Who you trying to get crazy with, ese? Don’t you know I’m loco?

Paranoia is one of the toughest things about having a mental illness

It is difficult to understand that the thoughts going through your mind are not generated by “you”. They are more directly fueled by chemical imbalance in your brain.

Forever in two minds about every conversation, every decision, every relationship, your diet, your sleep; with another voice assuring you that there is no point to any of it. It is difficult, even impossible, to put your trust in doctors or medication or therapy.  How can anyone or anything ease a disease that is so internal, so personal. When your own brain tells you that the pain is not worth the effort of living and provides lived experience, supportive evidence, why would you believe that a pill or talking could offer any peace of mind? What would that even be like anyway?

For myself internal conflict, guilt, self criticism and paranoia has always felt like a default setting. I know who I am and where I stand when I hate myself to such a degree that when things are OK I become suspicious, expectant, keenly aware that it can’t last. When my brain resets to the factory default,  starts telling me I hate myself it is easy to agree, in my history there is no evidence to prove otherwise.

For a long time I was under the impression that everyone hated themselves, at least part of themselves or at least some of the time. Everyone considers their own mortality. Everyone experiences the chest crushing pain of utter depression. Surely everyone considers and reconsiders every conversation they have had in a day, every nuance, all subtext. At least I was certain that every “normal” person felt directly offended by the actions of others.

Apparently not.

So if you believe, as I have,  that this is just how the human brain is wired, it is not difficult to understand how a person could become paranoid.

Voice 1 – “I think there may be something wrong, I can’t eat or sleep. I’m really agitated. I really don’t want to leave the house today.”

Voice 2 – “Are you sure? Don’t you think everyone feels this way? They all get on with it without whinging. Best you take yourself and your tears off to work.”

Voice 3 – “Or…maybe no one thinks this way ever and you probably shouldn’t mention it to anyone because you might worry or burden them. Remember when you made Dad cry?”

Voice 2 – “How can you burden someone with an imaginary problem? If it were really an issue would you be on your way to work right now?”

All together now – “OK. So it’s settled, we won’t say anything to anyone, it might go away. And if it doesn’t there are options.”

When you are devoid of any physical sign of illness it is next to impossible to present with symptoms and seek help. If that is a path you choose (and I strongly suggest you do) it is even more difficult to walk into a doctors office and legitimise your problem to this person you have never met before. When there isn’t anything perceived to be wrong with you, how will you approach your friends and family?

I put these thoughts, opinions and insights into words for a few reasons; it is a cathartic process for me. I also hope to offer some kind of comprehension for my friends and family and by extension offer some alleviation to those who also suffer. You are not alone and people do care. Doctors, friends, family, strangers don’t have to understand what is happening to care for you.

One of the most important reasons for these blog posts is to open the avenue for conversation. When people can understand or have some kind of comprehension of what it feels like to suffer mental illness we become better equipped to help each other. To listen without judgement. Sometimes that is all anyone wants, an ear vacant of judgement and “prior knowledge.”

“Most people do not listen with the intend to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” 

– Stephen R. Covey

 

 

 

 

The Elephant in the Room

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I was bobbing along in the ocean, admiring the shimmer of the sea, enjoying the gentle inertia and consistent calming current of the tide when a dark foaming wave disturbed my peace. It tore me from my calm focus and before I had the chance to regain my composure I was staring at a vast abyss, a tidal wave ready to drag me under.

Underneath the surface it is dark, impossible to see in any direction with no clues which way is up. Somewhere in the oppressive darkness I realise I am lost. I will drown. I may have been able to prevent this but I no longer know when I felt the first ripple in the ocean, the first telltale lick of salt water that may have prompted me to ask for some sort of lifesaver.

Now that I have sunk so deep I am left with only two options; close my eyes and give in, allow myself to be swallowed by the darkness. Or fight. Kick my legs and claw my way back to the surface.

