About this thing called mental illness...

I usually don’t blog about this stuff... it’s so fucking passé to go online and do this “confessional” style of blogging where you just splurt the secrets of your life out onto the web. I’m not that kind of blogger... what I want to say needs to have a purpose, rather than just exist.   However, I do need, want, DESIRE to talk about this even if no-one reads it, it needs to be out there for me.   I also have some thoughts about the subject in general.


I  have a mental illness... Bipolar Disorder... Manic  Depression as it was once known.  Most of the time  if I talk about it it’s usually in the same tone of voice as “I have hazel eyes” or  “yeah i’m a bit overweight right now”  or “I’m five ft 2”  But it wasn’t always the case.   I kept it hidden for a very very long time, hell I didn’t even know I was ill until three years ago.  My story is pretty much your typical manic depressive narrative... Many of us are misdiagnosed with unipolar depression – i.e no mania, just depression. That is because many people  with this disease report being depressed more than manic. I also didn’t get the euphoria and really fantastic delusions until much later...   I’ve always been energetic.  As a kid I never slept much,  as a young person I hardly slept at all and never needed to.   When I was about  14 I went into seeing a psychiatrist for severe depression ... Although I saw this psychiatrist until I was 23 she never even thought to address the severe imbalances in energy I had... At one moment I seemingly had no energy at all and the next I was finding it hard to keep still.  So I went along with it. I did what I thought was the right thing took the anti depressants. They made me sicker. They made me have this reaction that was like I never could completely slow down.  I’d get up in the early hours of the morning and pace and pace the floor of my bedroom, my mind ticking over.  Keep in mind that I was also terribly traumatised, so the lines from psychiatry’s point of view were blurred.  Was what I was experiencing a reaction to trauma or organic mental illness?  I always knew something was wrong.  School was hell, home was hell, everything was just wrong, even with the abuse, and yet I couldn’t get anyone to take me seriously well into my twenties.


I started to actively, every day, just want to die.  I had multiple emergency room admissions, either for being really high and picked up by the police, or for attempting suicide.   It wasn’t until 2006 that I started to have delusions when manic.  I started to hear and see and believe things that weren’t really there.. People were out to get me.  Life was one big blur of voices and bright colours. Also,  when I was manic I was also the life of the party.  This fun party girl who was always the first one out the car and into the pub and the last one to leave.  I drank, had COPIOUS amounts of casual sex and felt FANTASTIC... I also believe mania contributed  a lot to the creative energy I had.  I could write.. I mean, really write, not just a few lines here and there. You  wanted me to trot out a first story draft in one night – I could do it.   But I knew it was  ruining me.  On the down days, I couldn’t think.  I couldn’t work, I couldn’t contribute at all.


I started seeing a new psychiatrist in 2008.. We get along relatively well, but  ultimately he is what formed my views on medication and psychiatry...  I believe mental health patients are being lied to about the nature of their treatment.  When I say that, I don’t mean that hospital, medication, traditional therapies   aren’t the way to go for some people – but the things that work for me are not meds, therapy  but more holistic things like changing my diet (cutting out caffeine and not drinking helped dramatically)  and exercising a lot also helped when I made the change last year...  My psychiatrist knows  how I feel about medication and continues to prescribe it for me, but I tell him that this works, and it does..  I have my rythm, my creativity, my energy all returned to me in balance which was something I never had before – medication or not.

I’m not saying if you go off your meds it will work for you, chances are it won’t but it’s just that we need to be informing people of their right to other treatments, or no treatment  particularly when the long term effect of psychotropic drugs on the brain is still unknown. 

