In your head

Like a lot of people, I grew up with a mum with mental illness. It was called manic depression back then, and it saw her committed to mental health units at times, a constant round of visits to psychiatrists to try and tweak the meds, to make it right. All of this was largely unsuccessful, so for my dad and I, it became woven in the fabric of our lives, and dictated our days. Most mornings would see us creeping out to the kitchen to see what we were going to get that day. A jovial and generous woman, who we delighted in, or the other woman inside her, bitter, raging, accusing us of not loving her, and waiting for her to be dead.

As a child and teenager, I couldn’t understand it at all. Why could she not just snap the fuck out of it and be like “everyone elses mum”? In my late teens and 20’s, I constantly feared “becoming like her”, for years the spectator, then the host. This never materialised. Over the years, like everyone, I have had a few “down” days, which served to increase my compassion of what she endured, in that I could say “gosh, imagine feeling like this ALL THE TIME”. Compassion yes, but not really understanding.

A couple of years ago, I studied a mental health unit at TAFE. Every week someone in the class was in tears, often it was me, as things we were learning resonated with me, thinking of my mum. It’s impossible to understand this state of mind if you have not actually been in it, but I was starting to get some insights. Then came a real turning point. We watched a dvd in class, I can’t remember the name, but I know Andrew Denton was central to it, in a quest to understand what it was like to live in such a confused and frightening place every day. He was was told to go about his day, go to the bank, the supermarket, work etc, but he had to do it wearing headphones all day that shouted at him about how shit he was, how useless, ugly, worthless. Tears streamed down my face as I watched him try and concerntrate and speak to people while the voices were trying to speak over the top of him. He looked quite shaken after the experience, and I know I was. Incredibly powerful. My poor mum.

Since this terminal cancer business, I have had a few bog standard panic attacks, and certainly quite a few “down days”. It is situational, I know why it is happening, and I know I just have to work through it. Sure, I will go into a hole, go into the dark, with always with the surety I would emerge again with my game face on.

Lately, I haven’t been so sure. A few weeks ago, I started to experience strange episodes where I felt outside myself. Like I was watching my life, simply a ghost in it. Like the world was someone other people’s and I had no place or part in it. This on it’s own would have been bad enough, but it got gradually blacker and more alarming. Days where I could not emerge from my bed, having to get people to help with school runs etc, as I got terrified to leave the house, lest I go back to that floating above myself feeling, which was somewhat dulled by the dark room. Through this almost agoraphobic state, I managed to see Tana off for camp last week, speak to a few mums at school, pick her up at the end of the week and take her for a milkshake etc. It was hard, but I couldn’t let her down. By the start of this week however, I had gone very downhill. I spent Monday morning wondering how the fuck I was going to muster what I needed to see Dakota and Indi off for their week of camp. I always see the camp bus off. So, I got up, screamed at them like a lunatic over small things, cried, sat in the car shaking and wondering how I was going to drive. I finally got to the school and stayed in the car until the bus arrived and they were about to get on, so terrified was I that anyone would speak to me. When I finally got out of the car at the final possible minute, I hid behind the shed, trying to make myself as small as possible, bawling behind my sunglasses. A mum friend went to approach me and I scurried off like a frightened rat, the thought of speaking nearly inducing a panic attack. Once the bus left, I put up a public facebook message, begging my legion of beautiful friends not to approach me or come over, that I needed to be alone. Then I tore back to the cave, where I made a call to my GP, who agreed to see me that afternoon. I was not in any way, shape of form functioning, and I was terrified.

He confirmed what a lot of my friends were saying….that I was experiencing dissassociative behaviour, a defence mechanism in the mind to basically shut it down when things become too much. Common to survivors of trauma, which 2 years of tackling terminal cancer and all it’s associated mind fucks most certainly is. He increased my anti-depressant dose, and I will see him again in a week to see what else we need to do. I already feel a slight emergence from the fog, but there will be no quick fix this time, this has become part of me now.

Some of the most moving messages I have received since my book was published have been from people who tell of many years of battling mental health issues. Some have said truly extraordinary things, like that my words had penetrated a wall that many years of therapy and meds had not been able to break down. I honestly don’t know how I have done that, but it is a beautiful thing to me if I managed to make someones day a little bit brighter, when they are fighting such massive battles, year after year, after year.

You see, I get it now. I won’t insult anyone by saying that I know what it’s like to go through something like this for a long time – I can only imagine. But I do know what it’s like to be literally paralysed by the turmoil in my mind. A friend of mine facebook messaged me and said she knew what it was like to be literally stonewalled by the concept of walking into the supermarket to get milk, and she offered to get the milk for me, any time. Jesus fucking christ, people live like this, sometimes all day, every day.

I am at the receiving end of so much compassion. In real life, through this blog, through social media. And while life is not a pissing contest as to who is suffering the most, I want you all to know that if you are battling your mind, all the time, or even a lot of the time, I love you, and I hope you have a lot of other people in your life who love you too. I wish for you understanding, and peace from the darkness. I am no more deserving of compassion than you are, as, just like me, you are fighting for your life, every day. You are the bravest people I know, you are fucking amazing.

I’m so sorry mum…..I love you….I understand.

7 Comments on “In your head

  1. Thank You so much for ur words. I feel people do not understand but reading this and being on this fb has helped me a lot. Many many blessings to u.xxx

  2. I also had a mum like yours Julia. We kids could never understand why she was so angry all the time when she had a lovely hardworking husband and us Kids who loved her. We blamed her for our unhappiness and couldn’t wait to leave home. We didn’t realise she needed us so much. Best wishes and love Julia and thank you.

  3. This teally touches home for me. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 2 years after my siater died and 1 month after my eldest was born. She is now 15 and i struggle to talk to her about my illness. She knows i take pills to be happy and that i often go really fun and crazy energetic for a few weeks a year. I dont want to dĂșie, we are very close. She also has a younger sister who is 12. I have been more anxious with my eldest than youngest for some

  4. This is an amazing story and one that I live everyday. Thank you for your courage and honesty in sharing with the world your insights and true understanding. I have lived in hell from childhood and it is such an isolating feeling (not to mention isolating in reality) I have lost so much, but I have also gained so much. That is the parallel of mental health. It is not all in our heads, it is in our souls and our physical biology. With understanding and love we are better humans. Those that don’t or won’t educate themselves on this dark and lonely road will never be able to light anyone’s life up and will only end up in the dark themselves. xo

  5. Snap! I knew my mum had manic depression (bipolar) when I was a teen, though I didn’t really know what that meant your description sure sounds familiar. I’ve done a lot of reading and had a lot of counselling since then and nowadays we think she also suffer borderline personality disorder and possibly even sociopathic disorder. My siblings and I have had our own struggles with mental health, nothing as severe thankfully, but like you, always worrying we would turn out “like her” …

  6. Julia, I hope you are holding up ok after scan results. Fingers crossed here. I wish you every good thing and I’m sorry this is happening to you. *hug*

  7. I really needed this tonight! Today was one of those days for me when I have been locked in my dark cave of depression and not been able to deal with the world! The way you describe it is spot on and not many people truly understand! The mind is such a powerful thing that can sometimes be so debilitating .💜Reading your blogs Julia and I feel blessed to have been able to have met you in Sydney I just wish I knew alot more about you when I met you so we could talk more instead of watching episodes of houseos (although hilarious ) while I did your hair and makeup , your truly an inspirational lady xxx

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