I want to talk about living with mental illness. Not a poetic, romanticised picture. Not a personal log to spark empathy or pity; but what you might notice when you live with someone who struggles with their mental health.
Let’s split it into stages, let’s keep it anonymous, let’s generalise a really specific and internalised experience, within a family unit. Before I begin, let it on the record that I’m not a professional, I’m not in anyway trying to turnover the work in which goes into unpacking an individual’s experience. Do not read this and think I for one second, know anything for sure.
This is from the outside looking in. Coming from love. From hurt and exhaustion, but mostly from love. This is not advice on how to react. Nor is it in any way, an attempt to demonise a very common matter. I don’t think that mental illness is beautiful, I think it’s testing and painful. More often than not the people going through their own problems, and the people that can only look on; they get stuff wrong. Really wrong.
In speaking on these experiences, I hope you might resonate. I hope you know you aren’t alone. If you are someone or love someone that’s having issues with their mental health; here’s a few simplified examples of what I’ve experienced living alongside a person, who sometimes can’t see past their illness.
Some days it’s subtle, other times the slighted attitude turns into rage. I would often consider the smallest of details so not to rock the boat. However, I’ve come to terms with the notion that this is not about the room one walks into. It’s usually about the repression of feelings one can no longer ignore, that one falls into.
This is a split between distance from what one is known to do; and distancing oneself from people who truly know them. Sometimes you might not see them for days, and they’re just down the hallway. Sometimes they have entire sides of themselves you weren’t introduced to, purely because each facet taps into a different state of mind.
I really wanted to title this preoccupation. This might be considering every detail of a hypothetical. Reading into or misreading a situation on a very deep and triggering level. Projection into the future and causing worry, or some days dwelling on the past. Anxiety takes both physical and nine physical forms, both of which I’ve watched and it took so long for me to feel like I was empowered to be helpful and empathetic.
Whether it is tangible reasoning behind it or not. Guilt is an incredibly consuming process. For the person I love this is a major gateway to shame, distance or repression of emotions. Guilt (along with all of the stages stated) can be experienced, and an individual without mental health issues will have the tools to process and unpack those feelings in a way someone whose struggling may not.
Personally to watch someone ashamed or uncomfortable with their choices, is an incredibly hard thing to do. When I as an onlooker can’t change the circumstances in which someone might feel guilt, I am at a loss for how I can speak on it convincingly.
The hardest part of persevering through the lows, is trying to be present in the highs. In the thick of rough patches, I find myself in the wrong mind set as a support person. Watching someone you love, enjoy themselves and live their truth, should be rewarding. Don’t feel guilty about considering how long this might last, I do. I consider what triggered their high in the first place- is it a sustainable source of fulfilment?
Try to remember that while mental illness often feels all engulfing, there is so much more to the person you love. Although the bad days seem so draining and testing for everyone involved. That person you keep fighting for, they are an entire universe of good things, along with the challenging.
Remember to try your hardest not to take things personally, to allow distance within reason. To allow feelings to be felt, for moments to be had; but that this illness is not the end of us. Remember to take care of yourself, you cannot pour love from an empty cup.
This is not the extent of mental illness as an experience. I don’t have a degree in social work. It’s just a daughter, grand daughter, sister, aunt, friend- loving the people who give her so much joy and purpose. It’s loving the people in my life for everything they have to offer, the good and the bloody hard to handle some days.
It’s a call out to anyone whose reading thats been pushed away or attacked or genuinely confused by what just happened; yet you call back. You visit once more. You still go home with your significant other. You make your parent a cup of tea and close their bedroom door, so they can have space. You still ask your mate to coffee again, the following week.
Keep on loving, as hard as you can, unconditionally. Keep on taking care of one another.
The women I know don’t fit into boxes. There’s no perfect balance, no symmetry. The women I know are an evolving contradiction. Much like me, they confuse those who look onto them. The women I know are entire forces. Much like me.
Over the last three years this blog has become a journal of sorts. An opportunity to share and unpack some of my more vulnerable moments. In choosing vulnerability, I have been able to connect with so many incredible people. Some whom I’ve known of for years. Others, were complete strangers.
