Mental illness: My struggle

NB: Before I start this post, I want to make it clear that this isn’t me making a well thought out political statement, and I’m probably not going to reach any positive conclusions. This is me not pleading for help, this is simply me letting out some of the hurt that I live with on a daily basis. I don’t want pity, I don’t want obligation-fuelled well meaning but nonetheless patronising comments. I get that enough already, and I’m fucking sick of it.

At age 14, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. At the time, being the naive and vaguely optimistic teenager I was, I thought that medication would “fix me”, that I’d take a few pills for a few months, and magically, it would all disappear, and I’d never have to think about it again. So when my doctor prescribed me an anti-depressant, I took it, and waited for it to build up in my system to the point where it was supposed to have an effect. It didn’t. So, I went back to my doctor, and still faithful to the medical establishment, I took her advice and increased my dosage. Again, no noticable effect. So again, I increased my dosage. After a while, this began to have an effect, but certainly not a desirable one – my sleep, already poor, became even worse, my appetite became totally insatiable (I put on around 15-20kg in just 2 or 3 months), and frequent uncontrollable mood swings were the order of the day. Clearly, I could not take this medication any longer, so my doctor switched me to another pill. A short time later, my dosage was again increased, to the point where I was taking twice the reccomend maximum adult dosage, at age 15. The side effects from this medication were similar to the previous one, only amplified massively. To cope with my severe lack of sleep (50+ hours without sleep wasn’t uncommon, and what little sleep I did get was in short bursts and unsatisfying) I was given sleeping pills, which at least gave me a few nights healthy rest.

All through this time I was also seeing a counsellor, an experience which I have tried my hardest to erase from my memory. It essentially boiled down to hours of being patronised, of being asked to talk and then not being listened to…I quickly began to dread my appointments and frequently refused to go.

As this dragged on and on, it got to the point where I decided I could take it no longer. While camping in January 2001, I threw all my medication into a river and swore to myself I would never take anti-depressants again, a promise I have kept to. And yet, almost 8 years since I was first diagnosed, my illness still effects me in every waking moment. Two or three times a year, during especially bad periods, I consider going back on medication, but the memories of the side effects are still too strong in my mind to allow myself to do that.

My illness definately marginalises me within society. I can think of a number of friendships I have lost due to it – both from friends, who, feeling unable (or unwilling) to offer any meaningful level of support that I have needed from time to time, have simply run away, and from people who’s response has been so patronising or otherwise offensive that I have lost any desire to be friends with them.

So often, people delegitimise mental illness. I have primarily experienced this in two ways. The first regards mental illness in a way that noone would ever regard physical illness – with virtual contempt for the sufferer. This way sees the sufferer as “too weak”, otherwise they would be able to “get over it”. The second, however, is more worrying for me personally, as I think it is limited to the anarchist/activist milieu, which is what I mostly hang out in – this is the belief that the sole cause of mental illness is the current capitalist, racist, patriarchal society we live in, and “after the revolution there won’t be mental illness”. To quote from an article I wrote a while ago:

Yes, it is entirely possible (and even likely) that the current society does make mental illness more common. But, just like how even in an anarchist society cancer would still exist, influenza would still exist, likewise mental illness would still exist. You might think you’re making a political statement when you say it, but what you’re really doing is invalidating the feelings and experiences of your friends and family that suffer every day

Now, while the idea is incredibly offensive to me, it is perhaps something I could deal with if people at least approached it on a politically consistent level. But they don’t. There are plenty of problems in society today that exist because of the capitalist, racist, patriarchal society we live in that wouldn’t exist if we destroyed capitalism, patriarchy and racism. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t actively work on them in the here and now. You don’t see people ignoring decolonisation work, or anti-rape work (both of which are incredibly important) because they wouldn’t exist if we smashed racism and patriarchy. So why ignore mental illness, even if you believe it wouldn’t exist in your utopia?

The lack of desire to seriously engage with the mental illnesses that so many people within my local anarchist community deal with has caused me to barely broach the subject with even my closest friends. But I’m sick of that. I’m sick of the silence. I’m sick of crying alone.

