Tag Archives: anxiety

I’m proud of you, Harry: Getting real about mental health

Today, one of Australia’s most liked professional sportsmen, Harry O’Brien of the Collingwood Magpies AFL team, spoke to the media about his battle with depression, suicidal thoughts, past sexual abuse, and a number of other emotional and mental struggles. Because he’s a good guy with a strong social conscience who spends a lot of his spare time and influence helping others, it seems like the media are going to give him a fair go and allow him the time and space he needs to recover. In theory. (The widespread coverage of it today suggests otherwise, but we will see what happens.)

harryo

harry o’brien. credit: quinn rooney [source]

It seems like his club are supporting him as well, following emotional outbursts that saw him falling out with coach Nathan Buckley. I was extremely concerned about this statement in an ABC News articles today, though:

Collingwood demanded O’Brien return to the club today and has reportedly told the player he has to keep any emotional outbursts in check.

I really hope that’s just the reporter choosing his words poorly, and not the actual case.

O’Brien’s “good guy” status will hopefully help him here. It seems that the media have much more respect for athletes that they think are “good guys” than those that they perceive to be degenerates. (It explains why Ben Cousins got absolutely lambasted by the media for his drug problem and mental health issues, and why Brendan Fevola’s gambling addiction proved to be little more than a side note in a career of controversy, but why Jobe Watson has barely been chastised following his admission of taking a banned substance, and why The Buddy Rule is one of the most talked about – and most pushed under the rug – controversies in Australian sport (and it doesn’t just apply to Mr Franklin). Apologies to anyone not from Australia, or anyone who doesn’t give a toss about AFL, because you won’t know those names.)

I follow Harry O, as he’s affectionately known, on Twitter, and he does genuinely seem like a pretty awesome dude, so this post is nothing against him. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. I don’t know Harry from a bar of soap, but when I woke up this morning (*cough*afternoon*cough*) and saw the headlines, my heart and stomach swelled with pride and sorrow.

Mental health issues are terrifying. Not just for the individual, but for the community. We still don’t know how to deal with people who have mental health issues – must less those that acknowledge them publicly. Owning up to being depressed, suicidal, bipolar, or anxious puts the individual in a position of incredibly vulnerability, because mood disorders and mental health are still taboo topics. For Harry O to publicly talk about his battles – something that he obviously felt he had to do, given his status as a public figure (before people began asking questions about the real reason for his absence from the field last week–questions that inevitably lead to assumptions of drug use in this sport) – would have taken immeasurable courage.

“The public” (and I use that term generally, acknowledging that there are many people that make up “the public” who do not feel this way) still tend to be scared of depression, or to make a joke about it. There’s a tendency to think that everyone who is depressed is a teenager, or a goth, or pathetic, or out of control, or just not strong enough.

Guess what, everyone?

It’s not like that at all. Depression affects people from all walks of life in ways that anyone who has never experienced it first-hand could only begin to imagine.

For about the past year, I’ve made the decision to be very open about my depression, how it emerged, and how it manifests on a day-to-day basis. I haven’t written about it a lot here for a variety of reasons, although my drafts folder is full of unpublished posts about my mental state. Friends are often surprised that I talk so candidly about the fact that I live and breathe depression every single day of my life. Yep, I’m on medication. I’m on a quarter the dose that I was a year ago, and yep, I’m getting better. Am I cured? No. I don’t think I ever will be. I believe that depression is something that I will have for the rest of my life, and I don’t believe I should be ashamed about that.

My life is full of many wonderful things. I have a great family and, although I have chosen not to have a lot of friends, those that I do have inspire and challenge me to be a better version of myself. I have my health, my intelligence, and my ambition. I’m social and (I think) interesting and full of dreams. I look normal (totally acknowledging that there is no “normal”, btw), talk like a normal person, like doing the same things as most other people. I love music and art and reading and learning and keeping fit.

And, sometimes, very occasionally, I believe that life is just too much, and think about ending it.

This is an impulse that I can’t control. That’s why I take antidepressants. That’s why I spend a lot of time reading material online and in books that makes me feel better–not self-help books, but articles and books about the issues that cause  me the most anxiety. I read a lot about fat acceptance, perfectionism, the experience of being an academic, fitness, and mental health, particularly those written by people that have experienced their own struggles. I’m not interested in wishy-washy, candy-coated self help nonsense, but I have all the time in the world for no-bullshit, “sometimes the world is a fucking nasty place and the people in it suck” accounts of the world around me, because they help me to gain perspective on my own situation. Reading is my therapy. There has also been actual therapy, but it’s not right for me at this very moment in time.

The thing is, I’m not crazy. I joke sometimes that I am, but I’m not. I’m certainly far too introspective and self aware and prone to worry, but I work every day of my life to channel my anxieties and my internal negativity into something good, something productive. I refuse to be ashamed of the fact that this is who I am.