The choice may seem obvious to some, to others there is only one option, but when you have gone so far down all decisions are murky. Sure I could fight my way to the surface of the water, using every ounce of energy and will just to get to the top. Take that lifesaving breath. But then what? I still have to tread-water just to keep breathing and when I look around the surface is not how it was before, it no longer has a shimmer, there is no calm. The white tips of waves in the making are cresting and subsiding all around me. Not to mention that no one has seen me go under so no one knows I need help.

Option two has bought me to the surface of a still rugged ocean, with no land, person, or life reserve in sight. No indication that the tidal wave that took me down in the first place won’t return. No evidence that this time the swim to shore will be quicker and easier. Not even one inkling that the people I love, and left standing on the beach believing that I was safe and well, will still be there to reach out and drag me to dry, even land, wrap me in a towel and tell me that they were always right there.

If you look at it from this perspective maybe you can understand my hesitation. The temptation to let go is so strong at times. Fighting it is like swimming against the current.

On the other hand… I fucking hate treading-water.

I hate the feeling that I am about to go under. As familiar as it is.

So I swam. Not with strength and confidence but with weariness and skepticism.

The reason for my skepticism comes from a history of going under. Wallowing in darkness.

The weariness comes from the long swim to shore. A journey that was made not that long ago.

So, if you’re still with me you may be wondering what this all has to do with the blogs title “The Elephant in the Room”. Well, nothing specifically except that this is what I want people to do. Talk bout the Elephant in the Room, you could save someone from drowning.

If you have read either of my blogs in the past then you know that I have high expectations for 2018. I want to fight the stigma that surrounds mental illness, get people talking and supporting each other without judgement. As it turns out, life had other plans, so far 2018 has not been all smooth sailing.

If you have not read any of my blogs yet…ignore the above and assume that I have soldiered forward with focus, momentum and strength. 😉

So, yep, a few waves in the ocean and blows to the resolve. But that is why I am writing this, because I have experienced the darkness and the depth, I have not spoken up or reached out when I needed to. I feel so very passionately about the struggle, that I do not want people to ache as I have and do, or to question their every little thought or become their own biggest enemy. Can we please listen without judgment and criticism. Offer the safety and warmth, the human connection of a hug or a pat on the back.

In 2 sleeps I will participate in my first trail running event of the year, Jabulani. I am running to do something life affirming, to provide my darkest self with solid undeniable evidence that I can remain positive, I can choose life, even if it’s only for a couple of hours. I want to use my events as a platform (may seem crazy but tonnes of people run, take photo’s of and talk about running) so even if running isn’t your jam please remember the underlying message.

Speak freely. Listen without judgement.

I will be changing my Insta Handle (I think that is what the young folk call it) to @Da.Elephant.In.Da.Room. So, if you see my photo’s, posts and blogs, consider them, share them.

And if you are the Elephant in the Room, don’t keep quite about it. You have a trunk, use it.

 

 

Greater Expectations

Toward the end of my first year running I suffered an overuse injury. I competed in one more event, the Inaugural Beach to Brother 21 k trail event. At the time and for several months after it was the most difficult thing I had ever done. When I rounded the last bend into the finishing shoot they said I had 10 more meters to go. I told them I couldn’t do it.

I did, but it sucked.

After Beach to Brother I had about 6 months off from running, within the first 6 weeks of the time off I was fortunate enough to spend some time in a mental health ward. I guess running gave me a path to follow.

Once I had given my injury the time to heal, I began training for my next half marathon, Bay to Bay. I quickly set my sights on a sub 2 hour finish time. I created a meticulous play list to keep me on pace and get me across the finish line when KISS where singing Detroit Rock City (because if you wanted the best, you got the best.) I finished 8 minutes and 28 seconds slower then my intended time.

It was my personal best for that distance. I was disappointed.

What went wrong? Everything was just swell until the 12 km point, that’s when I decided I didn’t want to do it anymore and my mind quit on me. Every step after that was like running in concrete boots.