38 Responses to Mental illness: My struggle

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Hi, I recognise everything you say, sadly. Looking back I had clinical depression at the age of 10 and it is still with me every day, excepting the 3 month and 6 month spells of ‘wellness’ I’ve had in 20+ years. The mental health services where I live are involved in the ‘Whole Life Project’ because we recognise that symptoms are quite insignificant compared to the stigma and dicrimination. I’ve been on interview panels for psychiatrists and when I asked how they’d improve their mental health they were shocked – them and us syndrome. In the UK a mental health charity used a statue of Winston Churchill (prime minister during the 2WW) in their anti-stigma campaign and a good 50% of people were furious. They kept saying what a great leader he was, how we owe our lives and freedom to him… They just couldn’t see he was a great PM, who also happened to suffer greatly from his “black dogs” of depression.However, I don’t hold back from telling people that I suffer from mental illness – when the context is right. I refuse to hide something that has stolen so much of my life (not to mention the fact that my best anecdotes come from 7+ years on an acute psychiatric ward!) I talk about it in a matter of fact way and then move on to the next topic and have lost count of the number of people who’ve come up to me and talk about their/their loved ones experiences. So long as we hide something like a guilty secret we continue the stigma.Anyhow, I’m rambling. Have a look at the BBC site Ouch! Straight-talking and funny you may find your feelings and views are shared and ideas of what you can do with your frustration.

    And you never cry alone. There may not be anyone to physically pass the tissues but all round the world there are people knowing what you are going through and wanting to change things. You are a strong lady who doesn’t deserve to feel the pain and anguish you describe, and deserves all the opportunities that every person in your community has access to.

  2. Maia says:

    Hey Asher

    I just wanted to say that I thought this was a really good post. I definately agree that the idea that mental illness is caused by capitalism idea is, unprovable irrelevant, and profoundly unhelpful.

    I’m really hesitant writing about my experiences with depression, because my story ends ‘and then it went away and never came back’ and I can’t help but feeling that may be less than helpful (more details here).

    Do you have any ideas about where we could start to make things better?

  3. george says:

    Seems like a dietary vitamin or chemical problem.You do look rather pale and under fed.

  4. [...] My Book Mental illness: My struggle [...]

  5. Asher says:

    Fuck off, George Walters, you fascist piece of shit. Rot in hell.

  6. Leron says:

    “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble makers. The round pegs in square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy. How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels? We make tools for these kinds of people. While some see them as the crazy ones, We see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” (Jack Kerouac, I believe)
    A great book about the limitations of psychology is Collision With the Infinite. Also Ram Dass writes about communities to give the “mad” person time to get through the haze in his book/talk, “Talks from Merringer” One way to say how he sees it is that the “mad” ones are sensitive to the suffering of humanity, the collective human pain and they are scratching at the surface of a new consciousness but they go through it too fast and the people around them see them as “mad” because they are about to break free of the collective hallucination, as the Hindu’s put it. The pain of depression, or manic-depression is real. It is a painful experience. It is dreadful. But the most amazing experience is the awakening from it. The Buddhists have a saying, “If there were no illusion there would be no enlightenment.” If there were no suffering, there would be freedom either. Winston Churchill (though I disagree with almost everything he stood for and know he was ruthless) had a good quote (I believe you can learn from everybody, and it is apropos that we speak of suffering) he said, “If you are going through hell…Keep going.” I also believe, that you will never know heaven if you never went through hell. It is by far the most amazing experience to realize that everything you thought was bad, was hell, was the worst possible thing that could have happened to you, the most tragic, painful, sorrow-full, disastrous feeling, experience, and event, is in fact the greatest most beautiful thing in the world. Eckhart Tolle describes it beautifully in his introduction. And speaks about it very often and very deeply. He describes it as Christ on The Cross. In one instance, the one that touched me the most he ends his words with, “Because ultimately every human is Christ on the cross.” He said this in an interview he gave the morning of September 11th, 2001, a few hours after the tragedy. The interviewer said, “Eckhart, I’m imagining someone whose entire family was devastated somehow by the terrorist tragedies that happened today, and I’m imagining that person listening to what you’re saying and on one level not connecting with it because they are so emotionally overwhelmed by a sense of loss. So my question is, how do you address that person? Someone who is immediately suffering from a grief or a tragedy.” He begins by saying, “So there’s great pain…” And in the end he says, “And there have been people in concentration camps (I believe he is talking about Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz because I read similar quotes by Dr. Viktor Frankel and he has spoken about it in other forums) similar…Totally unacceptable situations, continuous intense suffering, not knowing whether they would survive another hour, another day, every moment could be the last, and suddenly a complete YES(acceptance of what is). And suddenly, they have reported, a few to whom it happened…A great sense of deep peace. In the midst of hell…Peace in the midst of hell…That is the deepest teaching of Christ on the cross, because ultimately every human is Christ on the cross.” When he speaks about Christ on the cross he is referring to his surrender. His complete acceptance of the unacceptable. Because in a sense Christ can be seen as a symbol for humanity and the cross the suffering we are all going through and the world is going through every second with all the wars and genocides and destruction of the earth. And that that “Yes to what is” is our way out of suffering. The door out of pain. “That which seems block the way, is the way.” I believe there is great wisdom in suffering. Great wisdom. But there is actually more wisdom when we get free of it. But we would never get free if we didn’t go through it. Going through hell is a blessing.