I’m proud of Harry because although I can only understand a fraction of what he’s going through, the fact that he has gone public about his struggle places another stone on the path to breaking down the stigma about mental health. People need to see public figures acknowledging the existence of this condition. Earlier this year, Stephen Fry (my love) revealed that he tried to kill himself last year. Stephen Fry! Undeniably the coolest guy in the world, top of my list for dream dinner party invitees, and publicly bipolar.

My point is that if mental illness and mood disorders are something faced by Harry O’Brien and Stephen Fry and, heck, me, there is a good chance that people you know are affected too. My own experience of going public about my depression has been that people are still really quite shocked when you do. There’s this perception that anyone who takes antidepressants or other mood-altering medication has either been misdiagnosed (because doctors are prone to overprescribing anti-Ds, apparently), is a fragile flower on the verge of self-destruction, or is bonkers bat-shit crazy, but it’s just not the case. If your employee or coworker or friend or relative has a mental illness or mood disorder, they’re still who they always were. They’ve just come out as suffering – that’s the only difference. It doesn’t mean they’re less capable of working hard or less rational or more likely to dive off the deep end, but it does mean that there’s this other part of them that needs to be acknowledged and respected because it’s fucking terrifying living as a person who sometimes feels like they can’t control the negativity in their own mind.

The reality.

Doing a PhD will break you. It’s pretty much designed to break you. Yes, even you, you who are brilliant (that almost goes without saying; it’s because you’re brilliant that you’re contemplating doing a PhD in the first place). You who are resilient and have survived several kinds of shit that life has thrown at you just to get to the point where you’re about to graduate with a brilliant degree. You who have the unconditional support of your family and friends and partners. If you have every admirable personal quality you can think of, if you have every advantage in life, still, getting through a PhD will grind you down, will come terrifyingly close to killing your soul and might well succeed. It will do horrible things to your mental and physical health and test to breaking point every significant relationship in your life.

via Livre d’Or.

Thoughts in the morning. Editing a chapter on mobile Internet, geography, embodiment, and posthumanism. Sexy.

Late night study tunes: edn. VII

Tonight’s soundtrack comes courtesy of Tame Impala’s recent album release, Lonerism.

lonerism

Unlike (what seems like) most people, I didn’t love their first album, Inner Speaker… but then again I didn’t actually listen to it extensively, so I will probably go back and revisit it.

I’m enjoying it. My brain really didn’t want to kick into study mode tonight after the weekend, which will be my last weekend off until after my thesis is handed in. It was a doozy, and I’m in pain, but it was worth it because now it’s all work, all the time.

Speaking of which, tonight, for the first time in quite some time, I’m feeling very anxious that I won’t be able to get this project done… but it’s almost certainly related to the fact that I have just begun editing the first half of my thesis and am thinking to myself, what the hell was I thinking? Reading back on one’s own work from the past four years is, unfortunately, a cringe-worthy experience.

Things you might not know (because I’ve been too embarrassed to mention them).

1. About two months ago, I had a horrible, emotionally destructive weekend that left me a sobbing, crying mess. I was later diagnosed with depression by my GP, and have since been diagnosed with severe/extreme depression, and severe anxiety, by a psychologist. Yes, I’m seeing a psych. I haven’t written about it here because I have been job hunting and didn’t want a potential employer to Google me and find a post about my depression, and judge my ability to do a job based solely upon that. It’s something I need to talk about though, and I will later, in more detail.

2. I am still waging a war against my weight every single damn day of my life. I am currently not winning the war, and really only making very minor headway in one tiny battle (the one that involves me reaching out to others for help). Again, I haven’t talked about it lately because I feel like all these incomplete attempts to get my weight under control had resulted in a bunch of people in Internet land dramatically rolling their eyes when I even mention the W word. Unfortunately though kids, it’s a massive (no pun intended) part of my life, and I need to able to talk about it openly.

3. I just bought $110 of skin care online. Whoops.

4. I want to quit drinking but don’t think I ever will. I’m far from an alcoholic, but I do want to find out who I am when there’s no booze involved. Can I be interesting or fun.

5. I don’t know if I have really quit my thesis. There’s a battle going on between my undying hatred of the damn thing, and my pride. I know that finishing it would provide me with unparalleled satisfaction, just because I hate it so much that I need to conquer it. Not going to lie: I will print & ritualistically burn a copy of the thesis, should I ever finish it.

6. I haven’t exercised with intent since my depression diagnosis. I couldn’t. Tomorrow, that changes. I’m meeting up with a lass I know through the 12WBT Perth Facebook group, because if an actual human being doesn’t drag me out the door to go for a walk, I might never go again.

7. I am so desperate to start loving myself so that I can let someone else love me, and so that I can respect myself even if no one loves me.