Less then 8 weeks later I ran the Dubbo Stampede Zebra Zoom half marathon. I ran it in 2 hr 25 min 25 secs, my slowest road half marathon time. There weren’t too many runners behind me and my husband was waiting for me at the finish. After I crossed the finished line I cried. And I waited. I waited to feel something, a sense of accomplishment, disappointment. Something.

I can feel something now, recalling that moment. I feel hurt. I would like to cry. Because where some may argue that running these events was an accomplishment regardless of times and rankings. Some have even argued that to push myself through when I wanted to quit was an even greater accomplishment. But my argument is really simple. It was not good enough. I had not tried hard enough, pushed hard enough or run faster enough. I, was not good enough.

I would never be good enough. At anything. When the goal is to achieve 100% perfection and that goal is set by yourself then it will never be achievable. Even if I came first overall it would be because every other runner broke their ankle, or they were sick, or there where only 5 people entered thus rendering my gold medal achievment null and void.

Not good enough.

I agonized over this insight. My house would never be clean enough, I would never work hard enough, my studies would never be studious enough. I would never be a good enough mother. Or a good enough friend. Or a good enough wife. I would never be strong enough, fit enough, smart enough, funny enough, compassionate enough. I was stung by the detached memory of past “achievements”. No wonder why I never felt any praise was warranted, if I hadn’t preformed well enough by my own standards why would anyone praise my achievements. And If I couldn’t even achieve my own goals how could I live up to anyone else.

I felt numb. My achievements, however mundane or everyday became completely meaningless. I kept running, I kept cooking and cleaning, being a mum, laughing; but it was like watching an actor playing the part. Just going through the motions and doing the bare minimum.

I had entered myself in a half marathon trail run at Bouddi National park. (I know right, what the fuck is wrong with me? I am mentally unstable. Remember?) One of my closest friends and running partners told me it would be tough (cheers.) I was scared. What if I ran this race and felt awful. What if I didn’t achieve my expectations? Or worse, what if I felt nothing?

In the lead up to the event I developed a pretty disgusting throat infection. I seriously considered changing my entry to the 14 km event, although I felt that would be a defeat before the fact. (Also, I couldn’t.) So I got out of bed, laced up my shoes and with the best support crew around (husband, daughter, mother in law, best friend and her husband) I readied myself for the inevitable 3 plus hours of mental agony that was ahead of me. I joked that my support crew may be waiting up to 6 hours (I was not too far off, as it turns out.) I nervously waited on the beach with the other crazy people (I can say it, you can’t) to run around the bush and beach and mountains and be beaten by every other runner there.

My friend was not wrong, it was hard. Harder than Beach to Brother. But I was going well. I felt strong. Hot but hydrated. Then someone said we were only 5 k’s in. Why someone would say such a thing in a 21.1 km run around hell I do not know but they did. For the next kilometer I argued with myself. The same old thing. This is too hard. I can’t do this. But then, by the 6 k mark a funny thing happened. I gave myself an ultimatum; “If you can’t do this, if you really can’t. Then there is no point. Get to the next aid station and tell them you’re done.” There was no point in crossing another finish line and feeling nothing. Or, “You can keep going and make the most of every step.” And as it is not within me to quit, that is what I did.

I smiled. I waved, congratulated and high-fived all the passing runners. I stopped at each of the aid stations and had a chat, ate their food, made inappropriate jokes about breaking my ankle. I danced and sang.

I ran (please note; I use this term very loosely) across the finish, shoes in hand, smile on my face at 3 hrs 56 mins 17 secs.

I have never felt better. I did it. I had come in first place!

Kidding…

I had let go of the insane pressure I was placing on myself.

In letting go I have had some of the best months of my life.

As my avid blog followers know (all 3 of you,

 

thanks mum) I am in the base training stage for 4 big runs this year and at this stage in my training all I want to achieve is the ability to maintain the mental fortitude required to allow myself a sense of accomplishment. To be able to run any distance without berating myself.

I know that I can finish, I have done it before. And I don’t need to win. Just to smile.

“Make sure your worst enemy doesn’t live between your own two ears.” 

  Laird Hamilton.