Often after posts people might comment or message, and I am so humbled to constantly exchange advice or affirmation. I receive a lot of messages that in ways, no matter how hard I try to avoid it, validate me. I want to talk about where this validation stems from. How projections of an individual can warp their sense of self.
I started to become really conscious of what I posted, and the picture being painted. I started avoiding conversations that asked me of my opinion, in case I contradicted it in the future. I avoided praise, I denied it. People didn’t see me missing the bus, falling down the stairs. I don’t post a selfie or go to coffee the days I cant get out of bed. The days I don’t eat at all or binge my feelings. I didn’t want to build a facade online or in person.
While enjoying a sense of support, I noticed a dialogue that had been set. I would get really interesting responses to things that seemed “too political” or if I posted a revealing picture, people were so surprised. I had to review this dichotomy of my realities. I didn’t understand, how in someone’s mind I was this overbearing politically minded woman, who most likely doesn’t like most people. Yet ten minutes later someone will message, thanking them for being so authentic and comfortable in my skin, that I’m some kind of wholesome and inspiring leader.
How I present to people I’ve just met, to followers on a blog, or social media platform, are very specific parts of me. How I interact with my family or my partner, or how I hold my self in a professional setting. I am like so many of the women around me, expansive. Multi-faceted to the point where boxes just don’t work anymore.
I have had countless conversations with women who feel reduced to the degree that their studying, the one interaction they had with someone or the booty pic they posted. One of the most recent interactions I’ve had with my boyfriend; was me telling him I felt minimised by his comments. Like my nature should be fun and flirty and when I ask a question it didn’t have standing. I don’t think people do it on purpose, especially the people that love me.
I understand this exchange as an individuals presentation of self not being a facade- but a natural reaction to context. Contextually my family know and love me being loud and kind and goofy. I am lighter and softer when my boyfriend is around. I’m usually trying to start a revolution with my long running friends. When people only have access to you online; they can only understand what you post.
Understand this; I’m not and never will be projections of me. All an individual can do, is work on becoming the closest version of their authentic self. That is what is important to me. Every day we are given boxes to check or to fill, even reduce to. We can be seen in so many different way. We are none of those things, and all of them. How we perceive ourselves is the most important thing in the world. A woman who understands who she is and where she’s been is a woman ready to achieve anything she damn well pleases.
“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
― Audre Lorde
I wasn’t going to write about moving to Sydney, I’m not the first and I definitely wont be the last young woman to go to university. I don’t want to write about public transport, or sharing my home with one hundred and thirty strangers; or ending up in the northern beaches on my way to the inner west (I was hungover give me a break) definitely not discussing ordering and eating a big brekkie and my card declining in front of a cafe in Randwick (crying real tears right now).
This is an attempt to share my internal monologue with you, of the small moments of loneliness, of self doubt and anxiety, of my grief and how it changed once I only had myself to take care of. To explain all the adrenaline of receiving love and support on making the move- but not wanting to leave bed or eat for days on end.
I’ve been here for three months now, caught between the excitement of what is new, and the residue of my home and all that it gave to me, I am slowly growing into myself. I am happy here, not because it’s the right thing to do but because it’s the right fit for me. I am more than excited to be learning again. To see myself in the communities around me and feel like I am seen here, for my authentic self and her interests; I appreciate that.
There were times however, when I felt cut off from the love that I received so consistently that I questioned my self worth. This previous term was the first thing I have done academically in over three years, I often felt inadequate next my peers in lectures and in class.
I felt pressure to make this move work, inadvertently in my family’s missing me, in the friends, work and partner I left behind. I know I put this pressure on myself, but on the days I missed home most I felt embarrassed to be vulnerable. I didn’t want anyone to know that after all of this fuss and excitement, I was sad.
This post should be titled I hate, I mean absolutely despise long distance (was advised against that one). Ben and I were in such a specific place when I left town. We spent a hell of a lot of time together and moving was a major shock to the system.
Falling in love was like pouring honey, a thick black treacle; the golden syrup you tilt slowly and then all at once. for reasons no one can quite pinpoint, and I was young. I was eighteen when I met Ben, and even though I barely knew what it meant to date a man- I have not been as sure of myself as that time of my life.
We are nearing on three years together and I hope I know him as well as he knows me. I think learning an individual’s love language is the deepest privilege. I refer to us often in my posts but I think the labour of a relationship, the magic of a shared experience is between the two people involved.
