Mental illness. These words are often the elephant in the room. When these words are spoken it’s as if no one knows what to say. What if you say the wrong thing? It’s not unusual to tread carefully with your words. But what I’ve noticed is the silence. The silence is worse than anything. Mostly because people shuffle around awkwardly and they prefer not to talk about such a thing. Well, I want to talk about it.
I have known people close to me that have suffered from mental illness. Only with time did I realise what was occurring. As I grew older, I began to understand from my own experiences and from seeing others go through it, that when bad things happen in life, a bad break up, a death, or a loss of a job, depression can kick in very unexpectedly. I know that New Zealand as a whole has some of the highest rates of suicide and depression. Now is the time for us to talk about it more in every day conversation and to give people the hope they so desperately need. So that no one feels like they have to suffer alone.
I wanted to do something a bit different with this blog and something more personal. I interviewed some friends who have kindly shared their experiences about their mental health/illness including; anxiety, depression, and bipolar. I’m very humbled that they’re letting me share their story, so thank you again. I’m sure their experiences will encourage people who might currently be struggling. Read on to find out about their inspiring journeys.
I thought it would be interesting to speak to Raz, 25, because he is a true friend, he is full of energy and he has a very captivating personality. Most of all, he is very straightforward and upfront about his ups and downs with his bipolar disorder. It’s both admiring and encouraging! Check out how far Raz has come and what he thinks about bipolar:
When did you first notice any signs or signals that you had bipolar disorder?
I first found out when I was diagnosed while in rehab for drugs. Prior to this I didn’t suspect I had any type of disorder.
Did it take a while for you to accept it or were you ready to seek help?
I didn’t want help, at the time rehab felt like a prison. Being strapped to the bed so I wouldn’t hurt myself.
Was it quite scary to deal with at first?
Not exactly scared, I didn’t want their help. I was young and dumb, there was a twisted pleasure from denying their help. Having to get used to taking all these different type of pills, therapy and just in talking things out instead of resorting to violence was something completely foreign to me.
Are your moods quite unpredictable and is there a sense of mania or depression?
Yeah, my mood changes a lot. I can wake up happy and by the end of the day I can be depressed, even suicidal. Generally, I can’t tell if I’m going through mania or a depressive state until it’s over. While in one of those states it feels as if you have been like this your entire life, at least that’s how I feel.
Have you pinpointed certain triggers that make your bipolar more intense, like lack of sleep or stress?
Triggers can be anything really. Something I see for example, can trigger a memory and that in turn triggers an episode. Stress not so much for me personally. I learned how to deal with stress but sleep deprivation does. The medication I take sometimes causes insomnia, so it’s like a vicious cycle.
Do you take medication, and has this improved or helped you a lot?
I take anti-psychotics and mood stabilizers. They have helped, episodes rarely happen but the feeling of depression that sometimes happens doesn’t really go away.
Are your friends and family supportive of your journey?
Yes, every one has been really accepting. If not for some of my friends which I consider like family I probably wouldn’t be alive right now.
Have you always felt quite comfortable to share your story with other people and if so why?
I don’t have anything to hide. I’m not ashamed of having Bipolar disorder. I’ve always being straight forward with people. What you see is what you get, you either accept me for who I am or you don’t.
Have you ever had a breakdown or had a moment where your bipolar felt like it couldn’t be controlled?
Yes, when I had my two suicide attempts via overdose. In those moments I just couldn’t see any way out of the situation apart from death. I was exhausted both mentally and physically. Ending it all seemed the only way I could be at peace.
How do you put yourself in a good mood or pull yourself out of a negative space?
I call a couple of my mates who I mentioned are like family to me. Talking to them always calms me down. I also think of the best thing that happened to me that day and just focus on that.
For people who might not know much about it how would you explain bipolar in your own words?
It’s hard describing it. Unpredictability, self-destructivness, one moment you feel like you can take on the world and start doing reckless shit like “Yeah, stealing this car and driving it off the pier sounds like an adventure” and you can’t hear how crazy that sounds. It just sounds normal to you. And then when mania ends you’re on the floor crying because of depression.
What would be your advice to those struggling who might be afraid to tell other people or don’t want to get help?