  7. sparx says:

    it’s interesting, isn’t it, that the word “mad” has the obvious but usually ignored double meaning. yes we’re mad! we look at the world & it makes NO SENSE, yet we’re not stupid people – that makes us mad[angry] & mad["crazy"]

    in an earlier life i did a psyc. degree & some nursing training & i know – tho only from anecdotal memories, im too lazy to do any research [ie google search] – it’s pretty common for non-conformists or gut-level anti-authoritarians [especially kids] to be labeled with psychiatric disorders/mental health problems. if you can wade thru the banal, painfully american, self-congratulatory bullshit, adbusters has some useful stuff on this.

    as to whether there would be less mental illness in an “anarchist society” – cripes – one thing i do know – tho only from sheer gut-level instinct – a big contributor to mad[anger] and mad["crazyness"] is lack of self-expression, lack of being heard – if we could address that here & now we’d probably thank ourselves when the anarchist utopia finally does dawn… i dunno if these quotes help or not – they help me – a lot – ;-)

    “a dead thing can go with the stream, but only a
    living thing can go against it.” – Everlasting Man, 1925 [which is a kooky book about christ and christianity and christendom and similar which is definitely worth reading for those priceless "and THEY say I'M mad..." moments.]

    don’t you love to wake up and not know what day it is [one of mine]

    i’m starting to find this blog really useful for these kind of discussions, so [e]props to all of [e]us [not you george - you suck bad - maybe you didnt get enough attention as a child.]

  8. Leron says:

    I have found that much freedom comes from being a worker. By not participating in the chase for wealth and status much unhappiness can be avoided. It is so ironic that so many people are deluded. They chase after fame, status, and wealth only to find that they would give up all the money, all the cars, all the status, just to be happy. What a tragic comedy. If they only knew the joy my fellow factory worker abides in when he sings Israeli songs and laughs all day at work then comes home to his wife, kids, and grandchidren, they would sell their mansion in Beverly Hills to come eat shuarma (or chumus for the vegetarians:) with him once a week.

  9. Span says:

    Asher – I don’t really have anything to add other than to echo what Maia said, including that I have had similar good fortune to her with my own depression. (Fingers constantly crossed of course). Just wanted to let you know I agree.

  10. jo says:

    After I had my eldest son, I had post-natal depression for a good 6 months (though didn’t really acknowledge it probably at the time) I did go and see a doc about how I was feeling, but he wasn’t really interested. (i wasn’t sleeping, even though baby was) and felt sick and horrible all the time. Even though I loved my baby heaps. It ewas I think now due to the long and horrible birthing experience we went thru, and lack of support from partner, at time, and family. It wasn’t until I moved back in with my mum, who nurtured and fed me really well, that I started to come right. But then I started to fly. I went totally the other way and became Manic, this is something I haven’t talked about for ages (I used to think it was really funny;-) ) And I believed I was Jesus, no shit Jesus as a girl, right! I didn’t even believe in god, go figure, it must have been that damn Catholic schooling. Lucky I was smart enough NOT to tell anyone I was Jesus, fear that they would take my baby away (of course they wouldn’t believe me!) and we spent the summer buzzing around healing people and saying profound things (no harm done!) Again it wasn’t until I came down, that I realised my mistake. And was really glad I didn’t tell anyone at the time.
    This hasn’t happened since, though I do get a little up and down around my period.
    Thanks for sharing, we’re all a little slightly ‘mad’ and I’m glad I’m not alone as well. Hugs.