I can however admit this, in addressing all of my relationships platonic or otherwise. I hated having to know the people I love in hindsight. Catching up on our day, recounting our weekend, FaceTiming our dinner it made me want to come home once every couple of days.
Thinking about it now, in a healthier mind set. I am so lucky that the people I love want me to come home, that my partner travels to see me, that my friends keep me in the loop. People put less effort into the loved ones they share a home with- who am I to demand certain kinds of love right?
I did two things that really worked, at a time I needed it most. the first was attending an induction at my local headspace and allowing myself to open up to the idea of getting help, the second was something my younger self taught me. I wrote a list of all the things I wanted and then I wrote what that would look like.
It started off with things like “I will eat more” and that looked like me going to my common kitchen. Then I wrote things like “attend every lecture” and I did this genius thing where I got the hell out of bed. Some days it was harder, like exploring the city or finding the right job.
I started to write “I’m going to get a distinction” instead of “I need to finish this essay” I found comfort in my new friends, some old friends and the genuine electricity of the city. With the work I did alone, and the help I got (am still receiving) I acknowledged that my grief had taken a new shape.
Much like the rest of my family I would prefer to address my feelings in private. I committed myself to tasks and called that grieving. Initially there was a funeral to plan, family to console, friends to help. Then I had a job to focus on, an exciting relationship, fun to have. I had nieces and siblings and beautiful over the top friends. Until I didn’t, until they were hours away and we missed each other’s calls and I was really bloody sad.
If you want your come back to be fiercely strong, you need to be fiercely true with yourself. I know this now, and I know manifesting a vision is not the same as sitting and dreaming. You have to tell yourself you’re amazing and capable and worthy but what’s the point of all of that power if you’re hiding in your college room.
I am so incredibly uncontrollably happy, I am stimulated and challenged; I feel welcome and I’m sad, I am antisocial and anxious- but I’m working on it.
“Just give the insecurity thing a rest” as if one picks such a thing from the shelf; only to dust it off and sit it back in place. I tilt my head, hoping perspective would fix it. I wonder if we ever truly know, just how much of our parents we carry with us.
I was raised by a single mother, long before they had ever signed the papers. I know my mother like the back of my hand- she makes a routine of herself. My father however, I have only ever known through a tainted scope. Head tilted, I see my father- if only for a split second- and I know I have started tracing circles into the weaving of my choices.
I haven’t written for a while, mostly because I would rather post a resolve than a rant. For months I’d hoped the few scribbled sentences I had been carrying around, would give me an insight into what is actually going on with me. I believe, just like many of you reading right now, that I am a collection of cycles. I see myself rounding in and beginning again in a lot of the choices I have made. In the repetition I have found a nostalgia of sorts- with this projection into my past I can’t help but try to navigate the moments and people that have shaped me.
It begins and ends with our fathers, no matter the nature of the relationship. They become the men we model ourselves to be, or the character we try to avoid. They are the type of men we fall in love with, or perhaps we find a love that takes care of us better than our fathers ever did. For a long time I believe I was affected by the mess in which he caused. Quick to anger, hesitant to trust. I see traces of it still. I am ambivalent, I see things in finite phases, I am constantly adjusting.
The home that wrapped its arms around me, was warm- soft to touch and the first to say “I love you”. Dinner time was loud, and Friday night footy was louder- and it mostly included my dad. One person’s fears and shortcomings, cannot boil down to the actions of another individual. I know this.
This scope I seem to measure my dad’s love on is never in his favour. I have fathers, I have fathers ten times the Dad he ever was or could ever hope to be.
My mother is one hundred and fifty percent, from the moment she wakes to the moment we sleep. In anger, or joy, excitement, sheer pride. She is there, with her whole conviction, attention and heart. She taught me to love, to respect, to persevere.
My maternal uncle has taught me that my mind is my biggest tool. To fuel it, train it and speak it. That even as I’m learning, even if he has his own battles- he will be there. My eldest brother, he taught me to keep some things for myself. That the goal was always further than here, the picture always bigger than now. At the time I thought his expectations were unreasonable- but all he ever wanted was for me to work hard, keep my modesty, my dignity and my drive.
