There is value in sharing, not only because there are still people who might need to hear exactly that, but because being mentally ill is not a reason to believe you have nothing more to say, writes Anna Spargo-Ryan.
By
Anna Spargo-Ryan

15 Feb 2018 - 11:14 AM  UPDATED 11 Oct 2018 - 9:01 AM
 

 A little while ago, I stopped writing about my mental health. Done. Shut up, Anna, you boring disgusting loser.

When you have a chronic illness, people care a lot, for a bit. Even the people who care about you a lot care for a bit.

My parents are the best people I know, and even they sometimes say things like, ‘Oh, you still can’t do that? Oh, you’ve still got that anxiety thing?’ and they’ve seen me live with it for more than thirty years.

When I started writing about my brain in 201something, the illnesses themselves weren’t new to me, but talking to people about them was. It was the start of a process.

The start of a process is always the interesting part. It’s the part where everyone replies to your Facebook post about how you’re feeling depressed, and they send you love-heart emojis and crying-face emojis and you think, hey, why didn’t I talk about this sooner? It’s a time to be furious and to shout and be drunk and buoyant on your own courage and it feels so good and also terrible. But it feels something, which is the point.

But there is value in sharing, not only because there are still people who might need to hear exactly that ...but because being mentally ill is not a reason to believe you have nothing more to say.

When I started writing about my brain in whatever year that was (because the years are all mashed together, which is a brain thing), I felt as though I had something new to say about my illnesses.

That wasn’t because I did have something new to say, but because I had never said anything before then. I had only said it to the people who knew me and the loud-and-quiet corridors of my fear. To them I had said, ‘I’m so frightened,’ but I hadn’t said that to anyone who might be listening in the world.

It was liberating to write about being unwell. It wasn’t because I ‘got it out of my system’, because I had learned to shout loudly well before I was ever writing the words down. It was because it was the start of something. And at the start of things, you haven’t worn anyone out yet.

You haven’t worn yourself out yet.

The thing about chronic illness is that as well as being debilitating and sometimes devastating, it’s really boring. Every morning I wake up and think, how am I going to feel today? This morning I woke up just after 4am to go to the bathroom, and I looked at the clock and thought, the number four is weird, isn’t it? 

I felt like I was driving in and out of time, like it had been one minute but it had also been thirty minutes. This is the nature of my unreality.

Then I sat on the toilet and thought, that’s the kind of day this will be, where I think the number four is weird. And I was so bored. I just wanted to get up and have an ordinary morning and do some ordinary work and pick up my kids from school ordinarily.

In the old days, when no one had given my illnesses a name yet, I didn’t realise they could be boring. Panic disorder has such acute symptoms that it seemed as though they would always be exciting. I thought I would always get on a train and watch the doors close and think MY EYEBALLS ARE GOING TO ROLL OUT ACROSS THE FLOOR AND THEN MY HEART WILL FALL OUT AND CRUSH THEM! Good, right? Blockbuster stuff.

But now that I’m this age, which is 35, I am so  bored of having anxiety. It’s like a marriage. I notice it coming up the driveway and I think, great, what are we going to fight about tonight? (Usually we fight about why I sometimes think my cat looks a bit like my mother, which he definitely does.)

I’m so bored.

I’m so bored that I stopped writing about mental illness. Not because I have nothing left to say, because I actually have so many things left to say. I have never written about the way my OCD means I sometimes creep into my children’s bedrooms and touch their faces eight times with my thumbnail.

It made me think about how poorly I’ve been treating myself. I stopped writing because I figured other people were sick of hearing about it, the way I felt they should be.

I have never written about the way being psychotic feels like you’ve been transplanted into a movie set, and that I had to quit my job on a TV show because being on the actual sets felt too much like twisting the delicate remaining pieces of my mind.

I have never written about the way my psychologist didn’t even charge me the day she sat in an ugly chair and waited through my medical tests because I thought I would die.

I have never written about the fact that my children are scared, that they have their own rational and irrational fears and I don’t know how to allay them when I can’t even get my own fears figured out (not because I can’t fix them but because I’m actually not even sure what they are).

Yesterday I was driving down a street near my house to buy an avocado. There’s a greengrocer about two kilometres away and their avocados are always magic, no matter the season. Possibly the store is a front for a hydroponic set-up in the mountains.