  11. Anna-Claire says:

    I thought I was jesus too for a while there, as a 6 year old, but when I asked my teacher at my Catholic school about the possibility I was the reincarnation of God’s beloved son, she told me no, but little girls should try to grow up to be the next Virgin Mary. I was bitterly disappointed at not being jesus, and about that time lost my faith (never to be found again).
    I am currently experiencing my third bout of depression (once at 15, then 20, now 25, hmmm…). Facing this truth and expressing how I am feeling to the people around me has been a relief. Reading this post has been a huge help for me to find the courage to do this (more thanks to you, Asher). Suddenly I no longer say “fine” when asked “how are you?”, instead its “well, I feel numb and apathethic about life, cry at the littlest thing, haven’t sleep properly for a fortnight, and feel exordinarily lonely and yet have no desire to be near any other humans, and yourself?”.
    I am on the up side of down at the moment, been out at a party making friends and talking endlessly. talking, talking, talking. The real life of the party. How strange these new friends would think me, if they meet my other side, which will appear tonight or tomo. but for now typing typing typing.
    I have strategies now for dealing the depression. No drugs, eat regularly whether you feel like it or not (breakfast took from 8-10:30am this morning, one bite at a time). I know what is coming, and most importantly, that it will pass. Now I have acknowledged what is happening, things will get better slowly.
    The scary thing is that looking back there was so many signs I was heading back to the dark place and I didn’t see them.
    My depression is not a daily experience, although like Jo I get a bit weepy during my moontime. It has been triggered by times of stress and heart ache. This time my lesson is to be more aware of my mental health and pick up on the signs so I don’t reach the brick wall again. making other people aware too, to keep an eye on me. Because each time so far when I have reached the deadend, I have found a way out. But I carry the fear, next time, the depression will overcome me and I won’t make it out alive.
    and so the typing stops and the tears begin…

  12. jo says:

    hey anna, u are a strong, beautiful wahine, thanks for sharing your story hun.. heres a poem for u emptying

  13. Hey, thanks Asher. It makes a difference.

  14. Nic Miller says:

    Asher, Asher, Asher. Trying to blame your HIV on depression now are we?

    We always knew you were fucked in the head and completely mad, but now you’ve just confirmed it for everyone.

    You are now officially, by your own admission, a retard.

    Say hi to Gaila for me if you ever (hopefully) succumb to your illness.

  15. Nic Miller says:

    Also, I’m upset about the title of your post: Mental Illness: My Struggle.

    We all know who wrote My Struggle or to be more exact Mein Kampf.

    Hitler does not want to be tarred with the same brush as you Goldman you filthy Jew.

  16. Gravity Guy says:

    Hey Asher, just know that you arent the only one around with issues dude. Hell, Im on more pills this year than last. 16 a day. Sigh.

    Oh, and Miller – Youre a fucking idiot.

    Coffee on me when your next…

  17. Asher says:

    HIV Nic? Not only are you a fascist and a statutory rapist, but you are now even more deluded than I thought.

    Oh well, its not like you’ve ever amounted to anything – and no, shouting at me from the safety of your car doesn’t count – or ever will, so really, why should I care?

  18. Darren says:

    The main difference between the above posting and Mein Kampf is that Asher’s posting is a well written and honest piece of work and Mein Kampf is hastily scrawled racist crap. Many people have suffered from depression at some time in our lives, good on you for writing about it. Don’t worry about Miller, he is only jealous that you can keep a well organised and coherent blog, and that you have a life away from the internet.

  19. Leron says:

    Nic Miller, I believe there will come a time when you will regret attempting to harm others through words.

  20. Nic Miller says:

    Leron, you are a Jewish coward.

    Darren, I know you are responsible for the Makara desecrations.

    Asher, I wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire.

  21. yuda says:

    You are such a broken record nic, if you were more of a threat some of us might actually take you seriously …..

  22. Trevor Loudon says:

    Brave post Asher. Good on you for keeping off the drugs.

  23. Malcom Wallace says:

    Im in town now creep;aye Laddie

  24. Darren says:

    Sorry Nic you are wrong yet again (no surprise). I have never been to Makara and I like Jewish people.

  25. Things You Should Be Reading

    Reproductive Rights for the "Criminal" American at the Anti-Essentialist Conundrum
    Pickton Trial Coverage Misses the Point at the Feminist Toronto blog
    Mental Illness: My Struggle at Anarchia
    Old moms on trial at Broadsheet
    Woman's risk

  26. eatpills says:

    A jew with a mental disorder?

    Well I never!