I also think that the right to refuse or accept treatment is complements  the way society sees the mentally ill in general.. we’ve got this category of  people in society, mostly high functioning people who are quite capable of contributing to society some of whom need significant support to do so, but we seem to have a societal prejudice against them.  I believe wholeheartedly that the most significant barrier to those living with mental illness isn’t our illness  on its own, but the attitudes of society.  We live in a society that would rather see us as sick, write us off as crazy, and have us imprisoned in institutions rather than reach our full potential.   I remember once, seeing a little boy stare wide eyed at a man quite psychotic, but harmless, mumbling to himself in the middle of Rundle Mall.  The kid clearly meant nothing by it, but the mother pulled him away ,  quite frightened the man would some how morph into a psycho killer and rob her of her child.   For one minute, think, if he was aware of the situation, how that man must have felt.   This is what I’m talking about.  If we continue to isolate and marginalize our most vulnerable – what hope have we really got?


p.s... just so you know... my life is awesome now.. thanks for asking. J
largely a response to Elizabeth Gilbert's  video on TED http://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius.html People often ask me how I write, or how my poems come about and I never know what to say.   I often answer that they come from things I see, stuff I've read, responses I want to make to issues that come up in society but I know that's not what they mean. They mean... HOW do you write, what goes through you. what is your PROCESS.  I've never thought about process, I've usually  taken a poem as it comes. For instance sometimes it would take three days to get two lines, sometimes four months the longest it's taken is up to a year.  But I think that's not what people mean either.  Gilbert talks about the idea of "genius" and what we expect from those given that label.I've always rejected the notion of being a creative genius  based on the fact that people who appear to be the most effortless and brilliant are often the ones who work the hardest but what she spoke of  sort of brought home to me something I wasn't aware of really  aware of - the  process that she referred to as  "posessing" genius in quite a  metaphysical way.  This I now understand, and I can in a very small way see how it plays out in my own life and writing.  I tend to write very little for a long time, and then in a short time, write a lot.  I used to blame bipolar disorder. The phases of my illness often dictate how creative I can be, the medication to remedy anxiety, depression, mania etc  dampening my creativity etc and it still is true in many ways. However, having watched this, I can say that it  has changed the way I view my own work.  I always wondered why at times poems would come to me at the most inappropriate times (having a shower, falling asleep, making love - oh yeah, several) and not when I wanted them to.  I used to get the same reaction Tom Waits did the whole. fuck. I will lose it.. what if I don't capture this story/poem/thing right now does that mean i'm inadequate? I guess if you go with this, No. It means I just have to be present enough and listen enough to what things are trying to say at another time.  (the Tom Waits driving example was a really good one)
 The other thing that this talk brought home to me was the value society puts on art.   What I believe society says  is  well we'll put these musicians/poets/painters over *here* and the rest of you can become engineers because art isn't really something of value anyway. If you're a young person choosing a visual arts degree over the accountancy course your parents REALLY want you to do.. good on you.  It doesn't happen often. Now to write, to twitter, and to hopefully at some stage eat. 
 the above quote was one I heard a Josephite sister saying to an elder about 3 years ago at a public meeting on the Northern Territory Intervention.  Thought it was fitting as the sister was saying "well this is your place, not mine".  I also acknowledge the land I live on as that of the Kaurna people.

