I’m writing this during a really bad day where my depression and pain are making me feel like I’m crawling through waist deep mud just to get anything done. I tell you this because it’s important for me to acknowledge that just because my mental health is still relatively stable, it doesn’t mean that I don’t still have bad days. But even in the depths of depression sometimes we just have to finish things that are important.
This is the first post in the new Stigma Fighters Down Under site. I’m proud of the way this page has come together, and I thought I’d share the journey from when I first shared my Stigma Fighters Story (Helen W) in October 2014 to the launch of this site on Australia Day 2015.
When I first shared my story the reaction amazed me. I had so many positive comments from people I knew and my friends were super supportive. One friend was inspired to share her story too (Dani Smith), others made ongoing efforts to educate themselves and be there for me. I was also fortunate to have people who didn’t want to share their story in public message me. In some cases they simply wanted to let me know I was not alone, in other cases it was the first stage of getting help for themselves, and yet more people just wanted to connect with someone who would understand. I have made new and lasting friendships, and found new support networks because of the act of sharing who I really am, mental illness and all.
And yet not everything was champagne and roses. I was expecting some negative feedback, but it never came. I know some of my friends think it is inappropriate to talk about mental illness publicly, but luckily they just scrolled on by. I have had one person comment that they didn’t believe in “all this BS” and that I should just “look in a mirror” and affirm to myself what a wonderful person I am. That being said the same person has been amazingly supportive of this new initiative, liking and sharing our FaceBook page and Twitter feed.
No, the problems came from another and unexpected direction. I got too involved. I began to spend more and more time online, reading blogs, commenting on Stigma Fighter stories, talking to other people with mental illness – you get the picture. In effect I withdrew from the real world into my own online one. And inevitably this led to me neglecting the 2 most important relationships in my life, my boyfriend and my housemate (my ex partner of 15 years, and now my best friend). I also began to self medicate again with alcohol and pot. Pot in particular made me paranoid and clingy, not desirable behaviors.
My boyfriend tried several times to get the message through that this behaviour was isolating him, but didn’t succeed. It took drastic measures to do that.
About a week before Christmas (which the three of us had planned to spend together) he told me bluntly that he couldn’t continue with this relationship the way it was. That he had his own emotional needs and I simply wasn’t being there for him. That he was beginning to feel like the carer in the relationship and he didn’t want that. he wanted a relationship where we both cared for each other. It is safe to say I didn’t take this at all well. I cried, I got mad and lashed out with words, I begged him to stay, I said I wanted him to leave now and give me back his key, again, you get the picture.
But when I had calmed down a bit I retracted my position. I asked him to stay the night. I said that I would look at how I was acting and work with my psychiatrist to try and change the behaviors. So we agreed to give it a chance, not right then but the next day when I was able to see the truth in his words and admit to myself that he was right. I had indeed been all take and no give. And I was able to say as much.
The conversation with my psychiatrist was NOT easy. I had to ‘fess up about everything. All my behaviors, what had been said, my substance abuse, the fight, Everything. But I found support. First of all I recognised what had been happening and we worked out ways to change this. Secondly I was given additional medications to take me through periods when boredom or stress would drive me into the arms of drink. And most of all I committed to following up how I had been going with this regularly.
Christmas was a joy, and New Year was a blast. The clarity I gained also allowed me to notice another behaviour that my boyfriend had been trying to alert me to, emotional over-reactivity. I would get worked up at the littlest irrelevant things. My boyfriend kept saying “not my monkeys not my circus” to me to bring my attention to this behaviour. So once again I took it to the psychiatrist. We figured out that something about the things I was reacting to were “triggering” me because of past events. Rather than go off like a loose canon I had to take a step back, breathe, and ask myself why I was reacting like this. Mostly I have been successful, although the past week has seen me overreact about one particular issue quite badly. But that has passed now.
In amongst all this Stigma Fighters was growing as an organisation and expanding. It became a US company with Sarah Fader and Allie Burke as board members. They are now in the process of filing an application to become a 501C (tax-exempt non-profit organisation). New chapters have also started up;
Ross Hamilton came up with the initial idea for Stigma Fighters Down Under and I was keen to become involved. We have a Twitter feed and a Facebook page that you can link to from the sidebar. We hope you will join us in this exciting new chapter of the Stigma Fighters Journey.
And me? I’m still a work in progress. I’m trying to mitigate the damaging behaviors, exercise more, be present for people. I’m not going to pretend it’s easy, it’s not. But it is worth it.
I am Helen White – Content Manager Stigma Fighters Down Under. I live with Borderline Personality Disorder and Chronic Pain, which I manage with the help of a collection of amazing specialists. I share a house with 1 1/2 men, 5 fish and 2 very spoiled Siamese. I hope to go back to studying for a Masters in Information Management this year, and I am also learning how to garden – so far the roses are growing and flowering nicely. 🌹