Please get help, I couldn’t have gone through some of the stuff I did if it wasn’t for people willing to help. Don’t be afraid to tell people. If they distance themselves from you when they find out, it just proves they weren’t real friends to begin with. And you need as little negativity in your life as possible.
Anxiety & Depression
Now dealing with mental illness is one that is not easy and one person I spoke to has anxiety, depression, and bipolar. We’ve had good chats in the past about mental illness and Hannah is very brave for opening up about it. Read more on Hannah’s personal experience and how she perseveres:
At what age were you diagnosed with bipolar, depression, and anxiety?
I was diagnosed at 16.
Having all three must be a struggle, are there days where it becomes to much or you break down?
I break down quite frequently. I am seeing a psychiatrist weekly though for more help and as someone I can talk too. And I get support through medicine.
Is one thing more present than the other sometimes, for instance one day do you feel anxious and depressed or does it happen all at once?
The depression is definitely more present than the other. Anxiety comes about only in situations where I feel extremely uncomfortable.
When did you think to yourself that it was time to start medication and to see a counselor?
I didn’t think anything was wrong with me. My parents saw that I was suffering and forced me to go get medical help.
Are you surrounded by good people such as friends and family that support you?
My family is very supportive of my condition, and they try to make sure my days are full of things that make me happy and put me in a positive place. My friends likewise know about my condition and are very kind towards me.
What helps you to calm down or to put you in a positive mood when you’re feeling quite down?
I listen to music that I can sing along too or have a smoke and talk to a friend on the phone, it calms me down the most.
What triggers you to self harm or to think of suicidal thoughts and how do you get out of that state of mind?
I haven’t self harmed myself in quite a while now and I think it’s due to the medication I’m taking. What would trigger me to hurt myself is thinking about little things I’ve done in the past which make me feel very low about myself and my self esteem. Once I’m in that mood it’s very hard to come out of it. If I get that way I will end up hurting myself in one way or another.
How would you describe an anxiety attack for people that don’t know what it really is?
I get really really scared all of a sudden, my breath becomes short and at times I feel like I can’t breathe. Quite similar to a panic attack which I suffer from as well, but if you have them both you know the differences.
Having these mental illnesses, does it make things quite difficult such as being in a relationship or having a job?
I think I find it a bit tricky being in a relationship because I want things to be serious and always positive. With a relationship there’s always going to be ups and downs and with my insecurities that come along with these mental issues that I have, they put up a barrier at times. I find it hard to fully trust people.
Do you ever feel afraid to tell people about your condition in case they judge you or don’t understand it?
Yes! I am always careful with who I tell because people brush it off and say “there’s no such thing, she just wants attention” and it’s things like that which really hurt someone like me and brings my self esteem down even lower.
What would your message be to people who are struggling with anxiety, bipolar, or depression?
Get help! The sooner the better. People are there who want to talk to you and help you sort out your problems. Don’t bottle it all up, get it out!
After what you’ve gone through do you feel like a stronger person and has it taught you a lot about yourself?
I’m still recovering and getting the help I need from doctors and my family. It will take a lot of time but I am fully committed to getting the help and to get better.
Natalie Lanfear, 23, is a huge role model to me and a great advocate for mental illness. Natalie has a YouTube channel/series that looks at her experiences with depression as well. I’m excited to be chatting to Natalie today! Read on for more about her plans for the future:
When did you first know you had depression, and did you recognise it as depression?
I’d most likely had depression for around two and a half years before being diagnosed by a doctor with depression (although I have experienced diagnosed anxiety since the age of 14). I had no idea for those two and a half years prior to being diagnosed that depression was something I had left alone, something I would experience or have to go through. Even when being diagnosed with depression, it took me a long time to accept that I had this illness, (mostly due to myself being a stubborn person) and that it was in fact something that I had.
However, deep down I knew something wasn’t right. I was having more bad months and seasons (rather than just days) than good, and life became a chore to do rather than be lived. Hiding the pain was something I’d somewhat become the master of, so other people didn’t know that I had it. In real terms this actually made my mental health heightened and worse by covering it up.