In 2007 the then coalition government under Howard used the guise of childhood sexual abuse to institute the Northern Territory Emergency Response - (NTER) which was designed to "fix"  perceived problems of alcohol abuse and child sex abuse in remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory.  It instigated compulsory health checks designed to "discover" sexual abuse of children - banning of alcohol and pornography in communities  along with a strict policy of income management for ALL Aboriginal people in the communities, not just those with children.  (More on that later)  the Little Children Are Sacred   was the catalyst for the intervention  with Howard appearing on television immediately after the report's release saying it was time to "take charge".  The reports authors have since come out and stated that the report was misappropriated and an intervention on this scale is never going to help fulfill its reccomendations - some of which the government was already aware of before and did nothing about.
What people didn't know was what was going on behind the guise of child protection was the "land grab" elements of the intervention. The territory is an incredibly mineral rich area one that lead to the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act in order to force Aboriginal elders into signing leases to allow mining and effectively relinquish control over their land.  I'm not sure exactly what this has to do with child protection.   What the intervention has done, however, is make it abundantly clear that Aboriginal people cease to matter, they are not worthy of consultation or collaboration on any issue affecting their lives. - this comes despite the Labor Government of Kevin Rudd apologizing to the "stolen generation" early last year but continuing the intervention.   This lack of consultation and just general disgust at their treatment has lead to a community walk off of the alyawarra (pronounced al ya war ) people at Ampilatwatja (pronounced um-bludder-watch)  A protest camp has been set up in order to facillitate what  has become a permanent walk off.  to learn more :
I do think at this point it's appropriate to put the intervention into some context. This isn't just a blip on an otherwise spotless radar. 200 years ago Australia was colonized by the Brittish, with the land being declared  Terra Nullius (belonging to no one) despite a long history of Aboriginal civilization on the land.   Aboriginal people were killed, without provocation, often in open acts of resistance to occupation of their land.  In initial settlement, Aboriginal people either worked in indentured servitude and were given rations in the hopes that they would "die off".  This was all done under the supervision of  "protector" of Aboriginals - a government beauracrat who was charged with carrying out assimilationist policies.   Children were also forcibly removed from their parents - with the belief that if it wasn't going to die out, Aboriginality could be "bred" out with the lighter skinned children being removed first.  Many of these children were raised in religious institutions and also went into servitude after they came of age.  These children endured enormous cultural loss and emotional trauma as they were unable to speak their language or practice any of their cultural rituals. I believe the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families was one of the biggest creators of cultural loss bar settlement itself. if you can't speak your language or have access to it, you forget it.  It was not untill 1967 that Aboriginal people were given the right to vote and officially recognized as "citizens" of Australia without excessive restrictions placed on their freedom of movement off of the white established missions.  I'll post more on the activist campaign that took place in the 1960s in another entry, this one's getting long.
Aboriginal people today also rate higher in almost every negative aspect of society such as  alcohol and other drug use, homelessness,incarceration and deaths in custody  unemployment, illiteracy, suicide and mental health problems.  Australia is an inherently racist place.  Racism takes many forms but the bulk of that racism towards Aboriginal people takes place in continuing to promote colonial political policies and generate a culture of "paternalism" towards Aboriginal people. I don't know better than someone who's ancestors lived on this land long before mine and I think we all should actually get a handle on it as white people. I also know that as a white person, I do enjoy a relative degree of priviledge and I was brought up with a colonial perspective - as were most white kids  

This wasn't meant to be a blog with all the answers, rather it's designed to raise some of the questions I have in my head about things.  This campaign, idea, situation has been in my head for a long time. How do we go forward? how do we begin to recognize both politically and culturally the sovreignty of Indigenous people.  It's ok to pay lip service, but how do we actually do it?
My dog is snoring.  He's 11  years old and a Maltese X Shihtzu who has been my best friend for  his entire life getting me through some very very tough times together. He was recently diagnosed with acute cancer that at his age was unlikely to get better.  He's not in any pain, very much the opposite,  still eats and gets his lead out to go for a walk - however I KNOW that the end is near for him  I can just sense it and I think the way he looks at me so does he.  My brother is equally devastated, as Lucky was also very much "his" dog.  I am curious to know what makes humans and animals so inseparable. Is it that we have "trained" them to be like us? or rely on them or just have a selfish need to keep them shut up with us?  I know that without Lucky my teenage years would have been even more unbearable - what he offered me was more and still is more than any human being can.  that and he's definitely not a cat dog, which doesn't seem to peturb the agile sleek climbing kitty any.  All I can really hope for is that when the end comes I am with him, or that he slips away whilst asleep dreaming of bones and chasing rabbits.  
I can't sleep... For those of you who will read my blog it's of no big surprise.. I don't think i've ever had a good night's sleep. too much content, too little timet to process it.  The thing about night time is that it is so quiet. The only thing I can hear in my room is my clock.  I think for first post this is pretty lame but as I have to be up in four hours (does.not.want.) I should endeavour to get some sleep.  Please do read. *puppy dog eyes* I promise this blog will be entertaining AND educational.