I am half of my father, in all it’s undeniable rage. It is unreasonable to say he wasn’t there, when clearly I remember him present. There is a significant difference, however in taking up space physically- and giving weight emotionally.
Growing up I felt, never quite good enough for him. He just couldn’t manage to get to an assembly on time, never really made a fuss of birthdays, seemed too busy to make it to a netball or basketball game. The love he did show didn’t make sense to me, now I look back I know it was there- but it wasn’t enough to make a twelve year old feel safe or wanted or cherished.
On the day I was accepted into university, he sent a “congrats” gif on messenger. This was the first contact made in three years. At the time his attempts fell short, they still do. Seventeen year old me really took it to heart, in hindsight I believe we can only ever exercise a love we are capable of. My mother greeted me at the airport with a bunch of balloons and roses- because that’s the love within her.
I think about him a lot, inadvertently and uncontrollably. I know deep down the circle you trace is a result of all the different kinds of love you receive- and so I watch what I give and receive everyday. I hope I am adequate company, kind enough to my peers, interested enough in my partner. I hope to pay the attention my dad didn’t, in all facets of the things I do.
In this tracing of circles I am short tempered and forthright. I’m not angry anymore, how could I waste such energy while I’m basking in the love I get today. In the bigger deeper, more deserving love I’ve lost. No, I am quick to cut people off- friends, family, partners- because I know what mediocre love feels like, and that is a circle I refuse to begin.
I’m sure you feel boxed in, I remember it- that yearning. I’m sure you feel like the good days don’t matter, trust me the sooner you learn to be present the lighter you’ll feel. There’s higher highs than this, you always knew there was more to come. What you can’t possibly imagine is the pain you learn to carry, the strength you have to find.
Everything must seem so big. The boys you fuss over, the friends you lose, the assignments you refuse to address. Slowly- as if watching a rose unravel- you learn what it means to be a good friend. We’ve not yet blossomed, i’m still learning. The girls that leave you behind won’t ever rise with you, give it time. Find yourself, that’s how you find your people.
Your friends now, they know you, even in the darkest corners of yourself they understand. Deep down you know all about those boys, and you end up making the right decisions- I’m thankful for that. Don’t stray too far from home for what you think you need.
A good man is not determined by the degree he holds, or the money in his account. It’s the decision he makes every day to learn what it means to love and be loved. Those assignments, there’s more- plenty of them. Use the drive you have to learn and turn it into a passion to execute. Sooner, rather than later please.
At the moment you’re still mourning Momo Joe’s passing, I wish you’d open up. There are people willing to listen, don’t ever be too proud to ask for help. That anger that you feel about dad leaving, that’s mourning too. Tap into how loss makes you feel, it makes it easier to appreciate the love you get given everyday. You lost two father figures at once, and I’m so sorry but neither of them come back.
You do have Junior, hold onto him tightly. Squeeze him when you hug, apologise even when you know he’s in the wrong. Agree to the Brandi and Ray J joke. Give him the bloody south Sydney jersey on Christmas day, he steals it anyway. Tell him how much he means to you and thank him for stepping up when others stepped out.
Hold onto all of your siblings, as the family grows and endures it gets hard to check in. As you all grow up and mum gets older, the things that you have to face, it changes you all and you miss them.
Even if you hate being wrong, even if you don’t see it- listen to mum. She knows what she’s talking about. Unfortunately the heartache and adversity you endure, she’s been there before. Listen, watch, respond to what plays out before you.
If I could advise anything, it would be to stay true to yourself. Authenticity is freedom, you meet so many parts of yourself very soon. It’s exciting and scary and sometimes its heartbreaking. The relationships you forge however are so special, you find those people- the ones that love you or hate you- through being that authentic self. Nothing and no one is worth compromising her.
I read a quote from Solange Knowles a few months ago that explains you and the woman you’re becoming perfectly. “You will take the long way to get to these Orions. the long way will become a theme in your life, but a journey you learn to love.”
I don’t want to spoil too much for you, the magic of the next few years is in the fact that you have no idea what you’re doing. It’s your 21st year now, you’re in an airport waiting to go home. You’re going home to some new editions to the family, with some old ones on your mind- but you’re doing alright.