Mental As….Sonja

I’ve sat down to write this a few times now, and deleted it over and over again.

It’s Mental Health Week in Australia – or month if you live in NSW. Obviously, this is a topic close to my heart. I believe that more people need to speak up about it, so that there can be greater understanding in the wider community that having a brain that is sick is no different, really, than have a body that is unwell.

The problem lies here: I want to write an uplifting post. I want to say that it all gets so much better and therapy and medication really help and there is an end in sight! In some ways, this is correct: I have overcome Bulimia Nervosa, the roots of which began when I was 8 (but that really took hold when I was 16). I no longer have any symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. These are two really big things that took a lot of hard work to achieve, and I am proud of them.

I still struggle with depression and anxiety. I currently meet the clinical requirements of major depression – and isn’t that just so…depressing. When I had my psych evaluation for the clinical study I’m taking part in, the psych asked me to count how many single episodes of depression I’d had in my lifetime. This question was so hard, because for the majority of my life I’ve been struggling with it on and off. I was 8 the first time I felt so sad that nothing would make me feel better. I was 13 or 14 when I was first clinically diagnosed. I went on medication for the first time at 15 and was hospitalised the year I turned 16.

Out of all this depression grew an anxiety disorder, which manifests itself in disconnected thoughts, furious work for a very short period of time. Then I become a frozen, overthinking mess that is incapable of doing even the basics of self-care. Speaking to people I’ve never met before is terrifying and so I withdraw (which in turn has a negative impact on my depression).

Everyone in my immediate family has been diagnosed depression and/or anxiety. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s inevitable that I’m like this – that this is my normal. Then, whenever I start therapy again, I’m worried I’m not sick enough, that this illness that has been reoccurring within me for 16 years isn’t worth treating.  The science part of me thinks that’s the true craziness, because if this was say, something like cancer, then surely I would treat it with every available tool in my arsenal?

I’m not a brave person – and I wish people would stop calling me that. Like people with disabilities hate being used as inspiration porn, I hate being a poster child for recovery etc. It places so much pressure on me to do well (which is part of the problem in the first place). I live with an illness and 1 in 5 people in Australia each year live with a similar thing. I don’t talk about my story to big note myself or to inspire people on the journey. I write because I want to be honest about what it’s like. Sometimes, recovery is brilliant and challenging and life changing and affirming. Sometimes, it feels like nothing is happening and there is no point. The challenge that faces me now is to work around it all. Too many years have been lost to illnesses that just keep demanding and I’m sick of it.

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