’t allow us to leave the bed for weeks or months on end.
It is hard living with mental illness, it is a constant war in our own minds, battle after battle. Some of these battles we win and some we lose. And unfortunately, some of lose the war completely and end up being take out by that nasty enemy we have suicide.
The very best part about all of this, you can’t see mental illness and we are generally so scared to talk to anyone about it for fear of being judged or told to just harden the fuck up. a not so irrational fear for us as the stigma around mental health is terrible, we are expected to just get up and get over it, brush it off you just need to breath and get some fresh air and exercise you’ll be fine.
NO ONE says, oi its just a broken leg, you’ll be fine you don’t need to put a cast on it stop being a little bitch…. Our minds are no different to that broken leg, they can be broken, chemically imbalanced, depleted of vital chemicals in general such as serotonin or we can even be born with the shitty genetics that give us bipolar, something not quite right in our brains that can never be fixed only managed to the best of our abilities. Yet we are told to harden up…. I was once even told by someone that I don’t have bipolar there is no such thing. Being told to get on with it, get over it or you aren’t sick its all in your head (yep I know) makes the noise louder makes the thoughts punish us harder and makes us more likely to not seek treatment and instead self-medicate with drugs or alcohols.
What can you do to support someone living with mental illness?
First things first, as a loved one or friend YOU are NOT responsible for us! You will need to set boundaries and have your own supports and tools in place to protect your own mental health. A counsellor or a psychologist a few times a year can be enough, but it is vital to you as a mental health support or carer for someone you love so you do not burn out.
Some of us wont need much more then loves and someone to talk to and that’s easy enough, some of us are extremely difficult and our carers need to set clear boundaries, although we are mentally ill we still need to learn to manage our own illness, it is not up to anyone else but us to do the hard yards. Relying to heavily on our carers will burn them out and can even put them into their own mental health problems.
Supporting us is simpler then you think majority of the time, help us make our appointments, encourage us to make the appointments if we haven’t yet or even make that call for us (sometime our anxiety about that phone call is the only thing stopping us), work with us to help identify the things that trigger us into episodes early so that we don’t spiral into episodes. Encourage us to practice the tools we are given by asking us to teach you some of the tools so that you can use them in your own lives. Drive us to the appointment something so simple can be so supportive and mean the world to us. And finally Love us and treat us like any other person don’t look at us and see an illness, look at us and see the person we are. Don’t judge us for the stupid shit we may say or do occasionally. We are people to, we love, we laugh, we cry, we have hopes and dreams just like you.
Stigma sucks and the people in the front line in that fight aren’t those of us with mental illness, it’s the people around us supporting us loving us. Show the world you treat us like everyone else and then bit by bit the world will see and begin to treat us the same as everyone else. Because we are just like you…. just seasoned a little different.
Mum, if you are reading this, I am sorry…
For all the crazy over the top horridness that was on the outside though, what was going on inside my mind was a thousand times worse, so I smoked pot as often as I could to numb it. Occasionally though, it would make it worse. My thoughts would race on and turn suicidal very quickly, as time went on this happened more and more. By the time I was 16 or 17 I had moved on to alcohol, and after that to chemical drugs to numb the noise, but that is another story.
Fast forward long after I quit weed, stopped drinking alcohol and have been in recovery from illicit drug use almost 10 years. My mother has a rare blood cancer, poly cythemia Vera, a red blood cell mutation, she had 2 lots of cancer (thyroid and breast) and she has a Neurological disease called Fibro myalgia which causes constant pain, cognitive impairment and a whole list of shit you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy and Which the FDA in the USA lists cannabis as one of the 3 approved treatments. Mum refuses to try it cos its illegal but I researched the hell out of it, read everything I could get my hands-on books, studies, articles pros and cons I devoured the information. It was clear that cannabis would help my mother experience a great quality of life if it was to be legalised for medicinal use and made accessible to her without breaking the bank. During all that reading I did there was always question marks over cannabis and mental health, some studies say its great for PTSD, Anxiety and Depression and some say it makes it worse. Bi-polar, never really came up during the studies and if it did It was always not enough evidence either way and left a question mark about it.
Remembering back to the beginning when I was young, cannabis had stopped the noise in my head I wanted to give it another try being mentally ill sometimes you just want quality of life and you are willing to try anything to get it even for a short time. So, I decided to try cannabis again.
A massive part of the prohibition of cannabis in Australia means that what is accessible is in our country is low quality and full of chemicals. It is predominantly supplied by criminal organisations who most definitely do not care about cannabises medicinal qualities. This means what is available, is unknown strains and full of chemicals called PGR’s or Plant Growth Regulators. These chemicals are extremely harmful causing intestinal issues all the way through to cancers and mental health issues.
This should be the first reason to NOT try to treat your mental illness no matter what it is in Australia with illegally purchased cannabis. The 2nd is the inability to purchase illness specific strains of cannabis, a strain that is good for pain may be detrimental to your mental health. And a strain that is good for inflammation may not help you to sleep. You cannot treat your anxiety and depression with strains that are not illness specific to anxiety and depression and with the PGR’s on top of that you’re just wasting your time.
I did however, manage to get a few strains that where close enough to illness specific as well as one that was meant to be good for depression. Uplifting so to speak. My experiment ended almost as fast as it began. Although a heavy Indica did stop the noise in my head once the effects had worn off the noise came back just as quick as they left. And the “uplifting” Sativa strains well these where the worst, their psychoactive properties put my bipolar mind into over drive and on two occasion put me into hyper manic states. Being Bipolar means that everything we do is magnified, our lows are magnified, and our highs are magnified to extremes. So when we smoke cannabis our moods are affected and in a massvive way, an Indica will put me to sleep very fast, and the effects take a long time to wear off. on the opposite side while a sativa will put a normal person into a happy euphoric mood, it will put bi polar mind into a mess of racing thoughts of the bad things in your life and in my experience fed my suicidal thoughts. I was not willing to keep trying nor will i ever try again, cannabis was no good for me it was clear. Knowing what I know now and understanding more it was clearly no good for me when I was teenager either.
I have since found better ways to deal with my mental illness and specifically the noise in my head, it’s hard work and takes up a lot of my time and includes self-care, psychotherapy and in my case medication. But to have a little clarity and quality of life without mental illness destroying everything good, its worth it. To all you pro cannabis for mental health people. Sorry not sorry, I just do not agree with you.
Ben Russoniello | ©benrussoniello 2019