  27. Hey,

    Your medication struggles may be caused by the fact that they put you on an antidepressant rather than a mood stabilizer (such as lithium, depakote, or Lamictal–or a host of other options in the same general med classes). It sounds like you have bipolar rather than depression and taking anti-depressants when you’re really bipolar can lead to manic phases (like you mention when you’re not able to sleep for 50 hours). Obviously that’s not a good thing. Get to see your doc soon and tell him you feel he/she needs to consider that you have a form of bipolar and get him/her to help figure out which form of bipolar you have so you can get more helpful treatment. Good luck to you.

  28. [...] suffered from depression more or less non-stop for the last 8 years, since I was 14 (see Mental illness: My struggle). Early on, I used to use that tired old joke, “I don’t suffer from depression, I enjoy every [...]

  29. MattGar says:

    You shouldn’t do this.

  30. Asher says:

    Matt – You should leave comments that actually make sense.

  31. lem says:

    Hi Asher. Wrt whether mental illness is really like cancer etc.. While I think ‘mental illness’ is not a metaphor and is real enough I wonder whether cancer and depression (e.g.) can equated as strongly as you seem to do. Do bodies have “personalities”?

    I believe that there is no universal difference between a mental illness and a pathologized personality. Can the same be said for cancer?

    Depression is fought in whatever way one chooses. I guess I feel that some ways of doing so may not be for the best; I doubt I’m the only one that feels this way in the mad community.

    There is something so attractive to me in that term ‘mad community’. Whilst people not termed mad are free to speak for and with me, I believe some may forget that freedom enatils seeing difference wheresoever we choose. Maybe :D

  32. lem says:

    nic miller: you seemed too friendly to be a fascist. you give “the jews” nightmares lol.

  33. Curtis Greenwood says:

    In order to manage bipolar disorder you always tell yourself you can overcome anything within reason.You can always change the way you react to your circumstances.Life does get better i’ve been doing for thirty years.

  34. T says:

    where have i found myself? in a jewish mental health place ? is that relevent ?

    why, no i like it, is e/one swearing at everyone?

    i’m mental healthish, and overall love it – here, netwise, started with top most comment about it having a lot to do with the Capitalist condition – that hooked me to look further.

    yet am not temprarily in a ondition to read and absorb the rest of stuff – hence the zoning out and not quite knowing where i am. however, may come back … to see if it’s worth it

    (in case not completely clear, have only scanned this site and thn got cos of circs, bored – however )

  35. Last Aussie in Burwong says:

    self-absorption is not an illness – it’s a choice

  36. Hine says:

    F-k off Aussie

    took a “right turn” n landed here… thanks for speaking out, can totally identify with your experience. Especially the bit about friends. Personally I think the whole world’s mad… but the majority’s undiagnosed & too narcissistic to admit it( George Bush, etc.etc.etc) I’m diagnosed, & only getting to the point of self-acceptance, even loving my own madness, I think we should all celebrate our individuality. Unlike the GW’s of the world most of us are harmless, & have so much to offer,in fact we probably are more aware & less inclined to the pathetic sheeple mentality that allows the world to disintergrate & do nothing. Prejudice in our comunities needs to be challenged by “us” speaking out, and living without shame. I’m sick of it too. Like minds is bs, in the current social environment. I get prejudice from people that don’t even know me because they night have heard past information & are heartless idiots, Like minds? Doubt it, and I wouldn’t want to be like that anyway, its great having a conscience that cares. Thanks for the honesty…Peace

  37. amy says:

    hey asher,

    i believe in you.

    peace always

    amy XX

  38. anarkaytie says:

    Depression can be a side-effect of an exceptionally intense understanding of reality, and an utter contempt for the way that society pastes consumerism over that…

    Or several other conditions!

    I have periods of depression/exhaustion as a component of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), which is mostly manifested by asthma, a tonne of allergies, and a lot of muscle pain.
    Oh, yeah, and a lot of sarcasm and black humour, which I tend to use selectively so as not to shoot the wounded.
    The cops have provided a long stream of handy targets lately, so it’s all good ;-) in a warped kinda way.

    Finally, here’s from one of my solutions to “stay-home-potter-around” days:
    Paranoia is knowing more than you can use
    – from a graphic novel, It’s Dark in London, storyline The Griffin’s Egg, by Ian Sinclair.

    Today, I potter.
    Tuesday, I’m on the media bench in Wgtn DC – so tip me a comment on how best I do that, if you can spare the energy Asher, ‘cos I may need some luck/tuition!
    I’m flying Salient colours…

    *hug* KT

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