* Note: Names have been changed to protect the anonymity and privacy of the storyteller.
I am not exactly sure when my mental illness began but do believe I know when it came to the forefront. I grew up in a small country town where I knew practically everyone and practically everyone knew me and my family. I loved living there, where my grandparents also lived and believed I was accepted for who I was. I had a brother, who was five years older than me, with severe disabilities. When I was 9 he passed away.
My friends and the wider community were very supportive and I felt so ‘warm’ and able to be completely myself. I remember being happy in this small town. At the age of ten my family moved to a larger town where I knew a minimal number of people. I really hadn’t wanted to move but really had no choice. The first day in the school yard I was witness to bullying and awful remarks about people with disabilities. This was new to me because I had come from an environment where everyone seemed to be accepting of everyone. I didn’t know what to do but felt to be accepted I could not tell people about my brother. It took me a long time to trust telling anyone about him which is sad. Being secretive about this felt like a huge load and stressful. I wasn’t ashamed of my brother but like all children, I wanted to be accepted. I didn’t feel I could completely be myself.
Over the course of a couple of years I became close friends with three other girls. We did almost everything together until one day in year seven they all turned on me. They told me they didn’t like me and didn’t want to be friends with me anymore. Because we had been inseparable I had no other real friends. Whenever I would try to join with another group, the three girls would impose and tell them every reason why they shouldn’t. Bullying occurred in the school yard and in the classroom for many years to follow. I couldn’t wait to leave this town and the awful people in it. To this day, the bullying and the effect it had torments me. Even when I see two of these now women, I cringe and it is over 30 years later. I went to University interstate where I knew only one person vaguely, to make a fresh start. I wanted to go somewhere where no one knew me.
Although I did not entirely enjoy my course, I did have a great group of friends and was relatively happy for the first 18months. The social life was great. This all came crashing down one night. At a party on campus I ‘hooked up’ with a guy after a few drinks. I ended up being a victim of ‘date rape,’ which was my first sexual encounter. Because he also lived on campus I had to see him most days after and my mental health went down quick. ( I found out afterwards this guy had been sexually assaulted by a male family friend when younger and wanted to prove to himself he was a ‘normal’ man and he did feel bad about what happened).
From then on my way of coping was to wipe myself out with alcohol any legitimate chance I would get. This would often result in me being a crying, emotional mess and on many occasions my amazing friends would take me back to their rooms for the night on ‘suicide watch’. My friends finally got sick of this with their nights often ruined looking after me. Another male friend of mine at Uni suggested I seek counselling. This was not a good experience for me with the counsellor continually asking if I’d thought about suicide. I felt like saying that if she continued to ask me that I would seriously think it was a good idea. Her solution to all my problems was to ask my friends to the movies because I had social anxiety! I didn’t and I didn’t continue with counselling. In first year uni I had also ended up in hospital with a severe chest infection. It was then I discovered I had a permanent lung problem and was told I’d probably have emphysema by the time I was 40!
I am told many people with a chronic health condition suffer from mental illness so this didn’t help my situation. If I was to die at 40 anyway why should I hold off drinking. I moved off campus and continued to study at Uni in third year but really struggled. I hated my course and failed a lot of subjects. I had also fallen madly in love with a guy back in my home town and missed him terribly. I ended up moving back to my home town, which I had sworn I would never do, and finishing my course by distance education while also working full time, being married having children! Since then I have had my ups and downs. I saw a counsellor again in a ‘down’ time which was good for a start but in the end felt I was paying them for them to tell me their problems. I find with me that happens often! I have seen other counsellors who have been good though over the years. I know I am a caring person and like to help others. I often hear people say they can tell me their problems and talk to me knowing I won’t tell anyone else. I am also a hard worker who likes to do a good job. This can take its toll and I have consistently burnt myself out which is when my mental health suffers.
I have found the best thing for me to cope is exercise. Most days I exercise which keeps me sane, as long as I don’t do too much and burn myself out!! I also gave up coffee a few years ago and found my mental health improve dramatically. I also don’t drink alcohol anymore. I don’t see the point and feel so much healthier not doing so.
With my lung condition I have also been prescribed various medications. At one stage I was prescribed an expensive drug called singular. After taking it for a few days I felt like committing suicide. No one had warned me of the side effects which is a concern. Although my lungs improved slightly I decided it was better to not breathe as well than to not be here at all. I have found the best thing for me to cope is exercise. Most days I exercise which keeps me sane, as long as I don’t do too much and burn myself out!! I also gave up coffee a few years ago and found my mental health improve dramatically.
I also don’t drink alcohol anymore. I don’t see the point and feel so much healthier not doing so. For me depression and anxiety will be a constant part of my life which I have accepted and I just have to deal with the best I can.