AUTHORS NOTE: I may have come a long way in the last few months but please hold the accolades and compliments. That’s just awkward.

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Twenty 18 Goals

Not what you think, this will not be a confusing list of twenty goals related to the number 18 but indeed a statement of personal goals I hope to achieve in the year twenty-eighteen. A list of resolutions if you will. (The confusing title is to draw you in and appear hip and cool.)

So, at the end of 2016 (or twenty 16) I made the decision to take my life. I had come to a similar crossroads many times in my life but never with so much clarity. Plans were made. My final moments were passing  me by with a surreal sadness, I felt relief and certainty in my decision. It was not an easy decision to come to, I was not giving up on life more putting an end to my souls suffering and an end to the weight bearing down on those around me.

As I sit here now, typing this you know that, for better or worse, my plan did not come to fruition.

After spending time in a mental health ward, being prescribed a wonderful new treatment of drugs and with everything being out in the open I felt a renewed lease on life. It would be easier now.

2017 was one of the hardest years of my life. I became acutely aware of my words and actions and without the fall back of alcohol I lost all self confidence. Less of a sense of identity then ever before. I continued to do the things that I do, look after my family, maintain an appearance of togetherness, exercise, running half marathons, eating well, study, read, socialize, watch t.v. Without realizing I had fallen into the misguided belief that by telling everyone I was fine, I would be. Fine. Whenever I came upon a moment of joy a flurry of crippling guilt would soon follow. I did not deserve to be here.

But I am fine. Just ask.

Anyway, after many attempts to achieve peace of mind and silence the never ending stream of self doubt, nonsense, hatred, to do lists running laps in my mind I came an inevitable conclusion. I had been right; maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but one day I would take my own life. There is no other way out.

Then some other things happened. Silly actions followed by halfhearted epiphanies which eventually led me to another doctors office, another diagnosis and more new medication.

Eventually the fog began to clear. I can remember when it began to lift, I was on a run and I realized my heart felt lighter, I was smiling. That moment was pivotal. If you have ever seen the movie Trolls, it was like the part when Branch sings True Colours and he and Poppy and all the other Trolls get their colours back. My colour was coming back. It didn’t return in the time it takes to sing one song. Or to sing a whole album. There are still some grey areas.

Once the fog had lifted I was able to see what created clarity and space in my mind and I set forth to achieve it. I laid it bare for my family, for my friends and for all of Facebook to see. I felt raw and exposed but stripped bare and able to rebuild.

The rest of 2017 was one tiny step at a time until I remembered some things about myself that had been forgotten, I am kinda funny (well, I think I am), I am intelligent and able to consider things and weigh the arguments. I have a great wealth of compassion and empathy, which I may not apply to myself but gives me a sense of worth and fulfillment when applied to those around me. I have had to learn to be honest with myself and others in a way that is not jarring and to trust that people will do the same for me.

So in further pursuit of mental clarity and creating some cushioning for my next melt down I have set myself some goals (or resolutions, as I call them). As I mentioned earlier, I run, I like running as it keeps me on the straight and narrow (unless the path is windy and wide), it brings me focus; on my breathing, my feet, my surroundings. Most importantly; it is really hard to train for an event and hate yourself at the same time. Therefore to prove to myself and my enemies (all of whom take form in the dark recesses of my mind) that I can move forward, I can accomplish something, that my life has value beyond the foot of the bed, I have signed up for the Maximum Adventure Triple Threat and the Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon. These challenges will consist of a the 22 km Jabulani Trail Run in April, the Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon 42 km in June, 36 km Rafferty’s Coastal Run in July and finally the 30 km Coastal Classic in September.

What I aim to achieve by putting this all out there is to gain support and more importantly accountability. Beyond that I hope to share my experience with you, it will undoubtedly be a difficult road. I hope to start a conversation. I will challenge the stigma that exists around mental illness. I hope to draw attention to the internal battles that 1 in 5 Australians are fighting against themselves everyday. I want to open the avenues of communication and support and make people question there own beliefs and expectations of others.

I want to win the war.