This post is from my blog prior to Bold & Indie. Speculation was rife as to what was happening to me. Family tried to make sense of it and friends were too afraid to ask. This is how I stepped out from the shadows and into the light.
Over the past three months I have been fighting a private battle that has been tumultuous, challenging, life threatening, hard, insightful and inspiring. The time has come to share my battle which has now become my journey.
I have been recently diagnosed with a ‘chemical imbalance’ in my brain and at this very early stage they have not yet ruled out Bi Polar I. Regardless of the diagnostic label, the medications are the same and the ultimate goal is the same – fix the chemical imbalance and control the mood disorder.
My brain completely blindsided me, cheeky thing. A totally and utter ambush. Traitor. You could have warned me.
Before you ask, you don’t catch it nor do you automatically ‘get it’. You don’t wake up and become ‘chemically imbalanced’ although it can feel like it!
Chances are, like with any family, there is a distant auntie or uncle (or parent even!) on your mum’s or dad’s side out there who is a nutter (and may be a very happy one at that) who gladly and unconsciously shared the genetics. Life, just puts its finger on the detonator.
The past five years have been truly life changing. My beautiful mother passing away from Bowel Cancer, my life partner and I losing our two little precious babies, chemotherapy, my major hysterectomy and subsequent inability to have any more children, our son’s autism diagnosis, my husband’s Bi Polar diagnosis, my cancer diagnosis and its treatment and all it entails and yep, the straw that broke this brainy camel’s back was the severe (life threatening) asthma attack and the hospitalization that ensued.
My brain decided enough was enough, packed up and went home, and is still refusing to come out of the wardrobe. Petulant child. Seriously.
Mix in a bit of severe anxiety and clinical depression, a dollop of trauma and you are starting to get the picture.
Unbelievable, I know! I hear you! I have been trying to work out how it happened because at every ‘checkpoint’ where there seemed to be a ‘major crisis’ I made sure I had a support team. Whether it was the Cancer Council cancer nurses, or the oncologist psychologist. Whether it be the stillborn miscarriage association, ceremonies, social workers at the hospital, colleagues at work, close friends and family, the “blog/s’, books, DVD’s, specialists, you name it, I did it. I was licking the pencil and ticking the checkboxes.
Oh, I had supported the emotional and spiritual part of me well and truly. What I failed to acknowledge was my biological-brainy bits. Who’d have thought my brain would sit down and refuse to get up in protest! Sometimes things happen that are out of our control, no matter how much we wished them to be.
Currently, we are pampering my protesting brain with lovely, helpful and life giving medications but it still refuses to come out of the wardrobe. Its 12:05am now and should be well and truly tucked in my bed in a drug assisted sleep. Alas, here I am writing. Furthermore, until I am ‘stabilised’ I refuse to walk into a classroom. Chalk it down to personal integrity and high standards. I just won’t do it.
On the flipside, my fabulous, high-flying teaching career also fed my disorder. Anxiety and ‘mania’ were easily disguised as long term forward planning ambitious semester projects and brilliant stage & senior school designs. I excelled at organisation and was very much admired as the work we produced was nothing short of outstanding! 6:00am starts followed by 7:30pm finishes on any given day, designing, excelling, self imposed deadlines, timetables, speeding, highs, competitions, awards, productions, school holidays, crash.
The extreme mental breakdown may have just occurred, however my behavioural pattern has been a comforting old friend. It’s high time we got a divorce and moved out.
We dance a dangerous and illusive dance. It’s seductive, appealing and very socially acceptable. High achievement, top marks, top world university students, international conferencing, writing, publishing, excelling, chatty, bubbly, achieving. Harvard, Oxford, productions, top designs. The best.
I remember a psychiatric nurse reading my file said to me in a somewhat bemused disbelief that in his 35 years of psychiatric nursing experience, he had never come across that much trauma in such a short amount of time. It took him several goes to read my file to actually comprehend what had happened notwithstanding the emotional attachment and experience that I had to each event.
My resilience and strength to carry on for decades at such a high functioning level was absolutely outstanding. His words not mine. I was still focused on “my brain has crapped itself’ bit rather than the ‘superwoman’ feat that had been going on for such a long time.
My heart is open to mental illness. I am strong and empowered. I will not hide in shame. My time has come to step out of the shadows and into the light and shine, and to lead by example.
Our family is comprised of four incredibly fabulous, well-adjusted, thriving, happy & amazing human beings who look adversity in the eye, smile and spread their wings and fly.
This is but a part of who I am and who we are as individuals and as a family. Would I change that? Not at chance! It has afforded me the most amazing opportunities of a lifetime & will continue to do so.
I live and give thanks for each day and to live it to the full, even on the bad ones when it seems that life is hardly worth living. On those days I make it my goal to say good morning to the world and remind myself that living and being human, with all our cracks and flaws is a truly wonderful thing. I am still a highly intelligent, creative human being who is a fantastic mother, a brilliant provider a supportive and loving wife and a brilliant teacher.
The choice is yours if you wish to be in my life just as the choice is mine to accept whom I choose to be in it. No grudges if you wish to leave. Mental Illness is confronting and scary. It’s a world filled with stigma, doubt, shadows and darkness. I choose to let in the light and to chase the doubts with hope.
I have chosen to speak publicly because I’ll be damned if I am going to live in shame with a diagnosed ‘chemical brain imbalance’. I am determined to live by example for our children and to show them that they can be whoever they want to be and not hide their true self.
What is stigma?
People with mental illness put up with a lot more than their illness. Stigma contributes another major stress they can well do without. Many say that stigma and prejudice is as distressing as the symptoms themselves.
Most often stigma against people with a mental illness involves inaccurate and hurtful representations of them as violent, comical or incompetent – dehumanising and making people an object of fear or ridicule. (Courtesy of SANE)
I am not under any delusions that there won’t be stigma out there, that people will not pass judgement. There will be those who, once they have read this post will jump on the phone for a bit of gossip and titillation because this is the best piece is news they have heard all month. They will armchair analyse, and dissect and add their own bits to the truth. Knock yourselves out. I’ve moved on.
There will also be those who will carefully extract themselves not wishing to spend their time with me or be seen with me. A mental illness publication recommended that one should ‘choose carefully whom they disclose to’ as they can be stigmatized. I challenge that notion and say as long as we continue to hide from people we are contributing to the misinformation, misconceptions that is mental illness. This is more than wearing a blue arm band or ticking ‘like’ as a tokenistic gesture on social media pages for various organizations. As important and as valuable as they are this is a lifestyle and a way of being.
I am alive, with nothing holding me back, I walk forward embracing all that life has given me and will create new and wonderful adventures.
“I hear that voice getting stronger,
You know that it’s higher than hope.
You won’t have to wait any longer,
Stand up and let them know
That you just won’t let go.”
Daryl Braithwaite – “Higher than Hope” from the album “Rise.”
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