At any rate, it’s close to my house and I drive there most days, but yesterday it seemed to take longer. It didn’t — there wasn’t any traffic and my car’s speedometer was functioning properly — but as I drove, time seemed to slow down. I felt like I drove forever.

I have treated my own chronic illness like a friend who drifts away maybe-deliberately. Writing about it made me feel tired. It made me sick of the sound of my own voice.

I felt like I was driving in and out of time, like it had been one minute but it had also been thirty minutes. This is the nature of my unreality.

When I got to the greengrocer (after five minutes or six weeks), I put my head on the steering wheel and thought about how bored I was that I couldn’t just get an avocado without sliding through the multiverse.

I have treated my own chronic illness like a friend who drifts away maybe-deliberately. Writing about it made me feel tired. It made me sick of the sound of my own voice.

It made me internalise some of the negativity. Writing about my mental illnesses made me want to be the friend who drifts away maybe-deliberately, just so she can have a coffee without worrying that her friend is going to talk about how sick she is (which is a thing I do; hit me up for lady dates).

I couldn’t believe anyone would still be hanging around to hear what I had to say about it. But then this week a wonderful woman sent me a message. She said that my writing about my mental health challenges helped her to feel less alone, and that my being open about it gave her strength.

It made me think about how poorly I’ve been treating myself. I stopped writing because I figured other people were sick of hearing about it, the way I felt they should be.

I figured they knew everything they needed to know about it, to make a decision about whether or not I was worth their time and energy.

I guess I realised that everyone is on a particular path with their chronic illness, and we’re all at different stages. 

I figured they had heard it all before, that I wasn’t contributing anything new, and that, like me, they were so bored they would cut off their own head just so they didn’t have to read one more op-ed about what it was like to grow up with generalised anxiety.

I guess I realised that everyone is on a particular path with their chronic illness, and we’re all at different stages. Some of us are way down this end of the path going, I have never been so bored in my life.

Some of us are at the far end of the path, maybe thinking about end-of-life planning or what the near future holds. And some of us are at the beginning going, I’ve just learned this about myself, what do I do now?

I’ve accepted things about myself that aren’t true because I felt they were unchangeable.

This message made me think, what if the laboriousness is just thinking I started something by writing about it but it dissolved into drudgery, the way everything does? What if the words I write about being depressed and anxious and traumatised aren’t boring to some people who might only be reading them for the first time now because they haven’t needed to before?

And then I thought, why am I so bored? I’ve encouraged myself to believe my life is the monotony of my illness. I’ve accepted things about myself that aren’t true because I felt they were unchangeable.

What has made the everyday so boring is standing on the wheel of a mill while it runs its cycle. It’s getting up in the morning and looking at the clock and thinking, the number four is so weird! and believing no one wants to hear about it anymore, that it doesn’t contribute anything, that because I have a life-long illness my voice should be silent.

But there is value in sharing, not only because there are still people who might need to hear exactly that or because there are always new people being born who will eventually feel their brain escaping through their ears but because being mentally ill is not a reason to believe you have nothing more to say.

Anna Spargo-Ryan is an Australian writer and author of The Gulf and The Paper House. This piece was originally featured on Medium

Mental health support services:

Black Dog Institute

Lifeline - 13 11 14 

Carers Australia 1800 242 636 - Short-term counselling and emotional and psychological support services for carers and their families in each state and territory.

Headspace 1800 650 890 - a free online and telephone service that supports young people aged between 12 and 25 and their families going through a tough time.

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 - A free, private and confidential, telephone and online counselling service specifically for young people aged between 5 and 25.

Mindspot Clinic 1800 61 44 34 - An online and telephone clinic providing free assessment and treatment services for Australian adults with anxiety or depression.

National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO)

QLife 1800 184 527 - QLife is Australia’s first nationally-oriented counselling and referral service for LGBTI people. 

Relationships Australia  1300 364 277- A provider of relationship support services for individuals, families and communities.

SANE Australia 1800 18 7263 - Information about mental illness, treatments, where to go for support and help carers.

Support after Suicide

Source: Beyond Blue  


New series How ‘Mad’ Are You? takes a unique look at mental health. The two-part series premieres 11 October, 8.30pm on SBS.

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