Do you think having depression changed your life dramatically?
Yes depression for sure changed my life dramatically. My first bought of depression happened when I was quite young at seventeen years old after a sporting injury. I had to take an entire year off school in year 12. It really changed my life and the relationships between people in my life at school. At the time I had no idea what I was going through and having to balance the act of typical teenage highs and lows whilst battling my mind was a never ending cycle of inner turmoil. I relapsed twice in the three years following this time. This is why I am partly so passionate to talk about mental health especially towards young people.
Are there some days that are harder than other days?
Without a doubt some days are harder than others living with a mental illness. A common misconception I’ve found in the past year, as in 2016 I have been speaking more about mental health on a public scale, is that because I am in recovery I am magically cured! Usually this misconception is fuelled by ignorance of mis-education that has been placed within society. Granted the recovery is not even comparable to living through depression, I would not wish that upon anyone. But with recovery you have tools in your toolbox that you know will work for you. And you are more aware of your own signs and signals when your mental health is detonating. By experiencing mental illness you don’t just get over it, you work with it and become a newer, improved version of yourself when embarking upon recovery.
What things help you get through or put you in a better mood?
Things that help manage my mental wellness are exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, attempting to have balance in my life with trusted family and friends. Being extremely honest with myself within how I’m feeling, saying no doing tasks or events where appropriate, doing hobbies that I enjoy and knowing my personality, which lies towards ambivert qualities. For example, I love being around people but also know my limits and need time and space to be alone to recharge whilst knowing within myself this is alright.
Were your friends and family quite supportive when you told them?
I was very lucky that I had an extremely supportive family and close group of friends. Although my family and friends knew long before I did, or wanted to accept that I had depression, that I wasn’t myself. At the age of 17, it was a time when I found out who my true friends were and I am lucky to still have these people in my life today. Although we don’t live close anymore with our lives having gone in different directions. Our bond as friends is strong because we have all gone through our fair share of ups and downs, mental health struggles included!
Are there certain triggers that might make your depression harder to deal with?
One trigger that makes it difficult to manage my depression is change. Change in relation to everyday life events, major life events, and seasonal change. Change is inevitable within life and change is always to going to happen. I can’t speak for the future and predict how having been through depression may help or hinder changes in future events. But being aware of my triggers and how to best respond to them, will assist in preventing a relapse and managing my mental wellness for life.
I think it’s also important to note that depression can affect people in a number of different ways, noticeable triggers may not be evident for all people experiencing depression and triggers can be hard to pinpoint.
What made you want to share your story to the public?
I have been running my YouTube channel for the past three years. I always knew I wanted to talk about mental health in some form but timing is everything. I had to make sure I was in a suitable head space to be able to talk about my mental health whilst safeguarding and protecting my mental well being at the same time. I ran a mental wellness web series on my YouTube channel this year which was well received, and also shared my personal experience with the black dog. I was extremely nervous to do this but felt I was at a point on my mental health journey that I could manage it.
I had a great desire to share aspects of my story in hope that it would help others who are experiencing/experienced their own mental distress. I wanted to provide them with hope and a form of comfort that mental illness can be recovered from.
Have you always been quite open to discuss depression if people ask about it?
Yes I have been quite open in discussing depression if people ask about it. I’ve always been the kind of person who is comfortable in discussing difficult topics with others when it is right, mental health is no exception. Mental health and depression aren’t dirty words, we all have mental health. It is something that should be discussed, in good times and bad.
Do you think the stigma around mental illness makes it hard for people to open up about their struggles?
Absolutely. Although I was happy to discuss my struggles with mental illness doesn’t mean I wasn’t apprehensive about the stigma that is associated. and continues to be associated with mental illness/health and wellness. However, I do feel like with myself , and many others, who share their stories about their experiences with mental illness, that the stigma does have less chance of thriving with the more people who discuss it.
You’ve done some amazing work raising awareness for mental health/illnesses in Taranaki, what do you hope to achieve next?
Thank you. That is very kind of you to say. It has been without a doubt an incredible year on with working on my mental health awareness projects that I have been lucky to be part of. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without my strong support crew around me and people within the community who have been backing these projects as well.